The emotional dynamics and neoliberal nuances of eminent domain law
: two perspectives on Kelo v. City of New London

  • Jenna R. Bilak

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisJD (Juris Doctor)


The broadened scope of contemporary American eminent domain law following the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London has permitted economic development takings that produce significant emotional costs for individuals. These takings sever an individual's intimate attachments to their home and community, ignore the subjective value of the home in market value determinations, and shift the law's focus to preserving corporate profits and interests over the emotions and well-being of individuals.

This trend is due, in part, to the American legal system’s natural tendency toward logic and its profound entanglement with neoliberal principles, which have shaped how it approaches legal participants. Drawing on two theories to identify the emotional dynamics and neoliberal underpinnings of eminent domain in the context of Kelo, this thesis explores the roles of place attachment, compensation, and emotional expression in the judicial approach to the legal issues, describes the public reaction to the decision and its influence on reforms, and uncovers the disproportionate impact of takings on vulnerable, underprivileged communities.

The findings reveal that the emotional dynamics (place attachment, compensation, and judicial emotion) and neoliberal nuances (private gain over public benefit, distortion of the private and public divide, and silencing of emotions) of eminent domain law may be evidenced through a close examination of the majority decision and dissents alongside the public response and takings demographics. The negative emotions produced and intensified by Kelo indicate a correlative relationship partially attributable to the neoliberal facets of the decision that are centered around promoting corporate and private gain at the expense of individual homeowners and displaced populations. The unprecedented public and legislative reaction to Kelo emphasizes the deeply personal nature of property rights and ownership, and the findings draw attention to the ongoing fight against the broad reaches of eminent domain abuse.

Thesis embargoed until 31st December 2026.

Date of AwardDec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorHeather Conway (Supervisor) & Amanda Kramer (Supervisor)


  • eminent domain
  • neoliberalism
  • law
  • emotion
  • socio-legal
  • judicial decision-making
  • US Supreme Court
  • urban renewal
  • economic inequality
  • corporations
  • private property
  • ownership
  • property law
  • community

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