Use the Purpose by Which All May Benefit: The Semiotics of 'Public Use' [Book Review]


Abstract
This paper applies semiotic analysis to issues arising from the recent Supreme Court decision of Kelo v. City of New London [545 U.S.469] (2005). The author uses the tools of semiotics to explore the evolution of language and speech and their relationship to the terms, “private property” and “public use” as used by the Supreme Court and the general public in the years leading up to the Kelo decision. This paper will first provide an overview of the field of semiotics, describing the prevailing thought and the methods utilized by semioticians to find meaning. Second, the tools of semiotics will be applied to Supreme Court cases, beginning with Bauman v. Ross [167 U.S. 548] (1897) and continuing to Kelo v. City of New London. Utilizing these tools, the author will show how, within the span of approximately 100 years, the speech of the court has affected the language of legal discourse. The signs to which both Bauman and Kelo seek to attach meaning are found in the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution, which provides, in relevant part, “…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”(emphasis added) (U.S. Const. Amendment 5). This dialectic activity resulted in the development of two different languages. One was used by the layperson, whereas the other was found in relevant legal/political institutions such as the US Supreme Court. This paper will focus on the fundamental change in the meaning of the sign/expression “public use.”
Keywords Public use  Meaning change  Property  Legal argument  Sign  Referent
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DOI 10.1007/s11196-009-9130-8
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