Thursday, June 30, 2005

Eminent Domain-Imminent Blowback

Bills May Blunt Eminent Domain

The Associated Press
June 30, 2005,

WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers are trying to blunt last week's Supreme Court decision that says local governments can seize people's homes to make way for shopping malls and other private development.House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said Thursday the high court had made "a horrible decision" in the New London, Conn. case and he hoped it would cause a backlash.

"The only silver lining to this decision is the possibility that this time the court has finally gone too far and that the American people are ready to reassert their constitutional authority," said DeLay, R-Texas, a critic of recent court decisions.In a 5-4 ruling last week, the Supreme Court said municipalities have broad power to bulldoze people's homes and put up shopping malls or other private development to generate tax revenue.

The decision drew a scathing dissent from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as favoring rich corporations. DeLay agreed."Someone could knock on your door, and tell you that the city council has voted to give your house to someone else because they have nicer plans for the property," DeLay said.Legislation in the works would ban the use of federal funds for any project getting the go-ahead using the Kelo v. City of New London decision."They're going to have to find their own money, instead of coming to Washington," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., mentioned community development block grants as one type of money source that would be banned for projects advancing as a result of the Kelo decision.

The grant program provides money to more than 1,000 municipalities for everything from lead abatement in old buildings to improving water and sewage facilities.Sensenbrenner and the committee's top Democrat, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, are planning a bill that would prevent Washington from claiming eminent domain for economic development and block any state or local government from getting federal funds for projectsSen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced a similar bill on Monday.

The Supreme Court has overturned other congressional attempts to supersede its decisions."It is clearly within the power of Congress to limit the use of federal funds," Cornyn said. Susette Kelo, the lead plaintiff in the case, whose apricot-colored riverfront house is set to be razed, said she's glad politicians in Washington are railing against the decision."Until the Supreme Court decision, we had nobody backing us," she said. "Now it seems like 99 percent of the country is behind us."House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California says she is opposed to any legislation that would withhold federal dollars "for the enforcement of any decision of the Supreme Court, no matter how opposed I am to that decision."

At least eight states -- Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, South Carolina and Washington -- already forbid the use of eminent domain for economic development unless it is to eliminate blight. Other states either expressly allow private property to be taken for private economic purposes or have not spoken clearly to the question.There were more than 10,000 instances of private property being threatened with condemnation or actually condemned by government for private use between 1998-2002, according to the Institute for Justice.

Copyright © 2005, The Associated Press

The Associated Press: