Senator Cornyn: "The power of eminent domain should not be used simply to further private economic development."
By Susan Jones, Senior Editor
(CNSNews.com) - Although the Supreme Court's Ten Commandments ruling dominated Monday's headlines, a property rights ruling handed down last week still has many Americans shaking their heads -- including some lawmakers, who plan to do something about it.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) has introduced a bill, the Protection of Homes, Small Businesses, and Private Property Act of 2005, in response to last week's 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London .
The Supreme Court ruled that the government may seize the home, small business or other private property of one citizen and transfer it to another private citizen -- if the transfer would boost the community's economic development and its tax base.
The Cornyn legislation, introduced Monday, would prohibit transfers of private property without the owner's consent if federal funds were used; and if the transfer was for purposes of economic development rather than public use.
"It is appropriate for Congress to take action...to restore the vital protections of the Fifth Amendment and to protect homes, small businesses, and other private property rights against unreasonable government use of the power of eminent domain," Cornyn said.
"This legislation would declare Congress's view that the power of eminent domain should be exercised only for 'public use,' as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment," Cornyn said. "Most importantly, the power of eminent domain should not be used simply to further private economic development."
Cornyn's legislation would clarify that 'public use' shall not be construed to include economic development.
In remarks on the Senate floor Monday, Cornyn said the protection of homes, small businesses, and other private property rights against government seizure is "a fundamental principle and core commitment of our nation's Founders."
He noted that the Fifth Amendment specifically provides that "private property" shall not "be taken for public use without just compensation." The Fifth Amendment, he emphasized, permits government to seize private property only "for public use."
Cornyn called the Supreme Court's June 23, 2005, ruling in Kelo v. City of New London an "alarming decision" that should prompt lawmakers to take action.
"The power of eminent domain should not be used simply to further private economic development," Cornyn said.
"In the aftermath of Kelo , we must take all necessary action to restore and strengthen the protections of the Fifth Amendment. I ask my colleagues to lend their support to this effort, by supporting the Protection of Homes, Small Businesses, and Private Property Act of 2005."
Cornyn also said the Supreme Court's Kelo decision partly vindicates those who supported the nomination of Justice Janice Rogers Brown to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
"That nomination attracted substantial controversy in some quarters, Cornyn said, "because of Justice Brown's personal passion for the protection of private property rights. The Kelo decision announced last Thursday demonstrates that her concerns about excessive government interference with property rights is well-founded and well within the mainstream of American jurisprudence."
Sen. Cornyn currently chairs the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship, and in the last Congress he was chairman of the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights subcommittee. A former Texas Supreme Court justice, Texas attorney general, and Bexar County District judge, Cornyn is the only former judge on the Judiciary Committee.