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Friday, July 01, 2005

Congress Proposes to Limit Eminent Domain Seizures

The following appeared in the New York Times today. According to a television commenator, Senators may agree with the action of the House of Representatives. The decision of the Supreme Court to allow seizures for the purpose of assisting private developers for a variety of reasons was very unpopular. The proposed action is obviously in response to the public reaction to the decision. This is not the first time that Congress used the threat of withholding funds unless states complied.

WASHINGTON, June 30 - Stepping up their assault on the federal judiciary, Congressional Republicans announced efforts on Thursday directed at overturning two recent Supreme Court decisions, one that allowed government to claim private property for economic development and another that stripped Kentucky courthouses of the Ten Commandments.

"This Congress is just not going to sit by and let an unaccountable judiciary make these kinds of decisions," said Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the House Republican leader.

At a news conference, Mr. DeLay called the property ruling a "George Orwell novel of a court decision."

Mr. DeLay appeared with members of the House and Senate who are proposing bills to sharply restrict the government's power of eminent domain.

Hours after he spoke, the House voted 231 to 189 to approve a measure that would prohibit federal financing for property seizures. Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois praised the move, an amendment to a spending bill covering transportation and housing, as "an important first step" to protecting private property, though it was not clear if the measure would survive in the Senate.

Copyright The New York Times

This one was from Rominger Legal News

Congress Moves To Blunt 'Eminent Domain' Ruling
House Bill Tries To Limit Supreme Court Decision Impact

POSTED: 4:33 pm EST June 30, 2005
UPDATED: 5:13 pm EST June 30, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers are trying to blunt a 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" 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.

The House on Thursday approved by a 231-189 vote a bid by conservative Scott Garrett, R-N.J., to bar federal transportation funds from being used to make improvements on lands seized via eminent domain for private development.

Legislation in the works also would ban the use of federal funds for any project getting the go-ahead using the Kelo v. City of New London (Conn.) 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.

Susette Kelo, whose riverfront house in New London's Fort Trumbull neighborhood is set to be razed, said she's glad politicians in Washington are working against the decision.

"I think the people in this country are outraged in this decision, and rightly so," she said. "Everyone in this country has just lost the right to own their own property."

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 projects

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced a similar bill on Monday, with a House companion introduced by Rep. Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont. 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.

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.