PROTECTING AMERICAN HOMES
November 4, 2005
In a vote of 376 to 38, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H.R. 4128, the "Private Property Rights Protection Act," last week, ensuring that homes of America's families are not seized by local or state governments for the explicit purpose of redevelopment by third-party individuals or corporations. I co-sponsored this legislation because I strongly believe that the Supreme Court misinterpreted the U.S. Constitution in its narrow 5-4 Kelo v. New London decision.
In the Kelo case, the Supreme Court overruled more than two centuries of legal precedent and tradition regarding the public use provision of the 5th Amendment's Taking Clause. The clause states 'nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.' However, the Court's majority opinion - delivered by Justice Stevens - contradicted the intentions of our Founding Fathers and, instead, moved to give local government broad power to seize property to generate tax revenue.
While the 5th Amendment has long been determined to grant the government the right to take or force the sale of property for "public use," never before has the Court included "promotion of economic development" in its list of public uses. Not so, however, in the Kelo case. In this instance, the City of New London believed that the city's economic and aesthetic environment had the potential of improving if the land was condemned. The Court decided that the potential of economic improvement outweighed an individual's right to his land, and included it in its definition of "public use."
The Court also received several amicus briefs in opposition to the Kelo ruling from a wide-range of groups, including the NAACP, the AARP, the American Farm Bureau, and various religious organizations. It was clearly evident to me and my colleagues that the Supreme Court had overstepped and, thus, it was Congress' duty as a check-and-balance to protect the homes and interests of hard-working families.
With bipartisan support, the House passed the "Private Property Rights Protection Act" which restricts states and localities who continually seize private property under the eminent domain ruling from countless federal programs and funding opportunities for two years. The federal funding, which includes economic development grant programs, translates to tens of millions of dollars lost annually to local and state governments. In fairness, however, states and localities are given the opportunity to justify and remedy any violation of abuse of eminent domain to avoid losing their federal funding.
A fundamental principle of the 'American Dream' is the right to own property. With the faulted decision in Kelo v. New London, I believe the Supreme Court seized that cornerstone away from hard-working families for economic gain by corporations. I strongly disagreed with the Court's decision then, and was pleased that the House of Representatives overwhelmingly united to protect the homes of all Americans.