RESTORING OWNERSHIP RIGHTS TO AMERICANS
November 25, 2005
At the founding of our country, those who had struggled for freedom sought to guarantee some of the very rights they had been denied in the countries of their ancestry. To establish themselves in a new land and ensure that this new country granted its citizens the basic freedoms such as freedom of religion, speech, and property ownership among many others, they preserved these rights in a document that continues to govern the nation today: the Constitution of the United States.
Today, citizens throughout the country exercise the right to private property ownership for their homes, farms, businesses, and places of worship. However, by expanding the government's power to seize private property for economic development purposes, as the Supreme Court did in the case of Kelo v. the City of New London, the basic right to own private property guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution has been trampled upon.
When citizens cannot be assured that their land will not be grabbed up by the government and turned over to another private entity for economic development purposes, then the principle of private property rights becomes meaningless. If the threat of seizure looms over the head of every private property owner, we cannot expect anyone to eagerly purchase property and invest their hard-earned money into land that can be whisked away by government for almost any reason.
The Supreme Court's decision in the Kelo case essentially expands the ability of state and local governments to exercise eminent domain powers to seize property under the guise of "economic development" ensuring that no private property is safe from seizure. As Justice O'Conner noted in her dissent: "The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing a Motel 6 with a Ritz Carlton, any home with a shopping center, or any farm with a factory." In defining "public use" so expansively, the Court essentially erased any protection of private property as understood by the Framers of our Constitution.
Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed the Private Property Protection Act of 2005 which I introduced with a bipartisan group of Members. Under this Act, a state or local government that uses eminent domain to take land from one private entity to give to another for economic development purposes will not be eligible to receive federal funds of any kind for a period of two years. While economic development is clearly crucial for many communities, this legislation ensures that this will be done with respect for our constitutional rights.
Protecting the constitutional rights of our citizens continues to be a top priority for the Congress. Private property rights are fundamental, and by passing this important legislation we have taken the necessary steps to further protect property ownership rights for our citizens.