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Chabot Helps Push Property Rights Legislation Through Judiciary Committee

Location: Washington, DC

Chabot Helps Push Property Rights Legislation Through Judiciary Committee
October 28, 2005

Washington, D.C. - Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH) helped lead passage of the Private Property Rights Protection Act last night. The legislation was approved by the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 27-3. Passage follows Chabot's successful hearings in the Constitution Subcommittee.

"The recent Supreme Court actions in the Kelo case demonstrate the need for Congress to move swiftly to protect the private property rights of individual citizens," Chabot stated. "The Fifth Amendment is vital to protecting our fundamental freedom and the economic vitality of our nation. The Supreme Court's disregard for one of the most basic principles of our democracy is alarming."

Chabot, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, held a hearing on the eminent domain issue and the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London last month. The hearing, which explored the ramifications of the Kelo decision and potential Congressional responses, featured witnesses from the NAACP, the Institute for Justice, a resident of New London involved in the Kelo case, and the mayor of Indianapolis.

Chabot is an original cosponsor of the first version of the Private Property Rights Protection Act (H.R. 3135). A revised version of the legislation, H.R. 4128, was introduced this week by Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI).

The Private Property Rights Protection Act prohibits states and localities from using eminent domain powers for economic development purposes if the state or local governing jurisdiction received federal economic development funds during the same fiscal year. Any violation of this prohibition would result in the state or local government being ineligible for federal economic development funding for two years. The legislation also prohibits the federal government from using its power of eminent domain for economic development purposes.

On June 23, 2005, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London in which it held that "economic development" can be a "public use" under the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause. This decision says that the government's taking of private property from small home and business owners and giving it to large corporations or condominium developers for private business uses can be justified by the creation of a more lucrative tax base that generates more revenue for the government.

Chabot's statement from yesterday's markup follows:

Opening Statement of Congressman Chabot
H.R. 4128 - The Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2005
October 27, 2005

"The Fifth Amendment to our Constitution provides critical protections that prevent the government from unlawfully seizing private property. There should be no doubt that the Fifth Amendment is essential to protecting our basic freedoms and the economic vitality of our nation. Yet it is a right so fundamental, that it has been taken for granted since the founding of our nation.

"That, of course, changed with the Supreme Courts decision in Kelo vs. City of New London -- a decision that places all privately held property at risk to government seizure.

"The idea that a persons home or business can be taken by the government and transferred to another private entity simply to allow the government to collect additional tax revenue seems anathema to the values Americans cherish.

"However, the Supreme Court has now thrown its weight behind this distinctly un-American ideal by ruling that economic development can be a public use under the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause. Essentially, the court held that private property can be taken from homeowners through a process called eminent domain and put to public use by a private business.

"Few would question that the Constitution provides a legitimate role for eminent domain when the purpose is a true public use and the property owner receives just compensation. Properly used, eminent domain should give communities an option of last resort to complete the development of roads, schools, utilities and other essential public infrastructure projects.

"A few weeks ago, however, I chaired a hearing in the Constitution Subcommittee that made it clear that eminent domain is not always properly used and that Kelo may further open the floodgates to abuse. In fact, we were told that a minimum of 10,000 properties were either seized or threatened with condemnation for private development in the five-year period between 1998 and 2002. And following the Kelo decision, high-profile economic development takings were on the fast track from Connecticut to California with judges across the country relying on Kelo to support government takings that forcibly transfer private property from one owner to another.

"As a former member of the Cincinnati City Council and Hamilton County Commission, I would be remiss if I did not mention my concern for the unintended consequences that congressional action could have on communities - especially struggling urban areas -- throughout the United States. My friend from Ohio, Congressman Mike Turner who leads the "Save Our Cities" Caucus has been a strong advocate for revitalizing our nations cities and raising these same concerns about unintended consequences to urban areas.

"During our hearings in the Constitution Subcommittee, Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson warned that overly broad legislation could have a "chilling effect" on urban renewal efforts. He asked that Congress work to balance the important interests involved and recognize that the availability of eminent domain has led to more job creation and home ownership opportunities than any other economic development tool. If that tool vanishes, he said, redevelopment experienced in many communities in recent years would literally come to a complete halt.

"Now, I recognize that some of those concerns may be overstated. We should not lose sight of the fact that local governments have many different kinds of incentive, zoning, and code enforcement tools to promote economic development without having to resort to the taking of private property. However, Mayor Peterson raises some credible issues that we should continue to consider as we move forward with this legislation.

"I want to thank Chairman Sensenbrenner and ranking-member Conyers for their leadership on this critical issue. Many members of this Committee - myself included - raised concerns about a long-term assault on property rights in America even before the Kelo decision. Today, we have an opportunity to defend an important constitutional principle and the fundamental rights of our constituents. As Justice O'Connor wrote in her Kelo dissent, 'Nothing is to prevent a state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.'"

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