Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Pols Seek to Tighten Eminent Domain Rules

Reaction continues to reverberate on Capitol Hill in response to the Supreme Court's ruling that local governments may take private property for private economic development that could benefit the community as a whole. Lawmakers are considering a new legislative effort to curb some of the effects of that decision. In the case decided last week, Kelo argued these business projects don't amount to "public use," but the high court in an opinion authored by Justice John Paul Stevens (search) disagreed, finding the goal of "economic development" can justify these seizures. "For people that believe in private property, this is a nightmare," said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. Four members of the U.S. Supreme Court said the ruling flies in the face of "basic limitations on government power," and the ruling outraged private landowners, prompting cries for legislation to protect them. On Monday, Sen. John Cornyn (search), R-Texas, obliged. "This power to seize homes, small businesses, and other private property should be reserved only for true public uses. Most importantly, the power of eminent domain should not be used simply to further private economic development," Cornyn said in introducing legislation. The high court did acknowledge that states are welcome to set tougher standards for government takings than the baseline in the Constitution, emphasizing that "nothing in our opinion precludes any state from placing further restrictions on its exercise of the takings power." Cornyn's bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson (search), D-Fla., does attempt to encourage states to pass comparable laws if they haven't already done so. A similar bill was introduced in the House on Tuesday by Rep. Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont. But Turley and others question whether Cornyn's bill, purporting to change the federal law, will really do any good. "The vast majority of these cases involve local and state officials. They're not federal questions, and Congress cannot restrict the use of eminent domain on a local level," he said.


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