Posted by: Ann Corcoran | March 1, 2012

House passes eminent domain bill, Senate likely to do nothing

The House of Representatives this week passed a bill that attempts to roll back the damage done by the now infamous Supreme Court Decision in Kelo vs. City of New London.

What the Supreme Court condoned with that ruling was this scenario:  a developer eyes your neighborhood for some project, developer goes to elected officials and the local governing body then can take your homes through their eminent domain power and turn it over to the developer.  The developer will then supposedly build a project that brings the local jurisdiction greater tax revenue.  You can be sure the drafters of the 5th Amendment never had such a diabolical scenario in mind when they wrote protection for private property rights into the Constitution.

Here is the story this week from Fox News:

The House sought Tuesday to undercut a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that gives state and local governments eminent domain authority to seize private property for economic development projects.

Sponsors of the bill, which passed by a voice vote, said it was needed because the 5-4 high court ruling skewed constitutional intentions that eminent domain apply only to land for public use projects.

That ruling, said bill cosponsor Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., justified “the government’s taking of private property and giving it to a private business for use in the interest of creating a more lucrative tax base.” As a result, he said, the “government’s power of eminent domain has become almost limitless, providing citizens with few means to protect their property.”

His legislation would withhold for two years all federal development aid to states or locales that take private property for economic development. It also bars the federal government from using eminent domain for economic development purposes and gives private property owners the right to take legal action if provisions of the legislation are violated.

Sensenbrenner, a conservative, was joined in sponsoring the legislation by Rep. Maxine Waters of California, a liberal Democrat and senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus. She said that economic development projects have “all too often been used by powerful interest groups to acquire land at the expense of the poor and politically weak.”

The ruling in Kelo v. City of New London allowed the Connecticut city to exercise state eminent domain law to take over the property of several homeowners for commercial use. Justices said the court had always given local policymakers latitude in determining the legitimate public interests of their area.

But the decision drew fire from lawmakers and others who said the ruling was a dangerous interpretation of the “takings clause” in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution that allows the government to seize property for public use, with just compensation.

Traditionally, eminent domain has been used to obtain property needed for highways, airports or schools.

Take it from me, it’s just not those three obvious public uses.  The government can take your property for parks, nature areas and hiking trails (even before the Kelo decision).  That is why those of you along the proposed Washington County Rail Trail need to pay attention to the economically silly plan.

Also, as much as you admire Harriet Tubman, you folks anywhere near the proposed National Park on the Eastern shore need to beware.  Once the feds have the park boundary secured, any land within it is fair game for eminent domain.   They will promise that they will only take land from “willing sellers,” but let me assure you that you eventually become a willing seller when no one but the government is in a position to buy your land.

Oh, and one more thing, once they have the park in place, they will attempt to control the “viewshed” of the park—I kid you not!


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