Protecting Private Property Rights
Mar 2, 2012 -
The freedom to own and protect one’s private property is foundational to our country—our Constitution explicitly protects private property rights.
This week, the House approved my legislation, H.R. 1433, the Private Property Rights Protection Act, to protect every citizen’s right to private property, not just the most powerful or profitable.
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Kelo v. City of New London that private property could be “condemned” for the sole purpose of implementing a local government’s redevelopment plan. In this case, the city seized Susette Kelo’s home to give the property to the Pfizer Corporation, but the new owner was unable to obtain funding and the project was never developed.
Practically, this means that government could seize private property if the redevelopment of the property would yield more tax revenue. Prior to the ruling, eminent domain was legally restricted to only projects with a clear public use, such as roads and schools.
I worked with Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California, to forge a bipartisan coalition to pass this legislation. The Private Property Rights Protection Act has strong support across the political spectrum. Groups speaking out against the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo include the NAACP, AARP, religious organizations, and the American Farm Bureau.
The Kelo decision tramples our individual rights, giving government more power over Americans’ lives. This is a slippery slope that we can’t let continue, and my legislation will restore eminent domain to its proper, limited role.
My legislation denies states and localities that commit eminent domain abuse all federal economic development funds for a period of two years. The bill also gives property owners a legal recourse to fight economic development takings.
But Americans across the country have already fallen victim to abuse of eminent domain as expanded under Kelo’s definition of public use.
As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said in her stinging dissent, “nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz Carlton, any home with a shopping center, or any farm with a factory.”
This decision disproportionately affects and harms the economically disadvantaged, as well as farmers and ranchers who own and lease significant amounts of land on which they depend for their livelihoods. Wisconsin farms are particularly vulnerable. The fair market value of farmland is less than residential or commercial property, which means it doesn’t generate as much property tax as homes or offices.
Additionally, houses of worship and other religious institutions will be vulnerable targets for eminent domain actions under schemes that disfavor non-profit, tax-exempt property owners.
The House acted to ensure that Americans’ homes, family farms, and small businesses are safe from unjust government seizure. The Senate should pass this bill and restore the government’s power of eminent domain to its limited, proper role.