- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 10, 2005

A Supreme Court ruling that permits local governments to seize people’s property for private commercial development has triggered a political backlash in Congress and among a growing number of state legislatures to ban such actions in the future.

Fueled by mounting grass-roots anger over the high court’s 5-4 decision last month in the Kelo v. New London eminent-domain case, several state legislatures are expected to act on some kind of statutory ban before year’s end and more are expected to take action next year.

Legislation in the House and Senate already has drawn surprisingly strong support across the political spectrum — from House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas on the right to Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr., the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, on the left.

“It’s a powerful political issue based on reaction I’ve seen and what our members are hearing,” said Duane Parde, executive director of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which represents 2,400 state legislators.

“We’ve been getting calls from all over the Hill from House members and senators looking to do something legislatively to address this issue,” said Nancie Marzulla, president of Defenders of Property Rights, a group that has long been in the forefront of eminent-domain battles.

“I think there is a sense of urgency because people are outraged,” she said. “For people on the Hill to be responding in this way means they are hearing from their constituencies who are calling up their offices and saying: ‘What are you doing?’”

When the court ruled June 23 that the government could take private property and transfer it to commercial developers if it would help boost a community’s economic development, public opposition was strong and immediate, Mr. Parde said.

“The problem is only about five states are in session right now. When the decision came out, the majority of states had already ended their sessions,” he said.

Several states — including Delaware, Georgia, Minnesota, New Jersey and Texas — have legislative eminent-domain bills pending that are aimed at transfers of property to private commercial interests. Several are expected to act this year.

One of the first could be Alabama, where Republican Gov. Bob Riley plans to introduce a bill in a mid-July special session of the Legislature. Legislators in two other states, Illinois and Pennsylvania, also plan to introduce bills this month, said ALEC officials who have been monitoring the issue in the states.

In Massachusetts, House Minority Leader Brad Jones has filed a nonbinding resolution denouncing the court’s decision that has broad bipartisan support in the heavily Democratic chamber. The Republican said he expects it to “sail through the House,” possibly this week.

He also has drafted a statute and a state constitutional amendment, both of which would ban land seizures in the state for commercial purposes.

The high court’s ruling “would take us back to the concept that all land belongs to the sovereign when the land belongs to the people, and the government cannot take that away,” he said.

Mr. Parde said a legislative task force was in the process of drafting a model bill for the states that would declare that “the power of eminent domain shall be available only for public use,” such as the development of roads and other public facilities.

If the bill is approved at ALEC’s annual meeting next month and by its board of directors, it will be sent out to its members across the country.

Story Continues →