Inside Politics: House acts against high court on eminent domain

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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.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., a Wisconsin Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said that ruling 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.

Mr. 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 areas.

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.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama plan for owl targets bird’s rival

To save the endangered spotted owl, the Obama administration is moving forward with a plan to shoot barred owls, a rival bird that has shoved aside its smaller cousin.

The plan is the latest government attempt to protect the northern spotted owl, the meek, 1-pound bird that sparked an epic battle over logging in the Pacific Northwest two decades ago.

The government set aside millions of acres of forest to protect the owl, but the bird’s population has declined 40 percent in 25 years.

A plan announced Tuesday would designate habitat critical for the bird’s survival while allowing logging to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and create jobs. Habitat loss and competition from barred owls are major threats to the spotted owl.

CONGRESS

Lawmakers to open access to their own investments

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