Friday, July 1, 2005

Congress lashed out at the Supreme Court yesterday for expanding government powers of eminent domain and vowed to ban any federal funds for state and local governments that employ the new authority.

Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said she is “outraged” by the decision. “It’s the most un-American thing that can be done.”

Last week’s Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London created new eminent domain powers to allow local governments to take private property from its lawful owner and give it to a private developer who promises to generate greater tax revenue with the land.

The new powers of eminent domain — long reserved for taking property only for public use such as highways — could be used to build developments such as privately owned strip malls or motels.

In response, a bipartisan group of senators and House members joined yesterday in introducing legislation that will withhold federal funding from any state or local government that tries to use those expanded powers.

“The Supreme Court voted last week to undo private property rights and to empower governments to kick people out of their homes and give them to someone else because they feel like it,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. “No court that denies property rights will long respect and recognize other basic human rights.”

The decision was particularly explosive amid speculation that one or more Supreme Court justices may retire in coming weeks. Republicans who already view the Supreme Court as power-hungry said the decision will rally Americans behind their effort to make the court more conservative.

“The only silver lining to the cloud of this decision is the possibility that this time the court has finally gone too far,” Mr. DeLay said.

While many opposed the proposal to address the ruling, few in Congress — including the House’s lone self-described socialist, Rep. Bernard Sanders of Vermont — defended the Supreme Court ruling.

“I disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. New London,” Mr. Sanders said. “I believe that the result of this decision will be that working families and poor people will see their property turned over to corporate interests and wealthy developers.”

Mr. Sanders opposes the withdrawal of federal funding, but added that “there is no doubt Congress should address this decision.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said she “would oppose any legislation that says that we would withhold funds for the enforcement of any decision of the Supreme Court, no matter how opposed I am to that decision.”

She then added: “And I’m not saying that I’m opposed to this decision.”

Arguing that Congress has no business interfering with the ruling unless it wants to amend the Constitution, Mrs. Pelosi said: “This is almost as if God has spoken.”

Mrs. Pelosi was among those who opposed an amendment to a spending bill yesterday that bars federal funds from being used on projects where the expanded powers of eminent domain have been used. The amendment passed 231-189.

One public official happy with the court ruling is D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who heads the National League of Cities. He called the ruling a “victory.”

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the Wisconsin Republican who is co-sponsoring House legislation with Michigan Democrat John Conyers Jr., said the Kelo case “has the potential of becoming the Dred Scott decision of the 21st century,” a reference to the 1857 case in which slavery was guaranteed constitutional.

“We need to have legislation such as the Sensenbrenner-Conyers bill that will prevent our taxpayers’ money from putting us into the abyss that has been caused by the majority of the Supreme Court.”

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, also has introduced a bill to counter the justices’ decision.

“It is clearly within the power of Congress to limit the use of federal funds,” Mr. Cornyn said.

Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Administration Committee, promised to hold hearings on the matter and yesterday quoted the author of the Declaration of Independence.

“As Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take away everything you have,’ ” Mr. Ney said.

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