Coalition Lobbies for Eminent Domain Restrictions

Published August 1, 2006

Frustrated by slow progress in the U.S. Senate on eminent domain reform, 53 national and state organizations have banded together to pressure the Senate to address the Supreme Court’s June 2005 ruling in Kelo v. City of New London, Conn.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), the coalition notes, “The freedoms enshrined by the Framers of the Constitution over two hundred years ago must be once again upheld and protected by Congress today. The passage of this type of legislation is an essential milestone in reaffirming the rights of American property owners.”

Stalled in Senate

The U.S. House of Representatives has already acted. On October 25, 2005, it passed a resolution condemning the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision. On November 4, it voted 376-38 to pass H.R. 4128, the “Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2005,” which would withhold federal funds for two years from entities that abuse eminent domain.

Legislatures in 47 states have introduced, considered, or passed legislation aiming to curb abuse of eminent domain. Senate action is being sought to cement the House action of last fall and provide protection from eminent domain abuse to citizens in every state, regardless of whether their state legislatures have acted.

Neither a proposal by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) nor the House-passed legislation has managed to reach a committee vote in the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee has been occupied by two Supreme Court nominations and recent activity on immigration.

Planners Defend Seizures

The National League of Cities, American Planning Commission, and other organizations representing city officials and administrators have opposed federal and state efforts to restrict the use of eminent domain for private development.

David Parkhurst, legislative counsel for the National League of Cities, said action by federal lawmakers is unnecessary. “States are already taking action. Let the states address any issues regarding the matter,” Parkhurst said. “Congress doesn’t need to act.”

At press time, the Government Accountability Office was expected to release a report on eminent domain, probably by mid-July.

Scott LaGanga ([email protected]) is executive director of the Property Rights Alliance in Washington, DC.