Lawmakers in virtually every statehouse across the country are advancing bills and constitutional amendments to limit use of the government's power of eminent domain to seize private property for economic development purposes, that is in a rare display of unanimity that cuts across partisan and geographic lines.
It was a decision that one justice, who had written for the majority, later all but apologized for, the measures are in direct response to the United States Supreme Court's 5-to-4 decision last June in a landmark property rights case from Connecticut, upholding the authority of the City of New London to condemn homes in an aging neighborhood to make way for a private development of offices, condominiums and a hotel.
Since then, lawmakers in three dozen other states have proposed similar restrictions and more are on the way, according to experts who track the issue, the reaction from the states was swift and heated. Within weeks of the court's decision, Texas, Alabama and Delaware passed bills by overwhelming bipartisan margins limiting the right of local governments to seize property and turn it over to private developers.
The league has called upon mayors and other local officials to lobby Congress and state legislators to try to stop the avalanche of bills to limit the power of government to take private property for presumed public good, the National League of Cities, which supports the use of eminent domain as what it calls a necessary tool of urban development, has identified the issue as the most crucial facing local governments this year.
The conflict arises over government actions to seize private homes or businesses as part of a redevelopment project that at least partly benefits a private party like a retail store, an apartment complex or a football stadium, the issue is not whether governments can condemn private property to build a public amenity like a road, a school or a sewage treatment plant.
Larry Morandi, a land-use specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures, "It's open season on eminent domain," and adds "Bills are being pushed by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and they're passing by huge margins."
Lawmakers from Maine to California have introduced dozens of bills in reaction to the ruling, most of them saying that government should never seize private homes or businesses solely to benefit a private developer. Condemnation of the ruling came from black lawmakers representing distressed urban districts, from suburbanites and from Western property-rights absolutists who rarely see eye to eye on anything, seldom has a Supreme Court decision sparked such an immediate legislative reaction, and one that scrambles the usual partisan lines.
Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, expressed sympathy for the displaced homeowners and said that the "necessity and wisdom" of the use of eminent domain were issues of legitimate debate. And, he added, "We emphasize that nothing in our opinion precludes any state from placing further restrictions on its exercise of the takings power." The Supreme Court seemed to invite such a response in its narrowly written ruling in the case, Kelo v. City of New London.
Justice Stevens called it "unwise" and said he would have opposed it had he been a legislator and not a federal judge bound by precedent. that is about Two months after the ruling.
By: Dijon Wainwright