Pass the eminent domain bill
In the few weeks left of the 109th Congress, the lame-duck Senate should pass Sen. James Inhofe’s eminent-domain bill. A broad coalition of liberals and conservatives passed the House companion bill a full year ago by an overwhelming 376-38 margin, but the Senate bill has been stuck in Sen. Arlen Specter’s Judiciary Committee ever since. It’s time to move.
This bill withholds federal economicdevelopment money for two years from states and municipalities which seize unblighted private property, as occurred in the Kelo vs. New London case, for developers to build condos, shopping malls or other projects outside traditional eminentdomain bounds (highways and rails, for instance). This sends the right message: If you take grandma’s house to build a tonier neighborhood in service of boosting city coffers — as New London did — the American taxpayer does not approve. We will not finance your actions.
The federal government is not obligated to subsidize property takings, which the great majority of Americans consider to be egregious violations of people’s every- day property rights. The Senate should respect the people’s will.
A national backlash against such takings is underway, with good reason. It has manifested itself most recently in the pas- sage of nine state ballot initiatives to limit government eminent-domain powers. Voters in Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon and South Carolina all passed restrictions on their Nov. 7 ballots. Three states that rejected limits — California, Idaho and Washington — might also have passed them if the restrictions were not so overreaching. The measures required compensation for land-use and zoning regulations’ effects on propertyholders’ income, which undoubtedly would have been abuse-prone — not to mention costly for most state and local governments.
Undergirding this is sheer voter revulsion at the image of government seizing a modest but unblighted home like Susette Kelo’s, the home she grew up in, to make way for condos and shopping — all under the guise of “economic development.” Quite reasonably, voters don’t want the same thing to happen to their hard-earned investments. Who can blame them?
Passing Mr. Inhofe’s bill would do right by taxpayers and property owners. We see no reason why the federal government must help land-grabbing state and local governments in the sordid business of seizing people’s homes simply because those governments prefer a tonier clientele.