Congress Can Halt Eminent Domain Abuse; Politicians Must Be Stopped from Using Law to Reward Developer Friends

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 16, 2012 | Go to article overview

Congress Can Halt Eminent Domain Abuse; Politicians Must Be Stopped from Using Law to Reward Developer Friends


Byline: Christina Walsh, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

When the U.S. Supreme Court rules, more often than not, that settles the matter.

But not in the case of Kelo v. City of New London, where the court sparked a revolt that quickly flared across more than three dozen states. The decision, handed down in 2005, told cities across the country to feel free to take away homes and businesses from property owners and give them to wealthy developers, as long as cities promise they think new developments might generate more tax dollars or jobs, with an emphasis on think and might.

There is no appeal of Supreme Court decisions and changing the Constitution is hard, but that didn't stop states from setting more protective standards for their own property owners. Since Kelo, 44 states have enacted laws restricting the power of eminent domain to varying degrees, and more protections are being added. Virginia's legislature is close to passing expanded protections.

Despite the differences in the reform efforts, the message remains the same: You got it wrong, Supreme Court. Now the nationwide revolt has come to Congress, finally allowing the federal government to join the effort to stop eminent domain abuse.

The power of eminent domain is supposed to be for public use so government can build things like roads and schools. Local governments essentially can force homeowners and business owners to sell their land, often at cut-rate prices, so essential services can be built. But starting with the wildly unsuccessful urban renewal efforts of the 1940s and 1950s, public use has been stretched to mean anything that possibly could benefit the public, not limited to what the public might actually share in using - shopping malls, fancy housing developments and office towers that could pay those local governments more in property taxes.

It has been demonstrated time and again that eminent domain is routinely used to wipe out black, Hispanic and poorer communities, with less political capital and influence, in favor of developers' grand plans. …

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