Bush Signs Executive Order Limiting Eminent Domain Powers of Federal Government

President Bush declared Friday that the federal government can only seize private property for a public use such as a hospital or road.

The president signed an executive order in response to a Supreme Court decision granting local governments broad power to bulldoze people's homes to make way for private development.

It was the one-year anniversary of the controversial Supreme Court decision in a case involving New London, Conn., homeowners.

The majority opinion from the divided court limited homeowners rights, by saying that local governments could take private property for purely economic development-related projects because the motive was bringing more jobs and tax revenue to the city.

But the court also noted that states are free to pass additional protections if they see fit, and many have done so, prohibiting so-called takings for shopping malls or other private projects.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, welcomed Bush's executive order. But since the federal government has only a limited role in these types of projects, he said Congress must do more. Cornyn has introduced legislation that would also bar federal funding for any state or local projects in which the land was obtained through eminent domain.

"The protection of homes and small businesses and other private property against government seizure or unreasonable government interference is a fundamental principle of American life and a distinctive aspect of our form of government," Cornyn said. "The Supreme Court's decision last year represented a radical departure from the decisions handed down interpreting that constitutional provision over the last 200 years, and the president's action was an important step toward righting that wrong."

Many conservatives — particularly in the West — see takings as an unjustified abuse of individual rights by government. Cities, though, backed by many liberals see the takings power as an important tool for urban renewal projects crucial to revitalizing cities.