House Rejects Faster Court Access for Property Seizure Fights

The House on Tuesday rejected a bill giving people faster access to federal courts when fighting state or local governments that have seized their property.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio, said people must pursue their claims in a lengthy and expensive process through state court before trying federal courts.

In addition, he said, the Supreme Court last year said that cases decided in state courts cannot be reviewed in federal court.

"Those with federal property rights claims are effectively shut out of federal court on their federal takings claims," Chabot said.

Some Democrats opposed the bill, arguing it would allow real estate developers to shop around for a state or federal court more sympathetic to their cases.

"This bill does little more than single out developers and corporations for a special fast track into the federal courts," said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.

The 234-172 vote was not enough to pass the House under a special procedure that requires a two-thirds vote for passage.

The Constitution's Fifth Amendment includes a "takings clause," which allows the government to seize property for public use with just compensation.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said a separate provision of the bill calls for taxpayers to pay large sums to landowners if they cannot develop even a very small portion of their land, potentially undermining zoning laws and environmental regulations in many areas.

"This bill goes so far (as) to destroy the ability of communities to control the spread of huge landfills or sprawling subdivisions, factory farms or adult bookstores," he said.

Chabot said it only calls for fair compensation to landowners under Constitutional protections afforded to private property.

"There are limits to what the government can do, even for public health and safety, and that limit is called the Bill of Rights," he said.

The House last year passed a bill responding to a Supreme Court ruling that allowed a Connecticut city to exercise an eminent domain law to require several homeowners to cede their property for commercial use.

That bill, following the decision in Kelo v. City of New London, would withhold federal economic development funds for two years from states and localities that use economic development as a rationale to seize property.