WASHINGTON – An unusual alliance of House lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday to try to curb the impact of a Supreme Court ruling last month that allows local governments to take private property for other private uses they deem to be in the best interest of the public at large.
The ruling stirred up a tempest on Capitol Hill, and both hard-core conservatives and hard-core liberals united to block the ruling.
"Anyone who's ever served at a local level understands what this decision means. It turns all local government everywhere into a kind of a carnival of real estate bargains," Rep. Dennis Kucinich ( search), D-Ohio, said.
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"Cities may now bulldoze private citizens' homes to make way for shopping malls or other developments," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte ( search), R-Va., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
The high court's decision gave New London, Conn., the power to acquire homes adjacent to a Pfizer pharmaceutical factory for real estate development. The court's decision claimed the newly developed property would boost the local economy, increase tax revenue and allow for better public services.
Lawmakers call this a perversion of the 5th Amendment's protection of private property unless taken by government for public use.
"We've now stepped through a looking glass with this Supreme Court decision that private is public," Rep. Peter DeFazio ( search), D-Ore., said.
"If people don't wake up and realize how important private property is to both our freedom and our prosperity then we're going to be in very serious trouble," Rep. John Duncan ( search), R-Tenn., said.
The Supreme Court's decision has not only united liberals and conservatives in defense of private property, it has, for the first time in recent memory, sensitized a large swath of the public to the dangers of judicial activism.
In response to the court's ruling, one conservative activist asked officials in Weare, N.H., to seize Supreme Court Justice David Souter's ( search) two-story farmhouse so he could build a hotel on the property. Souter joined the majority in the five-four decision reshaping property rights
Congress is considering numerous bills to block the Supreme Court ruling, even as states rush to write their own private property rules.
"If you're an American that moves from Florida to Texas, you shouldn't lose a basic fundamental human right because one state might have a different set of rules," Rep. Henry Bonilla ( search), R-Texas, said.
Some voters have even asked lawmakers to draft a constitutional amendment, which one lawmaker said seems redundant.
"What are we going to do? The constitution is very clear — re-adopt the 5th Amendment? It specifically says you can't do this and somehow they found ... that it was OK to do it," said Rep. Richard Pombo ( search), R-Calif., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
One leading House bill already introduced would stop the flow of all federal economic aid to any state or local government that seizes private property for use by another private party, including federal aid for projects unrelated to the property seizure. The bill is slated for a vote this fall.
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