House Passes Eminent Domain Bill

Yesterday the House approved the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2005 — a bill to address the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes:

The House voted 376-38 Thursday to approve the –a bill cosponsored by 98 members of Congress that would prohibit states and local communities that receive federal economic development to invoke eminent domain as a means for private industry to build private businesses. A companion measure has been introduced in the Senate. Conservative defenders of private property and liberal protectors of the poor joined in an overwhelming House vote to prevent local and state governments from seizing homes and businesses for use in economic development projects. The House legislation, passed 376-38, was in response to a widely criticized 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court last June that allowed eminent domain authority to be used to obtain land for tax revenue-generating commercial purposes. That decision, said the House’s third-ranked Republican, Deborah Pryce of Ohio, “dealt a blow to the rights of property owners across the country.” The bill would withhold for two years all federal economic development funds from states and localities that use economic development as a rationale for property seizures. It also would bar the federal government from using eminent domain powers for economic development. It now goes to the Senate, where Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has introduced similar legislation.

The full text of HR 4128 is here. The Institute for Justice seems pleased:

“The legislation strikes the perfect balance,” says Institute for Justice senior attorney Dana Berliner, who represented the homeowners vying to retain ownership of their property in the Kelo Supreme Court case. “It serves to reassure every American that federal dollars–their own money–won’t be used to kick them off their land, while allowing state and local governments to use federal dollars for actual public uses, like roads and military bases.”

But at least one blogger isn’t too happy with this bill. From A Stitch in Haste:

If Congress truly wants to preserve the “public use” requirement of the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause, then why not threaten to withhold all federal money to a state, not just economic development funds, unless that state passed legislation banning private-for-private eminent domain? If the issue is so important, and Kelo was so wrongly decided, then why not pass a truly compelling bill? After all, isn’t that what the federal government is doing (via the Solomon Amendment, which threatens denial of all federal money to an entire academic institution if even one unit, such as its law school, tries to exercise self-autonomy and academic freedom) to colleges and universities that dare to protest the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” anti-gay policy? The federal government has never been shy about using — and abusing — its spending power to force people, institutions and the states to do its bidding. So why hold back now?