I have written about my feelings about the SCOTUS decision in Kelo v. City of New London.* Citizen’s United and Ledbetter v. Goodyear notwithstanding, Kelo is the worst Supreme Court decision of the last decade, at least.
The House of Representatives has taken steps to correct the worst of Kelo, passing a bill which would cut off federal funding to any state or municipality that takes private property via eminent domain for economic use. It would also prohibit federal use of federal eminent domain for economic development.
This is a no-brainer. The sponsors were Democrat Maxine Waters of L.A., possibly the most liberal Representative in the House,** and the very conservative Republican James Sensebrenner of Wisconsin. Bipartisan isn’t the word; and in Washington these days, that’s noteworthy. The only voice objecting to the bill was Democrat John Conyers of Michigan.
A similar bill passed the House five years ago, only to die in the Senate. Hopefully this time it will get passed.
I believe that governments should be able to create public works. They should be able to regulate in the public interest. But taking people’s property just to develop it for economic reasons is akin to theft. That it is being done by the city, state or federal government does not change that. Sandra Day O’Connor, in her dissent in Kelo, rightly stated that the decision had the potential to destroy the distinction between public and private property.
Furthermore, it is stupid. If the economic development makes sense, the private sector will be able to make it happen. If you can’t pay people enough that they sell their property, maybe it is not a good place to put your development to begin with. The city’s interference in the market can allow less than competent developers to undertake projects, or to rush into projects before other important pieces are in place. (Necessary financing from outside sources, for example.) In order to be successful, development needs to be sound: city councils, desperate for the funds which they perceive will flow from retail, housing or mixed use developments, may not be the best judges of the practicality of any given proposal.
This bill is good news for people of all political stripes who believe in the right to own property.
*Just to refresh your memory, in Kelo the Supreme Court said it was constitutional for cities to condemn private property using the power of eminent domain solely to turn it over to private developers for economic development. In other words, economic development by private parties constituted enough of a “public use” to allow the city to use eminent domain. As I said, a horrible decision.
**Waters felt, I think rightly, that poor and minorities are most at danger from this use of eminent domain, with disadvantaged people being pushed off their land while developers prosper.