Court ruling threatens private ownerships

CNJ Editorial

Members of the U.S. Senate got to put a face with a name last week when Susette Kelo came asking for their help.

She is the Kelo in Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., a recent Supreme Court decision that freed municipalities to use the power of eminent domain to take property if the private development replacing it generates more tax revenues.

It’s an outrageous decision that will surely go down as one of the court’s blunders.

However, by infuriating Americans, Kelo has galvanized a broad and bipartisan coalition determined to blunt the ruling’s pernicious impacts through legislation.

Several states already have approved laws aimed at deterring such uses of eminent domain. Another 25 are debating the matter. And Congress is mulling a number of bills in response to the decision, each of which takes a slightly different tack.

The U.S. House already has passed legislation that would bar the use of federal transportation dollars on projects where eminent domain was used to benefit private developers — though we aren’t sure how many projects that is.

Rep. Maxine Waters, a liberal Democrat from California, wants to go further and deny Community Development Block Grants to states that permit the taking of property for private benefit. And Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, is pushing a bill that would bar the use of federal finds on any project where the Kelo decision is invoked to justify the taking — though we’re not sure how many projects that is, either.

State lawmakers should make this a top priority next session. But now it is Congress’ turn.

“I sincerely hope that Congress will do what judges and local legislators so far have refused to do for me and for thousands of people like me across the nation: Protect our homes,” Kelo told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which earlier in the week had heard Supreme Court nominee John Roberts say he believed state and federal legislators would be within their rights to override the ruling.

Kelo told lawmakers, “This battle against eminent domain abuse may have started as a way for me to save my little pink cottage, but it has rightfully grown into something much larger — the fight to restore the American Dream and the sacredness and security of each one of our homes.”