House protects property rights, eminent domain

CNJ Editorial

Typically, when the U.S. House of Representatives passes a bill by a vote of 376-38, you know it is some meaningless resolution. The House is bitterly divided and partisan, so it’s hard to expect anything with overwhelming support to contain much of substance.

Yet the House on Thursday approved an important, substantial measure by that exact voting margin.

The legislation, called the Private Property Rights Protection Act, would rein in local government abuses of eminent domain.

It is a congressional response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous Kelo vs. City of New London (Conn.) decision in June, which affirmed the ability of localities to take private property by force and give it to developers who promise tax-generating economic development projects.

The legislation would strip federal economic development funds for two years from cities that use eminent domain for commercial development.

We’d argue that the feds have no business providing such funds to begin with, but given that it does hand out the cash it does have a right to withhold it from cities that don’t follow the rules Congress sets.

The legislation also forbids the federal government from using eminent domain for economic development — a rare situation, but one legitimately regulated by Congress.

In Congress, some of the most liberal Democrats have co-authored the property-rights bill, thus joining with some of the most conservative Republicans.

There’s reason for bipartisan support. Republicans understand the importance of property rights, and Democrats can see that it’s wrong to take the property owned by middle-class and poor people and give it to developers.

Let’s hope the Senate pushes forward a similar measure and the Bush administration supports it.