Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, urges Congress to take further action to protect property rights

On the one-year anniversary of the controversial Supreme Court decision expanding the government’s power of eminent domain, President Bush issued an executive order preventing federal agencies from seizing private property except for public projects such as hospitals or roads.

The Supreme Court ruled last June in Kelo v. City of New London the municipal government could seize the homes and businesses of residents to facilitate the building of an office complex that would provide economic benefits to the area and more tax revenue to the city. Though the practice of eminent domain is provided for in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, the case was significant because the seizure was for private development and not for “public use,” such as a highway or bridge.

The court, however, noted states are free to enact additional protections. Since then, 31 states have passed laws restricting the use of eminent domain.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, praised President Bush’s order, but the senator pointed out the federal government has a limited role in such projects. He has introduced legislation to block federal funding for any state or local projects in which land was taken through eminent domain.

“The protection of homes and small businesses and other private property against government seizure or unreasonable government interference is a fundamental principle of American life and a distinctive aspect of our form of government,” Cornyn said, according to the Associated Press. “The Supreme Court’s decision last year represented a radical departure from the decisions handed down interpreting that constitutional provision over the last 200 years, and the president’s action was an important step toward righting that wrong.”

A supporter of the Connecticut city’s right to take the homes in the Kelo case dismissed the order as a political move.

Doug Kendall, executive director of the Community Rights Counsel, said he’s not aware of any federal government agency that takes property for economic development.

“It’s an effort to appease the property rights base, while ignoring the difficult question of when eminent domain should be used to help downtrodden communities,” he said, according to the AP.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the executive order put the federal government on record opposing eminent domain for merely economic development purposes.

“The president is a strong supporter of private property rights,” she said.

Since the Kelo decision, an avalanche of property confiscations have followed, including these cases:

  • Oakland, Calif.: A week after the Kelo ruling, Oakland city officials used eminent domain to evict John Revelli from the downtown tire shop his family has owned since 1949. Revelli and a neighboring business owner had refused to sell their property to make way for a new housing development. Said Revelli of his fight with the City, “We thought we’d win, but the Supreme Court took away my last chance.”

  • Boynton Beach, Fla.: Under the threat of eminent domain, the 50-year-old Alex Sims Barber Shop is selling to the City of Boynton Beach to make way for new residences and storefronts. Guarn Sims called the Kelo ruling “the nail in the coffin” that ended his hope of saving the business.

  • Baltimore, Md. Baltimore’s redevelopment agency, the Baltimore Development Corp., is exercising eminent domain to acquire more than 2,000 properties in East Baltimore for a biotech park and new residences. BDC Executive Vice President Andrew B. Frank told the Daily Record the Kelo decision “is very good news. It means many of the projects on which we’ve been working for the last several years can continue.”

  • Boston, Mass.: Two days after the Kelo decision, Boston City Council President Michael Flaherty called on the mayor of Boston to seize South Boston waterfront property from unwilling sellers for a private development project.

  • Richmond Heights, Mo.: City officials are taking bids to demolish 200 homes in the Hadley Township Neighborhood, just to turn the land over to a private developer who will build more homes.

  • Spring Valley, N.Y.: Less than a week after the Kelo decision, Spring Valley officials asked the New York Supreme Court to authorize the condemnation of 15 downtown properties in an area where a private developer plans to construct residential and retail buildings.

  • Ventor City, N.J.: Mayor Tim Kreischer wants to demolish 126 buildings – mom-and-pop shops, $200,000 homes, and apartments – to erect luxury condos, high-end specialty stores, and a parking garage.

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Related story:

President Bush’s executive order

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