Orignally appeared on ImWithFred.com
Last week, California officials in National City voted unanimously to use eminent domain to take over more than 600 properties—including a nonprofit youth center dedicated to keeping local kids out of gangs and off the street. They plan to give this land to local private developers for a group of condominiums.
It’s said that a man’s home is his castle, but across America some property owners are being rooked by local bureaucrats and politicians and having their private property confiscated by local governments for the supposed public good.
Most people probably think that if they buy a home or a small business that they will get to keep what they purchased. After all, the Fifth Amendment guarantees that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
But in 2005, the Supreme Court, in Kelo v. New London, held that the government could take private property – even a person’s home – and give that property to a large private corporation for that business’s private use. As Justice O’Connor wrote in her scathing dissent, “Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded – i.e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public – in the process.”
Not surprisingly, the public responded to Kelo with outrage. Since then, numerous states passed legislation aimed at curbing an abuse of eminent domain powers. In the 2006 election cycle, 12 states held referendums proposing to limit state governments’ abilities to confiscate property a la Kelo. Ten states approved the proposals, each with strong majorities.
Now, nearly two weeks ago, members of both parties in Congress introduced legislation in the House that would deny federal economic funding to state and local governments upon a finding that those governments had abused their power of eminent domain by seizing private property that would be used for private economic development. This is an important issue, and Members of Congress need to act to make sure that federal funds are not used to enable these sorts of takings of private property. Another option would be the reissuance of President Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 12630, which directs federal agencies to “first do no harm” to property rights when issuing new regulations.
Fred Thompson has been a lawyer, actor and United States Senator. He writes exclusive analysis and commentary for Townhall Magazine.