Dennis Cook  /  AP
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, discusses the Supreme Court decision on property rights during a news conference Thursday on Capitol Hill. He is joined by, at left, Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., and, at right,Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
updated 6/30/2005 9:54:11 PM ET 2005-07-01T01:54:11

Lawmakers are trying to blunt a Supreme Court decision that says local governments can seize people's homes to make way for shopping malls and other private development.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said Thursday the high court had made "a horrible decision" and he hoped it would cause a backlash.

"The only silver lining to this decision is the possibility that this time the court has finally gone too far and that the American people are ready to reassert their constitutional authority," said DeLay, R-Texas, a critic of recent court decisions.

In a 5-4 ruling last week, the Supreme Court said municipalities have broad power to bulldoze people's homes and put up shopping malls or other private development to generate tax revenue. The decision drew a scathing dissent from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as favoring rich corporations. DeLay agreed.

"Someone could knock on your door and tell you that the city council has voted to give your house to someone else because they have nicer plans for the property," DeLay said.

The House on Thursday approved by a 231-189 vote a bid by conservative Scott Garrett, R-N.J., to bar federal transportation funds from being used to make improvements on lands seized via eminent domain for private development.

Legislation in the works also would ban the use of federal funds for any project getting the go-ahead using the Kelo v. City of New London (Conn.) decision.

"They're going to have to find their own money, instead of coming to Washington," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Susette Kelo, whose riverfront house in New London's Fort Trumbull neighborhood is set to be razed, said she's glad politicians in Washington are working against the decision. "I think the people in this country are outraged in this decision, and rightly so," she said. "Everyone in this country has just lost the right to own their own property."

Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., mentioned community development block grants as one type of money source that would be banned for projects advancing as a result of the Kelo decision.

The grant program provides money to more than 1,000 municipalities for everything from lead abatement in old buildings to improving water and sewage facilities.

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A bill preventing eminent domain
Sensenbrenner and the committee's top Democrat, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, are planning a bill that would prevent Washington from claiming eminent domain for economic development and block any state or local government from getting federal funds for projects

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced a similar bill on Monday, with a House companion introduced by Rep. Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont. The Supreme Court has overturned other congressional attempts to supersede its decisions.

"It is clearly within the power of Congress to limit the use of federal funds," Cornyn said.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California says she is opposed to any legislation that would withhold federal dollars "for the enforcement of any decision of the Supreme Court, no matter how opposed I am to that decision."

At least eight states — Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, South Carolina and Washington — already forbid the use of eminent domain for economic development unless it is to eliminate blight. Other states either expressly allow private property to be taken for private economic purposes or have not spoken clearly to the question.

There were more than 10,000 instances of private property being threatened with condemnation or actually condemned by government for private use between 1998-2002, according to the Institute for Justice.

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