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Eminent domain plaintiff seeks Congress’ help

Susette Kelo, the Connecticut woman whose case led to the Supreme Court decision letting local governments take homes for private development, asked senators on Tuesday to stop federal involvement in such property seizures.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Connecticut woman whose case led to the Supreme Court decision allowing local governments to take homes for private development asked senators Tuesday to end the federal government’s involvement in such seizures.

“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,” Susette Kelo told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The panel is considering one of several congressional proposals that would bar federal money from construction projects that benefit from the Supreme Court ruling.

State and national lawmakers around the nation are moving quickly to blunt the effects of the Supreme Court’s Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., decision. In that 5-4 ruling, the justices said municipalities have broad power to bulldoze people’s homes in favor of private development to generate tax revenue.

The decision drew a scathing dissent from Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as favoring rich corporations.

Supreme Court nominee John Roberts — who is on track to become the next chief justice — told senators last week that Congress and state legislatures have the power to trump the decision, something the Republican-controlled House and Senate are working feverishly to do.

The House has already acted, passing a bill that would bar federal transportation funds from being used to make improvements on lands seized via eminent domain for private development.

Representative calls it ‘un-American’
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who wants additional legislation to withhold Community Development Block Grant funds from states that allow the taking of private property for private use, called the Kelo decision “one of the most un-American things that one can imagine.”

Waters said that use of eminent domain authority for private development abuses poor people and minorities.

“You have your local city government and your community redevelopment agencies who will tell you that they want to take private property because they want to do away with blight, they want to upgrade the neighborhood,” Waters said. “I don’t buy that.”

The Senate has not yet considered the House-passed bill and is considering its own solutions.

Texas senator defends homeowners
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is pushing a bill that would ban the use of federal funds in any construction utilizing the Kelo decision, hoping that will force local governments to negotiate with homeowners instead of using the Supreme Court decision to kick them out.

“The protection of homes, small businesses and other private property rights against government seizure and other unreasonable government interference is a fundamental principle and core commitment of our nation’s founders,” Cornyn said.

At least 25 states are considering changes to eminent domain laws to prevent the taking of land for private development. In its ruling, the court noted that states are free to ban that practice.

“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,” Kelo said.