States Race to Restore Private Property Rights
Less than two months after five justices on the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutional for local governments to seize private property for private development, Alabama became the first state in the nation to enact legislation designed to thwart the Court’s ruling for homeowners and small businesspeople in the state.
Calling the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision “misguided” and a “threat to all property owners,” Governor Bob Riley signed a bill into law, which prohibits governments from using eminent domain to take privately owned property for "nongovernmental retail, office, commercial, residential or industrial development or use." The legislation was passed unanimously by a special session of the Alabama legislature.
Upon signing the legislation Governor Riley stated, “A property rights revolt is sweeping the nation, and Alabama is leading it.” He’s right. Legislative leaders in more than two dozen states and dozens of localities across the country have proposed legislation and/or state constitutional amendments designed to limit the eminent domain power of local governments granted by the Kelo decision.
In Connecticut, currently one of six states that expressly permits the government to seize private property for economic development, Governor Jodi Rell recently asked cities and counties to resist condemnation of private property for private development until state legislators can better define how and when to use eminent domain. Rell has described the public outrage that’s resulted from the Kelo decision as, “the 21st-century equivalent of the Boston Tea Party.” The Supreme Court’s Kelo decision came from Connecticut when the City of New London took the homes of long-time residents like Susette Kelo to clear the way for a business park.
California State Senator Tom McClintock pre-filed a proposed constitutional amendment to further limit eminent domain power. The amendment would "specifically prohibit the seizure of one person's property for the private gain of another."
In Florida, where eminent domain controversies over waterfront development projects are about as common as an afternoon thunderstorm in summer months, Governor Jeb Bush recently approved House Speaker Allan Bense's creation of a statewide committee to develop eminent domain guidelines.
Other legislators have gotten even more creative in their response to the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision. For example, Tennessee State Representative Frank Niceley is calling for the government to pay businesses and homeowners triple a property's assessed price if it's condemned for economic development.
And, both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate are considering legislation to withhold federal funds if and when local governments use eminent domain for private development. As House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has rightly observed, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, "There is no reason your city council cannot kick you out of your house and give it to a wealthier family."
Representative Butch Otter (R-ID), chairman of a Congressional Western Caucus panel on eminent domain, recently explained, “In a way, [the Supreme Court has] done us a favor." The overwhelming public outcry against the Kelo decision has certainly awakened a sleeping giant as public officials are clamoring to address the very real concerns of their constituents. “The Supreme Court took aim and blew a hole through the Fifth Amendment," said Otter.
Last month, the Center for Individual Freedom launched a nationwide grassroots effort to force governors and state legislative leaders to restore the private property rights that five unelected justices on the U.S. Supreme Court have taken away from us. Our efforts, together with those of others, are working. If you haven’t yet signed CFIF’s Restore Our Private Property Rights petition, please do so today.
The Supreme Court may have blown a hole through the Fifth Amendment, but it’s up to us, “We the People,” to repair it. Judging by the reaction thus far, we’re off to one hell of a start.August 12, 2005