July 5, 2005 – Rare alliances are forming in response to a controversial Supreme Court ruling that the Constitution allows governments to force people to sell their homes to make way for private development projects. Late last week, some conservative lawmakers joined with liberal Democrats to introduce legislation that would deny federal funding to redevelopment projects that acquire land through eminent domain, a policy allowing governments to seize private property for public use.
The Supreme Court last week ruled in Kelo v. New London that local governments have broad authority to determine how "public use" is defined. According to the decision, governments can even condemn privately-owned homes and give the property to private developers if they believe that the public will benefit.
But critics of the 5-to-4 ruling fear that private developers will exercise political and economic clout to pressure lawmakers, while individual homeowners or small businesses will have relatively little influence.
"I worry about these little cities and towns where big, wealthy developers can influence elected officials with large campaign contributions and undermine what public use and eminent domain was meant to be," Representative Maxine Waters (D-California), who co-introduced the legislation in the House, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The legislative attempt to mitigate the impact of the Supreme Count ruling was joined by Republican Representative Richard Pombo, also of California, and other conservatives who have long promoted the primacy of property rights.
In a first step toward the legislation, the House voted 231-to-189 Thursday in favor of an measure introduced by Representative Phil Gingrey (R-Maryland) ammending an appropriations bill that would bar the departments of Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development from providing money "to enforce the judgment of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Kelo v. New London."