House to Consider Curbing Government's Eminent Domain Power

Fresh off the Presidents Day recess week, the House this afternoon will consider a bill pushed by a most unlikely bipartisan team to curb the government’s powers of eminent domain.


The Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2011, introduced back in April by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) and coming to the House floor with 28 co-sponsors, passed the Judiciary Committee on a 23-5 bipartisan vote last month.

The legislation is a direct response to the 2005 Kelo v. City of New London Supreme Court decision that found private property could be seized in a government redevelopment plan and turned over to private developers. Sensenbrenner first introduced a bill to counter Kelo in the 109th Congress; it passed the House 376-38 but was never enacted.

Today’s bill, H.R. 1433, bans the federal government from exercising eminent domain power for economic development and blocks federal economic development funds from being used by state and local governments for eminent domain purposes for seven years. It also gives private property owners or tenants affected by violations of the act the right to a day in court with no state immunity. And it prohibits eminent domain being used on a religious or nonprofit entity because of its tax-exempt status.

“Protecting private property rights has strong support on both sides of the aisle,” Sensenbrenner said at the time the bill passed committee. “The U.S. Supreme Court wrongly decided to broaden states’ eminent domain power to allow governments to seize private property for economic development. Expanded eminent domain is an abject offense on Americans’ basic freedom, and Congress must restore the basic constitutional protections of private property.”


Among that bipartisan support? Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) introduced the bill with Sensenbrenner.

“The legislation I introduced with Rep. Sensenbrenner restores fairness and protects every American citizen from being deprived of a fundamental right by a powerful government,” Waters said. “As a progressive Democrat, while I do not always agree with Congressman Sensenbrenner, who is a conservative Republican, we both feel very strongly about the principles at stake. The abuse of eminent domain at the expense of individual property owners is not what our founders intended.”


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