Column by Bob Goodlatte
Private ownership of property is vital to our freedom and our prosperity, and is a basic principle embedded in our constitution. However, a Supreme Court decision issued two years ago jeopardizes the protection of private property from government seizure guaranteed by the Constitution. The narrow 5-4 decision in the case of Kelo v. City of New London gives state and local governments broad authority to seize private property under the guise of economic development just to generate tax revenue.
This decision creates opportunities for state and local governments to use eminent domain to take away the property of any individual and turn it over to another private individual or corporation for economic-development purposes. Cities can now bulldoze private citizens’ homes or seize family farmland to make way for shopping malls or other development, essentially ensuring that no citizen’s property is safe.
Last week I was pleased to join a bipartisan group of members of Congress in reintroducing the Private Property Protection Act. This legislation, which overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives last Congress, only to stall in the Senate, discourages states and localities from abusing their eminent domain power by denying those that commit such abuse all federal economic-development funds for two years. While economic development is clearly crucial for many communities, this legislation ensures that this will be done with respect for our constitutional rights.
Last week, House Republicans scored another victory for the American people by defeating misguided legislation that would damage private-property rights by leaving the door open for federal condemnation of land and placing restrictions on private property. This legislation would have severely restricted property rights along 25 miles of the Eightmile River, which is located in the same area of Connecticut where the infamous Kelo decision originated. The legislation required a freeze on any physical alteration to the land and allowed the federal government to prohibit projects on federal land and tighten zoning restrictions on private land. I am pleased that this legislation, which would allow Washington politicians to condemn or restrict the use of private property at will, with or without just compensation, was defeated on the House floor.
No one should have to live in fear of the government snatching up their home, farm or business, and the Private Property Rights Protection Act will help to create the incentives to ensure that these abuses do not occur in the future. Rest assured I remain committed to the principles of private property and limited government, and I will continue working to ensure that our homes, farms, businesses, churches and other private property will not be bulldozed in abusive land grabs.
Bob Goodlatte represents Virginia’s Sixth Congressional District in the United States Congress. Contact him at www.house.gov/goodlatte/emailbob.htm.
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