Alarmed by the prospect of local governments seizing homes and turning the property over to developers, lawmakers in at least half the states are rushing to blunt last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling expanding the power of eminent domain.
In Texas and California, legislators have proposed constitutional amendments to bar government from taking private property for economic development. Politicians in Alabama, South Dakota and Virginia likewise hope to curtail government’s ability to condemn land.
Even in states like Illinois – one of at least eight that already forbid eminent domain for economic development unless the purpose is to eliminate blight – lawmakers are proposing to make it even tougher to use the procedure.
“People I’ve never heard from before came out of the woodwork and were just so agitated,” said Illinois state Sen. Susan Garrett, a Democrat. “People feel that it’s a threat to their personal property, and that has hit a chord.”
Why do you say that? The Supreme Court did not say that actions limiting the scope of eminent domain wereinappropriate; they only said that, absent such restrictions, the fifth amendment does not forbid takings of the type used in New London, CT.
Indeed, Justice Stevens, writing for the Kelo majority, expressly recognizes this sort of legislative action as entirely proper:
While I think the court got the result wrong in Kelo, I would prefer that the court err on the side of not invalidating laws on constitutional grounds for precisely this reason. If a law isn’t found unconstitutional, there are legislative means to address the problem. On the other hand, when the court declares a law unconstitutional, there is very little that can be done to change the outcome of that decision.