|For Immediate Release
June 12, 2013
Contact: Kathryn Rexrode or Jessica Collins, (202) 225-3951
Statement of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte
Markup of H.R. 1944, the Private Property Rights Protection Act
Chairman Goodlatte: Private ownership of property is vital to our freedom and our prosperity and is one of the most fundamental principles embedded in the Constitution. The Founders realized the importance of property rights by enshrining property rights protections throughout the Constitution, including in the Fifth Amendment, which provides that “private property” shall not “be taken for public use without just compensation.”
This clause created two conditions to the government taking private property: that the subsequent use of the property is for the public and that the government gives the property owner just compensation.
However, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London was a step in the opposite direction. This controversial ruling expanded the ability of State and local governments to exercise eminent domain powers to seize property under the guise of economic development when the public use is as incidental as generating tax revenues or creating jobs.
The Kelo decision even permits the government to take property from one private individual and give it to another private entity.
As the dissenting Justices observed, by defining public use so expansively, the result of the Kelo decision is “effectively to delete the words ‘for public use’ from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment . . . . The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. . . . The government now has license to transfer property from those with few resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.”
In the wake of this decision, State and local governments can use eminent domain powers to take the property of any individual for nearly any reason. Cities may now bulldoze citizens’ homes, farms, churches, and small businesses to make way for shopping malls or other developments.
For these reasons, it is important that Congress finally pass the Private Property Rights Protection Act.
I want to thank Mr. Sensenbrenner for reintroducing this legislation. He and I have worked together on this issue for many years, and I am pleased that this legislation incorporates many provisions from legislation I helped introduce in the 109th Congress, the STOPP Act.
Specifically, the Private Property Rights Protection Act would prohibit State and local governments that receive Federal economic development funds from using economic development as a justification for taking property from one person and giving to another private entity.
Any State or local government that violates this prohibition will be ineligible to receive federal economic development funds for a period of two years.
In addition, this legislation grants adversely affected landowners the right to use appropriate legal remedies to enforce the provisions of the bill. Furthermore, this bill allows State and local governments to cure violations by giving the property back to the original owner.
The bill also includes a carefully crafted definition of economic development that protects traditional uses of eminent domain, such as taking land for public uses like roads, while prohibiting abuses of the eminent domain power.
No one should have to live in fear of the government snatching up their home, farm, or business. As the Institute for Justice’s witness observed during a hearing on this bill, “Using eminent domain so that another richer, better-connected person may live or work on the land you used to own tells Americans that their hopes, dreams and hard work do not matter as much as money and political influence. The use of eminent domain for private development has no place in a country built on traditions of independence, hard work, and protection of property rights.”
The Private Property Rights Protection Act creates incentives for State and local governments to help ensure that eminent domain abuse does not occur in the future.
In closing, I’d just like to remind my colleagues that the adage that one’s home is one’s castle applies to people across the economic spectrum. No matter where your district is located, the citizens in your district may be affected by eminent domain abuse if Congress does not act to prevent these unconstitutional takings.
I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.