Washington, D.C. — House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today gave the following statement on the House floor in support of the Private Property Rights Protection Act (H.R. 1689). This legislation provides important limits on the government’s ability to seize private property using eminent domain.

Chairman Goodlatte: The protection of private ownership of property is vital to individual freedom and national prosperity.  It is also one of the most fundamental constitutional principles, as the Founders enshrined 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: first, the subsequent use of the property must be for the use of the public and, second, that the government must pay the owner just compensation for the property.

However, more than a decade ago the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, expanded the ability of state and local governments to exercise eminent domain powers beyond what is allowed by the text of the Constitution – by allowing government to seize property under the vague guise of “economic development” even when the “public use” turns out to be nothing more than the generation of tax revenues by another private party after the government takes property from one private individual and gives 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.

To help prevent such abuse, using Congress’ constitutional legislative powers, it’s important Congress finally passes 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 from receiving Federal economic development funds for two years when they use economic development as a justification for taking property from one person and giving it to another private entity.

In addition, this legislation grants adversely affected landowners the right to use appropriate legal remedies to enforce the provisions of the bill and 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 and pipelines — while prohibiting abuses of the eminent domain power.

No one should have to live in fear of the government’s taking their home, farm, or business simply to give it to a wealthier person or corporation.  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.”

This legislation has passed the House three times previously – either by voice vote or with the support of at least 80 percent of House Members in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote — only to be stalled in the Senate.  But the fight for people’s homes continues, as will this committee’s efforts to protect federal taxpayers from any involvement in eminent domain abuse.  Just a few years ago, every single Republican Member voted for the very same legislation on the House floor, as did two-thirds of Democratic Members.  I urge all my colleagues to join me in supporting this overwhelmingly bipartisan effort.

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