Kelo Needs Congressional Correction

Last month, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2011, H.R. 1433. This bill would suspend federal economic development funds for two years to any state or municipality that expropriates private property via eminent domain for a private purpose. H.R. 1433 enjoys the bipartisan support of Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) as well as more than two dozen other co-sponsors.

If enacted, this legislation would strike at the heart of the 2005 Supreme Court decision Kelo v. City of New London. This ruling allowed government entities to expropriate private property at the behest of another private interest for the sole purpose of increasing their jurisdiction’s tax base. H.R. 1433 will allow private citizens to legally defend their private property from confiscatory state and local governments.

Since 2005, more than forty states have independently passed legislation to limit their power of eminent domain and the Supreme Courts of Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio have barred the practice under their state constitutions. This bill provides all American citizens with the means to protect their private property from an increasingly broad definition of “public use.”

H.R. 1433 is currently awaiting a vote before the full House. Congressional action to correct the abusive use of eminent domain is a necessity at a time when government continues to permit these egregious takings. Although many states have already acted, Congress must play a pivotal role in reforming the use and abuse of eminent domain. Economists such as Hernando De Soto have confirmed that strong property rights protections are the prologue to prosperity. As Americans continue to suffer from a stagnant economy, policy makers should not pass up an opportunity to augment output.