Congress Should Protect Property Owners
June 24, 2015
On June 23, 2005, the United States Supreme Court held in Kelo v. City of New London that the government could seize private property and transfer it to another private party for economic development. This type of taking was deemed to be for a "public use" and allowed under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Thanks to Kelo:
- If a city claims a certain privately owned property would generate additional tax revenue, create more jobs, or even simply make the city more attractive if owned by another private party, that city can use the power of eminent domain to seize the property.
- Private-property ownership has become a precarious proposition, subject to the economic development whims of the government.
What should Congress do? They could address economic development and closely related takings. There are many ways legislation can address these takings, but there are some important considerations that Congress should remember:
- Creating a burden of proof. Since there may be multiple reasons for taking property, the government should ideally prove that it would have seized the property even if there were no economic development benefit.
- Addressing Blight Abuse. Any legislation should expressly address the abuse of blight laws. "Blight" should not be so broadly defined to cover almost anything. Only property that itself is blighted should be allowed to be taken; non-blighted properties should not be seized on the grounds that they are located in an alleged blighted area.
- Private Right of Action. Private property owners should be able to challenge takings under any new law in court.
It is easy to see why there is such wide support for addressing Kelo. This support, in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the infamous case, should give Congress a real chance to enact protections for property owners. The American dream of owning a home should no longer be threatened by the nightmare of eminent domain abuse.
Source: Daren Bakst, "A Decade After Kelo: Time for Congress to Protect American Property Owners," Heritage Foundation, June 22, 2015.
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