Unanimous Eminent Domain Vote in House Could Lead to Less Waste of Government Funds

A bill to put limits on the use of eminent domain, which has made its way through the House on three prior occasions, received renewed life this week. The Private Property Rights Protection Act received a unanimous vote in the House last week — a rare feat in such a politically polarized era.

However, in three prior instances, a nearly identical piece of legislation languished and died in the Senate. Will this year’s version suffer the same fate, or will a Republican majority and a relative lack of fanfare give it the legs it needs to survive a vote?

The bill would prohibit states from receiving federal dollars after the taking of private property in the name of economic development, while also eliminating the ability of the federal government to do the same.

Ever since the controversial Kelo v. New London decision more than a decade ago, states have made inroads to limiting eminent domain abuses at the local level. The argument is that the government, in acting as arbiter of what is sufficient “public use,” makes victims of the less affluent and less politically connected.

It was the fourth time past the post for Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R—Wis.) with the legislation, and his statement echoed the desire to protect the less powerful.

“The framers of the Constitution would be horrified by the paradigm created by Kelo: a government free to seize and transfer private property from individuals with fewer resources to private entities with more.”

The story of the original Kelo case involved the taking of a woman’s house to pave the way for a Pfizer office park that was never built. The case was so compelling that this past year, it was made into a film called Little Pink House starring Catherine Keener.

Those associated with the dramatization were delighted to hear news of the PRPA’s passage.

The case was not an isolated one, as even today there are similar circumstances arising in sates like New York, where a community is pursuing eminent domain proceedings to seize a residential property.

The practice even figures in to how the Trump administration would acquire the land necessary to build the oft-mentioned wall along the United States’ southern border.

Eugene Volokh writes for Reason that such a land grab for the border wall would do irreparable harm to those involved, saying that “many property owners get less than the ‘fair market value’ compensation required by Supreme Court precedent, and that this is particularly likely for those who are poor, legally unsophisticated, and lacking in political influence.”

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