The U.S. House has approved legislation that overturns a 2005 Supreme Court decision that affirmed the ability of states to take control of private property under the doctrine of eminent domain and hand it to another private developer. In the case, Kelo v. City of New London, the city took non-blighted private property and gave it to a property developer; a move many said was a bid to expand the city's tax revenues, and one that could erode private property protections. Eminent domain is seen as permissible only when the land or property taken would be retooled for public use.
The Private Property Rights Protection act, H.R. 1443, would prevent states from using eminent domain over property to be used for economic development, and establish a private right of action for property owners if a state or local government violates the new rule. It would also limit federal funds to states in which property is taken in violation of the law.
Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, D-Mich., was the only member to speak against the bill. He argued that it has been seven years since the Kelo decision, and that many states have adjusted their own eminent domain laws in reaction. Support for the bill was never in doubt, in particular because similar legislation has already passed the House in years past.
National Cattlemen's Beef Association President J.D. Alexander says private property rights are a constant worry for cattlemen and women, especially as land values continue upward. He said the legislation provides much-needed protection to farmers and ranchers vying to retain land for food production.
"We aren't against economic development; we are against the government forcing farmers and ranchers to give up private property that is being used to provide food for a growing global population," said Alexander. "Land isn't being taken for public use, like road construction. Land is being taken under eminent domain and then handed over to private developers to turn food producing farms and ranches into strip malls. Development is fine and necessary to sustaining rural communities but we must not forget that we need agriculture to sustain life on this planet."