GOP tries again to gut Supreme Court's Kelo decision

House Republicans next week will consider legislation to override a Supreme Court decision that they say gives the government too much power to seize private property.

In Kelo v. City of New London, the plaintiff argued that New London, Conn., improperly used its power of eminent domain to seize private land in order to give that land to a developer. The case hinged on whether the city could justify that it took the land for public use.

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The plaintiff said taking land for economic development was not a fair "public use," and accused the city of essentially taking property away from one party and giving it to another in the hopes of collecting more tax revenue.

But Connecticut's Supreme Court sided with the city, and in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the same way in a 5-4 decision. Republicans say the ruling puts the government in control of property ownership.

The Private Property Rights Protection Act, from Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), is an attempt to gut the Supreme Court decision. It prohibits any state or local government that receives federal funding from using their power of eminent domain to take property in the name of economic development, and also prohibits the federal government from taking the same action.

It creates a private right of action for property owners who are injured due to a violation of the act. If any government body violates the act, it would be starved of federal funds for two years.

It also gives state and local governments a chance to rectify the problem by returning the property, which would make them eligible again to receive federal funding. Supporters of the bill say this funding threat is needed to prevent the government from deciding who gets to own property based on factors such as generating tax revenue.

"Families all across our nation continue to fight hard and make the tough decisions necessary to keep their homes, farms and businesses in these challenging economic times," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) last year, when his committee approved the bill. "It is simply wrong to allow the government to sweep in and grab hardworking Americans' property just to hand it over to someone else the government thinks should have it."

When he proposed his bill, H.R. 1944, Sensenbrenner said the Supreme Court's decision could have implications for farmers, because farms don't generate as much revenue as other businesses.

"Under the Supreme Court's decision, farmers in Wisconsin are particularly vulnerable," he said. "Farmland is less valuable than residential or commercial property, which means it doesn't generate as much property tax as homes or offices."

House GOP leaders will call up the bill under a suspension of the rules, which means it will take a two-thirds majority to pass. But it should pass easily next week — last year, the House approved a similar bill from Sensenbrenner by voice vote.