June 30, 2005

House lashes out at high court’s property ruling

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican-led U.S. House ofRepresentatives, a frequent critic of the federal judiciary,lashed out at the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday in voting tolimit a recent ruling that curbed property rights.

On a largely party-line vote of 231-189, the House approvedlegislation that would ban use of certain federal funds toupgrade private property seized under last week's Supreme Courtruling.

By a 5-4 vote, the court ruled that a city can take aperson's home or business with just compensation for adevelopment project designed to revitalize a depressed localeconomy.

"Once again, the highest court in the land has shown itsinability to interpret the Constitution and defend theliberties and freedoms our forefathers so desperatelyenvisioned when they established our great nation," saidRepublican Rep. Scott Garrett of New Jersey.

Garrett was a chief sponsor of the House-passed measureadopted as an amendment to a spending bill for the U.S.departments of Treasury, Transportation and Housing and UrbanDevelopment.

The amendment would prohibit use of these federal funds toimprove or construct infrastructure support on lands seized forprivate development.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court upheld as constitutionalthe taking by New London, Connecticut, of 15 propertiesbelonging to nine residents or investment owners for a projectto complement a nearby research facility by the Pfizer Inc.drug company.

The court upheld the plan under the U.S. Constitution,which allows the government to take private property throughits eminent domain powers in exchange for just compensation.

Earlier on Thursday, top House Republicans held a newsconference to announce a separate bill to attack the ruling. Asimilar measure has been introduced in the Senate and both havebipartisan support.

The House measure would prevent use of federal funds totake a person's home or business for an economic developmentproject. It also would prohibit the federal government fromusing economic development as a reason for exercising its powerof eminent domain.

"What all of us who wish to see this legislation enactedinto law want to make sure happens is that the federalgovernment's money isn't used to finance taking someone'sproperty from them to build a strip mall," said Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican.

"This time the court has gone too far," said House MajorityLeader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican.

"No court that denies property rights will long respect andrecognize other basic human rights," said DeLay, who has pushedfor greater congressional oversight of the judiciary.

Earlier, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a CaliforniaDemocrat, criticized the legislative effort, saying, "Verycentral in that Constitution is the separation of powers."

Pelosi told a news conference if Congress wants to changethe Supreme Court's decision, "it will require legislation ofthe level of a constitutional amendment."