July 1, 2005

US House lashes out at high court 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 by voting tolimit a ruling that curbs 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.

The court ruled 5-4 that a city can take a person's home orbusiness with just compensation for a development projectdesigned to revitalize a depressed local economy.

"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.

While many House Democrats opposed the amendment, theyjoined in approving a nonbinding resolution on Thursday nightthat expressed "grave disapproval" of the court's ruling.

The resolution, passed 365-33, also declared that "stateand local governments should only execute the power of eminentdomain for purposes that serve the public good."


The Supreme Court upheld as constitutional the taking byNew London, Connecticut, of 15 properties belonging to nineresidents or investment owners for a project to complement anearby 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 announced aseparate bill against the ruling. A similar measure has beenintroduced in the Senate and both have bipartisan 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.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat,criticized the effort, saying, "Very central in thatConstitution is the separation of powers."