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Correction to This Article
A July 1 article about a House vote incorrectly characterized a recent Supreme Court ruling allowing local governments to force property owners to sell out and make way for private economic development. The ruling did not apply to government's power of eminent domain for slum clearance and land redistribution, which was covered by previous court decisions.

House Votes To Undercut High Court On Property

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said the ruling on the forced sale of property was
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said the ruling on the forced sale of property was "horrible." (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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By Mike Allen and Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 1, 2005

The House voted yesterday to use the spending power of Congress to undermine a Supreme Court ruling allowing local governments to force the sale of private property for economic development purposes. Key members of the House and Senate vowed to take even broader steps soon.

Last week's 5 to 4 decision has drawn a swift and visceral backlash from an unusual coalition of conservatives concerned about property rights and liberals worried about the effect on poor people, whose property is often vulnerable to condemnation because it does not generate a lot of revenue.

The House measure, which passed 231 to 189, would deny federal funds to any city or state project that used eminent domain to force people to sell their property to make way for a profit-making project such as a hotel or mall. Historically, eminent domain has been used mainly for public purposes such as highways or airports.

The measure, an amendment to an appropriations bill, would apply to funds administered by the departments of Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said they will push for a more inclusive measure that would apply to all federal funds.

A fact sheet said under the bill the locality or state would "lose any federal funds that would contribute in any way to the project the property would be taken for."

The vote marks the latest of several congressional moves to curb a judiciary that some lawmakers consider out of touch with average Americans. It came as conservative groups attacked a month-old bipartisan deal that ended Senate filibusters of several appellate court nominees and as some legislators anxiously watched for a possible Supreme Court retirement.

Activists said the 5 to 4 ruling will be a centerpiece of their efforts to motivate conservatives and libertarians for a confirmation fight after a vacancy opens on the court. "It's so bad, it's good," said Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for Justice, which works closely with the White House.

DeLay called it "a horrible decision" and said lawmakers' intervention is part of an effort to "assert the responsibility and the authority of the Congress to be a check on the judiciary."

"This Congress is not going to just sit by -- idly sit by -- and let an unaccountable judiciary make these kinds of decisions without taking our responsibility and our duty given to us by the Constitution to be a check on the judiciary," he said during a rare appearance in the House Radio-Television Gallery.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) introduced a similar measure and immediately drew a Democratic co-sponsor, Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.), as well as Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who is number three in his party's leadership. The House bill is sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.). Its Democratic co-sponsors include Reps. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), Maxine Waters (Calif.) and Peter A. DeFazio (Ore.).

The conservative Family Research Council sent an e-mail urging followers to contact their lawmakers to support the legislation. The council said the decision "strips the rights of private citizens by granting the government power to seize your home and transfer it to a private developer."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized the measure. "When you withhold funds from enforcing a decision of the Supreme Court, you are in fact nullifying a decision of the Supreme Court," she told reporters. "This is in violation of the respect of separation of powers in our Constitution."


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