04 November 2005

House eminent domain bill passes

In a rebuke of this past June's Supreme Court decision ruling eminent domain for private entities legal, the House just passed a bill (H.R. 4128) that would deal out severe penalties to states and municipalities that would choose to use eminent domain in that highly controversial fashion.

The bill passed with astounding 376-38 tally, which meant that it received significant bipartisan support. The big penalty here is that the federal government would be able to withhold economic development funds for two years from local and state governments that used eminent domain for private projects. There are limitations in the law: private property owners have up to seven years after their property was seized or condemned to lodge a complaint, and the law will not apply to seizure or condemnation completed or in progress prior to the enactment of the law. If the constitutionality of the law becomes a question, it'll be interesting to see whether the Supreme Court upholds its previous decision or not. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was not the swing vote in the Kelo vs. City of New London case, so appointing a conservative successor wouldn't make a difference. Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a bit of a surprise, was the swing vote in favor of the city and its developer partners, though given the chance to rule based on a broader law than a single case, there's a good chance he'd swing the other way.

Among the projects that in all likelihood won't be affected: the new Washington Nationals ballpark along the Anacostia River in D.C., and the new Arlington, TX football stadium being built for the Cowboys. For a new project like an A's ballpark, eminent domain would not be an option - at least not without severe consequences.

The bill is bound for the Senate, where it will probably pass. President Bush will probably sign it as well, though he actually supported eminent domain to seize property that eventually was used to build The Ballpark in Arlington.


jrbh said...

It being the House, you have to wonder what it means for the powers of government in general to use eminent domain, whether this is a backdoor attempt to eliminate eminent domain altogether.