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January 25, 2012
Press Release

Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee approved H.R. 1433, "The Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2011."  Introduced by Congressman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), the legislation is intended to protect private property owners and communities from eminent domain abuse, and restore property rights that the Supreme Court changed in the controversial case, Kelo v. City of New London. In Kelo, the Court upheld the ability of the State and Federal government to transfer privately-owned property against the wishes of the owner to a large corporation, declaring that the resulting economic development would produce benefits to the community.

The Court's ruling raised serious concerns that the government could use its power to seize private property from individual private citizens for the benefit of more powerful, better connected, wealthier private parties.  The case sparked widespread outrage and resulted in unlikely political alliances of both conservative Republicans – concerned about case's constitutional implications and impact on due process – and progressive Democrats, who decried eminent domain abuse among local governments and private developers who systematically used the law to uproot vulnerable Americans from their homes and communities.

"Unfortunately, economic development condemnations have all too often been used by powerful interest groups to acquire land at the expense of the poor and politically weak," Rep. Waters said. "And few policies have done more to destroy communities and opportunities for minorities than eminent domain.  Some 3 to 4 million Americans, most of them ethnic minorities, have been forcibly displaced from their homes as a result of urban renewal takings since World War II. While eminent domain has always had a disproportionate impact on the constitutional rights of minorities, most of the public didn't notice the alarming trends until the Supreme Court's controversial ruling." 

The Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2011 will restore the property rights of all Americans and prevent the federal government or any authority of the federal government from using economic development as a justification for exercising its power of eminent domain. The bill will also discourage states and localities from abusing their eminent domain power by denying states or localities that commit such abuse all federal economic development funds for a period of two years.

"The legislation I introduced with Rep. Sensenbrenner restores fairness and protects every American citizen from being deprived of a fundamental right by a powerful government," Rep Waters explained"As a progressive Democrat, while I do not always agree with Congressman Sensenbrenner, who is a conservative Republican, we both feel very strongly about the principles at stake. The abuse of eminent domain at the expense of individual property owners is not what our founders intended."

Although 44 states have enacted new laws limiting eminent domain power in the years since Kelo, many of the new laws contain loopholes that make them easy to circumvent. For example, 19 states have forbidden takings for "economic development" but continue to permit the exact same kinds of condemnations under the guise of alleviating blight.  These laws define blight so broadly that properties in any number of neighborhoods could be subject to condemnation. 

"One of the basic Constitutional functions of American government is the protection of private property rights," Rep. Waters stated. "H.R. 1433 will protect homes, communities, churches, and other privately-owned property from predatory takings under the guise of ‘economic development.'  Private developers and local governments that have a genuine project should be able to acquire the land or property they need through legitimate, voluntary purchases.  If the project really is more valuable than the current use of the same land, then they should be willing to negotiate with property owners who are willing to sell. Otherwise, the federal government must protect the rights of private property owners to be secure in their own homes and communities."

Congresswoman Waters and Congressman Sensenbrenner introduced this legislation as H.R. 1855 during the 111th Congress; H.R. 3053 during the 110th Congress; and both bills is substantially similar to H.R. 4128, legislation that passed the House in the 109th Congress by an overwhelming vote of 376-38 but was never enacted.