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What Does It Take to Protect an American’s ‘Castle’?

We often find the U.S. Senate debating more issues than many of us care to chat about, ranging from immigration to energy prices. The upper chamber continually deals with the matters of fundamental importance to the American people and their lives. Or so we thought.

One issue has managed to slip through the cracks. An issue with a public approval rating of well over 80 % in every national and state survey taken. A matter that crosses every socio-economic, ideological and political line along the spectrum. An issue that could provide either political party a much-needed win in an election year that could be won by the slimmest of margins.

Stumped? Well, as a shock to most, the issue is eminent domain abuse and the solution is in House passed legislation that could protect homes, businesses and religious institutions once again from government’s grasp.

Immediately following the egregious decision by the Supreme Court last summer in Kelo v. City of New London, many folks in the policy sphere believed that Congress would cross the line and act too hastily to the High Court’s decision. Maybe Congress would react by eliminating the Constitutional protection to use eminent domain under the Fifth Amendment altogether. Instead, the House of Representatives, in a rare moment of bipartisan solidarity (with the exception of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who voted against the measure), overwhelmingly passed H.R. 4128, the "Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2005," by a vote of 376-38. The legislation seeks to curb eminent domain abuse by withholding all federal economic development funds from states and localities that engage in these practices for a period of two years.

Now, the issue isn’t dead in the Senate, but they aren’t exactly keeping the patient alive either. Since the House passed the measure last November, not one hearing has been scheduled in any Senate committee. Due to a lack of activity on the north side of the Capitol, fifty-three national and state organizations, ranging from the free-market think tanks to grassroots advocacy organizations, co-signed a letter requesting Senate action to correct the injustice done by the Supreme Court.

Directed to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the letter states that, "The freedoms enshrined by the Framers of the Constitution over two hundred years ago must be once again upheld and protected by Congress today. The passage of this type of legislation is an essential milestone in reaffirming the rights of American property owners."

By not limiting the abuse, local and state officials will continue to use federal taxpayer dollars to subsidize the taking of private property from one citizen and transfer it to another. Taxpayer dollars are already poorly managed in Washington. Without action by the Senate, they will continue to fund the government’s taking of any American’s private property.

"Historically, federal funds have inspired some of the most abusive condemnations in the country, including urban renewal and the Poletown project in Detroit," states Dana Berliner, senior attorney and defense lawyer for Susette Kelo before the Supreme Court. "It’s time to stop using federal money to encourage local governments to take property from one person and transfer it to another."

Hence, action is needed by you. As thousands of Americans, from those fighting in Brooklyn, N.Y., to keep their brownstones as opposed to sports stadiums, to the San Jose Redevelopment Authority and its efforts to condemn single-family homes and multimillion-dollar mansions, tirelessly fight to maintain their fundamental rights and freedoms, Americans as a whole must stand up once again and let their voice be heard.

The anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision will be in late June, and what a disservice it is to the residents of New London and others fighting similar battles with big government to still remain vulnerable to government’s grasp. Your state’s Senators must hear through letters to the editor and phone calls to their district your disgust with regard to this issue, but more importantly, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee (where the measure sits) must receive the message. Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.) controls the committee’s docket and no hearing is scheduled on this issue.

Property rights organizations hope there is not a larger "issue" with the state of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania legislature recently passed eminent domain legislation with sound principles for closing "blight" designations (blight is one of the grossest justifications for eminent domain abuse). Yet they incorporated a number of significant exemptions for blight determinations for "big city" establishments such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Why? Because the main adversaries of these types of measures, including city mayors and council members, are the same individuals who state that economic development will cease to exist if any takings measure prevails. They’re wrong.

As the measure continues to mire in the U.S. Senate, states across the country carry on the debate and work to enact sound legislation to protect their residents. In the Supreme Court’s opinion in the Kelo case, it stated, "Nothing in our opinion precludes any State from placing further restrictions on its exercise of the takings power." According to a review by the Institute for Justice’s Castle Coalition, since Kelo, legislatures in 47 states have introduced, considered or passed legislation aiming to curb the abuse of eminent domain.

Eminent domain use is not the problem, but eminent domain abuse is. And if the Senate finally passes eminent domain reform, then Americans will be one step closer to truly protecting their "castle."

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Written By

Mr. LaGanga is executive director of the Property Rights Alliance (PRA) in Washington, DC. To learn more about PRA, visit PropertyRightsAlliance.org.

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