THE KELO EFFECT PART 3: Masters of the House React to Eminent Domain Decision

"It is a decision of the Supreme Court. If Congress wants to change it, it will require legislation of a level of a constitutional amendment. So this is almost as if God has spoken. It's an elementary discussion now. They have made the decision." -- House Leader Nancy Pelosi, June 30, 2005

On June 30, 2005 the United States House of Representatives passed a bill 231 to 189 which 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. See yesterday's Washington Post article.The House vote is another expression of the outrage that the members are hearing from their constituents. The vote is not law, and it is unclear, what if anything the senate will do in this regard.

The House also introduced Resolution 340 to express "the grave disapproval of the House of Representatives regarding the majority opinion of the Supreme Court in the case of Kelo v. City of New London that nullifies the protections afforded private property owners in the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment."

Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi of California has spoken out on the eminent domain issue. Ms. Pelosi shows a shocking lack of understanding of the decision, the role of the Supreme Court, and the role of the legislature. See US Newswire transcript of her press conference and suffer the details.

Meanwhile in New Jersey, Louis Manzo, Assembly Democrat from Hudson County, has put his oar in the water on the eminent domain issue. He seeks to protect the people, but his proposal makes no sense and shows a lack of understanding of the current statutory scheme, which includes the Relocation Assistance Act, NJSA 20:4-1, and the regulations adopted under it. These regulations call for residential condemnees to receive a relocation housing bonus which theoretically pays them the difference between the fair market value of the house that was condemned and the purchase price of a comparable relocation dwelling. Assemblyman Manzo want to guarantee condemnees a price no less than the cost of purchasing "comparable" housing. See Bill A4331 In other words, what the assemblyman wants to accomplish is already in the statutes and regulations, however badly it is administered.

Nia H. Gill, Democratic Senator from Essex County, proposed S2739 which would prevent use of condemnation to acquire residential properties under redevelopment laws. Carving out an exception for residential properties and presumably allowing the balance of the project to go ahead makes no sense. Why should commerical and industrial property owners be treated differently? There is an equal protection and due process infirmity in this proposal. We think Senator Gill's bill is well intentioned, but it will have little chance of being adopted. Most redevelopment projects involve acquisition of residential properties. Residential acquisitions such as those being undertaken in Long Branch are unfair in the extreme. However, residential acquisitions which have taken place in our inner cities, as blight was originally intended to address, have resulted in new residential communities.

We see a lot of politicians introducing bills on this issue. These bills are nothing more than posturing, and have little chance of becoming law since there will be a great deal of opposition from the League of Municipalities, which favors these projects. Substantive amendments need to be proposed and adopted for the Eminent Domain Act of 1971, the Local Redevelopment Housing Law, and the Relocation Assistance Act. We will post a blog within the next week dealing with what we see needs to be changed.