Property Rights

Rep. John Conyers Turns a Blind Eye to Eminent Domain Abuse


As noted in today's morning links, yesterday afternoon the House of Representatives approved H.R. 1443, also known as the Property Rights Protection Act, which is designed to forbid the sort of eminent domain abuse that the Supreme Court let slide in its notorious 2005 ruling in Kelo v. City of New London, where it upheld the use of eminent domain to transfer property from one private owner to another for the sake of economic development. (Here's how well that worked out.)

As The Hill reports, H.R. 1443 is one of those bills with truly bipartisan support:

In addition to chief sponsor Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) spoke in favor of the bill, as did two Democrats, Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).

Waters co-sponsored the bill with Sensenbrenner, and both members noted that this rare alliance alone should prompt members to support the bill.

"This is a Sensenbrenner-Waters bill," Sensenbrenner said. "You will never see another Sensenbrenner-Waters bill, and that is probably one of the best reasons to vote in favor of it."

Waters said her support for the bill comes in part from the idea that poor people and minorities stand the most to lose from the Supreme Court's ruling.

"The government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more," she said. "The founders cannot have intended this perverse result."

John Conyers

That history lesson did not persuade eminent domain enthusiast Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), however, who refuses to see what the fuss is all about, as The Hill reports:

Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) was the only member to speak against the bill. He argued that it has been seven years since the Kelo decision, and that many states have adjusted their own eminent domain laws in reaction.

"Congress should not now come charging in after seven years of work and presume to sit as a national zoning board, advocating to our national government the right to decide which states have gotten the balance right, and deciding which project are or are not appropriate," he said.

I hope Conyers remembers to be so humble about Congress' lawmaking powers the next time he casts a vote.

For a sense of the damage that Kelo-style takings have done in just one state, check out Reason's coverage of New York's eminent domain land grabs on behalf of Columbia University, an elite private institution, and real estate tycoon Bruce Ratner, the wealthy co-owner of a professional basketball team. It doesn't take a ranking member of the Judiciary Committee to see why those two uses of public power for private gain were entirely inappropriate—and unconstitutional.

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  1. In addition to chief sponsor Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) spoke in favor of the bill, as did two Democrats, Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).

    *massive spit take*

    1. I know. I’m stunned. There has to be a reason other than their tender concern for the po’.

      1. They don’t have any developers in their districts willing to bribe them.

      2. Like Gollum, these two congresscritters may have some role to play for the betterment of humankind, after all.

    2. California just repealed redevelopment, so I suspect that Waters is doing a bit of “If I can’t have it, nobody else can.”

      Don’t know about Lee from Texas.

      1. She’s the Rep. from one of the downtown districts in Houston, and a total lackwit. She has made an uncountable number of embarrassingly stupid public statements, but she just keeps getting elected. At least half a dozen consecutive terms so far.

    3. you should have bolded Sensenbrenner, too. He’s the author of the lovely PATRIOT act.

  2. Conyers actually does have a point here, though it is most likely incidental to his actual belief that the government ought to take whatever it wants.

    We can’t just abandon federalism when the outcomes don’t turn out the way we want, and when the Federal Government actually has a good idea for once. Otherwise we’re just contributing to the consolidation of power in Washington.

    If certain states want to treat property owners like tenant farmers that they can evict at will, then property owners can respond accordingly by relocating to more respectful states.

    I’m all for passing a law that prevents the Federal government from Keloing property owners, but this bill shouldn’t cover the actions of state or local governments.

    1. I pretty much agree with you here. It’s strange to see an article crapping on somebody for opposing federal imposition on localities.

      I personally don’t give two shits about federalism or not; if the feds increase liberty (as in this case) then great, and if they don’t (which is most of the time) then fuck them and hooray for state & local gov’ts.

      But to gin up outrage here in a publication that generally opposes federal solutions for things seems odd.

      And on a side-note, since I know this assclown won’t apply the same principal the next time some monsterous democrat measure comes up for a vote, fuck his hypocritical ass with a 10-inch dildo.

      1. I agree. I’m on whatever side is there to increase liberty at that time. If it’s the feds, so be it.

      2. Root isn’t crapping on the guy for opposing federal imposition on localities. He’s crapping on him for opposing a KeloED reform bill. The anti-federalism just happens to be part of the package.

        There are some competing libertarian values at stake here. None of which involve pegging Conyers. That’s your value alone.

        1. None of which involve pegging Conyers. That’s your value alone.

          I’m not quite sure what you’re saying here. I wasn’t pegging Conyers as anything, except a statist who might be right for the wrong reasons this time.

            1. My workplace firewall blocked it, so I’m assuming this has something to do with a sexual fetish.

              1. Considering you’re the wet-mopper at an underground brothel, your IT guys are a little prude.

      3. In what way is it hypocritical — or, arguably, even unconstitutional — to want Congress to extend the Takings Clause by way of the 14th Amendment? I’m not generally a friend of utilitarian arguments, but in this case, it seems to me like liberty is maximized by Congress holding the states in check.

        1. Congress can apply the 5th via the 14th. It’s not so clear that they can expand the 5th. That sounds like amending the Constitution.

          This bill sounds like it expands the 5th beyond its current scope (as set by SCOTUS). Congress can legislate a higher standard for the fed’s eminent domain, but I don’t think they can for the states.

      4. Fuck. You are making it sound like I might agree with this Conyers dickweed if I actually read the article. I hate that.

    2. Since the issue is under the fifth amendment, it makes some sense for eminent domain to be addressed by federal legislation.

      “We can’t just abandon federalism when the outcomes don’t turn out the way we want, and when the Federal Government actually has a good idea for once. Otherwise we’re just contributing to the consolidation of power in Washington.”

      One or the other is not better. Consolidating government power at any level is a bad thing, period. If the federal government exercised supreme authority in preventing more localized governments from violating individual rights, then I couldn’t give a fuck about the legitimacy of “federalism” or “democracy”.

      1. Except that the 5th amendment doesn’t give a power to Congress.

    3. Well, isn’t this a case where the rights of the people need to be protected, which trumps local jurisdiction, per amendments 5, 9, and 10? Seems like the exact type of case where a federal rule should be in place.

    4. Actually I’m wondering how those provisions of this federal bill would even be Constitutional.

  3. “The founders cannot have intended this perverse result.”

    Oh, now she gives a shit about intent.

  4. Is it just me or did Conyers mean to say: “Congress should not now come charging in…, **arrogating** to our national government the right to decide…”

    You’d think there’d be a copy of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate in the Library of Congress if nowhere more convenient. I guess it’s just gathering dust.

  5. Wrong alt-text.
    Should be:
    Tough shit.

  6. The sad thing is that they’re all on the wrong side of the argument. Such is congress.

  7. OK thats kinda crazy when you think about it dude.

  8. This is HR 1433 – not 1443. Local govts have the authority to seize private property under the guise of economic blight and take privately held property and sell to developers to build strip malls, etc. That is beyond the scope of what eminent domain is supposed to mean. That’s all this bill is trying to do is stop developers who try to buy land, and if it’s not for sale, they approach local govt and have the locals condemn the land, take it from the owner and in turn buy the land from the govt. And right now stealing your land is legal – it’s not morally or ethically correct – but it is legal.

  9. Property Rights Protection Act is a start but it does not address the “third rail” of eminent domain takings known as “natural resource development takings.” Government & energy companies collude to seize property rights (surface &/or subsurface) for pipelines, compressor stations, underground nat gas storage reservoirs and more. This puts landowners in a face-off with the equivalent of a cartel comprised of energy companies and government, because eminent domain allows corporations ? backed by government ? to control pricing and competition (i.e., “just compensation” and what constitutes “public interest”). This “taking” power is why energy companies want “forced pooling” in Pennsylvania; and why New York State has “compulsory integration.” Texans who value their property rights must deal with “Rule 37.”

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