Bill would stiffen state law on eminent domain: York (PA) Daily Record, 7/3/05

By State Senator Jeff Piccola

Maybe the members of the Supreme Court are unfamiliar with the saying, “Home sweet home,” or possibly they have never heard that “a family’s home is their castle.” I make these observations in light of the court’s most recent trampling on the deeply cherished values of the American people. Like many in our country, I am outraged at the court’s decision in the case of Kelo v. City of New London.

This case involved a fairly simple set of facts. In a 5-4 decision, the court supported the city of New London, Conn., which seized the homes of an unblighted working class neighborhood, for private developers to construct a riverfront hotel and office complex. The New London homeowners appealed to Connecticut’s Supreme Court, but a divided court ruled against them and they appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sadly, these homeowners were not to find help at the Supreme Court. Rather, five liberal justices, led by Justice Stevens, decided that they would no longer enforce the Constitutional requirement that government can only take an individuals’ property for a truly public purpose. Instead, the majority of the court decided that they would leave the determination of what is a “public use” solely to the governmental entity taking the property. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house!

Justice O’Connor, writing for the four dissenting justices, stated, “Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded.” According to Justice O’Connor, the majority has “effectively delete(d) the words ‘for public use’” from the United States Constitution. This is a frightening and unacceptable situation.

As someone whose 83-year-old mother still resides in the home my father helped design and build 57 years ago, I know the heartfelt feeling one can attach to a home. I do not see the court’s decision as merely a mistaken application of Constitutional law. I view it as an attack on the rights of individuals to be protected from out-of-control and activist courts.

But all is not lost. The United States Supreme Court stated in its decision that state lawmakers have the authority to provide greater protection to property owners than what the court is willing to provide.

Consequently, I am introducing legislation to restore the traditional balance in eminent domain cases for Pennsylvania: Government can take individuals’ private property only when it is absolutely necessary and only for a truly public purpose. Further, in those rare instances where such a taking is necessary, individuals must be fairly compensated.

With the help of the people of our commonwealth and the votes of the lawmakers they have elected, we can protect the cherished values that underlie the saying, “be it ever so humble — there is no place like home.”

York Daily Record: http://ydr.com

Jeffrey Piccola, a Republican who represents parts of northern York County, is the Senate Majority Whip