Congress can trump Supreme Court on eminent domain, Roberts says: Long Island (NY) Newsday, 9/15/05

Associated Press

Republicans and many Democrats were angered this year when a sharply divided Supreme Court ruled that New London, Conn. could take homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood to build a privately owned hotel and office space.

The decision drew a scathing dissent from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as favoring rich corporations, and Republican lawmakers have criticized it as infringing on states' rights.

In Connecticut, Republican House Minority Leader Robert Ward has been calling for a special session of the legislature to address eminent domain.

He renewed that call this week after the New London Development Corp. defied a voluntary moratorium on property seizures and told property owners in Fort Trumbull to vacate their homes in 30 to 90 days. The moratorium was designed to give lawmakers time to reconsider Connecticut's eminent domain laws.

"He's absolutely right," Ward said of Roberts. "It's what I said all along, that the Supreme Court said the legislatures can rein in the use of eminent domain, and I believe it's our job to do so, and that's why I've been calling for a special session, to take away the power of municipalities to seize property. Judge Roberts' statements simply confirm that we have clear legal authority to do so."

Scott Bullock, a senior attorney at the Institute For Justice, a Washington-based group representing the Fort Trumbull homeowners, said Roberts' comments are a wake-up call for lawmakers.

"He certainly highlighted what is desperately needed now, and that is action at the congressional and state legislative levels to stop the use of eminent domain for private development," Bullock said. "It is good that he reminded the legislatures that they do in fact have the power to put a stop to eminent domain abuse."

Congress has been working on legislation that would ban the use of federal funds for any project that gets a go-ahead relying on the Kelo v. City of New London decision.

"It's not simply a question of legislating to address particular needs, but you obviously have to also be cognizant of the people's rights and you can protect them in situations where the court has determined, as it did 5-4 in Kelo, that they are not going to draw that line," Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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