One Year After Kelo

John Kramer
John Kramer · June 22, 2006

Arlington, Va—On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s now-infamous Kelo v. City of New London decision, several home and small business owners affected by eminent domain abuse through federally funded projects are asking the members of the U.S. Senate to stop subsidizing eminent domain for private development.

In a letter being sent to all 100 U.S. senators, the owners—including Susette Kelo—ask lawmakers to move HR 4128, the Private Property Rights Protection Act, out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and to the Senate floor for debate and a vote.

The property owners wrote, “There is almost universal opposition around the country to the use of eminent domain for private commercial development projects. Often these projects are funded with federal dollars, including the projects that have condemned or threatened our property. Such federally sponsored abuse must stop. … Do not allow pressure from cities to kill reform or make it so weak that it offers no real protection.” Copies of the property owners’ letter, a list of known federally funded projects involving eminent domain abuse and a summary of HR 4128 are available at

Among other abuses, federal funds have supported taking a church for a retail project, modest homes for upscale homes, an entire neighborhood for a factory, and small businesses for a mall.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 4128 on November 3, 2005, by an overwhelming margin of 376 to 38. The bill attracted broad bipartisan support, with 96 members signing on as co-sponsors, including Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) and Maxine Waters (D-CA).

But more than seven months later—and now one year after the Kelo decision—HR 4128 remains stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And those opposed to eminent domain reform (because they stand to benefit from eminent domain abuse) have suggested changes to the legislation that would significantly weaken its protections for private property owners.

HR 4128 forbids federal agencies from using eminent domain for private development and withdraws federal economic development funding for two years from any government entity that engages in eminent domain abuse. The bill continues to allow cities receiving federal funds to take property that is a true threat to public health or safety, but protects owners by providing clear and objective limits for such takings and by allowing only the taking of harmful properties—not those that happen to be nearby.

“Eminent domain abuse is skyrocketing, and if the federal government continues to subsidize takings for private development, the problem will only get worse,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dana Berliner. A report released this week found that since Kelo, more than 5,700 properties nationwide have been threatened by or taken with eminent domain for private development, compared to 10,200 examples over a five-year period before the ruling—nearly triple the yearly average.