Policy makers from Texas to New Jersey have similar responses to last month's Supreme Court ruling that makes it easier for the government to seize private property through eminent domain: no thanks.
The decision was seen initially as a loss for private property owners, but it may lead to a backlash. A groundswell of support for homeowners and property rights has galvanized state legislatures to rein in eminent domain authority.
The June 23 ruling in Kelo v. City of New London granted greater condemnation authority purely for economic development. Property seizures had previously been permitted for public uses - railroads, military bases or utilities - and for cleaning up urban blight.
But the court went out of its way to note that its decision doesn't keep states from restricting or banning eminent domain. At least eight states - Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, South Carolina and Washington - had already restricted the use of eminent domain for economic development except to remove blight before the Kelo case reached the Supreme Court in 2004. Utah and Nevada limited the authority of eminent domain earlier this year in anticipation of the court ruling.
State supreme courts in six others - Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, New York and North Dakota - have held that eminent domain authority can be used for private economic development.
States that take action against property seizures for economic development will prescribe cases when local governments can't use eminent domain, said J. Michael Bitzer, a professor of political science at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C. "That's typically going to be the most effective approach, just to say, 'Thou shalt not do this,'" Bitzer said.
With fewer than 10 state legislatures still in session, only Texas and Minnesota have legislation ready for action this year, according to Larry Morandi, a land use expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures .
During a special session convened to resolve school funding issues, Texas' House on July 12 unanimously approved a constitutional amendment that would ban eminent domain from extending to economic development. The Senate passed a law the next day that would do the same. Each chamber's plan requires the approval of the opposite to go forward. If the Senate approves of the amendment, Gov. Rick Perry's (R) signature would send voters to the polls on Nov. 8 for the final say.
The Court's timing - the decision was announced after most legislatures had adjourned for the year - and not a lack of interest means that there won't be more immediate legislation. Morandi said he expects "a big influx beginning in January."
States are considering the following range of measures:
The decision has created unlikely political allies. Liberals, concerned that large companies may exercise political muscle to seize land for development in predominantly impoverished and minority neighborhoods, have united with conservatives, distressed over the government's right to grab private property from one individual and give it to another. But developers caution against a backlash, which they claim facilitates growth in dilapidated parts of town.
In Congress, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has introduced legislation to exclude economic development as a valid pretext for seizing property. A similar bill has been introduced in the House. Representatives voted 231 to 189 to bar federal funding for property seizures in an amendment to a spending bill and expressed "grave disapproval" at the high court's decision in a resolution that passed 365 to 33.
But not everyone is pursuing a legislative remedy.
Logan Darrow Clements, a libertarian activist from California, has filed to acquire the New Hampshire house of Justice David Souter, who voted in the five-person majority in Kelo. Clements has proposed that he can net more tax gains for Weare, N.H., if he is allowed to build a luxury hotel, and an accompanying "Just Desserts Cafe," to illustrate the erosion of Americans' individual liberties.