Friday, July 01, 2005

House Lashes Out At High Court's Property Ruling

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said the ruling on the forced sale of property was "horrible."
Senate Majority Leader Tom DeLay renewed his crusade against the judiciary, vowing an all-out fight against the Supreme Court ruling that cities can raze homes to make way for malls. "This Congress is not going to just sit by - idly sit by - and let an unaccountable judiciary make these kinds of decisions," said DeLay, announcing legislation that would punish any city or state that uses the power of eminent domain for economic development by cutting off federal funds. His declaration comes as conservatives and liberals alike are girding for an epic fight over the next high-court vacancy. Many had expected Chief Justice William Rehnquist to retire this week, when the court's annual term ended. DeLay's immediate ire stemmed from a 5-4 decision in a New London, Conn., case. The city wants to condemn homes in a working-class neighborhood where a developer plans an upscale waterfront complex. For DeLay, it was the latest in a series of judicial outrages - and a chance to advance his cause with support from across the political spectrum. "The only silver lining to this decision is the possibility that this time the court has finally gone too far and that the American people are ready to reassert their constitutional authority," he said. The last time DeLay called for reigning in judges, during the fight over Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, he ended up portrayed as an extremist after suggesting that judges who let the Florida woman starve to death should be impeached. "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior," he said, a remark for which he later apologized. Backlash to the eminent domain case, though, is far more broad-based. Some of Congress' most liberal members have signed on. The lead sponsor is Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., but Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., is also on board. So is Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat who said she's more worried about the "outrageous" threat to home owners - especially the poor and powerless - than about abetting DeLay's anti-judge agenda. "Your home is a precious possession and it should be protected by government, not taken to give to a private party," she said. "For those who would like to use it as a political bludgeon, that's their politics, not my politics." Suzette Kelo, the lead plaintiff in the Connecticut case, said she'd never heard of DeLay, but appreciated his efforts. "It's almost like they (Supreme Court justices) are cloistered nuns. Are they so sheltered from life that they don't realize what they've done?" she said of the Supreme Court. For conservatives, the Connecticut case involved competing interests - local control and states' rights versus private property rights. It was no contest for DeLay. "Someone could knock on your door and tell you that the city council has voted to give your house to someone else because they have nicer plans for the property," he said. Conservatives have long railed at judicial excess, and the majority leader has been at the vanguard. Rulings over abortion, prayer in school and gay marriage have been trigger points. Proposed remedies range from cutting court budgets to carving up a particularly liberal appeals court in California, or curtailing the jurisdiction of courts by invoking a rarely-used constitutional provision that gives Congress that power. DeLay suggested that anti-court momentum is on his side. "Times have changed, particularly in the last two to three years," he said. Hours after the Supreme Court issued its eminent-domain ruling June 23, officials in Freeport, Texas, prepared to seize three waterfront parcels owned by a seafood processors to make way for a private marina. "It's a perfect example of what this is about," DeLay said. "This is incredibly serious."