President Signs Executive Order Protecting Private Property Rights
President George W. Bush issued an executive order on Friday to limit the U.S. government from taking private property only for the benefit of other private interests, like corporations. The order came exactly a year after a divided Supreme Court ruled a city could take a person's home or business for a development project to revitalize a depressed local economy, a practice known as eminent domain. "The federal government is going to limit its own use of eminent domain so that it won't be used for purely economic development purposes," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. She said more than 20 states had already enacted laws that prohibit the use of eminent domain for purely economic development purposes and four states have proposed constitutional amendments on November election ballots.The high court in 2005 backed the taking by the city of New London, Connecticut, of 15 properties belonging to nine residents or investment owners for a project to complement a nearby research facility by drug company Pfizer Inc. The 5-4 high court decision upheld the plan under the U.S. Constitution, which allows the government to take private property through its eminent domain powers in exchange for just compensation. The ruling outraged property rights advocates and conservatives in Congress who said it gave local governments the right to give any home to a wealthy developer as long as there was a commitment to upgrade the property. Bush's order was aimed at limiting the federal government to taking private property, with compensation, for situations in which it was for "the purpose of benefiting the general public and not merely for the purpose of advancing the economic interest of private parties." Bush directed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to issue instructions to government agencies for implementing the policy and also to monitor takings by the federal government. The order does permit the federal government to take property for many public purposes, such as for a public medical facility, roads, a military reservation, acquiring abandoned property or to prevent a harmful use of land.