October 21, 1997
The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 1534 because it would shift authority
over State and local land use issues to Federal courts, creating a threat of
expensive litigation that would favor the wealthy developer over the common
homeowner. This shift entails radical changes to the existing legal doctrines
of ripeness and abstention, and would result in judicial inefficiencies and
confusion. The Attorney General, the Secretary of the Interior, the
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Chair of the
Council on Environmental Quality would recommend that the President veto H.R.
1534, as reported by the House Judiciary Committee.
The Administration is fully committed to the protection of private property, including the payment of just compensation under the Fifth Amendment when private property is taken for public use. H.R. 1534, however, would harm neighboring property owners, weaken local public health and environmental protections, and lower the quality of life in a community by undermining the ability of local officials to protect their communities through local land use planning. The changes to "ripeness" and "abstention" doctrines would allow claimants to bring premature and inappropriate lawsuits in Federal court, thereby shifting authority to Federal courts at the expense of local community officials. The shift would give claimants excessive leverage in their dealings with local officials through the threat of premature, expensive litigation.
H.R. 1534 would also prohibit Federal courts from deferring to State courts on certain delicate issues of State law. H.R. 1534 would violate constitutional limits on congressional power if read, as its supporters intend, to allow for a ruling that an uncompensated taking has occurred even when a claimant has declined to pursue available State remedies.
By sending premature lawsuits to already overcrowded Federal courts, H.R. 1534 would delay the resolution of other pending claims. It could also lead to poorly informed decisions by instructing Federal courts to adjudicate property claims without an adequate factual record.
In summary, H.R. 1534 would improperly and seriously interfere with needed property right protections at all levels of government, especially local protections for neighborhoods and communities.