Friday, July 01, 2005

Pelosi Reveals Deep-Set Partisanship

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi might want to pay closer attention to the news and bone up on Constitutional law while she’s at it. As reported by National Review Online and covered in-depth at Arguing With Signs, either Pelosi has a rather dim understanding of the separation of powers—or she is so unflinchingly partisan that a knee jerk response sent her foot straight to her mouth.

The whole exchange is worth reading, but Pelosi basically said that she doesn’t feel Congress has the right to pass laws that modify Supreme Court decisions—that, in fact, a Supreme Court ruling is like a dictate from God. The issue in question was the Kelo decision that made it permissible for local governments to seize private houses and turn that land over to private developers so long as the development is deemed to be in the best interests of the public.

The legislation Pelosi was asked about was a bill sponsored by Republican Senator John Cornyn (TX) that would withhold federal funds from developments that seize private property for private development. Pelosi can be forgiven for not knowing the details of Cornyn’s bill. She can even be forgiven for not having had time to formulate an opinion on Kelo. What is unforgivable is her immediate assumption that the Republicans were somehow violating the separation of powers.

Governments modify Supreme Court rulings all the time. The Court has ruled the death penalty legal, but that doesn’t stop a state from making it illegal. The Court has ruled abortion a guaranteed right, but that doesn’t stop the federal government from refusing to fund them. And the Kelo ruling in no way prevents the federal government from withholding funds from developers that seize private property for private development. Nor does the ruling prevent any government body from passing stricter standards for eminent domain seizures than what was laid out by the Court.

Pelosi was caught off guard. That happens. What’s disturbing is that she’s so uncompromisingly partisan that it didn’t even occur to her that Cornyn’s bill might actually be a good idea--or that it could even be constitutional. The Kelo decision has been denounced from the right and left and should be a great opportunity for bipartisan action. Hopefully, Pelosi will come to see that. But her knee-jerk assumption that because the bill was a Republicans initiative it must therefore be unconstitutional, clearly demonstrates how partisan and reactionary the political environment in Washington is these days.

Thanks to The Art of the Blog for bringing the story to our attention.


At 12:18 PM, Anonymous stephen curtice said...

I agree that Pelosi was not well informed on this issue. Of course the federal government could use to power of the purse to offer greater protections than the constitution does. The majority opinion in Kelo explicitly recognized the authority of state governments to make the same determination.

I am disturbed, however, with the Republican (read: DeLay) rhetoric on this issue. DeLay said that the Kelo case was an example of judicial overreaching, and that Congress would not stand idly by. While I do not agree with the result of the Kelo decision, it is, strangely, an act of judicial conservatism, not overreaching. It was the City of New London that, under the duly enacted laws of Connecticut, exercised emminent domain over the homeowners' land, having concluded that the redevelopment and revitilization project was in the best public use. It was the Supreme Court that refused to second-guess political decision of the popularly-elected city officials. The opposite result would have involved using a constitutional right to invalidate the will of the popularly-elected branch of government, something that is close to dictionary definition of the phrase "judicial activism." While the result of the case, and its erosion of private property rights for the greater good, may be *politically* liberal (although I would not necessarily concede that point), it is in fact *judicially* conservative.

What I am trying to say, I suppose, is that the bi-partisan effort to use the power of the purse to offer the property protections the Supreme Court refused to find in the Constitution is a good thing. The rhetoric utilized by DeLay in announcing it, however, is not.

At 1:33 PM, Anonymous Will Franklin said...

Great analysis. Democrats could have chosen Harold Ford, Jr. but chose Pelosi. What a whiff.

He supported Kelo, but Ford was able to actually defend his position in a coherent manner.

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...


Excellent point. DeLay is not guilt free here. It should also be noted that given Cornyn's remarks earlier this year (the ones that seemed to say killing judges is understandable), I can see why Pelosi would assume any legislation coming from Cornyn would be less-than-sound. But that doesn't excuse her. The proper response would have been that she needed to look into it--trying to partisan spin it was just silly.

At 6:20 PM, Blogger Ted Carmichael said...

It is a weird exchange. It seems like she's responding to Delay's previous statement on court decisions, where he said, "We set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse."

Clearly, Delay has spoken before about undermining the court's authority by withholding funding for them. Given Delay's recent antagonism for the courts, and the fact that Pelosi apparently doesn't know the details of the proposed legislation or the Kelo case, her remarks were appropriate. What seems very odd to me is that she doesn't seem to know much about Kelo, and was apparently answering a question or addressing a concern that wasn't part of the question. Yeah, she pretty much put her foot in it here.

I'm kinda surprised that Kelo is seen as a liberal, rather than conservative decision. I guess I just naturally assumed the Republicans would come down on the side of development here. Of course, restricting federal funding for private development is a long-held conservative stance ... unfortunately, it doesn't do anything to change the eminent domain powers or protect individual property rights. I'm more concerned about that than where the money comes from.

At 6:34 PM, Blogger Jdeer165 said...

I think in determining whether this is a conservative or liberal decision by the Court you have to look at the Court's actual role. Their job is to determine cases based on the Constitution and past Court decisions. In this manner a conservative position would be based on the Constitution and a liberal one on the "Living Document" theory. Therefore, this is clearly a liberal decision since the Constitutional wording is clearly against this kind of use of eminent domain.


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