Big Wins for Liberty at The Supreme Court
Article from Town Hall by James Burling.
Take property rights, for example. When rural Scott Township, Pennsylvania, told the public it could trespass across Rose Knick’s 90 acres of farmland to look for alleged graves, she could get no relief out of state court. But, when she went to federal court arguing that the town took an easement across her property, she was again rebuffed based on a 34-year-old Supreme Court precedent — Williamson County v. Hamilton Bank — which locks the federal courthouse doors to landowners.
In other words, property rights were the only right protected by the Constitution that could not be protected in federal court. Represented pro bono by Pacific Legal Foundation, Rose managed to get Williamson County overturned. As the Supreme Court put it in Knick v. Scott Township, property rights are no longer the “poor relation” of constitutional rights.
Regulatory agencies were also in the Court’s cross-hairs in Kisor v. Wilkie, a case asking whether courts should always defer to what federal agencies say their regulations mean. In recent years, a growing number of scholars, lawyers, and even judges have begun to question the doctrine that says courts can’t second-guess what regulators say that a law means or even what a regulation interpreting the law means.
Earlier in the term, the Court was confronted by an absent-but-endangered gopher frog on a tree farm in Louisiana. That is, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service designated this tree farm as critical habitat for the frog, even though the frog didn’t live on the property, hadn’t been seen near the property in a half-century, and would likely die out if it were moved there. Facing $34 million in costs, the landowners sued. A unanimous court in Weyerhaeuser v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serviceeasily rejected the government’s arguments, and held that “critical habitat” has to contain habitat. And, if the frog can’t survive on the land, then calling it critical habitat can’t be supported.