Center for Property Rights

Supreme Cour⁠t⁠ Rul⁠i⁠ng a V⁠i⁠c⁠t⁠ory for Proper⁠t⁠y R⁠i⁠gh⁠t⁠s ⁠i⁠n ⁠t⁠he U.S.

By: The James Madison Institute / 2016

This opinion editorial originally ran in the Naples Daily News on June 22, 2016.

Private property owners in the United States won a great victory in the U.S. Supreme Court recently.

The high court ruled that a private property owner may appeal to the court system the labeling of their property as wetlands based on the federal Clean Water Act.

Yes, you heard that right. Until recently, if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said your land was subject to the Clean Water Act, your choices were to comply or face expensive financial penalties.

Can you imagine? We live in the United States. But, if the government says land is wetlands there could be no appeal.

That's what happened at a family-owned business in Marshall County, Minnesota.

Hawkes Corp. provided peat to golf courses and others applying it to sports-related fields. The Corps said the land was wetlands and subject to its regulation. Interestingly, a Corps reviewing officer had found the determination by the Corps to be erroneous.

Nevertheless, the choices left to the Hawkes family were to cease using their property and absorb the loss; seek a federal permit at the cost of a few hundred thousand dollars, or continue their operations, but face fines of $37,500 a day and criminal prosecution.

For 40 years, every court has refused to allow the Clean Water Act to be challenged. But, in this case, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case and found in favor of the Hawkes family.

Part of their decision was based on another similar victorious case, Sackett v. EPA. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which unanimously found in favor of the Hawkes family.

That's correct — unanimous. An 8-0 ruling by a Supreme Court that includes two President Barack Obama appointees.

This victory means property owners do have the right to appeal. It also means the Corps does not have the power to federalize someone's property without due process and accountability.

The concept of individual property rights is fundamental to our notion of a constitutional republic, and has been written on since the earliest days of our nation's founding until the present.

Our institute's namesake, James Madison himself, wrote: As a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.

This concept is so ingrained in Florida that we have even established the concept of the castle doctrine, whereby you as a property owner have the right to defend your home, even with deadly force.

The free market, and its system of property rights girded by the rule of law, has resulted in the greatest wealth development in the history of mankind — it has lifted more than 2 billion individuals out of poverty around the world.

And its preservation is critical to our continued success as a free society. Famed economist Fredrich Hayek stated it eloquently when he wrote: The system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not.

This unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, along with the good work of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented the Hawkes family, should be applauded.

The Center for Property Rights at The James Madison Institute joins in celebrating that the rights of property owners all over the United States have been upheld, in accordance with the Bill of Rights.