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The Supreme Court takes on property rights case

January 24, 2014

nfib-logoNational Federation of Independent Business

Supreme Court to Review Significant Property Rights Case
Court’s ruling will impact landowners across the US

The Supreme Court of the United States will headr oral arguments in Brandt v. United States. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Legal Center and the Owners Council of America previously filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in this property rights case. The brief argued that the government cannot establish a trail across private property without first paying the owner just compensation as required by the Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and, further, the government cannot avoid that obligation by redefining previously recognized property rights.

Executive Director of the NFIB Small Business Legal Center Karen Harned issued the following statement in advance of the Court’s hearing:

“There is more to this case than a land-use dispute over abandoned railways. The arguments raised by the United States—and embraced in the Tenth Circuit—have profound implications for the larger fight for property rights in America.

This is because the federal government is trying to circumvent constitutional protections for private property rights by essentially redefining previously recognized property rights.

For many small-business owners—farmers and ranchers especially—property is essential to their livelihood and the success of their business. Government shouldn’t be able take away their rights simply by denying they ever existed. As such, we encourage the Supreme Court to overrule the Tenth Circuit’s decision and protect small businesses.”

This case involves the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, under which thousands of miles of rights-of-way were established across the United States. The act allowed railroads to acquire easements all over the country in order to lay tracks. These easements were written so that they would revert back to the property owner in the event the railroads ever abandoned the easements. But in 1988, Congress passed a “railbanking” statute which holds that upon abandonment, these easements could be morphed into a public recreational trail, with the landowner receiving no compensation.

In this case the Marvin Brandt acquired land in Wyoming that came with pre-existing railroad easements. In 2001, the owner of the easement abandoned all claims to it, returning the property to the Brandt family. However, in 2006 the US government sued for title to the former easement land on the theory that the government retained a residual claim to it after the railroad abandoned it. Brandt argued that the government had no such right and that taking his land required just compensation under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause. However, the Tenth Circuit refuted Federal Circuit precedent and handed over Brandt’s land to the United States without any compensation.

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Discuss this article

Bill Sizemore January 24, 2014

The environmentalist movement is heavily populated with thieves who have no respect for private property rights. They want to take private land for public use but they refuse to pay for it. They do this by zoning and other land use laws that essentially rob property owners of use or peaceful enjoyment of their land.

Attend their meetings and listen to what they say. Many believe that private property ownership is an obsolete concept that needs to be abandoned for the sake of the collective. They couldn’t be more Marxist if they tried.

Bill Darcy January 25, 2014

The Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area is a perfect example of this type of ‘taking’ of property rights from land owners. Also Multnomah County has some similar new zoning requirements.

Marvin McConoughey January 26, 2014

It is encouraging that the Supreme Court is taking on this case since we are government, in theory at least, of checks and balances. I wonder what the government’s legal arguments will consist of?

Larry Sparks January 29, 2014

Once property rights are taken away, there is nothing the government can not do for a complete dictatorship.

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