U.S. Supreme Court

Property rights group notches another SCOTUS victory in ruling against agricultural unions

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A California regulation allowing union organizers to access private property of employers is a physical taking requiring just compensation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision Wednesday.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the majority opinion, joined by the court’s other conservative justices. Justice Stephen G. Breyer dissented in an opinion joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Roberts said the regulation was a per se physical taking under the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause, as applied to the states through the 14th Amendment.

The New York Times called the decision “the latest blow to unions from a court that has issued several decisions limiting the power of organized labor.”

According to the New York Times, the decision guts a major achievement of the farmworkers’ movement, led by Cesar Chavez, an American labor leader and civil rights activist. He had argued that the only practical way to offer union membership to the workers was to enter their workplaces.

The Pacific Legal Foundation represented two produce growers challenging the California regulation—Cedar Point Nursery and the Fowler Packing Co.

The case is the 13th victory for the Pacific Legal Foundation out of 15 cases heard by the Supreme Court, according to a June 23 press release. The group defends property rights and opposes government overreach.

The California regulation allowed union officials to access the property of agricultural employees for up to four 30-day periods per year. During that time, the organizers could enter the property for up to an hour before work, an hour during the lunch break, and an hour after work.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at San Francisco had upheld the regulation, holding that it did not constitute a permanent property invasion requiring compensation under the Fifth Amendment.

The Supreme Court vacated the 9th Circuit decision.

“Government-authorized invasions of property—whether by plane, boat, cable or beachcomber—are physical takings requiring just compensation,” Roberts wrote, citing prior precedent.

“As in those cases, the government here has appropriated a right of access to the growers’ property, allowing union organizers to traverse it at will for three hours a day, 120 days a year. The regulation appropriates a right to physically invade the growers’ property—to literally ‘take access,’ as the regulation provides. … It is therefore a per se physical taking under our precedents.”

Joshua Thompson, Pacific Legal Foundation senior attorney, applauded the decision in the press release.

“Today’s ruling is a huge victory for property rights,” Thompson said. “Today’s decision affirms that one of the most fundamental aspects of property is the right to decide who can and can’t access your property.”

The case is Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid.

Hat tip to SCOTUSblog, which had early coverage of the case.

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