U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court Rules Against Beachfront Property Owners in Takings Case

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A Florida Supreme Court decision affecting beachfront property owners was not an unconstitutional taking of private property, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

The property owners had objected to a beach restoration program in which the government pumps in sand that becomes public property, restricting the property owners’ private access to the Gulf of Mexico. The Florida Supreme Court had ruled against the property owners.

No prior Florida decision had established the property owners had rights to contact with the water superior to the state’s right to replenish the beach, the Supreme Court said. As a result, there was no taking, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his opinion (PDF) for the court.

“The takings clause only protects property rights as they are established under state law, not as they might have been established or ought to have been established,” Scalia wrote.

All eight justices hearing the case agreed with the result. Justice John Paul Stevens, who owns a condo in a beachfront building in Fort Lauderdale, did not take part in the decision. His building was slated for a beach project similar to the one before the court, the Associated Press reports.

A majority of the justices did not join in another portion of Scalia’s opinion that asserts the requirements of the takings clause apply equally to the courts as to any other branch of government. “It would be absurd to allow a state to do by judicial decree what the takings clause forbids it to do by legislative fiat,” he wrote in a portion of the opinion joined only by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy answered Scalia’s takings argument in a concurring opinion joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Kennedy said the due process clause is the proper vehicle to set aside a court ruling eliminating or changing an established property right. “Thus, without a judicial takings doctrine, the due process clause would likely prevent a state from doing ‘by judicial decree what the takings clause forbids it to do by legislative fiat,’ ” he said.

The case is Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

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