Precedent Setting Private Cemetery Case goes to the Supreme Court

This land is my land. This land is your land. This land is now the government’s land?

The Fifth Amendment includes a “takings clause” which protects United States citizens from having their private land improperly seized by the government for public use without just compensation.

In one somewhat atypical case, a woman named Rose Mary Knick, owner of 90 rural acres and a small family cemetery, was presented with a violation for not allowing public access during daylight hours, a requirement for cemeteries. Knick learned that town officials had come onto her property without a warrant in search of old grave markers, an action defended by the law that all such land must be open to the public during the day.

Knick took their actions, as well as the subsequent violation she received, very seriously; so seriously her case reached the Supreme Court.

Jack Rogers, in his article Supreme Court Paves Route to Sue Over Cemetery Law, writes, “…Knick said the intrusion amounted to an unconstitutional taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment. Though the Third Circuit found the law ‘extraordinary and constitutionally suspect,’ it threw out Knick’s suit for failure to exhaust state-level inverse-condemnation proceedings. The Supreme Court vacated that judgment this morning [June 21, 2019] in a 5-4 decision. Now, property owners have the right to bring takings suits directly to federal court.”

Why does this matter? It matters because it is a substantial turnaround for interpreting the takings clause, as well as possible remedies. If a plaintiff loses in state court they usually cannot appeal on the federal level – in essence, they did not have federal protection – but now they have federal protection.

Roger’s article cites the following: “Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Dave Breemer, who represented Knick in the case, said in a statement that the decision was ‘a long time coming’ for her and other property owners. ‘The court’s decision sends a message that constitutionally-based property rights deserve federal protection just like other rights.’”

The future of implementing and defending the “takings clause” is bound to see a lot more coverage. Take, for example, the fact that the route for the proposed wall along the southern United States will travel across areas not owned by the United States government but by private citizens.

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