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Supreme Court Upholds Property Rights, Prompting Constitutional Concerns

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has recently made a unanimous decision in the case of Sheetz v. County of El Dorado, upholding property rights and prompting constitutional concerns. In an opinion written by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, SCOTUS ruled that the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment applies to all government actions, not just administrative ones. While this ruling is seen as correct, it raises some troubling questions about the interpretation and application of the Constitution.

The case of Sheetz v. County of El Dorado revolves around George Sheetz, who applied for a permit to build a small house in rural California. The county charged him $23,000 for the permit, claiming it was to offset the cost of relieving increased traffic congestion due to the addition of the house. Sheetz argued that this fee was an unconstitutional “taking” of his property without just compensation. The California courts ruled that the Takings Clause only applied to charges imposed by administrative agencies, not legislative action. However, SCOTUS disagreed with this interpretation and ruled in favor of Sheetz.

Justice Barrett’s opinion provides a comprehensive overview of the court’s convoluted “takings” law, which can be summarized in five points. Firstly, if the government physically intrudes onto someone’s land or interferes with possession, it is considered a “per se taking” and the owner must be compensated for any loss. Secondly, if the government adopts a rule restricting the owner’s use, it must compensate if the rule does not substantially advance legitimate state interests. Thirdly, even if a regulation does substantially advance legitimate state interests, compensation must be provided if it denies the owner economically viable use of their land. Fourthly, conditions imposed on building permits must be connected to the government’s land use interests. Lastly, even if fees or conditions are related to land use interests, they must be roughly proportional to the burden imposed by the development.

While the central ruling in the Sheetz case is correct, it raises some troubling constitutional questions. Firstly, why does SCOTUS apply the First Amendment, which protects freedom of religion, speech, etc., to all branches of government and not just Congress? The First Amendment explicitly limits Congress from making certain laws, but SCOTUS applies it to all government agencies. Secondly, why does the Takings Clause require compensation for excessive regulation? The clause uses the term “take,” not “regulate,” yet it has been interpreted to include excessive regulation. Additionally, the Fifth Amendment was intended to apply to the federal government, not the states. However, SCOTUS has been using it to restrict the states and their local governments based on the 14th Amendment’s prohibition of states from denying due process of law.

It is argued that the 14th Amendment may apply the Bill of Rights, including the Takings Clause, to state and local governments because it prohibits states from abridging the privileges or immunities of citizens. However, this argument is weak and at odds with how the original Constitution uses the terms “privileges” and “immunities.” Justice Barrett’s opinion in Sheetz did not provide a clear answer on whether the 14th Amendment incorporates the Takings Clause based on due process or privileges or immunities.

In conclusion, the recent ruling by SCOTUS in Sheetz v. County of El Dorado has upheld property rights and expanded the application of the Takings Clause to all government actions. While this ruling is seen as correct, it raises constitutional concerns about the interpretation and application of the Constitution. The court’s use of generic pronouns in its opinion is also criticized as distracting and unnecessary. Moving forward, it is important to carefully consider the implications of property rights and constitutional protections in order to ensure a fair and just legal system.

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