(Photo of courtesy City of Destin)
In my law class last semester, we learned about the Supreme Court’s precedence in the constitutional issues of “judicial taking” and “eminent domain,” and if the government should compensate after seizing private property it thinks might be better used for something else. This ancient issue of property rights was recently revisited in the case Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection.
In 2007, when the City of Destin, FL and other agencies joined to restore Florida’s gulf coast beaches that have been battered by hurricanes, the expanded area of the beach became state property, effectively turning them into public beaches. Oceanfront homeowners in the Destin FL area decided that, according to traditional state law, their property should theoretically extend all the way to the water and the government shouldn’t be able to change these boundaries. Not wanting to be deprived of their constitutional rights, they challenged the state’s seizing of this waterfront property and demanded compensation through the courts. However, because this is emergent land (and, I’m sure, a million other complex reasons in legalese), the waterfront property was not regarded as eminent domain and the Supreme Court ruled that the state does not need to compensate these landowners.
Although the Supreme Court did fully side with Florida and environmentalists (in a rare 8-0 decision, with Justice Stevens abstaining as he owns property on the Florida coast), the door was left wide open for future questions of court authority. As a self-professed Supreme Court obsesser, I’ll be sure to keep tabs on this issue in the future.