Hundreds of years of property records find no gravesites on Rose Mary Knick’s 90-acre farm in Scott Township, Pennsylvania—a rural area on the eastern side of the state. Rose lives alone on the property, which has been in her family since 1970. Other than farming activity she allows in her fields, Rose treasures the peace and quiet she finds nowhere else.
Lack of evidence notwithstanding, Scott Township officials enacted a so-called graveyard law in 2013, and forced Rose to allow unrestricted public access across her private property to visit a suspected gravesite.
Rose sued over the unconstitutional property taking. But a federal court refused to hear her federal claim, citing Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank. This 1985 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court said property owners must take their federal property rights claims to state courts before bothering with federal courts.
Williamson County gave property rights second-class status, that is, the only rights guaranteed by the Constitution not directly enforceable by federal courts.
Rose has asked the Supreme Court to review and overturn this procedural justice-buster and put property rights on equal footing with other rights such as due process and free speech.
Pacific Legal Foundation argued Knick before the Supreme Court on October 3, 2018, and again on January 16, 2019, after the High Court ordered a reargument.
On June 21, 2019, the Supreme Court agreed with Rose in a 5 to 4 decision that property rights protected under the Fifth Amendment have just as much clout as the rights protected in the rest of the Constitution. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “Fidelity to the Takings Clause and our cases construing it requires overruling Williamson County and restoring takings claims to the full-fledged constitutional status the Framers envisioned when they included the Clause among the other protections in the Bill of Rights.”
The decision means that after 34 years, Rose and all American property owners can fight in federal courts to get quicker and more certain justice when their property is taken.
In November of 2019, the Township agreed to rescind the ordinance authorizing public access to Rose Knick’s property. Rose’s fight came to an end, which allows her to enjoy the peace and quiet she loves about her farm.