President's weekly report — January 18, 2013

January 18, 2013 | By ROB RIVETT

Property Rights — United States Supreme Court

We had our argument in the United States Supreme Court on Tuesday in Koontz v. St. Johns Water Management District.  You can read the transcript here and listen to an audio of the argument here.  As you will see, this was a very “hot” bench, with the justices asking many questions of both sides.  You can read a few of our blogs about the argument here, here, and here.  Sitting in the audience and watching Paul Beard and the PLF team making the case for property reminded me how important PLF is to the cause of liberty.  While the questions from the Justices were often probing and difficult, we believe the fundamental unfairness of the government’s actions in this case combined with the need to allow land to be used without landowners being treated like ATM machines for government wish-lists are principles that should carry the day.  This may be a close decision, and it may not issue until the end of the term, but the rightness of the cause should prevail in the end.

Property Rights — The Relevant Parcel Question

The Federal Circuit issued a favorable decision in Lost Tree Village Corp v. United States.  The court found that there had been a potential taking of a small lot owned by Lost Tree, despite the fact that the landowners had previously developed other properties in the vicinity.

Environment — Exemptions to California Environmental Quality Act

We filed our amicus brief this week in Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley.  Neighbors sued after the City of Berkeley determined that the construction of a large house in an existing subdivision would not have a significant effect on the environment and was categorically exempt from review under the California Environmental Quality Act.  The lower court gave no deference to the City’s determination that the project had no environmental impact.  Our brief to the California Supreme Court points out that categorical exemptions are bright-line rules that further the purpose of the statute.

Economic Liberties — Challenging Targeted Statutes

The Supreme Court denied our petition for writ of certiorari in this Hettinga v. United States, in which we asked the justices to clarify whether the government can dismiss a lawsuit against it simply by claiming that its actions were reasonable. Under the “rational basis test” that applies whenever business owners or property owners challenge the constitutionality of restrictions on their rights, the courts will strike down a law whenever it is not “rationally related to a legitimate government interest.” That’s a tough, uphill battle, but it can be done sometimes. Unfortunately, in this case, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals made that hill even steeper by saying that the government can simply say that what it did was rationally related to a legitimate government interest, and then the judge can throw out the case without even allowing the plaintiff to gather evidence. The denial of this petition makes it just that much harder for America’s wealth-creating entrepreneurs to defend their rights from unjust government restrictions.  For more, see our blogs on Hettinga.