James S. Burling

Vice President of Legal Affairs Sacramento

Before becoming an attorney, James had been a productive member of society working as an exploration geologist in the late 1970s throughout the southwestern United States. However, after several years of dealing with irrational government bureaucrats and environmental policies untethered from reality, James decided that what the world needs is more lawyers — if they are willing to fight for rationality in regulatory regimes, property rights, and liberty.

James attended the University of Arizona College of Law in Tucson, where he served as an editor for the Law Review and received a J.D. degree in 1983. He had previously received a Masters degree in geological sciences from Brown University and an undergraduate degree from Hamilton College in New York. James received the Professional Achievement Award from the University of Arizona Alumni Association in 2018.

James has worked with Pacific Legal Foundation since 1983, litigating cases from Alaska to Florida. He is a member of the Federalist Society’s Environmental Law and Property Rights Practice Group’s Executive Committee, a member of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers, and an honorary member of Owners Counsel of America, an organization comprised of eminent domain attorneys who represent property owners. The Owners Counsel awarded James its Crystal Eagle award in 2013.

In 2001, James successfully argued a major property rights case, Palazzolo v. Rhode Island, before the United States Supreme Court, a case which affirmed that rights in regulated property do not disappear when land is bought and sold. He has written extensively on all aspects of property rights and environmental law and frequently speaks on these subjects throughout the nation.

When James is not suing the government he enjoys skiing faster than he should, bicycling, hiking, swimming, and spending quality time with his wife, family, and grandchild.

Pakdel v. City and County of San Francisco

Government can’t force tenants for life

Mr. Pakdel is a small business owner in Ohio. In 2009 he bought what’s known as a “tenancy in common” (TIC) apartment in San Francisco and leased it to a residential tenant. As part of the purchase, Pakdel signed an agreement with the other owners to convert the building’s six units into condominiums. But the City of San Fra ...

Ganson v. City of Marathon, Florida

Florida decides couple’s land is for the birds

The Beyer family owns a 9-acre island off the Florida coast that was reclassified from a general zoning designation to a bird rookery that permitted no use of the property other than temporary camping. Instead of offering compensation for this taking of property, as required by the Fifth Amendment, the city offered the Beyers only transferable deve ...

P.I.E., LLC v. DeSoto County

Florida property owners deserve nothing less than just compensation

Florida’s Bert J. Harris Act requires the government to compensate property owners when a regulation “inordinately burdens” private property rights. In this case, Partners in Excavation (P.I.E.) purchased a 50-acre site for $1.25 million for the purpose of excavating fill dirt to be used in their septic contracting work. The prope ...

National Restaurant Association v. Department of Labor

The outer reaches of a statute are bookends, not blank pages

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) restricts the tipping practices of companies that  use  tips  as  a  supplement  to  reach  their  federal minimum  wage  obligations—the so-called tip credit. The FLSA forbids companies from requiring tip-earning employees—such as waiters—to share tip money with untipped staff—such as line coo ...

WildEarth Guardians v. Department of Justice

Unintentional, accidental “take” of species should not be a crime

A radical environmental group challenged the government’s interpretation of the Endangered Species Act. Because the ESA’s criminal penalties apply only you “knowingly” take a protected species, the government reasonably interprets this to mean that you must know that your actions will cause take and the identity of the speci ...

Universal Welding, Inc. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Regulatory creep: asserting jurisdiction over the land next door

The Clean Water Act gives the Army Corps of Engineers jurisdiction over wetlands, including wetlands that are adjacent to other jurisdictional waters such as navigable rivers or lakes. The law does not give the Corps jurisdiction over wetlands that are adjacent to other wetlands. Universal Welding is a family-owned steel and pipe fabrication busine ...

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September 22, 2020

If you care about housing, you should care about property rights

The United States is facing a housing affordability crisis. The cost to rent an apartment or buy a house continues to climb relative to incomes, caused by the lack of housing supply. Until we build more homes, we're not going to meet demand, and prices will continue to rise without end. To address the crisis, ...

August 26, 2020

Mr. President, allow more suburban houses to be built, not less

A shorter version of this article appeared in the Wall Street Journal on August 24, 2020 as a letter to the editor ~~~ In an August 16 Wall Street Journal op-ed, President Donald Trump and Ben Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, pledged to protect America's suburbs against federal regulations and ...

July 17, 2020

Supreme Court postmortem: Recent decisions are a mixed bag for individual liberty and constitutional limits

While there's typically significant fanfare surrounding each Supreme Court term, the Court's recent key decisions—on environmental issues, property rights, the administrative state, and school choice—were a decidedly mixed bag. Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund Even though there are limits on what the Clean Water Act can regulate, it's not easy figu ...

July 09, 2020

Will the voters freeze new housing development in November?

If a poison causes a disease, the obvious cure has to be even more poison, right? To most of us, that prescription sounds insane—but it's a fair description of California's approach to addressing the disease that is the state's affordable housing shortage. Because much of the existing shortage is caused by government interference with the ...

May 16, 2020

Townhall: The threat emergency measures pose to our constitutional government

Contrary to popular belief, the most serious threat to a democratically-elected republican form of government doesn't come from dictators and demagogues. The most serious threat is a crisis, because it undermines the checks and balances that would otherwise slake political leaders' unquenchable thirst for more power and control over those they gove ...

April 30, 2020

Restrictive housing policies put low-income city residents at risk during COVID-19

In the 19th century, epidemics and crowded tenement housing went hand in hand. Cholera, smallpox, and even the bubonic plague swept through America's slum housing in numbers that make the COVID-19 epidemic seem like a case of the sniffles. Unfortunately, today's housing policies in many urban areas make low-income and minority city residents most a ...

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