Property Rights and the Supreme Court
In 2005, a couple bought 0.63 acres of land in a northern Idaho subdivision. They began making preparations to build a house by clearing the land and laying gravel for the foundation. Soon, however, the United States Environmental Protection Agency informed the couple that their land was classified as protected wetlands, and, absent the necessary permit, they would need to halt construction and bring the land back to its original state. For every day they did not comply, they could face a $37,000 fine authorized under the Clean Water Act. The couple asserted that their land was not in fact part of a protected wetland, and that the EPA’s compliance order was a violation of due process rights. The case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on January 9, 2012 and a decision is expected to be reached by the summer of 2012.
Student Handout (PDF)
Constitution Resources from the Bill of Rights Institute’s Americapedia:
- Supreme Court Takes Up Property Rights Dispute, LA Times
- Supreme Court Appears Sympathetic to Idaho Couple in 4-Year Battle with EPA, Washington Post
- High Court Weighs High-Profile Case Over Wetlands, EPA Fines, USA Today
- Sackett v. EPA: Supreme Court Will Decide Property Rights Case, Fox News
- Justices Criticize EPA’s Dealings With Homeowners, MSNBC
- ‘Little Guy’ Fight Over Property Rights Reaches High Court, CNN
Questions to Consider:
- What are the facts of the case in Sackett v. EPA?
- The couple has appealed their case all the way up to the United State Supreme Court? How did the lower courts judge this case? Do you agree with their findings? Why or why not?
- What argument(s) are the couple is making against the EPA regarding their land?
- What constitutional provisions might the Supreme Court use if they rule on the side of the couple? What constitutional provisions might the Supreme Court use if they rule on the side of the EPA?
- How do you think the Court should decide this case? What is your constitutional reasoning?