Tomorrow morning the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, the biggest property rights case of the current term. At issue is a Florida regulatory agency’s refusal to allow a property owner to commercially develop a small piece of land unless he first agreed to hand over 75 percent of the lot to the state for conservation purposes and also fund unrelated improvements to 50 acres of public land located several miles away. The owner refused to agree to that second requirement, which he considered to be an act of extortion by the government, and the necessary building permits were not issued.
The legal question before the Supreme Court is whether that permit condition violated the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which requires the government to pay just compensation when it takes private property for a public use. In addition, the Court will consider whether the Florida agency violated two previous Supreme Court decisions which placed strict limits on the sort of conditions land-use agencies may impose when issuing building permits.
It’s a hotly disputed case. Libertarian New York University law professor Richard Epstein, author of a seminal book on the use and abuse of the Takings Clause, has characterized the state’s actions as “grand theft real estate,” while Doug Kendall, head of the left-leaning Constitutional Accountability Center, which filed a friend of the court brief supporting the Florida agency, has called Koontz “going away the most important takings case the Roberts Court will decide.” The justices are likely to mirror this division, with property rights supporters squaring off against those who favor granting broad deference to state regulators.
Oral argument is scheduled for 11a.m. ET on Tuesday. Stay tuned.