If you’re not following the case in the midst of Climategate, keep an eye out for the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Stop the Beach Renourishment Inc. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the beach-erosion case from Florida that is arguably the biggest property-rights case since Kelo. Oral arguments were heard yesterday, and a decision is expected by July. The Journal will get you caught up:
Erosion threatens nearly 59% of Florida’s 825 miles of sandy beaches, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Under a 1961 law, the state dredges sand from one area and dumps it on another, expanding the width of a threatened beach.
Six property owners in Walton County, banding together as Stop the Beach Renourishment Inc., argue that they should own the new beach and visitors shouldn’t be allowed to spread their towels on it. The owners say their deeds entitle them to all land up to the mean high water line, including the additional 80 to 100 feet of beach the state added.
The case has animated groups angered by the last major Supreme Court decision on property rights, a 2005 ruling that said authorities in New London, Conn., could condemn private land for a redevelopment project. The groups filed briefs supporting the Florida landowners, who argue the state has violated the Constitution by taking private property “for public use without just compensation.”
The beach-restoration program operates all over the Sunshine State — including in Broward County, where Justice John Paul Stevens owns property. He was absent from the bench Wednesday, suggesting that he has recused himself from the case.
The Justice Department and many state and local governments backed Florida, arguing that a contrary ruling would undermine their ability to protect natural resources and carry out other public policies.
Last year, the Florida Supreme Court sided with the state. That court said that the shoreline is a “dynamic boundary” where property can change because of natural events like erosion and storms. Florida law “attempts to bring order and certainty to this dynamic boundary” by balancing public and private interests, the opinion said.
At the Supreme Court, the owners argued that the state court had radically altered prior understanding of Florida’s common law of property and caused a “judicial taking.” Kent Safriet, a Tallahassee lawyer representing the owners, said the Florida court had made “a sudden and dramatic change in state law.”
Liberal justices, however, seemed unconvinced that the Florida court’s opinion was such a dramatic departure from precedent.