The Corner

How Low Can Government Officials Go?

I read about lots of cases of governmental villainy, but this one is among the worst.

Officials in Walton County, Fla., (out in the panhandle) are trying to take control of private beachfront property. The public already has access to everything from the Mean High Water Line seaward, but these officials want the privately owned dry beach areas too. Toward that goal, they passed an ordinance making it illegal for anyone to post any sort of sign indicating property boundaries and telling beach-goers not to trespass. Since when can Americans not post such signs? Since the county declared them illegal “obstructions,” that’s when.

After a retired couple filed suit (aided by Pacific Legal Foundation), the county suspended that ordinance, but passed a new one declaring that it is “customary” for the public to use those private beach areas. That’s a move in preparation for claiming a public easement by “customary use.”

I write about this nasty case at Forbes.

On the merits, the county should get clobbered. If the First Amendment means anything, it means that Americans can post signs on their property, especially (as in this case) one that reads: “If Walton County Wants My Property, It Must Pay For It — U.S. Constitution.” And since the law provides that successful plaintiffs can recover costs in Sec. 1983 cases, the taxpayers will have to fork over a significant amount of money for the arrogance of their elected officials.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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