Background Principles, Takings, and Libertarian Property: A Reply to Professor Huffman

Blumm, Michael C.; Ruhl, J. B.
August 2010
Ecology Law Quarterly;2010, Vol. 37 Issue 3, p805
Academic Journal
One of the principal if unexpected, results of the Supreme Court's 1992 decision in Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Commission is the rise of background principles of property and nuisance law as a categorical defense to takings claims. Our writings on the background principles defense have provoked Professor James Huffman, a devoted advocate for an expanded use of regulatory takings to protect landowner development rights, to mistakenly charge us with arguing for the use of common law principles to circumvent the rule of law, Supreme Court intent, and the takings clause. Actually, ours was not a normative brief at all but instead a positivistic explanation of takings cases in the lower courts since Lucas, which include judicial recognition of statutory background principles. In this Article, we respond to Huffman, examining the continuing importance of the background principles defense and explaining the trouble with his vision of libertarian property and his peculiar notion of the rule of law. We focus especially on wetlands regulation, which Huffman thinks is a recent development when in fact its origins date to medieval England, and therefore is particularly suited to the background principles defense. We conclude that background principles, as "the logically antecedent inquiry" into the nature of a claimant's property interest, are now a permanent feature of the takings landscape.


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