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What a Frog and a Graveyard May Have to Do With Your Private Property Rights

10-04-2018
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WASHINGTON –Two of the first cases the Supreme Court took up in its first week of this new term involve your property rights and could affect what happens if government suddenly decides it wants a piece of your land.   

One case involves private property in Louisiana and the endangered dusky gopher frog, which only exists in Mississippi.

The Poitevent family has owned thousands of acres in Louisiana dating all the way back to just after the Civil War ended. Now the government is taking a huge chunk of that timber-growing land because the endangered frog might have lived there many decades ago.

Collette Adkins is a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, which backs the US Fish and Wildlife Service declaring those acres critical habitat.

"This frog is critically endangered — just about a hundred of them left," Adkins told CBN News. "And it used to be found across Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi."

But Pacific Legal Foundation lawyer Mark Miller argued this land grab will cost his client, Edward Poitevent, millions of dollars in lost production, and some say the frog probably can't even survive on his land.

"He'd be looking at $34 million in lost income. But that doesn't matter to the government. They say it's all in service to a frog that can't live there," Miller stated.

Poitevent told CBN News it's a lot of land the government is taking from his family.

"It's over 1,500 acres, almost double the size of Central Park in New York," he said.

But conservationist Adkins insisted the frog is dead without Poitevent's land.

"The ponds there are in an ideal state," Adkins explained, speaking of what the gopher frogs need. "And when they're not in the ponds, they live in stump holes, and that land has the stump holes."

Poitevent and Adkins completely disagreed on how much it will cost to make Poitevent's land frog-ready.

"It would take millions and millions and millions of dollars to recreate that habitat," Poitevent argued.

"That's absolutely false," Adkins countered.

Meanwhile, Miller insisted the government shouldn't be able to grab someone's land and declare it critical habitat, just on the hope it might someday sustain an endangered animal.  He suggested that would be like ripping up Manhattan's skyscrapers because deer used to wander there when it was forest.

"Let's declare Manhattan to be critical habitat for that deer and then we'll simply do whatever we have to do to protect that endangered deer in Manhattan," he joked.

And if the government can do this to the Poitevents' land, Miller wondered what's to stop it from doing this to anyone's property anywhere in the US.

The other property rights case the Supreme Court heard this week involves Pennsylvania resident Rose Knick, whose 90-acre farm has been in her family for decades.

But Scott Township has decided some stones on her land may be gravestones and declared she has to fix up the supposed graveyard area and leave it open to the public every day of the year or be heavily fined, rather than compensated for this taking of her land.

"And if she didn't do that, they would fine her $300 to $600 per day," attorney Christina Martin of the Pacific Legal Foundation told CBN News.

"Can you just imagine what it's like to have people every day on your property?" asked Knick outside the high court.

Knick wants a federal court to shoo the township away but can't because of an old Supreme Court ruling. It says that when it comes to property rights cases, the owner must first go through state courts before going to the federal courts.

However, Martin argued property rights should be just as important as citizens' other constitutional rights.

"And if you have no way of enforcing your rights, then your rights are sort of meaningless. They're just words on paper," she said.

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