Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision along 5-4 ideological lines in Knick v. Township of Scott, on whether owners whose property is taken must first exhaust state remedies before seeking relief in federal court, is a big win for property owners. It overrules the unsound 1985 precedent to the contrary of a case called Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank. It also represents the second time this term the Court has overruled one of its precedents, following Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt, in which it overturned an earlier precedent on the scope of state tax power. The Court this term has declined to overturn precedent in a third case (Gamble v. U.S., on double jeopardy) and has yet to decide whether to overturn two notable administrative-law precedents in the still-pending case of Kisor v. Wilkie.
In some legal contexts, it can make sense to condition court relief on exhaustion of administrative remedies. But as Chief Justice Roberts wrote for yesterday’s majority, claims under the Bill of Rights are in general allowed direct access to federal courts. In creating an exception, Williamson had “relegate[d] the Takings Clause ‘to the status of a poor relation’ among the provisions of the Bill of Rights.”
Cato actively urged the property owner’s case in Knick, a case arising from a Pennsylvania law that imposed various uncompensated mandates, barbed by fines and penalties, on the owners of land on which persons are buried. Pennsylvania is known for its rural practice of “backyard burials.” Ilya Shapiro has one quick reaction and Ilya Somin, who has written extensively on Knick and the constitutional issues it raises, has another.