‘Little Guy’ Wins High Court Fight Over Property Rights
The Supreme Court gave an Idaho couple another chance Wednesday to challenge a government ruling barring construction of their “dream house,” an important property rights defeat for the Obama administration.
The justices unanimously ruled Chantell and Mike Sackett can appeal a compliance order that said wetlands on their residential lot were improperly filled with rocks and dirt. A building permit was then revoked.
“Since the agency’s decision was final and since the Sacketts have no other adequate remedy in a court, they may bring their suit” under federal law, said Justice Antonin Scalia.
The couple’s supporters had billed this as “David vs. Goliath” fight against the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We’re here to stand up for the property rights and the constitutional rights of all Americans,” Mike Sackett told CNN in January, when the case was argued at the high court. “We felt blindsided by the EPA, and we remain determined to fight.”
The high court had displayed wide support for the Sacketts during oral arguments 10 weeks ago.
“If you related the facts of this case — as they come to us — to an ordinary homeowner,” Justice Samuel Alito asked the government’s attorney, “don’t you think most ordinary homeowners would say this kind of thing can’t happen in the United States?”
What happened has become a six-year fight pitting business and property rights groups against the federal government and many in the environmental community. The effect could be huge for the longstanding tension over the balance between commercial and private development, and maintaining clean air, water, and soil.
The Sacketts bought a small parcel of about two-thirds of an acre in the Idaho Panhandle in 2005, near the shores of the resort community of Priest Lake. They hoped to build a three-bedroom home, surrounded by neighbor’s houses, and had obtained a county permit. Gravel had already been laid for the foundation when EPA officials told them their land was a wetland. That barred any development.
They were ordered to immediately “restore” the land to its natural state or risk fines of up to $37,500 a day.