Monday, January 4, 2016

Why Exactions Law Should Bring Property Rights Advocates Cheer in the New Year

When even progressive scholars throw their hands up in the air over the strength of an area of property rights law, you know it's time for those of us who believe in strong property rights to take note. Professor Timothy Mulvaney at Texas A&M has done just that in his latest paper, forthcoming in the Harvard Environmental Law Review, "Legislative Exactions and Progressive Property." 

In it, Prof. Mulvaney covers the debate of whether the stringent judicial review of exactions provided to administrative exactions also applies to legislative exactions. The debate here is over what the government can demand from a landowner before approving a discretionary permit. In three important cases - Nollan, Dolan, and Koontz - the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the government must show that the demand is related to the harms that will be caused by the landowner's activities and that the demand is roughly proportionate to the ills the government seeks to remedy. 

The Supreme Court has explained that these rules apply no matter whether the government ultimately approves or denies a permit application and no matter whether the government demands money, road building, or anything else. Compared to other areas of property rights law, the Supreme Court has been remarkably clear that the landowners must be protected from such "unconstitutional conditions" by government. Governments, though, dislike such strict rules, and some have argued that these rules only apply to "administrative" demands, such as those by an executive or bureaucrat, and not to "legislative" demands, such as an ordinance that makes demands from everyone. As others have argued better than I can, the Takings Clause  and the Due Process Clauses of the Constitution do not distinguish between the branches of government in protecting landowners. 

In his article, Prof. Mulvaney essentially asks: should proponents of "progressive property" (read: fans of weak personal property rights) support making such a distinction for its practical consequences? He concludes:
Scholarly debate continues on the question of whether the heightened scrutiny of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Nollan and Dolan should be applicable in takings cases involving exactions that result from generally applicable legislation. Proponents of progressive conceptions of property have strong first-order reasons to support immunizing legislative exactions from such heightened scrutiny, reasons that are grounded in the checks and balances of democratic government, the likelihood of reciprocal advantages stemming from legislation, and an aversion to judicial usurpation of the legislative process. However, this Article raises the possibility that distinguishing between legislative and administrative exactions could produce two secondary effects that ultimately prove detrimental to progressive property’s aims. 
First, pressing the idea that administrative exactions are significantly more likely to abuse property owners than legislative exactions necessarily risks marginalizing case-by-case administration across the board, which could lead courts to incorporate the heightened scrutiny of Nollan and Dolan in takings cases involving administrative acts unrelated to exactions. Second, formally recognizing the legislative-administrative distinction could prompt governmental entities to shy away from administrative actions in favor of broad, unbending legislative measures to avoid heightened scrutiny, and deserting case-by-case administration can come with weighty social costs, given that it is administration that at least in certain instances can better respond to varied and unpredictable development impacts and invariably focuses attention on the affected parties’ human stories. 
It follows that both remaining options in the wake of Nollan, Dolan, and Koontz—subjecting legislative exactions to either a deferential level of takings scrutiny or the heightened standard to which administrative exactions currently are subject—pose significant complications for proponents of progressive conceptions of property. In the end, then, perhaps progressive property scholars might concentrate more readily on evaluating and advocating for other potential boundary principles in exaction takings law, or, even more dramatically, reinvigorate the long dormant and admittedly uphill battle to reverse Nollan and Dolan in their entirety.
That is, Constitutional questions aside, even proponents of weak personal property rights should be wary of making a distinction between administrative and legislative exactions. Why? Exactly because the Supreme Court has extended such clear, strong protections to administrative exactions. Those proponents would do better to focus their attention elsewhere, says Prof. Mulvaney.

Take heart, fans of private property rights: progress is being made. And that should bring you cheer in this New Year.