Lawfare nibbles at fundamental rights

It’s the ranchers versus the environmentalists working through government agencies this time. The Washington Times Commentary describes the Huffman case.

Wayne and Jean Hage bought a 7,000 acre Nevada ranch, made some improvements for cattle, and encountered harassment and lawsuit from the government. “Mr. Hage filed a lawsuit in 1991 claiming his property rights had been taken without just compensation in contravention of the Fifth Amendment takings clause.”

There is no mystery why the nation’s leading environmental groups weighed in against the Hages. They find property rights and productive use of the land anathema to their antidevelopment, preservationist agenda. But shouldn’t we expect better of our government?

“It is a fundamental duty of government to protect, rather than to destroy, personal property,” wrote Court of Claims Judge Loren Smith. For good measure, Judge Smith quoted John Locke who wrote that “[w]henever the legislators endeavor to take away, and Destroy the Property of the People … they put themselves into a state of War with the People, who are there upon absolved from any further obedience.”

Seventeen years to judgment is a lifetime fighting for a fundamental right. It is an example of how ideological battles can be fought with a strategy of attrition. You may spend a lifetime trying to establish your claim to your own property if some group is able to swing the government to its view that their ideologies have more right to it than you do.

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