Tales from the Trail

U.S. Supreme Court turns to question of beaches and hot dogs

December 2, 2009

WEATHER KATRINAFor all practical purposes, it was like a day at the beach for the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday as the justices considered Florida’s program to bring in sand to save miles of eroding shorelines.

A lawyer for six homeowners in Florida’s Walton County argued the program resulted in a strip of state-owned sand between their property and the Gulf of Mexico, depriving them of their exclusive beach access and violating their rights.

The homeowners want the state to pay them undetermined compensation for the “taking” of their property. But some of the court’s liberals appeared skeptical of the argument.

“You didn’t lose anything,” Justice Stephen Breyer told D. Kent Safriet, the attorney arguing for the homeowners. “You didn’t lose one inch. All you lost was the right to touch the water.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked whether any other homeowners had objected to the program.

Several of the conservative justices, appearing sympathetic to the homeowners, asked a number of hypothetical questions about what the state could do with the new beach.

Chief Justice John Roberts wondered whether the homeowner would have the right to stop the state from putting a hot dog stand on the land. USA/

“It’s the state’s property. If they want to put an amusement park on (it), they can,” Roberts later said.

Justice Samuel Alito asked about a city wanting to attract more students during spring break and creating a huge beach in front of privately owned homes.

“You could have televised spring break beach parties in front of somebody’s house,” Alito said. “As a practical matter, doesn’t that have a real effect on the value of the property?”

Justice Breyer sought to counter those concerns by noting various protections under the law, including that nobody can put anything on the new beach that injures or harms the homeowner.

Of the court’s nine members, the one with the most experience living by a Florida beach did not participate in the arguments.

A Supreme Court spokeswoman declined comment on why Justice John Paul Stevens, who has a part-time home in Fort Lauderdale, apparently recused himself from the case.

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Photo credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria (tourists on a Fort Lauderdale beach), Reuters/Brian Snyder (hot dog cart in Rhode Island)

Comments
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Is the value of property only measured in dollars? Certainly there are other forms of harm that cannot necessarily be measured in dollars or inches. What kind of society do we live in where the wise arbitrators are unable to consider that which they cannot count or measure with a rule?.

Posted by eddieblack | Report as abusive
 

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