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SCOTUS ruling overturning Florida justices carries echo of ballot fight

by John Kennedy | June 25th, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday overturning Florida justices in favor of a Central Florida landowner was hailed by conservatives, some of whom helped push an unsuccesful drive last fall to recast the state’s high court.

Americans for Prosperity, which helped fuel the Restore Justice 2012 effort that attempted to unseat Florida Supreme Court justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis were among those endorsing Tuesday’s 5-4 decision in Washington.

The 2011 Florida Supreme Court ruling was unanimous, although opponents of the three justices facing merit retention last fall cast it as an example of the trio’s activism. In social media postings, Restore Justice 2012 warned that the seven-member court had “not respected your property rights.”

Federal justices, though, sided with the family of the late Coy Koontz, saying they could continue their two-decade dispute with the St. Johns Water Management District over a 15-acre tract of Orange County land. Water management officials declared much of the property wetlands and stopped development, also ordering Koontz to pay money to protect wetlands elsewhere.

Koontz refused and sued and a trial court said he should receive $327,500 for being unable to use his property. But the Florida Supreme Court in 2011 overturned that ruling, saying the regulatory action was within its authority.

But on Tuesday, the five more conservative justices on the court sided with Koontz. The four liberal and moderate justices sided with the role of goverment in land-use regulations.

The legal issue was whether the agency’s action constituted a “taking” subject to compensation, under the so-called takings clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said a government may not condition a land-use permit on an owner giving up the use of some property absent a “nexus” and “rough proportionality” between the demand and the effect of the proposed land use. He said this applied even if the permit were denied, and the demand was for money.

 

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