Ensuring the Right to ‘Life, Liberty or Property’ Does Not Become an Empty Promise

Warning against establishing a precedent that would allow individual property rights to be sacrificed to target the politically weak for the benefit of the powerful, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure that Americans are not deprived of “life, liberty or property, without due process of law.”

In filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in Kentner v. City of Sanibel, Institute attorneys argue that the constitutional guarantee to due process requires state and local governments to demonstrate some substantial basis before they can attempt to restrict a homeowner’s property rights.

The case revolves around a ruling by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals that upholds a Florida city’s ordinance preventing the owners of oceanfront property from constructing a boat dock on their property, purportedly in an effort to protecting seagrasses, although no evidence was presented to support such a claim.

“Once again, we find ourselves in the inexplicable position of having to contend that the Constitution provides real protections for the property rights of Americans from a governmental bureaucracy intent on asserting its authority,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.

“Courts must stand up to those in power and the moneyed interests calling the shots by assuring the guarantee to due process of law is not an empty promise.”

In September 1993, the City of Sanibel, a coastal Florida city located on the Gulf of Mexico, adopted an ordinance forbidding the new construction of docks and piers fronting San Carlos Bay. The stated purpose of the ordinance was to protect seagrasses that grow on the submerged lands of the bay, although no evidence was presented that this purpose was furthered in any way by the prohibition on docks and piers.

After the ordinance was adopted, David and Susan Kentner, as well as other individuals who challenged the ordinances, purchased real estate property on the bay. Although the plaintiffs’ rights as owners of seaside property normally would have included docking rights, the City’s ordinance prevented the homeowners from exercising this right and making reasonable use and enjoyment of their land.

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