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Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council 505 U.S. 1003 (1992)


If the government takes land—say, to build a road—it has to pay the owner just compensation. But one of the most contested issues of constitutional law arises when the government, rather than physically appropriating land, affects its value through legislative or administrative action.

Lucas bought two oceanfront lots before South Carolina adopted the Beachfront Zone Management Act. Although houses had previously been built on neighboring parcels, the Coastal Council prevented Lucas from erecting new structures. Lucas challenged the act as an unconstitutional taking of property without just compensation. The Supreme Court, 6–2, agreed.

Writing for five Justices, Justice antonin scalia held that where a regulation "denies all economically beneficial or productive use" of private property, it requires compensation. This formalizes a per se rule for "total" regulatory takings. The Court remanded the case to determine whether Lucas's construction was already forbidden by common law principles of nuisance or property. Of broader significance than the narrow facts of the case is the Court's attempt to clarify and strengthen a line of analysis begun by Justice oliver wendell holmes, jr. , in Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon (1922). Justice anthony m. kennedy concurred in the judgment.

justice harry a. blackmun, in dissent, accused the Court of "launching a missile to kill a mouse." Justice john paul stevens questioned the new rule's arbitrariness: "A landowner whose property is diminished in value 95 percent recovers nothing, while an owner whose property is diminished 100 percent recovers the land's full value." Justice david h. souter would have dismissed the writ of certiorari as not ripe for review.

Edward J. Mc Caffery

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