The Supreme Court and Local Government
With all of the hubbub surrounding the Supreme Court rulings on the Voting Rights Act and Defense of Marriage Act, another important case slipped under the radar.
Koontz v. St Johns River Water Management District settled a dispute between a Florida water management district and a local developer. The water management authority asked the developer to help pay for environmental mitigation of local wetlands in exchange for a building permit. In a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that this request violated private property rights.
This ruling changes the existing precedent in the relationship between public authorities and private developers. Negotiating funding for public projects in exchange for building permits within a municipality’s borders has become a common practice, but is no longer allowable as public agencies are not permitted to request money for such projects.
Koontz, the private developer, received legal support from the Cato Institute and the Institute for Justice, both funded by the Koch Family Industries widely known for their political contributions and desire to decrease government involvement in land usage. The Supreme Court overruled two Florida Supreme Court precendents with this ruling. A professor at Vermont Law School responded to this case with a letter to the New York Times, a portion of which is below:
Leaving the majority’s legal reasoning aside, the Supreme Court’s ruling is likely to do some serious real-world damage. As Justice Kagan correctly explains in her dissent, the decision will very likely encourage local government officials to avoid any discussion with developers related to permit conditions that, in the end, might have let both sides find common ground on building projects that are good for the community and environmentally sound. Rather than risk a lawsuit through an attempt at compromise, many municipalities will simply reject development applications outright — or, worse, accept development plans they shouldn’t.
The majority opinion, written by Justice Alito, and dissenting opinion by Justice Kagan can be read here along with a brief history of the case. What do you think? What effects will this ruling have on local government land use and permits?