Can the government force its citizens to allow people on their private property? That is the question for an upcoming case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Court will review a "graveyard law" involving Rose Mary Knick of Scott Township, Pennsylvania. Knick's attorneys at Pacific Legal Foundation say agents from town came onto her property several years ago without asking her permission or obtaining a warrant of any kind (earlier story). They said they wanted to search for old burial sites – and when they claimed to have found one, the town issued Knick a citation for not allowing the public to visit her property. (See case history)
"Many states have laws that prohibit so-called 'backyard burials,' but Pennsylvania does not – and so there are small family plots all over Pennsylvania dating back several hundred years," explains attorney Dave Breemer of Pacific Legal Foundation. "The township in this area, for the first time, in 2012 said it wanted to regulate these areas – but by 'regulate' what it meant was it wants to make them all publicly viewable."
According to Breemer, Knick was ordered to open up her land to any member of the public, seven days a week, without compensation. That, says Breemer, is unconstitutional.
"The Constitution guarantees you compensation when the government takes away your right to keep your property private – because if you can't keep strangers off your property, it isn't private," he explains.
Knick continues, explaining that a state court in Pennsylvania turned the case away, saying it wasn't ready to be heard; and then a federal court refused to hear the case and sent her back to state court.
"So she's subject to this onerous law, but she can't get any court access because of procedural rules that kick her from court to court," Breemer continues. "So we're going to the Supreme Court to straighten out this mess, to get her her day in court so that she can challenge this access law on her property."
Pacific Legal Foundation has 10 victories in 12 attempts at the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We are going back and we're very thankful for that," says Breemer. "The Court took this case to consider whether it's going to overrule, which is a big step, some prior cases that require property owners to jump through hoops no one else has to jump through. So not only would this case potentially affect people's rights to keep their private property private, but also their ability – without spending years and money in court, without spending more money than other classes – to be able to go to a judge and ask for a ruling on when the government has imposed restrictions regulations on your property."
The case is Knick v. Scott Township, Pennsylvania.