Imagine a world without regulations.

It’s easy if you try.

Well, it’s easy for one California farmer that is sick of the state’s regulatory mandates and is fighting back in the Supreme Court. However, the unintended consequences of a victory for the farm could be felt across the nation, including here in Cooke County.

The farmers, with the help of a conservative group’s lawyers, made an argument Monday in front of the U.S. Supreme Court that California had illegally seized their private property by allowing union organizers access to its employees. The lawyers also tried to walk back the potential scorched earth of deregulatory action if they win their case.

Again, imagine the Gainesville City Council unable to institute any regulations — for some, it’s really easy to fantasize about. Of course, that means you could have no food inspections, no code enforcement, no planning or zoning.

It might be hyperbole but those are exactly some of the concerns facing the Supreme Court with Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid. The case’s central point is a unique California mandate that allowed union organizers onto the company’s strawberry farms to meet with its employees creates an “easement” on private property, in turn violating the company’s Constitutional Fifth Amendment rights against unreasonable takings of property without compensation.

For those unacquainted with the Takings Clause, you can find it in the last line of the Fifth Amendment. It says: “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The easement situation is also unique because usually that involves taking of real property.

The court’s current 6-3 conservative makeup makes it seem like it would side with the growers in the case, but clearly, all members of the court were puzzled by some of the bigger issues a ruling could present, including the regulatory aspect.

In fact, it was the first question asked by Chief Justice John Roberts, who also questioned what was the compensatory damages for the growers in the case. There wasn’t an answer from the plaintiffs, who are clearly looking for a victory when it comes to property rights and not financial damages.

In an analysis written on the Pulitzer Prize-winning SCOTUS Blog, the arguments were crafted like this: “And it is important, the growers conclude, to have a bright-line rule barring the government from creating even a limited easement without compensation because the right to exclude others is such an important part of owning property.”

The ability to exclude those they don’t want on the property raises red flags for civil rights groups. Does that mean that property owners can exclude minorities or protected groups? There is also the question of the state’s other regulatory power, especially inspections, and if it violates the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, which is behind the suit, worked to quash some of these concerns on its own blog writing: “Many critics have attempted to make Cedar Point appear as a threat to myriad issues that have nothing to do with the case; they never grapple with the fundamental truth at the center of this case: Secure property rights are a foundation of civil society.”

In the arguments of the case for the growers, lawyer Joshua Thompson said the regulation imposed by the state was different than government-led inspections, which are covered under the Fourth Amendment right of the government to conduct searches. In this case, the growers said that allowing union organizers to “proselytize” was not the same as allowing a government health inspector unto their property.

Justice Stephen Breyer questioned that idea by asking: “ I don't mean to sound facetious or sarcastic, but I was trying to think of an example, and people now have in 15 years their own private spaceships or their own electric cars or their own driverless cars, and there's a law that says people can go in, the inspectors, the gas station. If you keep your car without using it inside your property for 10 years, they want to go inspect it.”

Other justices also questioned some of the interpretations by the plaintiff and if a ruling could broadly do exactly what the Pacific Legal Foundation was saying wouldn’t happen.

In 2019, the Supreme Court reversed years of precedent by allowing property owners with “takings” claims to bypass the laborious litigation with the state courts and go directly to the federal courts — thus shortening the legal window and evening the playing field for plaintiffs in those cases.

While the scope of this most recent case feels like it will go the way of Cedar Point, the justices will be tasked with how narrow their ruling will be, because the unintended consequences could be significant, especially for every government agency in the United States, including right here in Cooke County.

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