Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Ely on State Constititonal Protection of Property in Antebellum America

James W. Ely, Jr., Vanderbilt University Law School, has posted “The Sacredness of Private Property:” State Constitutional Law and the Protection of Economic Rights Before the Civil War, which is forthcoming in the NYU Journal of Law & Liberty.
This essay explores state constitutional law before the Civil War pertaining to economic rights. It argues that antebellum state courts played a crucial and underappreciated role in defending property and contractual rights from legislative assault. Before the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment most constitutional questions relating to property were handled in state courts and implicated state constitutional law. The essay considers how state courts shaped takings and due process jurisprudence, often anticipating subsequent decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States. They were the first, for example, to consider the scope of “public use” and the amount of “just compensation” when government sought to acquire property. Moreover, they grappled with the extent to which the due process guarantee in state constitutions conferred substantive protection to the rights of property owners. Despite the pivotal role of the Supreme Court in fashioning contract clause jurisprudence, state courts heard far more contract clause cases and significantly impacted the formation of law in this field as well. State constitutionalism was vitally important to the development of property owners.

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