Article by: Maureen E. Brady
46 PEPP. L. REV. 695 (2019)
Although one of the key questions in a federal system is how authority should be allocated between the state and national governments, property law has rarely generated serious controversy on this front. Instead, property entitlements and the rules governing resource use have typically been the province of state and local actors. The Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that property rights are created at the state level. And while federal regulations—for example, environmental regulations—certainly limit property rights, state and local land-use laws and state nuisance and trespass rules serve as major constraints on property’s use and enjoyment. This feature of property law means there is potential for interstate variation in property rules.
In the private law of property—the body of law that governs disputes and relationships among private parties—there remains some variation among the states in both the forms of property recognized and in the different rules that limit ownership and use. However, in this Essay prepared for a symposium on federalism at the Pepperdine School of Law, I marshal evidence that one portion of the public law of property is on a different trajectory.
This Essay identifies two areas of convergence across states in constitutional takings law. First, though the federal Constitution could theoretically protect varied property interests and could measure the constitutionality of regulations affecting property against different background state legal regimes, developments in takings doctrine have enabled some courts to make cross-state comparisons both to create or cap the interests protected and to determine which limitations on title an owner should have expected. Second, despite the potential for variation offered by state constitutional takings provisions, state courts often interpret their constitutional protections for property in similar ways even when presented with different text or other relevant considerations. This Essay identifies how lower courts are applying takings doctrine in ways that may curb the significance of interstate differences in property rules and speculates on the features of takings law that minimize variation in the scope of constitutional takings protection where the potential exists for it. In surfacing the phenomenon of convergence, this Essay builds a foundation for considering the virtues, vices, and normative desirability of uniformity and variation in both takings law and in property law more generally.