Open Access

Missed Opportunities, Good Intentions: The Takings Decisions of Justice Antonin Scalia


The late Justice Antonin Scalia sensibly pushed his powerful originalist agenda as a bulwark against activist justices of any persuasion from enacting their policy preferences into law. But while this commitment to originalism may explain what the justices should not do, it does not explain, affirmatively, how they should interpret constitutional texts in accordance with the originalist agenda. One area in which this is most critical is the law of takings, which polices the boundary line between private rights and public power. Here it is necessary to integrate explicit constitutional provisions dealing with the terms “taken,” “private property,” “just compensation,” “public use,” and the implied “police power” into a coherent whole. The law of takings is relatively straightforward when the government takes private property into public possession. But it is far more difficult to explicate when private parties retain some interests in property after the government either occupies or regulates the use and disposition of the rest. Justice Scalia’s application of takings law to such cases of divided interests has fallen short in four key contexts: the permitting process in Nollan; rent control in Pennell; development rights in Lucas; and environmental protection schemes in Stop the Beach Renourishment. In these cases, Justice Scalia often reached the right result for the wrong reasons, often on ad hoc grounds. The correct analysis requires a far more thoroughgoing protection of private property interest in the context of both regulatory and possessory takings. This article explains how he should have handled these missed opportunities.

Publication timeframe:
2 times per year
Journal Subjects:
Law, History, Philosophy and Sociology of Law, International Law, Foreign Law, Comparative Law, other, Public Law