In what may be the first decision that the Supreme Court’s presumed 6-3 conservative-liberal division actually lined up since President Trump made three appointments during his term, the justices have ruled to strike down a California law requiring private corporations to allow union officials to use their property for the labor organizations’ purposes of organizing and recruiting.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, which was joined by Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Barrett, while the leftists of Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor would have affirmed the taking of private property.
“A California regulation grants labor organizations a ‘right to take access’ to an agricultural employer’s property in order to solicit support for unionization. Agricultural employers must allow union organizers onto their property for up to three hours per day, 120 days per year. The question presented is whether the access regulation constitutes a per se physical taking under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments,” Robert wrote.
The majority said yes. The six justices ordered the case returned to the lower courts for a result consistent with their ruling.
It was Cedar Point Nursery and Fowler Packing Company in Fresno that were targeted by union officials.
The case started in 2015 when “at five o’clock one morning, members of the United Farm Workers entered Cedar Point’s property without prior notice. The organizers moved to the nursery’s trim shed, where hundreds of workers were preparing strawberry plants. Calling through bullhorns, the organizers disturbed operations, causing some workers to join the organizers in a protest and others to leave the worksite altogether. Cedar Point filed a charge against the union for taking access without giving notice. The union responded with a charge of its own, alleging that Cedar Point had committed an unfair labor practice,” Roberts wrote.
At Fowler, company officials blocked the union’s attempt to use its property.
But the majority found: “The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, provides: ‘[N]or shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.’
“When the government physically acquires private property for a public use, the Takings Clause imposes a clear and categorical obligation to provide the owner with just compensation … The same is true when the government physically takes possession of property without acquiring title to it.”
The opinion continued, “And the government likewise effects a physical taking when it occupies property – say, by recurring flooding as a result of building a dam.”
The majority ruled, “These sorts of physical appropriations constitute the ‘clearest sort of taking,’ … and we assess them using a simple, per se rule: The government must pay for what it takes.”
When the government imposes a rule that restricts an owner’s ability to use his own property it’s a different standard, the opinion said, and that is what the court already found in previous cases that “while property may be regulated to a certain extent, if regulation goes too far it will be recognized as a taking.”
Roberts wrote, “Government action that physically appropriates property is no less a physical taking because it arises from a regulation.”
In this case, “The access regulation appropriates a right to invade the growers’ property and therefore constitutes a per se physical taking. The regulation grants union organizers a right to physically enter and occupy the growers’ land for three hours per day, 120 days per year. Rather than restraining the growers’ use of their own property, the regulation appropriates for the enjoyment of third parties the owners’ right to exclude.”
The Pacific Legal Foundation fought the case for the landowners, and senior attorney Joshua Thompson said, “Today’s ruling is a huge victory for property rights. Today’s decision affirms that one of the most fundamental aspects of property is the right to decide who can and can’t access your property.”
Cedar Point President Mike Fahner said, “We’re very happy with the court’s ruling today, and we’re excited to keep running our businesses without unlawful interference.”
The foundation explained the California provision was a “hold-over from the days when farm workers had little access to media or other means of communications and often lived on their employers’ property during busy times of the season.”
They needed, it was thought then, to have access to information about how they could obtain the best wages and conditions possible.
However, currently seasonal workers stay at nearby hotels and “most workers have access to hundreds of Spanish-speaking radio stations and other media outlets, cell phones and smartphones, and the internet.”
The two companies produce fruit for millions of Americans and together employ some 3,000 workers.
The liberals on the court contended that it was only a “temporary” property taking, and that the majority is “wrong.”
“It does not take from the owners a right to invade (whatever that might mean). It does not give the union organizations the right to exclude anyone. It does not give the government the right to exclude anyone. … It gives union organizers the right temporarily to invade a portion of the property owners’ land.”
They did suggest, in their dissent, that California “should have the choice of … providing compensation.”
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