Chief Justice Jumps on The Magna Carta Bandwagon in Horne

June 22nd, 2015

Following last week’s Magna Carta citation-fest, the Chief got in on the fun, talking about the Great Charter in Horne v. Department of Agriculture

The Takings Clause provides: “[N]or shall private prop­ erty be taken for public use, without just compensation.” U. S. Const., Amdt. 5. It protects “private property” with­ out any distinction between different types. The principle reflected in the Clause goes back at least 800 years to Magna Carta, which specifically protected agricultural crops from uncompensated takings. Clause 28 of that charter forbade any “constable or other bailiff” from taking “corn or other provisions from any one without immedi­ ately tendering money therefor, unless he can have post­ ponement thereof by permission of the seller.” Cl. 28 (1215), in W. McKechnie, Magna Carta, A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John 329 (2d ed. 1914).

The colonists brought the principles of Magna Carta with them to the New World, including that charter’s protection against uncompensated takings of personal property. In 1641, for example, Massachusetts adopted its Body of Liberties, prohibiting “mans Cattel or goods of what kinde soever” from being “pressed or taken for any publique use or service, unlesse it be by warrant grounded upon some act of the generall Court, nor without such reasonable prices and hire as the ordinarie rates of the Countrie do afford.” Massachusetts Body of Liberties ¶8, in R. Perry, Sources of Our Liberties 149 (1978). Virginia allowed the seizure of surplus “live stock, or beef, pork, or bacon” for the military, but only upon “paying or tendering to the owner the price so estimated by the appraisers.” 1777 Va. Acts ch. XII. And South Carolina authorized the seizure of “necessaries” for public use, but provided that “said articles so seized shall be paid for agreeable to the prices such and the like articles sold for on the ninth day of October last.” 1779 S. C. Acts §4.

Methinks the Chief doth protest too much about Magna Carta, as he also cited it in Williams-Yulee.