Property Rights Case Headed for Supreme Court
WASHINGTON – Among ranchers, one of the most passionately held principles is the defense of property rights. That’s why the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the Public Lands Council (PLC), the Wyoming Public Lands Coalition, the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, and the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association have joined together in filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Wilkie v. Robbins.
The central issue for NCBA and PLC is the right of private property owners to deny federal access to their property and the legal options available to property owners for holding federal officials accountable for inappropriate actions.
“We’re fighting for individuals against government abuse,” says Jeff Eisenberg, NCBA’s director of federal lands and executive director of the PLC. “There needs to be checks in place to prevent federal officials from abusing their positions and violating the civil rights of property owners.”
Harvey Frank Robbins owns the High Island Ranch near Thermopolis, Wyo. A dispute between Robbins and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) began over ten years ago when Robbins purchased the ranch. The 80,000 acres involved in this case are partly public and partly private lands, and at issue is whether Robbins had a right to deny the BLM access to his property. In court cases over the past decade, Robbins won two preliminary victories in the U.S. district and circuit courts.
“We’ve heard many stories of government officials failing to respect the Fifth Amendment rights of people in ranching communities,” says Eisenberg. “But what really strikes a chord with us in this case, is the blatant abuse and harassment of Mr. Robbins at the hands of federal officials.”
In response to Robbins’ refusal to grant a right-of-way across his property, the BLM reportedly refused to maintain the road providing access to his property; cancelled his right-of-way across federal lands; stated they would “bury Frank Robbins”; cancelled his recreation use permit and grazing privileges; brought unfounded criminal charges against him; trespassed on his property; and interfered with his guest cattle drives. The harassment eventually forced Robbins to shut down his dude ranch business.
“NCBA and PLC are deeply concerned about the brazen disrespect for private property and the extent to which the federal government can improperly intimidate private citizens. This issue strikes a blow against the most fundamental principles under which ranchers and westerners exist,” says Eisenberg. “Our western producers interact extensively with government officials and we want to put the government on notice that continued abuses of this kind will not be tolerated.”
NCBA and PLC plan to submit briefs February 21, and oral arguments are scheduled for March.
“Protecting private property rights is one of the founding principles of NCBA dating back to 1898,” says Eisenberg. “Our involvement in this case is based on our respect for property rights principles and the need for checks on conduct by government officials. We’re proud to be part of this effort.”