So Who Were the People Behind the 1970s Attempt to Scuttle the Taking Clause? No, Not the Ones You Think.

On September 8, 2013, we posted an item inspired by the upcoming conference at Touro Law School, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the publication of the book “The Taking Issue” which, as we explained, was an explicit, government-funded attack on the Taking Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — click here. We even gave you the exact quote from the book, ‘fessing up that its authors were out to “help” government lawyers. That’s what they said, folks. We find it rather droll that Uncle Sam, with all his might and power would need help from three guys from Chicago, but we have no reason to doubt the veracity of the New York Times’ reportage. Yes, the New York Times; see Gladwin Hill, Authority to Develop Land Is Termed a Public Right, N.Y. Times, May 20, 1972, at p.1.

But if you stop and think about it, three big-firm lawyers from Chicago don’t just up and obtain this kind of  financial sponsorship (by the Rockefeller Brothers, the Ford Foundation, and the U.S. government) for the funding of such an effort. So who was behind it? It was a government body known as the Council on Environmental Quality; or more precisely a government “task force”  with the mouth-filling name of the Task Force on Land Use and Urban Growth of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Environmental Quality. According to the New York times this was an advisory committee to President Nixon and the Council on Environmental Quality. President Nixon? The Republican President Nixon? That’s what it says in the Times and we have no basis for questioning that statement. The bottom line of that “task force’s” conclusion was captured by the first paragraph of the Times story:

“A federal task force on land use said today that henceforth ‘development rights’ on private property must be regarded as resting with the community rather than with property owners.”

It doesn’t get any plainer than that, does it? It was a plain manifestation of that old line, “what’s yours is mine,” wasn’t it. So how come these guys thought they could get away with it, and confiscate the most valuable attribute of private property: the right of user? We don’t know what was on their minds, but it seems a pretty safe surmise that they didn’t expect to be impoverished by this radical change in American property law.

We could go on, but we already said what needed to be said, except for giving you the roll of these folks.

Chairing the “task force” was Laurance Rockefeller, “prominent New York conservationist.” Others included:

Henry L. Diamond,  “New York State environmental head,”

Dr. Pail Ylvisaker, Harvard Graduate School of Education

John F. Collins, a professor at MIT

John R. Crowley, Chairman of the Colorado Land Use Commission,

Walter F. Hoadley, Vice President of the Bank of America,

A. Wesley Hodge, a Seattle Lawyer,

Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., executive director of the Urban League

Virginia Nugent, of the league of Women Voters

John R. Price, Jr., vice president of the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co.,

James W. Rouse, board chairman of the Rouse Company, and

Pete Wilson, Mayor of San Diego (later Republican Governor of California).

Wow! This, folks, is not a gathering of radical left-wing revolutionaries, out to glom on to the rich folks’ property and to redistribute wealth to the poor folks — they are the rich folks! So the question virtually asks itself: what was this gaggle of fat-cat plutocrats doing leading an attack on private property rights? You can bet your bottom dollar that they weren’t expecting that their own property would be seriously diminished by an execution of this caper.

Maybe the scholars and taking mavens who are about to gather to plumb the intellectual depths of “The Taking Issue,” and the thinking of its authors, will provide us with some insights. We can’t wait.