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Our Views

Our Views Columns

Date: 6/27/2019

Title: Cattlemen in the Courts: What Two Recent Cases Mean for Producers

In the fight for the future of the cattle industry, the daily drama of Capitol Hill attracts most of the attention. But NCBA invests considerable resources in legal battles that also have implications for farmers, ranchers, and landowners across the country. Two recent Supreme Court decisions illustrate why the judicial system is a critical component of NCBA’s work.


First, in Knick v Township of Scott, the Supreme Court decided that landowners should have direct access to federal court in “takings” cases. A taking occurs when the government illegally seizes property or infringes on a property owner’s right to control their land. In this case, Pennsylvania resident Rose Mary Knick saw the rights to her 90-acre farmland literally trampled on when a local ordinance permitted anyone onto her private property in order to access an alleged burial site.


Knick challenged the ordinance as a violation of her property rights, but due to a decades-old Supreme Court decision known as the Williamson Country doctrine, she was effectively barred from taking her case to federal court. That’s because, under the Williamson County doctrine, Knick could not go to federal court without first going to state court; but if she went to state court and lost, her takings claim would be barred from federal court. NCBA submitted a brief in support of Knick, and thankfully the Supreme Court ruled in her favor. The decision overturns the Williamson Country doctrine and ensures that landowners get their day in court.


In another Supreme Court case (Kisor v. Wilkie), the Justices considered the constitutionality of Auer deference, an administrative doctrine that provides federal agencies the power to interpret (and often reinterpret) their own vague rules and regulations. While the Court failed to overturn Auer, it did provide agencies and the regulated community with important boundaries for the Doctrine’s application (read NCBA's legal brief in the case here). Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, held that Auer deference can only be used when a court determines that a regulation is “genuinely ambiguous,” requiring that any new interpretation be “reasonable,” judged by its character and context. Following the Kisor decision, courts will no longer allow federal agencies to flip-flop when it comes to regulatory interpretation, creating greater certainty for cattlemen across the country.