The Murr Case: Of Lot Mergers and the Future of Land Use Regulation

by John Echeverria | March 15, 2017

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a seemingly minor zoning case, Murr v. State of Wisconsin. In reality, the case involves a fundamental challenge to public authority to protect our communities and private property. In particular, if the Court were to rule in favor of petitioners, it would make it vastly more difficult for communities to compel large-scale developers to comply with zoning and other land use laws.

Here’s the back story. In 1972, the Secretary of the Interior approved a request by the Governors of Wisconsin and Minnesota to include the Lower St. Croix River in the national Wild and Scenic Rivers system based on its outstanding scenic and recreational values. Despite this national designation, state and local land use agencies control development along the river’s banks. The Murr case arises from the efforts by St. Croix County, Wisconsin, to protect the scenic banks of the Lower St. Croix River from overdevelopment and, more specifically, the application of an obscure “lot merger” zoning rule.

More than 50 years ago, prior to the Wild and Scenic designation, Margaret and William Murr purchased a small building lot on the Wisconsin side of the river, conveyed ownership of the lot to the family plumbing company, and built a small cabin on the lot. A few years later the Murrs bought a second lot next door to their first lot in their own names. Ever since, the Murr family ...

The Next Justice and the Fate of the Clean Water Act

by Daniel Farber | April 05, 2016
Every once in a while, we get reminded of just how much damage the conservative Justices could wreak on environmental law. Last week, Justice Kennedy created shock waves with a casual comment during oral argument. In a case that seemed to involve only a technical issue about administrative procedure, he dropped the suggestion that the Clean Water Act just might be unconstitutionally vague. It didn't seem to faze him that such a ruling would wipe out a statute that has been on ...

Unleashing the Lower Courts

by Daniel Farber | February 25, 2016
There’s already been a lot written about how Justice Scalia’s untimely death will affect pending cases, not to mention speculation about the possible nominees to replace him. Less attention has been given to the effect on the lower courts. Yet Justice Scalia’s departure gives liberal judges in lower courts more freedom than they’ve had in the past. Here, I’m specifically thinking of the D.C. Circuit and the Ninth Circuit, which between them are the most important forums for environmental litigation. ...

Justice Scalia and the American Eco-Kulturkampf

by Robert Verchick | February 22, 2016
Justice Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court chair sits empty, draped in black wool to honor a man whose intellect and fire-breathing keyboard helped reshape the nation’s political landscape. Depending on how things go, that chair could be empty for a while. Unlike more recent nominations to replace a Justice, a nomination from President Obama could reorient the Court away from its long-standing conservative tilt toward something more progressive or even merely moderate. In the current session alone, important cases involving affirmative ...

Justice Scalia and Environmental Law

by Daniel Farber | February 16, 2016
Scalia's decisions were almost unremittingly anti-environmental. Over the past three decades, Justice Scalia did much to shape environmental law, nearly always in a conservative direction.  Because of the importance of his rulings, environmental lawyers and scholars are all familiar with his work.  But for the benefit of others, I thought it might be helpful to summarize his major environmental decisions.  The upshot was to restrict EPA’s authority to interpret environmental statutes, make property rights a stronger bulwark against environmental protection, ...

Trumping Innovation

Tomain | Mar 21, 2017 | Energy

A Dark Day for the Bay

Isaacson | Mar 17, 2017 | Chesapeake Bay

The Murr Case: Of Lot Mergers and the Future of Land Use Regulation

Echeverria | Mar 15, 2017 | Environmental Policy

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