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The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a unanimous ruling on Thursday in favor of a 94-year-old Minnesota grandmother who sued the state for violating her constitutional rights when county officials seized her condo over unpaid tax debt, then sold the property and kept all the sale proceeds — which exceeded what she owed.
“Geraldine Tyler owned a condo that Hennepin County seized as payment for approximately $15,000 in outstanding property taxes, penalties, interest, and costs. The home was then sold for $40,000. Under the state’s forfeiture laws, the county kept the surplus proceeds – in this case to the tune of $25,000,” Fox News reported.
“Tyler argued that the government violated the Fifth Amendment’s “Takings Clause” by confiscating property worth more than the debt owed by the owner. Lower courts ruled against her and dismissed her case, but the Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously sided with her arguments and held that she brought a valid claim under the Takings Clause,” the outlet added.
The justices agreed with Tyler and delivered a 9-0 ruling in her favor, delivering a win for property owners and those against asset forfeiture.
“The taxpayer must render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but no more,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court’s opinion. “The Takings Clause ‘was designed to bar the Government from forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole.’ A taxpayer who loses her $40,000 house to the State to fulfill a $15,000 tax debt has made a far greater contribution to the public fisc than she owed.”
The opinion noted that “Minnesota law itself recognizes in many other contexts that a property owner is entitled to the surplus in excess of her debt.”
“If a bank forecloses on a mortgaged property, state law entitles the homeowner to the surplus from the sale. And in collecting past due taxes on income or personal property, Minnesota protects the taxpayer’s right to surplus. Minnesota may not extinguish a property interest that it recognizes everywhere else to avoid paying just compensation when the State does the taking,” it continued.
Tyler’s lawyers argued that Minnesota’s policy that the state can keep the surplus of a seized asset violated the Excessive Fine clause of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits the government from imposing unduly harsh fines for a crime.
“Because we find that Tyler has plausibly alleged a taking under the Fifth Amendment, and she agrees that relief under ‘the Takings Clause would fully remedy [her] harm,’ we need not decide whether she has also alleged an excessive fine under the Eighth Amendment,” Roberts wrote.
Justices Neal Gorsuch and Kentanji Brown Jackson wrote in a concurring opinion that the law favors Tyler and her argument.
“Economic penalties imposed to deter willful noncompliance with the law are fines by any other name,” they said. “And the Constitution has something to say about them: They cannot be excessive.”
The Supreme Court made headlines earlier this week in a separate case that could upend the future elections.
The Court is considering an election case involving North Carolina that will have a major impact on the 2024 election regardless of how the court rules.
The case revolves around a constitutional concept known as the “independent state legislature theory.” Backers argue that state legislatures possess considerable authority in the administration of federal elections within their respective states, with limited oversight from state courts or even governors.
The high court is currently deliberating on the case of Moore v. Harper, which specifically addresses the theory. However, there are concerns the court may not reach a comprehensive resolution on the matter in time for the upcoming 2024 elections.
The Washington Examiner reports:
Moore v. Harper features a dispute over North Carolina’s Supreme Court dismissing a GOP-backed apportionment plan for being too partisan.
Republicans filed a challenge to the high court, but then conservatives managed to regain control of the state Supreme Court. The now-5-2 Republican-majority court subsequently opted to rehear the redistricting case. The court scraped its prior ruling late last month, which was the underpinning of the Moore v. Harper case pending before the Supreme Court.
“Should the high court fail to weigh in on the issue, state legislatures may feel emboldened to have free reign with gerrymandering, election integrity laws, and more, likely drawing major legal challenges,” the Examiner noted further.