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United States v. Causby

High Court Affirms

On 27 May 1946, the Supreme Court ruled on the case. It agreed with Causby that the use of his farmland was a taking in effect, and that Causby was entitled to his just compensation under the Fifth Amendment. Justice Douglas wrote the opinion for the majority, with Justice Black, joined by Justice Burton, dissenting.

Declaring the air "a public highway," Douglas rejected Causby's claim that his airspace had been taken from him. "To recognize such private claims to the airspace would clog these highways," Douglas opined, "seriously interfere with their control and development in the public interest, and transfer into private ownership that to which only the public has a just claim." However, he did concede "that if the landowner is to have full enjoyment of the land, he must have exclusive control of the immediate reaches of the enveloping atmosphere." Thus the low altitude overflights constituted an invasion of Causby's space "in the same category as invasions of the surface."

From there, it was no great leap for Douglas to conclude that the government had in effect appropriated Causby's property. He wrote:

Flights over private land are not a taking, unless they are so low and so frequent as to be a direct and immediate interference with the enjoyment and use of the land. We need not speculate on that phase of the present case. For the findings of the Court of Claims plainly establish that there was a diminution in value of the property and that the frequent, low-level flights were the direct and immediate cause.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953United States v. Causby - Legal Background, The Case At Hand, High Court Affirms, Black Dissents, Airspace Rights