Wednesday, May 30, 2012
James W. Ely, Jr. (Vanderbilt) has posted Property Rights and the Supreme Court in the Gilded Age, forthcoming in the Journal of Supreme Court History. The abstract:
This article challenges the conventional wisdom about the property-rights jurisprudence of the Supreme Court in the period 1870-1900. It asserts that the Court was animated to protect the rights of property owners as a means of upholding individual liberty against governmental overreaching. The justices saw private property as essential for the enjoyment of liberty. This commitment to individualistic values was reinforced by utilitarian considerations. The Court repeatedly stressed the vital role of property and contractual rights as the basis of economic growth. In upholding property right the justices drew upon the long-standing Anglo-American tradition of property-conscious constitutionalism. The essay concluded that there was a close affinity between the views of the framers of the Constitution concerning the sanctity of property rights and the jurisprudence of the Gilded Age.
Professor Ely's article makes a really important connection between constitutional property theory in the founding era and a century later in the gilded age. These two eras have been largely treated as completely separate in the scholarship about the development of property as a constitutional concept--and these stories in turn have influenced the understanding of property rights through the twentieth century to today. The analysis contributes to a historical understanding of property rights as a central component of individual liberty in the Constitution.