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Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but nothing more

WASHINGTON, DC — It is unconstitutional for the government to keep more money from a foreclosure sale than it needs to satisfy unpaid property tax bills, the court unanimously ruled Thursday. supreme, adding that taxpayers must “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but no more.”

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 9-0 opinion for the court. The case involved a 94-year-old grandmother who left her small condo, after which, under Minnesota law, title to the condo passed to her local government when she went two years without pay property taxes on the house.

“Hennepin County, Minnesota sold Geraldine Tyler’s home for $40,000 to settle a $15,000 tax bill,” Roberts began. “Instead of returning the remaining $25,000, the county kept it for itself. The question posed is whether this constituted a taking of property without just compensation, in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

Roberts explained:

The taking clause, applicable to states through the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that private property shall not be taken for public use, without just compensation. States have long imposed taxes on property. These taxes are not in themselves a revenue, but a compulsory contribution from individuals. . . for government support. . . for which they receive compensation under the protection offered by the government. As part of the collection of these taxes, the State may impose interest and late payment penalties. It can also seize and sell property, including land, to recover the amount owed.

Under Minnesota law, the government can keep the extra money in situations like this, donating a portion to local public schools. Hennepin County attorneys argued that this was constitutionally permitted.

“History and precedents say otherwise. The county had the power to sell Tyler’s house to recover unpaid property taxes. But he could not use the foot of the tax debt to confiscate more property than was owed,” the court answered. “In doing so, he performed a classic take in which the government directly appropriates private property for its own use. Tyler has declared a claim under the catch clause and is entitled to just compensation.

The court’s unanimous opinion focused on the original public meaning of the socket clause, a method of constitutional interpretation called originalism that is a hallmark of judicial conservatives.

“In collecting taxes, the new government of the United States could seize and sell only a portion of a parcel of land necessary to pay the taxes due,” Roberts wrote of federal law in the 1790s, noting that most states at the time the Constitution was passed had similar laws, adding that this “consensus that a government could not take more property than was due to it has been proven true through passage of the Fourteenth Amendment”.

“By collecting all other taxes, Minnesota protects the taxpayer’s right to the surplus,” Roberts noted disapprovingly of the inconsistency of that state’s tax laws. “If a taxpayer is in arrears with her income tax and the state seizes and sells her property, any excess will be credited or refunded to the owner.”

“The state now only makes an exception for itself, and only for property taxes. But property rights cannot be manipulated so easily,” the majority continued. “Minnesota cannot extinguish a property interest it recognizes everywhere else to avoid paying just compensation when it takes it.”

“The Levy Clause was designed to prevent the government from forcing certain individuals to bear alone public burdens which, in fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole,” Roberts continued, citing previous cases. . “A taxpayer who loses her $40,000 home to the state to pay off a $15,000 tax debt has made a far greater contribution to the public treasury than she should have.”

“The taxpayer must render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but no more,” he concludes.

Roberts also wrote for all the judges that because the court ruled that the county’s action violated the taking clause of the Fifth Amendment, it was not necessary to decide the second issue in the case: whether that action would an excessive financial penalty that violates the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment.

Although he agreed with Roberts’ entire opinion, Judge Neil Gorsuch added a concurring opinion explaining why the county’s action could also be an excessive fine. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson joined Gorsuch’s deal, making an interesting pairing of libertarian justice with liberal justice.

It should also be noted that the Chief Justice managed to get all nine justices to sign an opinion demonstrating originality in constitutional interpretation, and it will be worth watching how often this happens under the new composition of the court. .

The case is Tyler vs. Hennepin County22-166 of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Breitbart News senior legal contributor Ken Klukowski is an attorney who has worked in the White House and the Justice Department.

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