Huge win for private property rights

A Tennessee appeals court has released a “huge victory for property rights” in the state by upholding a lower court’s decision that game wardens cannot conduct warrantless searches of private property.

The announcement comes from the Institute for Justice, which fought the case on behalf of landowners Terry Rainwaters and Hunter Hollingsworth.

Benton County landowners filed a lawsuit when the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency ignored their “No Trespassing” signs and entered their property to install cameras.

The IJ explained, “The victory applies broadly to all private land that Tennesseans have put to ‘actual use,’ whether for fencing, farming, posts, gates, hunting, fishing, camping, or otherwise.”

“This decision is a huge victory for property rights in Tennessee,” said Joshua Windham, an IJ attorney and Elfie Gallun Fellow in Freedom and the Constitution. “TWRA claimed unlimited power to completely camouflage itself, invade people’s lands, wander around at will, take photos, record videos, search ponds, spy on people from behind bushes – all without permission, a warrant or any meaningful restrictions on their power. This decision confirms that granting state officials unfettered power to invade private lands is anathema to Tennesseans’ most basic constitutional rights.”

The Court of Appeals ruling, from Judge Jeffrey Usman, explained: “TWRA’s claim is a troubling assertion of power on behalf of the government that violates the foundations of search protection against arbitrary government interference in the American legal tradition generally, and in (Article I, Section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution), specifically.”

He said TWRA’s argument could be likened to warrantless searches carried out by British authorities, which sparked the American Revolution. Usman also rejected the idea that rural Tennessean residents deserve less protection from government interference than those in urban areas, explaining that the “Tennessee Constitution does not prejudice actual uses (of property) more commonly associated with rural areas,” the report said.

“TWRA’s abuse of power had to stop,” Hollingsworth said. “For as long as I can remember, these officers have acted like a law unto themselves. But no one – not even a game warden – is above the Constitution, and yesterday’s decision makes that crystal clear. I want to thank the Institute for Justice, who has helped us fight this fight for so many years, and my local attorney Jack Leonard, who has been by my side in this case since day one.”

The state agents claimed they could infringe with impunity under the old federal “open fields” doctrines. That’s when the Supreme Court ruled in 1924 that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not protect any land outside the home and its immediate vicinity.

Like several other state constitutions, the Tennessee document protects “property” from “unreasonable searches.” The term ‘property’ clearly applies to private land, and it is encouraging to see the Court of Appeals reject the federal rule and reaffirm Tennesseans’ cherished right to be secure on that land,” the IJ said.

The landowners were awarded nominal damages of $1 for the violations.

Source: ‘Big win for property rights’ in major warrantless search case | WND | by Bob Unruh