Examining the Case of the United States v. Causby
Enacted into law in 1791, the Bill of Rights introduced no less than 10 amendments to the Constitution of the United States. These amendments include various changes and additions to the original laws of the U.S. Constitution and serve to further clarify the laws that would come to govern our nation.
One of these amendments, known as the Fifth Amendment, primarily contains details surrounding due process, private property rights and self-incrimination. In short, the Fifth Amendment ensures that the citizens of the U.S. are protected against law enforcement personnel and governmental entities during certain proceedings, events and acts.
That’s precisely why the Bill of Rights and the Fifth Amendment were so crucial in deciding the outcome of the United States v. Causby. With his family’s livelihood on the line, he had no choice but to cite the Takings Clause, a very specific part of the Fifth Amendment, when filing his lawsuit against the U.S. government. Although his case was officially decided in 1946, it remains a historic case.
If nothing else, the case of the United States v. Causby serves as proof that the government cannot do whatever they please when it comes to the treatment of U.S. citizens. Despite the clarity of the outcome, the actual details of the case are rather muddy.
According to Thomas Lee Causby’s initial complaint, the U.S. government was guilty of flying airplanes in the area directly above his chicken farm near Greensboro, NC. He claimed that he owned the physical land where his farm was built as well as the infinite space both above and below that land. By flying planes so close to his property, he suggested, the U.S. government was violating a section of the Fifth Amendment known as the Takings Clause.
While the U.S. Court of Claims ultimately sided with Causby, they didn’t necessarily agree with his interpretation of the Takings Clause. They rejected his notion that he owned an infinite amount of space both above and below his farm, as outlined in the Takings Clause, but they agreed that the frequent flights made it difficult for Causby’s family to fully enjoy and profit from their land.
As a result, the court decided in favor of Thomas Lee Causby and awarded him just compensation.