Hodel v. Irving
481 U.S. 704, 107 S. Ct 2076 (1987)
Way back in 1887 the
government gave parcels of land to individual Sioux to encourage them to
settle down (General Allotment Act of 1887). The land was held in trust by the U.S. government so it
couldn't be sold.
The land passed through
heirs in accordance with State laws.
Because the land was held in
trust, it couldn't be sold or partitioned, so as people died and their
possessions were split up, many parcels wound up with multiple owners,
sometimes hundreds of owners.
The administrative costs of
dealing with all these owners were considerable, and the land because
useless since no one could get all the owners to agree on what to do with
In 1983, the Federal
Government passed the Indian Land Consolidation Act.
Basically, it said that if
someone stood to inherit less than a 2% interest in a parcel of land,
that interest would instead escheat
to the local tribe. No compensation was to be given.
This only applied to
parcels that were inherited intestate.
Intestate means that the decedent did not have a will.
Escheat means that the title to a person's property transfers
to the government when the person dies intestate without any other person capable of taking
the property as heir.
Three Sioux (including Irving)
who stood to inherit property sued, saying that this was an illegal taking.
The property interest for
the estates was less than $3k each.
The Trial Court found the Indian
Land Consolidation Act to be
constitutional. Irving appealed.
The Federal Appellate Court
reversed. The government appealed.
A taking is a violation of the 5th
The US Supreme Court affirmed,
and found the Indian Land Consolidation Act to be an illegal taking.
The Supreme Court found that
the right to pass on property to one's heirs is a property interest (Right
unsuccessfully argued that they hadn't taken anyone's property. The
owners had 100% ownership until they died, and the heirs never had
ownership and thus lacked standing to sue.