The Constitution & Public Land

Given the clarity of the Constitution's references to federal land, we're surprised that land-seizure advocates like to mention it so much. The most pertinent portion of the Constitution with regard to federal public land is the Property Clause:

"The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State."

It's straightforward as it gets: the Supreme Court has upheld federal management of public land under the Property Clause for over 175 years of consistent court rulings, never wavering. No makeup of the Supreme Court has ever interpreted the Property Clause as something other than protecting federal management. 


While they are not as relevant, statements from land-seizure groups regarding the Enclave Clause and the 10th Amendment beg a response.

The Enclave Clause references the size of Washington D.C., as well as authorizes federal authority over needful land (such as military installations) across the country. It's unclear why the fringes think this clause undermines the legitimacy of federal lands instead offering tangential support. Constitutional scholars are also baffled by this misinterpretation. In fact, our best guess as to this misunderstanding is that they actually believe that the clause includes entire sentences that it does not. We're not kidding.

The 10th Amendment states that "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." This amendment is one of our favorites, given that a power structure balanced between the federal government and the states is essential. In the case of federal public land, though, it simply does not come into play. More specifically, the groups who mention this amendment in connection to their land-seizure agenda strategically ignore the aforementioned Property Clause, also known as one of those "powers" that the amendment explicitly mentions.


We at Keep It Public love when the Constitution is brought up in regard to federal public lands. We just wish some of the people who like to tout it the most would actually read it.