Law: No Taking Without Paying

From the Supreme Court, a sweeping decision on confiscation

The Fifth Amendment guarantees that private property shall not "be taken for public use, without just compensation." Exactly what those words mandate has been a subject of heated debate and much litigation for almost two centuries. In a controversial decision last week, the U.S. Supreme Court opened a major new chapter in the already bulging lawbooks dealing with confiscation. The ruling is virtually certain to render the field even more treacherously complex and to create pounding headaches for local planning authorities, environmentalists and historical preservationists across the nation.

The case that led to last week's ruling had its obscure origins in...