November 5, 2014
GSE Nationalization and Necessity
Nestor Davidson has posted Nationalization and Necessity: Takings and a Doctrine of Economic Emergency to SSRN. This essay will be of interest to those following the Fannie/Freddie shareholder litigation. The abstract reads,
Serious economic crises have recurred with regularity throughout our history. So too have government takeovers of failing private companies in response, and the downturn of the last decade was no exception. At the height of the crisis, the federal government nationalized several of the country’s largest private enterprises. Recently, shareholders in these firms have sued the federal government, arguing that the takeovers constituted a taking of their property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment. This Essay argues that for the owners of companies whose failure would raise acute economic spillovers, nationalization without the obligation to pay just compensation should be recognized as a natural extension of the doctrine of emergency in takings. Public officials must be able to respond quickly to serious economic threats, no less than when facing the kinds of imminent physical or public health crises — such as wildfires and contagion — that have been a staple of traditional takings jurisprudence. Far from an affront to the rule of law, this reflection of necessity through an extension of emergency doctrine would reaffirm the flexibility inherent in property law in times of crisis.
Davidson looks at the various companies that were nationalized during the financial crisis, including Fannie and Freddie, and concludes,
It does no violence to norms of ownership—or the rule of law—to acknowledge that overriding necessity in times of crisis can be as relevant to economic emergency as it has always been to more prosaic threats. The doctrine of economic emergency that this Essay has proposed accords with the deepest traditions of our system of property, and rightly should be so recognized. (215)
Davidson reaches a very different conclusion than does Richard Epstein, who argues that just compensation is warranted for shareholders in the two companies. I have no doubt that the judges deciding these cases will have to struggle with very same issues that Davidson sets forth in this article, so it is worth a read for those who are closely following these cases.| Permalink