A federal statute barring the inheritance of highly fractionated Indian land allotments and providing for escheat to tribe effects a "taking" of decedents' property without just compensation in violation of Fifth Amendment.
Appellees, beneficiaries, challenged § 207 of the Indian Land Consolidation Act, which addressed the problem of fractionalization on Indian reservations, in the trial court, claiming that it resulted in a taking of property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The trial court concluded that § 207 was constitutional and held that appellees had no vested interest in the property of the decedents prior to their deaths and that Congress had plenary authority to abolish the power of testamentary disposition of Indian property and to alter the rules of intestate succession. The lower appellate court reversed, agreeing that appellees had no vested rights in the decedents' property, but concluded that the decedents had a right, derived from the original Sioux allotment statute, to control disposition of their property at death and that the taking of that right without compensation to decedents' estates violated the Fifth Amendment. Appellant Secretary of the Interior challenged the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which reversed the trial court's judgment that § 207 of the Indian Land Consolidation Act was constitutional.
Did the original version of the "escheat" provision of the Indian Land Consolidation Act of 1983 effect a "taking" of appellees' decedents' property without just compensation?
The Court affirmed the lower appellate court's reversal of the trial court's judgment, concluding that the relative economic impact of § 207 on owners of these property rights could be substantial, and that the value of the highly fractionalized parcels was not de minimis.