An oft-cited dictum uttered shortly after the Mexican War asserted the right of an owner to compensation for property destroyed to prevent its falling into the hands of the enemy, or for that taken for public use.1770 In United States v. Russell, decided following the Civil War, a similar conclusion was based squarely on the Fifth Amendment, although the case did not necessarily involve the point. Finally, in United States v. Pacific Railroad,1771 also a Civil War case, the Court held that the United States was not responsible for the injury or destruction of private property by military operations, but added that it did not have in mind claims for property of loyal citizens taken for the use of the national forces. “In such cases,” the Court said, “it has been the practice of the government to make compensation for the property taken. . . . although the seizure and appropriation of private property under such circumstances by the military authorities may not be within the terms of the constitutional clauses.”1772
Meanwhile, however, in 1874, a committee of the House of Representatives, in an elaborate report on war claims growing out of the Civil War, had voiced the opinion that the Fifth Amendment embodies the distinction between a taking of property in the course of military operations or other urgent military necessity, and other takings for war purposes, and required compensation of owners in the latter class of cases.1773 In determining what constitutes just compensation for property requisitioned for war purposes during World War II, the Court has assumed that the Fifth Amendment is applicable to such takings.1774 But as to property seized and destroyed to prevent its use by the enemy, it has relied on the principle enunciated in United States v. Pacific Railroad as justification for the conclusion that owners thereof are not entitled to compensation.1775
- Mitchell v. Harmony, 54 U.S. (13 How.) 115, 134 (1852).
- 120 U.S. 227 (1887).
- 120 U.S. at 239.
- H.R. REP. NO. 262, 43d Cong., 1st Sess. (1874), 39–40.
- United States v. Commodities Trading Corp., 339 U.S. 121 (1950); United States v. Toronto Navigation Co., 338 U.S. 396 (1949); Kimball Laundry Co. v. United States, 338 U.S. 1 (1949); United States v. Cors, 337 U.S. 325 (1949); United States v. Felin & Co., 334 U.S. 624 (1948); United States v. Petty Motor Co., 327 U.S. 372 (1946); United States v. General Motors Corp., 323 U.S. 373 (1945).
- United States v. Caltex, Inc., 344 U.S. 149, 154 (1952). Justices Douglas and Black dissented.