WASHINGTON — Does a citizen have a constitutional right to defend his property against grizzly bears?
Richard Christy, a Montana sheep rancher, thought so. The Supreme Court, apparently, disagrees.
In 1982, Christy's sheep were being picked off, one or two per night, by grizzly bears that lived in the neighboring Glacier National Park. After losing 27 sheep, at a cost of more than $1,200, Christy decided to fight back.
One July evening, he spotted a grizzly ready to pounce on his herd. Christy picked up his rifle, fired two shots and killed the bear.
For that, the government fined him $3,000, because the grizzly is a threatened species protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Christy, believing his livelihood was threatened, filed suit against the government. In court, he argued that he had a constitutional right to protect his property from marauding intruders.
His suit was tossed out of court without a trial. A federal judge in Montana, as well as the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the entire West, ruled that there is no such constitutional right. Under the 5th and 14th amendments, the government cannot "deprive" a person of "property without due process of law," but the judges noted that it was not the the government, but the grizzlies that were depriving Christy of his sheep.
Lawyers for the rancher appealed to the Supreme Court, but the justices on Monday dismissed without comment the case of Christy vs. U.S. Dept. of Interior, 88-1461. Only Justice Byron R. White voted to hear the appeal.
The rancher's case was argued on constitutional rights, so the court's decision had no effect on local trespassing laws or other measures that protect private property.