Koch think tank leads legal push with big implications for Great Lakes

    Lake Michigan | Susan J. Demas

    A conservative think tank founded and led by one of the Koch brothers is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on a case that could determine whether people have the right to walk along Great Lakes shorelines.

    The Cato Institute presided over by Charles Koch, its board chairman and CEO — is leading a legal brief along with a group of Michigan property owners that asks the nation’s highest court to address the issue.

    In the brief, Michigan property owners through a nonprofit called Save our Shoreline argue their property rights should extend to the water’s edge. The Whalesback Preservation Fund is also part of the nonprofit and owns more than 40 acres of Land in Leelanau County and nearly a quarter mile of Lake Michigan shoreline, according to the brief.

    But at the center of the case are Indiana property owners Don and Bobbie Gunderson, who argue their lakefront property in Long Beach, Ind., extends past the water’s edge.

    Together, they’re asking the U.S. Supreme court to weigh in on an Indiana Supreme Court ruling that the brief calls “contrary to historic understanding … ambiguous and unworkable.”

    The case could impact Michigan shorelines, as well.

    In 2005, Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, who led the Michigan Supreme Court from 2005 to 2009, wrote that walking along the shoreline is protected by state law, even when private property is nearby.

    “Despite the competing legal theory offered by Justice (Stephen) Markman, our Court unanimously agrees that plaintiff does not interfere with defendants’ property rights when she walks within the area of the public trust,” Taylor wrote.

    Michael Gerstein
    Michael Gerstein covers the governor’s office, criminal justice and the environment. Before that, he wrote about state government and politics for the Detroit News, the Associated Press and MIRS News and won a Society of Professional Journalism award for open government reporting. He studied philosophy at Michigan State University, where he wrote for both The State News and Capital News Service. He began his journalism career freelancing for The Sturgis Journal, his hometown paper.

    3 COMMENTS

    1. What this excellent news story left out was the question of whether
      the State of Michigan will file a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court well
      before their planned mid-January planned date for a decision on
      whether to grant cert on the Indiana case, and what such a brief would
      say.

      Given the Michigan Supreme Court decision, defense of that decision
      would mitigate for a Michigan brief urging that the U.S. Supreme Court
      reject the cert petition….and that would be the single most effective thing
      to defend public rights to Great Lakes beaches at the present time.

      Will Gov. Elect Gretchen Whitmer’s position on this be represented?
      Can AG-Elect Dana Nessel persuade Michigan AG Schuette to get his
      AG Environment Division working on this? If will be too late to get
      the brief written and submitted if Nessel waits to assume office.

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