John Hart

Photo of John  Hart
Law Lecturer

Phone: (206) 616-0221

Mr. Hart joined the UW faculty as a Law Lecturer in 2013. He has taught Conflict of Laws, Jurisprudence and Constitutional Rights here, as well as a course on Land Use Law and Policy at UW Bothell. Before coming to UW, Mr. Hart taught for nine years at Duke University, where he was a Senior Lecturing Fellow at the Law School and a Visiting Associate Professor in the History Department. He previously taught as a Lecturer at the University of Chicago, in the Law School and in the Law, Letters and Society program in the College. Mr. Hart began his teaching career in 1986 at Widener University School of Law, earning tenure in 1992. He has also taught at the University of Illinois, DePaul University, Valparaiso University and the Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Mr. Hart's research centers on the history of land use regulation in America, a highly politicized field of scholarship that has greatly influenced interpretation of the Takings Clause in the U.S. Constitution. His articles in the Harvard Law Review, the Northwestern University Law Review and other journals have shown that American legislatures extensively regulated private land use in the 17th and 18th centuries, contrary to what historians had previously supposed. His work has persuaded many constitutional law scholars that the purported 'original understanding' of property rights relied on by the Supreme Court in its decisions is grossly erroneous, and that a fundamental revision of the Court's regulatory takings doctrine is warranted. 

The early American laws protecting the habitat of migratory fish in America have featured prominently in Mr. Hart's work. His article on fish protection laws in early Virginia brought to light the fact that Thomas Jefferson drafted and James Madison supported a bill enacted in 1782 that required mill owners to open their dams during spawning season. Madison later expressed concern, moreover, that human activities threatening the extinction of wildlife species would violate the divine ordering of the natural world. These and other findings show that the conventional understanding of Madison's views on property rights is at best highly overgeneralized.

Mr. Hart wrote an amicus brief in Palazzolo v. Rhode Island, 533 U.S. 606 (2001), concerning a wetlands protection law challenged by a land developer as a 'taking' that supposedly departed from basic 'background principles' of Rhode Island property law. Instead, Mr. Hart demonstrated, the challenged wetlands law fell within a long line of Rhode Island legislation dating back to the 17th century. He co-authored another amicus brief addressing related issues in Casitas Municipal Water District v. United States, 543 F.3d 1276 (Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit 2008), a lawsuit challenging the federal government's protection of endangered salmon in Northern California under the Endangered Species Act.

Among Mr. Hart's current research projects is a history of eminent domain jurisprudence in America from 1700 to 1850. The consensus among scholars and courts has been that 18th century legislatures employed the eminent domain power very narrowly, taking private land only for government projects or for comprehensively regulated enterprises that directly served the general public. This article will show, in contrast, that American legislatures (and the British Parliament in the same era) vigorously exercised the taking power to advance their vision of the common good. Court cases and natural law treatises of that time will be used to show that no one ever claimed that this broad use of the taking power violated constitutional restrictions before 1830. These findings mean that the Supreme Court's approach to the "public use" issue, and the history of law and economic development in America, merit fundamental revision.

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