In an historic 104-page ruling, Chief Judge Robert C. Jones of the Federal District Court of Nevada has struck a major blow for property rights and, at the same time, has smacked down federal agencies that have been riding roughshod over Western ranchers and property owners. The long-awaited ruling, which had been expected before the end of last year, was finally issued at the end of May. The court case, U.S. v. Hage, has been keenly watched by legal analysts and constitutional scholars — but has been completely ignored by the major media. 

As we reported last November ("Judge Blasts Federal Conspiracy; Ranch Family Vindicated — Again!"), in June 2012, Judge Jones had issued a scorching preliminary bench ruling that charged federal officials of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with an ongoing series of illegal actions against Nevada rancher E. Wayne Hage (shown on left) that the judge described as “abhorrent” and a literal, criminal conspiracy.

Judge Jones said he found that “the government and the agents of the government in that locale, sometime in the ’70s and ’80s, entered into a conspiracy, a literal, intentional conspiracy, to deprive the Hages of not only their permit grazing rights, for whatever reason, but also to deprive them of their vested property rights under the takings clause, and I find that that’s a sufficient basis to hold that there is irreparable harm if I don’t … restrain the government from continuing in that conduct.”

In fact, Judge Jones accused the federal bureaucrats of racketeering under the federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organizations) statute, and accused them as well of extortion, mail fraud, and fraud, in an effort “to kill the business of Mr. Hage.”

The Hage family has waged a heroic decades-long legal battle against these abusive agencies, in a David vs. Goliath contest against the combined might of the U.S. Department of Justice and the BLM/USFS legal teams. Precious few individual citizens are willing to undertake such a seemingly hopeless and costly effort as to challenge the formidable power and bottomless resources of the federal government. Wayne Hage and his wife Jean did so repeatedly, winning judgements only to have them endlessly appealed by the taxpayer-funded agencies. Jean Hage died in 1996. Wayne Hage and his second wife, former U.S. Congresswoman of Idaho Helen Chenoweth Hage, both died in 2006.

The Hages' son, Wayne N. Hage (shown next to father), and other family members have continued ranching and have continued the legal fight. Hage hailed Judge Jones’ May 24 decision as a landmark ruling for property rights, which the American Founding Fathers recognized as the bedrock of liberty and an essential security against tyrannical government.

"This decision is landmark for Western ranchers,” Hage commented from the family’s Pine Creek Ranch in Nevada. “I am pleased to announce for the ranchers of the Western states that it has been proven that a permit is not simply a revocable privilege, but rather there is a property interest in the permit for the purpose of the Due Process Clause, both procedural and substantive. This is important because it will safeguard rancher’s rights and historical grazing practices."

Hage added, “More importantly we proved a ‘forage right.’ Ranchers in the state of Nevada are protected from trespass within a half-mile from a water source.”

Notably, the court said, "The Government may not abuse its discretion in refusing to renew, or in revoking, a [grazing] privilege." Significantly, the family will be under permanent injunctive relief and the government shall not reduce the Hages' permits by more than 25 percent for any period of time without the courts' consent, and never permanently.

Specifically, the court found, "The Government has abused its discretion in the present case through a series of actions designed to strip the [Hage] Estate of its grazing permits, and ultimately to strip Defendants of their ability to use their water rights." He explained, "Substantive due process protects individuals from arbitrary deprivation of their liberty by government."

The court further explained, "The Government cannot withdraw them (grazing permits) or refuse to renew them vindictively or for reasons totally unrelated to the merits of the application as governed by published laws and regulations, lest the Government abuse its executive power in a way that shocks the conscience."

Because of the government's refusal to consider any grazing applications from the Hages, the court found the subsequent "chain of events is the result of the Government's arbitrary denial of E. Wayne Hage's renewal permit for 1993-2003, and the effects of this due process violation is continuing."

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