The public trust doctrine has always been controversial. The general rule in American law favors ownership of natural resources as private property. The public trust doctrine, a jarring exception of uncertain dimensions, posits that some resources are subject to a perpetual trust that forecloses private exclusion rights. For environmentalists and preservationists who view private ownership as a source of the degradation of our natural and historical resources, the public trust doctrine holds out the hope of salvation through what amounts to a judicially enforced inalienability rule that locks resources into public ownership. For those who view private property as the bulwark of the free enterprise system and constitutional liberty, the doctrine looms as a vague threat.
Joseph D. Kearney & Thomas W. Merrill,
The Origins of the American Public Trust Doctrine: What Really Happened in Illinois Central,
U. Chi. L. Rev.
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