Supreme Court Rules
POCATELLO, ID (June 15)
-- In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court upheld a Utah District
Court ruling dismissing claims brought in 1999 by the Southern Utah
Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and other anti-access groups against the
Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The suit targeted BLM's alleged
inaction in managing off highway vehicle ("OHV") access. SUWA's demands
to immediately close nine popular OHV recreation areas were rejected by
the Utah District Court, but that decision was reversed by the 10th
Circuit Court of Appeals. Both the BLM and the OHV groups petitioned
for review with the Supreme Court. The Court granted review and heard
argument in March of this year.
"Needless to say, we're
delighted", said Bill Dart, Executive Director of the BlueRibbon
Coalition (BRC). BRC led a coalition of OHV enthusiast groups who
successfully petitioned for defendant-intervenor status to aid BLM's
defense of OHV management.
"We are pleased the
Justices rejected the 'management through litigation' model that is
popular with anti-access groups," Dart added.
The case before the
Supreme Court turned on a fairly complex jurisdictional point. The
Administrative Procedure Act allows lawsuits to compel nondiscretionary
actions that have been unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed. The
OHV groups convinced the District Court that SUWA's claims went far
beyond this standard and were really attempting to dictate the everyday
activity of the BLM. Thus, the case focused on the degree to which
private parties dissatisfied with government action can sue the agency
under an alternate "failure to act" theory.
Justice Antonin Scalia
said SUWA's argument would insert the court into the day-to-day
operations of the agency and "would divert BLM's energies from other
projects throughout the country that are in fact more pressing. While
such a decree might please the environmental plaintiffs in the present
case, it would ultimately operate to the detriment of sound
"We have raised these
arguments with limited success since the mid 1990's, and it is
reassuring to see the Court has ultimately agreed with our analysis,"
noted Paul Turcke, the Boise, Idaho lawyer acting as lead counsel for
the OHV groups. "This case was never about limiting legitimate review
of formal agency decisions, but will clarify that disgruntled and
well-funded special interest groups cannot interfere with the ongoing
administrative process simply by claiming the agency is failing to
act," Turcke concluded. According to BlueRibbon Coalition sources,
there are numerous other cases at various levels of the federal court
system that will be affected by this ruling.
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