The Next Justice and the Fate of the Clean Water Act

by Daniel Farber | April 05, 2016

Every once in a while, we get reminded of just how much damage the conservative Justices could wreak on environmental law. Last week, Justice Kennedy created shock waves with a casual comment during oral argument. In a case that seemed to involve only a technical issue about administrative procedure, he dropped the suggestion that the Clean Water Act just might be unconstitutionally vague. It didn't seem to faze him that such a ruling would wipe out a statute that has been on the books for over forty years and leave the nation with no protection against water pollution and wetlands destruction. And remember, this is the supposedly most "moderate" conservative Justice on the Court.

This is a truly radical suggestion. Every now and then, a defendant in an enforcement case will argue that the law was unconstitutionally vague under the circumstances of the case. A quick computer search reveals that such a claim has been made by someone about every other year since the law was passed in 1972. Each time, the federal courts have rejected the claiming, finding plenty of evidence that the defendant was on notice of the possible illegality of the conduct. In other words, the vagueness argument has been something of a desperation claim that has consistently fallen on its face. Now this far-fetched legal argument is suddenly being given new life by a Supreme Court Justice. Admittedly, Kennedy was only making a suggestion. ...

Unleashing the Lower Courts

by Daniel Farber | February 25, 2016
There’s already been a lot written about how Justice Scalia’s untimely death will affect pending cases, not to mention speculation about the possible nominees to replace him. Less attention has been given to the effect on the lower courts. Yet Justice Scalia’s departure gives liberal judges in lower courts more freedom than they’ve had in the past. Here, I’m specifically thinking of the D.C. Circuit and the Ninth Circuit, which between them are the most important forums for environmental litigation. ...

Justice Scalia and the American Eco-Kulturkampf

by Robert Verchick | February 22, 2016
Justice Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court chair sits empty, draped in black wool to honor a man whose intellect and fire-breathing keyboard helped reshape the nation’s political landscape. Depending on how things go, that chair could be empty for a while. Unlike more recent nominations to replace a Justice, a nomination from President Obama could reorient the Court away from its long-standing conservative tilt toward something more progressive or even merely moderate. In the current session alone, important cases involving affirmative ...

Justice Scalia and Environmental Law

by Daniel Farber | February 16, 2016
Scalia's decisions were almost unremittingly anti-environmental. Over the past three decades, Justice Scalia did much to shape environmental law, nearly always in a conservative direction.  Because of the importance of his rulings, environmental lawyers and scholars are all familiar with his work.  But for the benefit of others, I thought it might be helpful to summarize his major environmental decisions.  The upshot was to restrict EPA’s authority to interpret environmental statutes, make property rights a stronger bulwark against environmental protection, ...

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