Supremes Question EPA Supremacy

On January 9, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case involving yet another instance of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) overreach. Sackett v. EPA involves two Idaho property-owners with a .63 acre parcel near idyllic Priest Lake. In 2007, Michael and Chantell Sackett sought to build a home on their bucolic real estate and began preparing their land for construction. Their dreams were thwarted when the EPA asserted that their property was a federally protected wetland. The EPA ordered Mr. and Mrs. Sackett to reverse their actions and obtain a multi-thousand dollar permit prior to any subsequent home construction. Non-compliance with this order would have resulted in a fine of more than $30,000 per day.

The issue before the Court is whether the EPA’s authority to issue non-reviewable compliance orders under the Clean Water Act violates a property-owner’s Fifth Amendment right to due process. Not surprisingly, the comical Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to uphold this basic protection against government expropriation. Fortunately for the Sacketts, the jurists of the High Court appeared to recognize that the Obama Administration’s argument did not pass the laugh test. Justice Samuel Alito labeled the government’s conclusions as “outrageous.” Chief Justice Roberts gave Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart a taste of his own medicine by asking “What would you do [if you were the Sacketts]?” Even the Court’s liberal bloc got in on the action with Justices Breyer and Kagan ridiculing the actions of the EPA.

Unfortunately, the Sacketts will have to wait until the end of June for the Supreme Court to determine their fate. Until then, they will have to continue to bear the cost of lost time and treasure from their encounter with heavy-handed bureaucrats. Idaho may be the land of potatoes, but leave it to the EPA to ensure that the only thing to get mashed is property rights.