Supreme Court hears Navy sonar, sexual harassment cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call] Wednesday in three cases, including Winter, et al. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., et al. [Cornell LII backgrounder; merit briefs], 07-1239, in which the Court will review a Ninth Circuit ruling rejecting the Bush administration's attempt to exempt the US Navy from environmental laws [JURIST reports] so that the Navy could continue using sonar in its anti-submarine warfare training off the coast of southern California. In its petition for certiorari, the Justice Department argued that the decision interferes with the Navy's ability to prepare for war, that national security interests should override environmental regulations, and that there is no evidence to support the claim that the sonar exercises harm marine wildlife. The Natural Resources Defense Council [advocacy website], which filed the lawsuit seeking to halt Navy sonar use due to harm caused to whales and other marine mammals, published a 2005 paper on the impact of sonar on marine wildlife [NRDC materials]. Appearing on behalf of the government during Wednesday's arguments [transcript], Solicitor General Gregory Garre [official profile] said that "no marine mammal will be killed as a result of these exercises" and that "the vast majority of the disturbances predicted by the environmental assessment are temporary and non-injurious." Richard B. Kendall, arguing for the respondents, characterized the case as presenting a "very traditional question of equity jurisprudence": whether the district court's decision is supported by the evidence, in which case it cannot be reversed as clearly erroneous. Responding to Kendall, Justice Samuel Alito suggested there was "something incredibly odd about a single district judge making a determination ... that is contrary to the determination that the Navy has made." AP has more. The Los Angeles Times has additional coverage.

In a second environmental case argued [transcript] Wednesday, Summers v. Earth Island Institute [Cornell LII backgrounder; merit briefs], 07-463, the Court will consider whether a group of environmentalists can sue to have a Forest Service regulation struck down or if they are limited only to suing to end programs enacted under that regulation. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held [PDF text] that the environmentalists could sue against the regulation itself.

Finally, the Court heard arguments in Crawford v. Nashville and Davidson County [Cornell LII backgrounder; merit briefs], 06-1595, presenting the question of whether Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act [text] protects a government employee against being fired for cooperating with an internal sexual harassment probe against a superior. A payroll employee in the Nashville school system was interviewed as part of an investigation into harassment claims against a high-ranking official in the system; she alleges that the official later fired her in retaliation for her statements against him. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit dismissed the lawsuit [opinion, PDF], ruling that Title VII protections did not extend to the employee because she was not the originator of the sexual harassment claims being investigated.

 

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