In an unusually busy day, the Supreme Court handed down three very interesting rulings in cases that ranged from Guantanamo Bay to the EPA.

In Boumediene v. Bush and Odah v. US, cases argued together, the Court refused to grant two inmates petitions of certiorari. Justices Stevens and Kennedy penned an opinion in favor of denying the petitions and “requiring the exhaustion of available remedies as a precondition of accepting jurisdiction.” The Justices make it clear that the exhaustion-of-remedies doctrine “does not require the exhaustion of inadequate remedies.”

Justice Breyer is joined by Justices Souter and Ginsburg in favor of granting the petitions of certiorari and expediting argument in these cases. Justice Breyer emphasizes the importance of the right to a fair and speedy trial. He cites the importance of this case in deciding other cases and refers the reader to other arguments made in an Amicus Curiae brief filed by Senator Arlen Specter. Breyer goes on to discuss a number of the facts of the case that go far beyond the matter of granting or denying the petition for certiorari.

In Massachusetts v. EPA, a group of private organizations petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the emissions of certain gasses based on discretionary power that they had been given per the Clear Air Act. The EPA denied the petition, arguing that the Act did not authorize direct regulatory action and that the evidence in favor of restricting certain chemicals was inconclusive at the time. During review in the Circuit Court, three judges ruled 2-1 in three separate opinions that the EPA Administrator had properly excercised his power to review petitions filed with the EPA. The first Judge in the majority affirmed the EPA’s argument that the harm caused by certain domestic regulations on global efforts for climate change was enough to warrant the rejection of a plan. The second Judge found that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the petitioners were directly harmed by the respondent. They also questioned the standing of the petitioner to bring suit against the EPA.

The Justices held, 5-4, in a majority opinion written by Justice Stevens that:

1) Massachusetts does have the required standing in this case.
a) The state of Massachusetts, which joined the case in its later stages, does have sufficient standing to bring suit against the EPA. Justice Stevens note that a significant amount of the area to be effected would be within the state.

b)”The harms associated with climate change are serious and well recognized.” The Court in this section accepts the existence of global warming and the serious affect it is having on the state of Massachusetts.

c) The decisions of the EPA have potential to directly contribute to Massachusetts’ injuries, making the EPA a legitimate respondent in this suit.

d) “While regulating motor-vehicle emissions may not by itself
reverse global warming, it does not follow that the Court lacks juris-
diction to decide whether EPA has a duty to take steps to slow or re-
duce it.”

2) Read carefully: The Court draws a fine distinction between simply not enforcing a present law, and denying a rulemaking petition that is expressly authorized. The Clean Air Act explicitly permits and requires the EPA to regulate certain chemicals in certain circumstances.

3) This one relates to (2). Greenhouse gases reasonably constitute ‘air pollutants,’ so the EPA has statutory authority to take regulate their emissions. This statute also gives them some degree of accountability over the ills that could arise if they fail to use their authority.

4) The Court rejects the EPA’s justification based on the external effect it would have on the President’s moves to limit the emissions of other countries. The Court suggests that the EPA must first adhere to its statutory obligations as set out by Congress, then consider other mitigating factors.

The dissent, written by the Chief Justice argues that while global warming may be an issue, the Courts have no jurisdiction to rule on the legitimacy of actions taken by an elected branch of government in an administrative role. Justice Scalia summed up the main idea of both dissents best in the last few lines of his own:

The Court’s alarm over global warming may or may not
be justified, but it ought not distort the outcome of this
litigation. This is a straightforward administrative-law
case, in which Congress has passed a malleable statute
giving broad discretion, not to us but to an executive
agency. No matter how important the underlying policy
issues at stake, this Court has no business substituting its
own desired outcome for the reasoned judgment of the
responsible agency.

A thorough breakdown of the Duke Energy Case is forthcoming, so check back soon.

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