Monday, June 19, 2006

Court muddies Clean Water

In a plurality opinion the U.S. Supreme Court today narrowly ruled in favor of two Michigan landowners, John Rapanos and June Carabell, whose attempts to develop wetlands had been restricted by the Clean Water Act.

At issue was whether the act covers channels through which water flows only occasionally, and the definition of words like "navigable", "tributary" and "wetland".

Justice Scalia -on the left in my sketch- delivered an opinion sharply critical of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He said "the Corps has stretched the term 'waters of the United States' beyond parody." He was joined in his opinion by Chief Justice Roberts and by Justices Thomas and Alito.

Supplying the fifth vote was Justice Kennedy -center figure in sketch- who announced his own opinion from the bench that, while concurring in the judgement suggested that on remand the lower courts may in fact find a connection between these wetlands and navigable waterways that would reaffirm jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

Justice Stevens -on the right in sketch- delivered a no longer rare dissent from the bench.
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