The U.S. Supreme Court [on March 3], in a very limited 5-4 decision, reversed the lower courts’ findings that had overturned a Bush administration rule that denied citizens the right to have a voice in the management of national forests. (Summers v. Earth Island Institute). However, the Court rejected the Bush administration’s attempt to create a broad ruling that would have severely limited citizens the right to challenge any unlawful government regulation.The argument in Summers v. Earth Island Institute was argued before the Supreme Court in October by Durango attorney Matt Kenna. The suit was a legal challenge against the Forest Service's attempts to exclude public input and environmental reviews from timber sales. Matt had been involved with the case for more than five years when he was selected to make the argument after the Supreme Court accepted it in Dec. 2007. The case had been brought by Earth Island Institute, Heartwood, Sierra Club, Sierra ForestKeeper, and Center for Biological Diversity.
“We are disappointed that the Court reinstated these harmful forest regulations,” says Kenna. “However, the Court’s ruling was narrow in scope and did not accept any of the government's broad theories that would have precluded citizens from challenging a federal regulation except when applied to a specific project.
"This was the most critical issue at stake- if the government had prevailed on its theory, citizens would have had to file thousands of individual suits to challenge harmful regulations on a case-by-case basis while the government could continue to apply the regulation even in the face of multiple court rulings finding the regulation unlawful.”
Summarizing, Kenna said, "It was very close- 5-4 with a concurrence by Kennedy. It was decided on a narrow basis that will not cause too much bad precedent for the future, which is good, but it would have been nice to have won!"
Read the decision here.