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Winter v. NRDC, Inc.

Supreme Court of the United States

October 8, 2008, Argued; November 12, 2008, Decided

No. 07-1239

Opinion

 [*12]  [**370]  [***256]    CHIEF JUSTICE Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court.

"To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace." 1 Messages and Papers of the Presidents 57 (J. Richardson comp. 1897). So said George Washington in his first Annual Address to Congress, 218 years ago. One of the most important ways the Navy prepares for war is through integrated training exercises at sea. These exercises include training in the use of modern sonar to detect and track enemy submarines, something the Navy has done for the past 40 years. The plaintiffs, respondents here, complained that the Navy's sonar-training program harmed marine mammals, and that the Navy should have prepared an environmental impact statement before commencing  [****11] its latest round of training exercises. The Court of Appeals upheld a preliminary injunction imposing restrictions on the Navy's sonar training, even though that court acknowledged that "the record contains no evidence that marine mammals have been harmed" by the Navy's exercises. 518 F.3d 658, 696 (CA9 2008).

The Court of Appeals was wrong, and its decision is reversed.

The Navy deploys its forces in "strike groups," which are groups of surface ships, submarines, and aircraft centered around either an aircraft carrier or an amphibious assault ship. App. to Pet. for Cert. 316a-317a (Pet. App.). Seamless coordination among strike-group assets is critical. Before deploying a strike group, the Navy requires extensive integrated training in analysis and prioritization of threats, execution of military missions, and maintenance of force protection. App. 110-111.

 Antisubmarine warfare is currently the Pacific Fleet's top war-fighting priority. Pet. App. 270a-271a. Modern diesel-electric submarines pose a significant threat to Navy vessels because they can operate almost silently, making them extremely  [*13]  difficult to detect and track. Potential adversaries of the United States possess at least  [****12] 300 of these submarines. App. 571.

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555 U.S. 7 *; 129 S. Ct. 365 **; 172 L. Ed. 2d 249 ***; 2008 U.S. LEXIS 8343 ****; 77 U.S.L.W. 4001; 39 ELR 20279; 67 ERC (BNA) 1225; 21 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 547

DONALD C. WINTER, SECRETARY OF THE NAVY, ET AL., PETITIONERS v. NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL, INC., ET AL.

Subsequent History: On remand at, Remanded by NRDC v. Winter, 560 F.3d 1027, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 6405 (9th Cir. Cal., Mar. 25, 2009)

Prior History:  [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

NRDC v. Winter, 518 F.3d 658, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 4504 (9th Cir. Cal., 2008)

Disposition: Reversed; preliminary injunction vacated in part.

CORE TERMS

Navy, sonar, training, district court, conditions, training exercise, marine mammal, injunction, exercises, environmental, shutdown, surface, preliminary injunction, zone, submarines, mitigation measures, ducting, prepare, effective, mitigation, yards, detected, merits, public interest, harassments, predicted, realistic, whales, exemption, irreparable harm

Environmental Law, Natural Resources & Public Lands, Fish & Wildlife Protection, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Military & Veterans Law, National Defense, National Environmental Policy Act, General Overview, Coastal Zone Management, Civil Procedure, Injunctions, Grounds for Injunctions, Remedies, Preliminary & Temporary Injunctions, Irreparable Harm, Business & Corporate Compliance, Environmental Law, Assessment & Information Access, Environmental Impact Statements, Constitutional Law, Separation of Powers, Likelihood of Success, Permanent Injunctions