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Law School Case Brief

Robertson v. Seattle Audubon Soc'y - 503 U.S. 429, 112 S. Ct. 1407 (1992)

Rule:

Although repeals by implication are especially disfavored in the appropriations context, Congress nonetheless may amend substantive law in an appropriations statute, as long as it does so clearly.

Facts:

Respondent environmental groups filed separate lawsuits challenging proposed timber harvesting in certain forests managed by the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). These forests are home to the northern spotted owl, an endangered species. Between them, the two lawsuits alleged violations of five federal statutes. The lower courts preliminarily enjoined some of the challenged harvesting. In response to this ongoing litigation, Congress enacted § 318 of the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1990, which required harvesting and expanded harvesting restrictions. Subsections (b)(3) and (b)(5) prohibited harvesting altogether in various designated areas, and subsection (b)(6)(A) stated in part that "Congress hereby determines and directs that management [of the forests] according to subsections (b)(3) and (b)(5) . . . is adequate consideration for the purpose of meeting the statutory requirements that are the basis for [the two cases,]" which were identified by name and caption number. Both District Courts rejected respondents' claims that subsection (b)(6)(A) violated Article III of the Constitution by purporting to direct results in two pending cases. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding the provision unconstitutional under United States v. Klein, 80 U.S. 128, 13 Wall. 128, 20 L. Ed. 519, on the ground that Congress directed a particular decision in the cases without repealing or amending the statutes underlying the litigation.

Issue:

Was the provision unconstitutional on the ground that Congress directed a particular decision in the cases without repealing or amending the statutes underlying the litigation?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court rejected the contention that § 318 impermissibly directed a particular judicial decision without repealing or amending the statutes underlying the suits. Rather, the court ruled, in replacing the legal standard applicable to the pending suits, § 318 merely compelled changes in the law, not results under the old law, and did not direct courts to make any particular findings of fact or applications of law to fact. Thus, the statute did not violate U.S. Const. art. III. The provision compelled changes in law, not results under old law, by replacing the legal standards underlying the two original cases with those set forth in subsections (b)(3) and (b)(5). Before its enactment, respondents' claims would fail only if the challenged harvesting violated none of the provisions of the five statutes that formed the basis for the original lawsuits. Under subsection (b)(6)(A), however, the claims would fail if the harvesting satisfied both of two new provisions. Thus, subsection (b)(6)(A)'s operation modified the old provisions. Moreover, there is nothing in the subsection that purported to direct any particular findings of fact or applications of law to fact. Section 318 reserved judgment on the lawfulness of the timber sales under old law. It did not instruct the courts whether any particular timber sales would violate subsections (b)(3) or (b)(5); and it could not instruct that any particular BLM timber sales were lawful, because subsection (b)(5) incorporated by reference the harvesting prohibitions imposed by a BLM agreement not yet in existence when the Compromise was enacted. 

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