Supreme Court to Hear Arguments in Wilderness Protection Case

Suit could impact citizens' ability to seek court protection for wide range of environmental, public health, and other safeguards


Jim Angell (attorney), 720-272-1179


John McManus (media director), 510-550-6707


  • Paul Smith & William Hohengarten, Jenner & Block, representing Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

  • Jim Angell, Earthjustice, co-counsel representing SUWA

  • Department of Justice attorneys representing the Department of the Interior

  • Attorneys representing off-road vehicle interests

What: Oral arguments in U.S. Supreme Court Case #s 02-1703 and 03-101 (consolidated)

When: Monday, March 29, 2004; 10 a.m.

Where: United States Supreme Court; One First St., NE; Washington, DC

Why: Attorneys general from 14 states, every living former head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and its General Counsel, a coalition of 38 law professors, a veterans’ advocacy group, and numerous conservation groups will ask the nation’s highest court to retain a central check and balance that protects America’s environment. The groups will ask the court to reject a Bush administration effort to usurp the right of average Americans to bring environmental cases to protect America’s natural resources.

The case before the court centers on undeveloped public lands in the west. The federal government is required by law to maintain the wild character of some of these lands. When off-road vehicle drivers damaged the lands with their vehicles, the federal government refused to take protective action until citizen groups initiated this lawsuit. Although the government admitted that it was breaking the law by not adequately protecting these pristine and wild areas, it has offered a radical new legal theory in the Supreme Court under which the public would be helpless to enforce this and other legal duties.

The court will also hear arguments concerning whether the public can bring claims relating to the duty of the federal government to update environmental planning documents when there is information indicating that earlier government decisions are having significant and unanticipated environmental consequences and claims related to the failure of the federal government to follow through on the management commitments made in its land use plans, which include a commitment to designate trails on public lands for off-road vehicle use rather than continuing to allow the vehicles to ride freely across the fragile desert landscapes.

Photos of off-road vehicle damage. Public lands in Utah that the government failed to protect from off-road vehicle damage. These photos were submitted as evidence exhibits to the court.

Click thumbnails for print quality photo.




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