Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Challenge to Delta Smelt Protections

Victory for Endangered Species Act advocates who fought to keep the species listed


Trent Orr, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6782

The United States Supreme Court sided with conservation groups today by refusing to review a decision by the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that ruled federal protections for delta smelt are constitutional.

Delta smelt. (U.S. FWS)

In March, the lower court ruled in a challenge to the listing of the delta smelt under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) brought by the anti-wildlife group, Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF). The group challenged the listing, claiming it violates the Commerce Clause of the constitution, which addresses interstate commerce. The challenge claimed the Commerce Clause doesn’t apply since delta smelt have no commercial value and are only found in one state.

The appeals court ruled in favor of the constitutionality of ESA intrastate species protection, citing previous cases that demonstrated a connection between ESA protections and interstate commerce, including the value of biodiversity as an underpinning of our economic enterprises.

Earthjustice, a national non-profit environmental law firm, joined the federal government in the United States District Court in Fresno to help defend the protections for the delta smelt. The district judge agreed that federal protection of the smelt was constitutional, and PLF appealed. Earthjustice attorney Trent Orr argued this case at the Ninth Circuit in defense of smelt protections and issued this statement:

“After five lower courts found that it’s in the national interest to preserve all of America’s wildlife, including species that happen to exist only within the confines of a single state, the top court in the land agrees. The law clearly recognizes that all species are important to the web of life, may have benefits to society yet to be discovered, and are fundamental to the nation’s commerce.”

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