Our latest summary of some recent developments in the courts and the federal agencies includes a unique case involving salt marshes adjacent to San Francisco Bay.
THE FEDERAL COURTS
A Wolf Among the Butterflies
On October 13, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decided the case of North American Butterfly Association v. Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. The National Butterfly Center is a 100-acre wildlife sanctuary located in Texas along the border between the United States and Mexico, and in 2017, the DHS exerted control over a segment of the sanctuary to construct facilities to impede unauthorized entry into the United States. It was alleged that the government failed to provide advance notice to the sanctuary before it entered the sanctuary to build its facilities. The Association filed a lawsuit to halt these actions for several reasons, including constitutional claims and two federal environmental laws (NEPA and the Endangered Species Act), but the lower court dismissed the lawsuit because of the provisions of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA). That law forecloses the applicability of these laws if the Secretary of DHS issues appropriate declaration. On appeal, the DC Circuit held, in a 2 to 1 decision, that the lawsuit should not have been dismissed. The plaintiffs had standing to file this lawsuit, but the jurisdiction stripping provisions of the IIRIRA, when invoked, required that the statutory claims be dismissed as well as a constitutional Fourth Amendment search and seizure claim. However, the plaintiff’s Fifth Amendment claim that the government’s actions violated their right to procedural due process must be reviewed. The Center was given no notice of the government’s claims and no opportunity to be heard before these actions were taken. The dissenting judge argued that the court was being asked to review a non-final decision, which it should not do.