Supreme Court Rules Unanimously in Favor of Fifth Amendment Rights in Wetlands Case

Posted by David Deutsch

Admonishing Congress for the well recognized and continuing obtuseness of the Clean Water Act, the Supreme Court came down firmly on the side of the Fifth Amendment’s due process guarantees for ordinary citizens and unanimously rejected the federal government’s assertion that the property rights of ordinary Americans can be placed entirely at the mercy of a regulatory agency. In Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, the owners of a residential lot in Idaho filed suit challenging an EPA order issued under the Clean Water Act finding that their land was subject to the Act and that they had violated the Act. Unchallenged, the EPA order would have resulted in fines of $75,000 per day. The landowners sued, asserting that the EPA’s order violated the Fifth Amendment because it deprived them of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” The Court found that the only adequate remedy the landowners had to contest the EPA’s order was judicial review, and that the Clean Water Act and EPA cannot preclude that review. The Court stated that the act providing for judicial review of regulatory actions rejects efficiency of regulation as a principle that overrides other rights. The Court admonished: “[T]here is no reason to think that the Clean Water Act was uniquely designed to enable the strong-arming of regulated parties into ‘voluntary compliance’ without the opportunity for judicial review – even judicial review of the question whether the regulated party is within the EPA’s jurisdiction.”

Leave a Reply