Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority v. Citizens for the Abatement of Aircraft Noise, Inc.

PETITIONER: Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority
RESPONDENT: Citizens for the Abatement of Aircraft Noise, Inc.
LOCATION: Residence of Ellis Gregory

DOCKET NO.: 90-906
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 501 US 252 (1991)
ARGUED: Apr 16, 1991
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1991

David L. Shapiro - on behalf of Respondent United States, supporting the Petitioners
Patti A. Goldman - on behalf of the Respondents
William T. Coleman, Jr. - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case

In this case study, citizens living near the airport complained of constant noise. Earlier this airport was not overloaded with flights and created much less noise. However, by the decision of the local authorities, some of the flights were distributed between two city airports. In turn, citizens living near it argued that this decision was unconstitutional. Representatives of the nearby district complained that the constant noise and vibrations created by aircraft during take-off and landing have a serious negative psychological effect on residents of nearby areas. According to the law, the noise level during the operation of the aircraft must not exceed the maximum permissible level, which is established by aviation regulations.

Thus, the matter is about the maximum permissible levels of aircraft noise in the newly designed areas of residential development near existing airfields and airports, as well as in the residential areas of cities and urban-type settlements around the newly-designed airports and airports during take-off, flight and landing of aircraft and helicopters, when testing engines at aerodromes while conducting flights, and also establishes methods for measuring aircraft noise. Despite the fact that the court recognized the applicants' right to reduce aircraft noise, it also argued that the load sharing between the two airports is legal and it was carried out in accordance with the constitutional procedure. Thus, the decision was made in favor of local authorities, and it also enshrined the legal order of such procedures at aviation facilities.


Media for Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority v. Citizens for the Abatement of Aircraft Noise, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 16, 1991 in Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority v. Citizens for the Abatement of Aircraft Noise, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 17, 1991 in Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority v. Citizens for the Abatement of Aircraft Noise, Inc.

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 90-906, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority versus Citizens for Abatement of aircraft noise will be announced by Justice Stevens

John Paul Stevens:

This case raises a constitutional question concerning the separation of powers among the three branches of the federal government.

Two of the three commercial airports serving the Washington and metropolitan area, Washington National and Dallas International, have been owned by the federal government since they opened.

In 1987, congress passed a statute authorizing the transfer of operating control of both of those airports from the federal government to an agency created jointly by the Commonwealth of Virginia and the District of Columbia.

The agency is known as the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, it is the petitioner in this case.

Congress conditioned the transfer of control of the airports on the creation by that authority of a unique Board of Review composed of nine members of congress invested with veto power over managerial decisions made by the authority's board of directors.

The principal question in this case is whether this unusual statutory condition is constitutional.

Respondents represent local residence concerned about safety, noise, and pollution caused by the high level of air traffic at national airport.

They challenged the constitutionality of the board's veto power, after the board declined to veto the airport authority's master plan which respondents alleged would increase noise and congestion at national.

Respondents argued that the board was an agent of Congress and was either improperly exercising executive power or exercising legislative power in a manner not authorized by the constitution.

The District Court rejected respondent's arguments, but the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed.

Today, we affirm the Court of Appeals.

We agree with both the District Court and the Court of Appeals that respondents have standing to challenge the validity of the Board of Review and we also agree with the Court of Appeals that the board's veto power violates the doctrine of separation of powers.

The board was created at the initiative of Congress.

Its powers were delineated by Congress.

Its purpose is to protect the acknowledged federal interest in efficient and extensive service at Washington airports and most important the membership of the board consists entirely of members of Congress.

The board, therefore, exercises sufficient federal power as an agent of Congress that it is required to exercise that power in compliance with the constitutional stretchers of the separation of powers.

If the powers of the board are considered executive in character, they may not be exercised by an agent of Congress.

On the other hand, if those powers are characterized as legislative, they must be exercised in accordance with the procedures set forth in Article 1 of the constitution.

If this unusual and unprecedented statutory scheme were upheld, it would provide a blue print for a major expansion of congressional power.

Given the scope of federal power to dispense benefits to the states subject to a host of statutory conditions, Congress could, if the Board of Review were valid, use similar expedience to retain control outside the legislative process of the activities of state grant recipients charged with executing virtually every aspect of national policy.

It is precisely this sort of aggrandizement of the powers of one branch of the government that the doctrine of separation of powers was designed to prevent.

The statutory condition creating the Board of Review, therefore, cannot stand.

Justice White had filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice and Justice Marshall have joined.