Robertson v. Seattle Audubon Society

PETITIONER: Robertson, Chief, United States Forest Service, et al.
RESPONDENT: Seattle Audubon Society et al.
LOCATION: Seattle Audobon Society

DOCKET NO.: 90-1596
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 503 US 429 (1992)
ARGUED: Dec 02, 1991
DECIDED: Mar 25, 1992
GRANTED: Jun 28, 1991

Kenneth W. Starr - on behalf of the Petitioners
Todd D. True - on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case

Respondents -- the Seattle Audubon Society, the Portland Audubon Society, and several other environmental groups -- filed two separate suits in federal district court seeking to enjoin harvesting timber in forests managed by the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The suits challenged five federal statutes. In response, Congress enacted §318 of the Department of Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, which required harvesting in certain areas, while prohibiting it in others. §318 included the names of the lawsuits and specifically stated that it was enacted to address the challenges from the lawsuits. Respondents argued that §318 violated Article III of the Constitution because it directed the results of the two pending cases, a job for the judiciary, not the legislature. The district courts rejected that claim, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit consolidated the cases and reversed, holding that Congress was directing the result in pending cases without repealing or amending the underlying litigation.


Does § 318 of the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, violate Article III of the U.S. Constitution?

Media for Robertson v. Seattle Audubon Society

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 02, 1991 in Robertson v. Seattle Audubon Society

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 25, 1992 in Robertson v. Seattle Audubon Society

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 90-1596, Robertson versus Seattle Audubon Society will be announced by Justice Thomas.

Clarence Thomas:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Petitioners managed certain federally owned forests known to contain the northern spotted owl.

Respondents filed two separate lawsuits against petitioners alleging that the proposed harvesting sale of timber from these forests would kill the owls in violation of five different federal statutes.

The courts below preliminary enjoined some of the challenge of harvesting.

In response to the ongoing litigation, Congress enacted the Northwest Timber Compromise Subsections (b)(3) and (b)(5) of which prohibited harvesting all together from various designated areas within the affected forests.

Subsection (b)(6)(A) stated that management of the forest according to these two provisions was adequate consideration to meet the statutory requirements underlying the two pending cases.

The two District Courts considering these cases held that Subsection (b)(6)(A) had effectively modified the original statutory provisions, and that the Subsections so construed was constitutional.

In a consolidated appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed.

The court held that Subsection (b)(6)(A) did not amend any law but directed the courts to reach a particular result in pending cases under previously existing law.

Under that interpretation, the court held that Subsection (b)(6)(A) was unconstitutional under our decision in United States versus Klein.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

We conclude that Subsection (b)(6)(A) did modify previously existing law.

Before the subsection was enacted, respondent's claims would fail only if the challenged harvesting satisfied each of five old provisions.

Under Subsection (b)(6)(A) however, these same claims would fail if the harvesting satisfied Subsections (b)(3) and (b)(5) to new and different provisions.

Moreover, we find nothing in Subsection (b)(6)(A) that purported to direct any particular finding of fact or application of law to fact.

The opinion is unanimous.