RESPONDENT:Catholic Action of Hawaii/Peace Education Project
LOCATION:Mississippi University for Women
DOCKET NO.: 81-1377
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
CITATION: 454 US 139 (1981)
ARGUED: Oct 13, 1981
DECIDED: Dec 01, 1981
Nancy Stearns – on behalf of Respondents
Rex E. Lee – on behalf of the Petitioners
Media for Weinberger v. Catholic Action of Hawaii/Peace Education Project
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – December 01, 1981 in Weinberger v. Catholic Action of Hawaii/Peace Education Project
William H. Rehnquist:
In No. 80-1377, Weinberger versus Catholic Action of Hawaii Peace Education Project, the relationship between NEPA and FOIA Freedom Information Act does involve.
In 1977, the Navy decided to construct new facilities near the Honolulu International Airport that would be capable of storing nuclear weapons.
Respondent filed this suit in the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii, asking the Court to require the Navy to prepare and disclose to the public environmental impacts statement discussing the risk of nuclear accident resulting from the proximity of the new facilities to the airport and the effects such an accident would have on the environment and populace of Hawaii.
The Navy’s regulations permitted either to admit nor deny whether nuclear weapons are actually stored at this facility.
The Navy however has prepared and disclosed documents to deal generally with the environmental effects of storing nuclear weapons.
On appeal in an apparent attempt to balance the publics need for information concerning the environment with the Navys need for secrecy, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit invented the hypothetical environmental impact statement whereby the Navy would hypothesize without specifying the nuclear weapons were stored at the new facility.
The Court of Appeals in an opinion filed today with the clerk is reversed.
The National Environmental Policy Act in no way requires the Navy to prepare and disclose such as statement.
The public disclosure requirements of NEPA are governed by the Freedom of Information Act.
That Act in turn does not require the Navy to release any documents containing classified information neither does it require the Navy to prepare a document nowhere mentioned in NEPA.
If the Navy proposes to store nuclear weapons on it’s new Hawaii facilities, its regulations can be read however to require to prepare a statement solely for internal purposes even if such a document cannot be disclosed to the public.
The Navy however is not required by NEPA to prepare a statement simply because of new facilities are capable of storing nuclear weapons, but only at the point when the Navy actually proposes to store weapons there.
Since by law, the Navy can either admit doing that or deny that — it proposes to store nuclear weapons there.
It has not been and cannot be established whether the Navy has proposed the only action that would require the preparation of an environmental impact statement dealing with the consequences of storing weapons at the new facilities.
Justice Blackmun joined by Justice Brennan has filed a separate opinion concurring in the result.
Warren E. Burger:
Thank you, Justice Rehnquist.