Continuing their streak of spot-on, liberty, freedom and originalist-supporting decisions from last year, the United States Supreme Court just handed down yet another similar decision, strongly curtailing the federal government’s overreaching regulations and laws governing waters in the United States. The decision reminds us very firmly freedom and liberty are not constitutionally-secondary considerations, but the central theme of our nation’s founding and governing document.
The short story (the long version has taken nearly 20 years) is as follows:
Michael and Chantell Sackett bought property in Idaho with the intention of building a home. As they began backfilling the property with dirt, preparing for construction, the Environmental Protection Agency (the “EPA”) stepped in and told them their property was considered a protected wetland and backfilling the property was a violation of the Clean Water Act (the “CWA”). The EPA advised the Sacketts that moving dirt was an introduction of pollutants into the “waters of the United States,” over which the United States exercised jurisdiction.
The basis for their claim was that the Sacketts’ property was near a ditch on the other side of a 30 foot road that fed into a stream that fed into an intrastate lake.
The EPA demanded that the Sacketts restore the land to its original state pursuant to a restoration plan created by the EPA itself and threatened them with financial penalties of $40,000 per day for non-compliance. $40,000 per day!
How’s that for overreach? Insane, wouldn’t you say? Property across the street from a ditch connected to a stream running into a lake, where dirt is considered a pollutant. Overreach if ever overreach has been defined. But, such is so typical of the federal government.
Well, the Sacketts sued and their case reached the Supreme Court many years ago on a procedural question of whether or not they even had standing to file suit at that particular juncture. After the trial and appellate courts ruled against the Sacketts, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that they did indeed have standing to sue and allowed the lawsuit to move forward.
Back in the trial court, the case did not even go to trial – the EPA prevailed at the trial level, being granted summary judgment (basically, a trial judge’s determination that there was no need for a trial because the facts were so clearly supportive of one party that there could be no outcome other than ruling in favor of that party) and again on appeal in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court again granted certiorari (accepted the case), heard the arguments, and rendered its decision, and seven years later, the Sacketts finally have been vindicated.
The Supreme Court held that:
“the CWA extends to only those wetlands that are “as a practical matter indistinguishable from waters of the United States”’ and “that the CWA extends to only those ‘wetlands with a continuous surface connection to bodies that are ‘waters of the United States’ in their own right,’ so that they are ‘indistinguishable’ from those waters.”
The Sacketts won their case!
Of course they did. Common sense dictates no other rational interpretation – Protected waters extend only so far as they are connected to actual, navigable water. Yes, the actual definition is more detailed and concise, but for our purposes here, we follow the KISS rule and will keep it simple. Water means water. Adjacent means literally connected to water.
In short, the Supreme Court said that both the EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers (who use the same definition of “waters of the United States” in their engineering approval process) have gone way too far in interpreting, and honestly creating out of nothing, what qualifies as protected land and waters. They even outlined the government’s ongoing attempts over the decades to expand and broaden its authority over any and all water from sea to shining sea.
If you would like to read the opinion and foundation for the Court’s decision, read it here.
Much like last year’s cases concerning abortion, religion, firearm regulation, the Sackett case is less about water than it is about government authority and the limits place by the Constitution that are so often misinterpreted, ignored, and even intentionally bypassed.
Speaking of the federal government (and we could relate this to state and local governments as well), remember what we have said on many previous occasions:
The creature has become greater than the creator.
This is absolutely wrong and must be reversed now!
In his farewell address to the nation, President Ronald Reagan said the following, which should be our guiding principle on this subject still today:
“We the People” tell the government what to do; it doesn’t tell us. “We the People” are the driver; the government is the car. And we decide where it should go, and by what route, and how fast. Almost all the world’s constitutions are documents in which governments tell the people what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document in which “We the People” tell the government what it is allowed to do. “We the People” are free.
Ronald Reagan, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/archives/speech/farewell-address-nation
Our so-called representatives in Washington and elsewhere would tell us otherwise, repeating quite often that “We the Exalted Rulers” know better than anyone else so obey or pay.
Perhaps it is time to remember the immortal Twisted Sister anthem – “We’re Not Gonna Take it” – and stand up to all the outrageous and overreaching laws imposed on, no against, us.
For today, though, let’s thank God that “We the People” won another round in the Supreme Court.
Let’s keep moving forward!