- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 11, 2005

BLOOMBERG NEWS

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed yesterday to consider restricting the government’s authority to regulate wetlands, scheduling the first major environmental law test for new Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

The justices said they will hear arguments from two sets of Michigan property owners seeking to build on land designated as wetlands. A federal appeals court said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could block the projects to protect water quality and wildlife.

Justice Roberts may have played a central role in the decision to get involved. Under his predecessor, the late William H. Rehnquist, the court last year rejected a similar appeal by John Rapanos, one of the landowners involved.

“What has changed here is we have a new judge on the court,” said Mr. Rapanos’ attorney, M. Reed Hopper, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento, Calif. “This does suggest that Judge Roberts is as fair-minded as we hoped.”

The cases ask whether the Clean Water Act, which gives permitting authority to the corps, covers wetlands that aren’t adjacent to a river or other navigable waterway. The justices also will consider whether Congress has power under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause to regulate those wetlands.

The disputes are follow-ups to a 2001 decision that struck down a corps rule designed to protect migratory bird habitats on local ponds. The Supreme Court in that case said the rule lacked a “significant nexus” to the “navigable waterways” that are covered under the Clean Water Act.

The justices also agreed to hear a separate case from Maine that asks whether the Clean Water Act applies when water passes through a dam. The question is whether that process constitutes a “discharge” subject to the environmental law.

In other actions yesterday, the court:

• Set aside a murder conviction in the high court’s first opinion of the Roberts era. The ruling, issued without dissent, said a federal appeals court was wrong not to consider claims of prosecutorial misconduct in the Detroit case.

• Refused to reinstate a class-action lawsuit that accused Merrill Lynch and one-time Wall Street darling Henry M. Blodget of misleading investors about Internet stocks. Justices had been asked to use the case to clarify the standard for securities fraud claims.

• Turned away an appeal by two former Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. executives who asserted that federal securities regulators lacked authority to freeze their severance pay totaling $37.6 million.

• Rejected a bid by General Motors Corp. to stop a lawsuit contending that 420,000 cars are equipped with air bags that may deploy unnecessarily.

• Declined to review a ruling that limits generic-drug company challenges to patents, turning away an appeal by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. in a case involving Pfizer Inc.’s Zoloft antidepressant.

• Refused to question a $475 million award won by Exxon Mobil Corp. in a dispute with business partner Saudi Basic Industries Corp.

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