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Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife

Citation. 504 U.S. 555, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992)

Brief Fact Summary.

DOW sued the Secretary of the Interior for issuing a regulation which would limit Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to the United States and high seas but no longer to foreign countries.  The Eighth Circuit read the citizen suit provision within the ESA to create a procedural right in all persons, even if they could not allege an injury.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Congress may not turn a generalized interest into an individual right, thus permitting citizens who had not suffered harm to sue.  To permit Congress to do this would violate separation of powers by transferring from the President to the courts the President’s “most important constitutional duty,” to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”  Art. II, Sec. 3.

Facts.

DOW sued the Secretary of the Interior for issuing a regulation which would limit Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA)to the United States and high seas but no longer to foreign countries.  The Eighth Circuit read the citizen suit provision within the ESA to create a procedural right in all persons, even if they could not allege an injury.  The Eighth Circuit held that because Section 7 of the ESA requires agencies to consult with one another, the citizen suit provision

A provision in a statute that grants private individuals the right to sue.

created a procedural right to sue the Secretary for failing to follow the consultation procedure.

Issue.

Whether Congress can convert the public interest into an individual right through a statutory provision, effectively enabling anyone to sue.

Held.

JUSTICE SCALIA holding:  No.  The concrete injury requirement ensures that the judiciary adheres to its constitutional role by only hearing live “Cases” and “Controversies.”  For that reason, the Court reversed the Eighth Circuit.

Concurrence.

Justice Kennedy

Kennedy cautioned that courts must be careful in analyzing statutes with rights of action that do not have clear analogs to common law jurisprudence.  For Congress to draft a valid citizen suit provision, it must “identify the injury it seeks to vindicate and relate the injury of the class of persons entitled to bring suit.”  The ESA failed here because it could not constitutionally create an injury for any person just because an agency violated the consultation procedure.

Discussion.

Courts are limited to deciding the rights of the individual, whereas deciding issues of public interest is the function of Congress and the President.  To convert generalized public interest issues into individual ones would be to “transfer from the President to the courts the [President’s] most important constitutional duty, to ‘take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”‘  Art. II, Sec. 3.


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