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Mount Graham Coalition v. Thomas



This is another chapter in the long conflict between a university’s telescope and the endangered Mt. Graham Red Squirrel. In 1988, the University of Arizona desired to build a Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in the area of Mt.Graham. The University was working with the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), when Congress intervened by enacting the Arizona-Idaho Conservation Act (AICA). AICA directed the Secretary of Agriculture to approve one FS alternative, known as RPA 3.[1] The Act further specified that the portion of the project located in RPA 3 satisfied section 7 of the ESA and section 102(2)(c) of NEPA.[2] The University then decided that its preferred location for the LBT was peak 10,477, which the Forest Service designated as Alternative Site 2 (ALT 2). In an ensuing action, the district court decided that ALT 2 was not within the area RPA 3 covered and enjoined the University from building the telescope until it had met the requirements of the ESA and NEPA. The Ninth Circuit affirmed.[3] Congress then enacted a rider to the Omnibus Consolidated Rescissions and Appropriations Act of 1996 (OCRRA),[4] which said that AICA authorized ALT 2, effectively overriding the court’s decision in Red Squirrel V.

In this case, the district court decided to dissolve its injunction because of the rider on the OCRRA. Dissolving the injunction meant that the construction could proceed without meeting the requirements of the ESA and NEPA. Mt. Graham Coalition appealed this order and obtained a temporary stay of the order. The Ninth Circuit denied the stay and affirmed the district court decision to dissolve the injunction.

Mt.Graham challenged the rider on the grounds that it violated separation of powers because the rider “impermissibly overturned the final judgment of an Article III court.” The court rejected this claim because the rider did not seek to overturn the court’s ruling and it did not “revive a dead claim.” Rather, Congress enacted an act that had present and future effect. The court supported its holding that there was no violation of the separation of powers by pointing to an earlier Supreme Court case to show that Congress has the ability to alter the future effect of injunctions entered by article III courts.[5]

Mt.Graham also claimed that the rider was constitutionally suspect because it targeted a single controversy. The court reasoned that particularity of legislation does not by itself render a statute or legislation as suspect. Therefore the Ninth Circuit held the rider was not unconstitutional because of its particularity.

[1]Arizona-Idaho Conservation Act, Pub. L. No. 100-696, 102 Stat. 4597, 4597-99 (1988).

[2] Id. at 4599.

[3]Mount Graham Coalition v. Thomas, 53 F.3d 970 (9th Cir. 1995) (Red Squirrel V).

[4]Pub. L. 104-134, § 335, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996).

[5]Pennsylvania v. Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Co., 59 U.S. 421 (1855).

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