Supreme Court Asked to Review Constitutionality of Endangered Species Program

Supreme Court Asked to Review Constitutionality of Endangered Species Program

Federal Restriction on Self-Defense Against Wolves Violates Commerce Clause
November 26, 2000

Washington, DC, November 27, 2000 – The Competitive Enterprise Institute today announced that it is petitioning the Supreme Court to decide the constitutionality of a federal endangered species restriction on self-defense against wolves. In a petition for certiorari filed this past Friday, CEI, assisted by the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, requested the Court to review a Fourth Circuit decision that upheld federal restrictions on killing or trapping wild red wolves on private property. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


The petitioners include two North Carolina ranchers whose livestock (and one of whose children) were threatened by red wolves that the US Fish and Wildlife Service had reintroduced to the area. CEI argues that, under the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause, the federal government cannot restrict the ability of these ranchers to defend themselves on their own private property.


In recent years a series of Supreme Court decisions have revived the Commerce Clause’s limits on federal power. In 1995 the Court struck down a federal ban on guns in the vicinity of schools, and last spring it ruled that the federal Violence Against Women Act was an unconstitutional attempt to federally regulate local crime. The Court reasoned that, if gender-based violence is interstate commerce, then so is just about everything else. CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman stated, “Federalism is more important than ‘feral-ism.’ If violence against women doesn’t fall under Congress’s interstate commerce power, then neither does self-defense against wolves.”


In a split decision upholding the Fish and Wildlife Service rule, a 4th Circuit panel took an extremely expansive view of the alleged economic impact of the wolf program. The majority reasoned that wolf researchers might cross state lines to study these wolves, that tourists might come from afar to hear them howl, and someday there might even be a wide-ranging trade in wolf pelts. But in a vigorous dissent, Judge J. Michael Luttig argued that the majority’s reasoning would unjustifiably turn the Supreme Court’s recent Commerce Clause decisions into an “aberration.”


For more information, contact Sam Kazman, CEI General Counsel, at 202-331-1010 or Mark Perry, of Gibson Dunn, at 202-955-8500, or check the CEI website. For articles by CEI’s Michael Greve on the principles of federalism, click here. Click here for a PDF copy of the petition.