Supreme Court Denies Review of Endangered Species Program’s Constitutionality

Washington, DC, February 20, 2001 – The United States Supreme Court today declined to review the constitutionality of a federal endangered species restriction on self-defense against wolves.  The Court denied a petition for certiorari in the case of Gibbs v. Babbitt, a federal appeals court decision issued last June that upheld federal restrictions on killing or trapping wild red wolves on private property.  The petition was filed by CEI, with pro bono assistance by the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />


The petitioners in the case included two North Carolina ranchers whose livestock, and one of whose children, were threatened by red wolves that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had reintroduced to the area.  CEI argued that, under the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause, the federal government could not restrict these ranchers’ ability to defend themselves on their own property. 


The Supreme Court has recently begun to revive the limits that the Commerce Clause imposes on the federal government.  In 1995 the Court invalidated a federal ban on possessing guns in the vicinity of schools.  Last spring it overturned the federal Violence Against Women Act as an unconstitutional federal regulation of local crime matters, noting that if gender-based violence is regarded as interstate commerce, then that term would become so broad as to be meaningless.  Last month, on similar grounds, the Court overturned a federal rule governing isolated wetlands.   CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman stated, “Federalism is more basic than ‘feral-ism.’  If violence against women doesn’t fall under the Commerce Clause, neither does self-defense against wild animals.  This is not an issue that will go away.  Several circuit courts have upheld regulations like these, but we believe the Supreme Court’s Commerce Clause rulings will soon lead other courts to rule differently.”


In the wolf case, a 3-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit upheld the Fish and Wildlife Service rule in a split decision.  The majority took an extremely expansive view of the wolf program’s alleged economic impact, declaring that wolf researchers might cross state lines to study the animals, that tourists might travel from out-of-state to hear them howl, and that someday there might even be a booming trade in wolf pelts.  Judge J. Michael Luttig vigorously dissented, arguing 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 415-393-8388.