<\body> Stories in America: Alito on the Environment

Monday, October 31, 2005

Alito on the Environment

From Earthjustice:

In Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) v. Magnesium Elektron (MEI), Judge Alito joined in a 2-1 ruling gutting citizens' access to courts under the Clean Water Act. Although the Act authorizes "any citizen" to bring a "civil enforcement action" against alleged polluters, the Third Circuit ruling declared that PIRG did not have standing to sue because it had not demonstrated that MEI's pollution resulted in serious harm to the environment (reversing a rare $2.6 million fine handed down by the trial court for MEI's violations of the Act). The majority concluded that the Constitution denied Congress the authority to pass a law allowing citizens access to courts in these circumstances. Three years later, the Supreme Court essentially reversed and rejected Judge Alito's analysis, ruling (in a 7-2 decision over a heated dissent by Justice Scalia) that "the relevant showing... is not injury to the environment, but injury to the plaintiff." (Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw)

In Chittester v. Department of Community and Economic Development, Judge Alito wrote an opinion holding that the 11th Amendment precluded state employees from suing for damages to enforce their rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act. This decision was effectively reversed by a 6-3 Supreme Court majority in Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs in 2003.

Judge Alito wrote a dissent in the U.S. v. Rybar case that would have unjustifiably restricted Congress' authority under the Commerce Clause, which is the basis for most federal environmental laws. The majority opinion upheld a conviction under the federal law prohibiting the transfer or possession of machine guns, but Judge Alito would have ruled that the law was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court refused to review the case.


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