501 U.S. 252 (1991), 90-906, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority v. Citizens for the Abatement of Aircraft Noise, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 90-906
Citation:501 U.S. 252, 111 S.Ct. 2298, 115 L.Ed.2d 236, 59 U.S.L.W. 4660
Party Name:Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority v. Citizens for the Abatement of Aircraft Noise, Inc.
Case Date:June 17, 1991
Court:United States Supreme Court

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501 U.S. 252 (1991)

111 S.Ct. 2298, 115 L.Ed.2d 236, 59 U.S.L.W. 4660

Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority


Citizens for the Abatement of Aircraft Noise, Inc.

No. 90-906

United States Supreme Court

June 17, 1991

Argued April 19, 1991


An Act of Congress (hereinafter the Transfer Act) authorized the transfer of operating control of Washington National Airport (National) and Dulles International Airport (Dulles) from the federal Department of Transportation to petitioner Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), which was created by a compact between Virginia and the District of Columbia. Both airports are located in the Virginia suburbs of the District. Dulles is larger than National, and lies in a rural area miles from the Capitol. National is a much busier airport, due to the convenience of its location at the center of the metropolitan area, but its flight paths over densely populated areas have generated concern among residents about safety, noise, and pollution. Because of congressional concern that surrender of federal control of the airports might result in the transfer of a significant amount of traffic from National to Dulles, the Transfer Act authorizes the MWAA's Board of Directors to create a Board of Review (Board). The Board is to be composed of nine congressmen who serve on committees having jurisdiction over transportation issues, and who are to act "in their individual capacities." The Board is vested with a variety of powers, including the authority to veto decisions made by MWAA's directors. After the directors adopted bylaws providing for the Board, and Virginia and the District amended their legislation to give MWAA powers to establish the Board, the directors appointed the Board's nine members from lists submitted by Congress. The directors then adopted a Master Plan providing for extensive new facilities at National, and the Board voted not to disapprove that Plan. Subsequently, respondents -- individuals living along National flight paths and Citizens for the Abatement of Aircraft Noise, Inc. (CAAN), whose members include persons living along such paths, and whose purposes include the reduction of National operations and associated noise, safety, and air pollution problems -- brought this action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the Board's veto power is unconstitutional. Although ruling that respondents had standing to maintain the action, the District Court granted summary judgment for petitioners. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding, inter alia, that Congress' delegation of the

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veto power to the Board violated the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers.


1. Respondents have standing. Accepting as true their claims that the Master Plan will result in increased noise, pollution, and accidents, they have alleged "personal injury" to themselves that is "fairly [111 S.Ct. 2300] traceable" to the Board's veto power. See Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 751. This is because knowledge that the Plan was subject to that power undoubtedly influenced MWAA's directors when they drew up the Plan. Moreover, because invalidation of the veto power will prevent enactment of the Plan, the relief respondents have requested is "likely to . . . redres[s]" their alleged injury. Ibid. Furthermore, the harm they allege is not confined to the consequences of a possible increase in National activity, since the Board and the Master Plan injure CAAN by making it more difficult for it to fulfill its goal of reducing that activity. Pp. 264-265.

2. Congress' conditioning of the airports' transfer upon the creation of a Board of Review composed of congressmen and having veto power over the MWAA directors' decisions violates the separation of powers. Pp. 265-277.

(a) Petitioners argue incorrectly that this case does not raise any separation-of-powers issue because the Board is a state creation that neither exercises federal power nor acts as an agent of Congress. An examination of the Board's origin and structure reveals an entity created at the initiative of Congress, the powers of which Congress has mandated in detail, the purpose of which is to protect an acknowledged federal interest in the efficient operation of airports vital to the smooth conduct of Government and congressional business, and membership in which is controlled by Congress and restricted to Members charged with authority over air transportation. Such an entity necessarily exercises sufficient federal powers as an agent of Congress to mandate separation of powers scrutiny. Any other conclusion would permit Congress to evade the Constitution's "carefully crafted" constraints, INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919, 959, simply by delegating primary responsibility for execution of national policy to the States, subject to the veto power of Members of Congress acting "in their individual capacities." Cf. Bowsher v. Synar, 478 U.S. 714, 755 (STEVENS, J., concurring in judgment). Nor is there merit to petitioners' contention that the Board should nevertheless be immune from scrutiny for constitutional defects because it was created in the course of Congress' exercise of its power to dispose of federal property under Article IV, § 3, cl. 2. South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203, 212, distinguished. Pp. 265-271.

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(b) Congress has not followed a constitutionally acceptable procedure in delegating decisionmaking authority to the Board. To forestall the danger of encroachment into the executive sphere, the Constitution imposes two basic and related constraints on Congress. It may not invest itself, its Members, or its agents with executive power. See, e.g., J. W. Hampton, Jr., & Co. v. United States, 276 U.S. 394, 406; Bowsher, supra, 478 U.S. at 726. And when it exercises its legislative power, it must follow the "single, finely wrought and exhaustively considered procedures" specified in Article I. Chadha, supra, 462 U.S. at 951. If the Board's power is considered to be executive, the Constitution does not permit an agent of Congress to exercise it. However, if the power is considered to be legislative, Congress must, but has not, exercised it in conformity with the bicameralism and presentment requirements of Article I, § 7. Although Congress imposed its will on the MWAA by means that are unique and that might prove to be innocuous, the statutory scheme by which it did so provides a blueprint for extensive expansion of the legislative power beyond its constitutionally defined role. Pp. 271-277.

286 U.S.App.D.C. 334, 917 F.2d 48 (CADC 1990), affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BLACKMUN, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., [111 S.Ct. 2301] and MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 277.

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STEVENS, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

An Act of Congress authorizing the transfer of operating control of two major airports from the Federal Government to the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) conditioned the transfer on the creation by MWAA of a unique "Board of Review" composed of nine Members of Congress and vested with veto power over decisions made by MWAA's Board of Directors.[1] The principal question presented is whether this unusual statutory condition violates the constitutional principle of separation of powers, as interpreted in INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919 (1983), Bowsher v. Synar, 478 U.S. 714 (1986), and Springer v. Philippine Islands, 277 U.S. 189 (1928). We conclude, as did the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, that the condition is unconstitutional.


In 1940, Congress authorized the Executive Branch to acquire a tract of land a few miles from the Capitol and to construct what is now Washington National Airport (National). 54 Stat. 686. From the time it opened until 1987, National was owned and operated by the Federal Government. The airport was first managed by the Civil Aeronautics Agency, a division of the Commerce Department. 54 Stat. 688. In 1959, control of National shifted to the newly created Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), an agency that, since 1967, has been a part of the Department of Transportation. See 72 Stat. 731; 80 Stat. 932, 938.

A few years after National opened, the Truman Administration proposed that a federal corporation be formed to operate the airport. See Congressional Research Service, Federal Ownership of National and Dulles Airports: Background, Pro-Con Analysis, and Outlook 4 (1985) (CRS Report), reprinted in Hearings before the Subcommittee on

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Governmental Efficiency and the District of Columbia of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, 99th Cong., 1st Sess., p. 404 (1985). The proposal was endorsed by the Hoover Commission in 1949, but never adopted by Congress. Instead, when Congress authorized construction of a second major airport to serve the Washington area, it again provided for federal ownership and operation. 64 Stat. 770. Dulles International Airport (Dulles) was opened in 1962 under the direct control of the FAA. See CRS Report 1-2.

National and Dulles are the only two major commercial airports owned by the Federal Government. A third airport, Baltimore Washington International (BWI), which is owned by the State of Maryland, also serves the Washington metropolitan area. Like Dulles, it is larger than National and located in a rural area many miles from the Capitol. Because of its location, National is by far the busiest and most profitable of the three.[2] Although proposals for the joint operating [111 S.Ct. 2302] control of all three airports have been considered, the plan that gave rise to this litigation involves only National and Dulles, both of which are located in Virginia. Maryland's interest in the overall problem explains its representation on the...

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