503 U.S. 429 (1991), Robertson v. Seattle Audubon Society

Citation503 U.S. 429, 112 S.Ct. 1407, 118 L.Ed.2d 73, 60 U.S.L.W. 4273
Party NameRobertson v. Seattle Audubon Society
Case DateMarch 25, 1992
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 429

503 U.S. 429 (1991)

112 S.Ct. 1407, 118 L.Ed.2d 73, 60 U.S.L.W. 4273



Seattle Audubon Society

United States Supreme Court

March 25, 1992


Respondent environmental groups filed separate lawsults challenging proposed timber harvesting in certain forests managed by the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). These forests are home to the northern spotted owl, an endangered species. Between them, the two lawsuits alleged violations of five federal statutes. The lower courts preliminarily enjoined some of the challenged harvesting. In response to this ongoing litigation, Congress enacted § 318 of the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1990, also known as the Northwest Timber Compromise. Section 318 both required harvesting and expanded harvesting restrictions. Subsections (b)(3) and (b)(5) prohibited harvesting altogether in various designated areas, and subsection (b)(6)(A) stated in part that

Congress hereby determines and directs that management [of the forests] according to subsections (b)(3) and (b)(5) . . . is adequate consideration for the purpose of meeting the statutory requirements that are the basis for [the two cases,]

which were identified by name and caption number. Both District Courts rejected respondents' claims that subsection (b)(6)(A) violated Article III by purporting to direct results in two pending cases. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding the provision unconstitutional under United States v. Klein, 13 Wall. 128, on the ground that Congress directed a particular [112 S.Ct. 1409] decision in the cases without repealing or amending the statutes underlying the litigation.

Held: Subsection (b)(6)(A) does not violate Article III. Pp. 437-441.

(a) The provision compelled changes in law, not results under old law, by replacing the legal standards underlying the two original cases with those set forth in subsections (b)(3) and (b)(5). Before its enactment, respondents' claims would fail only if the challenged harvesting violated none of the provisions of the five statutes that formed the basis for the original lawsuits. Under subsection (b)(6)(A), however, the claims would fail if the harvesting satisfied both of two new provisions. Thus, subsection (b)(6)(A)'s operation modified the old provisions. Moreover,

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there is nothing in the subsection that purported to direct any particular findings of fact or applications of law to fact. Section 318 reserved judgment on the lawfulness of the timber sales under old law. It did not instruct the courts whether any particular timber sales would violate subsections (b)(3) or (b)(5); and it could not instruct that any particular BLM timber sales were lawful, because subsection (b)(5) incorporated by reference the harvesting prohibitions imposed by a BLM agreement not yet in existence when the Compromise was enacted. Pp. 437-439.

(b) The three textual features of subsection (b)(6)(A) cited by respondents do not support their argument that the provision directed findings under old law, rather than supplying new law. The inclusion of the preface "Congress . . . directs that" does not undermine the conclusion that what Congress directed -- to both courts and agencies -- was a change in law. Nor is it significant that the subsection deemed compliance with the new requirements to "mee[t]" the old requirements. Although Congress could have modified the old laws directly, its enactment of an entirely separate statute modified the old laws through operation of the canon that specific provisions qualify general ones. Finally, the subsection's explicit reference to the two pending cases served only to identify the five statutory requirements that were the basis for those cases. Pp. 439-440.

(c) The Court of Appeals' alternative holding that the provision could not effect an implied modification of substantive law because it was embedded in an appropriations measure is also without merit. Congress may amend a substantive law in an appropriations statute if it does so clearly, see, e.g., United States v. Will, 449 U.S. 200, 222, and it did so explicitly here. In addition, having determined that the provision would be unconstitutional unless it modified previously existing law, the court was obligated to impose that saving interpretation as long as it was a possible one. See NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 301 U.S. 1, 30. Pp. 440-441.

(d) Since subsection (b)(6)(A) did amend applicable law, there is no reason to address the Court of Appeals' interpretation of Klein. The argument of one of respondents' amici -- that the provision is unconstitutional even if it amended law, because it swept no more, or little more, broadly than the range of applications at issue in the pending cases -- was not raised below, squarely considered by the Court of Appeals, or advanced by respondents here. P. 441.

914 F.2d 1311 (CA9 1990), reversed and remanded.

THOMAS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 431

THOMAS, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, we must determine the operation of § 318 of the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1990.

This case arises out of two challenges to the Federal Government's continuing efforts to allow the harvesting and sale of timber from old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. These forests are home to the northern spotted owl, a bird listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq. (1988 ed. and Supp. II), since June, 1990. See 55 Fed.Reg. 26114. Harvesting the forests, say environmentalists, would kill the owls. Restrictions on harvesting, respond local timber industries, would devastate the region's economy.

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Petitioner Robertson is Chief of the United States Forest Service, which manages 13 national forests in Oregon and Washington known to contain the northern spotted owl. In 1988, the Service amended its regional guide to prohibit timber harvesting on certain designated areas within those forests. Respondent Seattle Audubon Society (joined by various other environmental groups) and the Washington Contract Loggers Association (joined by various other industry groups) filed separate lawsuits in the District Court for the Western District of Washington, complaining respectively that the amendment afforded the owl either too little protection, or too much. Seattle Audubon alleged violations of three federal statutes: the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), 40 Stat. 755, ch. 128, as amended, 16 U.S.C. § 703 et seq. (1988 ed. and Supp. II); the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 83 Stat. 852, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq.; and the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA), 90 Stat. 2949, as amended, 16 U.S.C. § 1600 et seq. The District Court consolidated the actions and preliminarily enjoined 163 proposed timber sales. Seattle Audubon Soc. v. Robertson, No. 89-160 (WD Wash., Mar. 24, 1989).

Petitioner Lujan is Secretary of the Department of the Interior. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency within the Department, manages several old-growth forests in western Oregon. Between 1979 and 1983, the BLM developed timber management plans that permitted harvesting on some areas within these forests and prohibited it on others. In 1987, the BLM and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife executed an agreement that expanded the areas on which harvesting was prohibited. Also in 1987, respondent Portland Audubon Society (among others) filed suit in the District Court for the District of Oregon challenging certain proposed harvesting under four federal statutes: MBTA; NEPA; the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), 90 Stat. 2744, as amended, 43

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U.S.C. § 1701 et seq., and the Oregon-California Railroad Land Grant Act (OCLA), 50 Stat. 874, 43 U.S.C. § 1181a. Twice the District Court dismissed the action. Twice, before reversing (on grounds not relevant here), the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit enjoined some of the challenged harvesting pending appeal. See Portland Audubon Soc. v. Lujan, 884 F.2d 1233, 1234 (1989), cert. denied, 494 U.S. 1026 (1990); Portland Audubon Soc. v. Hodel, 866 F.2d 302, 304, cert. denied sub nom. Northwest Forest Resource Council v. Portland Audubon Soc., 492 U.S. 911 (1989).

In response to this ongoing litigation, Congress enacted § 318 of the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1990, 103 Stat. 745, popularly known as the Northwest Timber Compromise. The Compromise established a comprehensive set of rules to govern harvesting within a geographically and temporally limited domain. By its terms, it applied only to "the thirteen national forests in Oregon and Washington and [BLM] districts in western Oregon known to contain northern spotted owls." § 318(i). It expired automatically on September 30, 1990, the last day of Fiscal Year 1990, except that timber sales offered under § 318 were to remain subject to its [112 S.Ct. 1411] terms for the duration of the applicable sales contracts. § 318(k).

The Compromise both required harvesting and expanded harvesting restrictions. Subsections (a)(1) and (a)(2) required the Forest Service and the BLM, respectively, to offer for sale specified quantities of timber from the affected lands before the end of Fiscal Year 1990. On the other hand, subsections (b)(3) and (b)(5) prohibited harvesting altogether from various designated areas within those lands, expanding the applicable administrative prohibitions and then codifying them for the remainder of the fiscal year.[1] In addition, subsections

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(b)(1), (b)(2) and (b)(4) specified general environmental criteria to govern the selection of harvesting sites by the Forest Service. Subsection (g)(1) provided for limited, expedited...

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