Public Lands Council v. Babbitt
529 U.S. 728 (2000)

  • Under the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 (43 U.S.C. 315) (TGA), the Department of the Interior (DOI) can divide public rangelands into grazing districts.
    • Each grazing district has the number of grazing leases set and then sold to ranchers.
  • DOI issued ten new regulations (60 Fed.Reg. 9894 (1995)) changing the way in which the grazing districts were run.
    • The new regulations emphasized stewardship over economic interests, and increased accountability for the leaseholders.
    • The Clinton Administration authorized these rules changes only after they failed to get the TGA amended by Congress.
  • Ranchers, led by the PLC sued for an injunction.
    • PLC argued that the previous regulations had established an expectation in respect to the security of grazing privileges and the ranchers had relied on those expectations.
      • PLC argued that the TGA required DOI to safeguard grazing privileges and the new regulations didn't do that.
  • The Trial Court found four of the ten regulations unlawful. Both sides appealed.
  • The Appellate Court partially reversed and found only one of the ten regulations unlawful. PLC appealed.
    • The only regulation held to be unlawful was the one that allowed DOI to sell grazing permits to conservation groups for non-use.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the regulations did not exceed the authority of the DOI.
    • The Court found that DOI has (and always had) the statutory authority to reclassify and withdraw rangeland from grazing use.
    • The Court found that the ranchers never had absolutely security, so the term "safeguard" in the TGA is a generic term that is open to interpretations. The Courts will defer to DOI's discretion on how to define the word "safeguard."
  • In a concurrence, it was argued that PLC's argument failed because it was a facial challenge against the legality of the regulations in general. If the PLC came back and sued based on a specific decision about a specific grazing permit, then the courts might reconsider.
  • After this case was decided, the Bush Administration came into power and issued new regulations (71 Fed.Reg. 39402-39509 (2006)) reversing all of the changes. This led to more litigation.
    • See Western Watersheds Project v. Kraayenbrink (2006 WL 2348080, 63 ERC 1730 (No. CV-05-297-E-BLW) (2006)).