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
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)).