Sierra Club v. Morton/Dissent Douglas

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630393Sierra Club v. Morton — Dissenting OpinionWilliam O. Douglas
Court Documents
Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinions

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting.

I share the views of my Brother BLACKMUN, and would reverse the judgment below.

The critical question of "standing"[1] would be simplified and also put neatly in focus if we fashioned a federal rule that allowed environmental issues to be litigated before federal agencies or federal courts in the name of the inanimate object about to be despoiled, defaced, or invaded by roads and bulldozers, and where injury is the subject of public outrage. Contemporary public concern [p742] for protecting nature's ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation. See Stone, Should Trees Have Standing? — Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects, 45 S.Cal.L.Rev. 450 (1972). This suit would therefore be more properly labeled as Mineral King v. Morton.

Inanimate objects are sometimes parties in litigation. A ship has a legal personality, a fiction found useful for maritime purposes.[2] The corporation sole — a creature of ecclesiastical law — is an acceptable adversary, and large fortunes ride on its cases.[3] The ordinary corporation is a "person" for purposes of the adjudicatory processes, [p743] whether it represents proprietary, spiritual, aesthetic, or charitable causes.[4]

So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life. The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains or nourishes — fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or who enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it. Those people who have a meaningful relation to that body of water — whether it be a fisherman, a canoeist, a zoologist, or a logger — must be able to speak for the values which the river represents, and which are threatened with destruction.

I do not know Mineral King. I have never seen it, nor traveled it, though I have seen articles describing its proposed "development"[5] notably Hano, Protectionists vs. recreationists — The Battle of Mineral King, [p744] N.Y. Times Mag., Aug. 17, 1969, p. 25; and Browning, Mickey Mouse in the Mountain, Harper's, March 1972, p. 65. The Sierra Club, in its complaint alleges that "[o]ne of the principal purposes of the Sierra Club is to protect and conserve the national resources of the Sierra Nevada Mountains." The District Court held that this uncontested allegation made the Sierra Club "sufficiently aggrieved" to have "standing" to sue on behalf of Mineral King.

Mineral King is doubtless like other wonders of the Sierra Nevada such as Tuolumne Meadows and the John Muir Trail. Those who hike it, fish it, hunt it, camp [p745] in it, frequent it, or visit it merely to sit in solitude and wonderment are legitimate spokesmen for it, whether they may be few or many. Those who have that intimate relation with the inanimate object about to be injured, polluted, or otherwise despoiled are its legitimate spokesmen.

The Solicitor General, whose views on this subject are in the appendix, takes a wholly different approach. He considers the problem in terms of "government by the Judiciary." With all respect, the problem is to make certain that the inanimate objects, which are the very core of America's beauty, have spokesmen before they are destroyed. It is, of course, true that most of them are under the control of a federal or state agency. The standards given those agencies are usually expressed in terms of the "public interest." Yet "public interest" has so many differing shades of meaning as to be quite meaningless on the environmental front. Congress accordingly has adopted ecological standards in the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, Pub.L. 91-190, 83 Stat. 852, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq., and guidelines for agency action have been provided by the Council on Environmental Quality, of which Russell E. Train is Chairman. See 36 Fed.Reg. 7724.

Yet the pressures on agencies for favorable action one way or the other are enormous. The suggestion that Congress can stop action which is undesirable is true in theory; yet even Congress is too remote to give meaningful direction, and its machinery is too ponderous to use very often. The federal agencies of which I speak are not venal or corrupt. But they are notoriously under the control of powerful interests who manipulate them through advisory committees, or friendly working relations, or who have that natural affinity with the agency [p746] which in time develops between the regulator and the regulated.[6] As early as 1894, Attorney General Olney predicted that regulatory agencies might become "industry-minded," [p747] as illustrated by his forecast concerning the Interstate Commerce Commission:

"The Commission . . . is, or can be, made of great use to the railroads. It satisfies the popular clamor for a government supervision of railroads, at the same time that that supervision is almost entirely nominal. Further, the older such a commission gets to be, the more inclined it will be found to take the business and railroad view of things."

M. Josephson, The Politicos 526 (1938).

Years later, a court of appeals observed,

"the recurring question which has plagued public regulation of industry [is] whether the regulatory agency is unduly oriented toward the interests of the industry it is designed to regulate, rather than the public interest it is designed to protect."

Moss v. CAB, 139 U.S.App.D.C. 150, 152, 430 F.2d 891, 893. See also Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ v. FCC, 123 U.S.App.D.C. 328, 337-338, 359 F.2d 994, 1003-1004; Udall v. FPC, 387 U. S. 428; Calvert Cliffs' Coordinating Committee, Inc. v. AEC, 146 U.S.App.D.C. 33, 449 F.2d 1109; Environmental Defense Fund, Inc. v. Ruckelhaus, 142 U.S.App.D.C. 74, 439 F.2d 584; Environmental Defense Fund, Inc. v. HEW, 138 U.S.App.D.C. 381, 428 F.2d 1083; Scenic Hudson Preservation Conf. v. FPC, 354 F.2d 608, 620. But see Jaffe, The Federal Regulatory Agencies In Perspective: Administrative Limitations In A Political Setting, 11 B.C.Ind. & Com.L.Rev. 565 (1970) (labels "industry-mindedness" as "devil" theory).

[p748] The Forest Service — one of the federal agencies behind the scheme to despoil Mineral King — has been notorious for its alignment with lumber companies, although its mandate from Congress directs it to consider the various aspects of multiple use in its supervision of the national forests.[7]

[p749] The voice of the inanimate object, therefore, should not be stilled. That does not mean that the judiciary takes over the managerial functions from the federal [p750] agency. It merely means that, before these priceless bits of Americana (such as a valley, an alpine meadow, a river, or a lake) are forever lost or are so transformed a to be reduced to the eventual rubble of our urban environment, the voice of the existing beneficiaries of these environmental wonders should be heard.[8]

[p751] Perhaps they will not win. Perhaps the bulldozers of "progress" will plow under all the aesthetic wonders of this beautiful land. That is not the present question. The sole question is, who has standing to be heard?

Those who hike the Appalachian Trail into Sunfish Pond, New Jersey, and camp or sleep there, or run the [752] Allagash in Maine, or climb the Guadalupes in West Texas, or who canoe and portage the Quetico Superior in Minnesota, certainly should have standing to defend those natural wonders before courts or agencies, though they live 3,000 miles away. Those who merely are caught up in environmental news or propaganda and flock to defend these waters or areas may be treated differently. That is why these environmental issues should be tendered by the inanimate object itself. Then there will be assurances that all of the forms of life[9] which it represents will stand before the court — the pileated woodpecker as well as the coyote and bear, the lemmings as well a the trout in the streams. Those inarticulate members of the ecological group cannot speak. But those people who have so frequented the place as to know its values and wonders will be able to speak for the entire ecological community.

Ecology reflects the land ethic; and Aldo Leopold wrote in A Sand County Almanac 204 (1949), "The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land."

That, as I see it, is the issue of "standing" in the present case and controversy.


  1. See generally Data Processing Service v. Camp, 397 U. S. 150 (1970); Barlow v. Collins, 397 U. S. 159 (1970); Flast v. Cohen, 392 U. S. 83 (1968). See also MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN's separate opinion in Barlow v. Collins, supra, at 397 U. S. 167. The issue of statutory standing aside, no doubt exists that "injury in fact," to "aesthetic" and "conservational" interests is here sufficiently threatened to satisfy the case or controversy clause. Data Processing Service v. Camp, supra, at 397 U. S. 154.
  2. In rem actions brought to adjudicate libellants' interests in vessels are well known in admiralty. G. Gilmore & C. Black, The Law of Admiralty 31 (1957). But admiralty also permits a salvage action to be brought in the name of the rescuing vessel. 75 U. S. 476 (1869). And, in collision litigation, the first-libeled ship may counterclaim in its own name. The Gylfe v. The Trujillo, 209 F.2d 386 (CA2 1954). Our case law has personified vessels:

    "A ship is born when she is launched, and lives so long as her identity is preserved. Prior to her launching, she is a mere congeries of wood and iron. . . . In the baptism of launching, she receives her name, and, from the moment her keel touches the water, she is transformed. . . . She acquires a personality of her own."

    Tucker v. Alexandroff, 183 U. S. 424, 183 U. S. 438.

  3. At common law, an officeholder, such as a priest or the king, and his successors constituted a corporation sole, a legal entity distinct from the personality which managed it. Rights and duties were deemed to adhere to this device, rather than to the officeholder, in order to provide continuity after the latter retired. The notion is occasionally revived by American courts. E.g., Reid v. Barry, 93 Fla. 849, 112 So. 846 (1927), discussed in Recent Cases, 12 Minn.L.Rev. 295 (1928), and in Note, 26 Mich.L.Rev. 545 (1928); see generally 1 W. Fletcher, Cyclopedia of the Law of Private Corporations §§ 50-53 (1963); 1 P. Potter, Law of Corporations 27 (1881).
  4. Early jurists considered the conventional corporation to be a highly artificial entity. Lord Coke opined that a corporation's creation "rests only in intendment and consideration of the law." Case of Sutton's Hospital, 77 Eng.Rep. 937, 973 (K.B. 1612). Mr. Chief Justice Marshall added that the device is "an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law." 17 U. S. 636 (1819). Today, suits in the names of corporations are taken for granted.
  5. Although, in the past, Mineral King Valley has annually supplied about 70,000 visitor-days of simpler and more rustic forms of recreation — hiking, camping, and skiing (without lifts) — the Forest Service, in 1949 and again in 1965, invited developers to submit proposals to "improve" the Valley for resort use. Walt Disney Productions won the competition, and transformed the Service's idea into a mammoth project 10 times its originally proposed dimensions. For example, while the Forest Service prospectus called for an investment of at least $3 million and a sleeping capacity of at least 100, Disney will spend $35.3 million and will bed down 3,300 persons by 1978. Disney also plans a nine-level parking structure with two supplemental lots for automobiles, 10 restaurants and 20 ski lifts. The Service's annual license revenue is hitched to Disney's profits. Under Disney's projections, the Valley will be forced to accommodate a tourist population twice as dense as that in Yosemite Valley on a busy day. And, although Disney has bought up much of the private land near the project, another commercial firm plans to transform an adjoining 160-acre parcel into a "piggyback" resort complex, further adding to the volume of human activity the Valley must endure. See generally Note, Mineral King Valley: Who Shall Watch the Watchmen?, 25 Rutgers L.Rev. 103, 107 (1970); Thar's Gold in Those Hills, 206 The Nation 260 (1968). For a general critique of mass recreation enclaves in national forests see Christian Science Monitor, .Nov. 22, 1965, p. 5, col. 1 (Western ed.). Michael Frome cautions that the national forests are "fragile" and "deteriorate rapidly with excessive recreation use" because

    "[t]he trampling effect alone eliminates vegetative growth, creating erosion and water runoff problems. The concentration of people, particularly in horse parties, on excessively steep slopes that follow old Indian or cattle routes, has torn up the landscape of the High Sierras in California and sent tons of wilderness soil washing downstream each year."

    M. Frome, The Forest Service 69 (1971).

  6. The federal budget annually includes about $75 million for underwriting about 1,500 advisory committees attached to various regulatory agencies. These groups are almost exclusively composed of industry representatives appointed by the President or by Cabinet members. Although public members may be on these committees, they are rarely asked to serve. Senator Lee Metcalf warns:

    "Industry advisory committees exist inside most important federal agencies, and even have offices in some. Legally, their function is purely as kibitzer, but, in practice, many have become internal lobbies — printing industry handouts in the Government Printing Office with taxpayers' money, and even influencing policies. Industry committees perform the dual function of stopping government from finding out about corporations while at the same time helping corporations get inside information about what government is doing. Sometimes, the same company that sits on an advisory council that obstructs or turns down a government questionnaire is precisely the company which is withholding information the government needs in order to enforce a law."

    Metcalf, The Vested Oracles: How Industry Regulates Government, 3 The Washington Monthly, July 1971, p. 45. For proceedings conducted by Senator Metcalf exposing these relationships, see Hearings on S. 3067 before the Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, 91st Cong., 2d Sess. (1970); Hearings on S. 1637, S.1964, and S. 2064 before the Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, 92d Cong., 1st Sess. (1971).

    The web spun about administrative agencies by industry representatives does not depend, of course, solely upon advisory committees for effectiveness. See Elman, Administrative Reform of the Federal Trade Commission, 59 Geo.L.J. 777, 788 (1971); Johnson, A New Fidelity to the Regulatory Ideal, 59 Geo.L.J. 869, 874, 906 (1971); R. Berkman & K. Viscusi, Damming The West, The Ralph Nader Study Group Report on The Bureau of Reclamation 155 (1971); R. Fellmeth, The Interstate Commerce Omission, The Ralph Nader Study Group Report on the Interstate Commerce Commission and Transportation 15-39 and passim (1970); J. Turner, The Chemical Feast, The Ralph Nader Study Group Report on Food Protection and the Food and Drug Administration passim (1970); Massel, The Regulatory Process, 26 Law & Contemp.Prob. 181, 189 (1961); J. Landis, Report on Regulatory Agencies to the President-Elect 13, 69 (1960).

  7. The Forest Reserve Act of 1897, 30 Stat. 35, 16 U.S.C. § 551, imposed upon the Secretary of the Interior the duty to "preserve the [national] forests . . . from destruction" by regulating their "occupancy and use." In 1905, these duties and powers were transferred to the Forest Service created within the Department of Agriculture by the Act of Feb. 1, 1905, 33 Stat. 628, 16 U.S.C. § 472. The phrase "occupancy and use" has been the cornerstone for the concept of "multiple use" of national forests, that is, the policy that uses other than logging were also to be taken into consideration in managing our 154 national forests. This policy was made more explicit by the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960, 74 Stat. 215, 16 U.S.C. §§ 528-531, which provides that competing considerations should include outdoor recreation, range timber, watershed, wildlife, and fish purposes. The Forest Service, influenced by powerful logging interests, has, however, paid only lip service to its multiple use mandate, and has auctioned away millions of timberland acres without considering environmental or conservational interests. The importance of national forests to the construction and logging industries results from the type of lumber grown therein which is well suited to builders' needs. For example, Western acreage produces Douglas fir (structural support) and ponderosa pine (plywood lamination). In order to preserve the total acreage and so-called "maturity" of timber, the annual size of a Forest Service harvest is supposedly equated with expected yearly reforestation. Nonetheless, yearly cuts have increased from 5.6 billion board feet in 1950 to 13.74 billion in 1971. Forestry professionals challenge the Service's explanation that this harvest increase to 240% is not really overcutting, but instead has resulted from its improved management of timberlands. "Improved management," answer the critics, is only a euphemism for exaggerated regrowth forecasts by the Service. N.Y. Times, Nov. 15, 1971, p. 48, col. 1. Recent rises in lumber prices have caused a new round of industry pressure to auction more federally owned timber. See Wagner, Resources Report/Lumbermen, conservationists head for new battle over government timber, 3 National J. 657 (1971). Aside from the issue of how much timber should be cut annually, another crucial question is how lumber should be harvested. Despite much criticism, the Forest Service had adhered to a policy of permitting logging companies to "clear-cut" tracts of auctioned acreage. "Clearcutting," somewhat analogous to strip mining, is the indiscriminate and complete shaving from the earth of all trees — regardless of size or age — often across hundreds of contiguous acres. Of clear-cutting, Senator Gale McGee, a leading antagonist of Forest Service policy, complains:

    "The Forest Service's management policies are wreaking havoc with the environment. Soil is eroding, reforestation is neglected, if not ignored, streams are silting, and clear-cutting remains a basic practice."

    N.Y. Times, Nov. 14, 1971, p. 60, col. 2. He adds: "In Wyoming . . . , the Forest Service is very much . . . nursemaid . . . to the lumber industry. . . ." Hearings on Management Practices on the Public Lands before the Subcommittee on Public Land of the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, pt. 1, p. 7 (1971).

    Senator Jennings Randolph offers a similar criticism of the leveling by lumber companies of large portions of the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. Id. at 9. See also 116 Cong.Rec. 36971 (reprinted speech of Sen. Jennings Randolph concerning Forest Service policy in Monongahela National Forest). To investigate similar controversy surrounding the Service's management of the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana, Senator Lee Metcalf recently asked forestry professionals at the University of Montana to study local harvesting practices. The faculty group concluded that public dissatisfaction had arisen from the Forest Service's "overriding concern for sawtimber production" and its "insensitivity to the related forest uses and to the . . . public's interest in environmental values." S.Doc. No. 91-115, p. 14 (1970). See also Behan, Timber Mining: Accusation or Prospect?, American Forests, Nov.1971, p. 4 (additional comments of faculty participant); Reich, The Public and the Nation's Forests, 50 Calif.L.Rev. 381-400 (1962).

    Former Secretary of the Interior Walter Hickel similarly faulted clear-cutting as excusable only as a money-saving harvesting practice for large lumber corporations. W. Hickel, Who Owns America? 130 (1971). See also Risser, The U.S. Forest Service: Smokey's Strip Miners, 3 The Washington Monthly, Dec.1971, p. 16. And at least one Forest Service study team shares some of these criticisms of clear-cutting. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Management in Wyoming 12 (1971). See also Public Land Law Review Comm'n, Report to the President and to the Congress 44 (1970); Chapman, Effects of Logging upon Fish Resources of the West Coast, 60 J. of Forestry 533 (1962).

    A third category of criticism results from the Service's huge backlog of delayed reforestation projects. It is true that Congress has underfunded replanting programs of the Service, but it is also true that the Service and lumber companies have regularly ensured that Congress fully funds budgets requested for the Forest Service's "timber sales and management." M. Frome, The Environment and Timber Resources, in What's Ahead for Our Public Lands? 23, 24 (H. Pyles ed.1970).

  8. Permitting a court to appoint a representative of an inanimate object would not be significantly different from customary judicial appointments of guardians ad litem, executors, conservators, receivers, or counsel for indigents. The values that ride on decisions such as the present one are often not appreciated, even by the so-called experts. "A teaspoon of living earth contains 5 million bacteria, 20 million fungi, one million protozoa, and 200,000 algae. No living human can predict what vital miracles may be locked in this dab of life, this stupendous reservoir of genetic materials that have evolved continuously since the dawn of the earth. For example, molds have existed on earth for about 2 billion years. But only in this century did we unlock the secret of the penicillins, tetracyclines, and other antibiotics from the lowly molds, and thus fashion the most powerful and effective medicines ever discovered by man. Medical scientists still wince at the thought that we might have inadvertently wiped out the rhesus monkey, medically, the most important research animal on earth. And who knows what revelations might lie in the cells of the black-back gorilla nesting in his eyrie this moment in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda? And what might we have learned from the European lion, the first species formally noted (in 80 A. D.) as extinct by the Romans?" "When a species is gone, it is gone forever. Nature's genetic chain, billions of years in the making, is broken for all time." Conserve. — Water, Land and Life, Nov. 1971, p. 4. Aldo Leopold wrote in Round River 147 (1953):

    "In Germany, there is a mountain called the Spessart. Its south slope bears the most magnificent oaks in the world. American cabinetmakers, when they want the last word in quality, use Spessart oak. The north slope, which should be the better, bears an indifferent stand of Scotch pine. Why? Both slopes are part of the same state forest; both have been managed with equally scrupulous care for two centuries. Why the difference?" "Kick up the litter under the oaks and you will see that the leaves rot almost as fast as they fall. Under the pines, though, the needles pile up as a thick duff; decay is much slower. Why? Because, in the Middle Ages, the south slope was preserved as a deer forest by a hunting bishop; the north slope was pastured, plowed, and cut by settlers, just as we do with our woodlots in Wisconsin and Iowa today. Only after this period of abuse was the north slope replanted to pines. During this period of abuse, something happened to the microscopic flora and fauna of the soil. The number of species was greatly reduced, i.e., the digestive apparatus of the soil lost some of its parts. Two centuries of conservation have not sufficed to restore these losses. It required the modern microscope, and a century of research in soil science, to discover the existence of these 'small cogs and wheels' which determine harmony or disharmony between men and land in the Spessart."

  9. Senator Cranston has introduced a bill to establish a 35,000-acre Pupfish National Monument to honor the pupfish which are one inch long and are useless to man. S. 2141, 92d Cong., 1st Sess. They are too small to eat, and unfit for a home aquarium. But as Michael Frome has said: "Still, I agree with Senator Cranston that saving the pupfish would symbolize our appreciation of diversity in God's tired old biosphere, the qualities which hold it together and the interaction of life forms. When fishermen rise up united to save the pupfish, they can save the world as well." Field & Stream, Dec. 1971, p. 74.




Extract From Oral Argument of the Solicitor General *

"* * * *"

"As far as I know, no case has yet been decided which holds that a plaintiff which merely asserts that, to quote from the complaint here, its interest would be widely affected [a]nd that 'it would be aggrieved' by the acts of the defendant, has standing to raise legal questions in court."

"But why not? Do not the courts exist to decide legal questions? And are they not the most impartial and learned agencies that we have in our governmental system? Are there not many questions which must be decided by the courts? Why should not the courts decide any question which any citizen wants to raise?"

"As the tenor of my argument indicates, this raises, I think, a true question, perhaps a somewhat novel question, in the separation of powers. . . ."

"Ours is not a government by the Judiciary. It is a government of three branches, each of which was intended to have broad and effective powers subject to checks and balances. In litigable cases, the courts have great authority. But the Founders also intended that the Congress should have wide powers, and that the Executive Branch should have wide powers."

"All these officers have great responsibilities. They are not less sworn than are the members of this Court to uphold the Constitution of the United States."

"This, I submit, is what really lies behind the standing doctrine, embodied in those cryptic words 'case' and 'controversy' in Article III of the Constitution. "

[p754] "Analytically, one could have a system of government in which every legal question arising in the core of government would be decided by the courts. It would not be, I submit, a good system."

"More important, it is not the system which was ordained and established in our Constitution, as it has been understood for nearly 200 years."

"Over the past 20 or 25 years, there has been a great shift in the decision of legal questions in our governmental operations into the courts. This has been the result of continuous whittling away of the numerous doctrines which have been established over the years, designed to minimize the number of governmental questions which it was the responsibility of the courts to consider."

"I've already mentioned the most ancient of all: case or controversy, which was early relied on to prevent the presentation of feigned issues to the court."

"But there are many other doctrines, which I cannot go into in detail: reviewability, justiciability, sovereign immunity, mootness in various aspects, statutes of limitations and laches, jurisdictional amount, real party in interest, and various questions in relation to joinder."

"Under all of these headings, limitations which previously existed to minimize the number of questions decided in courts have broken down in varying degrees."

"I might also mention the explosive development of class actions, which has thrown more and more issues into the courts."

"* * * *"

"If there is standing in this case, I find it very difficult to think of any legal issue arising in government which will not have to await one or more decisions of the Court before the administrator, sworn to uphold the law, can take any action. I'm not sure that this is good for the government. I'm not sure that it's good for the [755] courts. I do find myself more and more sure that it is not the kind of allocation of governmental power in our tripartite constitutional system that was contemplated by the Founders."

"* * * *"

"I do not suggest that the administrators can act at their whim and without any check at all. On the contrary, in this area, they are subject to continuous check by the Congress. Congress can stop this development any time it wants to."

  • Tr. of Oral Arg. 31-35.