Center for Biological Diversity v. Otter

States are not the handmaidens of the federal government

Cases > > Center for Biological Diversity v. Otter
Case Status: Active: Litigation is ongoing

Idaho permits the trapping of certain animals valued for their fur. The regulations require a state permit and require the traps to be checked every 72 hours so that non-targeted species are released. Hunters must notify the state whenever a trap catches a non-targeted species. A radical environmental group sued the state for alleged violation of the Endangered Species Act on the theory that the regulations do not sufficiently protect the lynx. The lower court held that the state was liable. PLF will support the state in the Ninth Circuit, arguing that, under the Tenth Amendment, the federal government cannot commandeer state officials to implement federal law.

The Canada lynx is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and the State of Idaho has banned the hunting of the lynx since 1996. From 2012-2016, four lynx were inadvertently captured in Idaho in traps designed to lure other, non-protected species. Three of the lynx were released alive. When the species was listed in 2000, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service found that accidental trappings are rare and have no negative effects on the species’ overall survival. Nonetheless, at the urging of an environmental group, the federal government interpreted the Endangered Species Act to grant it authority to directly regulate trapping within a state to avoid the accidental catch of a threatened species.

The Tenth Amendment forbids the federal government from expanding its reach in this way. The Supreme Court has explicitly held that the federal government may not directly compel states to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program. Instead, the federal government may offer incentives to the states to participate or promulgate its own federal regulations. Environmental groups teams up with Obama administration officials to use the Environmental Protection Agency as a means to commandeer state and local governments into federal service enforcing the ESA. The District Court of Idaho greenlighted this effort and ordered the state to more aggressively regulate trapping to enforce the federal policy. The case is headed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where PLF will file an amicus brief.

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What’s at stake?

  • The federal government is free to impose requirements on trappers directly that go beyond state law or it may provide an incentive to states to protect the lynx, but the U.S. Constitution forbids the federal government from directly requiring a state to regulate its citizens.

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