Supreme Court announces big PLF victories in Sackett and Tyler

May 25, 2023 | By STEVEN D. ANDERSON
Tyler supreme court

I’m going to remember today for a long time.  

This morning—at around 7 a.m. where I am in California—the Supreme Court announced unanimous decisions in two Pacific Legal Foundation cases.  

Both are stunning victories.  

In Sackett v. EPA, which PLF senior attorney Damien Schiff argued on the first day of the term in October, the Court significantly narrowed the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act authority. Because of today’s victory, property owners like Mike and Chantell Sackett will no longer be threatened with thousands of dollars in Clean Water Act fines and blocked from building a home on their land. Instead, the EPA will only be able to regulate legitimate wetlands that have “a continuous surface connection to bodies that are ‘waters of the United States.’”  

I cannot overstate how big a win this is. The decision—authored by Justice Samuel Alito—clears up 50 years of confusion and puts a check on the EPA’s decades-long mission creep by restoring the scope of the Clean Water Act to what Congress intended.  

Mere seconds after the Supreme Court announced its Sackett decision, the Court gave us another victory: a unanimous decision for PLF client Geraldine Tyler in Tyler v. Hennepin County, which PLF senior attorney Christina Martin argued on the last day of the term in April.  

In Tyler, all nine Justices agreed with PLF that the government cannot take more than it is owed when settling tax debt. By seizing and selling 94-year-old Geraldine’s condo over her $15,000 tax debt, the government violated the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.  

“The taxpayer must render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the decision, “but no more.” 

The Tyler decision is a vindication of fundamental property rights. It will change the lives of thousands of Americans across the country—many of them senior citizens and struggling families who would have been destroyed by the government’s theft of their home equity.  

Today’s two victories mean that Pacific Legal Foundation has won three Supreme Court cases this term. (Wilkins v. United States was argued in November and decided in April.) It’s unprecedented in PLF—and maybe even public interest law—history.  

The Supreme Court hears only about 60 cases every year. Winning even one Supreme Court case in a single year would be a remarkable feat for the best attorneys. I’m so proud of our team that brought and won these cases.  

I’m also proud to have you with us, the supporters and allies who brought us to this moment. Some of you were with us when we first started working on the Sackett case in 2008. Some of you were with us in 2015 when we first started talking about home equity theft—something no one else in the country was talking about. You stuck with us. You pushed us forward. And you made these victories happen. 

We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary this year—and as of today, we have won 17 of our 19 cases at the Supreme Court. 

That’s a great record in advancing liberty. Thank you to everyone who got us here.