No Whale of a Tale: Legal Implications of Winter v. NRDC

Reynolds, Joel R.; Kiekow, Taryn G.; Smith, Stephen Zak
August 2009
Ecology Law Quarterly;2009, Vol. 36 Issue 3, p753
Academic Journal
How should courts balance conflicting national security and environmental protection interests? The Supreme Court gave a fact-specific answer in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, finding that the interests of the military outweighed the interests of environmental plaintiffs in this case. Winter is hardly revolutionary--courts have long balanced competing interests when determining equitable relief and that is precisely what the Court did in Winter, based on the unique circumstances presented. The Supreme Court gave greater deference to military commanders than the lower courts in reviewing a preliminary injunction issued to remedy the Navy's failure to prepare an environmental impact statement pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In doing so, the Winter Court substituted its own judgment regarding the public interest among competing national priorities and unmoored itself from traditional standards of appellate review. While saying very little about the underlying merits of the case, the Court majority held that the district court abused its discretion, and on that basis it vacated two of six mitigation measures imposed under the preliminary injunction.


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