Wilderness and the Judiciary
70 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2009
Date Written: March 16, 2009
This Article examines how the decisions of four land management agencies governing wilderness areas under the Wilderness Act fare in the federal courts. Agencies normally prevail in the majority of their cases before the federal courts because courts employ doctrines of deference to agencies' decisions. In the context of wilderness management, however, the success rates of the agencies varies drastically depending on the type of challenge brought. The Article provides a historical overview of different schemes for wilderness protection, from administrative regulatory schemes to the adoption of the 1964 Wilderness Act and subsequent enactments. It then examines specific case studies and numeric information from all of the cases decided under the 1964 Wilderness Act. The numbers reveal three striking facts. First, a two-fold gap exists between agency success rates in litigation depending on who brings the challenge and the type of challenge it is. Second, the agencies tend to lose in challenges brought by environmentalists more often than not. Third, the party of appointment for the judges does not appear to affect overall distribution of their votes as measured on a simple "pro-wilderness"/ "anti-wilderness" axis. After providing some possible explanations for this apparent one-way judicial ratchet favoring wilderness protection - some of which will be examined more thoroughly in future work - the Article offer some observations about whether such a one-way ratchet will always benefit wilderness restoration and protection.
Keywords: wilderness, public lands, judicial review
JEL Classification: K32, K40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation