“Years of politicized agency rulemaking has capriciously expanded and redefined what constitutes a ‘water of the United States.’ Today the Court announces a narrow, clear definition that follows the statutory text and honors Congress’s purpose.”
—Cory Andrews, WLF General Counsel & Vice President of Litigation
WASHINGTON, DC— Today the U.S. Supreme Court refused to defer to federal agencies when undertaking the core function of the judiciary—interpreting the law. The Court held that the term “waters” in the Clean Water Act (CWA) does not mean all wetlands but rather refers only to “streams, oceans, rivers, and lakes” and to adjacent wetlands that are “indistinguishable” from those bodies of water. The decision was a victory for Washington Legal Foundation (WLF), which joined the Cato Institute, Associated General Contractors of America, Mountain States Legal Foundation, and NFIB Small Business Legal Center an amicus brief in the case.
The case arose from a lawsuit by Michael and Chantell Sackett, who wanted to build a home on their Idaho property. But the EPA barred any construction on that land, having determined that it would violate federal law because the lot contained wetlands that qualified as “waters of the United States” under the CWA. Today the Court unanimously rejected EPA’s determination.
In its amicus brief supporting the Sacketts, WLF explained that the task of divining congressional intent from statutory text belongs to the Court, not to federal agencies who lack such expertise. This is especially true for “major questions” of economic and social significance, such as the jurisdictional reach of the CWA. As today’s decision shows, only the Supreme Court can provide a stable, workable definition of “waters of the United States” that honors the statutory text and Supreme Court precedent.