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Rapanos v. United States: Background, Blog, and Briefs

Washington,DC; May 17, 2006: As detailed on the new Rapanos Blog,, the United States Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in Pacific Legal Foundation's landmark case Rapanos v. United States, the most important property rights case before the Court this year. On behalf of John Rapanos, PLF is asking the High Court to rein in federal officials who for years have pushed their authority to regulate wetlands on private property far beyond what Congress intended and our Constitution allows.

Pacific Legal Foundation is representing John Rapanos, a 70-year-old grandfather of 6 who has stood up to federal regulators’ 18-year crusade against him--all because he moved sand on his own property without a federal permit.

Federal regulators want control over John Rapanos’s property--even though it is 20 miles from any waterway that could trigger federal oversight. The law limits federal jurisdiction to "navigable waterways" used for shipping and commerce and adjacent wetlands; inland wetlands are protected by state and local rules. But rather than follow the law, government officials asked a judge to put Mr. Rapanos in prison for 5 years.

The trial judge refused, expressing disgust that the government gives drug dealers better treatment. But federal regulators appealed, forcing John Rapanos and his family into a 12-year court battle. Last year, Mr. Rapanos was vindicated in his criminal case when the trial judge refused--for the third time--to put him in jail, calling Mr. Rapanos "the kind of person that the Constitution was passed to protect."

Now, PLF is defending John Rapanos in his civil case before the U.S. Supreme Court, against potentially millions of dollars in government fines and mitigation fees.

The federal government argues, under the banner of protecting wetlands, that it can regulate virtually any water in the nation--despite the clear limits of the law. But if the Court reins in the federal government, inland waters will continue to be subject to vigorous protections imposed by states.

When one citizen is abused by government, we all lose. That's why a broad coalition of people have joined PLF in standing with John Rapanos and asking the Supreme Court to settle, once and for all, where federal jurisdiction ends and state jurisdiction begins.

Groups representing hundreds of government agencies that provide clean water for tens of millions of Americans are supporting Mr. Rapanos. Supporters include the largest urban water district in the nation, the largest coalition of public water agencies in the nation, and a coalition of water agencies that provide clean water to more than 30 million citizens in six states in the Western United States.

With this case, the High Court can clearly limit the federal government's power and leave regulation of inland wetlands to states as the law demands. By doing so, the Court can strongly affirm the constitutionally protected property rights of all Americans.




Court Briefs & Resources

U.S. Supreme Court Briefs

Amici Curiae Briefs in Support of John Rapanos
  • States of Alaska and Utah, Western Urban Water Coalition, National Water Resources Association, Association of California Water Agencies, Central Arizona Water Conservation District, State Water Contractors, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Westlands Water District, San Diego County Water Authority and California Farm Bureau Federation Amicus Brief
  • Western Coalition of Arid States Amicus Brief
  • American Farm Bureau Federation Amicus Brief
  • Attainable Housing Alliance Amicus Brief
  • Croplife America, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Pork Producers Council, Dairy Producers of New Mexico, Kansas Livestock Association, and Texas Cattle Feeders Association Amicus Brief
  • Foundation for Environmental and Economic Progress, National Association of Realtors®, Utility Water Act Group, and Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America Amicus Brief
  • Home Builders Association of Central Arizona Amicus Brief
  • The Mackinac Center for Public Policy Amicus Brief
  • The American Petroleum Institute Amicus Brief



Press Releases



Media Coverage


  • Michigan cases test court on property rights - Justices asked to define right of Congress to regulate wetlands, Editorial, Detroit News, February 21, 2006
  • Supreme Clean Water Day - The big environmental cases on Justice Alito’s first day of argument, National Review Online, February 21, 2006
  • Don't fill in that puddle! 'Wetlands' cases advance to the U.S. Supreme Court – Editorial, Las Vegas Review Journal, February 20, 2006
  • Water rights on tap, Op-Ed, Washington Times, by Roderick E. Walston, February 19, 2006
  • Supreme Court must address water authority issues, Op-Ed, By Thomas W. Birmingham, Fresno Bee, February 20, 2006
  • On Tap For The Court: Authority Over Water, Op-Ed, by Rob Rivett, The Tampa Tribune Febrauary 20, 2006
  • Big stake in wetlands case, Op-Ed, By Shikha Dalmia and Leonard Gilroy, Washington Times, February 20, 2006
    Landowners with so much as a puddle on their property should prepare for a showdown: Tomorrow the U.S. Supreme Court is going to hear two cases that might settle once and for all whether the 1970 Clean Water Act allows federal bureaucrats to regulate any wetland anywhere -- as they are effectively claiming -- or if there are some constitutional limits to their reach.
  • "Wetlands Desperado," The Wall St. Journal, Editorial--August 29, 2004
  • "American Despotism," TownHall.com Commentary by Walter Williams--September 29, 2004

News Stories
  • Reach of Clean Water Act Is at Issue in 2 Supreme Court Cases, New York Times, February 20, 2006
  • Justices to Study Scope of '72 Clean Water Act, Los Angeles Times, February 21, 2006
  • Water wars await Alito in debut on high court Future of nation's rivers, wetlands hinges on 2 key cases, San Francisco Chronicle, February 20, 2006
  • Michigan cases key to wetlands - Newly configured U.S. Supreme Court to decide issues of landowners' rights and jurisdiction, Detroit News, February 21, 2006
  • Landowners go head to head with Washington over water ecosystem, Financial Times, February 21, 2006
  • Supreme Court to hear wetlands case challenge, Gannett News Service, February 19, 2006
  • "High court will review regulation of wetlands," The Associated Press, October 12, 2005
  • "Supreme Court to Consider Cutting Wetlands Protection," San Francisco Chronicle, October 12, 2005
  • "High court review of wetland case sought," The Associated Press, February 4, 2005



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