Case: Winter v. Natural Resources

Date: Wednesday Oct. 8, 2008

Issue: Whether the Navy is permitted under accepted "emergency circumstances" to conduct sonar training exercises in the Pacific Ocean even though there is expressed concern that such exercises is harmful to marine life.

Background: For the better part of the past decade the U.S. Navy's Third Fleet has fought a legal battle with environmentalists over its attempts to use midfrequency active sonar in the Pacific Ocean. The Navy says its use of the sonar technology in training exercises is essential as its seamen prepare for missions in hostile waters across the world. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) was successful in getting a judge to enjoin the Navy from using this technology. The NRDC contends the strength of the sonar waves is too powerful for marine life including whales and dolphins. The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), applying a longstanding regulation, found "emergency circumstances" for the Navy to conduct its training exercises with the sonar technology. The Ninth Circuit nevertheless sustained the district court’s conclusion that no "emergency circumstances" were present and affirmed the preliminary injunction.

Case: Summers v. Earth Island Institute

Date: Wednesday Oct. 8, 2008

Issue: What level of review and public hearing must the United States Forest Service (USFS) provide before implementing new procedures?

Background: Several years ago environmentalists expressed concerns over a proposed USFS timber sale in the Sequoia National Forest. Even though that dispute was eventually settled the issue that's now before the Court emerged from that case. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Earth Island Institute sued the USFS over the review procedures USFS put into place that does not allow for public comment on "minor" policy changes. Lower courts have ruled that the USFS has not put into place language detailed enough to distinguish "minor" and "major" policy changes. The concern expressed by the environmental groups is that they do not have an opportunity to challenge or change USFS policy. The Government arguing on behalf of the USFS contends the lower courts have misinterpreted the appropriate laws and contend the environmental groups lack standing to make this challenge.

Case: Crawford v. Nashville & Davidson County

Date: Wednesday Oct. 8, 2008

Issue: Does the anti-retaliation provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protect a worker from being dismissed because she cooperated with her employer’s internal investigation of sexual harassment?

Background: In Spring of 2002 a sexual harassment investigation was started looking into the conduct of a high-ranking Nashville (TN) area school official. At the end of that investigation several women who gave interviews and were named in the final report were fired. Each had feared of retaliation for cooperating with investigators. Vicky Crawford sued saying her firing was the result of illegal retaliatory action. However the trial court and the Sixth Circuit ruled her claims did not represent a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. She has appealed again, to the Supreme Court, contending the lower courts erred in its interpretations of the law. The School District counters that Crawford's lawsuit lacks merit because the Civil Rights Act does not protect her from an investigation she did not initiate on her own accord. And they further contend she has no protects from the Civil Rights Act because the investigation in question was not conducted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.