In a groundbreaking decision, the United States Supreme Court has handed down a monumental victory for property rights with its ruling in the case of Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on May 25, 2023. The ruling, which has far-reaching implications for property owners in Idaho and across the nation, represents a significant victory for landowners, reaffirming their rights and providing essential clarity on the scope of federal regulatory authority.
The Sacketts, a couple from Priest Lake, Idaho, purchased their land in 2004, and began construction on their home in 2007. They found themselves in a frustrating predicament when in 2007 the EPA issued a compliance order, alleging that their property contained wetlands and thus fell under the purview of the Clean Water Act. The agency claimed that the Sacketts had violated federal law by commencing construction on their lot without obtaining the necessary permits. This order effectively prevented the Sacketts from using their own land for over 15 years and left them with no recourse but to comply or face severe penalties.
This week the Supreme Court rendered a unanimous decision in favor of the Sacketts, with all 9 justices agreeing that the wetlands on the Sacketts’ property are not covered by the Clean Water Act, and that the CWA applies only to wetlands that are “as a practical matter indistinguishable from the waters of the United States” and that the wetlands on the Sacketts’ land “are distinguishable from any possibly covered waters”. This ruling is a significant victory.
SCOTUS Justice Clarence Thomas stated that this decision “curbs a serious expansion of federal authority that has simultaneously degraded States’ authority and diverted the Federal Government from its important role as a guarantor of the Nation’s great commercial water highways into something resembling a ‘local zoning board’.”
In Idaho, where the preservation of private property rights are highly cherished, the Supreme Court’s ruling carries exceptional significance. The states’ vast landscapes and natural resources make it particularly vulnerable to overreach by federal agencies in environmental regulation. The Sackett decision reinforces the principle that landowners in Idaho have a right to maintain control over their properties and ensures the balance between responsible environmental stewardship and individual liberties.
In a statement, Pacific Legal Foundation, the firm representing the Sacketts, stated that “Courts now have a clear measuring stick for fairness and consistency by federal regulators. Today’s ruling is a profound win for property rights and the constitutional separation of powers.”
The significance of this ruling impacts property rights throughout the country, reaching beyond the boundaries of Idaho. It serves as a powerful precedent, establishing a clear standard for federal jurisdiction, ensuring that property owners in every state are protected from excessive regulatory control. The decision strengthens the rights of individuals and is a resounding affirmation of property rights and a crucial check on the power of federal government agencies. It serves as a beacon of hope for property owners across the nation, fostering a system in which private property is respected and protected from undue government interference. As the Chairwoman of the Idaho Republican Party, I would like to sincerely thank our Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador, and the 25 other state AGs across the nation for their leadership on this critical issue. This victory is yet another example of Idahoans leading the way.