Last month, I had the privilege of attending the Pacific Legal Foundation’s 40th Anniversary Gala at the Reagan Library. For those who are unfamiliar with PLF … well, get over to their website as soon as possible. Their work defending private property rights, limited government, and economic freedom — as well as resisting environmental extremism — in the courts is truly magnificent. They deserve every bit of support you can give them.
Little did I know that Ricochet’s own C.J. Box would also be in attendance that evening (C.J. is relatively easy to spot in the Los Angeles suburbs — he’s the only guy in the room who can pull off the cowboy hat). The reason he was there? It turns out that one of PLF’s recent cases provide the inspiration for his newest best-seller, Breaking Point, which debuted at #5 on the New York Times hardcover best-seller list.
[Breaking Point] is inspired by the plight of Pacific Legal Foundation’s clients, Mike and Chantell Sackett of Priest Lake, Idaho, who fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court for their right to challenge the abusive treatment they received from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
… [The Sacketts] paid $26,000 for a small parcel in Priest Lake, in 2005, intending to build a three-bedroom family home for themselves. The land is in a residential subdivision, bordered on two sides by neighbors’ houses. The Sacketts complied with all local requirements, obtained a county permit to build, and started laying gravel. But then they were blindsided by federal bureaucrats. EPA officials suddenly swooped in and — and without notice or hearings, or even setting foot on the property — labeled it as “wetlands.” The agency followed up by ordering the Sacketts to stop work, remove the gravel, and return the property to a “natural” state, on pain of astronomical fines — totaling more than $70,000 per day!
The Sacketts wanted to challenge the EPA’s claim that their land was “wetlands” — but the agency denied their request for a hearing. It also said they couldn’t appeal directly to the judiciary — and the Ninth Circuit backed the EPA up. It held they would first have to go through a years-long “wetlands” permit process, which could cost 12 times the value of their land!
Represented by attorneys with PLF, the Sacketts asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case — and the Court agreed. At oral argument, “justices across the ideological spectrum appeared troubled by the EPA’s position that Mike and Chantell Sackett do not have the right to go to court to challenge the agency’s wetlands decision,” as The Washington Post reported.
A number of the justices didn’t hide their outrage. “If you related the facts of this case — as they come to us — to an ordinary homeowner,” Justice Samuel Alito said to the government’s attorney, “don’t you think most ordinary homeowners would say this kind of thing can’t happen in the United States?”
In a 9-0 decision last March, the justices overturned the Ninth Circuit and upheld the Sacketts’ right to challenge EPA’s “wetlands” orders in court. The ruling set a landmark precedent for property owners nationwide, by establishing that any landowner may file an immediate court appeal if he or she is hit with a “wetlands compliance order” by federal regulators.
C.J., who is currently out on a national tour promoting the book is far too humble (not to mention busy) to bring this up himself, but all of us here at Ricochet congratulate him on its success — and thank him for using it as a vehicle for reasserting the importance of foundational American freedoms.