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Soundings Archive

Supreme Court rules for Navy in California Sonar Case
On November12, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that California federal courts abused their discretion when they issued an injunction significantly restricting the Navy's use of sonar off the California coast. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion and responded to Justice Ginsburg's minority opinion as follows:

    "The bulk of Justice Ginsburg's dissent is devoted to the merits. For the reasons stated, we find the injunctive relief granted in this case an abuse of discretion, even if plaintiffs are correct on the underlying merits. As to the injunction, the dissent barely mentions the Navy's interests... We find that those interests, and the documented risks to national security, clearly outweigh the harm on the other side of the balance."
More specifically, the Court held that the "District Court abused its discretion by imposing a 2,200-yard shutdown zone and by requiring the Navy to power down its MFA sonar during significant surface ducting conditions. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the preliminary injunction is vacated to the extent it has been challenged by the Navy."

The majority opinion notes the lower court's acknowledgment that "the record contains no evidence that marine mammals have been harmed" by the Navy's sonar exercises.
  • Click here to read Supreme Court's opinion

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