The Circuit, led by Judge (and future Justice) Garland, accordingly allowed the MATS to remain enforceable until new guidelines were issued by the EPA. Michigan accordingly took the matter to Chief Justice John Roberts, who denied their indignant stay application of his own accord without referring the matter to conference. The ensuing full petition was also rejected in a one-line order on Monday - this is most important because it signals that no four Justices thought Michigan's position was meritorious enough to warrant a hearing, a fact that could bode well for the rest of the Clean Power Plan when West Virginia v. EPA is heard at the beginning of next Term.
This could also indicates a shift in the Court's perception of equitable relief. Since the petitioners' demands in the first Michigan fall under the purview of traditional equity rules, the courts are given greater latitude to consider the greater good when deciding on these claims. The D.C. Circuit exercised that chancery jurisdiction in this case, concluding that the benefits to citizens' health and welfare - up to 11,000 instances of premature mortality prevented annually, as well as 4,700 cardiac emergencies and 250,000 instances of respiratory illness every year - outweighed the burden that regulatory compliance places on the energy and manufacturing industries. As was said in 1947, "a strong showing is required, both of inadequacy of the prescribed procedure and impending harm, to permit short-circuiting of the administrative process," and the petitioners failed to prove that any impending harm caused by the case would adversely impact them. Aircraft & Diesel Equipment Corp. v. Hirsch, 331 U.S. 752. By allowing that determination of the D.C. Circuit to stand, the Supreme Court renewed what the respondents called the tribunal's "longstanding reluctance to displace traditional equitable authority absent the 'clearest command' or an inescapable inference' to the contrary." (Citation omitted). In recent years, such deference to administrative discretion and the principles of equity has been rare, but as this denial shows, the reversal of that trend could be imminent.
The mere denial of a cert. petition is rarely treated with the same weight as a full decision, and even this acknowledgement of citizens' interests and the EPA's authority cannot fully erase the damage created by the Michigan precedent. However, the changing Court and the changing political climate inevitably move American jurisprudence forward, and we at PlanetGreen believe that someday the natural world will receive the respect from the judiciary that Justice Douglas once famously declared it deserved:
"So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life. The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains or nourishes -- fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or who enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it. Those people who have a meaningful relation to that body of water -- whether it be a fisherman, a canoeist, a zoologist, or a logger -- must be able to speak for the values which the river represents, and which are threatened with destruction." Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (1972).
Our earlier coverage of this case, both a preliminary statement of the issues and a personal perspective.