South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Restricting Local Land Use to Protect Endangered Species Does Not Violate Commerce Clause
Description Appeals court held that for the government to restrict local land use to protect a specie that exists in only one state, and so is not in interstate commerce, does not violate the Commerce Clause because the purpose of the Endangered Species Act is national protection of species, not local land use controls.
Topic Environmental Law
Key Words Endangered Species; Commerce Clause
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Rancho Viejo, a real estate development company, wished to build a 202 acre housing development in San Diego County, California. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) determined that the plan would jeopardize the arroyo southwestern toad, which was listed as an endangered specie. Rancho Viejo sued, contending that the FWS determination was an unconstitutional exercise of federal authority under the Commerce Clause because the toad did not move in interstate commerce. The district court dismissed the suit. Rancho Viejo appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. To survive Commerce Clause review, there must be a rational basis for a regulation that affects interstate commerce. The Endangered Species Act’s regulation of commercial activity to preclude takings of protected species was a constitutional exercise of congressional authority under the Commerce Clause. The ESA is not a general regulation of land use, so as to be an unlawful assertion of congressional power over local land use decisions, but rather represents a national response to a specific problem of national concern.

Citation Rancho Viejo, LLC v. Norton, 323 F.3d 1062 (D.C. Cir., 2003)

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