It was a busy week around here as I traveled to Nashville to speak at the American Farm Bureau Federation Conference. It was my first time to be on the same agenda as the President, so that was quite exciting! To those of you joining from that conference, welcome to the blog! Here are some of the ag law stories in the news this week.
* US Supreme Court will not hear Endangered Species Act case involving Utah prairie dog. You may remember a case in Utah where a group of property owners calling themselves the “People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners” filed suit challenging the listing of the Utah prairie dog under the Endangered Species Act. The trial court sided with the property owners, holding that the ESA cannot be used to regulate a purely intrastate species. [Read prior blog here.] The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed, finding that even though the prairie dog was found only in Utah, the ESA applied. [Read prior blog post here.] The landowners sought review of that decision by the US Supreme Court, but on Monday the Court denied to hear the case. [Read article here.] Meanwhile, the Trump administration has indicated it may relax protections and allow more of the prairie dogs to be legally removed or killed. [Read article here.]
* Supreme Court hears arguments in TX v. NM and FL v. GA water lawsuits. Speaking of the US Supreme Court, on Monday, the Justices heard oral arguments in two important water-related lawsuits. In Texas v. New Mexico, a dispute over waters of the Rio Grande, the argument was limited to a technical issue about whether the United States should be allowed to intervene as a party and, if so, the scope of the arguments they can make. To read the transcript of the oral argument, click here. In Florida v. Georgia, the argument focuses on the merits of the case, where Florida claims that Georgia is overpumping water and harming Florida. The Special Master has filed a report in favor of Georgia, finding the case should be dismissed because the US Army Corps of Engineers was not a party to the case and without that, the Special Master believes Florida cannot be granted the relief it seeks. [Read Special Master report here.] Florida argued that the Court could redress the harm even without the US being party. That Supreme Court transcript is available here.
* Judge dismisses criminal claims against Cliven Bundy and others due to Brady violation. A federal judge has dismissed criminal charges against Cliven Bundy, his two sons, and another man related to a stand-off the occurred between the men and the federal government over grazing rights on federal land. The men were facing various criminal charges such as conspiracy and firearms charges. The judge has dismissed the claims, finding “flagrant prosecutorial misconduct” where the prosecution withheld potentially exculpatory evidence from the defense. Under the Brady rule, a prosecutor is required to timely turn over any such evidence to a criminal defendant and failure to do so violates the rights of the defendant. The judge in this case found a Brady violation occurred and dismissed all criminal charges against the defendants. Prosecutors could appeal the dismissal, but charges could be re-filed only if the appellate court reverses the dismissal. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has launched an investigation into the prosecutors’ conduct in this case. [Read article here.]
* Water Rights Division recommends NM State Engineer deny permit to Augustin Plains Ranch. Augustin Plains Ranch seeks to obtain a permit from the NM State Engineer to pump 17 billion gallons of water each year from rural Catron County to be sold to users in the Albuquerque or Santa Fe area. At a public hearing on this permit request, a deputy general counsel at the NM State Engineer’s Office said the Water Rights Division finds the proposal “speculative” and will recommend that the State Engineer deny the permit request. Twice before, the State Engineer did just that finding there was not enough detail about the use to which the water would be put. Numerous groups spoke out against the proposal including Catron county landowners, several Indian Tribes, environmental groups, and others. [Read article here.]
* Michigan dairy farmer faces 2 years in federal prison for hiring/harboring undocumented workers. This case offers a stark reminder of the consequences that can arise if a farmer is caught harboring and knowingly employing undocumented workers. Dairy owner Denis Burke was ordered to spend 2 years in prison, 2 years on supervised release, and to pay over $187,000 in fines after he pleaded guilty for knowingly harboring illegal aliens for commercial advantage. Between 2008 and 2013, Burke hired and harbored more than 100 illegal immigrants to work on their dairy, giving them free housing on the farm so they would be available to work and less visible to immigration authorities. [Read article here.]