01-30-2014 Marin Voice: “9th Circuit … Puts a Thumb on the Scale” (of Justice)

Marin Voice: Oyster ruling deserves another look

By Jim Linford
Guest op-ed column

Posted:   01/30/2014 06:11:32 PM PST

THE Ninth Circuit has refused to rehear the oyster farm case with only one judge an Obama appointee and the dissent’s authorvoting to rehear it. The case will now go to the United States Supreme Court who may agree to hear it.

But the Ninth Circuit decision is very odd because, again and again, it puts a thumb on the scale.

First, it needlessly disparages — or at least trivializes — one side in the dispute. The opinion begins:

“This appeal, which pits an oyster farm, oyster lovers and well-known “foodies” against environmentalists aligned with the federal government, has generated considerable attention in the San Francisco Bay Area.”

While the court appears to take judicial notice of the public debate, it apparently does not acknowledge that sustainable agriculture is an environmentalist concern, and, most importantly, that there are environmentalists on both sides of the dispute. The court puts a thumb on the scale.

Second, the court disregards a universal legal maxim, general rules are understood broadly while exceptions, narrowly. In administrative law, the general rule is that courts have jurisdiction to review all governmental action. There are some exceptions to that general rule, but the exceptions should be narrowly applied. However, in the oyster farm case, the court oddly gives a very broad application to an exception — Article 124 — the court thus prevents itself from looking into irregularity in the Secretary of the Interior’s oyster farm decision. The court puts a thumb on the scale.

Third, the court muddles the geography of the oyster farm by failing to distinguish clearly between those parts of the farm that are within the wilderness zone and those parts that, like the farm buildings of the neighboring dairy ranches, are within the pastoral zone.

Only the oyster beds are within the wilderness. But by confuting the pastoral and wilderness zones, the buildings and the beds, the court leaves the impression of far greater impact on the wilderness. The court puts a thumb on the scale.

Fourth, the court treats the legislative intent at the creation of the seashore and the wilderness as something that can be lightly brushed aside by some sort of (in this case, merely tacit) indication of changed intent. However, the initial legislative intent that the agriculturalists — including the oyster farm — would continue to have their use permits renewed was part of the historic bargain between environmentalists and agriculturalists that created the seashore. As anyone who has seen the film “Rebels With a Cause” knows, without that bargain, the lands would have been lost to the urbanization of commercial real estate development. By ignoring the reality of the seashore’s origins, the court puts a thumb on the scale.

Given the historic bargain that preserved the seashore, it is absolutely outrageous to argue that the agriculturalists somehow gave up their traditional use of the land when they were in fact protecting it by transferring ownership to the Park Service.

Sustainable agricultural use has been an inextricable part of the texture of the seashore since its creation.

The Ninth Circuit’s unfair decision ignores that primordial reality and should now be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jim Linford of Marinwood is a semi-retired appellate attorney who has filed a pro bono amicus brief in support of the oyster farm on behalf of an historic resource foundation

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