Contexts in Which the Supreme Court Has Frequently Encountered Ripeness Issues: Administrative Law

ArtIII.S2.C1.2.6.3.4.2 Contexts in Which the Supreme Court Has Frequently Encountered Ripeness Issues: Administrative Law

Article III, Section 2, Clause 1:

The Judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;—to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;—to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;—to Controversies between two or more States; between a State and Citizens of another State; between Citizens of different States,—between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

Challenges to federal administrative agencies' actions, decisions, and policies often implicate the ripeness doctrine.1 ( “[N]o one is entitled to judicial relief for a supposed or threatened injury until the prescribed administrative remedy has been exhausted.” ) (quoting McKart v. United States, 395 U.S. 185, 193 (1969)); Dalton v. Specter, 511 U.S. 462, 469 (1994) (holding that, as a general matter, only “final agency action[s]” are subject to judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act) (quoting 5 U.S.C. § 704). In such cases, courts consider “whether judicial intervention would inappropriately interfere with further administrative action.” 2 ; Whitman v. Am. Trucking Ass'ns, Inc., 531 U.S. 457, 479 (2001). See also Lujan, 497 U.S. at 894 ( “[W]e intervene in the administration of the laws only when, and to the extent that, a specific 'final agency action' has an actual or immediately threatened effect. . . . Until confided to us, however, more sweeping actions are for the other branches [of the federal government].” ). The ripeness doctrine thereby not only “protect[s] the agencies from judicial interference until an administrative decision has been formalized and its effects felt in a concrete way by the challenging parties,” but also “prevent[s] the courts, through avoidance of premature adjudication, from entangling themselves in abstract disagreements over administrative policies.” 3 For example, in Ohio Forestry Association, Inc. v. Sierra Club, an environmental organization challenged the United States Forest Service’s interim federal land and resource management plan on the ground that it permitted too much logging and clearcutting of trees.4 The Supreme Court concluded that the organization's challenge was unripe,5 in part because reviewing the plan immediately could obstruct the Forest Service from refining its policies by either revising the plan or applying it to specific sites.6

Footnotes
1
See, e.g., Nat'l Park Hosp. Ass'n v. Dep't of Interior, 538 U.S. 803, 808 (2003) ( “Absent a statutory provision providing for immediate judicial review, a regulation is not ordinarily considered the type of agency action 'ripe' for judicial review . . . until the scope of the controversy has been reduced to more manageable proportions, and its factual components fleshed out, by some concrete action applying the regulation to the claimant's situation in a fashion that harms or threatens to harm him.” ) (quoting Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 891 (1990)) (brackets omitted). See also E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Train, 430 U.S. 112, 128 n.19 (1977) (concluding that “consideration of whether EPA's variance provision has the proper scope would be premature” ). Several non-constitutional doctrines, including the “exhaustion” doctrine and the “final agency action” doctrine, may also influence the appropriate timing of challenges to administrative actions. See, e.g., Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 88-89 (2006) ( “[N]o one is entitled to judicial relief for a supposed or threatened injury until the prescribed administrative remedy has been exhausted.” ) (quoting McKart v. United States, 395 U.S. 185, 193 (1969)); Dalton v. Specter, 511 U.S. 462, 469 (1994) (holding that, as a general matter, only “final agency action[s]” are subject to judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act) (quoting 5 U.S.C. § 704). back
2
Ohio Forestry Ass'n v. Sierra Club, 523 U.S. 726, 733; Whitman v. Am. Trucking Ass'ns, Inc., 531 U.S. 457, 479 (2001). See also Lujan, 497 U.S. at 894 ( “[W]e intervene in the administration of the laws only when, and to the extent that, a specific 'final agency action' has an actual or immediately threatened effect. . . . Until confided to us, however, more sweeping actions are for the other branches [of the federal government].” ). back
3
Ohio Forestry Ass'n, Inc., 523 U.S. at 732–33 (quoting Abbott Labs. v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 148–49 (1967), abrogated on other grounds by Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99 (1977)). See also Nat'l Park Hosp. Ass'n, 538 U.S. at 807–08 (same); Pac. Gas & Elec. Co. v. State Energy Res. Conservation & Dev. Comm'n, 461 U.S. 190, 200 (1983) (same). back
4
Ohio Forestry Ass'n, Inc., 523 U.S. at 728. back
5
Id. at 732. back
6
Id. at 735 ( “[F]rom the agency’s perspective, immediate judicial review directed at the lawfulness of logging and clearcutting could hinder agency efforts to refine its policies: (a) through revision of the Plan, e.g., in response to an appropriate proposed site-specific action that is inconsistent with the Plan, or (b) through application of the Plan in practice, e.g., in the form of site-specific proposals, which are subject to review by a court applying purely legal criteria.” ). back

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