October 8, 2008

High Court Justices Hear Sonar-Whale Case

National security and environmental concerns butted heads before the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday in a case challenging the U.S. Navy's sonar testing.

The high court was asked to determine whether the Navy does enough to protect whales from underwater sonar tests during its annual training exercises off the Southern California coast.

Winter vs. Natural Resources Defense Council asks whether the president can issue an executive waiver to allow the tests without filing an environmental impact study and whether a federal judge can issue a preliminary injunction to block it, CNN reported.

Military officials asked the justices to intervene, arguing the restriction could affect military readiness because new sonar technology is necessary to detect sophisticated enemy submarines.

Justice David Souter questioned whether an emergency existed allowing the president to try to bypass normal environmental reviews.

"There was no 'emergency' here," Souter said, except one created by the Navy's "apparently deliberate inattention" to file a timely environmental impact study.

Justice Samuel Alito expressed concern that executive constitutional authority was being eroded.

"Isn't it incredibly odd about a single (federal) district court judge making a determination (limiting exercises) that is contrary to the determination that the Navy has made?" he asked.