State Sovereignty, Meet the Supremacy Clause

Earlier this week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a District Court decision and vacated an injunction which had prevented the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service from reintroducing the Mexican gray wolf onto certain federal lands in New Mexico.  The decision seems fairly straightforward and plainly correct.  The interesting aspect of the case is the Court’s discussion of state sovereignty.

The State of New Mexico argued in part that the reintroduction of wolves onto federal land without a permit from the State was a violation of the State’s sovereignty.  The Court rejected the argument, without even addressing whether a state could ever assert a sovereignty claim over federal land within its borders.  The Endangered Species Act in fact generally does not exempt FWS from state permitting requirements.  Instead, it has a limited exemption from the requirement to comply with state permits, but only where the FWS has determined that to do so would interfere with the accomplishment of the objectives of the ESA.  The Court found that FWS had reasonably concluded that enforcement of the state permitting requirements would interfere with accomplishment of ESA objectives.

Case over.  The decision doesn’t even mention the Supremacy Clause, but it seems applicable to me.  I know that we live in uncertain times, but I believe federal law remains supreme, at least for now.

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