The contention was that Naval sonar operations off the California
coast just might, possibly, do some imagined harm to mammals….though it
had not yet….and therefore the Navy should shut it down. Never mind
what that would do to the security of the Pacific Fleet.
This has come before the United States Supreme Court. And gives pause:
Before the election, the media were full of warnings
about the scary things that conservative justices and judges appointed
by Republican John McCain might do. Barack Obama and his advisers
should now reflect on scary things that the judges demanded by his
liberal base might do.
That snip is more than halfway down the piece, but seems strikingly clear as the takeaway message, or one of them.
Here’s the scenario…
How would soon-to-be-President Obama like it if the
courts were to order the Navy — his Navy — to cripple its training in
Southern California coastal waters in the use of sonar to detect enemy
submarines, and thereby perhaps endanger the Pacific Fleet?
That’s what four Democratic-appointed federal judges in California
and two liberal Supreme Court justices voted to do in a recent case, to
avoid any possibility of harming marine mammals, not one of which has
suffered a documented injury in 40 years of sonar training off the
And that’s the sort of thing that liberal groups want done by the judges that President-elect Obama will soon be appointing.
Fortunately, as the piece notes, the justices overturned the restrictions on sonar training in this wacky case.
The majority held that with the nation embroiled in two
wars, “the Navy’s interest in effective, realistic training of its
sailors” far outweighed the speculative harm that the training might do
to the plaintiffs’ interest in marine mammals.
“For the plaintiffs, the most serious possible injury would be harm
to an unknown number of the marine mammals that they study and
observe,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for himself and the four
other more-conservative justices. “In contrast, forcing the Navy to
deploy an inadequately trained antisubmarine force jeopardizes the
safety of the fleet.”
Noting that “antisubmarine warfare is currently the Pacific Fleet’s
top war-fighting priority,” Roberts explained in detail why the
training exercises are essential for effective use by Navy strike
groups of “mid-frequency active sonar.”
Think this is unnecessary?
It may seem far-fetched to worry that enemy submarines
might someday sink an aircraft carrier with 5,000 sailors and marines
aboard. But no more far-fetched than it would have seemed on September
10, 2001, to worry that terrorists might murder in a single day more
Americans than died in the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
What is a real reach here is the argument over imagined harm to mammals and the precedence that fear should take over national defense.
Roberts found it unnecessary to decide whether the Navy
violated NEPA because even if it did, the proper judicial remedy would
not have been to restrict the service’s training. He invoked
well-settled limits on judicial power to issue injunctions by balancing
the plaintiffs’ interest in observing marine mammals against the
Navy’s, and the public’s, interest in adequate antisubmarine training.
This “does not strike us as a close question,” the chief justice