WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court said Monday it won’t stand in the way as the U.S. extends its security fence hundreds of miles along the border with Mexico, allowing building to proceed full-speed despite claims that it harms the environment and animals who live in the area.
In a second case mixing national security and the environment – and a second dose of potentially good news for the Bush administration – the justices agreed to consider an appeals court ruling that limits the Navy’s use of sonar off the Southern California coast because of potential harm to dolphins and whales.
Given sporadic attention for years, the concept of a border fence took on new life after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which also revived the nation’s heated immigration debate. Intelligence officials have said the holes along the southwest border could provide places for terrorists to enter the country.
On Monday, the court declined to hear arguments in a case brought by environmental groups that could have slowed or even halted the multibillion-dollar fence project that stretches from the Pacific surf at Tijuana to the Gulf of Mexico near Brownsville, Texas. Some 331 miles of fencing had been constructed as of June 13, with about as much still to go.
The case involved a two-mile section of fence in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area near Naco, Ariz. The section has already been built. Environmentalists have said the fence puts already endangered species such as two types of wild cats – the ocelot and the jaguarundi – in even more danger. The fence would prevent them from swimming across the Rio Grande to mate.
So far, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has waived more than 40 laws and regulations in an effort to finish building 670 miles of fence along the southwest border. Administration officials have said that invoking the legal waivers – which Congress authorized in 1996 and 2005 laws – will cut through bureaucratic red tape and sidestep environmental laws that would otherwise stand in the way of construction.
The fence faces other legal challenges. Currently there are two class action lawsuits against property condemnation and four District Court cases challenging environmental actions, according to Homeland Security.
In the second case Monday, the justices, acting at the administration’s urging, agreed to review a federal appeals court ruling that limits the use of sonar in naval training exercises.
Sonar, which the Navy uses primarily to locate enemy submarines at sea, can interfere with marine mammals’ ability to navigate and communicate.
The administration says the decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco could cripple the Navy’s ability to train sailors and Marines for service in wartime.