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Breaking Precedent: SCOTUS in the Midst of a Pandemic

October 2020

Citation: ELR 10787

Author: Davina Pujari, John Cruden, Richard Lazarus, and Sambhav Sankar

In County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, the U.S. Supreme Court held, 6-3, that the Clean Water Act requires a national pollutant discharge elimination system permit “when there is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge.” The Court also decided Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian, holding, 7-2, that landowners adjacent to a Superfund site were potentially responsible parties under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. Both of these decisions surprised many, particularly given the coalition of Justices who formed the majorities. Other cases were delayed or postponed, and for the first time, the Court heard oral arguments via teleconference due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. On June 12, 2020, the Environmental Law Institute hosted a panel of experts that discussed what this term’s decisions and the Court’s new way of operating might bode for the upcoming term. This Dialogue presents a transcript of the discussion, which has been edited for style, clarity, and space considerations.

Davina Pujari (moderator) is a Partner at Hanson Bridgett. John Cruden is a Principal at Beveridge & Diamond PC, and formerly Assistant Attorney General of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Richard Lazarus is the Howard and Katherine Aibel Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Sambhav Sankar is Senior Vice President of Programs at Earthjustice.

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