NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Red Wolf" Case May Test Commerce Clause

August 20, 1999

Since the New Deal era of the 1930s, the Constitution's interstate commerce clause has been used to extend the federal government's authority in just about every direction, critics charge. But recently, the U.S. Supreme Court has shown an interest in curbing its scope. A new controversy involving the reintroduction of the red wolf in North Carolina may present the Court with another opportunity to rule on just how far the clause can be stretched.

  • Two farmers and two counties located near the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge are suing the Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for reintroducing the red wolf into the park a dozen years ago.
  • The farmers maintain that federal endangered-species rules prevent them from protecting their cattle from the predatory wolves.
  • The federal government is justifying its actions by citing the interstate tourism generated by the animals' presence -- including 17 "wolf howling" events a year sponsored by the wildlife service.
  • The farmers, however, argue in their legal brief that the government's theory is "empirically and legally unsound."

This past December, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina upheld the government's contention that the endangered-species rules were a valid use of the commerce clause. The case is currently being reheard by the U.S. Appeals Court in Richmond, Va.

The farmers contend the service is not making good on its promise to landowners to remove the wolves if they become a serious problem. But government officials now admit they can't do anything about wolves who leave the park and come onto private property, short of building a fence.

Source: Robert S. Greenberger, "Wolves Threaten a Legal Pillar," Wall Street Journal, August 20, 1999.


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