Paper on Supreme Court wetlands case wins annual contest
NASHVILLE, April 23, 2013 — Wyatt Sassman, a third-year student at Vanderbilt University Law School, has been awarded first place in the Tennessee Bar Association Environmental Law Section’s 2013 Jon E. Hastings Memorial Award Writing Competition for his article “Administrative Compliance Orders and Due Process after Sackett.” He will collect a cash award of $1,200 and his article will be published in an upcoming issue of the section’s newsletter.
Sassman’s paper is based on an analysis of the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Sackett v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which gave Michael and Chantell Sackett the right to challenge an EPA order that they had built their new home on a wetland before the agency enforced the order with penalties. The Sacketts successfully argued that inability to immediately challenge the order violated their due process rights, though such claims routinely had been rejected by lower courts. Sassman argued that by reversing decades of court rulings, the Supreme Court “stuck a wrench in a much larger enforcement scheme” as administrative compliance orders “are one of EPA’s most utilized enforcement tools” – not just in wetlands cases but in a wide range of environmental laws. After looking at federal precedent, congressional intent and the constitutional foundations of administrative law, Sassman concluded that administrative orders do not violate due process rights and federal agencies should be free to use them without judicial interference. He urged policy makers to recognize the broader impact of the court’s decision and take steps necessary to restore the traditional role of administrative orders.
The writing competition, sponsored by the TBA Environmental Law Section, is a juried competition for the best legal writing on a topic of Tennessee or federal environmental law and is open to law students enrolled in a Tennessee law school. It is held each year as a way to promote a dialogue on important environmental issues and to strengthen relationships among environmental law professors, students and practitioners in the state. Entries are judged by a panel of environmental law practitioners, members of the judiciary and/or professors selected by the section.
The competition is named for Jon E. Hastings, a founding member of the section, and a lawyer in the Nashville office of Boult, Cummings, Connors & Berry. He died at the young age of 45 after a two-year battle with cancer. Despite his health problems, Hastings found time and energy to devote to numerous philanthropic causes and civic groups, and contribute to the body of environmental law in the state.
Read Sassman’s essay on the Environmental Section's webpage.