The Supreme Court is deciding whether to hear the battle over wetlands

Supreme Court hears lively debate on protecting wetlands, led in part by Justice Jackson.

The legal battle over whether to preserve wetlands is heating up as more states consider amendments to their state constitutions to protect the nation’s most important watery landscapes.

The U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether to hear the dispute this term. The justices, which include the chief justice, are split. The justices hear fewer than three-quarters of cases argued each term. That includes two cases on the same day – one concerning voting rights that has drawn sharp opposition from Republicans, and another concerning abortion that has not.

The justices hear arguments in March for the first time since the 2005-2006 term, when they heard the court’s first abortion case. The decision could have a major effect on the environment, as federal courts in two other states, Wisconsin and South Carolina, are considering similar plans to allow for the preservation and expansion of wetlands.

The debate over wetlands is at the heart of the battle over the future of the Democratic-leaning states of North Carolina and Florida. They passed laws in 2007 and 2010, respectively, that sought to protect the state’s wetlands.

In 2006, Virginia enacted a law to protect 10 percent of its wetlands. The state’s Supreme Court struck down parts of the law in 2006 and again in 2008. At the same time, the state’s Constitution was amended to require a two-thirds majority in both houses for any new laws.

This term, the Supreme Court will consider the fate of Virginia’s law, which is currently tied up in an appeals court. In Wisconsin, which passed its own wetlands protection law last year, the justices are considering whether those changes to the state’s constitution require the legislature to submit to the court for approval all wetlands preservation projects in the state.

On the same day this term, the court hears arguments in the closely divided case from Mississippi on whether the state’s constitution can be amended to allow the designation of specific wetlands as public property.

The court is also hearing arguments on the constitutionality of the 2005 federal Clean Water Act, which aims to improve water quality by requiring states to take steps to prevent pollutant discharges into the nation’s inland waterways. The 5-4 ruling was written by Justice John Paul Stevens. But in an unusual move, he joined the four liberals in the court to uphold the act.

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