Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter, Communities for Great Ore., 515 U.S. 687, 7 (1995)

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Cite as: 515 U. S. 687 (1995)

Opinion of the Court

Respondents advanced three arguments to support their submission that Congress did not intend the word "take" in 9 to include habitat modification, as the Secretary's "harm" regulation provides. First, they correctly noted that language in the Senate's original version of the ESA would have defined "take" to include "destruction, modification, or curtailment of [the] habitat or range" of fish or wildlife,6 but the Senate deleted that language from the bill before enacting it. Second, respondents argued that Congress intended the Act's express authorization for the Federal Government to buy private land in order to prevent habitat degradation in 5 to be the exclusive check against habitat modification on private property. Third, because the Senate added the term "harm" to the definition of "take" in a floor amendment without debate, respondents argued that the court should not interpret the term so expansively as to include habitat modification.

The District Court considered and rejected each of respondents' arguments, finding "that Congress intended an expansive interpretation of the word 'take,' an interpretation that encompasses habitat modification." 806 F. Supp. 279, 285 (1992). The court noted that in 1982, when Congress was aware of a judicial decision that had applied the Secretary's regulation, see Palila v. Hawaii Dept. of Land and Natural Resources, 639 F. 2d 495 (CA9 1981) (Palila I), it amended the Act without using the opportunity to change the definition of "take." 806 F. Supp., at 284. The court stated that, even had it found the ESA " 'silent or ambiguous' " as to the authority for the Secretary's definition of "harm," it would nevertheless have upheld the regulation as a reasonable interpretation of the statute. Id., at 285 (quot-unsuccessfully challenged that regulation's extension of 9 to threatened species, but they do not press the challenge here.

6 Senate 1983, reprinted in Hearings on S. 1592 and S. 1983 before the Subcommittee on Environment of the Senate Committee on Commerce, 93d Cong., 1st Sess., 27 (1973).


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