Yesterday a group of students attended the oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver in the important case of State of Wyoming, et.al. v. U.S. Department of Agriculture, et.al. The case is also widely known as the "roadless rule case."
The case, which has been going on for more than 10 years, focuses on whether roads can be built on nearly 60 million acres of federal forest land. According to a recent article in Law Week Colorado, the case has national implications. "The roadless rule is one of the most progressive conservation initiatives in decades," Jim Angell with Earthjustice said. "Our old system of addressing this issue on a forest-by-forest basis was leading to the loss of millions and millions of acres of wild land because things were being piece mealed away." On the other hand, Paul Seby, an attorney representing the Colorado Mining Association, has said that the rule established "de facto wilderness areas" in spite of lacking approval from Congress.
Students were hosted at the important hearing by Lori Potter, a nationally recognized environmental attorney with the Denver firm of Kaplin Kirsch & Rockwell. Before the hearing, Ms. Potter explained to the students the context for the case and its overall importance. She also introduced the students to several key actors in the matter.
During the 60 minute hearing (which was only supposed to last 30 minutes, but went longer than anticipated because of the underlying importance of the issues involved), students watched the three-member judicial panel question both sides' attorneys as the judges probed the underpinning rationale on which each side based its arguments.
The students benefited enormously from Ms. Potter's observations both before and after the oral argument.
Before leaving the 10th Circuit Courthouse, Ms. Potter also arranged for the students to meet 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Tim Tymkovich in his chambers. This was a particularly enjoyable experience as the students had the opportunity to ask Judge Tymkovich (who was not a member of the panel hearing the oral argument) questions about his tenure on the bench as well as the process of becoming a federal circuit court judge, one of the highest positions in the entire U.S. federal court system.
All of us at the Sturm College of Law owe a great debt of gratitude to Ms. Potter who proposed the idea of having students attend an oral argument and helped carry it out. Also special recognition goes to Lisa Reynolds, an attorney in Ms. Potter's office and Lucy Daberkow, Assistant Graduate Program Director, for their efforts organizing the event.
Yesterday's experience clearly demonstrates why DU is such a great place to study about environmental and natural resources law. With the help of "community members" such as Ms. Potter students attending DU have the opportunity to enjoy a wide range of events -- in this case an oral argument with national implications -- that add immense richness to the experience of studying at DU.
(The picture above is from the historic courtroom three at the 10th Circuit.)