Banning of Exxon Valdez Upheld

Friday, November 01, 2002
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the provision in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90) banning from Prince William Sound any tank vessel that, after March 22, 1989, spilled more than 1 million gallons of oil is constitutional. The Exxon Valdez spilled approximately 11 million gallons of oil when it grounded in Prince William Sound on March 23, 1989. The statute effectively banned the Exxon Valdez from engaging in the only trade for which it was constructed. The tanker owner sued the federal government, arguing, among other things, that the statute was an unconstitutional bill of attainder. The court upheld the statute, finding that it was not a bill of attainder because other vessels (albeit none in the U.S. trade) were potentially impacted by the statute. The court found that banning the Exxon Valdez is not, from a judicial perspective, considered an illegal punishment of its owner (objects, such as ships, have no constitutional rights). The court also found that statute served a legitimate legislative purpose and did not violate the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution. Source: HK Law
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