A federal judge referenced the literary classic “To Kill A Mockingbird” when striking down a Trump administration policy that she said upended decades of protections for birds.
Judge Valerie Caproni ruled late Tuesday against the Trump administration’s interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to “only criminalize affirmative actions,” rather than incidental acts. The ruling cites an example of the distinction offered by the administration: Knocking down a barn that contains owl nests would no longer be covered by the treaty if killing the owls was not the reason for demolishing the barn.
“It is not only a sin to kill a mockingbird, it is also a crime,” Caproni wrote, referencing the Harper Lee novel.
She said the Interior Department’s 2017 reinterpretation of the century-old law means “many mockingbirds and other migratory birds that delight people and support ecosystems throughout the country will be killed without legal consequence.”
Interior Department spokesman Conner Swanson said the ruling “undermines a common sense interpretation of the law and runs contrary to recent efforts, shared across the political spectrum, to de-criminalize unintentional conduct.”
The groups and states that sued the administration applauded the ruling. The Natural Resources Defense Council said the administration’s policy would have removed hurdles for companies and land developers. The National Audubon Society called the ruling “a huge victory for birds” that, for example, would reimpose requirements that utility companies “implement best practices for power lines to reduce bird electrocutions and collisions.”
The administration’s rules would have benefited the operators of wind turbines that strike flying birds. But in a Tuesday evening television appearance on Fox, President Donald Trump criticized wind power, saying, “It kills all the birds.”
The Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service has been working on a rule that would make permanent the policy it outlined in the 2017 memo. The department did not say whether the court’s ruling would impact that process, but told CNN “the US Fish and Wildlife Service has been and remains committed to protecting and conserving migratory birds.”