Kendall ’74 Led Case Against Navy Sonar Use

Richard Kendall ’74, a senior partner in the Los Angeles office of the law firm Irell & Manella, represented the National Resources Defense Council in a case involving whales and the U.S. Navy that recently was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Environmental groups had contended that the Navy’s use of underwater sonar was harming whales and other marine animals. The case arose when the Navy skipped an environmental impact statement for anti-submarine exercises planned from 2007 to 2009. The NRDC sued, and Los Angeles district court restricted the Navy’s use of active sonar. Later, a U.S. appeals court affirmed but eased the restrictions regarding location and timing of the exercises.

President Bush intervened in the case by citing national security as a reason to exempt the Navy from environmental laws at the heart of the legal challenge. In the 5-4 ruling, Chief Justice Roberts spoke for the majority in siding with the Navy, but the Navy agreed to abide by other restrictions on the exercises.

Kendall told CNN: “It is gratifying that the court did not accept the Navy’s expansive claims of executive power and that two-thirds of the injunction remains in place.”

Kendall had argued that sonar can be as loud to marine mammals as 2,000 jet engines, causing them to suffer physical trauma, stranding, and changes in breeding and migration patterns.

The New York Times said the case was the latest in a decade-long dispute between the Navy and environmental groups over the use of sonar. Environmentalists have had some success through lawsuits and persuasion in limiting sonar in training exercises around the world.