The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management decided to auction off timber rights to 44 tracts of old-growth forest in western Oregon. Because the lands comprised part of the habitat of the endangered spotted owl, the Bureau applied to the Secretary of the Department of the Interior for an exemption. The Endangered Species Committee (defendant) considered the matter. Members of President Bush’s administration summoned members of the committee to the White House to pressure them to vote for the exemption. The Committee voted for the exception on a vote of 5-2 for 13 of the 44 tracts and denied the exception for the remaining 31 tracts. Environmental groups opposed to the timber sales (plaintiffs) brought an action for judicial review of the Committee’s order, alleging that its decision was tainted by ex parte communications.