US court rejects traders’ bid to end Section 232 tariffs

The US Court of International Trade ruled against the American Institute for International Steel’s challenge to the Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, finding the measure does not violate the US constitution under current law, according to a decision posted Monday.

Relying on precedent established in a 1970s Section 232 oil case, the CIT ruled “the president’s determination of whether to [impose Section 232 tariffs] is not qualified by any language or standard, establishing that it is left to his discretion. Accordingly, the president’s determination as to the form of remedial action is a matter ‘in the judgment of the president,'” the decision states.

The AIIS argued US President Donald Trump’s March 2018 decision to impose a 25% tariff on steel imports from some countries and not others raised “an issue of the constitutionality of both an Act of Congress (Section 232) and proclamations of the president made under the authority of that act.”

CIT Judge Gary S. Katzmann noted that while the broad guideposts of Section 232 allow the president flexibility, it seems to “invite the president to regulate commerce by way of means reserved for congress.”

“One might argue that the statute allows for a gray area where the president could invoke the statute to act in a manner constitutionally reserved for congress but not objectively outside the president’s statutory authority, and the scope of review would preclude the uncovering of such a truth,” Katzmann said.

“Nevertheless, such concerns are beyond this court’s power to address, given the Supreme Court’s decision in Algonquin.”

The 1976 Algonquin oil case upheld the broad use of national security as a justification for quotas and tariffs and established that congress acted within its constitutional authority when it authorized the president to take action to adjust imports.

While the court was bound by precedent, Katzmann suggested that the laws governing Section 232 may need to be revisited: “If the delegation permitted by Section 232, as now revealed, does not constitute excessive delegation in violation of the constitution, what would?”

The AIIS did not immediately comment.

— Justine Coyne