US Supreme Court rejects challenge to steel import tariffs

The US Supreme Court on June 22 declined to hear a challenge to the Section 232 import tariffs on steel filed by the American Institute for International Steel, which argues that the tariffs imposed by US President Donald Trump’s administration in March 2018 violate the US constitution.

Following a February decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upholding the tariffs, the AIIS again petitioned the Supreme Court to intervene. The US Supreme Court previously denied hearing a challenge to the tariffs from the group in June 2019.

The AIIS, plus two of its members, filed a lawsuit in June 2018 challenging the constitutionally of the 25% import tariff the administration issued on steel in March of that year under Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act. At the time, the administration also applied a 10% tariff on aluminum imports.

A lawyer representing the AIIS on June 22 said the group was disappointed by the court’s decision.

Importers were hoping the Supreme Court would take up the case as the US Court of International Trade, an appeals court, previously rejected the importers’ challenge, finding the court is bound by precedent established in a 1970s Section 232 oil case (Federal Energy Administration versus Algonquin). The CIT ruled the issue in the steel importers’ case is controlled by a portion of the Supreme Court’s Algonquin decision that declares Section 232 does not violate the non-delegation doctrine.

In its appeal, the AIIS looked to distinguish the steel tariffs from the Algonquin decision, arguing the statute only dealt with presidential authority to set import fees and did not address the constitutionality of the entire law. The court, however, said the AIIS “presented no persuasive explanation for distinguishing the tariffs at issue here from the license fees at issue there.”

At the time, the appeals court did note that five members of the Supreme Court had recently expressed interest in at least exploring a reconsideration of the delegation-doctrine standard, which importers were hopeful would help to get the case to the highest court.

— Justine Coyne