By Andrew Chung and Nate Raymond WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court opened what promises to be an eventful new term on Monday, hearing arguments in an environmental dispute, welcoming a history-making justice to the bench and taking up some new cases to be decided in the next nine months. President Joe Biden’s appointee Ketanji […]
U.S. Supreme Court opens new term with a fresh face and environmental case
By Andrew Chung and Nate Raymond
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court opened what promises to be an eventful new term on Monday, hearing arguments in an environmental dispute, welcoming a history-making justice to the bench and taking up some new cases to be decided in the next nine months.
President Joe Biden’s appointee Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman justice, took part in oral arguments for the first time since being confirmed by the Senate in April to replace now-retired Justice Stephen Breyer. Jackson was not shy, posing questions to lawyers appearing in the first of two cases argued on Monday – a closely watched fight from Idaho over environmental regulation.
Members of the public were allowed into the ornate courtroom to watch the arguments for the first time since early in the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
The court’s 6-3 conservative majority has become increasingly assertive, as evidenced by its rulings last term overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had legalized abortion nationwide and expanding gun rights. Jackson becomes a member of the court’s liberal bloc. She is the sixth woman ever to serve on the court. And for the first time, four women serve together – Jackson, Amy Coney Barrett, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
It is on the first Monday in October annually that the court gets back to work hearing cases. Before hearing its first arguments, it announced a series of new cases to hear during the term and turned away other appeals.
The court agreed to hear a challenge to federal protections for internet and social media companies freeing them of responsibility for content posted by users in a case involving an American student fatally shot in a 2015 rampage by Islamist militants in Paris.
It also agreed to hear Turkish state-owned lender Halkbank’s bid to avoid criminal charges of money laundering, bank fraud and conspiracy for allegedly helping Iran evade economic sanctions in a case that has strained American relations with NATO ally Turkey.
IDAHO WETLANDS CASE
The court heard arguments in a case that could limit the scope of a landmark federal environmental law – the Clean Water Act of 1972 – as they consider for a second time a married Idaho couple’s bid to build on property that the U.S. government has deemed a protected wetland.
Chantell and Mike Sackett, who planned to build a home on their property in Priest Lake, Idaho, are appealing a lower court’s ruling favoring the government. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2007 determined that the property was part of a wetland and that the Sacketts were required to obtain a permit under the Clean Water Act before beginning construction, which they had failed to do.
At issue in the case is the test courts should use to determine when property is subject to regulation, requiring owners to obtain permits in order to carry out construction.
Several justices sparred with an attorney for the Sacketts, Damien Schiff, over his assertion that a wetland must be physically touching an adjacent navigable water, such as a creek or river, in order to require such a permit.
“I’m not sure that’s right,” conservative Chief Justice John Roberts said. “You would readily say that a train station is adjacent to the tracks even though it’s not touching the tracks.”
Liberal Justice Elena Kagan offered another example.
“I grew up in an apartment building in New York City. If I say there are two adjacent apartment buildings, do they have to be touching each other?” Kagan asked.
Jackson asked questions emphasizing what the U.S. Congress intended in writing the statute.
The new case gives the conservative majority an opportunity to embrace an approach favored by business groups, with a ruling due by the end of June.
On the term’s second day on Tuesday, the justices are set to hear arguments in an Alabama case that threatens to cripple the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.
The justices on Monday turned away a number of appeals. They declined to hear a challenge to a federal ban on devices called “bump stocks” that enable semi-automatic weapons to fire like a machine gun. They turned away a Ukrainian government bid to avoid paying a $173 million judgment to Russian oil and gas company Tatneft as ordered by a Paris-based arbitration panel.
The court also rebuffed a Republican former congressman’s challenge to a map charting Pennsylvania’s U.S. House of Representatives districts that the state’s highest court adopted in place of one drawn up by Republican lawmakers. They justices declined to hear a challenge by Missouri and nine other states – mostly Republican-led – to Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers in healthcare facilities that receive federal funds.
Mike Lindell, a prominent ally of former President Donald Trump, must face a $1.3 billion lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems Inc accusing him of defamation, with the justices turning away his appeal.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung and Nate Raymond; Editing by Will Dunham)