US Supreme Court again nixes AIIS Section 232 challenge [update]

The United States Supreme Court has declined to hear, for a second time, an American Institute for International Steel (AIIS) legal challenge to the Trump administration's Section 232 tariffs and quotas on imported steel.

The development ends a two-year legal battle waged by the AIIS, a lobbying group that represents steel traders, against one of the Trump administration’s signature trade policies.

“AIIS regrets the decision… From the beginning of our challenge to the presidential tariff-making at the heart of this case, we have been guided by one principle: We speak out when the cause is right and the livelihoods of our members and steel supply chain colleagues are harmed,” association president Richard Chriss wrote in an email to Fastmarkets on Monday June 22.

It is up to the House of Representatives and the Senate to take up the battle against Section 232, he said.

“Even though the Supreme Court did not today agree to accept our petition, our cause is still right,” Chriss said. “We reinvigorated a robust national conversation about the proper separation of powers in our system of ordered liberty. That conversation continues. Now it is up to Congress to place limits on presidential decision-making.”

Chriss’ comments came after the Supreme Court on Monday included the AIIS petition in a list of cases for which certiorari had been denied.

The move means that the Supreme Court will not review lower court rulings on the AIIS case.

The group had said President Donald Trump overstepped the powers granted to him by the Constitution when he imposed the Section 232 tariffs.

The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), a lobbying group that represents US mills, applauded the Supreme Court’s decision.

“The decision by the Supreme Court today not to hear further arguments in this case is acknowledgement once again that Congress acted within its constitutional authority when it authorized the president to take action to adjust imports that threaten to impair our national security,” AISI president and chief executive officer Thomas J Gibson said in a statement on Monday.

The AIIS told Fastmarkets in February that it would seek Supreme Court intervention. The group did so after the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said that Trump acted within the authority granted to him by the Constitution in imposing tariffs and quotas against foreign steel and aluminium on national security grounds. The appeals court’s opinion upheld a decision reached by the US Court of International Trade in March 2019.

That was the beginning of AIIS’ second unsuccessful trip to the high court.

AIIS, citing the urgency of its case against Section 232, tried to circumvent the appeals process in April 2019 by going straight to the Supreme Court. The high court declined to hear the matter last June, as it did again this year.

The Trump administration in March 2018 announced blanket 25% tariffs on steel imported into the US. The AIIS filed a lawsuit challenging the measure in June of that year.

US steel prices surged to their highest point in nearly a decade shortly after the Section 232 tariffs were implemented, but they have since lost almost half of their value.

Fastmarkets’ daily steel hot-rolled coil index, fob mill US was calculated at $23.94 per hundredweight ($478.80 per short ton) on May 19, down by 47.8% from the nearly 10-year high of $45.84 per cwt reached in early July 2018.

And US steel imports have declined since Section 232 was unveiled. Imports of the product totaled 25.29 million tonnes in 2019, down by 17.3% from 30.57 million tons in 2018 and off by 26.6% from 34.47 million tonnes in 2017, according to Commerce Department figures.

(This story was updated on June 22 to include AIIS comment.)