Supreme Court rejects challenge against Trump-era steel tariffs quietly supported by Biden admin

April 4, 2023
Ben Marquis

Though President Joe Biden and his administration are often quite outspoken in their opposition to most of the policies put in place under former President Donald Trump, there are some policies that the current administration has quietly supported and kept in place.

One of those is a tariff imposed on imported steel, and Biden administration attorneys recently argued successfully against the U.S. Supreme Court taking up a challenge against those Trump-era tariffs, the Conservative Brief reported.

That means that a lower court's ruling that upheld the tariffs against a challenge from steel manufacturing companies will remain in place, as will the tariffs themselves that have continued to be imposed and enforced under the current administration.

Trump's tariffs on imported steel

Reuters reported last week that the Supreme Court declined to take up a petition for appeal from a group of U.S.-based steel importers who had previously challenged the Trump administration's steel tariffs but lost.

In early 2018, then-Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross had submitted to then-President Trump a report which concluded that national security was threatened by an excess of imported steel from foreign producers that, in addition to forcing domestic steel producers out of business, also undermined the nation's "ability to meet national security production requirements in a national emergency."

In response to that report, Trump then imposed a 25 percent tariff on all imported steel along with a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum, albeit with some exceptions to placate certain allies, and those tariffs were quickly challenged in court in a case that came to be known as USP Holdings, Inc. v. United States.

Those were just a couple of the numerous tariffs on imported goods and resources imposed under Trump that sparked consternation from some allies and provoked retaliatory tariffs from some countries, such as China, against certain exported U.S. goods and resources.

Challengers repeatedly rejected by the courts

The case first went to the U.S. Court of International Trade, which ruled in 2021 against the arguments of the steel importers that the imposition of the tariffs had been done in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner that violated the rule-making processes of the Administrative Procedures Act.

The trade court instead determined that the report that spurred the tariffs could not be construed as a challengable "final agency action" under the provisions of the APA.

The case then moved to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, which offered up a mixed ruling for the steel importers that nevertheless still upheld the tariffs as lawful.

That appeals court declared that while the report from then-Sec. Ross recommending the tariffs could be construed as a challengable "final agency action," it was nonetheless an action that was not subject to review by the federal courts.

As such, it was ultimately determined that the tariffs were otherwise in compliance with federal law and were allowed to remain in place.

Biden kept the Trump-era tariffs in place

Reuters noted that the Trump-era tariffs have largely remained in place and have been continued by the Biden administration, though typically without much attention or fanfare.

That may be a surprise to many observers of the otherwise decidedly anti-Trump Biden White House with regard to most other policies put in place under the prior president, but in all likelihood, there will probably be other revealing instances exposed in the coming years where Biden and Trump were secretly on the same page in pursuit and support of similar policies, particularly on trade.

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