SCOTUS – A win for environmentalists


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, the 28th of April, 2020. You’re listening to The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. The U.S. Supreme Court handed down five other opinions over the last few days aside from that Obamacare case we just reported on. 

First up, a 6-to-3 victory for environmental groups. They brought a Clean Water Act lawsuit against a county in Hawaii, Maui County.

It specifically cited the county sewage plant for injecting treated sewage into deep wells, which end up mixing with groundwater before reaching the ocean. 

Environmentalists argued the law requires a permit to do that. The county argued the law applies to direct discharge into the ocean, which it doesn’t do.

Justice Stephen Breyer hinted at the eventual opinion during oral argument:

BREYER: I learned in the eighth grade, and it may be wrong, that water does run downhill—(Laughter)—and that virtually every little drop of rain that falls finds its way to the sea.

The majority wrote that where the “functional equivalent of a direct discharge” occurs, that requires a permit. 

So now the case returns to lower court to determine just how functionally equivalent the county’s sewage treatment process is to direct discharge.

EICHER: Next, a disappointment for Second Amendment advocates. 

New York City enacted a law prohibiting licensed gun owners from taking their guns outside city limits. Three gun owners fought the restrictions as unconstitutional. 

But here’s what happened: After the Supreme Court agreed to hear the dispute, the city rescinded the law—most likely realizing it wouldn’t prevail.

So the city ended up not arguing its gun law. Instead, it argued the case is moot. And in that, the court agreed 8-to-1.

REICHARD: Next, a unanimous court ruled that a trademark owner can recover lost profits from a trademark infringer without first having to show infringement was willful.

The company Romag Fasteners makes things like snaps and clasps that it proved a rival company had copied. The question was whether willfulness is a precondition to recover profits. Answer: No. 

The case heads back down to lower court to determine the money damages Romag should receive.

EICHER: This next opinion will make it harder for green card holders with a criminal conviction to remain in the United States. 

Andre Barton is a native of Jamaica who came here 31 years ago as a teenager. Because of some convictions from those early years, the government began removal proceedings against him. Barton contested those, on the grounds that the law says a permanent resident alien is “removable” only if he is “inadmissible.” And so his argument was that because he was already admitted, then he should be able to contest his deportation.  

This was a five conservatives to four liberals ruling, so a straight ideological divide. It means Barton is likely headed back to Jamaica.

REICHARD: And finally, the court says annotated state laws cannot be copyrighted. 

Here, Georgia sued a publisher that put the annotated laws online, and claimed that publisher infringed the state’s copyright. Georgia entered into an agreement with a private contractor to write those little notes and commentaries on special versions of state law. 

But Justice Neil Gorsuch hinted at the eventual outcome during oral argument:

GORSUCH: Why would we allow the official law enacted by a legislature … equivalent of being approved by a judge in annotations … why would we allow the official law to be hidden behind a paywall?

This one was also a five conservatives to four liberals decision, with the majority saying “no one can own the law.”


(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) This April 22, 2020 photo shows the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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