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U.S. Court of International Trade upholds Section 232 tariffs

On March 18, 2018, after receiving a report from the Secretary of Commerce Ross, President Trump, invoking Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, issued two proclamations imposing tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum imports.

On June 27, 2018, a group negatively impacted by the steel and aluminum tariffs, led by the American Institute for International Steel, filed suit against the government, challenging the constitutionality of the law and seeking to immediately end the tariffs.  The group claimed, among other things, that Section 232 constitutes “an improper delegation of legislative authority in violation of Article I, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution and the doctrine of separation of powers.”  (For reference, Article I, Section I provides that “all legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.”)

On March 25, 2019, the U.S. Court of International Trade upheld President Trump’s imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminum.  The court relied heavily on precedent in its decision.  The three-judge panel specifically pointed to the 1976 Supreme Court ruling in Federal Energy Administration v. Algonquin SNG Inc., where the Court found that the Section 232 standards are “clearly sufficient to meet any delegation doctrine attack.”

While not officially filing a dissent, Judge Katzmann entered an opinion dubitante, which means “the judge is unhappy about some aspect of the decision rendered, but cannot quite bring himself to record an open dissent.”  Katzmann recognized the precedent used by the court, but highlighted the need for “ascertainable standards” in the congressional delegation and action by the President.  Here, however, President Trump used “virtually unbridled discretion” in applying the steel and aluminum tariffs.

A full copy of the court’s ruling can be found here.

Author Megan Provost is Vice President for Policy and Programs at Farm Foundation. She previously worked at Dow AgroSciences, for a U.S. Senator, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and at American Farm Bureau Federation. She holds a masters degree in agricultural economics and a juris doctorate.

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