Construction officials monitoring the Supreme Court's new term will be watching decisions in two environmental cases on the docket. Of greater interest is whether the court will hear high-profile health-care and immigration cases. Both would have major impacts on construction and other industries.
One potentially wide-ranging case deals with the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Appellate courts' rulings on challenges to that law have been divided. The Justice Dept. on Sept. 28 petitioned the high court to overturn one such ruling, which found that a provision levying a tax penalty on those who don't keep a minimum level of health coverage was unconstitutional. Michael Kennedy, Associated General Contractors general counsel, won't predict what cases the court may hear. However, he says, “To the extent that you have a split in [appellate courts], that increases the likelihood that the Supreme Court will take it.”
Immigration may also be on the docket. On Aug. 10, Arizona asked the court to overturn a lower-court ruling blocking some provisions of its 2010 immigration law.
The court will hear oral arguments on Dec. 7 in PPL Montana v. Montana. The state claims the utility owes back rent for using river bottoms for hydroelectric projects. The utility says the river bottoms are not the state's to lease. A ruling for the state could discourage expansion of hydroelectric dams or other developments near or in rivers' non-navigable sections.
A date for oral arguments has not been set in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, which centers on an EPA compliance order in a wetland-filling action. Patti Goldman, Earthjustice vice president for litigation, says the issue the high court accepted is “really a procedural question” and won't address the underlying issue of defining federal waters. However, she says, “It may matter to [construction firms] because it's how the law will affect them, how they will be brought into compliance.”
On Oct. 3, the court let stand a lower-court ruling that the Clean Air Act doesn't supersede a California rule requiring cuts in emissions related to construction developments. It is a win for environmental groups and a defeat for the National Association of Home Builders, which sought a high-court review.