By Matthew Vadum
The Supreme Court decided on March 27 to not take up an industry challenge to steel import tariffs that then-President Donald Trump imposed in 2018 on U.S. national security grounds.
President Joe Biden has left the tariffs, which Trump said were needed to ensure robust levels of domestic steel production, largely intact. The Biden administration had urged the court to reject the challenge.
The tariffs went into effect on March 1, 2018. A 25 percent tariff on imported steel from most countries was imposed, along with a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum.
“When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win,” Trump wrote on Twitter the next day.
“Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore—we win big. It’s easy!”
Trump cited Section 232 of the Trade Act of 1962, which permits the president to impose restrictions on the importation of goods deemed essential to national security. He said at the time that the tariffs were needed to bolster the production of airplanes, ships, and military materials with U.S. steel. The tariffs created tension with some U.S. allies, although some countries were exempted from the policy.
The Supreme Court turned away the petition in USP Holdings Inc. v. United States, court file 22-565, in an unsigned order. The court didn’t explain its decision. No justices dissented from the order.
In April 2017, then-Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross commenced an investigation to determine whether “steel was being imported under such circumstances as to threaten or impair national security,” according to the petition (pdf) filed with the Supreme Court.
Ross found in a 2018 report that “domestic steel production is important for national security applications” and that steel imports were on track to account for more than 30 percent of domestic consumption. He also determined that “excessive quantities of imports has the effect of weakening the internal economy of the United States, threatening to impair the national security.”
Companies that rely on imported steel sued the federal government in the U.S. Court of International Trade, arguing that Ross’s report violated the Administrative Procedure Act because it was “arbitrary and capricious.”
The trade court found in 2021 that the report couldn’t be challenged in the courts because it didn’t constitute a “final agency action.”
Later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit differed from the trade court and found that the Ross report was, in fact, a final agency action. However, the appeals court held that the findings of the report couldn’t be challenged under administrative law and that the tariffs didn’t violate federal law.
A year ago, the Supreme Court also turned away a challenge to Trump’s steel tariffs as they applied to Turkish imports in Transpacific Steel LLC v. United States, court file 21-721.
The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on the new ruling.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have anything else to add here at this time,” Terrence Clark of the department’s Office of Public Affairs said in an email.
USP Holdings attorney Lewis Evart Leibowitz didn’t respond by press time for comment.