Engine Manufacturers Assn v. South Coast Air Quality Management District (02-1343) and Vieth v. Jubelirer (02-1580)

April 29, 2004 Supreme Court Update

Greetings Court fans!

On Wednesday, the last day of argument for October Term 2003, the Court handed down two opinions, a Clean Air Act case and a voting rights case. I'll begin with the environmental case.
In Engine Manufacturers Assn v. South Coast Air Quality Management District (02-1343), the Court reversed the Ninth Circuit's holding that certain local environmental regulations were not pre-empted by the Clean Air Act. The Southern California regulations prohibited "fleet operators" (i.e., bus companies, taxicab companies, etc.) from buying vehicles that did not comply with their rules. Section 209 of the Clean Air Act, however, prohibits states or localities from adopting or enforcing "any standard" relating to motor vehicles. The lower courts held that this section did not preempt the fleet rules because those rules addressed the purchase of vehicles, not the manufacture of the vehicles. The Court (opinion by Scalia for everyone but Souter) reversed. The lower courts erred, according to Scalia, because they read "standard" to mean a "production standard." This was wrong because it confused standard with the means of enforcing those standards (i.e., purchase restrictions). In other words, a standard can be a standard even when it is not enforced through a manufacture-directed regulation. The last part of the opinion responds to Souter's dissent; not much of interest here. Souter's dissent would hold that the fleet rules were not preempted by Section 209, a statute he would read in light of the strong presumption against preemption and in light of the legislative history.
Next, in Vieth v. Jubelirer (02-1580), the Court demonstrated, once again, that its voting rights jurisprudence is a mess. In this case, a plurality of the Court concluded that "political gerrymandering" claims are non-justiciable. Democrats in Pennsylvania sued to challenge the Republican-created congressional redistricting plan, claiming that that plan constituted a political gerrymander, i.e., that it was drawn with bizarre and irregular districts solely for partisan advantage. A three-judge district court dismissed this claim, and the Supreme Court affirmed, although without a majority rationale. In 1986, in Davis v. Bandemer, the Court held that political gerrymander claims are justiciable, but could not settle on a standard for evaluating those claims. Scalia's plurality opinion (for himself, the Chief, O'Connor and Thomas) concludes that Bandemer was wrong -- these claims are non-justiciable because there are no judicially discoverable or manageable standards for evaluating them. Political gerrymanders have been with us since colonial times, and the Constitution itself contains a remedy for such power plays: While state legislators are responsible for drawing districts, Congress may alter those districts. With this background, Scalia turned to an evaluation of Bandemer and its aftermath. While courts have struggled mightily to evaluate political gerrymander claims, they have not managed to come up with a good standard for those claims. Scalia then considered several different standards that have been proposed -- including the three different standards proposed by the four dissenters -- and explained why each standard fails, whether because it fails to measure anything relevant to a political gerrymander claim or because it is not judicially manageable. In light of this inability to find a manageable standard, the plurality would overrule Bandemer and find political gerrymander claims nonjusticiable. Kennedy provided the fifth vote for affirmance. He agrees that the claim in this case should be dismissed but he would not find all political gerrymander claims nonjusticiable because someday there might be a good way to evaluate these claims. Stevens, Souter (joined by Ginsburg), and Breyer all filed separate dissents.
That's all for tonight. Thanks for reading!
From the Appellate Practice Group at Wiggin and Dana.
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