Jurisdiction -- 2018

Hughes v. United States   (U.S. Supreme Court)

Controlling holding of split Supreme Court decisions

This case involves the question of how federal courts should interpret split decisions from the United States Supreme Court where fewer than five justices agree on a common rationale for deciding the case. One example of such a decision of importance to manufacturers and other regulated industries is the Court's 4-1-4 decision in Rapanos v. United States. Rapanos involves the scope of federal jurisdiction over "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act. In that case, a four-justice plurality offered one rationale in support of the holding, a single justice concurred in the holding but offered a different rationale, and four justices dissented, providing yet another holding. Lower courts have taken divergent approaches to interpreting such split decisions, which has caused confusion and chaos under the Clean Water Act and numerous other federal statutes and programs.

Hughes provides an opportunity for the Supreme Court to clarify the governing standard for lower courts to interpret split decisions from the Supreme Court. That clarity will help make any new "Waters of the United States" rule less susceptible to legal challenge, and will provide needed clarity in other areas of the law, thereby fostering regulatory and legal certainty for manufacturers. The NAM's coalition amicus brief highlights Rapanos as the poster child for why the Court must resolve this judicial confusion, and also supplies the Court with arguments that will help protect the validity of the upcoming "Waters of the United States" rule.

On June 4, 2018, the Court resolved the sentencing issue in the case, but did so without addressing the interpretive questions from Marks. This missed opportunity will result in continued confusion among the lower courts in interpreting split decisions from the Supreme Court.

Related Documents:
NAM brief  (January 26, 2018)


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