Metal Industry News

AIIS Spearheads Suit to Stop 232

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The American Institute for International Steel and two of its member companies, SIM-TEX, LP, of Waller, Texas, and Kurt Orban Partners of Burlingame, Calif., have filed suit in the United States Court of International Trade in New York challenging the constitutionality of the statute under which President Trump imposed a 25 percent tariff on imported steel. The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the law relied on by President Trump to impose that tariff is unconstitutional, as well as a court order preventing further enforcement of the 25 percent tariff increase.

In its lawsuit, AIIS and the two companies allege that the statute, Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, violates the constitutional prohibition against Congress delegating its legislative powers to the president because it lacks any “intelligible principle” to limit the discretion of the president. Section 232 allows the president to impose unlimited tariffs or create other trade barriers at his unfettered discretion if he believes they are needed so that “imports will not threaten to impair the national security,” which is expansively defined in Section 232.

“In addition to the totally open-ended choice of how to counter any threat that imports may present, Section 232 allows the president to consider virtually any effect on the U.S. economy as part of ‘national security,'” said AIIS President Richard Chriss.
AIIS, which represents foreign steelmakers and importers of steel products, says its members are harmed because the tariff increase significantly reduces the amount of steel imported into the United States—its intended effect—thereby reducing their revenues, and the hours and possibly jobs of their workers, which are dependent in significant part on how much product their businesses handle.

The steel tariff has numerous additional negative effects on U.S. business. American ports and their workers are seeing a sharp drop in throughput in their own businesses. In addition, U.S. steel-using manufacturers are encountering product price increases of 50 percent or more and are experiencing difficulty in obtaining the steel they need, regardless of whether they buy domestic-sourced or imported steel, the association claims.

The AIIS complaint also rests on another constitutional flaw in the law, which plaintiffs say violates the doctrine of separation of powers and the system of checks and balances that the Constitution protects: there is no provision for judicial review of the president’s decisions in how he responds to the perceived threat to national security from imported steel. Moreover, recent Supreme Court cases have precluded judicial review of discretionary decisions by the president under similar statutes, and the Justice Department in a recent case involving this very tariff has stated that the courts cannot rule on whether the president has complied with the law.

“Unlike most cases brought against actions of the Trump administration, it is Congress—through its delegation of unfettered discretion to the president in this statute—and not the president that is the violator of the Constitution,” says Alan Morrison, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “The president simply took advantage of the opportunity to impose his views on international trade on the American people, with nothing in the law to stop him.”

The American Iron and Steel Institute disputed the validity of the suit. “We believe this case is without merit and we are confident the court will reject this challenge to the constitutionality of the Section 232 statute. Congress acted within its constitutional authority when it authorized the president to take action to adjust imports when the Secretary of Commerce has determined that such imports threaten to impair the national security,” said Thomas J. Gibson, president of the AISI, which represents domestic steelmakers.