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U.S. Supreme Court Oral Argument in DOT v. AAR: The Court Appeared Divided

U.S. Supreme Court Oral Argument in DOT v. AAR: The Court Appeared Divided
At yesterday’s oral argument, the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether Amtrak, the government-created passenger rail company, has been granted too much power in establishing regulations that private freight carriers must follow. The nine justices heard arguments in a challenge by the Association of American Railroads to a federal law that gives Amtrak the authority to set standards for the private railroads, including for on-time performance. While the tracks used by Amtrak are owned by the railroads, the rules require that the Amtrak passenger trains receive priority over the freight trains and the freight carriers can be forced to pay damages if Amtrak does not meet its performance targets. Based upon their questions and statements on Monday, the justices were focused on evaluating, under the Constitution’s Due Process Clause, the fairness of Amtrak’s right-of-way to the private railroads. This raised the threshold question of whether the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled on the Due Process Clause issue or the court had to remand this issue to the lower court. Although Justice Scalia appeared to believe that remand was not necessary as the Due Process Clause had been briefed at the lower court, the other justices appeared unconvinced because the lower court’s ruling did not address the Due Process Clause. The justices also appeared divided on the issue of whether Amtrak’s authority violated the Due Process Clause. Justices Kennedy and Scalia’s comments seemed to weigh in favor of the private freight carriers in light of their exclusion from the standard-setting process. On the other hand, Justices Breyer, Bader Ginsburg and Kagan seemed to be most sympathetic to Amtrak, commenting that Amtrak’s standards-setting was not independent, but closely supervised by the government. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling is due by the end of June 2015.

For more coverage of AAR v. DOT from the Freeborn Dispatch Blog, please click here.

For additional commentary regarding yesterday’s oral argument, please click here for the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) Blog.