Supreme Court Notebook

High court blocks states' climate change lawsuit

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court blocked a federal lawsuit Monday by states and conservation groups trying to force cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

The court said that the authority to seek reductions in emissions rests with the Environmental Protection Agency, not the courts. The ruling was 8-0.

EPA says it will decide by next year whether to order utilities to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. The lawsuit targeted the five largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States, four private companies and the federal Tennessee Valley Authority.

The Obama administration sided with the power companies in this case.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, said the Clean Air Act gives the EPA authority to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants.

The landmark environmental law leaves no room for what Ginsburg described as a parallel track, "control of greenhouse gas emissions by federal judges."

On the other hand, Ginsburg said, that the states and conservation groups can go to federal court under the Clean Air Act if they object to EPA's eventual decision.

The decision reversed a ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not take part because she sat on the appeals court panel that heard the case.

The states' lawsuit is the second climate change dispute at the court in four years. In 2007, the court declared that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. By a 5-4 vote, the justices said the EPA has the authority to regulate those emissions from new cars and trucks under that landmark law. The same reasoning applies to power plants.

EPA's consideration of regulating those emissions stems from the earlier court ruling.

The private defendants in the suit are American Electric Power Co. of Ohio, Cinergy Co., now part of Duke Energy Corp. of North Carolina; Southern Co. Inc. of Georgia, and Xcel Energy Inc. of Minnesota.

Eight states initially banded together to sue. They were California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin. New Jersey and Wisconsin withdrew this year after Republicans replaced Democrats in their governor's offices.

The high court did not rule on some potential state-law claims. Ginsburg said those are best addressed by lower courts.

The case is American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, 10-174.

Court won't hear ACORN lawsuit over gov't funding

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from ACORN, the activist group driven to ruin by scandal and financial woes, over being banned from getting federal funds.

The high court on Monday refused to review a federal court's decision to uphold Congress's ban on federal funds for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

Congress cut off ACORN's federal funding last year in response to allegations the group engaged in voter registration fraud and embezzlement and violated the tax-exempt status of some of its affiliates by engaging in partisan political activities.

ACORN sued, but the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City upheld the action. The high court refused to hear its appeal.

The case is ACORN v. United States, 10-1068.

Court to decide if pilot can sue over disclosure

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court will decide whether a pilot who lost his license because he failed to disclose he was HIV-positive can sue the government.

The high court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal from government officials, who want to stop Stanmore Cooper from suing the federal government for emotional distress for mishandling his medical records.

Cooper disclosed his condition to Social Security officials to receive medical benefits but withheld his HIV status from the FAA. But the Social Security Administration then turned over his medical records to the Federal Aviation Administration, which revoked his license.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the exchange of records was improper and that Cooper can sue. The federal government wants that overturned.

The case is FAA v. Cooper, 10-1024.

High court to hear Montana dams lawsuit

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court is entering a $40 million dispute between an energy company and Montana that could turn on the experiences of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

The justices said Monday they will hear an appeal from PPL Montana of a state court decision ordering the company to pay $40 million in rent for placing its hydroelectric dams in riverbeds owned by the state.

The ownership of the waterways turns on whether they were navigable when Montana became a state in 1889. Both the company and the state base part of their argument on the journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark more than 200 years ago.

Court: Public lawyers not required in civil cases

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court says South Carolina's jailing of a father for failing to pay child support violated his rights because he was not given a lawyer or other help before he was put behind bars.

But the high court refused to say that states are constitutionally required to provide lawyers for poor people in civil cases where a person faces jail time.

The court ruled 5-4 Monday for Michael Turner, a South Carolina man sent to jail for up to 12 months after he insisted he could not afford his child support payments. Turner had no lawyer, and claimed all people facing jail time have a constitutional right to an attorney.

The court declined to go that far but said there must be alternative procedures that ensure "fundamentally fair" hearings.

Published: Tue, Jun 21, 2011

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