Supreme Court Leaves Trump’s Steel Import Tariffs Intact

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The Supreme Court decided on March 27 to not take up an industry challenge to steel import tariffs that then-President Donald Trump imposed in 2018 on U.S. national security grounds.

President Joe Biden has left the tariffs, which Trump said were needed to ensure robust levels of domestic steel production, largely intact. The Biden administration had urged the court to reject the challenge.

The tariffs went into effect on March 1, 2018. A 25 percent tariff on imported steel from most countries was imposed, along with a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum.

“When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win,” Trump wrote on Twitter the next day.

“Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore—we win big. It’s easy!”

Trump cited Section 232 of the Trade Act of 1962, which permits the president to impose restrictions on the importation of goods deemed essential to national security. He said at the time that the tariffs were needed to bolster the production of airplanes, ships, and military materials with U.S. steel. The tariffs created tension with some U.S. allies, although some countries were exempted from the policy.

The Supreme Court turned away the petition in USP Holdings Inc. v. United States, court file 22-565, in an unsigned order. The court didn’t explain its decision. No justices dissented from the order.

In April 2017, then-Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross commenced an investigation to determine whether “steel was being imported under such circumstances as to threaten or impair national security,” according to the petition (pdf) filed with the Supreme Court.

Ross found in a 2018 report that “domestic steel production is important for national security applications” and that steel imports were on track to account for more than 30 percent of domestic consumption. He also determined that “excessive quantities of imports has the effect of weakening the internal economy of the United States, threatening to impair the national security.”

By Matthew Vadum

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