Space & Innovation

Here Are the Tech and Environment Cases Trump's Supreme Court Pick Might Decide

President Trump has nominated Neil Gorsuch to the US Supreme Court and, if confirmed, the 49-year-old federal judge could soon take up several cases related to the environment and intellectual property rights.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced Tuesday night that he was nominating Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, seeking to fill a seat left vacant with the death last year of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.

In announcing Gorsuch's nomination, President Trump highlighted his "brilliant legal skills" and the bipartisan support that sent him to the federal bench.

Gorsuch said, "It is the role of judges to apply, not alter, the work of the people's representatives."

Gorsuch's pedigree is similar to sitting members of the nation's highest court, earning a degree from Harvard Law School and becoming a federal judge, currently serving on 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

His mother headed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Ronald Reagan, resigning after just 22 months and fights with Congress over department budget cuts and diminished emphasis on enforcement actions.

If approved by the Senate, Gorsuch could preside over several cases related to science, the environment and intellectual property rights.

The Obama administration's Clean Power Plan aimed to restrict the amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated by the nation's energy sector and to encourage a transition to cleaner sources of electricity, like wind and solar.

Last February, the Supreme Court stayed implementation of the plan while a lower court considers challenges brought by utilities, industry groups and twenty-eight states, including Oklahoma, which was represented by Trump's EPA nominee, Scott Pruitt.

The Obama administration expanded federal enforcement of clean water regulations with its Waters of the United States rule - WOTUS for short. The Clean Water Act authorizes the federal government to regulate "navigable waters," such as lakes and rivers. The new Obama regulations extend federal authority farther into smaller tributaries and headwaters, which industry groups and some state attorneys general have called a power grab.

While the Supreme Court isn't scheduled to hear arguments on the merits of the new regulations, it will consider in National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense whether federal appeals courts or federal district courts should hear cases related to WOTUS disputes.

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Following President Trump's announcement Tuesday evening, League of Conservation Voters Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Tiernan Sittenfeld called Gorsuch "radical and dangerous."

"The courts are the final arbiters of the cases that can determine the success or failure of the bedrock environmental safeguards that protect the health of our families, as well as the civil rights that underpin our democracy," he said. "Unfortunately, Gorsuch seems likely to overturn precedent and well-established principles of law at the expense of so much we hold dear, including our clean air and water, and cherished public lands."

Two upcoming Supreme Court cases are likely to be of interest to the tech sector. In TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC the court will decide whether patent infringement cases must be brought in the judicial district where a defendant resides. The case could impact "patent trolls" who claim rights to innovations or technologies they did not develop. The other case, Impression Products v. Lexmark International, will address how much patent control a company can maintain over their products after being sold.

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Ciara O'Rourke contributed reporting.