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Justices request U.S. opinion in California clean-air case

The Supreme Court asks the Obama administration for a brief in the coastal dispute, which involves fuel requirements for ships. Justices also turn down over 1,800 appeals.

October 03, 2011|By David G. Savage, Washington Bureau
  • Container ships at Los Angeles harbor
Container ships at Los Angeles harbor (Los Angeles Times )

Reporting from Washington — The Supreme Court asked the Obama administration to weigh in on a clean-air dispute along California's coast and take a stand on whether the state can force oceangoing vessels to switch to more costly low-sulfur fuel when they come within 24 miles of shore.

The California Air Resources Board adopted the rule two years ago for ships bound for California's ports. The Pacific Merchant Shipping Assn. went to court and claimed the rule would cost its members an estimated $1.5 billion by 2014. Its suit argued that California could not regulate seagoing ships beyond three miles from the coast.

In March, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the California rule. Before voting on whether to take up the appeal from the shippers, the justices asked the U.S. solicitor general for a brief "expressing the views of the United States."

The coastal air dispute was one of only a handful of cases that received a favorable notice Monday. On the first day of its new term, the high court turned down more than 1,800 appeals without comment.

Those included a clean-air case from the San Joaquin Valley. The National Assn. of Home Builders had challenged a new county regulation that put emissions limits on development projects. County officials said residents breathe "an air that kills" because of dangerous levels of particulates and ozone.

In their suit, the builders maintained that the local rules conflicted with the federal Clean Air Act, but the lower courts — and now the Supreme Court — rejected that claim.

The court also refused to hear a gun rights appeal from Maryland, one of several pending before the court. Charles Williams bought a lawful handgun from a licensed dealer, but was convicted and sentenced to prison for carrying the gun in public in a book bag. He maintained he had a right under the 2nd Amendment to carry the gun without a concealed-carry permit.

The court also let stand a ruling allowing a Muslim woman to sue jailers in Orange County for requiring her to remove her head scarf. A federal law protects the religious liberty of people held in custody, and the 9th Circuit Court ruled this year that Souhair Khatib could sue the county under the law.

The court refused to revive a lawsuit against the French national railroad network for its role in shipping European Jews to Nazi death camps during World War II. Judges had earlier thrown out the suit on the grounds that U.S. courts had no jurisdiction over the French railroads.

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