Biden’s Justice Department Submits Three High Court Briefs

The Justice Department’s arguments under the Biden administration in three high court cases set to be argued in April remain largely unchanged from the previous administration.

President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 pandemic during a prime-time address from the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 11, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Biden administration submitted briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday, outlining arguments in three cases set to be argued next month.

Two days after an insurrectionist attack by supporters of former President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol, the high court agreed to hear 14 cases totaling an additional 12 hours of argument.

The Biden administration’s stance mirrors that of the former administration on a couple of issues to be argued before the court picked up in January.

For example, in Territory of Guam v. United States, the Biden administration continues to contend the U.S. Navy is not responsible for $160 million worth of environmental cleanup after the creation of a toxic waste disposal site there, without environmental safeguard.

The D.C. Circuit court previously ruled Guam’s Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act claim for cleanup costs was prevented by a specific section of that legislation, outlining time restraints for intermediaries to file challenges.

In a brief submitted to the court Wednesday, Acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argues the lack of compensation for toxic waste cleanup was Guam’s own mistake.

“For decades, Guam flouted federal environmental laws and missed deadlines set by EPA’s administrative orders,” the brief states. “It then continued to miss deadlines for years after it entered into the 2004 consent decree. Indeed, in 2008, the district court in Guam appointed a receiver to carry out Guam’s responsibilities, observing that ‘there has been a historical and present lack of commitment by the island’s leaders in addressing this solid waste crisis.’”

The Biden administration submitted a brief in another case centered around Gregory Greer, charged in Florida with possessing a firearm while being a convicted felon. He was sentenced to 120 months in prison, later asking the 11th Circuit to vacate his conviction or give him another trial.

Last year in Rehaif v. United States, the high court said the government must first prove a felon knowingly possessed a weapon and belonged to a category of people prevented from possessing weapons, before sentencing enhancements were imposed. Greer argues the 11th Circuit erred when denying his request for plain error review because outside of trial evidence, the court also took into account five prior felony convictions Greer had been charged with before sentencing.

The Biden administration submitted in a brief filed Wednesday that the 11th Circuit had done no wrong by denying relief to Greer.

“Petitioner has never even asserted that he was unaware that he had at least one prior felony conviction and the record undisputedly shows that he not only had at least five prior felony convictions but moreover had served multiple prison terms of well over a year,” the brief states. “His efforts to overturn the judgment require ignoring those aspects of his case in favor of a blinkered trial-record-only approach to plain-error review that has no basis in this court’s precedents, is at odds with common sense and would lead to unwarranted results in petitioner’s case and the many others like it.”

The federal government also filed a brief on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency in a dispute over refinery exemptions for renewable fuel and the ability for those factories to receive the exception without having uninterrupted, continuous hardship exemptions since 2011. The government’s position remains unchanged.

The Renewable Fuel Standard requires transportation fuel refiners to blend amounts of renewable fuels into their products each year. To mitigate harm, Congress allowed smaller facilities facing disproportionate economic hardships to petition the EPA for exemptions at any time.

A brief authored by Prelogar outlines the government’s argument that the EPA can’t grant a small-refinery exemption to a refinery who has not received uninterrupted, continuous hardship exemptions. An agreement for that uninterrupted service would have to already exist before it was extended, the brief outlines.

“It is common, moreover, to speak of multiple extensions back-to-back, so long as continuity is maintained. Thus, a homeowner can stretch together multiple extension cords, as in a string of Christmas lights,” the brief states. “Or a litigant who requires months of additional briefing time can obtain it through a series of 30-day extensions. The ordinary concept of extension, however, does not include a resumption of some state of activity after a break in continuity.”  

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