The US Supreme Court will not hear a recently filed appeals case seeking to dismiss previously implemented net neutrality rules and limit the authority of the FCC in the matter, the Associated Press reports. Specifically, the case had been filed by members of the telecommunications industry in hopes of negating any use of the case as precedence in future proceedings or regulations. Although Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas are said to have favored the appeal, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh are said to have recused themselves from making a determination. While neither of the latter Justices cited a reason for dismissing themselves from the appeal, Justice Kavanaugh had been involved in the initial ruling while seated on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Conversely, Chief Justice Roberts has investment ties with the industry that may have prevented his involvement. As a result of the failed case, the previous DC Circuit court ruling made back in 2016 will stand.
Background: The prior ruling, in this case, effectively provided validation for the FCC in terms of its authority to create and enforce net neutrality regulations. For clarity, net neutrality regulations were put in place by the commission under the Obama administration and were designed to ensure that all internet traffic was treated equally by ISPs. Those rules were repealed back last year under Trump-appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, turning the regulations into a hot-button issue and spurring a wave of lawsuits from various tech companies and district attorneys. Several states have since moved to enact legislation at the local level, pushing for statewide laws aimed at protecting internet users in lieu of the repealed regulations. However, those contentions have been met with further action from the FCC and in some cases have stalled.
For example, California passed sweeping net neutrality laws under Senate Bill 822 which were then challenged by the FCC and several groups from within the telecommunications industry. The FCC’s case stems from language that was included in net neutrality’s repeal which seeks to prohibit states from enacting their own rules to replace Title II protections. Most recently, that case and others leveled against California have been brought to a standstill, as has any and all enforcement of the state’s new laws, pending the outcome of at least one other case and subsequent appeals against the FCC’s repeal of the regulations. In that latter case, Mozilla has sued the commission and alleged that it neither had the authority to pre-empt state decisions or to dismiss public comment favoring the regulations.
Impact: Had the appeal been successful, the 2015 ruling would have essentially been purged from the records. While that would not have been likely to have immediate repercussions, such as in the aforementioned California or Mozilla cases. However, it would likely have had a lasting impact in terms of using that case as precedence in future bids to restore net neutrality regulation. It may also have served to lessen the overall authority granted to the FCC on the matter, which could have impacted future cases and future challenges to the FCC.