[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; briefs] Monday in three cases. In Coeur Alaska, Inc. v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and Alaska v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether the US Army Corps of Engineers [official website] may issue a permit for discharge of fill material otherwise subject to limitations under Sections 301 or 306 of the Clean Water Act [text, PDF]. Petitioner Coeur sought and received a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to dam a lake and deposit fill material, increasing the surface area of the lake. Several environmental organizations appealed the decision. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] held [opinion, PDF] in favor of the environmental organizations, finding that petitioner's request should have been governed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website], rather than the Army Corps of Engineers. Counsel for the petitioners argued:
the discharge of fill material, like the mine tailings at issue in this case, should be permitted by the Army Corps of Engineers under section 404 of the Act, and are not … subject to the effluent guidelines applicable to permits issued by the EPA under section 402 of the Act.
Counsel for the respondents argued, "the interpretation as it's presented in this case is contrary to the statute."
In Ministry of Defense and Support for the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran v. Elahi [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether the brother of dissident Cyrus Elahi, assassinated in Paris in 1990, can collect on a default judgment he holds against Iran by attaching a $2.8 million judgment obtained by the Iranian Ministry of Defense against California-based Cubic Defense Systems [corporate website]. Dariush Elahi was awarded $11.7 million in compensatory and $300 million in punitive damages after Iran refused to respond to his 2000 lawsuit brought in a Washington federal court, alleging that the Iranian government was responsible for his brother's death. Iran originally won the $2.8 million judgment against Cubic before the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) [official website] for Cubic's contract breach following the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 [BBC backgrounder]. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the attachment was valid under the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 (TRIA) [text, PDF]. Counsel for the petitioner argued:
Respondent renounced rights to attach the Cubic judgment because in case B/61 before the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal at the Hague the United States has demanded that any awards Iran receives in its claim against the United States be set off by the amount of the Cubic judgment. This can only occur if the Cubic judgment is released from Respondent's lien and is remitted to Iran's Ministry of Defense.
Counsel for the respondent argued:
there is an enormous risk, if this Court decides to interpret the language of this statute broadly, that it will easily sweep beyond any kind of arrangements between Iran and the United States in ways that fundamentally, obviously, disadvantage the very people that Congress clearly intended to benefit by this entire statutory scheme.
In Harbison v. Bell [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether indigent death row inmates are entitled to federally-provided counsel in their pursuit of clemency claims. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that there is no such entitlement. The issue turns on the interpretation of 18 U.S.C. § 3599 [text]. Counsel for the petitioner argued that their position is supported by proper statutory interpretation:
not only is the interpretation of this statute controlled by the plain language, but this interpretation makes sense, and it makes sense that Congress would provide for continuous representation for a capital defendant in that it fills a need, a gap in representation, it's efficient, and it also helps to improve the reliability of the death penalty as it's administered in this country.
Counsel for the respondent argued that, "at least three distinct aspects of the statute's text and structure show that the only proceedings included are federal proceedings before a federal officer."