Supreme Court Judges Have Too Many Conflicts of Interest to Reconsider Net Neutrality

Three justices wanted to reconsider a lower court’s decision on net neutrality, but couldn’t get a majority because two other conservative justices had conflicts of interest and had to recuse themselves.
The Supreme Court building
Image: Wikipedia

A 2016 pro-net neutrality court decision won’t be challenged in the Supreme Court because too many judges have conflicts of interest, the court said Monday.

After the Federal Communications Commission passed sweeping net neutrality regulations in 2015, multiple telecom companies and industry groups tried to sue the FCC, claiming it wasn’t the FCC’s job to regulate the internet. This lawsuit was heard by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, which ruled 2-1 in the FCC’s favor, saying the agency acted well within its purview.

Last year, major ISPs and the FCC asked the Supreme Court to reconsider this decision, even though the FCC has since repealed those regulations. According to a decision published Monday, three of the Supreme Court justices—Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil M. Gorsuch—said they would have been down to take another look at this decision, but they weren’t able to get a majority because two of the judges had to recuse themselves. This is the end of the road for this particular appeal, but there are other lawsuits from both sides making their way through the courts.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. abstained from voting because he owns stock in Time Warner, one of the companies filing the petition to consider the case. And Trump’s latest court appointee, Brett Kavanaugh, once filed an anti-net neutrality dissent in this very case when Big Telecom tried to get the DC Circuit to reconsider its original ruling (Kavanaugh was outnumbered).

But this is far from over. Just as open internet proponents are exploring every avenue available, from lawsuits to local laws to restore net neutrality, those against regulation are working to add more nails to the coffin and ensure federal internet protections will be even harder to enact in the future.