Today, in a much-anticipated decision, the Supreme Court unanimously held that district courts are the proper courts to hear challenges to the “Waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”) Rule, an Obama-era regulation that expansively defined waters subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction. The decision overturns a Sixth Circuit ruling that federal appeals courts maintain the proper jurisdiction to hear such challenges. Writing for the Court, Justice Sotomayor found that “Congress has made clear that rules like the WOTUS Rule must be reviewed first in federal district courts.”
While the Trump Administration has proposed to rescind the WOTUS Rule, the implications of the Court’s decision could still be far-reaching. For example, if and when a new definition of “waters of the United States” is proposed, such challenges will quickly advance in district courts without being bogged down in questions of jurisdiction. Additionally, with a narrower reading of the relevant Clean Water Act provision on appellate court jurisdiction, other rulemakings or agency actions may be more apt to be tried in district courts. District courts are also subject to different scheduling requirements than appellate courts. For example, the Clean Water Act 120-day appellate review requirement does not apply to district courts, meaning that challenges to the Rule or other actions like it may be subject to more varied schedules than if they were brought in appellate court.