A Special Year in the Life of the United States Court of International Trade

By Restani, Jane A. | Georgetown Journal of International Law, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview
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A Special Year in the Life of the United States Court of International Trade


Restani, Jane A., Georgetown Journal of International Law


The year 2005 was a momentous time for the United States Court of International Trade. The Court convened its 25th Anniversary Special Session on November 1, 2005. Although the Honorable Peter W. Rodino, Jr. of New Jersey, a principal sponsor of the legislation establishing the Court, had just passed away, the Court and its bar were honored to have the Honorable Dennis DeConcini, the former Senator from Arizona and the other principal sponsor, with us for a festive and educational day. Also participating were Chief Judge Emeritus Edward D. Re, Jr., the founding chief judge of the Court, David M. Cohen of the United States Department of Justice, and Leo M. Gordon, key congressional staff member in 1980, Clerk of the Court in 2005 and now a judge of the Court, who all played important roles in the creation and passage of the legislation. Prominent members of the bar attended and took part in the educational programs and ceremonies. Senior Judge Thomas J. Aquilino, Jr. oversaw the installation of various historical displays in the main corridor of the Court, which informed and delighted the attendees.

Of course, the United States Court of International Trade did not coalesce from ether. It was the successor to other bodies, commencing in 1890 and ending with the United States Customs Court, which resolved tariff disputes between the United States and importers of merchandise into the country. It is difficult to imagine the early days of the Republic when tariffs supported the federal government and suits were brought directly against Customs collectors. Those disputes, involving the valuation of the goods and their classification for tariff purposes, continue to this day, although they now occupy a relatively small portion of the Court's docket. This is primarily due to the reduction in tariffs as a result of multi-national and bi-national agreements. For example, less than 20 percent of the published opinions of the Court in 2005 arose from the Court's traditional customs jurisdiction. Although, because of test case procedures, those opinions resolved many other pending cases.

2005 also marked the end of joint procedures for litigants seeking the return of unconstitutionally imposed Harbor Maintenance Taxes on exports. These joint procedures allowed the effective management of over 7,000 cases beginning in 1994. Most duties were refunded much earlier as a result of the litigation and cooperation between the private bar and government officials and litigators.

Approximately half of the opinions issued by the Court in 2005 involved unfair trade findings and the imposition of antidumping and countervailing (offsetting subsidization) duties. This does not accurately reflect the impact on the Court of these cases. All challenges to an agency determination in this area generally are consolidated into one action. Further, because of the complexity of the cases and the numbers of issues, and sometimes attorneys, involved, these civil actions likely consume more than three-quarters of the Court's judicial resources. The Court is still resolving disputes over steel orders issued in years past, largely because of 5-year sunset reviews. Also before the Court in 2005 was the softwood lumber dispute with Canada. Litigation in this area has moved back and forth among the Court, the World Trade Organization, and the fora established by the North American Free Trade Act.

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