Supreme Court rules that pipeline can seize land from New Jersey

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the PennEast pipeline can seize land from the state of New Jersey for its construction, a win for the natural gas vessel. 

The 5-4 decision wasn’t split along ideological lines in the case that pitted fossil fuel interests against states’ rights. 

The majority opinion, penned by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Stephen BreyerStephen BreyerSupreme Court won't exempt Mass. hospital workers from vaccine mandate Potential Biden Supreme Court pick joins fray over Trump Jan. 6 subpoena Overnight Health Care — Feds, military top 90 percent vaccine rate MORE, Samuel AlitoSamuel AlitoHow religious liberty was distorted in the age of COVID-19 Supreme Court weighs religious accommodations during executions Supreme Court seems wary of NY gun limits MORE, Sonia SotomayorSonia SotomayorPotential Biden Supreme Court pick joins fray over Trump Jan. 6 subpoena Graham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks Supreme Court grapples with excluding Puerto Rico from federal benefits program MORE and Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughPence calls for Roe v. Wade to be sent to 'ash heap of history' ahead of abortion ruling Supreme Court to hear landmark abortion case this week Roe redux: Is 'viability' still viable as a constitutional doctrine? MORE, argued that the federal government can deputize private entities like the PennEast Pipeline Company to seize land under the federal government’s eminent domain rights. 

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The five justices rejected New Jersey’s argument that the pipeline company taking its land violated its sovereign immunity protecting it from lawsuits, including property condemnation suits, and argued that the state gave up its ability to evade eminent domain by ratifying the Constitution. 

“Although nonconsenting States are generally immune from suit, they surrendered their immunity from the exercise of the federal eminent domain power when they ratified the Constitution,” Roberts wrote. 

“That power carries with it the ability to condemn property in court. Because the Natural Gas Act delegates the federal eminent domain power to private parties, those parties can initiate condemnation proceedings, including against state-owned property,” he added. 

The four dissenting justices, in an opinion written by Justice Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettPence calls for Roe v. Wade to be sent to 'ash heap of history' ahead of abortion ruling Supreme Court to hear landmark abortion case this week Graham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks MORE, argued that permitting the company to take the state’s land through eminent domain violates court precedent which has determined that the Constitution doesn’t allow for Congress to interfere with states’ sovereign immunity. 

“Congress cannot circumvent state sovereign immunity’s limitations on the judicial power through its Article I powers,” Barrett wrote. “Thus, even in areas where Article I grants it ‘complete lawmaking authority,’ Congress lacks a tool that it could otherwise use to implement its power: ‘authorization of suits by private parties against unconsenting States.’”

PennEast cheered the court’s ruling in a statement, saying completion of the approximately 120-mile vessel will be good for consumers.

“This decision is about more than just the PennEast project; it protects consumers who rely on infrastructure projects... from being denied access to much-needed energy by narrow State political interests,” said Anthony Cox, chair of the PennEast board of managers. 

Cox added that he believes the Garden State “brought this case for political purposes.” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (D) said in a tweet that he’d keep up the fight against the pipeline. 

“We're disappointed by today’s SCOTUS ruling on the PennEast pipeline, but our fight is far from over. I'm proud to continue standing up for our residents & championing environmental protection. I urge the feds to take another look at this harmful proposal,” he wrote. 

The Biden administration had backed the PennEast pipeline in court, arguing that states aren’t exempt from a law allowing permit holders to take property for infrastructure projects.