The Supreme Court has rejected telecom companies' attempts to quash a lower court's decision that upheld net neutrality rules set during the Obama administration. AT&T and other telecoms had asked the high court to void the ruling; the Federal Communications Commission repealed net neutrality last year.
The FCC itself also was in favor of voiding the decision that upheld its 2015-era rules, according to Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat on the commission.
"It wasn't enough for this FCC to roll back #NetNeutrality," Rosenworcel said in a tweet. "It actually petitioned the Supreme Court to erase history and wipe out an earlier court decision upholding open internet policies. But today the Supreme Court refused to do so."
She added, "Let's call this interesting."
The legal moves reflected a desire by conservatives and industry players to cement the FCC's repeal of net neutrality rules, which were designed to restrict Internet service providers' ability to manipulate loading speeds for specific websites or apps.
The rejection came after two conservative justices — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh — "took no part in the consideration or decision of these petitions," the court announced on Monday.
With those justices removing themselves from the process, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch were outnumbered. The court's notice says the three justices wanted to "grant the petitions, vacate the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and remand to that court with instructions to dismiss the cases as moot."
As for why Roberts and Kavanaugh recused themselves, Amy Howe of SCOTUSBlog reports:
"The court's newest justice, Brett Kavanaugh, was expected to recuse himself from voting on the petitions because he had participated in the cases while on the D.C. Circuit, and he did. But Chief Justice John Roberts also recused himself – presumably (although there is no way to know for sure) because he owns stock in one of the companies challenging the rules."
As one of the plaintiffs in the case, TechFreedom, notes, Kavanaugh wrote "a powerful dissent from the D.C. Circuit's decision last year not to rehear a panel decision upholding the 2015 Order."
Several of the plaintiffs in the case said the rejection wasn't surprising, given that the FCC has already repealed net neutrality.
"Today's decision is not an indication of the Court's views on the merits but simply reflects the fact that there was nothing left for the Court to rule on," the Internet and Television Association said.
Still, the high court's rejection preserves the appeals court's decision as a possible precedent and makes it even more likely that the issue will resurface if the FCC shifts its makeup — something that would happen if Democrats are able to win back the White House in 2020.
The FCC's repeal of net neutrality is also the subject of separate legal battles, after it was challenged by tech companies and advocacy groups, in addition to more than 20 U.S. states.