You Couldn’t Make This Up!
Within the next year, possibly two, the Supreme Court will almost certainly be asked to decide a case that will impact anyone who travels by Amtrak … in particular on the long-distance trains. It’s complicated, but I’ll do my best to explain it in as few words as possible.
In 2008, Congress made an effort to do something about Amtrak’s poor on time performance by passing the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA). It said Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration should get together and decide what were the reasonable on time standards for each of the Amtrak routes. Once those were established, the freight railroads would have to run the passenger trains on time or pay compensation to Amtrak when they didn’t. (That’s vastly over-simplified, but you get the idea.)
Of course, the freight railroads objected and, represented by the Association of American Railroads (AAR), they sued, claiming that Amtrak was actually a competitor and allowing Amtrak to work with the government to, in effect, regulate their business was akin to Coke being able to regulate Pepsi.
However, the case was decided in favor of the government and Amtrak by a lower court, although the AAR immediately appealed to the Supreme Court. Once it gets to that venue, the prevailing wisdom has it that the freights would probably prevail since this is pretty much a classic liberal vs. conservative issue and, with Justice Kavanaugh’s appointment, the conservative judges have a 5-4 majority.
Ah, but here’s where it gets really interesting.
As luck would have it, Justice Kavanaugh was part of the lower court that ruled on this case in favor of Amtrak, which means that he would be required to recuse himself when and if the same case gets to the Supreme Court. That means the most likely vote would be a 4-4 tie … and that would mean the lower court decision would prevail!
Therefore, let all passenger rail advocates raise our glasses in a toast to the good health of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.