In an opinion yesterday, Judge Oetken refused to transfer to the Southern District of Texas a challenge to the EPA’s decision to suspend a rule from the previous administration, concerning the definition of “navigable waters.” The Southern District of Texas is considering similar issues in a related case, but Judge Oetken found that the desire for uniformity was not enough to justify the transfer:
[T]he efficiency gains of transfer are offset by the loss of inter-court dialogue that would result from having one court, and one circuit, decide a matter of national importance. It is a bedrock principle of our federal court system that the adjudication of novel and difficult issues of law is best served by letting questions percolate among the lower federal courts, even at the cost of short-term disuniformity.
Judge Oetken also found that the risk of “divergent conclusions or, in the worst-case scenario . . . conflicting injunctions” was not enough, either, because the questions in the two cases are not identical and because the Court would not “assume that either the Texas court or this Court will issue a nationwide injunction in the event that either invalidates a government action”:
Nationwide injunctions against federal agencies are relatively new and legally untested. It is possible that either or both of the courts . . . . will issue a geographically limited remedy rather than a nationwide one. . . . . Some courts have expressed doubt about the desirability of the nationwide injunction, in large part because it encourages forum-shopping, raises the risk of conflicting injunctions, and stifles inter-circuit dialogue . . . .
[F]rom a practical perspective, odds are that the Texas court will reach a decision on the merits before this Court does. The Texas court has a fully briefed motion for a preliminary injunction before it. No such motion has been filed in these cases. If the Texas court invalidates the 2015 definition, this Court will adjudicate these cases so as to avoid conflicting rulings.