WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court upheld a Virginia law that prohibits uranium mining within the commonwealth's borders, in a splintered ruling that affirmed the powers of the states to regulate mining on private lands within their territories.
At issue was a bid by four local companies that sought to extract raw uranium ore from a western Virginia site that is home to the largest uranium deposit in the U.S. Once mined, the ore can be milled and turned into a solid yellowcake material that is used for the production of nuclear fuel.
Virginia didn't know its lands included substantial uranium deposits until the late 1970s. In response to health and safety concerns, state lawmakers enacted a ban on uranium mining and has maintained it since the early 1980s.
Mining interests challenged the ban in a lawsuit that argued the state restrictions should be preempted by the federal Atomic Energy Act, which promotes and regulates the use of nuclear energy.
On Monday, the high court rejected that argument by a 6-3 vote that scrambled ideological lines. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the court's lead opinion, saying that while Congress gave the Nuclear Regulatory Commission significant authority over the transfer, use and disposal of uranium. lawmakers "conspicuously chose to leave untouched the stt1tes' historic authority" over mining regulations in their communities.
Joining him were Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, agreed with the result but said parts of Justice Gorsuch's ruling were too sweeping.
The ruling was one of four issued Monday, as the court moves to clear its docket before its term ends next week.
In another Virginia case, the court issued a second ruling that scrambled ideological stereotypes, in a 5-4 decision that dismissed an appeal of a lower-court ruling that found the commonwealth engaged in racial gerrymandering of state electoral districts.
After longstanding litigation following the 2010 census, a three-judge federal court found last year that 11 of the 100 state House districts were unconstitutionally based on race, effectively reducing African-American voting power.
The state's Democratic attorney general, Mark Herring, declined to appeal, and Gov. Ralph Northam, also a Democrat, called a special legislative session in August 2018 to redraw House districts in accord with the court order, but lawmakers failed to pass a remedial plan. The court then appointed a special master to devise new maps, which were used for primary elections this month.
Meanwhile, the state House appealed the decision.
Justice Ginsburg, writing for the court, found the chamber lacked legal standing to pursue the appeal.
The court's decision likely will give Democrats an edge in Virginia's state elections, which will see the full House of Delegates on the ballot in November. Republicans have the slimmest of margins there-51 to 49-and the state has trended Democratic in recent elections.
BY BRENT KENDALL AND JESS BRAVIN