In a decision released Friday morning in the case Thompson v. Heineman, the state supreme court ruled 4-3 in favor of landowners who had brought a suit challenging a 2012 state law that approved an amended route of the pipeline through the state. The four judges that ruled in favor of the challenge to the siting law said the landowners did have legal standing to proceed with their case, but Nebraska law requires a super majority of at least five judges to strike a law down as unconstitutional.
“But the super-majority requirement, coupled with the dissent’s refusal to reach the merits, means that the citizens cannot get a binding decision from this court,” the ruling explains. “Although we have four judges who conclude that L.B. 1161 is unconstitutional, we do not have five judges voting on the constitutionality of this enactment. Accordingly, we vacate the district court’s judgment.”
Although a majority of the judges found the 2012 law to be unconstitutional, a lower court ruling from 2014 was vacated, which clears the way for construction of the pipeline. L.B. 1161 had been ruled in February by Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie Stacy to have improperly given authority to then-Governor Dave Heineman to approve the route and bypass the state’s public service commission. Only the Public Service Commission, which oversees such entities as railroad safety, taxi cab regulations, and telecommunications companies, and the state legislature had authority to change the route or regulate pipelines according to the ruling by Judge Stacy.
The $8 billion pipeline project would stretch from western Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. The Obama administration has indicated it would veto the Keystone XL project should it be passed by the Senate, which could vote on the measure next week.