WASHINGTON, Nov. 26 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court Monday refused to hear a constitutional challenge to the North American Free Trade Agreement brought by a labor union.
The union questioned whether NAFTA was a "treaty" that had to be confirmed by two-thirds of the Senate, instead of a simple congressional majority in the House and Senate.
The United States, Canada and Mexico began negotiating in 1990 to create a "free trade zone" in North America by eliminating or reducing barriers to trade.
The leaders of the three countries, including President George H.W. Bush, signed the agreement in December 1992, and Congress passed the NAFTA Implementation Act in 1993 with a simple majority in both the House and Senate.
President Bill Clinton then signed the implementation act into law.
Among the pact's most bitter opponents were the nation's labor unions, who charged that NAFTA would help export jobs from the United States to Mexico, where labor is cheap and environmental laws are sometimes non-existent or unenforced.
The United Steelworkers of America and one of its locals filed suit against the government, contending that NAFTA was a "treaty" that under the Constitution had to be approved by two-thirds of the Senate, not a simple congressional majority.
However, a federal judge ruled that even if NAFTA was a "treaty" the constitutional requirement of a two-thirds Senate vote was not the only way to approve such an agreement.
The president has "inherent powers" in the Constitution to conduct foreign policy, the judge said, and the NAFTA process was included in those powers.
A federal appeals court panel in Atlanta also ruled for the government, but on different grounds. The panel agreed that certain international agreements are "treaties" requiring a two-thirds ratification by the Senate. However, defining what was a "treaty" and what was not is a political decision for Congress, not a legal one for the federal courts, the panel said.
The "question of just what constitutes a 'treaty' requiring Senate ratification presents a non-justiciable political question," according to the panel.
The union then asked the Supreme Court for review, which was denied Monday without comment.
(No. 01-05, United Steelworkers et al vs. USA)