Saturday, June 23, 2018

Check it Out: SCOTUSblog Symposium on OT17 Separation of Powers and Admin Law Decisions

Check out the on-line symposium at SCOTUSblog on the Term's separation-of-powers and administrative-law decisions, led by analysis of Thursday's Lucia (holding that SEC ALJs are "officers" under the Appointments Clause (and not employees not subject to the Clause), and therefore require appointment by the SEC, as head of the agency).

June 23, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 22, 2018

Court OKs Simultaneous Service on Different Military Courts

The Supreme Court ruled today in Ortiz v. United States that a military officer could serve on both the military Court of Criminal Appeals (as an inferior officer) and the Court of Military Commission Review (as a principal officer) without violating the Appointments Clause. The ruling also says that the dual appointment didn't violate federal statutory law.

The ruling leaves in place a conviction upheld by a CCA panel that included an officer who also had an appointment on the CMCR (which reviews military commission decisions--different than court martial rulings--out of Guantanamo Bay).

But before the Court said anything about the dual appointment, it said quite a bit about its jurisdiction to hear the case. Justice Kagan, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, wrote that the Court (the top of the Article III branch) had jurisdiction over the appeal from the military courts (located in Article I), because "the judicial character and constitutional pedigree of the court-martial system enable this Court, in exercising appellate jurisdiction, to review the decisions of the court sitting at its apex." The Court thus rejected arguments by amicus Professor Aditya Bamzai that the Court lacked jurisdiction over military-court appeals because military courts aren't Article III courts. (The argument is substantially more complicated than that; check out the opinion, and Prof. Bamzai's brief.) Justice Thomas concurred, basing his conclusion that military courts exercise a judicial function (and therefore that the Court can exercise appellate jurisdiction over them) on his originalist argument that adjudicating "private" rights is a core judicial function. Justice Alito, joined by Justice Gorsuch, dissented, arguing that military courts can't exercise judicial power, because that would violate the separation of powers:

Today's decision is unprecedented, and it flatly violates the unambiguous text of the Constitution. Although the arguments in the various opinions issued today may seem complex, the ultimate issue is really quite simple. The Court and the concurrence say that Congress may confer part of the judicial power of the United States on an entity that is indisputably part of the Executive Branch. But Article III of the Constitution vests "[t]he Judicial Power of the United States"--every single drop of it--in "one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish" in compliance with that Article. A decision more contrary to the plain words of the Constitution is not easy to recall.

On the merits, the Court held that the dual appointment didn't violate the Appointments Clause. The reason is easy: That Clause simply doesn't forbid dual service, even when one office is an "inferior office" and the other is a "principal office," especially so long as the two offices have nothing to do with each other:

The problem, [petitioner] suggests, is that the other (inferior officer) judges on the CCA will be "unduly influenced by" Judge Mitchell's principal-officer status on the CMCR.

But that argument stretches too far. This Court has never read the Appointments Clause to impose rules about dual service, separate and distinct from methods of appointment. Nor has it ever recognized principles of "incongruity" or "incompatibility" to test the permissibility of holding two offices. As Ortiz [the petitioner] himself acknowledges, he can "cite no authority holding that the Appointments Clause prohibits this sort of simultaneous service."

And if we were ever to apply the Clause to dual office-holding, we would not start here. Ortiz tells no plausible story about how Judge Mitchell's service on the CMCR would result in "undue influence" on his CCA colleagues. The CMCR does not review the CCA's decisions (or vice versa); indeed, the two courts do not have any overlapping jurisdiction. They are parts of separate judicial systems, adjudicating different kinds of charges against different kinds of defendants. We cannot imagine that anyone on the CCA acceded to Judge Mitchell's views because he also sat on the CMCR . . . . The CAAF put the point well: "When Colonel Mitchell sits as a CCA judge, he is no different from any other CCA judge." So there is no violation of the Appointments Clause.

The Court also ruled that the dual appointment didn't violate federal statutory law.

June 22, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Court Says that SEC ALJs are "Officers" and Lack Valid Appointment

The Supreme Court ruled today in Lucia v. SEC that SEC Administrative Law Judges are "Officers," and that their appointment by SEC employees violates the Appointments Clause. The ruling invalidates the ALJ decision before the Court and sends the case back for another hearing (before a different, validly appointed ALJ, or before the SEC itself). (The SEC "ratified" the appointment of its ALJs while this case was working its way up. But the Court didn't address the significance of the ratification, so we don't know whether this action makes the ALJs' appointments valid. The Court said it didn't matter to this case, though, because the SEC might assign the case to a validly appointed ALJ (outside the ratification) or the SEC itself.)

The ruling may affect the appointments, and decisions, of the many ALJs across the executive branch. (This depends on how they were appointed, and under what authority.) Under the Court's ruling, going forward, ALJs who exercise authority similar to the SEC ALJs will satisfy the Appointments Clause so long as they are appointed by the President, a court, or the head of a department. (The parties agreed that SEC ALJs were "inferior officers," and therefore didn't require presidential nomination and Senate advice and consent, as "principal officers" do. More on that below.)

Justice Kagan wrote for the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch.

The Court, relying on Freytag v. Commissioner, said that an "Officer" under the Appointments Clause is someone who (1) holds a continuing office and (2) exercises "significant authority" pursuant to the laws of the United States. (The Court distinguished between "Officer" and "employee," who is not covered by the Appointments Clause at all.) The Court said that SEC ALJs easily meet these two requirements. As to the first, it held that they plainly occupy a continuing office. As to the second, it said that Freytag "says everything necessary to decide this case":

the Commission's ALJs exercise the same "significant discretion" when carrying out the same "important functions" as STJs do [in Freytag]. Both sets of officials have all the authority needed to ensure fair and orderly adversarial hearings--indeed, nearly all the tools of federal trial judges. . . . So point for point--straight from Freytag's list--the Commission's ALJs have equivalent duties and powers as STJs in conducting adversarial inquiries.

And at the close of those proceedings, ALJs issue decisions much like that in Freytag--except with potentially more independent effect. . . . By contrast [to Freytag], the SEC can decide against reviewing an ALJ decision at all. And when the SEC declines review (and issues an order saying so), the ALJs decision itself "becomes final" and is "deemed the action of the Commission." That last-word capacity makes this an a fortiori case: If the Tax Court's STJs are officers, as Freytag held, then the Commission's ALJs must be too.

Because the ALJs are "Officers," they have to be appointed by the President, the courts, or the head of the department, here the SEC. And because they were appointed by SEC employees, and not the SEC itself, their appointment was invalid, as was the ALJ's ruling in this case.

Importantly, the Court assumed, as agreed by the parties, that the ALJs were "inferior officers," not "principal officers." This means that they can be appointed by the President, the courts, or the head of a department. This, in turn, means that SEC ALJs--and any other ALJs who weren't appointed by the head of a department--have to be reappointed by the head of a department under law. It also means that this case says nothing about the line between inferior officers and principal officers; it only speaks to the difference between "Officers" and "employees" (which are not covered by the Appointments Clause at all and are therefore not at all subject to Appointments Clause requirements).

The Court ordered the SEC to grant a new hearing to the petitioner, with a different and validly appointed ALJ or with the SEC itself.

Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Gorsuch, concurred, and argued that "Officer," under an original understanding, should sweep much, much more broadly, to "all federal civil officials 'with responsibility for an ongoing statutory duty.'"

Justice Breyer argued that the Court could've resolved the case under the Administrative Procedure Act (which provides for the appointment of ALJs) and Free Enterprise Fund:

I would not answer the question whether the Securities and Exchange Commission's administrative law judges are constitutional "Officers" without first deciding the preexisting Free Enterprise Fund question--namely, what effect that holding would have on the statutory "for cause" removal protections that Congress provided for administrative law judges. If, for example, Free Enterprise Fund means that saying administrative law judges are "inferior Officers" will cause them to lose their "for cause" removal protections, then I would likely hold that the administrative law judges are not "Officers," for to say otherwise would be to contradict Congress' enactment of those protections in the Administrative Procedure Act. In contrast, if Free Enterprise Fund does not mean that an administrative law judge (if an "Office[r] of the United States") would lose "for cause" protections, then it is more likely that interpreting the Administrative Procedure Act as conferring such status would not run contrary to Congress' intent. In such a case, I would more likely hold that, given the other features of the Administrative Procedure Act, Congress did intend to make administrative law judges inferior "Officers of the United States."

Justice Breyer, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor, also would have allowed the same ALJ to re-hear the case on remand.

Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ginsburg, dissented, arguing that "Commission ALJs are not officers because they lack final decisionmaking authority."

June 21, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 20, 2018

Check it Out: Yale J. on Regulation Symposium on Lucia

Check out the Yale Journal on Regulation's symposium on Lucia v. SEC, the case testing whether SEC ALJs are principal officers under the Appointments Clause (and, if so, appointed in violation of the Clause). The Court will hear oral arguments in the case on Monday.

April 20, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Daily Read: Special Counsel's Opposition to Manafort's Motion to Dismiss

The Government's 53 page Memorandum (with an additional 230 pages of exhibits), Response in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss, in United States v. Manafort provides another window into the prosecution of Paul Manafort. In his motion to dismiss, Manafort challenges the validity of the Acting Attorney General’s order appointing the Special Counsel and defining the Special Counsel’s jurisdiction (Office of the Deputy Att’y Gen., Order No. 3915-2017, Appointment of Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election and Related Matters, May 17, 2017), available here.

36663915162_3525aebc5a_oAccording to the Government, any constitutional claims underlying Manafort's arguments regarding the current Special Counsel Appointment Order result from a "fundamental misunderstanding of the way in which this regime differs from the former Independent Counsel Act." In Morrison v. Olson, 487 U.S. 654 (1988), while the Court sustained the constitutionality of the Independent Counsel Act in which independent counsel was appointed by the judicial branch, the Court held that the power of the judicial branch to determine that independent counsel's own powers (and jurisdiction) was valid only to the extent of the appointment power. Thus, as the Government's memo phrases it, to "ensure that the court’s jurisdiction-defining power remained “truly ‘incidental’” to its constitutional justification," the Court in Morrison held that “the jurisdiction that the court decides upon must be demonstrably related to the factual circumstances that gave rise to the Attorney General’s investigation and request for the appointment of the independent counsel in the particular case.”

But the Independent Counsel Act is expired. And the Special Counsel was not appointed by a court, but by the Justice Department. Thus, according to the Government's Memorandum, "Unlike the former statutory scheme that authorized court-appointed independent counsels, the definition of the Special Counsel’s authority remains within the Executive Branch and is subject to ongoing dialogue based on sensitive prosecutorial considerations" In other words, there are no constitutional considerations - - - and certainly no separations of powers issues - - - in "the wholly Executive-Branch regime created by the Special Counsel regulations" under which Special Counsel was appointed and directed.

For LawProfs looking for a relatively succinct discussion of the Special Counsel, this Government memo is a good example, especially given its clear and crisp writing style.

[image: Caricature of Paul Manafort by Donkey Hotey via]

April 4, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Executive Authority | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Check it Out: NYT on McConnell's Garland Gambit, and Why it Matters

Check out this NYT editorial on Senator McConnell's refusal to consider President Obama's nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, for the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Scalia's passing. We posted on Another Reason Why Justice Gorsuch Matters here.

February 27, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Check it Out: Katyal and Starr on Protecting Mueller

Check out Neal Katyal and Kenneth Starr's piece in the NYT on A Better Way to Protect Mueller. They argue that instead of Congress acting to protect the special counsel, DOJ should do what Robert Bork did in Watergate--that is, after he fired Cox:

As acting attorney general, Bork appointed a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski. He then issued a regulation that "the president will not exercise his constitutional powers to effect the discharge of the special prosecutor or to limit the independence that he is hereby given." It went on to specify that the special prosecutor could be terminated only for "extraordinary improprieties," and even then, Nixon could do it only with a "consensus" of the House and Senate majority and minority leaders, and the chairmen and ranking members of the chambers' judiciary committees. Bork codified these restrictions in federal regulations, and told the news media that Nixon had agreed to them.

Katyal and Starr argue that DOJ should issue its own "Bork regulation."

February 20, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

D.C. Circuit OKs CFPB's Single-Director Independence

A sharply fractured and divided en banc D.C. Circuit today rejected a challenge to the independent single director at the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau. The ruling deals a blow to opponents of the CFPB's power structure. But this ruling almost certainly doesn't end the matter; instead, it likely only tees the case up for the Supreme Court, giving this Court a chance to put its gloss on independence within the Executive Branch.

We previously posted on the case here. (This case is not directly related to the litigation over who is the true acting head of the Bureau.)

Opponents of the CFPB power structure argued that Congress violated the Take Care Clause in creating the CFPB with an independent single director. They said that while the Supreme Court has approved independent agencies in the Executive Branch, these have all been boards, not single directors. And creating an independent single director put too much power in the hands of the CFPB director--and took too much power away from the President.

The court today rejected those claims. The multiple opinions run 250 pages, but the majority's approach came down to this:

The Supreme Court eighty years ago sustained the constitutionality of the independent Federal Trade Commission, a consumer-protection financial regulator with powers analogous to those of the CFPB. Humphrey's Executor v. United States. In doing so, the Court approved the very means of independence Congress used here: protection of agency leadership from at-will removal by the President. The Court has since reaffirmed and built on that precedent, and Congress has embraced and relief on it in designing independent agencies. We follow that precedent here to hold that the parallel provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act shielding the Director of the CFPB from removal without cause is consistent with Article II.

And this:

Congress's decision to provide the CFPB Director a degree of insulation reflects it permissible judgment that civil regulation of consumer financial protection should be kept one step removed from political winds and presidential will. We have no warrant here to invalidate such a time-tested course. No relevant consideration gives us reason to doubt the constitutionality of the independent CFPB's single-member structure. Congress made constitutionally permissible institutional design choices for the CFPB with which courts should hesitate to interfere. "While the Constitution diffuses power the better to secure liberty, it also contemplates that practice will integrate the dispersed powers into a workable government." Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer.

January 31, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Court Rules for Trump (Again) in CFPB Director Dispute

Judge Timothy J. Kelly (D.D.C.) yesterday denied Leandra English's motion for a preliminary injunction against President Trump in the dispute over the acting directorship of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

We last posted, on Judge Kelly's denial of a temporary restraining order, here.

Recall that outgoing director Richard Cordray appointed English as deputy in late November. Under Dodd-Frank, this meant that English would become acting director upon Cordray's resignation. But at the same time, President Trump appointed OMB Director John Michael Mulvaney as acting director pursuant to his authority under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. As a result, both English and Mulvaney claimed title to acting director. English sued to get the courts to recognize her as the actual acting director.

Judge Kelly ruled that English was unlikely to succeed on the merits of her claim. According to the court, that's because Dodd-Frank and the FVRA can be read in harmony--in favor of the President's authority to appoint an acting director over Dodd-Frank's provision automatically assigning the post to the deputy:

The best reading of the two statutes is that Dodd-Frank requires that the Deputy Director "shall" serve as acting Director, but that under the FVRA the President "may" override that default rule. This reading is compelled by several considerations: the text of the FVRA, including its exclusivity provision, the text of Dodd-Frank, including its express-statement requirement and Deputy Director provision, and traditional principles of statutory construction.

The court said that constitutional avoidance principles confirmed this result. In particular,

English's interpretation of Dodd-Frank potentially impairs the President's ability to fulfill his obligations under the Take Care Clause. Under English's theory, because Cordray installed her as Deputy Director, she must remain acting Director--no matter whom the President would prefer in that role--until a new permanent Director is appointed. . . .

Under English's interpretation, however, Cordray could have named anyone the CFPB's Deputy Director, and the President would be virtually powerless to replace that person upon ascension to acting Director--no matter how unqualified that person might be. That alone threatens to undermine the President's ability to fulfill his Take Care Clause obligations. And this problem is compounded by another unique feature of the directorship of the CFPB: it is vested with unilateral, unchecked control over the CFPB's substantial regulatory and enforcement power.

The court said that nothing in Dodd-Frank prevented the President from appointing the acting OMB chief to simultaneously serve as CFPB Director.

The ruling is only on English's motion for a preliminary injunction--and doesn't finally settle the directorship dispute--but it foretells the ultimate result in this court.

January 11, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

District Judge Rules for President in CFPB Dispute

U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly (D.D.C.) ruled in favor of the President in the ongoing dispute over who is acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. We last posted here; WaPo has a story here.

Judge Kelly ruled from the bench against Leandra English, the CFPB deputy director, and declined to unseat Mick Mulvaney, President Trump's appointee.

This is hardly the final say in the matter. We'll post on any written decision when it's released.

November 29, 2017 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

OLC Sides with President in CFBP Dispute

The Office of Legal Counsel issued a memo on Saturday concluding that the President had authority to appoint OMB Director Mick Mulvaney as acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, even though the CFPB chain-of-succession says that CFPB Deputy Director Leandra English should take over the job.

The opinion, while significant, is not binding on the courts, where this dispute will inevitably be resolved.

The dispute pits two appointment authorities against each other. On the one hand, the CFPB statute says that the CFPB Deputy Director shall "serve as acting Director in the absence or unavailability of the Director." This means that English, the acting Deputy, should get the job. (Richard Cordray, the former Director, appointed English as acting Deputy shortly before he resigned on Friday.) But on the other hand, the Federal Vacancies Reform Act gives the President authority to "temporarily authoriz[e] an acting official to perform the functions and duties" of an officer of an Executive agency whose appointment "is required to be made by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate." This means that Mulvaney should get the nod.

So who wins? OLC says the President does.

The Federal Vacancies Reform Act says that its process shall be the "exclusive means" for authorizing acting service "unless" another statute expressly designates an officer to serve as acting. The CFPB statute does just that. But according to OLC, this doesn't mean that the CFPB statute prevails; it simply means that both the CFPB statute and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act provide available methods for appointment:

By its terms, [the Vacancies Reform Act says that it] shall be the "exclusive means" of filling vacancies on an acting basis unless another statute "expressly" provides a mechanism for acting service. It does not follow, however, that when another statute applies, the Vacancies Reform Act ceases to be available. To the contrary, in calling the Vacancies Reform Act the "exclusive means" for designations "unless" there is another applicable statute, Congress has recognized that there will be cases where the Vacancies Reform Act is non-exclusive, i.e., one available option, together with the office-specific statute.

But even so, how do we know the President wins? According to OLC,

as with other office-specific statutes, when the President designates an individual under the Vacancies Reform Act outside the ordinary order of succession, the President's designation necessarily controls. Otherwise, the Vacancies Reform Act would not remain available as an actual alternative in instances where the office-specific statute identifies an order of succession, contrary to Congress's stated intent.

Finally, because Congress didn't include the CFPB Director in the statutory carve-outs to the Vacancies Reform Act for other independent agencies, OLC concluded that it's subject to that Act, even though Congress designed it as independent. That's because the carve-outs refer to multi-member boards (which the CFPB is not) and other specified agencies (not including the CFPB).

 

November 25, 2017 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Senate Judiciary on Special Counsels and Separation of Powers

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony yesterday on two bi-partisan measures to protect the Special Counsel from arbitrary firing. The bills, and the hearing, are a push-back against earlier White House murmurings and more recent public concerns that President Trump may try to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The bills, S. 1735 (sponsored by Senators Graham, Booker, Whitehouse, and Blumenthal) and S. 1741 (sponsored by Senators Tillis and Coons), would both codify the heightened "for cause" firing standard already in the DOJ regs. They'd also provide independent judicial oversight of any termination.

But they differ in the way they'd provide judicial oversight. The Graham-Booker bill would require the AG to file a case before a three-judge district court before firing the Special Counsel; in contrast, the Tillis-Coons bill would allow the Special Counsel to challenge the termination before a three-judge district court after the firing.

That distinction may make all the constitutional difference between the two approaches. That's because there may be Article III problems (standing, and possibly the bar on advisory opinions) with a court hearing a pre-termination challenge, as in Graham-Booker (as Prof. Steve Vladeck's suggested before the Committee). Moreover, adding a second-level determination of "for cause" prior to firing (as in Graham-Booker), but not after firing (as in Tillis-Coons), may run afoul of the prohibition on double-for-cause provisions in Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB (as Prof. John Duffy argued).

But more generally, the witnesses, with one exception, seemed to agree that there were no problems codifying the for-cause firing standard, so long as Morrison v. Olson remains good law. (Prof. Eric Posner argued that both bills are well within Morrison; Vladeck and Duffy more or less agreed.)

Only Prof. Akhil Reed Amar argued that Morrison is (at least de facto) no longer good law (that Justice Scalia has been vindicated), that the bills violate the separation of powers, and that, in any event, it'd be "unwise" to pass either law given the likelihood of a veto and the resulting blowback from the White House.

September 27, 2017 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Congressional Authority, Music, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Senate Blocks President Trump from Making Recess Appointments

The Hill reports that Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) set nine pro forma sessions for the Senate over the August recess. The move means that the body will be in session every three days, even if only very briefly (just to gavel in, then immediately gavel out), so that it won't formally adjourn for the recess. Without an adjournment (more particularly, without formally going into a "recess"), President Trump can't use his recess appointment power.

Senate Republicans effectively used this tactic to frustrate President Obama's efforts to fill key executive slots. In 2014, the Supreme Court sided with the Senate on the practice in NLRB v. Noel Canning. The Court in that case held as a general matter that the Senate is in session when it says it is, and it's not when it says it's not. In particular, it held that a Senate schedule with a pro forma session every three days does not constitute a "recess" under the Recess Appointments Clause (unless the Senate says so). So when the Senate sets an every-three-day pro forma schedule over the August "recess," it similarly isn't in "recess" under the Recess Appointments Clause. And President Trump therefore can't make recess appointments.

August 3, 2017 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Special Counsel Appointment Docs and Regs

Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein's press release announcing the appointment of former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to serve as Special Counsel is here. The appointment order is here. The order includes the following authority:

to conduct the investigation confirmed by then-FBI Director James B. Comey in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017, including:

(i) any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and

(ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and

(iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 CFR Sec. 600.4(a).

Rosenstein is acting AG for the purpose of the appointment, because AG Sessions recused himself. As Acting AG, Rosenstein has the AG's authority to appoint a special counsel under 28 USC 515.

DOJ regs on special counsel are at 28 CFR 600.1 - 600.10. Section 600.4 says that the special counsel's jurisdiction is set by the AG (or in this case the Acting AG) and provides for additional jurisdiction, with permission of the AG. Section 600.6 sets out the special counsel's power and authority, and provides for its independence. Section 600.7 says who the special counsel reports to ("The Special Counsel shall not be subject to the day-to-day supervision of any official of the Department."), when and how the AG can intervene in the Special Counsel's operations (when the AG concludes that "the action is so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued."), and when and how the Special Counsel can be disciplined or removed ("for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies.").

May 21, 2017 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Daily Read: OLC Memo on EO "Muslim Ban"

There were some questions whether the seemingly hasty release late Friday afternoon of the Executive Order, Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, popularly called a "Muslim Ban," had been presented to the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) as required by law.

Pursuant to a FOIA request, an OLC Memo has been released.  It's seemingly a boilerplate memo, simply repeating the content of the EO and concluding "The proposed Order is approved with respect to form and legality."

It's a quick read at a bit over one page, with the EO appended afterwards.  There is no legal analysis. 

For comparison, the recent anti-nepotism OLC Memo, concluding that the President could appoint his son-in-law to a White House position runs about 14 single spaced pages.

 

Olc-wooden-door-sign

 

February 2, 2017 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Executive Authority, Race, Recent Cases, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Thiessen on Why Republicans Should Go Nuclear on Trump's Supreme Court Pick

Check out Marc Thiessen's piece in WaPo, arguing that Senate Republicans should use the nuclear option--destroy the filibuster--for President Trump's Supreme Court nominee.

January 30, 2017 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News | Permalink | Comments (1)

Trump Fires Acting Attorney General

Here's the NYT report on this unprecedented move.

President Trump fired Acting AG Yates for declining to defend his EO on immigration. The move is stunning, because the DOJ has by tradition enjoyed political independence from the White House. (The White House could have hired private counsel to defend the EO. Congress did just that to defend the DOMA in Windsor after DOJ declined.)

The White House released a statement that said Yates "betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States. . . . Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration."

The White House has maintained that the EO was cleared ("as to form and legality") by the Office of Legal Counsel at DOJ. So far, OLC hasn't posted anything.

January 30, 2017 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Executive Authority, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Merkley to Filibuster Supreme Court Nominee

Politico reports that Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Or.) plans to filibuster any Trump Supreme Court nominee who is not Merrick Garland.

Said Merkley: "This is a stolen seat. This is the first time a Senate majority has stolen a seat. We will use every lever in our power to stop this."

Is turnabout fair play for the Republicans' refusal to give Garland a hearing? Or is a Democratic filibuster (because Republicans refused to give Garland a hearing) different than a Republican refusal to give a hearing at all?

January 30, 2017 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Congressional Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Tenth Circuit Says SEC ALJs Violate Appointments Clause

A divided panel of the Tenth Circuit ruled yesterday that SEC Administrative Law Judges violate the Appointments Clause.

The important, pathbreaking ruling creates a circuit split--the D.C. Circuit went the other way earlier this fall--and tees the issue up for Supreme Court review.

The majority was careful to remind that its ruling extended only to SEC ALJs, not all ALJs, so it's not clear exactly how far the logic goes. It probably doesn't matter much, though, at least for now, because the case will almost surely go to the Supreme Court.

The case arose when David Bandimere challenged an SEC ruling against him, in part because the ALJ that issued the initial decision was appointed in violation of the Appointments Clause. The SEC rejected the argument, but the Tenth Circuit agreed with Bandimere. (The SEC ruled that the ALJ was an "employee," not subject to the Appointments Clause.)

The court ruled that SEC ALJs look just like the Tax Court Special Trial Judges at issue in Freytag v. Commissioner. In Freytag, the Supreme Court used a functional analysis to conclude that the STJs were inferior officers, to be appointed by "the President alone, in the Court of Law, or in the Heads of Department." The court said that SEC ALJs, like the STJs, (1) were "established by Law," (2) had "duties, salary, and means of appointment . . . specified by statute," and (3) "exercise significant discretion" in "carrying out . . . important functions." As inferior officers, the court said that they had to be appointed by the President, the courts, or a head of a department, and, because they weren't (this point wasn't contested), they violate the Appointments Clause.

The court parted ways with the D.C. Circuit on the same question, because, it said, the D.C. Circuit put too much emphasis on the third part of the Freytag analysis--in particular, that the ALJs didn't exercise final decisionmaking power: "We disagree with the SEC's reading of Freytag and its argument that final decision-making power is dispositive to the question at hand."

Judge McKay dissented, focusing on the differences between SEC ALJs and the STJs in Freytag ("Most importantly, the special trial judges at issue in Freytag had the sovereign power to bind the Government and third parties," while "the Commission is not bound--in any way--by an ALJ's recommendations") and the potentially sweeping implications of the ruling ("all federal ALJs are at risk of being declared inferior officers," and therefore in violation of the Appointments Clause).

December 28, 2016 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Court Rebuffs State Challenge to Treasury Regs on Abandoned Bonds

Judge Christopher R. Cooper (D.D.C.) today rebuffed state arguments that a new Treasury rule governing state escheat claims of title and for payment of U.S. Treasury bonds did not violate the Constitution. The ruling ends this case (unless and until appealed) and means that the Treasury rule, designed to ensure that state judgments on the abandonment and ownership of Treasury bonds are accurate, stays in place.

The ruling is a blow to states like Kansas that sought to make it easier to show that a Treasury bond was abandoned, and that the state owned it, and therefore could redeem it.

The case came on the heels of some regulatory and judicial back-and-forth on the issues of whether and how states could take title to Treasury bonds under state escheat laws, redeem the bonds, and keep the proceeds. At one point in the back-and-forth, Kansas adopted a title-escheatment statute, which conveyed title of abandoned bonds to the state. Treasury agreed to redeem bonds in the state's possession, but, under its regs, not those escheated bonds not in its possession. So Kansas sued.

As that case was pending, Treasury enacted new regs. The new regs gave Treasure the "discretion to recognize an escheat judgment that purports to vest a state with title to a [matured by unredeemed] savings bond . . . in the state's possession" when there is sufficient evidence that the bond has been abandoned. But the rule does not recognize "[e]scheat judgments that purport to vest a state with title to bonds that the state does not possess." In short, in order for a state to claim payment, the rule provides that (1) states must have possession of the bonds, (2) they must have "made reasonable efforts to provide actual and constructive notice of the state escheatment proceeding" and an opportunity to respond to all interested parties, and (3) there must be sufficient evidence of abandonment.

Kansas and others sued again, this time arguing that the new rule was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the APA, that it violates the Appointments Clause and the Tenth Amendment, and that it illegal confers the power to review state court judgments to a federal agency.

As to Appointments, the plaintiffs argued that the Treasury official who signed and promulgated the rule, Fiscal Assistant Secretary David A. Lebryk, appointed as an inferior officer, exercised authority as a principal officer in violation of the Appointments Clause. The court disagreed, pointing to the Fiscal Assistant Secretary's work, including the work on the new rule, which "is directed and supervised at some level by others who were appointed by Presidential nomination with the advice and consent of the Senate."

As to review of state judgments, the plaintiffs argued that the new rule permits Treasury to judge the due process and sufficiency-of-evidence in state court proceedings under the three prongs listed above. But the court said that "[t]wo bodies of law are at issue: a state law of escheat and a federal law of bond ownership," and that "[s]tate court judgments are final regarding the former, but Treasury--by operation of the Supremacy Clause and pursuant to its statutorily-delegated authority--may promulgate rules to define the latter." The court also said that Treasury's due process review is not aimed at implementing constitutional protections (as an appellate court might), "but at facilitating reliable determinations of abandonment."

Finally, as to the Tenth Amendment, the court said that Treasury promulgated the rule pursuant to statutory authority from Congress, enacted within Congress's constitutional authority, and so the rule raised no Tenth Amendment problem.

(The court also rejected the plaintiffs' APA claim.)

 

November 28, 2016 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)