Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tenth Circuit Upholds NLRB Ruling with Recess Appointment

The Tenth Circuit yesterday upheld an NLRB order by a Board panel that included Craig Becker, one of President Obama's recess appointments to the Board.  The court suggested that the parties might have challenged the NLRB order under the Supreme Court's ruling this summer in Noel Canning (which held that President Obama lacked authority under the Recess Appointment Clause to appoint certain members to the Board).  But because the parties didn't raise the argument--and instead actively steered the court away from the point--the court didn't rule on the Board's quorum, and instead upheld the order on the merits.

The order at issue came from an NLRB panel that included Craig Becker, a recess appointee during a two-plus week recess of the Senate.  The Supreme Court wrote in Noel Canning that a Senate recess less than ten days is "presumptively too short" to allow the President to make an appointment pursuant to the Recess Appointment Clause.  Under that language, Becker's appointment isn't presumptively invalid.  But the Tenth Circuit also suggested that it wasn't necessarily valid:

To be sure, the Supreme Court stopped short of validating every appointment made during a recess ten days or longer.  One might even read the majority opinion as leaving the door open for future challenges to some such appointments: from the proposition that shorter than ten days is usually too short it doesn't follow that ten days or longer is always enough.

Still, the court didn't touch the issue, because the parties didn't argue it.  ("We don't often raise arguments to help litigants who decline to help themselves, especially when the litigants have consciously waived the arguments by steering us away from them and toward the merits instead.")  Instead, the court upheld the order on the merits.

August 28, 2014 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

House Republicans Authorize Suit Against President Obama

The House of Representatives voted along party lines this afternoon to authorize a federal lawsuit against President Obama for alleged constitutional overreach in implementation of the Affordable Care Act. 

Here's the resolution, H. Res. 676

The case will have several problems right out of the gate, most notably standing.  Here's our last post on the suit, with links to earlier posts.

July 30, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Political Question Doctrine, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Appeals Courts Issue Opposing Rulings on Obamacare Exchange Tax Credits

Two federal appeals courts today issued dueling rulings on the legality of an IRS rule that offers tax credits to purchasers of health insurance on a federally operated exchange who meet certain income guidelines (100 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level).  A sharply divided D.C. Circuit panel ruled in Halbig v. Burwell that the IRS exceeded its authority under the Affordable Care Act in offering these credits, and ordered the IRS rule vacated.  In contrast, a unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit ruled in King v. Burwell that the IRS did not exceed its authority.

The split makes it all the more certain (if ever there were ever any doubt) that this issue is heading to the Supreme Court for yet another judicial showdown between Obamacare opponents and the administration.  If the high court upholds the D.C. Circuit ruling, that could mark the end of Obamacare.  That's because health insurance for those in states with a federally operated exchange (and with incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the poverty line) could be cost prohibitive without tax credits (that's the whole purpose of tax credits, to make insurance affordable); and if as a result those individuals don't purchase insurance, that significant portion of the population would fall outside the broader insurance pool, undermining the key structural assumption of Obamacare, that everyone's covered. 

Remember: We only have federally operated exchanges because many states declined to establish their own exchanges (often for political reasons--to register dissent or lack of cooperation with the ACA in general).  All indications are that Congress passed, and the president signed, the ACA on the assumption that states would establish their own exchanges, and that the federal government wouldn't have to. That turned out to be wrong.  That, in combination with some less-than-perfect legislative language, led to the D.C. court's ruling.

The crux of the case involves the administration's authority to offer tax credits to purchasers on federally operated exchanges, and not just state operated exchanges.  Opponents of the credit argue that the plain language of the ACA allows credits only for purchasers on state operated exchanges.  The administration says that a broader, contextual reading of the ACA, along with an understanding of congressional intent, allows credits for purchasers on federally operated exchanges, as well.

We posted more details on the D.C. case (in the lower court) here.

The ACA authorizes the tax credit to subsidize the purchase of insurance on an "Exchange established by the State under section 1131 of the [ACA]."  But other sections of the Act treat an "Exchange" as only a state-created exchange.  And yet a different portion requires the federal government to establish an operate an "Exchange" if a state declines to do so.  (Other portions of the Act are relevant, too, but these are the key portions.)

In short, the D.C. Circuit said that the ACA's language was plain and unambiguous, and that it authorized tax credits only for state-established exchanges. It also said that the scant legislative history on this point did not change that result.

The Fourth Circuit, and the dissent in the D.C. Circuit, said that when read together these portions of the ACA could mean that the federal government stands in the shoes of a state when the federal government establishes an exchange, and that the federally established exchanges are therefore also "Exchange[s] established by the State" for the purpose of the Act.  They also said that the legislative purpose of the ACA supports this reading.  Because of the ambiguous language, the IRS could interpret it in any way that's reasonable.  And its interpretation was reasonable.

July 22, 2014 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Obama (& Bush) on Executive Orders Regarding LGBT Discrimination and Religion

Today President Obama signed an Executive Order:  "Further Amendments to Executive Order 11478, Equal Employment Opportunity in the Federal Government, and Executive Order 11246, Equal Employment Opportunity." 

Basically, the Order broadens the grounds of prohibited discrimination by the federal government to encompass sexual orientation and gender identity.

Here's the video put out by the White House:

 

 And here are some more specific details:

The Executive Order  broadens the terms of prohibited discrimination in federal employment in Executive Order 11478  by President Nixon, as amended to include "sexual orientation" in Executive Order 13087 by President Clinton to now include "gender identity."

It also broadens the terms of prohibited discrimination by federal contractors in Executive Order 11246 issued by Lyndon Johnson to now include "sexual orientation and gender identity."

As the White House Press Release makes clear, the federal contractors Executive Order does not contain an explicit religious exemption, but does preserve the one issued by George W. Bush, Executive Order 13279which amended 11246 to exempt "a Government contractor or subcontractor that is a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society, with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities. Such contractors and subcontractors are not exempted or excused from complying with the other requirements contained in this Order.”

But what about Bush's Executive Order?  Entitled "Equal Protection of the Laws for Faith-Based and Community Organizations," the 2002 Executive Order was controversial. 

GilmanThis might be a good time to reread Michele Gilman's terrific article from 2007,  If at First You Don't Succeed, Sign an Executive Order: President Bush and the Expansion of Charitable Choice, 15 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 1103 (2007).  Gilman argues that Bush has exceeded his constitutional powers.  Her main arguments are about social service providers and grants - - - not at issue in Obama's Executive Order Amendments issued today - - - but she spends a substantial section looking at procurement, including an enlightening discussion of JFK's two executive orders requiring federal contractors to take affirmative action to promote full employment opportunities.

And Gilman's article is a good "test" for those arguing that Obama has exceeded constitutional power by issuing Executive Orders.

While preserving Bush's Order and not including a broader exemption as some had wanted, the Executive Order preserves the status quo.   It allows religious entities to discriminate on the basis of religion, but not on any other basis.  The White House Press Release adds that "under the First Amendment, religious entities are permitted to make employment decisions about their ministers as they see fit."   It does not mention the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the statute on which last month's controversial Hobby Lobby decision was grounded, allowing a religious exemption from the provision of employee insurance coverage for certain contraception.

July 21, 2014 in Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Gender, Scholarship, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rules Committee Hears Testimony on House Lawsuit Against President Obama

The House Rules Committee had a hearing yesterday on the House Resolution authorizing a lawsuit against President Obama for alleged overreach in implementing the Affordable Care Act. (We posted on some of these alleged overreaches here.)  Profs. Elizabeth Price Foley (FIU) and Jonathan Turley (GW) testified in support of the measure; Simon Lazarus (CAC) and Walter Dellinger testified against.

The big hurdle to a suit is standing: under current doctrine, the House lacks standing to sue (although Foley reiterated her theory of standing, and Turley argued that current standing doctrine is wrong).  Without standing, the courts won't hear the case.

And they shouldn't.  This is obviously a gimmick, not a serious constitutional challenge to the President's authority, as evidenced by the nonsense at yesterday's hearing.  Dana Milback over at WaPo hits the nail on the head.  (H/t to Darren Elliott.)  We might add that it's just a little ironic that political conservatives are now touting the benefits of open courts, access to justice, and an activist judiciary.

Supporters of the suit argue, among other things, that the courts are the proper venue for this dispute, because the House has no other realistic way to control the President.  (Changing the law or withholding appropriations won't work, they say, because a bill would also have to pass the Senate (and get signed by the President).)  But that's no standard for standing.  It also ignores the fact that Congress, even one party in Congress, has a whole panoply of ways to check and frustrate the President--which Republicans have used to great effect.  Finally, it proves too much: If there really are no political ways to check the President, maybe that's because the President's actions enjoy wide political support (because they help people, not harm them, and thus raise standing problems for anyone seeking to challenge them).

The Resolution authorizes the Speaker to "initiate or intervene in one or more civil actions on behalf of the House of Representatives" to force the President to "act in a manner consistent with [his] duties under the Constitution and laws of the United States with respect to implementation (and failure to implement) any provision of [the Affordable Care Act]."

The authorization doesn't identify a particular presidential action that violates the Constitution.  Turley identifies shifting funds between line-items in the budget to fund portions of the ACA and extending tax credits to health-insurance purchasers in states where the federal government runs the exchange, among others.  Lazarus offers good arguments why these are valid executive actions in implementing the ACA, and not violations of separation of powers principles.

July 17, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Divided Supreme Court Recognizes Right of Closely Held Corporations Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties under RFRA to Avoid "Contraceptive Mandate"

On this last day of the 2013-2014 Term, the Court delivered its long-awaited opinion in "Hobby Lobby" - - now Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. consolidated with Conestoga Woods Specialties Corp. v. Burwell - - - on the question of whether corporations (or their owner/shareholders) be able to interpose a religious objection under RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act)  to a federal requirement that employers provide health insurance to employees that includes contraceptive coverage?  Here's our primer on the issues for more detail.  Recall that the Tenth Circuit en banc in Hobby Lobby ruled for the corporation, while the Third Circuit panel in Conestoga Woods ruled for the government, and several other courts entered the fray with disparate results. 

The oral arguments  in March were contentious and so too are the opinions in this 5-4 decision. 

Birth_Control_Review_1919bThe majority opinion, authored by Justice Alito, holds that closely-held corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are "persons" within the meaning of RFRA and thus are entitled to raise a claim.  The Court looks at Congressional intent in RFRA, its own precedent allowing RFRA claims by nonprofit corporations, and policy issues about the difficulty of determining the "beliefs" of a corporation, and held that closely held corporation that make a profit are "persons" within RFRA.

The Court then held that the challenged HHS regulations ("the contraceptive mandate") did substantially burden the business owners religious beliefs because they believe if they comply with the mandate they will be "facilitating abortions" and if they do not comply, they will face substantial fines. The Court rejected the argument that the link between the insurance coverage paid by an employer and an employee being reimbursed by the insurance company for obtaining contraception was too attenuated.

Given this finding, under RFRA, the Court applies "strict scrutiny," but interestingly assumes that the government satisfies the "compelling government interest" prong.  However, the Court finds that the HHS mandate is not the "least restrictive means" to accomplish its goal: the system already in place for accommodating the religious beliefs of nonprofit entities granted exemptions under the regulations and statute.

 Justice Kennedy writes a brief concurring opinion.  As we discussed,  Kennedy was focused on as the "Justice to watch" and he stresses that the existence of government accommodation already in existence.

 The "principal dissent" (as the Court's opinion often characterizes it) is by Justice Ginsburg,  joined by Sotomayor in full, and by Breyer and Kagan (except to a section regarding the construction of RFRA as applying to corporate persons).  The dissent begins by labeling the majority's decision as one of "startling breadth" that allows corporations to "opt out" of  "any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs."  Justice Ginsburg argues there is a slippery slope in the majority's least restrictive means analysis, despite the majority's attempt to cabin it:

And where is the stopping point to the “let the government pay” alternative? Suppose an employer’s sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage, or according women equal pay for substantially similar work? Does it rank as a less restrictive alternative to require the government to provide the money or benefit to which the employer has a religion-based objection? Because the Court cannot easily answer that question, it proposes something else: Extension to commercial enterprises of the accommodation already afforded to nonprofit religion-based organizations. “At a minimum,” according to the Court, such an approach would not “impinge on [Hobby Lobby’s and Conestoga’s] religious belief.”  I have already discussed the “special solicitude” generally accorded nonprofit religion-based organizations that exist to serve a community of believers, solicitude never before accorded to commercial enterprises comprising employees of diverse faiths.

Ultimately, the Court hedges on its proposal to align for- profit enterprises with nonprofit religion-based organizations. “We do not decide today whether [the] approach [the opinion advances] complies with RFRA for purposes of all religious claims.”  Counsel for Hobby Lobby was similarly noncommittal.

[citations and footnotes omitted].

Whether or not the Court's opinion is narrow or broad might depend more on one's political outlook and one's view of the Court as "chipping away" or as "careful crafting."

However, recall that RFRA - - - the Religious Freedom Restoration Act - - - is a statute passed by Congress that changed the standard of review the Court had announced be accorded religious claims; many now believe that Congress will be called upon to change RFRA, including perhaps the definition of "person" to exclude for-profit corporations, or to repeal RFRA in its entirety.

[image via]

June 30, 2014 in Abortion, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Family, First Amendment, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Impact of Noel Canning

Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, put out a statement today in reaction to the Court's ruling in Noel Canning, which struck President Obama's recess appointments to the NLRB.  He said, correctly, that "[t]he impact of today's ruling is far less than it might have been, because there is now a full complement of Senate-confirmed members of the NLRB and a Senate-confrimed NLRB general counsel." 

But there's another reason that the impact of today's decision is less than it might have been: the Senate's limitation on the use of the filibuster.  That limitation, a Senate rules change from last fall, should also blunt today's ruling.  That's because the President won't have to use recess appointments as much to dodge Senate minority obstruction on nominees, because the principle tool for that obstruction, the filibuster, is now limited to legislation and Supreme Court nominees, not executive nominees and lower federal judges.

Sean Higgins at the Washington Examiner makes a similar point, and argues that the ruling today is merely a set-back for unions at the NLRB (because they'll have to relitigate all the cases the NLRB decided with its recess-appointees).  (This applies to other agencies, too, with recess appointees that are invalid under today's ruling.)  The bigger fight, over the filibuster and actual appointees to the NLRB, has already been won by the President.

June 26, 2014 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Court Reads Broad Appointment Authority, but Strikes NLRB Appointees

The Supreme Court today in NLRB v. Noel Canning gave a broad reading to the Recess Appointment Clause, but nevertheless struck President Obama's recess appointments to the NLRB, ruling that the Senate was in session.  The ruling means that the NLRB lacked a quorum when it issued an order to Noel Canning, a Pepsi distributor, and that order is invalid.  It's not clear yet how many other offices may be affected by the ruling.  Our oral argument review (with a link to our preview) is here.

The ruling hands a defeat to President Obama in the short run (on the NLRB appointments), and, despite the broad reading of the clause, may hinder presidents in the future.  That's becuase the Court said that the Senate is in session when it says it is, provided that it retains power to act, as it did here.  That means that even when the Senate meets in pro forma sessions, as here, presidential appointments have to follow the usual course and get Senate confirmation (instead of dodging Senate confirmation through the recess appointment mechanism).  As a result, the Senate can frustrate a president's ability to recess-appoint a nominee by going into pro forma sessions (again, with the ability to act), thus forcing a president to gain Senate confirmation (which, as we've seen, may be a difficult or impossible task).

The Court said that any session more than 3 days but shorter than 10 days is presumptively too short to constitute a recess of the Senate and thus to allow a recess appointment.  And again: the Senate gets to say, presumptively, when it's in recess.

As to a recess over 3 days: the Adjournment Clause (Art. I, Sec. 5) allows the House to prevent a recess of the Senate.  This gives even the House the power to block a recess--and recess appointments--for any period over 3 days.  That means that the House could block a recess appointment by denying the Senate consent to recess.

Because the Senate was in session when President Obama made the NLRB appointments--because it said it was, and because it retained power to act, even if it was in pro forma sessions--the Court ruled them invalid.

At the same time, the Court handed the executive branch a victory on its broader reading of the Recess Appointments Clause.  Thus the Court ruled that a "recess" includes both inter-session recesses and intra-session recesses.  It also ruled that "vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate" include vacancies that first come into existence during a recess and vacancies that initially occurred before a recess but continued during the recess.

The judgment striking the NLRB appointees was unanimous.  But Justice Scalia wrote a concurrence, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito.  Justice Scalia wrote that the majority went too far in reading a broader Recess Appointment Clause and relied too heavily on prior presidential practice:

To reach [its] result, the majority casts aside the plain, original meaning of the constitutional text in deference to late-arising historical practices that are ambiguous at best.  The majority's insistence on deferring to the Executive's untenably broad interpretation of the power is in clear conflict with our precedent and forebodes a dimunition of this Court's role in controversies involving the separation of powers and the structure of government.

June 26, 2014 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Court Releases Memo Outlining Legal Authority for Targeted Killing, Drones

The Second Circuit today released a redacted version of the DOJ/OLC memo outlining the government's legal authority for the use of a drone attack to kill Anwar al-Aulaqi (sometimes spelled al-Awlaki).  We've blogged extensively about this issue, including here, on the earlier released white paper outlining the government's authority to conduct the same attack.

The released version does not include the first 11 pages of the memo, presumably including the information that the government passed on to the OLC about al-Awlaki that formed the basis of the analysis.  It's not clear whether that first 11 pages included other material or analysis.  (The released version starts with "II.")  There are other redactions throughout, especially in the portion analyzing the CIA's authority to conduct drone attacks.

The analysis in the memo differs slightly from the analysis in the earlier white paper, but, because of the redactions, it's not clear how much this matters.  Thus, for example, the analysis released today makes a careful distinction between DoD authority and CIA authority to conduct a targeted drone attack.  (The earlier white paper didn't make this clear distinction.)  But it's not entirely clear why or how that distinction is significant, given that much of the CIA analysis is redacted.  The analysis released today is also more fact specific.  (The earlier white paper didn't so clearly limit itself to the facts of one case.) But the memo today redacts the facts, so we don't know them.

Other than those points, the analysis released today doesn't appear to be importantly different than the earlier white paper.

As we've noted, and as others have noted, the analysis leads to the surprising result that the government may be able to kill someone by drone attack more easily than it may detain them (with due process under Hamdi).  Still, we don't know this for sure, because we don't know precisely what processes the government used in killing al-Awlaki: that detail is redacted from the memo.

The memo starts by outlining the statutory prohibition on foreign murder of a U.S. national--the federal provision that outlaws one U.S. national from killing another overseas.  That provision, 18 U.S.C. 1119(b), says that "[a] person who, being a national of the United States, kills or attempts to kill a national of the United States while such national is outside the United States but within the jurisdiction of another country shall be punished as provided under sections 1111, 1112, and 1113."  Section 1111 penalizes "murder," defined as "the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought."  The memo thus centers on whether al-Aulaqi's killing was "unlawful."

The memo says that the killing was not unlawful, because the prohibition includes the "recognized justification" of "public authority"--that is, the government's ability to kill under its public authority.  As to the Defense Department's use of drones, the memo says that (1) the president had executive war powers authorized by Congress under the AUMF, (2) the AUMF authorized the president to use all necessary force against al-Qaida and associated forces (the OLC said that the AUMF included associated forces in an earlier memo), (3) al-Aulaqi was a member of al-Qaida or associated forces (AQAP) who posed a "continued and imminent threat" to the U.S., and (4) the DoD was acting pursuant to statutory authorization in targeting and killing al-Aulaqi.  Moreover, the memo says that al-Aulaqi's killing comports with the laws of war.  That's because DoD "would carry out its operation as part of the non-international armed conflict between the United States and al-Qaida, and thus that on those facts the operation would comply with international law so long as DoD would conduct it in accord with the applicable laws of war that govern targeting in such a conflict."  The memo said that this operation in Yemen is part of that conflict, even though Yemen is not within the area of that conflict.  Finally, the memo says that the method of killing complies with the laws of war--that is, that the targeted drone attack complies with the principle of distinction, it would minimize civilian casualties, and it would not violate prohibitions on "treachery" and "perfidy" (because those "do not categorically preclude the use of stealth or surprise, nor forbid military attacks on identified, individual soldiers or officers . . . and we are not aware of any other law-of-war grounds precluding the use of such tactics.").

The memo drew the same, or very similar, conclusions as to the CIA's use of a drone strike, but that section was largely redacted.

(The memo also said that another murder-abroad statute similarly did not prohibit the strike, and that the War Crimes Act did not prohibit it, because al-Aulaqi was still an active, fighting beligerent, and an allowable target under the laws of war.)

As to Fourth- and Fifth Amendment protections, the memo says that a high-level decision-maker ("the highest officers in the intelligence community") can make a determination to use lethal force and authorize a strike.  (That's about all it said: this portion of the memo is also highly redacted.)

The memo makes clear that this is all context specific: the "facts" given to OLC that form the basis of its analysis are "sufficient" for the Office to form its conclusions, but the memo declines to say whether those facts are also necessary.  (And we don't know them, in any event, because they're redacted.)

 

June 23, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Will on Presidential Overreach

George Will weighed in again today on presidential overreach in Stopping a Lawless President, joining the increasing (and partisan) drumbeat against President Obama's efforts to work around congressional non-action and obstruction.  In the piece, Will takes aim at President Obama's "perpetrat[ion] [of] more than 40 suspensions of the law."  (Emphasis in original.)  Among these: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the delayed implementation of the ACA's employer mandate.  "Institutional derangement driven by unchecked presidential aggrandizement did not begin with Barack Obama, but his offenses against the separation of powers have been egregious in quantity and qualitatively different."

Will also explores a problem for those who'd like to stop presidential overreach in court: they don't have standing.  That's because President Obama's actions have generally helped people, not harmed them, leaving only certain taxpayers and frustrated legislators to complain.  As Will points out, David Rivkin and Elizabeth Price Foley floated a theory earlier this year in Politico that would allow legislators to sue.  And the House recently passed Rep. Gowdy's cleverly named ENFORCE the Law Act of 2014 ("Executive Needs to Faithfully Observe and Respect Congressional Enactments"), authorizing House or Senate lawsuits against the president to require enforcement of the law.  That bill will surely die in the Senate.  But Rivkin and Foley's arguments for standing don't depend on legislation.

Still, Rivkin and Foley's arguments run up against language from Justice Scalia's dissent in U.S. v. Windsor (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas), quoted in the dissenting views in the House report on the ENFORCE the Law Act:

Heretofore in our national history, the President's failure to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed," could only be brought before a judicial tribunal by someone whose concrete interests were harmed by that alleged failure.  Justice Alito would create a system in which Congress can hale the Executive before the courts not only to vindicate its own institutional powers to act, but to correct a perceived inadequacy in the execution of its laws.  This system would lay to rest Tocqueville's priase of our judicial system as one which "intimately binds the case made for the law with the case made for one man," one in which legislation is "no longer exposed to the daily aggression of the parties," and in which "the political question that the judge must resolve is linked to the interest of private litigants."

That would be replaced by a system in which Congress and the Executive can pop immediately into court, in their institutional capacity, whenever the President refuses to implement a statute he believes to be unconstitutional, and whenever he implements a law in a manner that is not to Congress's liking. . . .

If majorities in both Houses of Congress care enough about the matter, they have available innumerable ways to compel executive action without a lawsuit--from refusing to confirm Presidential appointees to the elimination of funding.

June 23, 2014 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Governor Lacks Authority to Revoke Commutation

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled this week in Makowski v. Governor that former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm lacked authority under the state constitution to revoke her valid commutation of a prisoner's sentence.  The ruling means that the prisoner, whose sentence was first commuted but whose commutation was later revoked, is now eligible for parole.

The Michigan constitution gives the governor the power "to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons after convictions for all offenses . . . ."  Art. 5, Sec. 14.  Governor Granholm exercised this authority when she granted a commutation on the recommendation of the parole board to an individual who was serving a life sentence for felony murder.  But when the family of the victim contacted her office to express its dissatisfaction after the commutation was signed and sealed, she instructed the parole board to halt all commutation proceedings and revoked the commutation.

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled that she couldn't do that it.  The court first said that the case did not present a political question, because the state constitution limits the governor's power to commute "to those procedures and regulations that the Legislature enacts," and "[a]ccordingly, the distribution of power between the Legislature and the Governor regarding commutations creates a legal question that this Court must answer."  The court said that legislative silence as to those procedures did not mean that the court should defer; instead, the court said that it had a duty to determine the extent and limits of executive authority regarding commutations.  The court also ruled that its determination of the merits did not violate the separation of powers, because "this Court may review the Governor's exercise of power to ensure that it is constitutional."

As to the merits, the court held that the text and context of the commutation document indicated that it was final, and that the state constitution provided no power to revoke a commutation. 

June 5, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Executive Authority, News, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Carol Anne Bond Prevails in United States Supreme Court: Court Avoids Treaty Power Ruling

On her second trip to the United States Supreme Court, Carol Anne Bond prevailed again.

Recall that Carol Anne Bond was convicted of a crime in violation of the Chemical Weapons Implementation Act, 18 U.S.C. § 229(a), passed to implement a treaty , the Chemical Weapons Convention. But the fact that she is not a "terrorist," but rather a "vengeful" participant in a "love triangle" has caused much consternation.  While the international arms-control agreement prohibits nation-states from producing, stockpiling, or using chemical weapons, Bond, a biologist, used her expertise to spread injurious chemicals on the property of her former best friend, after learning that the friend was pregnant by Bond’s husband.   Although Bond was prosecuted in state court, she continued her campaign against her former friend and she was eventually prosecuted in federal court.

Recall that in 2011, the Court unanimously held that Bond could raise a Tenth Amendment claim in her prosecution, reversing the Third Circuit. On remand, the Third Circuit rejected Bond's argument to  "set aside as inapplicable the landmark decision Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416 (1920), which is sometimes cited for the proposition that the Tenth Amendment has no bearing on Congress's ability to legislate in furtherance of the Treaty Power in Article II, § 2 of the Constitution."

Today's opinion in Bond v. United States again reverses the Third Circuit.  The focus in oral argument  was on the Treaty power and whether a treaty can alter constitutional structures, namely federalism.  And while today's decision is unanimous, there are multiple concurring opinions.

The opinion for the Court, authored by Chief Justice Roberts, and joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, is a relatively brief 21 pages and notes that the Bond's case is "unusual" and thus the "analysis is appropriately limited."  For the Court,

the global need to prevent chemical warfare does not require the Federal Government to reach into the kitchen cupboard, or to treat a local assault with a chemical irritant as the deployment of a chemical weapon. There is no reason to suppose that Congress—in implementing the Convention on Chemical Weapons—thought otherwise.

Essentially, the Court practices constitutional avoidance by construing the statute narrowly; there is no need to confront Holland v. Missouri's holding regarding the constitutional parameters of Congress's treaty power. 

Indeed, the Court only mentions Holland in its discussion of the Third Circuit's holding and Bond's arguments; it notes that notwithstanding that "debate" there is a "well-established principle" of constitutional avoidance and includes a citation to Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U. S. 288, 347 (1936) (Brandeis, J., concurring). Because "Bond argues that section 229 does not cover her conduct" it considers "that argument first," and finds it decides the issue. 

In a nutshell, the Court concludes that the federal prosecutors exceeded the power the statute gave them - - - and thus there is no need to decide whether Congress exceeded the power the Constitution's treaty and necessary and proper powers gave it.

863px-CWC_Participation.svg
Nations in green are signatories to
Chemical Weapons Convention via

Justice Scalia, concurring and joined by Thomas, would conclude that the statute clearly covers Bond's Act and therefore is unconstitutional.  Justice Thomas writes a separate concurrence, joined by Scalia and in part by Alito, writes separately to "suggest that the Treaty Power is itself a limited federal power."  And in a very brief opinion, Alito argues that the "insofar as the Convention may be read to obligate the United States to enact domestic legislation criminalizing conduct of the sort at issue in this case, which typically is the sort of conduct regulated by the States, the Convention exceeds the scope of the treaty power" and thus the statute "lies outside Congress’ reach unless supported by some other power enumerated in the Constitution."

So, while the opinion is "unanimous," the three Justices considered to be the most conservative and perhaps most hostile to international law, would have limited Congress' power to implement treaties made pursuant to Article II §2 allowing the executive to "make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur."

And for ConLawProfs, it demonstrates the relevance of the "Ashwander doctrine" as a part of constitutional law courses.

June 2, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Criminal Procedure, Executive Authority, Federalism, International, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Government to Reveal Targeted Killing Authority

The Justice Department will release a memo that makes the case that its drone attacks are legal.  The move comes in the wake of a Second Circuit ruling last month ordering the release of a redacted version of the memo, and amid calls in the Senate for the memo's release as that body considers the nomination of David Barron, one of the authors, to a federal appeals court.

Recall that the Department previously leaked a white paper outlining the government's case.  We posted most recently on the legal challenges here.

The Washington Post reports here.

May 21, 2014 in Executive Authority, News, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Rethinking War Powers

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Buzzfeed that he's ready to reconsider the Authorization for Use of Military Force.  The AUMF, enacted just days after the 9/11 attacks, has been cited as legal authorization for a wide range of military actions against al Qaeda and individuals and organizations with links to al Qaeda.  Reid's critique isn't new--Members of Congress on both sides have voiced criticism of the broad language in the AUMF in recent years, and have introduced legislation to repeal it--but it may lend some urgency and priority to the issue.

At the same time, Senators Kane, McCain, and King are rethinking Congress's role in war more generally.  They introduced legislation earlier this year to repeal the War Powers Resolution and replace it with a requirement that the President consult with a new Joint Congressional Consultation Committee, comprised of House and Senate leadership and certain committee chairs and ranking  members, "regarding significant matters of foreign policy and national security" and "[b]efore ordering the deployment of members of the Armed Forces into significant armed conflict."  The bill would exempt from the prior consultation requirement certain emergency actions, "[l]imited acts of reprisal against terrorists or states that sponsor terrorism, humanitarian missions, "covert operations," and rescue missions for U.S. citizens overseas.  The bill prescribes a streamlined process for Congress to approve or disapprove of military action in the absence of a declaration of war or authorization for use of military force.  (The Senate has taken no action on the measure.)

According to the findings, the new procedures are necessary because the War Powers Resolution isn't working, and to create "a constructive means by which the judgment of both the President and Congress can be brought to bear when deciding whether the United States should engage in a significant armed conflict . . . ."  According to the findings, the political branches need to figure out a way to work these issues out, because the courts aren't helping:

Past efforts to call upon the judicial branch to define the constitutional limits of the war powers of the executive and legislative branches of government have generally failed because courts, for the most part, have declined jurisdiction on the grounds that the issues involved are "political questions" or that the plaintiffs lack standing.

May 15, 2014 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Second Circuit Orders Release of Administration's Justification for Targeted Killing

The Second Circuit ruled earlier this week that the government must release a redacted version of an Office of Legal Counsel memo outlining the government's legal authority to conduct targeted killings.  The case, New York Times v. Department of Justice, is a FOIA case seeking the OLC memo, and not a legal challenge to the targeted killing program itself.  The court said that the government had released so much information about its legal justification--including the white paper that the government leaked to the media last year--that the government couldn't really claim that the legal justification was still secret.

We posted on the white paper here, with links to earlier posts (and to the white paper itself), and most recently on legal challenges to the targeted killing program here.

April 24, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Court to Rule on Separation of Powers in Foreign Affairs

The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear Zivotofsky v. Kerry--or, rather, to rehear the case, this time on the merits.  The case tests congressional authority versus presidential authority in foreign affairs, in particular, the power to designate the place of birth on a U.S. passport issued to a person born to U.S.-citizen-parents overseas, in Jerusalem.  Our latest post on the case, with links to earlier posts, is here.

The case pits a federal law that requires U.S. passports issued to citizens born in Jerusalem to designate "Israel" as the country of birth against State Department regs that prohibit the designation of "Israel." 

The Court ruled in the first round, in 2012, that the case did not present a non-justiciable political question.  On remand, the D.C. Circuit struck the federal law as an intrusion on the President's power to recognize foreign nations. 

In this round, the Court will determine whether the law indeed infringes on presidential authority--a significant separation-of-powers question in the area of foreign affairs.

April 23, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 11, 2014

No Invalid Delegation in Sex Offender Registration Act

The Third Circuit ruled yesterday in U.S. v. Cooper that the delegation to the Attorney General in the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, or SORNA, to determine whether SORNA applied to pre-Act offenders did not run afoul of the nondelegation doctrine.

The ruling aligns the Third Circuit with the eight other circuits that have addressed the question.

Cooper was convicted in Oklahoma state court on three counts of rape and was paroled in January 2006.  Congress passed SORNA in July 2006.  Cooper was charged with failing to register in 2012.

Cooper argued that SORNA's delegation to the AG to determine whether the Act applied to pre-Act offenders was an unconstitutional delegation.  SORNA says that "[t]he [AG] shall have the authority to specify the appliability of the requirements of this chapter to sex offenders convicted before the enactment of this chapter or its implementation . . . ."

Cooper's argument picked up on a suggestion by Justice Scalia, dissenting a couple years ago in Reynolds v. U.S.  That case held that SORNA did not require pre-Act offenders to register before the AG validly specified that its registration requirements applied to them.  Justice Scalia wrote that the delegation "sail[ed] close to the wind with regard to the principle that legislative powers are nondelegable."  We posted on the case and Justice Scalia's concern here.

But the Third Circuit rejected Cooper's claim.  The court wrote that SORNA gave the AG sufficient guidance to pass the intelligible principle test:

In enacting SORNA, Congress laid out the general policy, the public agency to apply this policy, and the boundaries of the delegated authority.  This is all that is required under the modern nondelegation jurisprudence.

The court also rejected Cooper's invitation to craft a new nondelegation test--a more rigorous "meaningfully constrains" standard--"[u]ntil the Supreme Court gives us clear guidance . . . ."

April 11, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

District Court Rejects Targeted Killing Claim

Judge Rosemary M. Collyer (D.D.C.) yesterday dismissed a civil damages claim against government officials for their roles in authorizing the targeted killing of Anwar Al-Aulaqi, his son, and Samir Khan.  Judge Collyer wrote in Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta that "special factors" counseled against the Bivens claim.

We've covered Al-Aulaqi's claims extensively (sometimes Al-Awlaki, sometimes Al-Awlaqi), both pre-killing and post-killing, brought by his father, Nasser.  Here's our post on Judge Bates's ruling dismissing Nasser's case to stop the killing.

The ruling adds to a body of lower-court cases limiting civil damage remedies against government officials for constitutional violations for actions related to the military, intelligence, and terrorism.  Indeed, these cases give government officials a free pass against civil damages claims for any action even loosely related to these areas, even with no showing by the government that the claims raise special factors counseling against a remedy (as this case illustrates--see below).

Nasser Al-Aulaqi brought this claim on behalf of his son Anwar and grandson Abdulrahman, along with Sarah Khan, who brought the claim on behalf of her son Samir.  Anwar was designated for targeting; Abdulrahman and Samir were not (they were bystanders in Anwar's targeted killing and another targeted killing).  All three were U.S. citizens. 

Nasser and Sarah sued government officials in their personal capacity under Bivens for Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations (among others).  The officials moved to dismiss, arguing that the complaint failed to state a claim, that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy, and that they enjoyed qualified immunity.  

Judge Collyer ruled that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy.  Citing Doe v. Rumsfeld, Lebron v. Rumsfeld, and Vance v. Rumsfeld, she wrote that military decisions get a pass, and that Bivens ought not be extended to them:

In this delicate area of warmaking, national security, and foreign relations, the judiciary has an exceedingly limited role.  This Court is not equipped to qustion, and does not make a finding concerning, Defendants' actions in dealing with AQAP generally or Awar Al-Aulaqi in particular.  Its role is much more modest: only to ensure that the circumstances of the exercise of war powers against a specifically-targeted U.S. citizen overseas do not call for the recognition of a new area of Bivens relief.

Here, Congress and the Executive have acted in concert, pursuant to their Constitutional authorities to provide for national defense and to regulate the military.  The need to hesitate before implying a Bivens claim is particularly clear.  Congress enacted the AUMF, authorizing the Executive to use necessary and appropriate military force against al-Qa'ida and affiliated forces.  It is the Executive's position that AQAP is affiliated with al-Qa'ida. 

. . .

Permitting Plaintiffs to pursue a Bivens remedy under the circumstances of this case would impermissibly draw the Court into "the heart of executive and military planning and deliberation," as the suit would require the Court to examine national security policy and the military chain of command as well as operational combat decisions regarding the designation of targets and how best to counter threats to the United States.

. . .

Plaintiff's Complaint also raises questions regarding foreign policy because Anwar Al-Aulaqi was a dual U.S.-Yemeni citizen who was killed in Yemen.  Plaintiff's suit against top U.S. officials for their role in ordering a missile strike against a dual citizen in a foreign country necessarily implicates foreign policy.

Remarkably, the court so concluded without any help of from the government--even after the court ordered the government to help by providing material in camera and ex parte to support the special-factors defense.

The United States filed a Statement of Interest in the case, stating that it might later assert a state secrets defense.  Judge Collyer ordered the government to lodge declarations, in camera and ex parte to explain why special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy in the case.  The government refused, arguing that the court could resolve the defendants' motion to dismiss on the complaint alone.  

Judge Collyer scolded the government for its refusal--and wrote that this made the court's job "unnecessarily difficult"--but still "cobble[d] together enough judicially-noticeable facts from various records" to conclude that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy.  She wrote that without these facts, the court "would have denied the motion to dismiss."

April 5, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 28, 2014

D.C. Circuit Appears Split in Latest Obamacare Challenge

A three-judge panel heard oral arguments this week in one of several cases challenging federal subsidies to health-insurance purchasers on a federal exchange.  We posted on those cases here.  In short, the plain language of the ACA appears to authorize subsidies for health-insurance purchasers on state exchanges, but not on a federal exchange.  This means that individuals who live in a state that declines to establish a state exchange--and instead relies upon a federal exchange--could not get a federal subsidy.  So the IRS issued a rule providing subsidies to individuals who purchase on a federal exchange (as well as a state exchange).

That rule is what's at issue in these cases.  The plaintiffs argue that the IRS rule (granting subsidies to purchasers on federal exchanges) is inconsistent with the ACA (which, they say, authorizes subsidies only to purchasers on state exchanges).  Jason Millman over at the WaPo's Wonkblog explains the significance:

The subsidy question is central to the future survival of the law.  Just 14 states and the District of Columbia are running their own exchanges in 2014, while the Department of Health and Human Services is operating 36 state exchanges.

About 85 percent of those signing up for insurance in federal-run exchanges have qualified for financial assistance to purchase coverage.  Without those subsidies, the insurance would be less affordable, leaving those with the greatest health needs with more motivation to purchase coverage.  That makes for a worse risk mix, driving up the cost of insurance to cover the sicker pool of people, creating what's known as an insurance "death spiral."

The D.C. Circuit is the first appellate court to hear arguments in these challenges.  Some accounts said that the panel seemed split, or even leaning toward the plaintiffs, with Judge Raymond Randolph seeming to lean toward the plaintiffs, Judge Harry Edwards seeming to lean toward the government, and Judge Thomas Griffin seeming to be the panel's swing vote.  The WSJ covered the arguments here; WaPo's Wonkblog coverd them here; and Bloomberg covered them here.

March 28, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Feinstein Rails Against CIA Search of Committee Computers

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, railed against CIA searches of the Committee computer network in a speech on the Senate floor today. Senator Feinstein said the searches violated separation of powers, the Senate's constitutional investigation and oversight powers, and the Fourth Amendment, among other things. 

The CIA allegedly searched Committee computers to determine how Committee staff obtained certain documents related to CIA detention and interrogation policies.  (CIA Director John Brennan denied this.)  The CIA Inspector General referred the matter to the Justice Department.

In a related matter, the CIA General Counsel asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Committee staff improperly obtained CIA material.  Senator Feinstein said that this move was designed to intimidate the Committee. 

As a result, DOJ is apparently investigating two issues: whether the CIA improperly spied on the Committee, and whether Committee staff improperly obtained certain CIA material.  The NYT has a good back-grounder here

March 11, 2014 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)