Sunday, December 23, 2012
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan (D.D.C.) on Friday dismissed Common Cause v. Biden, the legal challenge to the Senate's filibuster rule. Recall that Judge Sullivan heard oral arguments in the case earlier this month, and that standing was front and center. it wasn't surprising then that Judge Sullivan's ruling on Friday turned on standing, and on separation of powers.
The ruling ends the case, unless and until the plaintiffs appeal. It seems unlikely that the D.C. Circuit would rule differently. In any event, if the Senate Democrats succeed in reforming the filibuster at the beginning of the next Congress, the case may become moot.
Judge Sullivan ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing. As to the House members: he wrote that he was "not persuaded that their alleged injury--vote nullifcation--falls into a narrow exception enunciated by the Supreme Court in Raines v. Byrd." Op. at 2. As to the other plaintiffs: they failed to "demonstrate that this Court can do anything to remedy the alleged harm they have suffered: the inability to take advantage of the opportunity to benefit from proposed legislation [the DREAM Act] that was never debated, let alone enacted." Op. at 2.
On separation of powers, Judge Sullivan said that Article I reserves to each House the power to determine its own rules, and there's nothing in the Constitution constraining the Senate from allowing debate to continue absent a super-majority vote. "[A]bsent a rule's violation of an express constraint in the Constitution or an individual's fundamental rights, the internal proceedings of the Legislative Branch are beyond the jurisdiction of this Court." Op. at 3.
December 23, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Political Question Doctrine, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, December 17, 2012
The government late last week moved to dismiss Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta, the case for civil damages brought by family members of those killed in the government's targeted killing of Anwar al-Aulaqi. We covered the complaint here; the ACLU, which represents the plaintiffs, has a case page here.
The government's motion isn't a surprise. It raises all the expected separation-of-powers arguments, plus a couple others. As the motion notes, the tide of recent circuit rulings is behind it--at least insofar as several circuits have dismissed similar torture cases against high-level government officials because they raised "special factors" under a Bivens analysis. That seems the likely result here, too.
This excerpt from the introduction pretty well summarizes the government's position:
But courts have recognized that the political branches, with few exceptions, have both the responsibility for--and the oversight of--the defense of the Nation and the conduct of armed conflict abroad. The Judiciary rarely interferes in such arenas. In this case, Plaintiffs ask this Court to take the extraordinary step of substituting its own judgment for that of the Executive. They further ask this Court to create a novel damages remedy, despite the fact that--based on Plaintiffs' own complaint--their claims are rife with separation-of-powers, national defense, military, intelligence, and diplomatic concerns. Judicial restraint is particularly appropriate here, where Plaintiffs seek non-statutory damages from the personal resources of some of the highest officials in the U.S. defense and intelligence communities. Under these weighty circumstances, this Court should follow the well-trodden path the Judiciary--and particularly the D.C. Circuit--have taken in the past and should leave the issues raised by this case to the political branches.
Memo at 1.
More particularly, the government argues that the political question doctrine bars the court from hearing this case; that "special factors" counsel against a judicial remedy under Bivens; and that the defendants enjoy qualified immunity.
The government also argues that the plaintiffs failed to plead that they had capacity to sue as representatives of the killed. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(b), the plaintiffs can act as representatives of an estate only if the law of the jurisdiction where the court sits allows. Here, the government says that they didn't comply with the requirements of D.C. law.
Finally the government claims that the plaintiffs' bill of attainder claim fails, because the Bill of Attainder Clause doesn't apply to executive actions (it only applies to bills).
Circuits that have ruled on government actor liability for torture have announced the courts closed for this kind of case. If this recent history is any guide, this case, too, will have a hard time getting off the ground.
December 17, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Political Question Doctrine, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, December 13, 2012
The Court's grant of certiorari last week in two same sex marriage cases included the question of standing in both.
The standing issues atypically arise not from the original plaintiffs' qualifications under Article III of the Constitution, but flow from the governments' decision not to defend the constitutionality of the challenged government action: California's refusal to defend Proposition 8 in Perry v. Brown and the Obama Administration's decision not to defend DOMA in Windsor (and in previous cases beginning in February 2011).
The inimitable Linda Greenhouse shares her analysis of the standing issues, admitting she is fascinating by the "procedural game the Supreme Court is playing in the same-sex marriage cases."
Greenhouse writes in the NYT Opinionator that her original thought was that the Court could be using "the jurisdictional issue as a kind of safety valve for a deeply polarized court."
But on reflection, that theory doesn’t really make sense, because a finding of no jurisdiction under these circumstances would call into question the court’s ability to deal with other instances of changed government positions, and would be inconsistent with the action the court took just last week in the prison immunity case. Further, a finding of no jurisdiction would amount to a huge grant of power to the executive branch at the expense of Congress, enabling the president to cut off further judicial review any time a law that he never liked in the first place is declared unconstitutional by a lower court. While executive power certainly has its fans on the court, including Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia, I’d be surprised if that sweeping proposition could capture five votes.
Greenhouse then provides some her own hypothesis - - - and it is certainly worth a read.
Monday, November 26, 2012
The Supreme Court today reopened one of the cases challenging the federal Affordable Care Act and sent it back for further proceedings at the Fourth Circuit. The move means that the lower court, and possibly the Supreme Court, will have another crack at certain issues that the Supreme Court dodged this summer in its ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius.
Recall that the Fourth Circuit rejected a challenge to the ACA by several individuals and Liberty University in September 2011, holding that the Anti-Injunction Act barred the claim. The Supreme Court declined to review that case, Liberty University v. Geithner. But today the Court reopened the case, vacated the Fourth Circuit ruling, and sent the case back for further proceedings in light of the Court's ruling in NFIB.
The plaintiffs in the case originally challenged the universal coverage provision (the so-called "individual mandate," requiring individuals to acquire health insurance or to pay a tax penalty) and the employer mandate (requiring employers with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance coverage for their employees), arguing that they exceeded Congress's taxing and commerce powers and violated the Tenth Amendment, Article I, Section 9's prohibition against unapportioned capitation or direct taxes (the Direct Tax Clause), and the Religion Clauses and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (among others). (As to the Religion Clauses, the plaintiffs argued that the requirements would cause them to support insurance companies that paid for abortions, a practice that they claimed ran against their religions.)
The district court ruled against the plaintiffs on all counts and dismissed the case. The Fourth Circuit dismissed the case under the AIA and didn't reach the merits.
The Supreme Court ruled in NFIB that the AIA did not bar the Court from ruling on the tax question, that Congress validly enacted the universal coverage provision under its Article I, Section 8 power "to lay and collect Taxes," and that it didn't violate the Direct Tax Clause. Thus after NFIB these issues appear to remain open on remand:
- Whether the mandates violate the Religion Clauses or the RFRA;
- Whether the employer mandate violates the taxing authority or the Direct Tax Clause;
- Whether the mandates violate equal protection;
- Whether the mandate violates free speech and associational rights.
As to the Religion Clauses, the district court ruled that the ACA's religious exemptions to universal coverage were permissible accommodations (and thus didn't violate the Establishment Clause) and that the ACA didn't require the plaintiffs to pay for abortions (and thus didn't violate the Free Exercise Clause or the RFRA).
As to the employer mandate: It's hard to see how the Supreme Court's tax analysis of the individual mandate in NFIB wouldn't apply with equal force to the employer mandate.
If the district court was right on the First Amendment and equal protection claims (as it seems), and if the Supreme Court's tax analysis applies with equal force to the employer mandate, this case doesn't seem to have much of a future.
But then again, that's what many of us said about NFIB.
November 26, 2012 in Abortion, Association, Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Religion, Taxing Clause, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, November 9, 2012
The en banc Seventh Circuit this week ruled in Vance v. Rumsfeld that two American military contractors had no cause of action against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for torture. The ruling was expected: the court previously vacated the three-judge panel ruling allowing the case to move forward; oral arguments suggested that the full court was hostile to the plaintiffs' claims; and the ruling aligns with similar (but distinguishable and less sweeping) rulings in the Fourth and D.C. Circuits. We posted last on the case, with links to an earlier post, here.
The ruling ends the plaintiffs' case and effectively creates absolute immunity against such claims for military personnel and their civilian commanders--at least in the Seventh Circuit. Given similar rulings in the Fourth and D.C. Circuits--and no circuit going the other way--the case almost surely will not attract the attention of the Supreme Court. (Even if the Court took it up, it would almost certainly affirm the Seventh Circuit's ruling, given its trend with Bivens actions.) The case also extended the no-supervisory-liability rule for Bivens claims (affirmed in Iqbal), holding that Secretary Rumsfeld's alleged authorization of torture, even if true, was simply too attenuated from the actions of those who actually tortured the plaintiffs.
The case involved two American military contractors who claimed that they were detained and tortured by military authorities in Iraq. They sued Secretary Rumsfeld under Bivens based on his alleged authorization of torture techniques.
The en banc Seventh Circuit reversed a three-judge panel and held that Bivens did not offer a remedy to the plaintiffs. Chief Judge Easterbrook, writing for the court, set the tone early in his opinion, expressing hostility to "creating new Bivens claims":
[The Supreme Court] has not created another [Bivens] remedy during the last 32 years--though it has reversed more than a dozen appellate decisions that had created new actions for damages. Whatever presumption in favor of a Bivens-like remedy may once have existed has long since been abrogated. The Supreme Court never created or even favorably mentioned the possibility of a non-statutory right of action for damages against military personnel, and it has twice held that it would be inappropriate to create such a claim for damges. The Court has never created or even favorably mentioned a non-statutory right of action for damages on account of conduct that occurred outside the borders of the United States. Yet plaintiffs propose a novel damages remedy against military personnel who acted in a foreign nation--and in a combat zone, no less.
Op. at 9. Chief Judge Easterbrook wrote that "special factors" counseled against a Bivens remedy, in particular the courts' relative inability to assess the merits of military policies and decisions. Chief Judge Easterbrook also mentioned that Congress declined to create a statutory remedy, suggesting that it didn't want plaintiffs suing military personnel or their superiors, and that Congress created two administrative paths to remedies but that the plaintiffs did not pursue them. "But Congress has not authorized awards of damages against soldiers and their superiors, and creating a right of action in common-law fashion would intrude inapropriately into the military command structure." Op. at 17.
Note that the ruling (Part III) extends to "soldiers and their superiors," even though this case was only against Secretary Rumsfeld.
Chief Judge Easterbrook also wrote that Secretary Rumsfeld's authorization of torture was too attenuated from the actions of those who actually tortured the plaintiffs to survive the no-supervisor-liability rule for Bivens claims. The plaintiffs sought to navigate this rule by alleging that Secretary Rumsfeld personally authorized torture--i.e., that he wasn't vicariously liable, but was rather directly responsible. But Chief Judge Easterbrook wrote that Iqbal requires that a defendant "wants the unconstitutional or illegal conduct to occur." Op. at 19. That, he said, the plaintiffs did not allege.
Judge Wood concurred in the judgment only but wrote separately to emphasize that the alleged actions were torture, and could not hide behind the euphamism of enhanced interrogation techniques. Judge Wood also disagreed with the majority insofar as its opinion (Part III) would insulate military personnel (and not merely the Secretary of Defense) from Bivens liability.
Judges Hamilton, Rovner, and Williams all wrote a separate dissent and all joined each others' dissents, emphasizing different points. Judge Hamilton pointed out that the ruling gives more rights to aliens (under the Torture Victim Protection Act) than U.S. citizens and explained in great detail why U.S. law, in fact, assumes that the plaintiffs should have had a Bivens claim. Judge Rovner argued that the plaintiffs pleaded sufficiently specific facts related to Secretary Rumsfeld's direct responsibility to survive the pleading standards set in Iqbal and Twombley. And Judge Williams emphasized the remarkable scope of the majority's opinion. "No case from our highest court or our sister circuits has approached such a sweeping conclusion." Op. at 73.
November 9, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, October 29, 2012
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Clapper v. Amnesty International, the case testing the plaintiffs' standing to challenge the government's vastly expanded surveillance authority under the FISA Amendments Act, or the FAA. We posted on the lower court ruling that a group of attorneys, journalists, and human rights organizations had standing to challenge the FAA here.
The plaintiffs always faced a unique standing problem in challenging the FAA: The very nature of government surveillance says that those surveilled cannot know that they've been surveilled, or harmed, especially when the real targets of the surveillance are the plaintiffs' overseas clients and contacts (and not immediately the plaintiffs themselves). As a result, the plaintiffs had to argue two kinds of harm to satisfy standing requirements: (1) that they've had to take current measures to ensure against FAA surveillance and (2) that their communications are imminently going to be surveilled (given the nature of them).
The government, on the other hand, argued that any harm is purely speculative and the result of the plaintiffs' own doing (and not the authority under the FAA), and that any harm could have occurred, anyway, but under a different surveillance authority. (This last argument says that the plaintiffs' harm isn't sufficiently traceable to the FAA, and that a judgment on the FAA wouldn't redress the plaintiffs' harm. Causation and redressibility are two other requirements for standing, in addition to harm.)
The Court seemed skeptical of the government's claims at arguments today. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan grilled SG Verrilli on his arguments, and Justices Sotomayor and Kagan seemed especially troubled that the government's position would leave the plaintiffs without any effective way to challenge surveillance under the FAA. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia chimed in with concerns about the government's argument that it might conduct surveillance of the plaintiffs' communications under a different authority, leaving the plaintiffs unable to show causation or redressibility. (It wasn't clear that their concerns with the government's position extended beyond that particular argument, though.) And finally Justice Kennedy seemed especially troubled with the government's position on the attorney-plaintiffs: the government said that any decision by the attorney-plaintiffs not to communicate with overseas clients for fear of surveillance was caused by rules of professional responsibility, and not by the threat of FAA surveillance. (Justice Kennedy's concern is one to watch. This harm--attorney-plaintiffs curtailing communication with clients for fear of surveillance--is the most acute and well defined harm in the case. It's also one that will resonate best with this group of nine lawyers. And it's important that Justice Kennedy raised it: He may provide the key vote.)
In all, the government's argument came across as overly formalistic, especially considering the very high stakes for the plaintiffs. The Court's questions seemed to highlight that.
On the other side, there was some back-and-forth on just how certain government surveillance must be to create a sufficiently likely harm--"certainly impending," or "substantial risk." Chief Justice Roberts pushed for the former (and higher) standard, while Justice Kennedy pointed out that in those cases where we knew the government act was occurring (as here) the standard was the lower "substantial risk." Justice Alito asked whether the plaintiffs might manufacture their own standing (and thus work an end-run around a higher "certainly impending" standard) by alleging current preventative measures as the harm--just as the plaintiffs did here. As to the threat of surveillance and the plaintiffs' precautions against that threat, Chief Justice Roberts wondered whether that wasn't a harm in every case, e.g., in an ordinary criminal case when a criminal defense attorney seeks to get information from his or her client. (The attorney wouldn't use e-mail or phone; he or she would talk in person.) Finally, Justice Scalia asked whether the FISA court didn't serve as a check on Fourth Amendment violations.
If the government's argument was overly formalistic, the plaintiffs' claimed harms might have seemed too vague to some on the Court, especially if the Court adopts the higher "certainly impending" standard for the plaintiffs' claimed future harms.
Arguments today revealed what we already knew about this case: It'll be close. But on balance, the Court seemed to favor standing.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Judge Rudolph Contreras (D.D.C.) reminded us this week in Harris v. United States Supreme Court that a federal district court has no power to review a decision of the Supreme Court.
Judge Contreras quoted Justice Jackson--"We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only becuase we are final," Brown v. Allen (1953)--in dismissing a case brought by a disappointed basketball player who didn't make the cut for the Tulsa 66ers. The player first sued in the Northern District of Oklahoma and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. Alas, the Court declined to hear his case.
So he naturally sued the Court itself in the D.C. district. No luck, wrote Judge Contreras: a district court has no power to review a decision of the Supreme Court.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled in OSU Student Alliance v. Ray that a conservative student newspaper at Oregon State sufficiently alleged constitutional claims against university officials after they removed the newspaper's distribution bins from around campus and limited the locations where the newspaper could replace the bins. The ruling reverses a lower court ruling dismissing the case, allows the plaintiffs to amend their complaint as to certain defendants, and means that the case will move forward on the merits.
The case arose when Oregon State officials removed distribution bins of the conservative Liberty newspaper, published by the Student Alliance. Officials did not similarly remove distribution bins of the official student newspaper, the Daily Barometer, or outside newspapers (like USAToday). Officials claimed that they were enforcing an unwritten policy prescribing the acceptable campus locations for outside newspaper distribution bins. Officials treated the Liberty as an outside newspaper, even though it has a student editorial staff, because its funding came almost exclusively from outside sources--donations and advertising. In contrast, the Daily Barometer received university funding through the student government. Officials said that this distinction explained why they treated Liberty bins differently than Daily Barometer bins, but it obviously didn't explain why it treated Liberty bins differently than USAToday bins.
The newspaper sued under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, arguing that four university officials--the president, a vice-president, the vice-provost for student affairs, and the director of facilities services--violated their rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection. The district court dismissed the claims for injunctive and declaratory relief after the school changed its policy; and it dismissed the claims for damages because the plaintiffs didn't plead that any of the four defendants participated in the confiscation of the newsbins.
The Ninth Circuit reversed. It ruled that the plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded that the certain defendants "caused" a "deprivation of federal right" and remanded to allow the plaintiffs to replead as to others.
As to the deprivation, the court said that the OSU campus is "at least a designated public forum," that the unwritten "policy" left university officials with unbridled discretion (alone enough to doom the policy), and that any standard (identified only post hoc) that distinguished between on-campus and outside publications bore no relationship to the school's interest in reducing clutter around campus. "OSU's standardless policy cannot qualify as a valid time, place, and manner restriction." Op. at 12778. And the plaintiffs correctly pleaded that it was viewpoint discrimination.
The court also said that the plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded an equal protection violation, because they pleaded that the university treated them differently than a similarly situated newspaper in a way that trenched on a fundamental right (free speech). It also said that the plaintiffs adequately pleaded that the defendants removed their bins without prior notice in violation of due process.
As to causation, the court recognized that "[s]ome of the plaintiffs' claims raise thorny questions under Iqbal." Claims against the director of facilities management were easiest, because that official was directly involved in the confiscation and relocation policy. But the court said that claims against the president and vice-president (the director's supervisors) had to show the requisite intent under Iqbal. The court said that the plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded that the president and vice-president knew of the director's violations of free speech--that knowledge (and not specific intent) is the relevant state of mind required for a free speech violation. (Recall that the Supreme Court required the plaintiffs to plead specific intent for equal protection and free exercise violations in Iqbal.)
The court wrote that the complaint sufficiently tied the director of facilities to the due process violation--that he was responsible for the unwritten bin policy, and that the confiscation happened pursuant to the policy--but that it didn't sufficiently tie the president and vice-president to the policy.
As to the vice-provost, the court said that the complaint didn't sufficiently allege that he knew of the free speech violations and that he wasn't sufficiently tied to the due process violation.
The court remanded the case to allow the plaintiffs to amend their complaint to bring in the president and the vice-president on the due process claims and the vice-provost on any claims.
Judge Ikuta dissented in part, arguing that the majority's approach as to the president and vice-president "resurrects the very kind of supervisory liability that Iqbal interred."
October 24, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Recent Cases, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, October 22, 2012
Judge John D. Bates (D.D.C.) dismissed the habeas corpus claims of detainees at Bagram Airfield (Afghanistan) last week in Al Maqaleh v. Gates. The ruling is the latest chapter in the detainees' quest to challenge their detentions by way of habeas in federal court, just as Guantanamo detainees won the right to challenge their detention by way of habeas in Boumediene v. Bush. The detainees may appeal, but their chances seem slim, at best, especially given the history of the case.
Recall that Judge Bates originally ruled that Bagram detainees enjoyed the privilege of habeas in 2009. Judge Bates wrote that with technology the courts could hear Bagram detainees' habeas claims just as easily as they could hear Guananamo detainees' claims, and that habeas claims wouldn't unduly disrupt the government's prosecution of the war. But the D.C. Circuit reversed, saying that Bagram was fundamentally different than Guantanamo. The D.C. Circuit ruled that Bagram was in an active war zone, that the government didn't have the kind of control over Bagram that it had over Guantanamo, and that habeas claims risked interfering with the government's prosecution of the war.
This latest case arose when the same Bagram detainees argued that certain developments at Bagram undermined the D.C. Circuit's ruling. In particular, the Bagram detainees argued that new evidence showed that the government intends to stay at Bagram indefinitely; that recent criminal trials at Bagram showed that practical obstacles to litigation are far less serious than the D.C. Circuit believed; that the government was attempting to avoid habeas jurisdiction by detaining prisoners at Bagram; and that procedures used to determine the detainees' status are unacceptable.
Judge Bates rejected these claims, in short disagreeing with the detainees' interpretation of their new evidence, or saying that their "new" evidence wasn't new at all--that it was fully available to the D.C. Circuit when the D.C. Circuit issued its earlier ruling.
Judge Bates also rejected the habeas claim in a companion case brought by a minor, Hamidullah v. Obama. Hamidullah argued that his age set him apart from the others, because habeas is "somewhat more robust" for minors. Judge Bates ruled that he failed to support this argument.
The case likely marks the end of the line for Bagram detainees. Even if they appeal, given the D.C. Circuit's ruling and Judge Bates's most recent ruling, they're likely to lose.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Earlier this week the Justice Department filed its motion to dismiss and supporting memorandum in Committee on Oversight and Government Reform v. Holder. The motion was expected, and the arguments are not a surprise.
Recall that the Committee brought the case seeking a declaration that the administration's assertion of executive privilege was without merit and that its failure to turn over certain documents to the Committee in its investigation of the "Fast and Furious" program was without justification. The Committee seeks an order requiring the government to turn over these documents.
Recall also that since the Committee filed its suit, the DOJ Inspector General issued its report into the program and testified before Congress on it.
DOJ argues that the court lacks Article III jurisdiction because the case presents a political question and that separation-of-powers principles counsel against the case moving forward. In short, DOJ says that the political branches should work this out. According to the Department, this is especially so with regard to material on internal deliberations regarding the Department's responses to congressional inquiries for substantive material on the program.
DOJ also argued that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and that the Committee has no cause of action. It says that the Committee brought the case under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1331, but that given the history of that provision and 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1365, the court lacks jurisdiction. In particular, DOJ argues that Congress enacted 1365, giving the court jurisdiction over Senate subpoena enforcement actions, after Congress was foiled by the old amount-in-controversy in 1331. (Congress asserted no claim for monetary damages in that case.) Congress later removed the amount-in-controversy requirement, but DOJ argues that 1365, with its careful language limiting jurisdiction to cases brought by the Senate (not the House), trumps. (Otherwise 1365 would be a nullity.) If so, the court lacks jurisdiction over the House Committee's suit. Morever, DOJ says that the Committee has no cause of action, because the Declaratory Judgment Act contains no independent cause of action (contrary to the D.C. District court's own relatively recent prior ruling in Miers) and because the Constitution grants no independent cause of action.
Now we wait for the Committee's response.
October 17, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Political Question Doctrine, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
A unanimous three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit today in Hamdan v. U.S. reversed the judgment of the Court of Military Commission Review and directed that Salim Ahmed Hamdan's conviction for "material support for terrorism" be vacated. The ruling clears Hamdan, who already served time (66 months minus credit for time already served at Guantanamo) and has been released, of this conviction.
Hamdan here is the same Hamdan who successfully challenged the government's authority to try him by military commission in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. After Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and expanded the list of crimes for which a person could be tried by military commission, the government re-charged Hamdan with conspiracy and material support for terrorism. Hamdan was acquitted of conspiracy, but convicted of five specifications of material support for terrorism. He was sentenced to 66 months, but credited for served for most of that sentence, and released in Yemen in 2008.
The D.C. Circuit ruled that Hamdan's case was not moot (even though he already served time and was released in 2008 in Yemen) and that the MCA, which specifically made "material support for terrorism" a crime triable in a military commission, did not apply (in order to avoid ex post facto problems). This left the court to determine whether the government had authority to try Hamdan for "material support for terrorism" under 10 U.S.C. Sec. 821, which authorizes the government to try persons by military commission for violations of the "law of war."
In short, the court ruled that the international law of war at the time did not proscribe "material support for terrorism" and that the government therefore lacked authority to try Hamdan for that crime by military commission. The court wrote that
neither the major conventions on the law of war nor prominent modern international tribunals nor leading international-law experts have identified material support for terrorism as a war crime. Perhaps most telling, before this case, no person has ever been tried by an international-law war crimes tribunal for material support of terrorism.
Op. at 25. The court said that international law leaves "material support for terrorism" to domestic law (even if international law does establish some other forms of terrorism as war crimes), and domestic law didn't outlaw it until the 2006 MCA--after Hamdan's actions.
Judge Ginsburg joined the court's opinion but wrote separately to "explain the unfortunate state of . . . precedent" that saved the case from mootness.
Only Judge Kavanaugh, the author of the court's opinion, joined footnote 6, which explained why Congress had authority to make "material support for terrorism" a war crime, and why it is appropriate to address that question in the first place. Judge Kavanaugh wrote that Congress's war powers are not confined by international law, and therefore even if international law did not define "material support for terrorism" as a war crime, Congress could.
October 16, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
in the unlikely event that bin Laden surrendered, Obama saw an opportunity to resurrect the idea of a criminal trial, which Attorney General Eric Holder had planned for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This time, the president tells Bowden, he was prepared to bring bin Laden back and put him on trial in a federal court. “We worked through the legal and political issues that would have been involved, and Congress and the desire to send him to Guantánamo, and to not try him, and Article III.” Obama continues: “I mean, we had worked through a whole bunch of those scenarios. But, frankly, my belief was if we had captured him, that I would be in a pretty strong position, politically, here, to argue that displaying due process and rule of law would be our best weapon against al-Qaeda, in preventing him from appearing as a martyr.”
Obama's representations, given in an interview with Bowden, present an interesting - - - and perhaps unlikely - - - counterfactual. Over at Lawfare, Wells Bennett observes that "it seems a safe bet that congressional resistance to a civilian prosecution would have been extreme, at least as heated as the resistance to the civilian prosecution of the 9/11 co-conspirators."
October 9, 2012 in Books, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, International, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, October 4, 2012
The Eighth Circuit ruled in Kinder v. Geithner that a private individual and Missouri's Lieutenant Governor (acting in his personal capacity) lacked standing to challenge the universal coverage provision of the Affordable Care Act.
The Supreme Court, of course, settled the issue last summer. But that didn't stop the plaintiffs here (who filed before the Court ruled)--even if they couldn't identify the relief they sought (after the Court ruled). The Eighth Circuit side-stepped these problems, though, and ruled instead that the plaintiffs lacked standing. The ruling means that the case is dismissed.
One plaintiff, Samantha Hill, wrote in her complaint that the ACA forced her to purchase a health plan that she didn't want. In particular, Hill claimed that she wanted to buy only a high-deductible, "catastrophic" health plan, but that the ACA allowed a person to buy such a plan only if that person were under 30 years old and certified that his or her premiums amounted to more than eight percent of his or her household income.
The court ruled that Hill misread the statute. The ACA allows a person under 30 or a person whose premiums amount to more than eight percent of household income to purchase a catastrophic plan. Hill was under 30, and the Act therefore allowed her to buy a catastrophic plan. No injury.
(The court rejected Hill's several creative readings of her own complaint to get around this result. In the end, it seems, one of two things happened: somebody mis-read an "and" for an "or" in the ACA; or somebody wrote a pretty sloppy complaint.)
The court rejected LG Morris's claim, because he never said he'd be affected by the universal coverage requirement: he's already insured. No injury.
If the case weren't dismissed for lack of standing, it obviously would have been dismissed on the merits, after the Court's ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., the case testing whether the Alien Tort Statute applies to a foreign corporation's human rights violations overseas. The Court ordered reargument after it first heard the case last Term, on the question whether the ATS applies to corporations. The new question, argued Monday, is whether the ATS applies at all to actions that have no direct connection to the U.S. (We previously posted on the case, along with the Torture Victim Protection Act case from last Term, Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority, here.)
The case arose out of Nigerians' claims that defendant corporations committed human rights abuses against them in Nigeria (aiding the Nigerian government). The plaintiffs sought and gained asylum in the U.S., so sued in U.S. courts, under the ATS.
Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Alito all expressed skepticism that the ATS should apply to overseas abuses by non-U.S. corporations. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito both asked whether U.K. or Dutch courts might be a better forum for the case, given that the defendants are U.K. and Dutch companies (with some connection to those jurisdictions). Justices Scalia and Kennedy both worried early in the arguments that the plaintiffs' position could mean that U.S. corporations could face suits anywhere in the world, under another country's assertion of universal jurisdiction--thus, for example, allowing a foreign court to determine whether a U.S. corporation violated international law in the U.S. The Justices also worried about the extraterritorial application of U.S. law--and whether the ATS wouldn't improperly insert U.S. law into other jurisdictions in violation of the presumtion against extraterritorial application.
Paul Hoffman, counsel for the plaintiffs had an answer to these concerns: the law of personal jurisdiction, forum non conveniens, and political question would act as a backstop to ATS-based universal jurisdiction in U.S. courts, when the case didn't belong there. He also seemed to concede that some kind of exhaustion requirement (in which plaintiffs would have to exhaust available foreign remedies before proceeding in U.S. courts) or a rule that U.S. courts could take jurisdiction only when foreign courts couldn't offer fair justice could be reasonable checks on jurisdiction in the U.S. courts.
Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan seemed to search more for a practical, less categorical solution, by exploring defenses of personal jurisdiction and exhaustion, for example--the back-end fixes that Hoffman seemed to accept. Justice Breyer seemed most entrenched in favor of ATS jurisdiction, even at one point illustrating his view of the statute's reach by comparing Hitler's atrocities to the early acts of piracy that the ATS was designed to remedy.
There was one particular sticking point: Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, the Court's 2004 foray into the ATS, where a Mexican sued other Mexicans for events that occured in Mexico, although there was a key U.S. connection: the DEA set the whole affair in motion. The Court in that case held that the plaintiff could not recover damages under the ATS, but it also suggested that the ATS could reach a case like Kiobel. Thus the question: Must the Court overturn Sosa in order to rule for the defendant? Kathleen Kennedy, counsel for the defendants, argued no: Sosa is distinguishable, and the Court said only that there were no sufficiently universal and specific international norms to support an ATS claim. But Justice Kagan argued yes, noting that Sosa put its stamp of approval on the reasoning in Filartiga, the pathbreaking case in which the Second Circuit applied the ATS against an alien for acts outside the U.S. (Complicating things yet further, Congress later enacted the Torture Victim Protection Act, authorizing just the kind of suit in Filartiga. The defendants argued here that the TVPA means that the Court doesn't need to address Filartiga, because "Filartiga is taken care of entirely by the proper body, which is Congress.")
The Justices also explored ways to consider the government's interest in foreign affairs--a point pressed by SG Verrilli, but only narrowly: The government's position is "that there shouldn't be a cause of action to address the extraterritorial conduct of a foreign corporation that is alleged to have aided and abetted the acts of a foreign sovereign."
In all, the case doesn't look good for the plaintiffs. Even if the Court rules that the ATS can apply to an alien acting in a foreign country--that is, even if it doesn't adopt a categorical rule barring an ATS claim in that situation--it seems likely to rule that U.S. courts should punt until the plaintiff exhausts all reasonable and effective foreign remedies first, or that the government's foreign affairs interests trump the plaintiff's claims, or both. The Court could also send the case back for a (re)consideration of personal jurisdiction. Any one of these could doom the plaintiffs' case. (It's not clear exactly how exhaustion and personal jurisdiction would play out: it doesn't seem that those issues have been seriously litigated with respect to all defendants.) Moreover, the Court could rule that the ATS doesn't apply to corporations. That, too, would doom the plaintiff's case.
Monday, August 27, 2012
Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle (D.D.C.) dismissed Wheaton College's case against Secretary Sebelius over federal regs under the ACA that require covered employers to provide women with certain forms of preventive care, including all FDA-approved forms of contraception, without cost sharing.
The case is the second in as many months dismissed for lack of standing and ripeness in the D.C. District. We posted on the earlier case, Belmont Abbey College v. Sebelius, here. This case, by a different judge, now makes it even less likely that any of these suits will succeed.
(There are two other district court rulings. In one, State of Nebraska ex rel. Bruning v. Sebelius, Judge Warren Urbom (D. Ne.) dismissed claims by religious organizations, individuals, and the state itself for lack of standing--the same ruling as in Belmont Abbey and Wheaton College, but also including individual and state plaintiffs. In another, Newland v. Sebelius, Judge John Kane (D. Co.) granted a preliminary injunction to a private corporation, not a religious organization covered under the safe harbor. Newland is different than the other cases, because it was brought by a private corporation with no protection under the safe harbor.)
The most recent case, Wheaton College v. Sebelius, involved the same and very similar issues as those in Belmont Abbey--that is, whether the government's "safe harbor" and commitment to reconsider its regs left the plaintiff without standing and the case without ripeness. Like Judge Boasberg in Belmont Abbey, Judge Huvelle said yes on both counts.
Judge Huvelle rejected Wheaton College's argument that it might be subject to litigation as too speculative. She also rejected Wheaton College's argument that it might be subject to a new government position at any time--just as the D.C. Circuit ruled in Chamber of Commerce v. FEC that the Chamber of Commerce might have been subject to an FEC enforcement proceeding at any time, even with an FEC evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Judge Huvelle wrote that Chamber of Commerce was different, because here the government's commitment not to act against employers that qualify for the safe harbor (including Wheaton College) "was the product of sustained agency and public deliberation, and it represents a final decision, that has been reiterated twice." Op. at 11.
August 27, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Ripeness, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
The Eleventh Circuit ruled in Zinni v. ER Solutions, Inc. that the defendants' settlement offer for the full amount available under federal law, but not including an offer of a judgment, did not moot the plaintiffs' Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case.
The plaintiffs sued defendants in federal court for harassing debt collection calls in violation of the FDCPA and sought monetary damages and a judgment against the defendants. The defendants offered $1,001 to each plaintiff--one dollar more than the maximum damage award under the FDCPA--plus unspecified attorneys' fees and costs. But they didn't offer a judgment against them.
The Eleventh Circuit ruled that the offer didn't moot the plaintiffs' case. The court said that the defendants' offer wasn't the full relief requested by the plaintiffs (because the plaintiffs also asked for a judgment), and that a settlement for monetary damages without a judgment could simply lead to more litigation--for state law breach-of-contract--while at the same time divesting the federal court of jurisdiction over the claim. In other words: If the court dismissed the case as moot, the plaintiffs had only the defendants' promise to pay, and no means of enforcement in the federal courts. (With no judgment, the federal court where the plaintiffs brought the case would lack jurisdiction to enforcement a settlement. The plaintiffs could only enforce it in state court, on a breach-of-contract claim.)
The court distinguished two Seventh Circuit cases that held that an offer of full settlement did moot the claims, because the offer in those cases included a court-enforceable judgment.
The ruling allows the case to move forward, presumably on the issue of the judgment alone (assuming that the plaintiffs accept the offer of monetary damages).
Thursday, August 23, 2012
A group of ICE officers sued DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano today in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas to halt the Department's deferred action program, which defers removal of qualifying aliens. (Deferred action is simply an exercise of executive discretion not to remove certain aliens; it's the administration's way of achieving the goals of the DREAM Act without a DREAM Act.) The administration has argued that the program is a valid exercise of prosecutorial discretion. We last posted on it here, including a link to a letter by immigration and constitutional law profs arguing that the action is fully constitutional (and outlining a handful of different ways that the administration might go about it).
It's not easy to get a case like this into the courts: by definition, it's hard to identify somebody who has been harmed (and thus who has Article III standing) by a non-action by the government. The ICE officers claim that they're harmed because their bosses, through deferred action, are forcing them to violate federal law and their oaths to uphold federal law and the Constitution. It's not clear that this will be enough; and even if it is, there's this problem: If the officers here have sufficient Article III harm, then any federal officer who has even a vague constitutional disagreement with his or her bosses' policies will be able to sue to stop them. There are other preliminary problems, too, maybe most obviously the political question doctrine and related separation-of-powers considerations.
The officers state five causes of action. First, the officers claim that deferred action requires them to violate federal law that requires them to detain any alien "who is not clearly and beyond a doubt entitled to be admitted." Next, they say that deferred action confers a benefit on qualifying aliens, the deferred action itself, that is not authorized by federal law. Third, the officers argue that deferred action confers the benefit of employment authorization on qualifying aliens without any statutory basis and "under the false pretense of 'prosecutorial discretion.'" Fourth, they say that deferred action amounts to a legislative act (as evidenced by the numerous DREAM Act bills in Congress that didn't pass) and thus intrudes on the powers of Congress. Finally, they claim that deferred action violates the executive's constitutional obligation to take care that the laws are faithfully executed.
Between the preliminary problems and the inherently weak claims, it's hard to see that this case has much of a future. But maybe it's not supposed to. The complaint--signed by Kris Kobach and apparently bankrolled by NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for "lower immigration levels"--seems as much designed to get the issue out in the public as it is to get the issue into the courts.
August 23, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, August 20, 2012
A sharply divided three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled on Friday in Grocery Manufacturers Ass'n v. EPA that three trade associations lacked standing to challenge EPA's "partial" waivers allowing the introduction of a new ethanol biofuel.
The ruling means that EPA's waivers stand, allowing the introduction of an unleaded gasoline blend containing 15 percent ethanol for use in model-year 2001 and newer light-duty motor vehicles and engines. The case also deepens a circuit split on the question whether prudential standing is jurisdictional (and therefore reviewable even if a party doesn't challenge it). The panel majority said yes--a holding that seems in tension with the direction of both the Supreme Court and the circuit itself.
Between these two issues--the underlying issue of EPA's authority to issue waivers for a new biofuel, and the issue whether prudential standing is jurisdictional--this case may make a good candidate for Supreme Court review.
The case arose out EPA's "partial" waivers of the Clean Air Act provision that prohibits manufacturers from introducing into commerce "any fuel or fuel additive for use by any person in motor vehicles manufactured after model year 1974 which is not substantially similar to any fuel or fuel additive" used in the federal emissions certification of those vehicles. 42 U.S.C. Sec. 7545(f)(1)(B). The CAA allows the EPA to grant a waiver, however, if it "determines that the applicant has established that such fuel or fuel additive or a specific concentration thereof, and the emission products of such fuel or fuel additive or specified concentration thereof, will not cause or contribute to a failure of any emission control device or system . . . to achieve compliance by the vehicle or engine with the emission standards with respect to which it has been certified." 42 U.S.C. Sec. 7545(f)(4) (emphasis added).
The waivers allowed manufacturers to introduce a new biofuel, E15 (an unleaded gasoline blend containing 15 percent ethanol), for light-duty motor vehicles and engines with a model year 2001 and newer. (E10, a different ethanol blend with just 10 percent ethanol, is already on the market. Put simply: E15 uses more corn.)
The plaintiffs, three different trade associations, sued, arguing, among other things, that EPA lacked authority to grant a "partial" waiver. (See (f)(4), above, and the phrase "any emission control device or system.") An intervenor argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing.
(Note that the government challenged neither Article III standing nor prudential standing. Under well settled law, the court can still address Article III standing, because it's jurisdictional. But the panel split on whether the court could address prudential standing: the majority wrote that it could (because it's jurisdictional); the dissent wrote that it could not (because it's not jurisdictional). (Judge Tatel wrote that circuit precedent required the court to rule that it's jurisdictional, even though the weight of authority seems to be going the other way.)
Chief Judge Sentelle and Judge Tatel agreed that two of the three trade associations lacked Article III standing, because their claimed harms were too far removed from the EPA's partial waivers. (The engine-products group claimed that EPA waivers would cause E15 to enter the market and cause damage to certain engines and create liability for those engine manufacturers. The court held that this was neither "concrete and particularized" nor "actual or imminent." The petroleum group claimed that the waivers would require refiners and importers to introduce E15 into commerce (because there'd be no other way to meet increasing renewable fuel requirements under federal law) and downstream firms to accommodate E15. The court said that the waivers caused neither of these results.)
They also agreed that the third plaintiff, the food producers, lacked prudential standing, because their interests weren't within the zone of interests to be protected or regulated by the statute. They said that the food producers, which argued that the waiver would cause corn prices to rise, drew on an interest protected by a different statute, not the CAA.
Judge Kavanaugh argued in dissent that both the food producers and the petroleum group had Article III standing, that prudential standing was non-jurisdictional, and that even if prudential standing were jurisdictional both had it.
(Judge Tatel agreed that the food producers had Article III standing, but because Judge Tatel also agreed with Chief Judge Sentelle that they lacked prudential standing, the case is dismissed.)
Judge Kavanaugh went on to argue that the EPA lacked authority to grant the partial waivers.
Friday, August 17, 2012
Judge Cormac J. Carney (C.D. Cal.) this week dismissed a case brought by several Muslims challenging an FBI surveillance program on the government's assertion of the state secrets privilege. (Thanks to emptywheel.net for links to the opinions below.)
The ruling, along with a companion ruling on the plaintiffs' FISA claim, terminates all but a sliver of the case. It also illustrates what a powerful weapon the state secrets privilege can be--protecting an indiscriminate surveillance program that, as described by the plaintiffs, even the judge called "disturbing." At the end of the day, Judge Carney dismissed the entire case (aside from the FISA claim, discussed below and dismissed in part on other grounds) on the government's own claim, based on a sealed declaration, that its defense would necessarily reveal state secrets.
The rulings in Fazaga v. FBI arose out of the plaintiffs' challenge to the FBI's "Operation Flex" program. According to the complaint, the FBI engaged a civilian, Craig Monteilh, to conduct indiscriminate surveillance on Muslims in Southern California. The surveillance resulted in hundreds of hours of video and thousands of hours of audio recordings from the mosques, homes, businesses, and associations of hundreds of Muslims. But it didn't result in a single criminal charge.
The plaintiffs sued the FBI and its officers under several constitutional and statutory theories, including FISA. The government moved to dismiss, arguing that its defense necessarily required disclosure of information that would harm national security--that is, state secrets--and the court agreed. Judge Carney explained:
Here, Plaintiffs' claims are predicated on their core allegation that Defendants engaged in an indiscriminate investigation, surveillance, and collection of information of Plaintiffs and the putative class because they are Muslim. . . . [T]he Court is persuaded that privileged information provides essential evidence for Defendants' full and effective defense against Plaintiffs' claims--namely, showing that Defendants' purported "dragnet" investigations were not indiscriminate schemes to target Muslims, but were properly predicated and focused. . . . [T]he Court is [also] convinced that the privileged and nonprivileged information are inextricably intertwined, such that litigating the instant case to judgment on the merits would present an unacceptable risk of disclosing state secrets.
Op. at 31, 33 (emphasis in original).
Judge Carney's ruling is thorough and thoughtful--explaining the Totten bar and the Reynolds privilege; navigating between and synthesizing recent rulings coming out of the Ninth Circuit (Jeppesen Dataplan) and the Fourth Circuit (El-Masri); reviewing the government's confidential supporting affidavit and memorandum; checking the government's assertion against the government's own standards and processes for asserting the privilege; and explaining in broad terms just what the kind of information might be disclosed in the litigation. In other words, the ruling seems modest, balanced, and reasonable.
But still there's this: Judge Carney dismissed the entire case because the government's defense would have required revealing information that would harm national security, based only on the government's own say so. The dramatic result creates a perverse incentive for the government to overreach in its surveillance programs, with the knowledge and comfort that it can successfully shut down an entire case simply by showing that any defense of it would reveal state secrets.
In the companion ruling, Judge Carney dismissed the plaintiffs' FISA claim against the government, but not the individual defendants. Judge Carney relied on the Ninth Circuit's recent ruling that FISA's civil damages provision did not unequivocally waive sovereign immunity. But Judge Carney also said that nothing in the civil damages provision stops the suit against the individual defendants. And the government didn't assert the state secrets privilege over the FISA part of the case.
As a result, the plaintiffs' FISA claim against the individual defendants appears to go on. We might expect a government assertion of the state secrets privilege over this remaining part of the case now. If so, it could face a hurdle: The Northern District of California ruled in In re Nat'l Sec. Agency Telecomms. Records Litig., 564 F. Supp. 2d 1109, 1120 (2008) that FISA preempts the state secrets privilege with respect to a FISA claim. While the court cited and discussed the case (in rehearsing the plaintiffs' argument), it's not clear that it would agree with it, or not.
August 17, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, State Secrets, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, August 13, 2012
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform filed its anticipated complaint today in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against Attorney General Eric Holder, seeking a declaration that AG Holder's assertion of executive privilege is without merit and that his failure to turn over certain documents to the Committee was without justification, and requiring AG Holder to turn over certain "obstruction" documents.
The complaint seeks a mere subset of the larger body of documents originally sought by the Committee--the so-called "Obstruction Component" documents, relating to DOJ's alleged obstruction of the Committee's investigation into the Fast and Furious program. (The Committee does not seek other documents covered in its earlier subpoena--the "Operations Component" documents, related to the operations of the program--although it maintains its right to seek and to receive those documents.) The Committee explains, in paragraph 62 of the complaint:
The Department's and the Attorney General's response to the Committee's investigation has been woefully inadequate in every respect. However, notwithstanding their lack of cooperation, the Committee has managed to obtain sufficient facts--principally through the aid of DOJ whistleblowers--to begin reporting to the American people on the Operations Component of its investigation. Accordingly, although the Committee has a legal and constitutional right to obtain from the Attorney General all documents responsible to the Holder Subpoena not already produced, the Committee chooses in this action to seek only a limited subset of such responsive but unproduced documents, namely, those documents that are relevant to the Obstruction Component of the Committee's investigation which the Committee cannot obtain from any other source. To that end, the Committee here seeks to compel the Attorney General to produce those documents dated or that were created after February 4, 2011, that are responsive to Categories 1, 4, 5, and 10 of the Holder Subpoena [attached to the complaint]. In the Committee's judgment, this limited subset of responsive documents--referred to herein as the "Post-February 4 Subset"--includes or constitutes the documents most likely to be relevant to the Obstruction Component of the Committee's investigation and, when produced, most likely to enable the Committee to complete its investigation.
Here's what the Committee thinks of the administration's executive privilege claim:
The principal legal issue presented here is whether the Attorney General may withhold that limited subset on the basis of "Executive privilege" where there has been no suggestion that the documents at issue implicate or otherwise involve any advice to the President, and where the Department's actions do not involve core constitutional functions of the President.
No Court has ever held that "Executive privilege" extends anywhere near as far as the Attorney General here contends that it does. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the Attorney General's conception of the reach of "Executive privilege," were it to be accepted, would cripple congressional oversight of Executive branch agencies, to the very great detriment of the Nation and our constitutional structure. Accordingly, the Committee asks this Court to reject the Attorney General's assertion of "Executive privilege" and order him forthwith to comply with the Committee's subpoena, as set forth below.
Compl. at page 3.
Recall that AG Holder urged the assertion of the privilege based on "executive branch deliberative communications"--supported, AG Holder argued, by several DOJ and OLC opinions (including DOJ advice, authored by Paul Clement, in the Bush administration relating to the assertion of executive privilege in the congressional investigation on the politicization of the Justice Department). See Holder Memo at 2-3.
The privilege dispute thus centers on whether the President himself had to be part of the communications--or whether the communication had to be in relation to advice to the President--or whether the privilege applies more broadly over "executive branch deliberative communications" that did not involve the President directly.
In the D.C. court's last foray into this and similar issues, in a similar case involving above-mentioned congressional investigations into the politicization of the Justice Department, Committee on the Judiciary v. Miers, Judge John D. Bates ruled that the Committee jumped the several significant hurdles to get the case into court and that White House Counsel Harriet Miers did not have absolute immunity from testifying before Congress. (The case was stayed pending appeal and resolved itself by agreement of the parties in January 2009.)
But while Judge Bates's opinion dealt at length with (and ultimately rejected) the defendants' claimed barriers to the Committee's suit, it did not resolve the executive privilege issues presented in this case.
Miers may provide useful guidance, though, for a more pragmatic reasons: The D.C. Circuit in that case declined to put the appeal on the fast track, suggesting that the case could become moot when the 110th Congress, along with its subpoenas, expired.
This case, like that one, will not reach final judicial resolution (and maybe even not a district court ruling) before the end of the current Congress. The case could fizzle out--that is, moot out, because the subpoena will have expired with the current Congress--when the new Congress comes in . . . unless the new House reauthorizes it.
August 13, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)