Thursday, March 8, 2018
The D.C. Circuit this week rejected a challenge to the Secretary of State's authorization of a second bridge linking Detroit with Windsor, Ontario, as an impermissible delegation of authority by Congress (among other things).
The case, Detroit International Bridge Co v. Government of Canada, arose in 2012 when the Secretary of State authorized a second bridge pursuant to the International Bridge Act. The IBA provides:
The consent of Congress is hereby granted to the construction, maintenance, and operation of any bridge and approaches thereto, which will connect the United States with any foreign country . . . and to the collection of tolls for its use, so far as the United States has jurisdiction.
The plaintiff, which owns and operates the first bridge (the Ambassador Bridge), sued, arguing that the IBA violated the nondelegation doctrine, among other claims.
The D.C. Circuit this week rejected the plaintiff's nondelegation claim (along with the others). The court, quoting Zemel v. Rusk, said that there's a thumb on the scale against nondelegation challenges in the area of foreign affairs, because Congress "must of necessity paint with a brush broader than it customarily wields in domestic areas." It then compared the case to the congressional delegation in TOMAC v. Norton (D.C. Cir. 2006):
Applying these principles, this court has held that a delegation authorizing the Secretary of the Interior, who has a trust obligation with respect to Indians, "to acquire real property for the [Pokagon Indian] Band," was not unconstitutional because it was "cabined by 'intelligible principles' delineating both the area in and the purpose for which the land should be purchased. Here too, the Secretary's authority is limited by an "area"--navigable waters between the U.S. and Canada or Mexico--and a "purpose"--the construction of international bridges. Thus, the intelligible principle is that in view of the Secretary's mission relating to foreign affairs, the Secretary will review international bridge agreements for their potential impact on United States foreign policy.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
The Justice Department filed suit yesterday against California seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the enforcement of three state provisions that, says DOJ, frustrate the federal government's enforcement of immigration laws. The government argues that the three state provisions violate the Supremacy Clause and thus are preempted and invalid.
AG Sessions has previously moved to clamp down on sanctuary jurisdictions through withholding of the federal JAG Grant. This is the first time DOJ has sued a jurisdiction for sanctuary policies.
The first provision, AB 450, prohibits private employers in the state from providing consent to federal immigration officers to search a workplace or employment records without a subpoena or warrant. DOJ contends that this "interfer[es] with the enforcement of the INA and IRCA's prohibition on working without authorization," and thus is preempted.
The next one, AB 103, requires the state AG "to engage in reviews of county, local, or private locked detention facilities in which noncitizens are being housed or detained for purposes of civil immigration proceedings in California" and to examine the "due process provided" to civil immigration detainees. DOJ argues that this "commands an improper, significant intrusion into federal enforcement of the immigration laws."
The final provision, SB 54, prohibits state and local law enforcement officials (other than employees of the California Department of Corrections) from "[p]roviding information regarding a person's release date or responding to requests for notification by providing release dates or other information." The provision also requires that federal officials get a "judicial warrant or judicial probable cause determination" before the state or locality may transfer an immigrant to DHS for enforcement. DOJ says this about these requirements:
These provisions impermissibly prohibit even the most basic cooperation with federal officials. As noted above, federal law contemplates that criminal aliens in state custody who may be subject to removal will complete their state or local sentences first before being detained by the United States, but that federal immigration detention for immigration proceedings or for removal will begin upon the alien's release from state custody. Additionally, federal law contemplates that DHS will be able to inspect all applicants for admission and take all appropriate action against those found to be inadmissible to the United States, even those that may have been transferred to the custody of state and local law enforcement pending such a state and local prosecution. And, to facilitate coordination between state and local officials and the United States, Congress expressly prohibited any federal, state, or local government entity or official from prohibiting, or in any way restricting, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, DHS "information regarding the citizenship or immigration status of an individual."
[The transfer restriction] also conflicts with federal law, which establishes a system of civil administrative warrants as the basis for immigration arrest and removal, and does not require or contemplate use of a judicial warrant for civil immigration enforcement.
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Check out this NYT editorial on Senator McConnell's refusal to consider President Obama's nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, for the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Scalia's passing. We posted on Another Reason Why Justice Gorsuch Matters here.
Monday, February 26, 2018
Judge Randolph D. Moss (D.D.C.) today (almost) dismissed the challenge to President Trump's executive order that requires agencies to repeal two regulations for every new one they adopt. Judge Moss ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing . . . for now, at least.
Recall that Public Citizen and others sued President Trump, arguing that the EO violated the separation of powers, the Take Care Clause, and the Administrative Procedure Act. The government moved to dismiss for lack of standing. Today the court agreed.
The court ruled that the plaintiffs lacked associational standing, because they failed to identify particular members who would be harmed, to plead facts sufficient to show that the relevant agency would've issued a new rule even without the EO, and to allege that any delay of the regulatory action attributable to the EO would substantially increase the risk of harm to their members. The court also ruled that they lacked organizational standing, because "[t]he burden of merely considering [the cost of the EO], however, is insufficient to establish organizational standing."
But the court stopped short of entering a final judgment. Instead, Judge Moss set a March 1 hearing where the parties and the court can determine what to do next, including, possibly, dismissing the complaint with leave to file a new one.
Judge William Q. Hayes (S.D. Cal.) on Friday dismissed a challenge to a city's new single-member districts for its city council elections for lack of standing. The ruling means that the city's new districting plan stays in place.
The case, Higginson v. Becerra, arose when the City of Poway switched from at at-large system to a single-member-district system of elections for its four-member city council. The City made the change reluctantly, and only in response to threatened litigation by a private attorney, who wrote to the council that its at-large system violated the California Voting Rights Act. (The attorney argued that the at-large system, along with racially polarized voting in the City, effectively prevented Latinos from electing a candidate of their choice.) The council vigorously disagreed that its at-large system violated the CVRA, but agreed to change, anyway, in order to avoid litigation costs.
After the council drew its new single-member districts, Don Higginson, a voter in the new District 2, sued, arguing that the CVRA violated equal protection. His theory was a little unusual: "The CVRA makes race the predominant factor in drawing electoral districts. Indeed, it makes race the only factor given that a political subdivision, such as the City, must abandon its at-large system based on the existence of racially polarized voting and nothing more." (In other words: according to Higgerson, because there was racially polarized voting, any CVRA requirement to undo the effects of that voting in an at-large system violated equal protection.)
Higginson sued AG Becerra for injunctive relief (to stop him from enforcing the CVRA) and the City for injunctive relief (to stop it from using its single-member district map, as required by the CVRA (according to Higgerson)).
The court dismissed the case for lack of standing. The court said that Higginson's harm in not being able to vote for council-members in three of the four districts (because the CVRA required the change to single-member districts)--assuming this was even a cognizable harm--wasn't traceable to AG Becerra or the City. As to AG Becerra, the court said that the AG had not enforced the CVRA against the City, and therefore couldn't have caused Higginson's alleged harm. As to the City, the court said that it acted out of a desire to avoid litigation costs, not because it thought its at-large system violated the CVRA, and therefore it couldn't have caused his alleged harm in the name of CVRA compliance. (For the same reasons, the court said that Higginson failed to demonstrate that his requested relief would redress his alleged harm.)
Without causation and redressability, Higginson lacked standing, and the court dismissed the case.
There were no surprises today at oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, the case testing whether a state law that permits a public-sector collective-bargaining agreement to require non-union-members to pay a "fair share" fee violates the First Amendment. The justices seemed to divide along predictable (and conventional political) lines, given their votes in other recent cases. The only one we haven't heard from on this issue--and didn't hear anything today--is Justice Gorsuch. If previous positions hold, as expected, the case will turn on his vote.
The case asks whether a state can require non-union members to pay the union for its collective-bargaining work (but not its outside political work) in a public-sector agency shop. The Court held in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977) that it could. In particular, the Court said that the state's interests in avoiding free-riders in the agency shop and promoting and protecting labor peace justified any intrusion into First Amendment rights.
Janus tests whether the Court should overrule Abood and strike mandatory public-sector fair-share fees.
Recall that the issue has come to the Court, directly or indirectly, three times in recent years. In the first two cases, Knox v. SEIU and Harris v. Quinn, the Court sent strong signals that a majority thought fair share fees violated the First Amendment. Then, in 2016, the Court deadlocked 4-4 on the issue in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. Justice Scalia participated in oral arguments in Friedrichs--and indicated his position against fair share--but passed away before the Court issued its ruling.
Arguments today largely rehearsed the points made in Friedrichs and that have by now become familiar: on the one side, mandatory fair share represents compelled speech on public issues that a non-union-member (like Janus) may disagree with; on the other side, the interests in Abood justify any mild intrusion into First Amendment rights represented by a fee (and not actual compelled speech). Lurking just below the surface is the political wrangling over public-sector unions and the reality that a ruling against fair share will strike a serious blow to them.
If prior positions hold among the eight justices who participated in Friedrichs, as expected, the case will then turn on Justice Gorsuch. He revealed no cards today, though, staying quiet throughout the arguments.
The Supreme Court today declined to weigh in on a district court's preliminary injunction requiring the Trump Administration "to maintain the DACA program on a nationwide basis on the same terms and conditions as were in effect before the recession on September 5, 2017." We posted on that injunction here; we posted on a similar injunction out of the Eastern District of New York here.
DOJ asked the Court to review Judge Alsup's injunction, even before the Ninth Circuit had its own say--a request that the Court only rarely grants. Today the Court denied the request.
The Court's brief order simply denied certiorari before judgment, without dissent. It also sent this signal to the Ninth Circuit: "It is assumed that the Court of Appeals will proceed expeditiously to decide this case."
This means that the Court will almost certainly weigh in eventually, but only after the Ninth Circuit has had its own bite at the apple. In other words: today's denial telegraphs nothing about the Court's views on the merits.
The government will press its appeal at the Ninth Circuit. But in the meantime, Judge Alsup's injunction stays in place, and Dreamers can continue to renew. (DOJ didn't seek a stay of Judge Alsup's ruling, so it remains effective unless and until it's stayed or overturned.)
Thursday, February 22, 2018
The Sixth Circuit ruled in Byrd v. Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Ass'n that a state law requiring two-year state residency--and ten-year residency for renewal--for a retailer-alcoholic-beverage license violated the Dormant Commerce Clause.
The ruling, with a partial concurrence and partial dissent, further exposes tensions between the Commerce Clause and the Twenty-First Amendment in the Court's treatment of discriminatory state alcohol regulations.
Tennessee's law says that alcohol retailers have to have a license. In order to get one, they have to show that an individual retailer was a state resident for two years, or that a corporate retailer was completely owned by two-year residents. The residency requirement shoots up to ten years for license renewals.
The Sixth Circuit struck the requirements. The court said that the requirements were facially discriminatory against out-of-state economic interests, and that the state failed to show that nondiscriminatory alternative regulations could achieve the state's goals of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of state residents and using a higher level of oversight and control over liquor retailers.
The court noted a split in the circuits as to the interplay between the Commerce Clause and the Twenty-First Amendment under Bacchus Imports v. Dias and Granholm v. Heald. The ruling deepens that split.
Judge Sutton argued in partial dissent that "these modest requirements" were supported by "the text of the Twenty-first Amendment, the original understanding of that provision's relationship to the Commerce Clause, modern U.S. Supreme Court precedent, and a recent Eighth Circuit decision." Judge Sutton agreed with the majority, however, as to the application of the two-year residency requirement to 100% of a retailer's stockholders and as to the ten-year residency requirement for a renewal.
Check out Garrett Epps's piece in The Atlantic on What Clarence Thomas Gets Wrong About the Second Amendment. The piece responds to Justice Thomas's dissent this week in the Court's decision not to review a Ninth Circuit ruling that upheld California's ten-day waiting period for gun purchases.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Check out Michael Tomasky's piece Who Needs Congressional Districts? in the NYT. Against the backdrop of Pennsylvania redistricting, Tomasky argues in favor of "general ticket" voting--at-large elections--over single-member districts for congressional elections. As he points out, Article I, Section 2, says only this about congressional elections: "The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states." It does not prescribe single-member districts, and allows at-large elections and slate voting.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
The Supreme Court today denied certiorari in Silvester v. Becerra, the Ninth Circuit ruling upholding California's ten-day waiting period for gun purchases against a Second Amendment challenge.
The denial is a blow to gun-rights advocates. It means that the Ninth Circuit ruling and California's ten-day waiting period stay on the books.
Justice Thomas filed a lone dissent, arguing that the Ninth Circuit didn't apply sufficiently rigorous scrutiny in judging the law and that the Court has given the Second Amendment second-class status in denying review in this and other Second Amendment challenges:
Because the right to keep and bear arms is enumerated in the Constitution, courts cannot subject laws that burden it to mere rational-basis review.
But the decision below did just that. Purporting to apply intermediate scrutiny, the Court of Appeals upheld California's 10-day waiting period for firearms based solely on its own "common sense." It did so without requiring California to submit relevant evidence, without addressing petitioners' arguments to the contrary, and without acknowledging the District Court's factual findings. This deferential analysis was indistinguishable from rational-basis review. And it is symptomatic of the lower courts' general failure to afford the Second Amendment the respect due an enumerated constitutional right.
If a lower court treated another right so cavalierly, I have little doubt that this Court would intervene. But as evidenced by our continued inaction in this area, the Second Amendment is a disfavored right in this Court.
Check out Neal Katyal and Kenneth Starr's piece in the NYT on A Better Way to Protect Mueller. They argue that instead of Congress acting to protect the special counsel, DOJ should do what Robert Bork did in Watergate--that is, after he fired Cox:
As acting attorney general, Bork appointed a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski. He then issued a regulation that "the president will not exercise his constitutional powers to effect the discharge of the special prosecutor or to limit the independence that he is hereby given." It went on to specify that the special prosecutor could be terminated only for "extraordinary improprieties," and even then, Nixon could do it only with a "consensus" of the House and Senate majority and minority leaders, and the chairmen and ranking members of the chambers' judiciary committees. Bork codified these restrictions in federal regulations, and told the news media that Nixon had agreed to them.
Katyal and Starr argue that DOJ should issue its own "Bork regulation."
Friday, February 16, 2018
Check out Garrett Epps's piece in The Atlantic reviewing Eugene Volokh and William Baude's amicus brief in Janus, the case testing whether fair-share fees for public-sector unions violate the First Amendment.
Volokh and Baude argue that mandatory fair-share fees for public-sector unions don't even raise free-speech problems--at least any more than other, familiar forms of government, or government-sponsored, speech.
Still, Epps writes that while "[t]he professors' brief is elegant and probably right . . . I doubt that their counsel will slow the court's stampede to overturn Abood."
The Sixth Circuit ruled today that plaintiffs lacked standing to sue a law firm for sending a letter without a disclosure that it was a "communication . . . from a debt collector" in violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
The ruling is the latest application of the Supreme Court's 2016 ruling in Spokeo that a plaintiff has to show an actual harm for Article III standing purposes, even if Congress purports to create a harm through legislation. (In other words, a Congress-created harm alone isn't enough: a plaintiff still has to show actual harm under the standing rules in order to satisfy Article III.)
The case, Hagy v. Demers, arose when Demers, an attorney for a mortgage lender, wrote to the Hagys' attorney saying that his client wouldn't seek to collect on any deficiency balance on the Hagys' mortgage loan. But Demers didn't include a statement that this was a "communication . . . from a debt collector," as required by the FDCPA. So after the mortgage lender nevertheless hassled the Hagys for payment, the Hagys sued Demers, arguing that the FDCPA created an individual right to a notice that a communication is from a debt collector, and that Demers's failure to include the notice harmed them.
The Sixth Circuit rejected that argument. The court held that under Spokeo the Hagys had to show actual harm to establish Article III standing even if Congress purported to create a harm under the FDCPA, and that they couldn't show that Demers's letter harmed them in any concrete way. (In fact, the court said it helped them.)
The court analogized this separation-of-powers problem to a familiar federalism problem to illustrate the limits on Congress:
Congress may not use its enforcement power under the Fourteenth Amendment to redefine the "free exercise" of religion however it wishes and in the process intrude on the States' existing powers in the area. So too with the horizontal separation of powers at the national level. Congress may not enact a law that eliminates Article III safeguards that permit federal courts only to use the "judicial Power" to hear "Cases" and "Controversies."
We know of no circuit court decision since Spokeo that endorses an anything-hurts-so-long-as-Congress-says-it-hurts theory of Article III injury. Although Congress may "elevate" harms that "exist" in the real world before Congress recognized them to actionable legal status, it may not simply enact an injury into existence, using its lawmaking power to transform something that is not remotely harmful into something that is.
The court acknowledged the challenges in drawing a line "between what Congress may, and may not, do in creating an 'injury in fact.'" ("Put five smart lawyers in a room, and it won't take long to appreciate the difficult of the task at hand.") But the court said this case was easy: The Hagys didn't even try to show that they suffered some harm outside of the "procedural harm" that Congress created in requiring the disclosure under the FDCPA.
The ruling means that the Hagys' case is dismissed.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon once again tried to expand the scope of executive privilege in his testimony today before the House Intelligence Committee. This time, Bannon reportedly invoked the privilege in response to any question except 25 that were written for him by the White House. (His answer to each: "No.")
According to The Hill, the White House wrote a letter to the Committee on Wednesday evening explaining its view why executive privilege covers communications during Trump's transition--and not just communications during President Trump's presidency. As we explained, this is not the conventional understanding of the privilege. We'll post on the White House's reasoning if and when it becomes available.
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
The Seventh Circuit ruled this week that the First Amendment's ministerial exception barred a Hebrew teacher's Americans with Disabilities Act claim against her employer, a Jewish school. The ruling is the first time the Seventh Circuit applied the ministerial exception.
The case, Grussgott v. Milwaukee Jewish Day School, arose when Grussgott, a Hebrew teacher at the school, suffered memory and cognitive issues as a result of medical treatment for her brain tumor. During a call from a parent, Grussgott couldn't remember an event, and the parent taunted her about her memory loss. Grussgott's husband, who happens to be a rabbi, sent an e-mail from Grussgott's work account criticizing the parent for being disrespectful. The school fired her, and she sued under the ADA, arguing that she was fired because of her cognitive issues resulting from the brain tumor.
The Seventh Circuit ruled that the ministerial exception applied and dismissed the case. Applying the "fact-intensive analysis" of Hosanna-Tabor, the court held that while Grussgott's title and the "substance reflected in that title" both tilted against applying the ministerial exception, Grussgott's use of the title and the religious functions she performed both tilted in favor. The court explained:
But Hebrew teachers at Milwaukee Jewish Day School were expected to follow the unified Tal Am curriculum, meaning that the school expected its Hebrew teachers to integrate religious teachings into their lessons. Grussgott's resume also touts significant religious teaching experience, which the former principal said was a crucial factor in the school hiring her in 2013. Thus, the substance of Grussgott's title as conveyed to her and as perceived by others entails the teaching of the Jewish religion to students, which supports the application of the ministerial exception here.
Grussgott undisputedly taught her students about Jewish holidays, prayer, and the weekly Torah readings; moreover, she practiced the religion alongside her students by praying with them and performing certain rituals, for example.
The court was careful to say that its analysis is holistic and fact-intensive, and not a rigid and mathematical application of the four "factors" from Hasanna-Tabor. On the other hand, the court also rejected "a purely functional approach to determining whether an employee's role is ministerial."
We read the Supreme Court's decision to impose, in essence, a totality-of-the-circumstances test. And it is fair to say that, under the totality of the circumstances in this particular case, the importance of Grussgott's role as a "teacher of  faith" to the next generation outweighed other considerations.
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
The D.C. and Ninth Circuits this week ruled in two very different cases that plaintiffs lacked claims against federal officers or agents for violations of their constitutional rights. The two rulings both rely on a well established Bivens rule, that a plaintiff lacks a Bivens remedy if alternative statutory remedies are available. As such, the rulings don't restrict Bivens because of the Supreme Court's restrictive reading of Bivens last Term in Abbasi. Still, they underscore the limited reach of Bivens.
In the D.C. case, Liff v. Office of Inspector General, a former government contractor sued the Labor Department OIG and the Office of Personnel Management for violating his due process rights after those offices published reports that allegedly caused harm to him and his business. The court held that as a government contractor he had other statutory remedies, including the Tucker Act, the Contract Disputes Act, and the agency procurement protest process under the Federal Acquisition Regulation. As to his privacy claim, the court said the Privacy Act provided relief. The court was untroubled that these remedies wouldn't make him whole: "The question is whether alternative remedies exist, not whether they cover the full breadth of harm that a would-be Bivens plaintiff alleges."
In the Ninth Circuit case, Vega v. U.S., a federal inmate sued halfway-house operators for violating his First Amendment right to access to the courts and procedural due process after they filed a disciplinary report, without evidence, that resulted in his return to federal prison. (He eventually was returned to the halfway house.) The court held that he lacked a Bivens remedy, because the Administrative Remedy Program, the Unit Discipline Committee, or state-law claims could have provided relief.
Wednesday, January 31, 2018
A sharply fractured and divided en banc D.C. Circuit today rejected a challenge to the independent single director at the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau. The ruling deals a blow to opponents of the CFPB's power structure. But this ruling almost certainly doesn't end the matter; instead, it likely only tees the case up for the Supreme Court, giving this Court a chance to put its gloss on independence within the Executive Branch.
We previously posted on the case here. (This case is not directly related to the litigation over who is the true acting head of the Bureau.)
Opponents of the CFPB power structure argued that Congress violated the Take Care Clause in creating the CFPB with an independent single director. They said that while the Supreme Court has approved independent agencies in the Executive Branch, these have all been boards, not single directors. And creating an independent single director put too much power in the hands of the CFPB director--and took too much power away from the President.
The court today rejected those claims. The multiple opinions run 250 pages, but the majority's approach came down to this:
The Supreme Court eighty years ago sustained the constitutionality of the independent Federal Trade Commission, a consumer-protection financial regulator with powers analogous to those of the CFPB. Humphrey's Executor v. United States. In doing so, the Court approved the very means of independence Congress used here: protection of agency leadership from at-will removal by the President. The Court has since reaffirmed and built on that precedent, and Congress has embraced and relief on it in designing independent agencies. We follow that precedent here to hold that the parallel provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act shielding the Director of the CFPB from removal without cause is consistent with Article II.
Congress's decision to provide the CFPB Director a degree of insulation reflects it permissible judgment that civil regulation of consumer financial protection should be kept one step removed from political winds and presidential will. We have no warrant here to invalidate such a time-tested course. No relevant consideration gives us reason to doubt the constitutionality of the independent CFPB's single-member structure. Congress made constitutionally permissible institutional design choices for the CFPB with which courts should hesitate to interfere. "While the Constitution diffuses power the better to secure liberty, it also contemplates that practice will integrate the dispersed powers into a workable government." Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer.
Wednesday, January 24, 2018
The Justice Department today sent letters to 23 sanctuary jurisdictions, requesting certain additional documents to show that they are not preventing their officers from sharing immigration information with the feds, in violation of 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373.
The letters say that Justice will subpoena the documents if a jurisdiction declines to share. The letter outlines other consequences, too:
Should the Department determine your jurisdiction is out of compliance with section 1373, the Department may, as detailed in your award documents, seek return of your FY 2016 grant funds, require additional conditions for receipt of any FY 2017 Byrne JAG funding for which you have applied, and/or deem you ineligible for FY 2017 Byrne JAG funds.
Justice's moves to clamp down on sanctuary jurisdictions have drawn lawsuits by many of those jurisdictions. They argue, among other things, that Section 1373 amounts to unconstitutional commandeering of local officers, that Justice's conditions on their grants fail the conditioned-spending test under South Dakota v. Dole, and that Justice has no authority to impose conditions on federal grants without Congress's say so. We last posted on the suits here.