Friday, April 11, 2014

No Invalid Delegation in Sex Offender Registration Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 5, 2014

District Court Rejects Targeted Killing Claim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 28, 2014

D.C. Circuit Appears Split in Latest Obamacare Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 24, 2014

False Equivalence Between Senate Oversight and CIA Spying

Conor Friedersdorf writes over at The Atlantic that media coverage of the dispute between Senator Dianne Feinstein and the CIA over the Agency's spying on Congress wrongly puts concerns about CIA oversight on par with concerns about Senate investigations in the separation-of-powers calculus.

Recall that Senator Feinstein recently criticized the CIA for spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee.  The CIA responded that Committee staff improperly obtained CIA material in its investigation of CIA detention and interrogation policies.  Both matters are now at the DOJ.

Friedersdorf argues (persuasively) that media coverage of the competing claims wrongly puts them on par.  He says that the Senate Intelligence Committee is supposed to investigate the CIA (it is), and that even if Committee staff obtained CIA information, it was information that the CIA was supposed to turn over anyway.  The real transgression is not Committee oversight; it's the CIA's spying on Congress.

What vexes me about how this dispute is being covered . . . is the false equivalence implicit in the juxtaposition: as if the CIA and the Senate committee stand accused of like transgressions.  If the charges against the CIA are true, our nation's foreign spy agency, which is forbidden from conducting any surveillance in the U.S., snooped on our legislature.  That's a transgression against our constitutional framework.

At the same time:

Are we prepared to accept that, during a comprehensive congressional inquiry into torture, the CIA was justified in withholding torture documents?  Senate staffers committed no great sin in getting documents wrongly denied them.

March 24, 2014 in Congressional Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Feinstein Rails Against CIA Search of Committee Computers

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Gitmo Detainees May Assert Mistreatment Claims

A divided panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled today in Aamer v. Obama that Guantanamo detainees may bring a habeas corpus claim in federal court challenging their forced-feeding by the government, but that that claim is not likely to succeed.

The ruling is notable, because it's the first time a federal appellate court ruled that Guantanamo detainees could bring a habeas claim to challenge their conditions of confinement (as opposed to the fact of their confinement).

The ruling is likely to bring  a host of new habeas claims from detainees at Guantanamo--challenging not just the fact of their detention (the kind we've already seen) but also the conditions of their confinement.  It may also bring a congressional response--to foreclose those claims.

The court also ruled that the detainees' challenge to their forced-feeding was not likely to succeed.

Some background: Congress enacted two provisions in the MCA designed to strip federal courts of jurisdiction over Guantanamo detainees' claims.  The first, at 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2241(e)(1), purports to strip federal courts of jurisdiction over Guantanamo detainees' habeas claims challenging the fact of their detention:

No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.

The Supreme Court struck the provision in Boumediene v. Bush (2008), holding that Congress couldn't eliminate habeas jurisdiction over Guantanamo detainees without complying with the requirements of the Suspension Clause (which it had not).

The second provision, at 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2241(e)(2), purports to strip courts of jurisdiction over Guantanamo detainees' "other" claims challenging the conditions of their confinement:

Except as provided [in section 1005(e) of the DTA], no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement of an alien who is or was determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.

The D.C. Circuit previously confirmed that this latter section continued in force after Boumediene (because Boumediene dealt only with the habeas-stripping Section 2241(e)(1)), and lower court judges have ruled that it bars Guantanamo detainees from bringing habeas claims challenging their conditions of confinement (because those habeas claims were "other" claims challenging the conditions of confinement).

The D.C. Circuit ruled that it does not bar detainees' habeas claims, and that detainees may bring statutory habeas claims challenging the conditions of their confinement.

In answering the question, the court said that the two different parts of Section 2241(e) meant that Congress attempted in the MCA to bar (1) habeas claims and (2) "other" claims (i.e., non-habeas claims).  It said that Section 2241(e)(2), in barring "other" claims, had no impact on habeas claims.  And it said that Boumediene struck Section 2241(e)(1). 

So, if the detainees brought a habeas claim, it would have been covered by Section 2241(e)(1), and because that provision was struck, their habeas claim survives.

The core question, then, is whether habeas (any habeas, at Guantanamo or not) extends not only to the fact of confinement (everyone agrees it does) but also to the conditions of confinement (that's where the parties disagreed).  The court said that the Supreme Court left this question open, and that there is a split among the circuits.  Still, it said that in the D.C. Circuit habeas extends both to fact-of-confinement and to treatment claims:

The availability of habeas for both types of challenges simply reflects the extension of the basic principle that "[h]abeas is at its core a remedy for unlawful executive detention."  Munaf v. Geren.  The illegality of a petitioner's custody may flow from the fact of detention . . . the duration of detention . . . the place of detention . . . or the conditions of detention.  In all such cases, the habeas petitioner's essential claim is that his custody in some way violates the law, and he may employ the writ to remedy such illegality.

Because the detainees' claim was a habeas claim that would have fallen under Section 2241(e)(1), and because Section 2241(e)(2) bars only with "other" (non-habeas) claims and therefore doesn't affect the detainees' habeas claim at all, and because the Supreme Court struck Section 2241(e)(1), the detainees' habeas claim can go forward.

The court noted that Congress has been entirely silent on this--and has not acted to strip courts of jurisdiction over this kind of claim.

Judge Williams dissented, arguing that the detainees' claim does not sound in habeas and therefore is barred under Section 2241(e)(2).

The court also ruled that the detainees failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits of their force-feeding claims.  The court said that there were valid penological interests in force-feeding hunger-striking detainees that outweighed the detainees' liberty interest.  The court also said that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not extend to Guantanamo detainees, who, as nonresident aliens, do not qualify as protected "person[s]" under the RFRA. 

The court affirmed the lower court's denial of a preliminary injunction, sending the case back for more on the merits.

February 11, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Authority, Fundamental Rights, Habeas Corpus, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Can President Obama Increase the Minimum Wage for Government Contractors?

President Obama will announce tonight during his State of the Union speech that he will increase the minimum wage for federal contractors from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour.  He'll do this by executive order, without specific congressional authorization or action, and notwithstanding the statutory minimum wage of $7.25.

Can he do this?

Some Republicans have cried foul, arguing that the action exceeds the President's Article II authority and thus violates the Constitution.  But the action is hardly unprecedented, and probably supported by the President's statutory authority, let alone his constitutional authority over the executive branch.  In other words, the action is probably a valid exercise of power that Congress granted the President, not a usurpation of power in violation of Article II limits.

Republicans who have criticized the action point to the federal statutory minimum wage.  They say that the federal statutory minimum wage, $7.25 per hour, set in the Fair Labor Standards Act, limits Presidential authority to order a higher minimum wage for government contractors.  Indeed, the FLSA says that "[e]very employer shall pay . . . wages . . . not less than . . . $7.25 an hour . . . ."  FLSA Section 206.  

But the FLSA sets a floor.  Nothing in the FLSA prevents an employer from paying more than the minimum.  And nothing prevents the President from ordering executive agencies to require contract bids to include wages higher than the minimum. 

Indeed, another federal statute, the Federal Property and Adminstrative Services Act of 1949, or FPASA, seems specifically to authorize this kind of action.  The FPASA was designed to centralize government property management and to use the same kind of flexibility in the public procurement process that characterizes like transactions in the private sector.  The Act thus gives the President a great deal of authority to prescribe policies related to government procurement.  For example, it says that the President "may prescribe such policies and directives that the President considers necessary to carry out this subtitle. . . ."  40 U.S.C. Sec. 121.

The D.C. Circuit relied on the predecessor to that section in 1979 in AFL-CIO v. Kahn, 618 F.2d 784, to uphold President Carter's EO directing the Council on Wage and Price Stability to establish voluntary wage and price standards for noninflationary behavior for the entire economy.  The Kahn court also recognized that other presidents had imposed similar requirements on government contractors, like President Johnson's EO that federal contractors not discriminate based on age, a GSA regulation requiring that procurement of materials and supplies for use outside the U.S. be restricted to goods produced within the U.S., and President Nixon's EO excluding certain state prisoners from employment on federal contract work.  Indeed, there's a long line of similar requirements imposed by Presidents.

The D.C. Circuit didn't even apply Justice Jackson's Youngstown framework to the problem, because the President simply relied on his statutory authority under the FPASA, not inherent Article II authority.  The court treated the case as an exercise in statutory construction--whether the President had authority under the FPASA.

Given the nature of the minimum wage in the FLSA, and given the President's broad authority to prescribe policies to enhance government contracting, President Obama almost surely has authority to require government contractors to use a higher minimum wage.  And that's not even considering any inherent Article II authority the President may have over government contractors.

That's not to say that Congress doesn't have a check.  If Congress wants to block the President's action, it probably can--by enacting a statute that specifically proscribes a higher minimum wage.  (If Congress were to do this, then inherent Article II power over government contractors, if any, becomes important.)  But current law doesn't seem to do that.

For more, including a nice history and summary of court rulings, check out this report by the Congressional Research Staff, Presidential Authority to Impose Requirements on Government Contractors.

January 28, 2014 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Obamacare Tax Credit Survives Lawsuit

Judge Paul Friedman today upheld an IRS rule that extends tax credits to individuals purchasing health insurance on a federally-facilitated exchange under Obamacare.  The ruling in Halbig v. Sebelius deals a blow to opponents of Obamacare in one of the several cases against the Act still percolating in the courts.  We wrote on some of those cases and issues most recently herePolitico reports on this case here.

The case was a challenge to an IRS rule that extended tax credits not only to health-insurance purchasers on state exchanges, but also to health insurance purchasers on federally-facilitated exchanges.  That's a problem, the plaintiffs said, because the ACA didn't authorize the IRS to extend credits to purchasers on federally-facilitated exchanges.

In particular, the ACA calculates the credit based in part on the premium expenses for the health plan "enrolled in [by the individual] through an Exchange established by the State . . . ."  (Emphasis added.)  But the IRS rule makes tax credits available to qualifying individuals who purchase health insurance on state-run or federally-facilitated exchanges.

A group of individuals and employers residing in states that have declined to establish state exchanges sued, arguing that the IRS exceeded its authority under the ACA in extending tax credits to individuals in states without exchanges (and where the federal government facilitates the exchange). 

You might wonder about standing, given that the rule is designed to make insurance cheaper.  The court said at least one plaintiff had standing.  That's because one plaintiff lives in a state that declined to create an exchange, plans to earn $20,000 in 2014, and does not plan to enroll in a health insurance plan.  That plaintiff also introduced evidence that the cost of minimum health insurance coverage, if unsubsidized, would exceed eight percent of his income, allowing him to qualify for an unaffordability exemption.  But the IRS rule would lower the cost of his insurance premiums so significantly that he no longer qualifies for the unaffordability exemption.  As a result, the IRS rule means that he (1) has to purchase subsidized health insurance at about $20 per year or (2) has to pay some higher amount per year as a tax penalty (for not buying health insurance).  Because the rule encourages him to buy insurance--and that costs money (more than the exemption), even if only $20 a year--he has standing.  The irony wasn't lost on the court: "Counterintuitively, by making health insurance more affordable, the IRS Rule imposes a financial cost on Klemencic."As to the merits, the court said that the ACA is ambiguous when it extends credits to purchasers on exchanges "established by the State."  That's because the ACA, taken as a whole (and not just the limited provision cited by the plaintiffs, taken in isolation), can be reasonably understood to assume that states establish exchanges, and to leave it to the federal government to step in and establish an exchange only when a state declines to do so.  When the federal government does this, the court said, then it (the federal government) creates an exchange "established by the State."  "In other words, even where a state does not actually establish an Exchange, the federal government can create 'an Exchange established by the State . . .' on behalf of that state."The court also said that other provisions of the ACA suggest that Congress intended to extend credits to purchasers on federally-facilitated exchanges, and that those provisions would clash with the plaintiffs' preferred reading of the Act. 

January 15, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Senate Confirms Wilkins to D.C. Circuit

The Senate voted yesterday 55 to 43 to confirm Robert L. Wilkins to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.  WaPo reports here.  The confirmation marks the third time since the Senate abolished the filibuster for executive and lower-court nominees that the body voted by a bare majority to confirm one of President Obama's nominees to this court.  We last posted on the issue here.

January 14, 2014 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Argument Review in Noel Canning, Recess Appointment Authority

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in NLRB v. Noel Canning, the case testing whether the President may make recess appointments to positions already vacant during an intra-session recess of the Senate.  Our argument preview is here.

The Court today was especially sensitive to the many thorny doctrinal, practical, and political issues in the case, and seemed to be looking for a simple solution that would dodge them.  The ordinary appointments process (with advice and consent of the Senate), as suggested by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Ginsburg (see below), may well be that solution.  If so, the Court might read the Recess Appointments Clause more restrictively in this case, limiting the President's recess-appointments authority, and giving more power to the Senate to hold up executive appointments by declining to recess.

The case presents three questions about the Recess Appointments Clause:

1. Does "the Recess of the Senate" include intra-session breaks, or recesses?

2. Do "Vacancies that may happen during the Recess" include vacancies that already existed?

3. Can the President exercise the recess-appoitnment power when the Senate convenes only every three days in pro forma sessions?

The arguments included the predictable points on text and history--interpretations of "the Recess," the clause "may happen," and historical practices and understandings.  (If anything, these arguments only revealed how indeterminate and contestable these sources can be.  See, e.g., the discussion on the OED's definitions of "happen" starting at about page 60 or so of the transcript, and the points over practices running throughout the arguments.)  The particular concern with the words "may happen" suggest one possible outcome: the Court could rule that while "the Recess" includes intra-session recesses, "may happen" extends only to vacancies that occur (not already exist) during a recess.

But the more interesting--and probably more important--points were on balance-of-powers principles and practical implications--against the obvious backdrop of partisan politics.  

Indeed, what started in the briefing as a debate principally about the meaning and practice of the Recess Appointment Clause turned quickly today into a debate about executive power and whether the Senate encroached on executive recess-appointment power by meeting in pro forma sessions and thus denying the President a recess in which to make recess appointments.  General Verrilli pushed the argument on executive authority beyond a mere point on when the Senate is in "recess," claiming broadly that the President should get to fill all vacancies.  Justice Alito put a fine point on it:

But you are making a very, very aggressive argument in favor of executive power now and it has nothing whatsoever to do with whether the Senate is in session or not.  You're just saying when the Senate acts, in your view, irresponsibly and refuses to confirm nominations, then the President must be able to fill those--fill those positions.  That's what you're arguing.  I don't see what that has to do with whether the Senate is in session.

But Noel Canning and the Senate Minority Leader both took aggressive positions the other way, saying that the Senate gets to decide when it's on recess--even saying that it's never on recess--thus severely limiting the President's recess appoitment power.  Respondents argued that the President has come to use the recess appointment power to deal with Senate intransigence, not emergencies--an argument that seemed to resonate with the Court.

Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kagan both seemed concerned that such an important balance-of-powers issue could turn on magic language in a Senate resolution, for example, as here, that says "No business shall be conducted."  Chief Justice Roberts said that this maybe made the point not so important.  Justice Kagan said that focusing on the phrasing of a Senate resolution could just land the case back at the Court, and that focusing on this kind of formalism suggests that it really is the Senate's responsibility to determine when it's in session or not.  But General Verrilli responded that the recess appointment power is an executive authority, "[a]nd the President has got to make a determination of when there's a recess"--that the Senate's use of pro forma sessions to stay in session (and not on recess) is an encroachment on Article II Recess Appointment power.

The Court was also concerned about how to balance text against practice.  Justice Scalia posed this question:

What do you do when there is a practice that--that flatly contradicts a clear text of the Constitution?  Which--which of the two prevails?

General Verrilli responded:

The answer is I think, given this--a practice going back to the founding of the Republic, the practice should be--the practice should govern, but we don't have that here.  This provision has been subject to contention as to its meaning since the first days of the Republic.

Justices Alito and Kagan asked the same question to Noel Canning, and got the exact opposite answer.  

The Court was also concerned about a related problem: If the government gets its way, it appears that the Senate violated the 20th Amendment and the Adjournment Clause.  Justices Breyer and Alito both suggested that the Court would rather avoid that conclusion.

These more theoretical issues are serious, to be sure, but they may not be necessary to resolve the case.  The Court was equally, or more, concerned about the practical implications of the case--in particular, how a ruling could affect already-made decisions by the NLRB, other government agencies, and even the courts (because of recess-appointed judges).  Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg asked about this; Justice Scalia suggested a way out of this problem, the de facto officer doctrine; still General Verrilli said that "it certainly casts a serious cloud over the legitimacy of all those actions."

Also focusing on the practical aspects of the case, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Ginsburg both wondered why the President couldn't just use the ordinary appointment process (and why the Senate couldn't decline to confirm)--in other words, why the government says that the pro forma sessions and lack of intra-session recess appointment power is a problem.  Justice Scalia pointed out that the President can convene Congress (under Article II, Section 3, "He may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both houses"), and that Congress can get back within a day or so to deal with appointments.

Finally, Justice Breyer and Justice Kagan both asked about the politics--the shifting positions of the parties, depending on who is in the White House, and the President's use of the recess appointment power to deal with congressional intrasingence, not emergencies.  General Verrilli responded that the Senate's advice-and-consent role is much larger today than the framers anticipated, and that today it encroaches on the President's appointment power--trying to take the case out of ordinary politics and place it back in larger balance-of-powers issues.

 

January 13, 2014 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Oral Argument Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Johnson Files Suit Over Congressional "Exemption" From Obamacare

Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis) filed suit on Monday to halt the congressional "exemption" from Obamacare.   Here's the complaint.  We posted on the case here.

As we explained, there really is no exemption.  Instead, it's an OPM attempt to put members and staffers of Congress more-or-less in the position they were prior to Obamacare--just like any other employees of large corporations with employer-subsidized health insurance.  In other words, Obamacare treated members and staffers differently (worse) than other similarly situated employees (by requiring them to enter an exchange instead of continue their employer-subsidized health insurance), and the OPM simply acted to continue an employer subsidy for them.

Still, there's the question whether OPM had authority to do this.  That's what Johnson's suit is about (from the complaint):

The legal problem is that the OPM Rule violates the ACA and the federal statutes that apply to the [Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan].  The health plans offered through the exchanges are not OPM-negotiated large group health insurance plans.  Only OPM-negotiated and contracted-for plans can be offered to federal employees through the FEHBP.  Furthermore, the designated Exchange plans do not meet the statutory requirements for FEHBP plans administered by the OPM.  In addition, the federal government does not meet the definition of a small business and, as a result, is not eligible to participate in a SHOP exchange.  Neither the ACA nor any other applicable statute or rule permits the OPM to provide group health insurance to government employees who do not participate in the FEHBP.  Finally, the OPM Rule violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution in that it treats Members of Congress and their staffs differently than other similarly-situated employees who obtain insurance coverage pursuant to the terms of the ACA.  No other employees of large employers are able to purchase insurance through small business exchanges with tax free subsidies from their employers.

What Johnson doesn't say in the complaint is that those employees of large corporations get employer-subsidized insurance, like members and staffers used to get under the FEHBP.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty brought the case.  Paul Clement, a consultant on the suit, joined Senator Johnson at a news conference yesterday:

 

January 7, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Does the NSA Spy on Congress?

Senator Bernie Sanders asked the NSA on Friday if it spies on Members of Congress.  As of Monday, he hadn't received an answer.  Here's Sanders on CNN:

 

January 7, 2014 in Fourth Amendment, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Johnson to Sue Over Congressional "Exemption" From Obamacare

Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis) writes in the Wall Street Journal that he'll file suit today to stop the congressional "exemption" from Obamacare.  Senator Johnson writes that the OPM rule allowing members of Congress and staffers to use the exchange and also get an employer subsidy violates the Affordable Care Act and exceeds executive authority.

The dispute over the congressional "exemption" goes way back.  But it turns out, there's no such exemption at all.  The ACA contained a provision that required members of Congress and their staffers to get health insurance on an exchange.  But that was unusual, because members and staffers already had employer-subsidized coverage under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan.  (Exchanges are for the uninsured or employees of small corporations, not for employees of large corporations who already have coverage.  Congress, which previously provided subsidized health insurance to members and staffers, nevertheless inserted a provision in the ACA that required members and staffers to use an exchange.)  As a result, members and staffers would have lost their subsidy.  So OPM stepped in and ruled this fall that members and staffers would qualify for an employer subsidy on the exchange if they purchased insurance in a Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP.

As PolitiFact, Factcheck.org, and WaPo's Fact Checker all explain, this treatment is different and unusual, but it's hardly an exemption.  Instead, the employer subsidy simply attempts to put members and staffers back in the position they would have been in if they were treated as employees with employer-subdized health insurance in any large corporation.  In other words, the ACA treated members and staffers differently (worse) than similarly situated employees in large corporations; OPM merely tried to return them to their previous situation--so that they would be treated like everybody else.

Still, there's the question whether OPM had authority to authorize subsidies for member and staffer insurance purchases on an exchange, or whether that required a congressional fix to the ACA.  Senator Johnson says OPM exceeded its authority--that this was a job (were it to be done at all) only for Congress.

January 5, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Roberts (Again) Decries Lack of Judicial Resources in Year-End Report

Chief Justice Roberts again highlighted the lack of resources for the judicial branch in his 2013 year-end report, emphasizing the effects of the sequestration in particular.  At the same time, he emphasized the courts' cost-cutting measures.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the lack of resources is causing problems across the board:

Sequestration cuts have affected court operations across the spectrum.  There are fewer court clerks to process new civil and bankruptcy cases, slowing the intake procedure and propagating delays throughout the litigation process.  There are fewer probation and pretrial services officers to protect the public from defendants awaiting trail and from offenders following their incarceration and release into the community.  There are fewer public defenders available to vindicate the Constitution's guarantee of counsel to indigent criminal defendants, which leads to postponed trials and delayed justice for the innocent and guilty alike.  There is less funding for security guards at federal courthouses, placing judges, court personnel, and the public at greater risk of harm. 

Chief Justice Roberts wrote that our judiciary is a "model for justice throughout the world."  Still, he wrote, foreign jurists "do raise an eyebrow when I also point out the vital role of the Legislative Branch of government." 

The report warned that foregoing requested funding (of $5.05 billion) for a "hard freeze" at the sequester level would have dire consequences:

The future would be bleak: The deep cuts to Judiciary programs would remain in place.  In addition, faced with inflation-driven increases in the "must-pay" components of this account, the Judicial Conference would need to cut allocations to the courts nationwide by an additional three percent below fiscal year 2013 levels.  Those cuts would lead to the loss of an estimated additional 1,000 court staff.  The first consequence would be greater delays in resolving criminal cases.  In the civil and bankruptcy venues, further consequences would include commercial activity, lost opportunities, and unvindicated rights.  In the criminal venues, those consequences pose a genuine threat to public safety.

The report also warns of dangers to public defender services.

Still, there's a hopeful conclusion:

Both A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life have happy endings.  We are encouraged that the story of funding for the Federal Judiciary--though perhaps not as gripping a tale--will too.

January 2, 2014 in Courts and Judging, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Spitzer Compares Bush and Obama

Robert J. Spitzer (SUNY Cortland) recently posted perhaps the most recent comparison of assertions of executive power in the Bush and Obama presidencies coming out of the political science world: Comparing the Constitutional Presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama: War Powers, Signing Statements, Vetoes.  As the title suggests, Spitzer compares the presidencies just in three dimensions.  But his piece also briefly summarizes the political science literature comparing other dimensions.  Here's Spitzer . . .

On war powers:

Nevertheless, in constitutional terms, Bush had the congressional authorization he needed [for the Iraq war]; Obama did not [for Libya].  Ironically, the grotesque scale of, and web of deception surrounding, the Iraqi war suggest that its precedential value for future presidents may be limited, whereas the presidential consequences of Obama's actions--another instance of an intervention without congressional approval, and the first instance of violation of the 60 day limit [in the War Powers Act]--are more likely to encourage future presidents tempted to engage in unilateral military actions.

On signing statements:

Presidents surely have interpretive latitude, especially when legislative language is vague or ambiguous, and therefore open to interpretation.  This is nothing new. . . .  What presidents may not do, Bush's unitary executive theory notwithstanding, is to rewrite legislation at the point at which a bill is presented for signature through signing statement in what some have called a de facto item veto.  As James Pfiffner concluded, "Bush's systematic and expansive use of signing statements constitutes a direct threat to the separation of powers system in the United States."  Obama has, to date, skirted, if not walked away from, this ambition, especially after the criticism of his 2009 signing statement of P.L 111-8 [directing that legislation that calls for congressional committee approval of spending decisions by federal agencies is to be treated as "advisory" and "not . . . dependent" on committee approval].  Contrary to the claim of some that Obama has assumed the mantle of a unitary president, his signing statement use to date has been comparable to, or less than that of any predecessor from Reagan on.  And Bush II's signing statement use continues to keep him in a class by himself.

On protective return pocket vetoes:

Unlike the other powers discussed in this paper, the Bush and Obama protective returns were nearly identical in form, and both appeared to arise from the bowels of the "deep structure" of the executive bureaucracy rather than from top political aides seeking to expand executive authority.  Here is one of the most important, if underappreciated, aspects of executive power accretion: secular bureaucratic power incrementalism.  A day may come where a constitutional challenge or political flare-up may drag the protective return pocket veto into the intense lights of the legal or political stage, and where a full airing, and final disposition, of this arcane executive power grab may be vetted and resolved.  Absent such a moment, however, the executive's "deep structure" will continue to advance the protective return for every subsequent chief executive.

December 21, 2013 in Executive Authority, News, Scholarship, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Federal District Judge Grants Preliminary Injunction Against NSA Surveillance of Telephone Metadata

In his opinion in Klayman v. Obama, federal district judge (DDC) Richard Leon has granted a preliminary injunction against NSA surveillance of telephone metadata.  Judge Leon stayed the injunction "in light of the signficant national security interests at stake and the novelty of the constitutional issues."  And the preliminary injunction is limited to Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, barring the federal government from "collecting, as part of the NSA's Bulk Telephony Apple-iPhone-001Metadata Program, any telephony metadata associated with their personal Verizon accounts" and requiring the government to destroy any previously collected metadata. 

The "background" section of Judge Leon's opinion starts by specifically mentioning the "leaks" (his quotations) of classified material from Edward Snowden revealing the government's Verizon surveillance.   He then has an excellent discussion of the facts, statutory frameworks, and judicial review by the FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) [which others have called the FISA Court].

Judge Leon concluded that he did not have jurisdiction under the APA (Administrative Procedure Act), but that the plaintiffs did have standing to raise a constitutional claim under the Fourth Amendment.  On the substantial likelihood to prevail on the merits necessary for success on the preliminary injunction, Judge Leon ruled - - - importantly - - - that the collection of metadata did constitute a search.   Judge Leon also concluded that the collection of the metadata did violate a reasonable exepectation of privacy.   Judge Leon noted that technological changes have made the rationales of Supreme Court precedent difficult to apply, so that cases decided before the rise of cell phones cannot operate as a precedential "North Star" to "navigate these uncharted Fourth Amendment waters."  

Having found there was a search that invaded a reasonable expectation of privacy, Judge Leon then concluded that the search was unreasonable.  Important to this finding was the efficacy prong of the analysis - - - or in this case, the inefficacy prong.  Judge Leon noted that the "Government does not cite a single instance in which the analysis of the NSA's bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the Government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature." (emphasis in original).

Judge Leon acknowledged that some other judges have disagreed with his conclusions, and that the matter is far from clear, but he stated:

I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary invasion' that this systemtaic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying it and anlyzing it without prior judicial approval.

As the above makes clear, it is not only the Fourth Amendment that Judge Leon feels has been violated, but the role of Article III courts in the constitutional separation of powers scheme.

 

 

December 16, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Fourth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Government Releases Trove of NSA Documents

The Obama administration late Monday released a trove of documents related to NSA surveillance, including key FISA court rulings and other materials going back to the Bush administration.  The NYT reports here.  Lawfare is covering the release and analyzing particular documents here.

The materials include documents on government e-mail and domestic phone surveillance, including the Bush administration's 2006 application for initial approval by the FISA court to collect bulk logs of domestic phone calls and a FISA court ruling approving a program to track e-mails during the Bush administration.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declassified and released the documents in response to FOIA lawsuits by the ACLU and EPIC.

 

November 19, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Fourth Amendment, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

How the President Should Deal With the Debt Limit

Neil H. Buchanan (GW) argues at the Jurist.org that the President should just pay the nation's bills if Congress fails to increase the debt ceiling.

Buchanan summarizes an argument that he and Michael Dorf made over three articles last year in the Columbia Law Review--one, two, and three--that the President should do the least constitutional damage if ever faced with a trilemma involving taxing, spending, and a debt ceiling that don't add up. 

Buchanan and Dorf argue that Congress would create this trilemma if it failed to increase the debt limit: Congress would have authorized a particular level of taxation; Congress would have authorized a higher level of spending; and Congress would have capped the debt limit at a level lower than authorized spending.  All three are congressional acts that the President must enforce, but if the President enforces any two, he necessarily violates the third.

So: what to do?

Buchanan and Dorf argue that the constitution requires the President to take the action (1) that exercises as little legislative power as possible and (2) in a way that allows Congress to later enact legislation that can undo his actions, if it so desires.

Those two criteria mean that the President should, even must, violate the debt limit.  That's because violating the debt limit (but complying with the taxing and spending measures passed by Congress) is the choice that's least legislative in nature, and the one that Congress can later undo (by enacting taxing and spending measures that add up). 

Buchanan explains why this solution is novel--but also why it's right:

Bizarrely, the shared assumption among Republicans and Democrats alike has been that the president must simply default on the government's spending obligations, if he is ever faced with a trilemma. . . .

The reason that is so bizarre is that it simply presumes that duly-enacted spending laws can be ignored by the president.  They cannot.  We are not taking about choosing to increase or decrease future levels of spending, after all.  We are, instead, contemplating having the president refuse to honor legal claims for payment from the federal government, choosing not to pay the government's legal obligations, in full, on the date that they are due.

November 17, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers, Spending Clause, Taxing Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Conservative Physician Group Sues to Stop Individual Mandate

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons filed suit last week to stop the government from enforcing the universal coverage provision (the individual mandate) in the Affordable Care Act.  The group argues that the court should issue an order prohibiting the enforcement of the individual mandate, because President Obama lacked authority to delay enforcement of the employer mandate.

Recall that President Obama this past summer unilaterally delayed enforcement of the employer mandate--the ACA's requirement that employers with over 50 employees provide health insurance for their employees.  The authority for this move, however, wasn't at all obvious.  That's because the ACA says in pretty clear language that the employer mandate "shall apply to months beginning after December 31, 2013."

We commented at the time that the question of authority might not matter, because it wasn't clear that anyone would have standing to challenge the delay.

Enter the AAPS.  The group argues that President Obama's delay of the employer mandate violates the separation of powers--that President Obama can't unilaterally delay enforcement of a statutory requirement. Still, it's not obvious why this group should have standing.  Here's what the complaint says:

13. Defendant's shifting of the mandate for health insurance premiums from employers to only individuals causes the elimination of many cash-paying patients from the medical practices of [plaintiff McQueeney, an AAPS member] and other AAPS members.  Defendant's shifting of the ACA insurance burden entirely onto individuals diverts their discretionary health care dollars towards insurance premiums, away from direct payments to physicians.  This significantly reduces the customer base for AAPS members who have "cash practices" accepting direct payments from patients.

That may not sound like the strongest theory of standing. 

But if standing's a weakness, there's more.  The complaint alleges that "Defendant changes legislation passed by Congress in violation of the separation of powers in the Constitution, and the Tenth Amendment."  (Emphasis added.)  The Tenth Amendment?  That seems surprising in this context, and unnecessary given the stronger arguments one might make about a President's inability to unilaterally delay the implementation of a mandate.

But if the invocation of the Tenth Amendment seems odd, there's yet even more.  The complaint argues that President Obama lacked authority to delay the employer mandate, but asks for a court order stopping the enforcement of the individual mandate

Between standing issues, a novel use of the Tenth Amendment, and redressability issues, this complaint has its problems. 

The attorney who filed it, Andrew Schlafly, is a conservative activist, son of Phyllis Schlafly, and founder of Conservapedia, a conservative web-site that grew out of one of Schlafly's home-school courses.

 

November 4, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

District Judge Dismisses Separation of Powers Challenge to CFPB

Update Below

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) dismissed a separation-of-powers challenge to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an independent agency created by Dodd-Frank that's tasked with the responsibility for "ensuring that all consumers have access to markets for consumer financial products and services and that markets for consumer financial products and services are fair, transparent, and competitive."  (This case challenges the CFPB on separation-of-powers grounds.  We most recently posted on the other challenge to the recess-appointed head of the CFPB here.  The recess appointment question is heading to the Supreme Court in Noel Canning.)

But the order dismissing the case in the D.C. District didn't touch the merits, and the plaintiffs in the D.C. case will undoubtedly raise the same constitutional claims in the underlying enforcement action against them in the Central District of California.

The case, Morgan Drexen, Inc. v. CFPB, arose after the CFPB filed an enforcement action against Morgan Drexen in the Central District of California.  Morgan Drexen and its "attorney-client" then filed for injunctive and declaratory relief in the D.C. District, seeking to halt the enforcement action in the Central District of California, arguing that the CFPB violates constitutional separation-of-powers principles.  The result: two parallel cases in two different courts, one enforcement action and one facial challenge, challenging the CFPB on constitutional grounds.

Update: Morgan Drexen filed in the D.C. court before the CFPB filed its case in California.

But Judge Kollar-Kotelly didn't bite.  Instead, the court ruled that injunctive and declaratory relief in the D.C. District would be inappropriate with the case pending in California--and that Morgan Drexen could obtain complete relief on its claim there.  (The court said that ruling on the matter would frustrate both the final judgment rule (because Morgan Drexen could immediately appeal a D.C. District ruling on the merits, but not a ruling from the Central District of California denying a motion to dismiss on constitutional grounds) and the principle of constitutional avoidance (because the Central District of California could dodge the constitutional issues and rule on other grounds, but the D.C. District case would force the court to address the constitutional claims).  The court also ruled that declaratory relief was inappropriate.

The court held that Morgan Drexen's "attorney-client" lacked standing, becuase she couldn't point to specific or generalized interference with the attorney-client privilege, or any other harm in the CFPB's investigation or enforcement action against Morgan Drexen.

The case ends this collateral piece of the litigation, but it doesn't end the enforcement action, still pending in the Central District of California.  Morgan Drexen raises the same constitutional claims, and other statutory claims, as defenses in that case. 

October 23, 2013 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)