Friday, April 20, 2018
Check out the Yale Journal on Regulation's symposium on Lucia v. SEC, the case testing whether SEC ALJs are principal officers under the Appointments Clause (and, if so, appointed in violation of the Clause). The Court will hear oral arguments in the case on Monday.
Thursday, April 19, 2018
The Seventh Circuit today affirmed a lower court's nationwide injunction against two portions of Attorney General Jeff Sessions's clamp-down on sanctuary cities. The ruling--a significant victory for Chicago and other sanctuary jurisdictions--means that the government cannot enforce the "notice" and "access" conditions on sanctuary cities' receipt of federal law-enforcement JAG grants.
Recall that the lower court ruled that Chicago demonstrated a likelihood of success in its challenge to two key conditions that AG Sessions imposed on sanctuary cities--the notice condition and the access condition--and imposed a nationwide preliminary injunction against the enforcement of those conditions. (The notice condition requires sanctuary jurisdictions to comply with a DHS request to provide advance notice of any scheduled release date and time for a particular alien. The access condition requires sanctuary jurisdictions to allow federal agents to have access to any correctional facility to meet with aliens and interrogate them.) (The lower court did not enjoin the enforcement of the third condition, that sanctuary jurisdictions certify compliance with 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373.)
The government argued that the lower court erred on the merits and that it exceeded its authority in issuing a nationwide injunction. The Seventh Circuit disagreed on both counts.
The court ruled that AG Sessions lacked unilateral authority to impose the notice and access conditions on receipt of a federal grant, because that's Congress's job:
The Attorney General in this case used the sword of federal funding to conscript state and local authorities to aid in federal civil immigration enforcement. But the power of the purse rests with Congress, which authorized the federal funds at issue and did not impose any immigration enforcement conditions on the receipt of such funds. In fact, Congress repeatedly refused to approve of measures that would tie funding to state and local immigration policies. Nor, as we will discuss, did Congress authorize the Attorney General to impose such conditions.
The court found nothing in the INA that authorized the AG to impose these conditions, and it rejected the government's claim that general statutory authority for the Assistant Attorney General, under 34 U.S.C. Sec. 10102(a)(6), authorized the AG to impose these conditions. That subsection says that "[t]he Assistant Attorney General shall . . . exercise such other powers and functions as may be vested in the Assistant Attorney General pursuant to this chapter or by delegation of the Attorney General, including placing special conditions on all grants, and determining priority purposes for formula grants." (Emphasis added.) The court said that "[t]he inescapable problem here is that the Attorney General does not even claim that the power exercised here is authorized anywhere in the chapter, nor that the Attorney General possesses that authority and therefore can delegate it to the Assistant Attorney General. In fact, as set forth above, the Byrne JAG provisions set forth the duties of the Attorney General and do not provide any open-ended authority to impose additional conditions."
Two judges went on to say that the district court was well within its authority to grant a nationwide injunction:
The case before us presents an example of the type of case in which a district court should properly be able to apply an injunction nationwide. The case presents essentially a facial challenge to a policy applied nationwide, the balance of equities favors nationwide relief, and the format of the Byrne JAG grant itself renders individual relief ineffective to provide full relief.
Judge Manion dissented from this portion of the ruling.
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) ruled yesterday that an attorney appearing pro se lacked standing to sue President Trump for alleged deficiencies in his financial disclosure report that he was required to file as a candidate. The ruling ends this challenge.
The case, Lovitky v. Trump, arose when attorney Jeffrey Lovitky obtained a copy of then-candidate Trump's financial disclosure report from the Office of Government Ethics and discovered what he believed to be deficiencies in the reporting. Lovitky sued, arguing that the report included President Trump's personal debts and business debts, and that this "commingl[ing]" of personal and non-personal liabilities "mak[es] it impossible to identify which of the liabilities listed on the financial disclosure report were the liabilities of the President, in violation of [federal law]." Lovitky sought mandamus relief that would "direct the President to amend his financial disclosure report . . . for the purpose of specifically identifying any debts he owed during the [relevant] reporting period." Lovitky also sought declaratory relief.
The court ruled that Lovitky lacked standing to sue, because his requested relief wouldn't redress his claimed injuries. (The court didn't address whether he had a sufficient injury for standing purposes, because he lacked redressability.) As to mandamus, the court surveyed circuit law allowing mandamus against the president as to a ministerial duty, but, quoting the D.C. Circuit, noted that "[i]t is not entirely clear . . . whether, and to what extent, these decisions remain good law after [the Supreme Court's plurality opinion in Franklin v. Massachusetts]." Ultimately, the court said that because of this ambiguity it "would hesitate to issue mandamus even if Defendant's duty to specifically disclose personal liabilities were ministerial, but because the Court has found that it is a discretionary duty, the Court cannot do so."
As to declaratory relief, the court noted that it, too, wasn't obviously available against the president post Franklin. Regardless, the court said that because mandamus wasn't available, and because the Declaratory Judgment Act doesn't create an independent basis for jurisdiction, declaratory relief had no jurisdictional hook, and the court therefore lacked jurisdiction.
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Judge Peter J. Messitte (D. Md.) ruled today that Maryland and D.C. have standing to sue President Trump for violations of the Domestic and Foreign Emoluments Clauses. At the same time, Judge Messitte said that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue with regard to Trump properties other than the Trump International Hotel in D.C.
The ruling says nothing about the merits and only means that the case can move forward, beyond this preliminary stage. Recall that a district judge ruled the other way in CREW's Emoluments Clause case against President Trump.
The case involves Maryland's and D.C.'s challenge to payments that President Trump receives as owner of his world-wide properties. The plaintiffs argue that these payments violate the Domestic and Foreign Emoluments Clauses. The President moved to dismiss the case based on lack of standing. Today the district court denied that motion.
The court ruled that the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged injuries-in-fact to their quasi-sovereign, proprietary, and parens patriae interests. As to their quasi-sovereign interest, the court said that other states' use of the Trump International Hotel on official business "rather clearly suggests that Maryland and the District of Columbia may very well feel themselves obliged, i.e., coerced, to patronize the Hotel in order to help them obtain federal favors." As to proprietary interests, the court said that "the President's ownership interest in the Hotel has had an almost certainly will continue to have an unlawful effect on competition, allowing an inference of impending (if not already occurring) injury to Plaintiffs' proprietary interests" in their own properties. Finally, as to the plaintiffs' parens patriae interest, the court said that "[i]t can hardly be gainsaid that a large number of Maryland and District of Columbia residents are being affected and will continue to be affected when foreign and state governments choose to stay, host events, or dine at the Hotel rather than at comparable Maryland or District of Columbia establishments, in whole or in substantial part simply because of the President's association with it."
The court also held that the plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded causation and redressability, and that the plaintiffs fell within the "zone of interests" of the Emoluments Clauses and that the case was not a nonjusticiable political question.
The court, citing a string of Supreme Court precedent, said that the plaintiffs' request for injunctive and declaratory relief against the President didn't violate the separation of powers.
But the court limited the case to a challenge based on the President's interest in the Trump International Hotel in D.C. (and not based on other Trump properties around the country or around the world). The court did not foreclose challenges based on those other properties in other cases, but said only that Maryland and D.C. had failed sufficiently to plead standing against Trump-owned properties outside D.C.
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Monday, March 26, 2018
Check out Jeremy Peters's piece in the New York Times on President Trump's litmus test for judicial nominees--shrinking "the Administrative State." "With surprising frankness, the White House has laid out a plan to fill the courts with judges devoted to a legal doctrine that challenges the broad power federal agencies have to interpret laws and enforce regulations," in other words, to overturn Chevron deference.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Judge Christopher Cooper (D.D.C.) today dismissed a suit against President Trump for violations of the Presidential Records Act. Judge Cooper ruled that the plaintiffs, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive, didn't have a valid statutory or mandamus claim, and that they failed to state a Take Care Clause claim (if they even had one). The ruling ends the case, unless and until CREW appeals.
The case involves the White House practice of using instant-delete apps to delete text messages that might otherwise be subject to recording-keeping requirements. The White House has not denied the practice. CREW alleged that it violates the PRA, and that the President's use of executive orders (instead of administrative action) to side-step PRA requirements violates the Take Care Clause. But Judge Cooper ruled that CREW didn't have a cause of action, and that it didn't state a Take Care claim.
As to the statutory causes of action, the court declined to say whether under circuit law the PRA denies judicial review, and instead ruled that even if it didn't, CREW failed to state a valid mandamus claim. The court said that the PRA didn't create a "clear and compelling duty" on the part of the President to issue record classification guidelines, and so CREW couldn't get mandamus:
While the Presidential Records Act may obligate the President to take steps to preserve records, it nowhere dictates which steps to take. And while CREW may question the effectiveness of any guidance the President has issued regarding the preservation of his records, the Act nowhere clearly and definitively directs him to issue particular guidelines. Because CREW has not identified a ministerial duty, it has failed to state a valid mandamus claim.
As to the Take Care claim, the court said even if CREW could get declaratory relief against the President directly under the Take Care Clause, CREW's claim wouldn't fall within it:
Even assuming some universe of viable Take Care Clause claims exists, CREW's claim here does not fall within it. CREW does not challenge any of the President's executive orders themselves, nor does it argue that they exceed the President's authority to issue. Nor does CREW offer any reason why an administration could not, in good faith, elect to act through executive order rather than administrative action, even if that decision has incidental effects on the preservation of government records and the public's access to them. And the Court is aware of no authority preventing the President from electing to "faithfully execute" the laws by executive order rather than administrative process (assuming, of course, that the particular executive order at issue does not exceed the President's authority). Put another way, CREW does not dispute that the President has the discretion to make policy by executive order. The Supreme Court has advised that "[h]ow the President chooses to exercise the discretion Congress has granted him is not a matter for [the courts'] review." The Court will not ignore that counsel here.
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.
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.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
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.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
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
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 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 17, 2018
The Center for Constitutional Rights filed a habeas corpus petition in federal court last week on behalf of eleven detainees challenging their continued, and, under President Trump, apparently indefinite, detention at Guantanamo Bay.
The petitioners have all been detained at Guantanamo without charge or trial, between ten and sixteen years. Two have been cleared for release.
The petitioners argue that their claim is different than prior Guantanamo habeas petitions--"as it has to be," given President Trump's position on Guantanamo:
The two prior presidential administrations released a total of nearly 750 men. They did so by making case-by-case determinations based on an individual detainee's circumstances in a manner that was purportedly tailored to the executive branch's interest in national security. President Trump, in contrast to his predecessors, has declared and is carrying out his intention to keep all remaining detainees in Guantanamo, regardless of their individual circumstances--presumably even those the executive branch previously determined need no longer be detained.
The petitioners argue that their detention violates due process and exceeds authority under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.
As to due process, they argue that the Due Process Clause applies at Guantanamo for the same functional reason why the Suspension Clause applies there under Boumediene: "The Boumediene Court's functional analysis led to recognition of the applicability of the Suspension Clause in Guantanamo. Therefore, at least some measure of the Due Process Clause must also reach Guantanamo because there are no practical barriers that would apply to one provision but not the other." On the merits, they argue that their lengthy detention, without charge or trial, violates the Due Process Clause's durational limits on detention; that indefinite detention cannot be justified based on a loose and dated standard; and that two of them have already been cleared for release.
As to the AUMF, petitioners claim that it doesn't authorize indefinite, unreviewable detention; that the laws of war don't authorize this kind of detention; and that the AUMF itself has become stale.
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon invoked a breathtakingly broad version of executive privilege on behalf of the President at yesterday's closed-door House Intelligence Committee hearing. But at the same time, he reportedly maintains (apparently along with the White House) that the same executive privilege won't prevent him from sharing information with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has subpoenaed Bannon.
What gives? Neither Bannon nor the White House has said. But let's try to sort some of this out.
Start here: The Supreme Court, in its seminal case United States v. Nixon, said that certain communications between the President and his or her advisors may be privileged. While this "executive privilege" is nowhere in the Constitution, the Court said that it derives from the President's Article II powers and separation-of-powers principles.
But the privilege extends only to communications with the President. So any communications that Bannon had with Candidate Trump or President-Elect Trump are not covered under Nixon. Under Nixon, executive privilege simply does not apply.
Moreover, the privilege works against particular requests for information. It doesn't provide a broad shield against testifying generally. (As the courts have recognized, if it worked as a broad shield, the President could use it to frustrate the functions of the coordinate branches, in violation of the separation of powers.) Bannon can only assert the privilege on behalf of the President in response to a particular request, and not as a shield against testifying generally.
As to Bannon's communications with President Trump: Nixon says that the privilege is qualified (that is, not absolute) and subject to a balancing of interests. In particular, in determining whether executive privilege protects communications, the Court balances the need for the information against the need for confidentiality of the particular Presidential communication at issues.
[N]either the doctrine of separation of powers nor the need for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances. The President's need for complete candor and objectivity from advisers calls for great deference from the courts. However, when the privilege depends solely on the broad, undifferentiated claim of public interest in the confidentiality of such conversations, a confrontation with other values arises. Absent a claim of need to protect military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets, we find it difficult to accept the argument that even the very important interest in confidentiality of Presidential communications is significantly diminished by production of such material for in camera inspection with all the protections that a district court will be obliged to provide.
In Nixon, the Court held that the countervailing interests in the "fair administration of criminal justice"--in particular, Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights of defendants and the basic functions of the courts--outweighed the President's "broad interest in confidentiality of communications."
So the question in the Bannon case is whether the balancing works the same way with a congressional inquiry. There's good reason to think that it does. As Judge Bates (D.D.C.) explained in the Harriet Miers case, Committee on Judiciary, U.S. House of Representatives v. Miers, Congress's "power of inquiry" is every bit as important as the judiciary's power to administer justice:
[T]he Executive insists that this case is distinguishable because it does not involve a core function of another constituent branch but rather a peripheral exercise of Congress's power. That is mistaken. As discussed above, Congress's power of inquiry is as broad as its power to legislate and lies at the very heart of Congress's constitutional role. Indeed, the former is necessary to the proper exercise of the latter: according to the Supreme Court, the ability to compel testimony is "necessary to the effective functioning of courts and legislatures." Thus, Congress's use of (and need for vindication of) its subpoena power in this case is no less legitimate or important than was the grand jury's in United States v. Nixon. Both involve core functions of a co-equal branch of the federal government, and for the reasons identified in Nixon, the President may only be entitled to a presumptive, rather than an absolute, privilege here.
The Miers case was a little different--it involved an assertion of absolute privilege against congressional testimony on a slightly different theory than executive privilege--and the court used the quoted passage merely to support its conclusion that no such absolute privilege existed. Moreover, the passage glosses over the fact that the Nixon balancing considered important competing Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights, absent or diminished in a congressional inquiry. Still, Congress's interests in fact-finding and oversight count for something important, even if slightly less than the judiciary's interests in Nixon, and they may well outweigh a "broad and undifferentiated" claim of privilege.
By claiming executive privilege before the House, but not before Mueller, Bannon and the White House are probably relying on a different balancing of interests under Nixon. In particular, the White House is probably claiming that the House's interests in the communications are less than Mueller's interests, and that the President's interest in confidential communications with Bannon outweigh the House's interests, but not Mueller's. Moreover, it's probably claiming that the communications are more secure if released to Mueller (like the in camera review in Nixon) and less secure if released to Congress (even if a closed-door hearing).
But we don't know for sure, because the White House hasn't said. And we don't know how the courts would rule on these theories, even if the President asserted them.
These disputes between the White House and Congress usually work themselves out informally, without involvement of the courts. But now that the Committee has issued a subpoena, if Bannon continues to decline to provide certain information, the case could go to the courts, and we could get the President's legal reasoning--and a court ruling on whether and how executive privilege applies.
UPDATE: It turns out that U.S. Magistrate Judge James P. O'Hara ruled last spring that executive privilege doesn't apply to communications with the President-Elect. (H/t to my co-blogger Ruthann Robson.) The case involved Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's attempt to invoke the privilege to protect a communication that he had with President-Elect Trump on the National Voter Registration Act. Judge O'Hara rejected Kobach's claim:
Secretary Kobach's communication was made to a president-elect, not to a sitting president. Although a president-elect by statute and policy may be accorded security briefings and other transitional prerogatives, he or she has no constitutional power to make any decisions on behalf of the Executive Branch. No court has recognized the applicability of the executive privilege to communications made before a president takes office. If that were the law, it would mean that potentially almost everything communicated to a president-elect by the hundreds of persons seeking appointments in the new administration would be shielded by privilege.
In Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, the Supreme Court did recognize that former presidents may assert privilege over certain communications made during their terms in office. But the reasoning given by the Court for its decision doesn't directly translate to communications with president-elects.
Thursday, January 11, 2018
Judge Timothy J. Kelly (D.D.C.) yesterday denied Leandra English's motion for a preliminary injunction against President Trump in the dispute over the acting directorship of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Recall that outgoing director Richard Cordray appointed English as deputy in late November. Under Dodd-Frank, this meant that English would become acting director upon Cordray's resignation. But at the same time, President Trump appointed OMB Director John Michael Mulvaney as acting director pursuant to his authority under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. As a result, both English and Mulvaney claimed title to acting director. English sued to get the courts to recognize her as the actual acting director.
Judge Kelly ruled that English was unlikely to succeed on the merits of her claim. According to the court, that's because Dodd-Frank and the FVRA can be read in harmony--in favor of the President's authority to appoint an acting director over Dodd-Frank's provision automatically assigning the post to the deputy:
The best reading of the two statutes is that Dodd-Frank requires that the Deputy Director "shall" serve as acting Director, but that under the FVRA the President "may" override that default rule. This reading is compelled by several considerations: the text of the FVRA, including its exclusivity provision, the text of Dodd-Frank, including its express-statement requirement and Deputy Director provision, and traditional principles of statutory construction.
The court said that constitutional avoidance principles confirmed this result. In particular,
English's interpretation of Dodd-Frank potentially impairs the President's ability to fulfill his obligations under the Take Care Clause. Under English's theory, because Cordray installed her as Deputy Director, she must remain acting Director--no matter whom the President would prefer in that role--until a new permanent Director is appointed. . . .
Under English's interpretation, however, Cordray could have named anyone the CFPB's Deputy Director, and the President would be virtually powerless to replace that person upon ascension to acting Director--no matter how unqualified that person might be. That alone threatens to undermine the President's ability to fulfill his Take Care Clause obligations. And this problem is compounded by another unique feature of the directorship of the CFPB: it is vested with unilateral, unchecked control over the CFPB's substantial regulatory and enforcement power.
The court said that nothing in Dodd-Frank prevented the President from appointing the acting OMB chief to simultaneously serve as CFPB Director.
The ruling is only on English's motion for a preliminary injunction--and doesn't finally settle the directorship dispute--but it foretells the ultimate result in this court.
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Judge William Alsup (N.D. Cal.) yesterday issued a 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 rescission on September 5, 2017."
The order requires the government to continue to administer DACA, including allowing DACA enrollees to renew their enrollments, despite the Administration's announcement last year that it would halt the program. The order also potentially complicates negotiations over a congressional fix.
The court ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their challenge to President Trump's repeal of the DACA program. In short, the court ruled that DACA was legal when adopted; that the government's stated reason for repealing it (that DHS lacked authority to implement it) was wrong as a matter of law; and that the government's post-hoc rationalization for repeal (the "litigation risk" it faced in defending DACA) didn't count, and, in any event, was arbitrary and capricious.
This order holds that, in light of our own court of appeals' reasoning . . . and in light of the analysis of the Office of Legal Counsel of the United States Department of Justice, and the reasoning set forth above, our court of appeals will likely hold that DACA was and remains a lawful exercise of authority by DHS. Plaintiffs are therefore likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the rescission was based on a flawed legal premise and must be set aside as "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law."
Along the way, the court distinguished the DAPA program, ruled illegal by the Fifth Circuit and affirmed by an equally divided Supreme Court, and said that the reasons why DAPA exceeded DHS authority don't apply to DACA:
While at least some of the majority's reasons for holding DAPA illegal would apply to DACA, fairness requires saying that DACA and DAPA were different, as the panel opinion stated. An important criticism against DAPA would not apply against DACA, namely the fact that Congress had already established a pathway to lawful presence for alien parents of citizens (so that DAPA simply constituted a more lenient substitute route). DACA, by contrast, has no such analogue in the INA. And, there is a difference between 4.3 million [covered by DAPA] and 689,800 [covered by DACA]. Finally, the criticism that DACA has been mechanically administered without the exercise of discretion in individual cases, if true, could be fixed by simply insisting on exercise of discretion. In sum, the DAPA litigation was not a death knell for DACA.
The ruling will surely be appealed.