Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Court Punts in Cross-Border Shooting Case

With all the activity at the Court yesterday, we might be excused for missing the Court's non-decision in Hernandez v. Mesa. But even as the Court punted, remanding to the lower court, this is a case we should pay attention to.

The case involved a border patrol agent who shot and killed a Mexican youth just on the other side of the border. (Our oral argument review is here.) The case teed up an important dispute over whether the Fourth Amendment applies outside the United States, and how the Court should decide that question. (The case also asked whether the agent enjoyed qualified immunity for a related Fifth Amendment claim.)

But then the Court added a third QP--whether the plaintiffs had a Bivens claim, an issue that the lower courts dodged--signalling that the Court thought this was a substantial, even threshold, issue. Then just last week in Abbasi the Court ruled that 9/11 detainees did not have a Bivens claim and in the course substantially narrowed the Bivens doctrine. Yesterday the Court put these two pieces together and took them to their logical conclusion: It remanded Hernandez with instructions to consider, as a threshold matter (that is, before the courts gets to the extraterritoriality question, and possibly even before the court gets to the qualified immunity question), whether the plaintiffs have a Bivens claim in light of Abbasi.

This does not bode well for the plaintiffs. That's because the Court in Abbasi all but limited the Bivens "context" to cases that look exactly like the three cases in which the Court has found a Bivens remedy. Outside of that "context," the Court won't extend Bivens if "special factors" counsel against a Bivens remedy. And the Court defined "special factors" broadly enough that it'll be hard to show that they don't. 

In other words, the plaintiffs will only prevail if they can show that special factors don't counsel against extending a Bivens remedy to this case. And given the very broad approach to "special factors" in Abbasi, that could be quite hard to do.

At the same time, the Court ruled that the lower court improperly granted qualified immunity to the agent. The Court said that the agent couldn't have known that Hernandez was Mexican (not American), and the lower court therefore erred in relying on the fact that Hernandez was "an alien who had no significant voluntary connection to . . . the United States."

That may be a hollow victory for the plaintiffs, however, if the courts rule as a threshold matter that they lack a Bivens claim. If they so rule, there'll be no need to even consider qualified immunity, or, for that matter, the extraterritorial application of the Fourth Amendment.

June 27, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Court Says No Damages Remedy for 9/11 Detainees

The Supreme Court ruled today that post-9/11 "of interest" detainees could not sue executive officials for damages for constitutional violations during their detention. Moreover, the ruling in Ziglar v. Abbasi all but wipes out future damages remedies against federal officials for constitutional violations, except in the very narrow circumstances of three cases where the Court has found such a remedy. (And those cases may be hanging on by just a string.)

The case arose when post-9/11 detainees at a federal detention facility sued then-AG John Ashcroft, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller, and then-INS Commissioner James Ziglar for abusive detention policies in violation of their Fourth- and Fifth-Amendment rights. The plaintiffs sought monetary damages under Bivens.

The Court today rejected those claims. In an opinion abounding with deference to Congress, Justice Kennedy, writing for himself and Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito (Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Gorsuch were all recused), held that the case raised a new Bivens context and that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy.

As to context, the Court set out this test:

If the case is different in a meaningful way from previous Bivens cases decided by this Court, then the context is new. Without endeavoring to create an exhaustive list of differences that are meaningful enough to make a given context a new one, some examples might prove instructive. A case might differ in a meaningful way because of the rank of the officers involved; the constitutional right at issue; the generality or specificity of the official action; the extent of judicial guidance as to how an officer should respond to the problem or emergency to be confronted; the statutory or other legal mandate under which the officer was operating; the risk or disruptive intrusion by the Judiciary into the functioning of other branches; or the present of potential special factors that previous Bivens cases did not consider.

In other words, if a new case isn't nearly on all fours with one of the three cases where the Court has found a Bivens remedy--Bivens itself (a Fourth Amendment violation), Davis v. Passman (an assistant's Fifth Amendment Due Process claim against a Congressman for gender discrimination), and Carlson v. Green (a prisoner's estate's Eighth Amendment Cruel-and-Unusual claim)--there's a new context. And the Court said that this case presented a new context.

As to special factors, the Court said that the claims "call[ed] into question the formulation and implementation of a general policy," that the policy related to the government's response to the 9/11 attacks (a national security concern, traditionally an area for the executive), that Congress had not provided a damages remedy, and that other remedies (injunctive relief, a habeas claim) were available.

Between the Court's very narrow view of new circumstances and its very broad view of special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy, this case failed. And the ruling ensures that very few future Bivens cases will succeed.

On another issue, the Court remanded a related claim against the prison warden, instructing the lower court to conduct a special-factors analysis. Finally, the Court rejected the plaintiffs' civil-rights conspiracy claim, holding that the defendants enjoyed qualified immunity, because the question whether officials all within the executive branch could constitute a conspiracy "is sufficiently open so that the officials in this suit could not be certain that [conspiracy] was applicable to their discussions and actions."

Justice Breyer dissented, joined by Justice Ginsburg.

June 19, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Third Circuit Tosses Election Qualifications Case in Virgin Islands

The Third Circuit last week dismissed a case challenging an elected candidate's qualifications for the Virgin Islands legislature. The ruling means that the elected candidate will not be seated.

The case arose when Kevin Rodriguez was elected to serve in the Virgin Islands Legislature. After the election, but before the swearing-in, a rival candidate, Janelle Sarauw, challenged Rodriguez's qualifications to serve, based on Rodriguez's prior representation in a bankruptcy case that he lived in Tennessee. (The VI Revised Organic Act requires that a person serving in the VI legislature reside in the VI for at least three years preceding the date of his or her election.) Sarauw sued in the VI courts and sought an injunction compelling the Board of Elections to de-certify Rodriguez as a qualified candidate, thus preventing him from taking a seat in the 32nd Legislature. (The Board, an independently elected body outside the legislature and judiciary, has authority under the ROA to determine qualifications of candidates before swearing in.)

While that case was moving up and down the VI courts, the 32nd Legislature was sworn in (without Rodriguez, because the courts were still working out how to deal with his qualification). Rodriguez then removed the case to federal court (remember, this is all federal law, including the ROA, because of the VI's status in relation to the US), asking for an injunction directing the 32nd Legislature to seat him.

The Third Circuit tossed the case. The court ruled that the courts lacked authority to rule a candidate qualified after the swearing in, because the ROA says that the legislature shall have the sole power to determine the qualifications of its members. In other words, the issue was textually committed to a coordinate branch of government--a political question. (The court ruled that the ROA contains separation-of-powers principles, which form the basis of the political question doctrine.) The court noted that separation-of-powers and the ROA would not prohibit the courts from ruling on a candidate's qualifications before swearing in, when the Board has authority to make such a determination, because the separation of powers don't apply to the Board, "a popularly elected and independent entity" that's not a part of the legislative or judicial branches. But Rodriguez only removed his case after the swearing-in, so his case was always a political question.

The court also ruled that the portion of the case brought by Sarauw, the "removed case," was moot, because the legislature had already been sworn in.

Along the way, the governor ordered a special election, and Sarauw won.

June 14, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis, Political Question Doctrine, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Special Counsel Appointment Docs and Regs

Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein's press release announcing the appointment of former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to serve as Special Counsel is here. The appointment order is here. The order includes the following authority:

to conduct the investigation confirmed by then-FBI Director James B. Comey in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017, including:

(i) any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and

(ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and

(iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 CFR Sec. 600.4(a).

Rosenstein is acting AG for the purpose of the appointment, because AG Sessions recused himself. As Acting AG, Rosenstein has the AG's authority to appoint a special counsel under 28 USC 515.

DOJ regs on special counsel are at 28 CFR 600.1 - 600.10. Section 600.4 says that the special counsel's jurisdiction is set by the AG (or in this case the Acting AG) and provides for additional jurisdiction, with permission of the AG. Section 600.6 sets out the special counsel's power and authority, and provides for its independence. Section 600.7 says who the special counsel reports to ("The Special Counsel shall not be subject to the day-to-day supervision of any official of the Department."), when and how the AG can intervene in the Special Counsel's operations (when the AG concludes that "the action is so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued."), and when and how the Special Counsel can be disciplined or removed ("for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies.").

May 21, 2017 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

D.C. Circuit Tosses Backpage.com's Challenge of Senate Subpoena

The D.C. Circuit ruled yesterday that Backpage.com's challenge to a subpoena issued by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations was moot. The court dismissed Backpage.com's case and vacated earlier district court rulings.

The case arose when the Subcommittee sought to enforce its subpoena for Backpage.com documents to aid its investigation into the web-site's facilitation of sex trafficking. While the case worked its way between the district court and the D.C. Circuit, Backpage.com voluntarily provided the Subcommittee with a good many of the documents the Subcommittee sought (but withheld some other documents under claims of privilege). Before the D.C. Circuit could rule on Backpage.com's challenge to the subpoena, the Subcommittee wrapped up its investigation based on the released documents and issued its final report. The Subcommittee then moved to dismiss the case as moot.

In its ruling yesterday, the D.C. Circuit agreed with the Subcommittee. The court rejected Backpage.com's argument that the district court might still order some relief (for example, an order that the Subcommittee destroy or return the documents still in its possession), thus keeping the case alive, because "the separation of powers, including the Speech or Debate Clause," bars a court from ordering a congressional committee to release documents used in a lawful investigation. In particular, the court wrote that under circuit law "the Clause affords Congress a 'privilege to use materials in its possession without judicial interference,' even where unlawful acts facilitated their acquisition." (Unlawful acts did not facilitate their acquisition here; instead, Backpage.com provided them.) In short, once documents come into the hands of a committee, "the subsequent use of the documents by the committee staff in the course of official business is privileged legislative activity."

The court rejected Backpage.com's argument that the Subcommittee waived its privilege by voluntarily subjecting itself to the court's jurisdiction (when it filed to enforce the subpoena): "[w]hen Congress petitions the court in a subpoena enforcement action, Congress does not waive its immunity from court interference with its exercise of its constitutional powers."

The court also rejected Backpage.com's argument that the case was capable of repetition but evading review. The court said a repeat was simply too speculative.

The ruling doesn't leave future subjects of congressional subpoenas without a remedy. According to the court, such subjects should refuse to comply during the legal proceedings so that the courts can hear their objections on the merits.

In other words, Backpage.com's mistake was voluntarily releasing the documents in the first place.

The separation-of-powers part of the ruling stands in contrast to the Court's holding in Church of Scientology of California v. United States, a case that the D.C. Circuit distinguished. In Church of Scientology, the IRS filed a petition to enforce a summons against a state-court clerk for tape recordings related to the Church in district court, and the Church intervened to oppose. While the case was on appeal, the clerk released the tapes to the IRS, at while point the appellate court dismissed the case as moot. The Supreme Court reversed, however, explaining that the case remained alive because the district court could still issue relief to the Church--a "destroy or return" order.

The D.C. Circuit said that Church of Scientology was different, however, because "the separation of powers, including the Speech or Debate Clause," bars a court from ordering that same kind of relief against Congress.

May 17, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Court Temporarily Halts Trump's Sanctuary Cities Order

Judge William H. Orrick (N.D. Cal.) issued a nationwide temporary injunction halting President Trump's executive order that sought to clamp down on sanctuary cities.

The ruling was a broadside against the EO, handing the plaintiffs, Santa Clara County and San Francisco, a decisive preliminary victory on nearly all the points they raised. But at the same time, the ruling is preliminary, and holds only that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their various claims. It's also certain to be appealed.

The ruling comes closely on the heels of the Justice Department's move last week to begin enforcement of the EO by informing certain "sanctuary cities" that they could lose DOJ Justice Assistance Grants if they failed to provide "documentation and an opinion from legal counsel" that they were in compliance with Section 1373.

But the lawsuit challenged the EO on its face, and not just as applied to DOJ JAG grants. And that turned out to be critical in Judge Orrick's decision. In particular, Judge Orrick held that the plain language of the EO threatened all "federal grants" to sanctuary cities, notwithstanding the administration's attempts to narrow that language. (Judge Orrick flatly rejected attempts to limit the EO, taking judicial notice of a variety of public statements of President Trump and administration officials about the breadth of the program.) Because the EO put all "federal grants" on the chopping block, Judge Orrick said that it swept way too far. (Judge Orrick wrote that nothing in the injunction prohibited the administration from enforcing lawful conditions on federal grants, or enforcing Section 1373, or designating jurisdictions as "sanctuary jurisdictions.")

Judge Orrick ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their separation-of-powers claim, because "Section 9 [of the Order, which conditions federal grants on compliance with Section 1373] purports to give the Attorney General and the Secretary the power to place a new condition on federal funds (compliance with Section 1373) not provided for by Congress." This was particularly troubling, because Congress has several times declined to put like conditions on other federal immigration laws.

Judge Orrick also ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their Spending Clause claim, because (1) the conditions in the EO were not unambiguous (because it didn't exist when the states signed up for many of their federal grants, and because so much of the language is vague), (2) there's not a sufficient nexus between the federal funds at issue (from any federal grant) and compliance with Section 1373, and (3) the EO is coercive (because it could deny to local governments all their federal grants).

Judge Orrick also ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their Tenth Amendment challenge (because the EO would compel state and local governments "to enforce a federal regulatory program through coercion" and require state and local jurisdictions to honor civil detainer requests), their void-for-vagueness challenge (because so much of the EO is, well, vague), and their Due Process claim (because the EO contains no process before the feds could withhold already-issued federal grants).

In short, Judge Orrick ruled for the plaintiffs on all their claims. Just one went the other way: Judge Orrick declined to issue an injunction against President Trump himself.

Despite the lofty separation-of-powers and federalism issues that were (and are) at the core of the case, a good chunk of the ruling dealt with justiciability. Judge Orrick ruled that the plaintiffs had standing (because they suffered current budget uncertainty or a required change in policies to comply with the EO) and that the claims were ripe (because of the threatened injury, under MedImmune, Inc. v. Genentech).

April 25, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Ripeness, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

UPDATED: Trump Administration to Continue Contested Insurance Subsidies Under ACA

Update: Might've spoken a little too soon. President Trump told the WSJ yesterday that he's still considering withholding subsidies.

The Trump Administration will continue to pay subsidies to health insurance companies on the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, despite a district court ruling against the Obama Administration that they are illegal, according to the NYT.

The decision will help to keep the exchanges operating.

Recall that Judge Rosemary Collyer (D.D.C.) ruled that the Obama Administration illegally spent money on the subsidies to ACA exchange insurers without a valid congressional authorization.

The ACA provides for the subsidies, but Congress didn't fund them. President Obama went ahead and paid them, anyway.

The lawsuit, brought by congressional Republicans, is on appeal. The Trump Administration hasn't announced its position in the litigation, beyond saying that it'll continue to fund the subsidies for now.

April 12, 2017 in Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

State Attorney Argues Separation of Powers in Lawsuit Against Governor Over Death Penalty

Aramis Ayala, the State Attorney for Florida's Ninth Judicial Circuit, filed suit yesterday against Governor Rick Scott over Scott's effort to remove Ayala from 23 pending homicide cases. Scott issued a series of executive orders purporting to transfer the cases to a neighboring state attorney after Ayala announced that she would not seek the death penalty in some of those cases.

Ayala's lawsuit raises state constitutional separation-of-powers issues, pitting the independently-elected State Attorney's authority to prosecute cases within her jurisdiction against the Governor's authority to execute the law.

In particular, Ayala argues in her state supreme court writ of quo warranto that Scott's executive orders violate the state attorney's power to prosecute all cases in that circuit. Article V, Section 17 of the Florida Constitution provides that the state attorney for each judicial circuit "shall be the prosecuting officer in all trial courts in that circuit." The constitution contains two exceptions, but neither applies. Ayala argues that Scott's executive orders violate the provision vesting her office alone with prosecutorial authority within her district.

Ayala also claims that the governor's constitutional powers to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed" and "supreme executive power" don't authorize his actions, because the Florida Constitution specifically allotted her powers in Article V, Section 17.

Finally, Ayala contends that Scott's moves violate functional separation of powers. Drawing on Florida's strict separation clause ("No person belonging to one branch of government shall exercise any powers appertaining to either of the other branches unless expressly provided herein."), Ayala says that Scott's executive orders infringe on her role as a quasi-judicial officer and on the state judiciary itself:

Here, Scott has purported to remove Ayala entirely from the cases that his orders apply to. So under the Governor's orders, not only would Ayala not decide whether to seek the death penalty here, she also would not participate in other crucial aspects of the case, including ensuring compliance with Brady v. Maryland, safeguarding a fair trial, and considering the interests of the victims and the public. Those latter functions are precisely those that an independent judiciary protects and that the executive may not meddle in.

Ayala simultaneously filed a federal lawsuit, arguing that Scott's moves violate equal protect and due process. But she moved to stay federal proceedings pending the outcome of her state claims.

April 12, 2017 in News, Separation of Powers, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Did Trump Have Authority to Launch Strikes in Syria?

Charlie Savage provides a good starting point for the legal analysis at the NYT; Amber Phillips looks a little more at the politics at WaPo; Conor Friedersdorf has a little of both at The Atlantic.

For a deeper dive into the constitutional law, check out these:

Jack Goldsmith, at Lawfare

John Bellinger, same

Ashley Deeks, same

Andrew Kent, same

Marty Lederman, at Just Security

Harold Koh, same

Marty Lederman (responding to Koh), same

Ryan Goodman, same

Julian Ku, Opinio Juris

Deborah Pearlstein, same

Edward Swaine, same

Julian Ku (again), same

Ilya Somin, Volokh Conspiracy

Here are links to the cited OLC memos:

Libya (2011)

Kosovo (2000)

Haiti (1994)

For a broader, historical approach, check out this CRS report on Congressional Authority to Limit U.S. Military Operations.

April 7, 2017 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Court Leans Toward Agent in Cross-Border Shooting Case

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Hernandez v. Mesa, the case testing whether the family of a Mexican youth can sue a border patrol agent for Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations for shooting and killing the youth while the agent was on the U.S. side of the border, but the youth was in the concrete border culvert, 60 feet into Mexico.

The parties briefed three issues--whether a formalist or functionalist approach governs the Fourth Amendment's application outside the U.S., whether the officer enjoyed qualified immunity for the Fifth Amendment violation, and whether Bivens provided a remedy--but only two were really on display today: the extraterritorial application of the Fourth Amendment, and Bivens. And if the arguments are any prediction, it looks like a closely divided Court could rule for the agent. But the case could also be a good candidate for re-argument, when a ninth Justice joins the Court.

The plaintiffs' biggest problem was defining a workable test for the application of the Fourth Amendment. The formalist approach has the benefit of providing a bright-line for the application of the Fourth Amendment--the actual border. But the functional approach (or something like it) is more flexible in a situation like this, where the difference in a remedy could (absurdly, to some) be measured in the 60-foot distance between Hernandez and the U.S. border when he was shot.

Trying to walk a line between a rigid-border approach and a functional approach without any clear and determinate limits, the plaintiffs argued for a test that would apply the Fourth Amendment only in the culvert area straddling the border--an area that includes both U.S. and Mexican territory, but just barely. They justified this case-specific approach on the number of cross-border shootings that occurred of late: a particular problem demands a particular solution.

Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan seemed on board with this approach; Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito did not. If the Court splits 4-4 on the issue (as seems likely), the lower court ruling simply stays in place. That ruling said that neither the Fourth nor Fifth Amendment applied, and that Hernandez therefore had no federal constitutional remedy.

But whatever the Court says about the "extraterritorial" application of the Fourth Amendment, there's another issue--a threshold one: Bivens. Here, the Justices seemed to divide along conventional political lines. Justice Kennedy well outlined the conservatives' case when he asked the plaintiffs this:

Since 1988, this Court has not recognized a single Bivens action. We look for special considerations. You've indicated that there's a problem all along the border. Why doesn't that counsel us that this is one of the most sensitive areas of foreign affairs where the political branches should discuss with Mexico what the solution ought to be? It seems to me that this is an extraordinary case for us to say there's a Bivens action in light of what we've done since 1988 where we haven't created a single one.

The four conventional progressives pushed back, equally hard.

If the Court divides 4-4 on Bivens, as seems likely, it might not matter to the outcome, because a 4-4 split on extraterritoriality would hand the win to Mesa, the border agent. But a 4-4 split on Bivens would leave open a substantial question that the Court itself directed the parties to answer: does Bivens provide a remedy here? Because there's no lower-court ruling on Bivens (the en banc Fifth Circuit did not address the issue, and only reinstated the non-Bivens portions of the panel ruling), a 4-4 split would not even leave in a place a lower court ruling. Given that the Court itself added this question--suggesting that it would like an answer--a 4-4 split may mean that the Court holds this case over for re-argument with a ninth Justice.

February 21, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Oral Argument Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Groups Sue Over Trumps 2-for-1 Regulation Order

Public Citizen, the NRDC, and the Communications Workers of America (AFL-CIO) sued the Trump administration today over President Trump's two-for-one administrative regulation executive order. That EO requires an agency to revoke two regulations for every new regulation it adopts.

The plaintiffs argue that the EO violates the separation of powers, the Take Care Clause, and the Administrative Procedure Act, among others. In short:

To repeal two regulations for the purpose of adopting one new one, based solely on a directive to impose zero net costs without any consideration of benefits, is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with law, for at least three reasons. First, no governing statute authorizes any agency to withhold a regulation intended to address identified harms to public safety, health, or other statutory objectives on the basis of an arbitrary upper limit on total costs (for fiscal year 2017, a limit of $0) that regulations may impose on regulated entities or the economy. Second, the Executive Order forces agencies to repeal regulations that they have already determined, through notice-and-comment rulemaking, advance the purposes of the underlying statutes, and forces the agencies to do so for the sole purpose of eliminating costs that the underlying statutes do not direct be eliminated. Third, no governing statute authorizes an agency to base its actions on a decisionmaking criterion of zero net cost across multiple regulations.

The plaintiffs say that the EO violates the separation of powers, because "[b]y requiring agencies engaged in rulemaking to consider and take final action or to withhold final action based on factors that are impermissible and arbitrary under the governing statutes, the Executive Order purports to amend the statutes through which Congress has delegated rulemaking authority to federal agencies." They say it violates the Take Care Clause, because it "directs agencies to take action contrary to numerous laws passed by Congress." (The plaintiffs also bring claims under non-statutory review of ultra vires action, and the APA.)

The plaintiffs point to harms they'll incur under several statutes, if administrative agencies follow the two-for-one rule. Those include the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and Motor Carrier Safety Act, OSHA, the Mine Safety and Health Act, the Toxic Substance Control Act, and several other environmental protection acts.

The plaintiffs  point to harms (for standing purposes) throughout, including organizational harms (by requiring the plaintiffs to shift advocacy priorities) and member harms (because a lack of regulation, where a statute requires it, will harm individual members).

February 8, 2017 in Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Obama-Era Regs on the Chopping Block

The White House and Congress are working at a very quick pace to strike late-promulgated Obama-era administrative regulations under the Congressional Review Act.

That Act allows Congress to pass, and the President to sign, a joint resolution of disapproval to revoke certain administrative regulations. The Congressional Research Service has a backgrounder here, with links to other CRS reports on the Congressional Review Act.

President Trump has issued statements telling Congress that he'll sign four joint resolutions now pending in Congress: (1) a Labor rule on drug testing of unemployment compensation applicants, (2) a BLM reg that establishes procedures to prepare, revise, or amend federal land-use plans, (3) an Ed. rule relating to accountability and state plans under the Elementary and Secondary Educational Act of 1965, an (4) Ed. rule related to teacher preparation.

Congress has considered several resolutions of disapproval since 1996, but overturned just one regulation, a 2000 OSHA rule related to workplace ergonomics standards. President Obama vetoed five resolutions of disapproval, and Congress failed to override the vetoes, so none passed.

With the Republican-controlled House and Senate likely to pass these disapproval resolutions--the Senate minority can't filibuster a CRA disapproval resolution--President Trump's anticipate four overrides will set a record.

February 7, 2017 in Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Federal District Judge Enjoins "Muslim Ban" in Washington v. Trump

In a Temporary Restraining Order, United States District Judge James Robart enjoined the federal government from enforcing sections 3(c), 5(a), 5(b), 5(c), and 5(e) of the Executive Order Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, commonly known as the "Muslim Ban" or "Travel Ban." 

Judge Hobart's Order is brief and concludes that there is a likelihood of success on the merits, although it does not specify which of the claims is likely to succeed.  Washington State's complaint contains 7 counts claiming violations of constitutional guarantees of Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, and Procedural Due Process, as well as statutory violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act (2 counts), Foreign Affairs and Restructuring Act, the Administrative Procedure Act (2 counts), and the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA).

A_morning_wandering_around_the_Base_of_the_Mt._Baker_Ski_Area_(at_Mt_Shuksan)_-_(28474738420)
Mt. Baker, Washington, by Murray Foubister via

The Judge's finding that Washington faces the "immediate and irreparable injury" requirement for preliminary relief might also be a comment on the merits of Washington's standing (which we first discussed here) to bring the suit, and would be pertinent to the standing of the state of Hawai'i, which has also sued. Judge Robart found:

The Executive Order adversely affects the States’ residents in areas of employment, education, business, family relations, and freedom to travel. These harms extend to the States by virtue of their roles as parens patriae of the residents living within their borders.  In addition, the States themselves are harmed by virtue of the damage that implementation of the Executive Order has inflicted upon the operations and missions of their public universities and other institutions of higher learning, as well as injury to the States" operations, tax bases, and public funds.

Additionally, in the Order's one paragraph Conclusion, Judge Robart implicitly invokes the Marbury v. Madison aspects of the controversy.  Here is the entire last paragraph:

Fundamental to the work of this court is a vigilant recognition that it is but one of   three equal branches of our federal government. The work of the court is not to create policy or judge the wisdom of any particular policy promoted by the other two branches. That is the work of the legislative and executive branches and of the citizens of this   country who ultimately exercise democratic control over those branches. The work of the Judiciary, and this court, is limited to ensuring that the actions taken by the other two branches comport with our country’s laws, and more importantly, our Constitution. The narrow question the court is asked to consider today is whether it is appropriate to enter a TRO against certain actions taken by the Executive in the context of this specific lawsuit. Although the question is narrow, the court is mindful of the considerable impact its order may have on the parties before it, the executive branch of our government, and the country’s citizens and residents. The court concludes that the circumstances brought before it today are such that it must intervene to fulfill its constitutional role in our tripart government. Accordingly, the court concludes that entry of the above-described TRO is necessary, and the States’ motion (Dkt. ## 2, 19) is therefore GRANTED.

 The morning after the Judge's Order, the President from his vacation home "tweeted" his disapproval, maligning the judge but seemingly committed to pursue further judicial process.
 

February 4, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Race, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Merkley to Filibuster Supreme Court Nominee

Politico reports that Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Or.) plans to filibuster any Trump Supreme Court nominee who is not Merrick Garland.

Said Merkley: "This is a stolen seat. This is the first time a Senate majority has stolen a seat. We will use every lever in our power to stop this."

Is turnabout fair play for the Republicans' refusal to give Garland a hearing? Or is a Democratic filibuster (because Republicans refused to give Garland a hearing) different than a Republican refusal to give a hearing at all?

January 30, 2017 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Congressional Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 23, 2017

CREW Files Complaint Alleging Trump Violates the Emoluments Clause

Here's CREW's complaint against President Trump for violations of the Emoluments Clause. (We wrote on this yesterday, too.) CREW filed this morning in the Southern District of New York.

In short, CREW argues that the Trump corporation's business with other countries means that it takes money from them, and because President Trump hasn't divested, "[w]hen Trump the president sits down to negotiate trade deals with these countries, the American people will have no way of knowing whether he will also be thinking about the profits of Trump the businessman."

CREW's standing to sue will certainly be an issue. Here's the abridged version of what CREW has to say about its injury:

Defendant's violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause have required CREW to divert and expend its valuable resources specifically to counteract those violations, impairing CREW's ability to accomplish its mission. CREW has had to counteract Defendant's violations because they are particularly harmful to CREW due to its status as a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization with the resources, board of directors, in-house legal team, and mission that it has.

There is a direct conflict between Defendant's violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause and CREW's mission of protecting the rights of citizens to be informed about the activities of government officials, ensuring the integrity of government officials, protecting our political system against corruption, and reducing the influence of money in politics. Defendant's violations create a tremendous risk of foreign governments using money to improperly influence the President, create questions about the President's motives in making foreign-policy decisions, and will likely lead to numerous conflicts and violations that the public will have insufficient information to judge.

January 23, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

OLC Says Trump Can Hire Son-In-Law Kushner

The Office of Legal Counsel memo that concludes that President Trump can hire son-in-law Jared Kushner to the White House staff is mostly statutory construction. (It concludes that the anti-nepotism statute does not apply to the President's hiring authority for the White House Office. At the same time, however, it also concludes that conflict-of-interest laws do apply.)

But it contains just a wee little bit of separation of powers, too. Check it out:

Finally, we believe this result--that the President may appoint relatives to his immediate staff of advisors in the White House Office--makes sense when considered in light of other legal principles. Congress has not blocked, and mostly likely could not block, the President from seeking advice from family members in their personal capacities. Cf. In re Cheney, 406 F.3d 723, 728 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (en banc) (referring to the President's need "[i]n making decisions on personnel and policy, and in formulating legislative proposals, . . . to seek confidential information from many sources, both inside the government and outside"); Pub. Citizen v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 491 U.S. 440, 466 (1989) (construing the Federal Advisory Committee Act ("FACA") not to apply to the judicial recommendation panels of the American Bar Association in order to avoid "formidable constitutional difficulties"). Consequently, even if the anti-nepotism statute prevented the President from employing relatives in the White House as advisors, he would remain free to consult those relatives as private citizens.

(Emphasis added.)

Because conflict-of-interest laws apply to White House staff, according to the memo, this leaves the President with a choice: (1) seek the advice of a relative on an unofficial, ad hoc basis; or (2) "appoint his relative to the White House under title 3 and subject him to substantial restrictions against conflicts of interest."

January 22, 2017 in Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Did Obama Open the Door to Trump's EO on Obamacare?

Check out Seth Chandler's piece in Forbes, arguing that President Obama's unilateral executive actions on the Affordable Care Act set a precedent for President Trump's executive order scaling back the Act. "[A]ctions taken by the Obama administration to play fast and loose with administrative procedures and separation of powers have opened the door to the Trump executive branch to derail the ACA even without Congressional action." One example (of a few):

President Obama, after all, delayed enforcement of the employer mandate for a year for some large employers and delayed enforcement for two years for others. It was, the President asserted, too burdensome to comply with. President Trump might equally assert that, given the poor quality and high prices of ACA policies in many jurisdictions, it is too burdensome to comply with the individual mandate today.

January 22, 2017 in Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Tenth Circuit Says SEC ALJs Violate Appointments Clause

A divided panel of the Tenth Circuit ruled yesterday that SEC Administrative Law Judges violate the Appointments Clause.

The important, pathbreaking ruling creates a circuit split--the D.C. Circuit went the other way earlier this fall--and tees the issue up for Supreme Court review.

The majority was careful to remind that its ruling extended only to SEC ALJs, not all ALJs, so it's not clear exactly how far the logic goes. It probably doesn't matter much, though, at least for now, because the case will almost surely go to the Supreme Court.

The case arose when David Bandimere challenged an SEC ruling against him, in part because the ALJ that issued the initial decision was appointed in violation of the Appointments Clause. The SEC rejected the argument, but the Tenth Circuit agreed with Bandimere. (The SEC ruled that the ALJ was an "employee," not subject to the Appointments Clause.)

The court ruled that SEC ALJs look just like the Tax Court Special Trial Judges at issue in Freytag v. Commissioner. In Freytag, the Supreme Court used a functional analysis to conclude that the STJs were inferior officers, to be appointed by "the President alone, in the Court of Law, or in the Heads of Department." The court said that SEC ALJs, like the STJs, (1) were "established by Law," (2) had "duties, salary, and means of appointment . . . specified by statute," and (3) "exercise significant discretion" in "carrying out . . . important functions." As inferior officers, the court said that they had to be appointed by the President, the courts, or a head of a department, and, because they weren't (this point wasn't contested), they violate the Appointments Clause.

The court parted ways with the D.C. Circuit on the same question, because, it said, the D.C. Circuit put too much emphasis on the third part of the Freytag analysis--in particular, that the ALJs didn't exercise final decisionmaking power: "We disagree with the SEC's reading of Freytag and its argument that final decision-making power is dispositive to the question at hand."

Judge McKay dissented, focusing on the differences between SEC ALJs and the STJs in Freytag ("Most importantly, the special trial judges at issue in Freytag had the sovereign power to bind the Government and third parties," while "the Commission is not bound--in any way--by an ALJ's recommendations") and the potentially sweeping implications of the ruling ("all federal ALJs are at risk of being declared inferior officers," and therefore in violation of the Appointments Clause).

December 28, 2016 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Yet More on Clinton E-Mails, in the Courts

The D.C. Circuit ruled today that a civil case involving the recovery of some unknown number of apparently not-yet-released Hillary Clinton e-mails is not moot. But the ruling carefully says nothing about the merits and other barriers to moving forward, so it's not yet clear that the ruling will result in any further investigation. It just means that the district court can move to the next steps.

The case arose when Judicial Watch sought a court order compelling Secretary of State Kerry to refer the effort to recover certain e-mails to the Attorney General. Judicial Watch relied on the Administrative Procedure Act and a portion of the Federal Records Act. That Act requires the relevant agency head (in mandatory, non-discretionary language), when he or she becomes aware of "any actual, impending, or threatened unlawful removal . . . or [] destruction of [agency] records," to "notify the Archivist . . . and with the assistance of the Archivist [to] initiate action through the Attorney General."

The district court tossed the case on mootness grounds, ruling that Secretary Kerry and the Archivist had made a "sustained effort" to recover the e-mails, yielding "a very substantial harvest," even if they failed to refer the effort to the AG.

The D.C. Circuit reversed. The court ruled that there may still be some un-recovered e-mails out there that the Secretary's and Archivist's efforts haven't revealed--and that therefore require referral to the AG, under the Records Act. In particular, the court said that Clinton used yet different e-mail accounts (other than her private server account) during part of her tenure as Secretary, and that e-mails on these accounts haven't been recovered.

If appellants had only sought emails from the server account, a mootness argument based on the recovery of hte server might well succeed. But the server and the emails it housed do not tell the full story; Secretary Clinton used two nongovernmental email accounts during her tenure at the State Department. . . .

The complaints here sought to ensure recovery [of] all of the former Secretary's work emails, including [on these other accounts]. Because the complaints sought recovery of emails from all of the former Secretary's accounts, the FBI's recover of a server that hosted only one account does not moot the suits.

The ruling sends the case back to the district court. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the court will, or can, order Secretary Kerry to refer the matter to the AG, or that the AG must do anything. As the court wrote,

[W]e express no opinion on whether the Attorney General's action or inaction in response to a referral would be reviewable. Nor do we address possible constitutional defenses that the Secretary or Archivist might raise to the statutory command's constraint on their discretion; they have raised no such argument.

December 27, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, November 28, 2016

House Dems Call for Oversight of Trump's Conflicts

House Democrats today issued a(nother) letter to House Oversight and Government Reform Chair Jason Chafetz to conduct oversight hearings on conflicts between President-Elect Trump's business interests and his role as President. (They issued an earlier letter two weeks ago.)

Although you have stated publicly that you will hold Mr. Trump to the same standards as President Obama and Secretary Clinton, you have not responded to Ranking Member Cummings' letter, and you have not taken steps to conduct basic oversight of these unprecedented challenges.

The letter goes on to outline the many now-familiar conflicts between Trump's overseas and domestic business interests and his role and his family's roles through the transition and into his presidency.

The letter quotes Chafetz's own words, from before the election, way back in August:

If you're going to run and try to become the president of the United States, you're going to have to open up your kimono and show everything, your tax returns, your medical records. You are just going to have to do that. It's too important. . . . I promise you, I don't care who is in the White House. My job is not to be a cheerleader for the president. My job is to hold them accountable and to provide that oversight. That's what we do.

We'll see.

November 28, 2016 in Congressional Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)