Monday, November 28, 2016
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.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Judge Amos L. Mazzant (E.D. Tex.) granted a nationwide injunction today against the Obama Administration in enforcing its new overtime rules.
The ruling is a blow to President Obama's effort to update the overtime requirements through administrative rulemaking, and not legislation. The nationwide injunction seems extreme, but, as Judge Mazzant noted, this district-court-issuing-a-nationwide-injunction-thing seems to be a growing trend among district court judges striking President Obama's administrative initiatives.
At the same time, the new Trump Administration will almost surely undo these rules, anyway.
So the big loser is the lower-income (between $23,660 to $47,892 per year), salaried worker. That person, covered by the now-enjoined rule, won't qualify for overtime. (The court said that the FLSA requires a "duties" test. So if DOL can reissue regs around duties, some of these workers may still qualify. But don't count on this with the new administration.)
The government can appeal, but the conservative Fifth Circuit seems likely to affirm. And again: The Trump Administration will almost surely undo this, anyway.
Recall that DOL issued rules raising the "executive, administrative, and professional" exemption from the FLSA requirement that employers pay overtime to workers. In particular, DOL issued rules that said that employees who earn up to $47,892 per year (up from $23,660 per year) fell outside the exemption, and therefore qualified for mandatory overtime. The new rules also set an automatic update that adjusts the minimum salary level every three years.
States and business organizations sued, arguing that the rules violated the Administrative Procedures Act, because they weren't authorized by the FLSA. The state plaintiffs threw in a claim that the new rules and the entire FLSA violated the Tenth Amendment and federalism principles. Because this claim ran headlong into Garcia (which upheld the application of the FLSA to the states), the states, for good measure, went ahead and boldly argued that the court should overturn Garcia.
The court agreed with the APA claim, but disagreed about Garcia. As to the APA, the court said that the language of the FLSA--"executive, administrative, and professional" employees are exempt from the overtime mandate, and that DOL can promulgate regs to implement this exemption--required that the government consider employees' duties, and not just income, in determining whether an employee qualifies. Because the new regs only considered income, they violated the FLSA.
As to Garcia: the court flatly rejected the call to overturn it. This is hardly a surprise: It's still good law, after all. It seems the states were banking on a favorable ruling from the Fifth Circuit and a split Supreme Court. (That sounds familiar.)
Or they were banking on a differently comprised Court entirely--one friendly to their anti-Garcia claim. And who knows? Now they might get it.
The House of Representatives last week filed a motion at the D.C. Circuit to delay the government's appeal of a district court ruling that the Obama Administration spent money on reimbursements to insurers under the Affordable Care Act without congressional authorization of funds. We posted on that ruling here.
The move seeks to halt the appeal and give President-Elect Trump and House Republicans time to figure out what to do next.
Recall that the district court ruled that the Obama Administration could not spend money on reimbursements for insurers on the ACA exchanges without an authorization from Congress. Because Congress hadn't authorized the expenditure, the Administration couldn't spend the money. (The ACA provision providing for insurer reimbursement is important, even critical, to the success of the exchanges--it's designed to keep insurance rates affordable. Congress zero-funded the line-item, though.)
If the appeals court affirms the district court ruling, and if (as expected) Congress declines to fund the line-item for insurer reimbursement, insurers would have to dramatically increase rates or drop out of the exchange markets. On the other hand, the D.C. Circuit could rule that the House lacks standing, or it could rule for the Administration on the merits.
A halt to the appeal would allow the incoming administration some time to decide how to deal with the suit, insurer reimbursements, and Obamacare in general.
Monday, November 21, 2016
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly today dismissed Smith v. Obama, a case by a service-member challenging President Obama's authority to fight ISIS. The ruling ends the case, with little chance of a successful appeal, and frustrates anyone waiting for a court ruling on whether President Obama can use the AUMF to fight ISIS.
The plaintiff, a U.S. Army Captain, sued President Obama, arguing that neither the 2001 AUMF nor the 2002 AUMF authorized the President to order a military campaign against ISIS (Operation Inherent Resolve), and that the President violated the War Powers Resolution and the Take Care Clause in ordering the campaign.
The plaintiff, a supporter of Operation Inherent Resolve (not an opponent of the campaign, as is more usually the case in these kinds of challenges) who was deployed as part of that campaign, argued that he had standing, because President Obama's orders forced him to choose between two untenable options--following illegal orders (on the one hand) and disobey orders (on the other). The court rejected this claim. The court said that the plaintiff could follow orders without fear of punishment, even if the President acted illegally in ordering the campaign. The court also rejected the plaintiff's oath claim (that he'd violate his oath to protect the constitution by complying with illegal orders), again because he'd face no punishment.
The court went on to rule that the case raised a nonjusticiable political question:
Resolving this dispute would require the Court to determine whether the legal authorizations for the use of military force relied on by President Obama--the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs--in fact authorize the use of force against ISIL. With regard to the 2001 AUMF, the Court would have to determine whether the President is correct that ISIL is among "those nations, organizations, or persons" that "planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons," and that Operation Inherent Resolve represents "necessary and appropriate force" against that group. With regard to the 2002 AUMF, the Court would have to determine whether the President is correct that operations against ISIL are "necessary and appropriate in order to . . . defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq." For the reasons set out below, the Court finds that these are political questions under the first two Baker factors: the issues raised are primarily ones committed to the political branches of government, and the Court lacks judicially manageable standards, and is otherwise ill-equipped to resolve them.
The belt-and-suspenders ruling (dismissing for lack of standing and political question) seems unnecessary, given that the standing problems alone would seem to comfortably support dismissal. Moreover, the application of the political question doctrine seems at odds with the D.C. Circuit's post-Boumediene habeas cases. The court had something to say about this, in footnote 17:
Those courts were not asked to declare that an ongoing military operation, about which there appears to be no dispute between Congress and the President, was "illegal." They were asked to determine whether an individual should be accorded habeas corpus relief because his detainment had become illegal. This is a far more traditional and appropriate judicial role, which does not raise the same separation of powers issues present in this case.
Friday, October 21, 2016
The Fourth Circuit ruled today that victims of torture at the hands of a private military contractor are not barred by the political question doctrine from pressing their case in federal court.
The ruling is a significant victory for the plaintiff-victims and for access to justice in general. It means that some portion of this case (and maybe all of it) can move forward on the merits.
The case arose when former prisoners at Abu Ghraib sued a private military contractor, CACI, for torture and mistreatment under the Alien Tort Statute. After some up-and-down on different issues, the district court ruled that the case raised a non-justiciable political question and dismissed it. In particular, the district court said (1) that CACI was under the control of the military, (2) that the case raised questions of "sensitive judgments made by the military," and (3) that the court lacked judicially manageable standards for resolving the dispute.
The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded. As to the district court's first two grounds, the Fourth Circuit said that they don't apply when a plaintiff alleges illegal behavior under international law or criminal law. "Accordingly, when a military contractor acts contrary to settled international law or applicable criminal law, the separation of powers rationale underlying the political question doctrine does not shield the contractor's actions from judicial review."
More particularly, as to the first ground (under the control of the military), the Fourth Circuit said that "when a contractor has engaged in unlawful conduct, irrespective of the nature of control exercised by the military, the contractor cannot claim protection under the political question doctrine." The court said that the district court improperly analyzed the under-the-control-of-the-military question and remanded for further consideration of the question of illegal conduct. (The court was quite clear, however, that there was some illegal behavior. The question on remand is just how much.)
As to the second ground (sensitive judgments of the military), the Fourth Circuit again looked to the legality of the conduct: "to the extent that the plaintiffs' claims rest on allegations of unlawful conduct in violation of settled international law or criminal law then applicable to the CACI employees, those claims fall outside the protection of the political question doctrine." The court said that the district court improperly analyzed the sensitive-judgments-of-the-military question and remanded this, too. (Again, the court was quite clear that there was some illegal behavior.)
Any conduct of the CACI employees that occurred under the actual control of the military or involved sensitive military judgments, and was not unlawful when committed, constituted a protected exercise of discretion under the political question doctrine. Conversely, any acts of the CACI employees that were unlawful when committed, irrespective whether they occurred under actual control of the military, are subject to judicial review. Thus, the plaintiffs' claims are justiciable to the extent that the challenged conduct violated settled international law or the criminal law to which the CACI employees were subject at the time the conduct occurred.
As to the third ground (that the court lacked judicially discoverable and manageable standards for adjudicating the case), the Fourth Circuit said that "torture" and "war crimes" are well defined in the U.S.C. The court said that it may be a hard question, but it's not one that lacks standards. No remand on this question.
In all, under the Fourth Circuit's ruling, some portion of this case (and maybe all of it) can move forward. It all depends on how much CACI behavior was clearly illegal.
Friday, October 14, 2016
Michael Gerhardt (UNC) and Richard Painter (U. Minn.) recently released The New Normal: Unprecedented Judicial Obstruction and a Proposal for Change, an ACS Issue Brief that criticizes Senate obstruction of judicial nominees and proposes a solution.
Gerhardt and Painter argue that the majority and minority leaders in the Senate should enter into a pact "to keep their respective members completely committed to the objectives of allowing every judicial nomination the opportunity to receive a hearing and making public the reasons for any opposition." "An agreement between the majority and minority is the same mechanism that was used in 2013 to fix the problem with anonymous holds over judicial nominations, and it is the only kind of mechanism that can guarantee that our federal courts, including the Supreme Court, will be fully staffed and capable of exercising their constitutional functions as the third branch of government."
Gerhardt and Painter's latest solution complements their earlier ones, from this 2011 ACS Issue Brief. There the authors prescribed this four-part plan:
1. Nominees should get a Judiciary Committee hearing within 90 days of nomination;
2. The Senate should bar the use of anonymous holds;
3. Every nominee should come to the Senate with a presumption that the nominee will get a prompt Judiciary Committee hearing, with the burden falling on any senators who oppose the nomination "to make their case publicly"; and
4. When a nominee is reported out of committee, there's a presumption "that a majority 'yes' votes are needed to confirm the nominee," with an up-or-down vote within 120 days of the nomination.
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
In a sweeping endorsement of the unitary executive theory, the D.C. Circuit ruled today in PHH Corp. v. CFPB that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is unconstitutional. But at the same time, the court limited the remedy to reading out the "for-cause" termination provision for the director and turning the Bureau into an ordinary executive agency.
The ruling allows the Bureau to continue to operate, but, unless the ruling is stayed pending the inevitable appeal, removes the for-cause protection enjoyed by the director. Because that for-cause protection is what makes the CFPB "independent," the ruling turns the Bureau into a regular executive agency, with a single head that enjoys no heightened protection from removal.
In an opinion by Judge Kavanaugh, the court ruled that the single head of the Bureau, terminable only for cause, put the Bureau outside the reach of the President, in violation of Article II. The court said that this feature of the Bureau--single head, terminable only for cause--meant that there was no political accountability for the Bureau, and no check on the director's actions. (The court contrasted this single-head structure with a board structure in an independent agency, where, according to the court, the members could check each other.) The court also said that the single-head structure cuts against the historical grain--that we've never done it that way. Here's a summary:
The CFPB's concentration of enormous executive power in a single, unaccountable, unchecked Director not only departs from settled historical practice, but also poses a far greater risk of arbitrary decisionmaking and abuse of power, and a far greater threat to individual liberty, than does a multi-member independent agency. The overarching constitutional concern with independent agencies is that the agencies are unchecked by the President, the official who is accountable to the people and who is responsible under Article II for the exercise of executive power. Recognizing the broad and unaccountable power wielded by independent agencies, Congress and Presidents of both political parties have therefore long endeavored to keep independent agencies in check through other statutory means. In particular, to check independent agencies, Congress has traditionally required multi-member bodies at the helm of every independent agency. In lieu of Presidential control, the multi-member structure of independent agencies acts as a critical substitute check on the excesses of any individual independent agency head--a check that helps to prevent arbitrary decisionmaking and thereby to protect individual liberty.
Emphasizing a unitary executive, the court wrote at length, and disapprovingly, about how the director is entirely unaccountable. But this ignores the fact that the for-cause termination provision does not mean "never able to fire." It also ignores other ways that a President can influence the Bureau, outside of just firing the director at will. And it also ignores other checks on the office, like statutory authorities and restrictions, congressional oversight, and (ironically) judicial review of CFPB actions (although these are obviously not presidential checks on the Bureau).
After ruling the CFPB unconstitutional--but saving it by striking only the for-cause termination provision for the director--the court went on to hold that the CFPB misapplied the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.
Judge Randolph joined the majority opinion and added that the ALJ who presided over the hearing (after the CFPB filed its charges) was appointed in violation of the Appointments Clause.
Judge Lecraft Henderson concurred in the court's statutory ruling, but argued that the court did not need to touch the constitutional question (because it could grant PHH relief under the statute alone).
This ruling is hardly the end of this case: it'll undoubtedly go to the Supreme Court.
Friday, September 30, 2016
Judge Rudolph Contreras (D.D.C.) ruled in Byers v. United States Tax Court that the Tax Court is a "court," not an "agency," under FOIA. The ruling means that the Tax Court isn't subject to the plaintiff's FOIA request.
The case arose when Ronald Byers filed a FOIA request against the Tax Court. Byers argued that the Tax Court should be exempt from FOIA (as Article III courts are), because it's located in the Executive Branch.
Judge Contreras disagreed. He wrote that the touchstone for FOIA coverage of the Tax Court isn't where the Tax Court is located, but rather its nature. "[A] number of factors, including congressional intent, Supreme Court interpretation, and the function of the Tax Court, all suggest that the Tax Court is best understood as a court, not an agency, for the purposes of FOIA." And because FOIA exempts "courts of the United States," the Tax Court is exempt.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
Check out Radiolab's segment on the Authorization for Use of Military Force--an engaging and accessible discussion of the "60 words" (plus a couple read into it) that the government has used to justify operations against alleged terrorists, and the need to update it.
Saturday, August 13, 2016
Check out the first of a planned six-part series on executive power under President Obama by Binyamin Appelbaum and Michael D. Shear at the NYT. The first part deals with federal regulations; here's a taste:
Once a presidential candidate with deep misgivings about executive power, Mr. Obama will leave the White House as one of the most prolific authors of major regulations in presidential history.
Blocked for most of his presidency by Congress, Mr. Obama has sought to act however he could. In the process he created the kind of government neither he nor the Republicans wanted--one that depended on bureaucratic bulldozing rather than legislative transparency. But once Mr. Obama got the taste for it, he pursued his executive power without apology, and in ways that will shape the presidency for decades to come.
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
The D.C. Circuit yesterday rejected a constitutional challenge to Security and Exchange Commission Administrative Law Judges, ruling that SEC ALJs are not "officers" or "inferior officers" whose appointments need to meet the requirements of the Appointments Clause.
The court also rejected a broadside attack against the way the D.C. Circuit analyzes whether any ALJ (SEC or not) is subject to the Appointments Clause.
The petitioner's challenge was novel and sweeping. A ruling in its favor could have been quite significant, potentially threatening the authority of SEC ALJs, certain ALJs in other agencies, and possibly even ALJs across the board (at least insofar as their appointments don't satisfy the Appointments Clause). But the petitioner's novel claims ran up against circuit law. The ruling is thus a decisive win, if not a totally unpredictable one, for the government.
The case turned on whether SEC ALJs are "officers" (who, under Article II, require presidential nomination and advice and consent of the Senate), "inferior officers" (who, under Article II, may be appointed by the President alone, the courts, or the head of a department, depending on what Congress says), or just employees (who are not covered by the Appointments Clause). Under circuit law, the line between "inferior officers" and employees, in turn, depends on (1) the significance of the matters resolved by the officials, (2) the discretion they exercise, and (3) the finality of their decisions.
The court said that decisions of SEC ALJs are not final under the third prong, and therefore SEC ALJs are employees, not subject to the Appointments Clause. That's because under the law the SEC itself makes the final decision, even if only by passively adopting an ALJ's decision. The court explained:
Until the Commission determines not to order review, within the time allowed by its rules, there is no final decision that can "be deemed the action of the Commission." As the Commission has emphasized, the initial decision becomes final when, and only when, the Commission issues the finality order, and not before then. Thus, the Commission must affirmatively act--by issuing the order--in every case. The Commission's final action is either in the form of a new decision after de novo review, or, by declining to grant or order review, its embrace of the ALJ's initial decision as its own. In either event, the Commission has retained full decision-making powers, and the mere passage of time is not enough to establish finality. And even when there is not full review by the Commission, it is the act of issuing the finality order that makes the initial decision the action of the Commission within the meaning of the delegation statute. . . .
Put otherwise, the Commission's ALJs neither have been delegated sovereign authority to act independently of the Commission nor, by other means established by Congress, do they have the power to bind third parties, or the government itself, for the public benefit.
The court went on to uphold the Commission's finding of liability and sanctions against the petitioner on other grounds.
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
The Court today issued a stay in G.G. v. Glouster County School Board, the case from the Fourth Circuit concluding that Title IX's ban on sex discrimination, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), requires schools to provide transgender students access to restrooms congruent with their gender identity. As we discussed,while the constitutional issues are not "front and center," the case implicates both the constitutional power of Executive branch agencies, federalism, and Equal Protection.
The stay opinion divides the Court, with Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissenting without opinion.
Justice Breyer - - - the crucial vote for the majority - - - writes separately to concur stating that he votes to grant the stay "as a courtesy" joining the four other Justices to "preserve the status quo (as of the time the Court of Appeals made its decision)," meaning presumably, before the Fourth Circuit rendered its decision.
[Caricature image of Justice Breyer by Donkey Hotey via]
Monday, July 18, 2016
Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle (D.D.C.) ruled last week in State national Bank of Big Spring v. Lew rejected a Recess Appointments Clause challenge to Consumer Protection Financial Bureau Director Richard Cordray. At the same time, the court declined to rule on the plaintiffs' separation-of-powers challenge to the Bureau itself.
The ruling is a decisive win for Director Cordray and actions he took during his period of recess appointment (before he was confirmed by the Senate). But it leaves open the question whether the CFPB itself it unconstitutional--a question that the D.C. Circuit could answer any day now.
This is just the latest case in a spate of challenges to Cordray's appointment and the CFPB. We posted on this case when the D.C. Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs had standing.
The plaintiffs argued that Director Cordray's recess appointment in January 2012 violated the Recess Appointments Clause. And they had good reason to think they were right: the Supreme Court ruled in NLRB v. Noel Canning that the President's recess appointments to the NLRB on the same day he appointed Cordray violated the Clause.
But Judge Huvelle didn't actually rule on that argument. That's because President Obama re-nominated Cordray in 2013, and the Senate confirmed him; he then (as validly appointed head of the CFPB) issued a notice in the Federal Register ratifying all the actions he took during his recess-appointment period. Judge Huvelle said that under circuit law the ratification cured any actions during this period that would have been invalid because of his invalid recess appointment.
But at the same time, the court punted on the plaintiffs' separation-of-powers challenge to the CFPB itself. That argument--which says that the CFPB invalidly combines legislative, executive, and judicial powers in the hands of a single individual--is currently pending at the D.C. Circuit in another case, PPH Corp. v. CFPB, and the court could rule any day now.
Judge Huvelle's ruling is a clear win for the CFPB and Cordray. But the real heart of opponents' claims against the Bureau are the ones now at the D.C. Circuit--that the CFPB violates the separation of powers.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
The D.C. Circuit yesterday upheld a lower court's dismissal of David Patchak's long-running attempt to stop the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band's casino in Wayland Township, Michigan, based on a federal law that stripped the courts of jurisdiction over the case.
The ruling ends this dispute in favor of the Band and its casino, with little or no chance of further appeals.
The case started when David Patchak sued the Interior Department for putting certain land in Wayland Township in trust for the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians to build a casino. Patchak, a neighboring property owner, argued that Interior lacked authority under the Indian Reorganization Act and sought damages for economic, environmental, and aesthetic harms.
The case went to the Supreme Court on justiciability grounds, and the Court ruled in 2012 that Patchak had prudential standing.
After that ruling came down, Congress enacted a stand-alone law that affirmed that Interior had authority to put the land in trust and divested the courts of jurisdiction over Patchak's case. The act, in relevant part, read:
NO CLAIMS -- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an action (including an action pending in a Federal court as of the date of enactment of this Act) relating to the land described in subsection (a) shall not be filed or maintained in a Federal court and shall be promptly dismissed.
The district court then dismissed Patchak's case, and yesterday the D.C. Circuit affirmed.
The court first rejected Patchak's claim that the jurisdiction-stripping provision violated the separation of powers. The court looked to the familiar distinction (recently sharpened by the Court's ruling in Bank Markazi) between a congressional act that applies a new legal standard in pending civil cases (which is OK) and an act that "prescribes a rule of decision" in those cases (which is not). The court said that this act falls squarely in the former class, even though Congress set the legal standard in a separate, stand-alone statute (and not the statute at issue in the case, the IRA).
The court next rejected Patchak's various individual-rights claims. The court said that the Act did not violate Patchak's First Amendment right to access the courts, because that right isn't absolute, and it yields to Congress's power to set the jurisdiction of the lower federal courts. The court said that the Act also did not violate Patchak's due process rights (because the legislative process provided Patchak any process that he might have been due) and the Bill of Attainder Clause (because the Act wasn't punishment).
Given the Supreme Court's powerful reaffirmation of congressional authority of federal court jurisdiction in Bank Markazi, the D.C. Circuit's ruling almost certainly ends Patchak's challenge.
Thursday, June 23, 2016
The Supreme Court today deadlocked 4-4 in the case challenging President Obama's deferred action plan for certain unauthorized immigrants, or DAPA. The Court's ruling in United States v. Texas affirms the Fifth Circuit's ruling in the case. (Our preview of the case is here.)
While the Court's non-decision today has no precedential value, as a practical matter it upholds a nationwide preliminary injunction against enforcement of DAPA issued by district Judge Hanen. The ruling thus effectively halts enforcement of DAPA and sends the case back to Judge Hanen for proceedings on the merits. Here's the Fifth Circuit's summary of its ruling (which, again, is upheld under today's 4-4 split):
Reviewing the district court's order for abuse of discretion, we affirm the preliminary injunction because the states have standing; they have established a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their procedural and substantive APA claims; and they have satisfied the other elements required for an injunction.
Note that the Fifth Circuit ruling doesn't touch the Take Care Clause issue--an issue that the Supreme Court asked the parties to brief and argue, even though the government didn't seek review on this issue. Note, too, that the Fifth Circuit upholds a district judge's preliminary injunction that applies nationwide (and not, as would ordinarily be the case, in the judge's district only).
We don't know the justices' positions on particular issues in the case--standing, APA--because the per curiam order (as is customary for a 4-4 split) simply says that "[t]he judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court." Still, this appears to be one of those cases where Justice Scalia's absence matters: he would have likely voted with the four (likely the conservatives, although we don't know for sure) to uphold the Fifth Circuit, creating a five Justice majority opinion that would have created precedential law.
The government may petition the Court (now) for rehearing (after a ninth justice is confirmed).
Friday, June 3, 2016
The D.C. Circuit ruled today in Friends of Animals v. Jewell that Congress did not violate separation of powers when it enacted legislation ordering the Fish and Wildlife Service to reinstate a categorical exemption for captive-bred animals under the Endangered Species Act.
The ruling is a blow to endangered-species advocates, because it permits the FWS to grant an exemption to the ESA's prohibition on taking or possessing an endangered species without going through the previous individualized-exemption application process. In other words, FWS can now grant a blanket exemption to all holders of captive-bred endangered species without publicizing individual applications and individual exemptions--and also without allowing interested parties to weigh in.
The case arose when the FWS issued the Captive-Bred Exemption to the ESA's general prohibition on taking or possessing an endangered species. The Exemption meant that all captive-bred herds of three antelope species got an automatic pass, without having to go through the individual-application process in Section 10(c) of the ESA.
But Friends sued, arguing that the Exemption violated Section 10(c) of the ESA. The district court agreed, citing the plain language of Section 10(c), which says, "[t]he Secretary shall publish notice in the Federal Register of each application for an exemption or permit which is made under this section." (Emphasis added.)
After the district court struck the Exemption, the FWS backed off and withdrew the Exemption. But then Congress passed "Section 127," which ordered the FWS to "reissue the final rule published on September 2005," that is, the Exemption.
Friends sued again, this time arguing that Section 127 violated separation of powers--in particular, the rules in Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc. and United States v. Klein. (These cases were on full view in the Court's recent ruling in Bank Markazi.) The lower court dismissed the case, and the D.C. Circuit today affirmed (although on slightly different grounds).
The court rejected Friends' argument that Section 127 violated Plaut, because Section 127 is prospective legislation (and not a retroactive revival of a dismissed case, in violation of Plaut):
Section 127 is not retroactive legislation because it does not establish what the law was at an earlier time. Likewise, Section 127 does not apply to a case already decided and does not overturn the court's determination in [the earlier case]--it simply alters the prospective effect of [the ESA's prohibition on taking or possessing an endangered species without an individual exemption] by exempting U.S. captive-bred herds of the three antelope species from the Act's . . . prohibitions going forward.
The court rejected Friends' argument that Section 27 violate Klein, because Section 127 simply "amends applicable law":
On the record before us, we have no trouble in concluding that Section 127 amended the applicable law and thus does not run afoul of Klein. Section 127 directed the Secretary of the Interior to reissue the Captive-Bred Exemption "without regard to any other provision of statute or regulation that applies to issuance of such rule." By issuing this legislative directive, Congress made it clear that, with respect to U.S. captive-bred herds of the three antelope species, individual permits are no longer required to engage in activities otherwise prohibited by [the ESA].
The court also held that Friends had informational standing, based on the language of the ESA, which says that "[i]nformation received by the Secretary as part of any application [for an exemption] shall be available to the public as a matter of public record at every stage of the proceeding." According to the court, this was enough for Friends, an endangered-species advocacy organization, to assert informational standing.
Monday, May 16, 2016
The Court said no. It held that "Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation" (emphasis added), but then sent the case back for determination whether there was a concrete injury in this case.
The ruling makes clear that if Robins, the plaintiff, can show a concrete harm, he will have standing. But it makes equally clear that Congress cannot simply create standing by authorizing a new individual cause of action. A plaintiff still has to show a particularized and concrete injury.
The case involves the congressionally-created individual cause of action under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Under the FCRA, Congress granted adversely affected individuals a right to sue reporting agencies for failure to "follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning the individual about whom the report relates." Robins sued Spokeo under the provision, arguing that Spokeo posted incorrect information about him on its website. The Ninth Circuit held that Robins had standing.
The Supreme Court today vacated that decision and remanded. Justice Alito wrote for the Court and held that standing requires both a "particularized" injury and a "concrete" injury. The Ninth Circuit analyzed whether Robins's injury was particularized, but not whether it was concrete. Justice Alito wrote that a procedural harm--like the one here, because the FCRA establishes a procedure for reporting agencies to follow--could create a concrete injury, but the Ninth Circuit didn't analyze this in Robins's case. Therefore, the Court remanded to the Ninth Circuit to determine whether Robins sufficiently alleged a concrete harm.
At the same time, Justice Alito made clear that Congress could "elevat[e] to the status of legally cognizable injuries concrete, de facto injuries that were previously inadequate in law." But if so, a plaintiff still has to sufficiently allege both particularized and concrete injuries to meet the Article III standing requirement. This means that a plaintiff alleging a procedural injury alone wouldn't have standing, but a plaintiff alleging a procedural injury with a concrete and particularized harm would.
Congress' role in identifying and elevating intangible harms does not mean that a plaintiff automatically satisfies the injury-in-fact requirement whenever a statute grants a person a statutory right and purports to authorize that person to vindicate that right. Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation.
Justice Thomas concurred and reached the same result by drawing on the difference between suits vindicating private rights and suits vindicating public rights. (Justice Thomas's "public rights" are probably broader than procedural claims like Robins's, and so this approach is probably more restrictive on standing.)
Justice Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justice Sotomayor. She argued that Robins sufficiently alleged a concrete harm, and that remand wasn't necessary.
Thursday, May 12, 2016
Judge Rosemary Collyer (D.D.C.) ruled today that the Obama Administration spent money on reimbursements to insurers on the ACA exchanges without a valid congressional appropriation. Judge Collyer enjoined any further reimbursements to insurers until a valid appropriation is in place, but she stayed that injunction pending appeal.
Because of the stay, the ruling will have no immediate effect on government subsidies to insurers (and thus no immediate effect on the overall ACA, reductions in cost-sharing for certain purchasers on exchanges, or any other feature of the Act). But if Judge Collyer's ruling is upheld on appeal, and if Congress fails to specifically appropriate funds for Section 1402 reimbursements, or if the stay is lifted, this could deal a significant blow to the ACA. That's because the Act would require exchange insurers to provide a cost-sharing break to certain purchasers on the exchange, but the government wouldn't be able to reimburse the insurers for those costs, as the Act assumes. This could drive up costs, or drive insurers off the exchanges, or both--in any event, undermining the goals of the ACA.
The case involves Section 1402 of the ACA, which provides reimbursements to insurers on the ACA exchanges. Those reimbursements are designed to off-set reductions in deductibles, co-pays, and other cost-sharing expenses that the ACA requires exchange insurers to provide to lower-income insurance purchasers on an exchange. In other words, the ACA requires exchange insurers to cut cost-sharing costs for certain purchasers; and Section 1402 authorizes the government to reimburse insurers for those cuts.
But Congress didn't specifically appropriate funding for Section 1402. The administration nevertheless provided reimbursements on the theories that 1402 reimbursements are part of the integrated package that makes the ACA work, and that 1402 appropriations are covered in appropriations for other provisions in the Act.
Judge Collyer rejected these arguments. In particular, she wrote that Section 1402 is separate and distinct from other portions of the Act and requires its own, specific appropriation--not an inferred appropriation, based on a holistic reading of the Act, or based on appropriations for other features of the Act. (Behind these legal arguments is the idea that everyone understood that spending for Section 1402 reimbursements would be covered by appropriations for other portions of the Act. But "everyone understood" doesn't get very far in court.)
Moreover, she said that the government's attempts to leverage King v. Burwell to argue that Section 1402 funding is a necessary part of an integrated ACA fall flat:
This case is fundamentally different from King v. Burwell. There, the phrase "established by the State" . . . became "not so clear" when it was "read in context." . . . Simply put, the statute could not function if interpreted literally; it had to be saved from itself. . . .
The problem the Secretaries have tried to solve here is very different: it is a failure to appropriate, not a failure in drafting. Congress's subsequent inaction, not the text of the ACA, is what prompts the Secretaries to force the elephant into the mousehole.
Judge Collyer's ruling is obvious not the end of this matter: the government will surely appeal. In the meantime, her stay (alone) should allow government continued spending on insurer reimbursements, and thus (alone) won't have any significant impact on the ACA.
Judge Collyer earlier ruled that the House of Representatives had standing to bring this case, but that it lacked standing to challenge another administration act, delay of time when employers had to provide minimum health insurance to employees.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
The Supreme Court ruled today in Bank Markazi v. Peterson that Congress did not tread on the courts' territory in violation of the separation of powers by enacting a statute that ensured that the plaintiffs in an enforcement action would get the assets that they sought (and therefore win).
The ruling backs off the rule in United States v. Klein--that Congress can't legislate a rule of decision in a case--and thus gives somewhat wider berth to Congress (relative to Klein) to enact laws that impact currently pending cases. At the same time, however, the ruling reiterates familiar limits on Congress's authority over the judiciary.
This is the case in which over 1,000 victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism and their families filed in the Southern District of New York to enforce their monetary judgments against Iran--through assets owned by Bank Markazi, the Central Bank of Iran, held in a New York bank account--for sponsoring terrorism.
While this claim was pending, Congress passed a law saying that, if a court makes specific findings, "a financial asset . . . shall be subject to execution . . . in order to satisfy any judgment to the extent of any compensatory damages awarded against Iran for damages for personal injury or death caused by" certain acts of terrorism. The law goes on to define available assets as "the financial assets that are identified in and the subject of proceedings in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in Peterson et al. v. Islamic Republic of Iran et al., Case No. 10 Civ. 4518 (BSJ) (GWG), that were restrained by restraining notices and levies secured by the plaintiffs in those proceedings."
In other words, the newly enacted law, 22 U.S.C. Sec. 8772, ensured that the plaintiffs in this case would get these assets, notwithstanding the Bank's defenses.
The Bank claimed that the law violated the separation of powers--in particular, that Congress overstepped by directing the outcome of a case, in violation of United States v. Klein.
But the Supreme Court disagreed. Justice Ginsburg wrote the opinion for all but Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Sotomayor (and Justice Thomas, for a part of the opinion). She wrote that Congress may amend the law and apply the amendment to pending cases, even when the amendment is outcome determinative. She then said that's exactly what Congress did here: it wrote a law that covers all the various post-judgment execution claims that were consolidated in this case. She said it did not create a "one-case-only regime."
Justice Ginsburg also wrote that the law related to foreign policy--an area where the courts traditionally defer to the President and Congress. "The Executive has historically made case-specific sovereign-immunity determinations to which courts have deferred. Any exercise by Congress and the President of control over claims against foreign governments, as well as foreign-government-owned property in the United States, is hardly a novelty."
Along the way, Justice Ginsburg backed off on Klein. She wrote that Klein has been called "a deeply puzzling decision," and that "[m]ore recent decisions, however, have made it clear that Klein does not inhibit Congress from "amend[ing] applicable law." At the same time, she reiterated familiar limits: "Necessarily, [the courts' authority] blocks Congress from 'requir[ing] federal courts to exercise the judicial power in a manner that Article III forbids," "Congress, no doubt, 'may not usurp a court's power to interpret and apply the law to the [circumstances] before it," and "our decisions place off limits to Congress 'vest[ing] review of the decisions of Article III courts in officials of the Executive Branch.'" "Congress, we have also held, may not 'retroactively comman[d] the federal courts to reopen final judgments." Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc.
Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justice Sotomayor, dissented. He argued, in short, "[n]o less than if it had passed a law saying 'respondents win,' Congress has decided this case by enacting a bespoke statute tailored to this case that resolves the parties' specific legal disputes to guarantee respondents victory"--and therefore violates the separation of powers.
Friday, April 15, 2016
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Monday in United States v. Texas, the challenge to DAPA, the deferred action program for certain unauthorized aliens.The case involves two core issues: Does a state have standing to challenge DAPA; and does DAPA violate the APA or the Take Care Clause?
Here's my oral argument preview in the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases, with permission:
On November 20, 2014, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, issued a memorandum (called “guidance” by the government) that announced “new policies for the use of deferred action” for certain aliens who are not removal priorities for the Department. The memo directed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) “to establish a process . . . for exercising prosecutorial discretion through the use of deferred action, on a case-by-case basis,” for certain parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. The process is called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or “DAPA.” To qualify, an applicant must (1) be the parent of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident as of November 20, 2014; (2) have continuously resided in the United States since January 1, 2010, or before; (3) have been physically present here on November 20, 2014, and when applying for DAPA; (4) have no lawful immigration status on that date; (5) not fall within the Secretary’s enforcement priorities (which the Secretary set out in a companion memo, and which include removing aliens who are serious criminals and terrorists); and (6) “present no other factors that, in the exercise of discretion, make the grant of deferred action inappropriate.” The Secretary’s memo also expanded the criteria for deferred action under the earlier 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or “DACA.”
The Secretary’s memo explained that DAPA would reach “hard-working people who have become integrated members of American society,” have not committed serious crimes, and “are extremely unlikely to be deported” given the Department’s “limited enforcement resources.” Moreover, it would advance “this Nation’s security and economic interests and make common sense, because [it] encourage[s] these people to come out of the shadows, submit to background checks, pay fees, apply for work authorization . . . and be counted.” The memo emphasized that DAPA does not establish any right to deferred action, and that deferred action “does not confer any form of legal status” and “may be terminated at any time at the agency’s discretion.”
Under longstanding federal law, which recognizes deferred action, an alien with deferred action may apply for work authorization based on economic need. In addition, an alien with deferred action may qualify for certain federal earned-benefit programs that come with lawful work, such as Social Security retirement and disability, Medicare, and railroad-worker programs. But an alien with deferred action is not eligible to receive food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, temporary aid for need families, and many other federal public benefits. And an alien with deferred action is not eligible for any “[s]tate or local public benefit,” although states may voluntarily extend certain benefits to aliens with deferred action. For example, Texas voluntarily permitted an alien with deferred action to apply for and receive a driver’s license, which Texas subsidized.
On December 3, 2014, Texas and other states sued the Department, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against implementation of DAPA. The plaintiffs alleged that DAPA violated the Take Care Clause of the Constitution and the Administrative Procedures Act. The district court entered a nationwide preliminary injunction against implementation of DAPA.
A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court ruled that at least one plaintiff, Texas, had standing, because state law would require it to subsidize a driver’s license for an alien with deferred action under DAPA. The court also ruled that the plaintiffs were substantially likely to succeed on their claim that the Department should have used notice-and-comment rulemaking (and not a mere memo by the Director) to implement DAPA. Finally, the court ruled that DAPA was “manifestly contrary” to the Immigration and Naturalization Act.
This appeal followed.
The case involves two principal issues. Let’s take them one at a time.
Under Article III of the Constitution, in order to bring this case in federal court, at least one state has to show (1) that it suffered an actual or imminent “injury in fact,” (2) that DAPA caused, or will cause, the injury, and (3) that the lawsuit will redress the injury. Moreover, in order to sue under the APA, the states’ interests have to fall within the “zone of interests” of the relevant statute, here the INA. The parties frame their arguments around these rules.
The government argues first that no state has Article III standing, because DAPA does not directly injure the states or require them to do anything. The government says that any injury that DAPA causes the states is only indirect and incidental, and that states cannot establish standing on the basis of an indirect or incidental injury from the operation of immigration law (which the Constitution assigns exclusively to the federal government). Moreover, the government asserts that the claimed injury here, Texas’s costs in subsidizing temporary visitor driver’s licenses for aliens, is entirely self-imposed. The government contends that recognizing these kinds of injuries would permit states to force cases over a wide swath of federal programs, essentially allowing states to challenge the federal government at nearly every turn.
The government argues next that the states cannot sue under the APA, because their interests are not within the zone of interests under the INA. The government says that the states’ asserted interests—“reserving jobs for those lawfully entitled to work” and “comment[ing] on administrative decisionmaking”—are different than their interests in Article III standing (discussed above), and that they therefore impermissibly mix-and-match their interests for standing and APA purposes. The government also claims that the states’ asserted interests for their APA challenge, if accepted, would effectively eliminate the zone-of-interest requirement under the INA and open the door to a federal suit by any state that is unhappy with federal immigration policy.
Finally, the government argues that the executive’s enforcement discretion, including the enforcement discretion reflected in DAPA, is traditionally immune from judicial review. The government says that the decision to permit aliens to work, as an attribute of enforcement discretion, is similarly unreviewable in court.
The states argue that they have Article III standing, because DAPA requires at least one of them, Texas, to incur costs in subsidizing driver’s licenses. The states say that this injury is legitimate and not manufactured (because the driver’s license subsidy was already on the books), and therefore satisfies the Article III injury requirement. The states contend that DAPA also requires them to incur costs related to healthcare, education, and law enforcement. And they assert that they have standing to protect their citizens from “labor-market distortions, such as those caused by granting work authorization to millions of unauthorized aliens.” The states contend that they are entitled to “special solicitude” in the standing analysis under Massachusetts v. EPA. 549 U.S. 497 (2007).
The states argue next that they can challenge DAPA under the APA, because their interests fall squarely within the zone of interests in the INA. They say that DAPA grants lawful presence and eligibility for work authorization and other benefits, the crux of their interests. They say moreover that the INA does not grant the Department discretion to do this. Thus, they claim that their interests fall squarely within the zone of interests protected by the INA.
Under basic separation-of-powers principles, Congress is charged with making the law, and the President is charged with executing it. This means that administrative action like DAPA cannot violate the INA. Under the APA, it also means that DAPA must go through notice-and-comment rulemaking, if DAPA is a new “rule” (although DAPA need not go through notice-and-comment rulemaking if it is merely a new policy). Finally, under the Take Care Clause, it means that DAPA must be a proper execution of federal law, again the INA. The parties touch on each of these principles.
The government argues that the INA provides the Secretary ample authority for DAPA. The government claims that under the INA Congress has directed the Secretary to focus limited resources on removing serious criminals and securing the border, and that DAPA, in deferring action for aliens who are not priorities for removal, is perfectly consistent with this. The government claims that DAPA serves the additional purposes of “extending a measure of repose to individuals who have long and strong ties to the community” and encouraging hard work, on the books, so as to minimize competitive harm to American workers.
The government argues next that DAPA has deep historical roots. It says that the Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service before it have adopted more than 20 similar policies in the last 50 years, deferring deportation for large numbers of aliens in defined categories. Since the early 1970s, each of these actions has also resulted in eligibility for work authorization—a practice that was codified in formal regulations in 1981. The government contends that Congress has repeatedly ratified the Department’s authority, with full knowledge of these policies.
Third, the government argues that the states are wrong to say that DAPA violates the INA. The government claims that the INA itself and past practice refute the states’ assertion that the Secretary can only authorize deferred action and work authorization for categories of aliens that Congress has specifically identified. Moreover, it claims that even the states agree that the Secretary could provide separate temporary reprieve for every one of the individuals covered by DAPA, so DAPA itself cannot be “too big.” And the government points out that longstanding regulations permit the Secretary to authorize lawful work for aliens covered by deferred action.
Fourth, the government argues that DAPA is simply a policy statement regarding how the Department will exercise discretionary authority—and not a binding rule that requires notice-and-comment procedures. Indeed, the government points out that no prior deferred action policy has been subject to notice-and-comment requirements. The government says that DAPA requires Department agents to exercise discretion in granting deferred action, and that DAPA is no less a “policy” than one that gives individual agents authority to be less forgiving for specific reasons in any individual case.
Finally, the government argues that the Take Care Clause provides the states with no basis for relief. The government claims that the Take Care arguments are simply dressed-up versions of their statutory arguments, and that in any event the Take Care Clause is nonjusticiable. But even if the Take Care Clause requires something different than the statutory analysis, and even if it is justiciable, the government says that the Secretary has complied with it by enforcing and executing the INA (for the reasons stated above).
The states argue that DAPA violates the INA. They say that Congress has to expressly authorize the executive to defer removal for whole categories of aliens, because this question is so central to the INA’s statutory scheme. But they claim that Congress has not done this. They also contend that DAPA flouts the 1996 amendments to immigration statutes that deny certain benefits to unlawfully present aliens whom the executive elects not to remove. And they say that DAPA would render meaningless Congress’s comprehensive framework, which “define[s] numerous categories of aliens that are entitled to or eligible for work authorization.”
The states argue next that DAPA is invalid, because it was promulgated without notice-and-comment procedures. The states claim that DAPA is a substantive binding rule, not a policy, and was therefore subject to notice-and-comment requirements. They say that the President compared DAPA to a military order and promised consequences for officials who defied it. They also say that it gives no discretion to Department officials in its enforcement. Moreover, the states contend that DAPA is a rule because it affects individual rights and obligations, using legislative-type criteria to determine whether an alien qualifies for substantial government benefits. The states assert that “[t]his change is immensely important to the Nation and requires at least public participation through notice-and-comment procedure.”
Finally, the states argue that DAPA violates the Take Care Clause. They claim that DAPA declares conduct that Congress has determined unlawful to be lawful. They say that this is precisely the kind of power grab that the Take Care Clause was designed to prevent.
At its core, this case is about the meaning and sweep of DAPA. By the Secretary’s reckoning, DAPA is merely a policy that guides the discretion of Department agents in enforcing the INA—the same way that any Department policy might guide an agent’s discretion, well within the discretion authorized by the INA. But by the states’ reckoning, DAPA is a new and binding rule that contradicts the INA: it represents the executive’s effort to change the law, not simply enforce it.
To sort this out, the Court will look at the precise language of the INA and DAPA itself, of course. But it will also look to other indicia of congressional intent to enforce the INA. These may include things like congressional awareness of and acquiescence to longstanding Department regulations that seem to assume that the Department may use deferred action, and which grant benefits as a result of it. These may also include congressional appropriations, which amounted to $6 billion in 2016. This was enough to deport only a small portion of the estimated 11 million undocumented aliens currently living in the United States, thus strongly suggesting that Congress intended the Department not to remove large populations of unlawfully present aliens. (The government points out that the Department has recently been setting records for removals in a year, but still only removing about 440,000 in 2013, for example.) Finally, the Court will look at the Department’s prior deferred action policies, which at different times since 1960 covered undocumented Cuban nationals after the Cuban Revolution, undocumented spouses and children of aliens with legalized status, individuals who sought lawful status as battered spouses or victims of human trafficking, foreign students affected by Hurricane Katrina, widows and widowers of U.S. citizens who had no other avenue of immigration relief, and certain aliens who came to the U.S. as children.
Here’s one thing the Court won’t look at: the Department’s actual enforcement of DAPA. That’s because the states filed suit before the Department implemented DAPA, and so there is no record of Department enforcement of DAPA. The states claim that Department agents will implement DAPA much as they implemented DACA, and that under DACA agents did not exercise discretion in individual cases (suggesting that DACA and DAPA are new rules, and not merely policies guiding individual agent’s discretion).
Aside from the merits, the first issue in the case, standing, could be dispositive. It is not at all obvious that the states have standing under Court precedent. In perhaps the closest case, Massachusetts v. EPA, the Court held that the state had standing to challenge the EPA’s failure to regulate greenhouse gases, based on the state’s loss of coastline due to rising sea levels (due to increased greenhouse gases). But Massachusetts is hardly on all fours with this case. Still, it will likely play an important role in oral argument.
But it’s easy to think that these doctrinal issues are really just cover for underlying policy and political disputes. On the policy side, the case raises the important and contested questions of whether and how to deal with some of the 11 million unauthorized aliens in the United States. In particular: Should we protect certain classes of unauthorized aliens from immediate deportation for economic reasons (because they provide a net benefit to our economy), humanitarian reasons (to keep families together, for example), or just plain fairness reasons? The case also raises the important and contested question of who decides—the federal government, or the states. The Court answered that question unequivocally in favor of the federal government just four years ago in Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. ___ (2012), the SB 1070 case. This case gives the Court another crack at it.
On the political side, the case is (obviously) yet another battle in the continuing war between Republicans and President Obama over immigration and executive authority. All twenty-six states that brought the case are led by Republican governors. (Yet at least one state that has a far more sizeable portion of the unauthorized alien population in the U.S., California, led by a Democrat, is notably absent from the suit.) Moreover, President Obama said that he initiated DACA and DAPA in the first place as a reaction to congressional (Republican) failure to take up immigration reform. The case is thus at the center of the ongoing dispute between a Democratic President who in the face of congressional intransigence has governed by executive order, and the Republican opposition that claims that this represents “executive overreach.”