Wednesday, August 15, 2018

What's Up with the Impeachment of the West Virginia Supreme Court (yes, the whole court)?

The West Virginia House this week voted to impeach the entire state supreme court. So what's up? Coverage here, NYT, WaPo (and here on the broader trend), and NYmag.com's Dailey Intelligencer.

This isn't the first time West Virginia's courts have been embroiled in constitutional/political disputes. We posted on Caperton here.

August 15, 2018 in Courts and Judging, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

President Issues Sweeping Signing Statement on Defense Authorization Act

President Trump late yesterday issued a breathtaking constitutional signing statement on the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019. The President called out dozens of provisions for impinging on the commander-in-chief authority, the foreign affairs authority, the appointments authority, executive privilege, and the President's authority to recommend legislation.

Perhaps most alarming, the President identified 18 separate sections that require public disclosure or reports to Congress on various topics as categorically "protected by executive privilege."

My Administration will treat these provisions consistent with the President's constitutional authority to withhold information, the disclosure of which could impair national security, foreign relations, law enforcement, or the performance of the President's constitutional duties.

The move pits the President's inherent Article II powers against Congress's powers to appropriate funds, its war powers and powers over the military, its foreign-relations powers, and its oversight authority (to say nothing of any interest or right that the people have in knowing what their government is up to). But unless Congress is willing to push back (for example, by issuing and enforcing subpoenas for reports required by the Act, but over which the President has claimed a categorical "executive privilege"), or unless a person or group has standing to challenge any of the President's rejection of funding restrictions or requirements or appointments matters, these claims will never see the inside of a courtroom.

If not, then the President will have effectively line-item vetoed a whopping 50 or more provisions of a single Act of Congress, with no check.

August 14, 2018 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 13, 2018

Judge Rebuffs Challenge to Special Counsel in Russian Interference Case

Judge Dabney L. Friedrich (D.D.C.) today rejected challenges to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office and authority by a defendant in the criminal case against thirteen Russian individuals and three corporations. The ruling in U.S. v. Concord Management says that the special counsel office is constitutional and that Special Counsel Mueller was acting within his authority in bringing this case. The ruling allows the case to go on.

We posted on another rejection to the special counsel just 11 days ago, here.

The court first ruled that the special counsel is an "inferior" office under the Appointments Clause and was validly appointed by the Acting AG. The court said that different features of the office pointed in both the "principal officer" and "inferior officer" direction under Edmond, but ultimately the revocability of DOJ's special counsel regulations mean that the office is "inferior":

The regulations' revocability is "[t]he crucial difference" between the Special Counsel regulations and a statute that seeks to bind the executive branch from without, and it is this different that ensures the Special Counsel is an inferior officer. That is, to the extent that the regulations threaten to impair the Acting Attorney General's ability to direct and supervise the Special Counsel, the Department of Justice may simply rescind or revise the regulations at any time. This ability to rescind or revise the regulations as needed means that the Special Counsel is subject to the Acting Attorney General's plenary supervision. It also makes the Special Counsel effectively removable at will: if the for-cause provision stands in the way, the Acting Attorney General need only rescind or revise the regulation in order to remove the Special Counsel.

The court also ruled that the special counsel was an "inferior office" under Morrison v. Olson.

The court went on to say that the office didn't violate the separation of powers. In particular, the court ruled that even if the special counsel regulations are nonbinding on the special counsel (as Concord argued), then "the Special Counsel would be subject to the Acting Attorney General's plenary control by statute. Because executive power would remain wholly within the executive branch, no separation-of-powers problem would arise." Moreover, the court said that the AG had plenty of statutory authority to issue the special counsel regs.

Finally, the court said that Special Counsel Mueller wasn't acting outside of his appointment authority in bringing this particular case.

August 13, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

D.C. Circuit Validates Forever-War

The D.C. Circuit yesterday rejected a habeas claim by a long-time (17 years) Guantanamo detainee who argued that the basis for his detention has "unraveled" and that the conflict that originally authorized his detention has ended. In so ruling, the court affirmed that the 2001 AUMF, along with the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, remain in force, strong as ever, and continue to authorize his detention.

The claimant, a Yemeni who, according to the government, trained with and fought alongside the Taliban, filed an earlier habeas petition in 2005. The courts rejected that petition, concluding that "the Government's account of Al-Alwi'd Taliban-related activities was supported by a preponderance of the evidence, thereby making Al-Alwi an enemy combatant who could lawfully be detained."

This time, however, he claimed that even if his earlier detention was authorized, the authority for his ongoing detention is stale. The court rejected that argument.

The court ruled first that the "[a]uthority to detain has not unraveled." It said that the AUMF retains its original force so long as "hostilities between the United States and the Taliban and al Qaeda continue." "Both [the AUMF and the National Defense Authorization Act] authorize detention until the end of hostilities. Although hostilities have been ongoing for a considerable amount of time, they have not ended."

The court ruled next that "[a]uthority to detain has not expired." The court said that "termination" is "a political act," and that it hasn't yet occurred. "The Executive Branch represents that armed hostilities between the United States forces and those entities persist."

The ruling underscores that the AUMF will remain in full force until the political branches say that hostilities have ended.

August 8, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ninth Circuit Says Cross Border Shooting Case Can Go Forward

The Ninth Circuit ruled yesterday in Rodriguez v. Swartz that a case against a U.S. Border Patrol agent for shooting and killing a Mexican youth across the U.S.-Mexican border can go forward. The court denied qualified immunity for the agent and ruled that the plaintiff had a valid Bivens claim.

This case is yet another cross-border shooting case, different than Hernandez v. Mesa. Recall that the Court remanded that case for further proceedings on the Bivens question. The Fifth Circuit held that Bivens did not provide a remedy in that case, because the case raised a new Bivens context, and because "extending Bivens would interfere with the political branches' oversight of national security and foreign affairs"; "would flout Congress's consistent and explicit refusals to provide damage remedies for aliens injured abroad"; and "would create a remedy with uncertain limits."

The Ninth Circuit ruling thus splits with the Fifth Circuit.

Rodriguez arose when a Border Patrol agent shot and killed a Mexican youth across the border for no apparent reason whatsoever, and without knowing the youth's nationality. The youth's representatives sued under Bivens.

The Ninth Circuit first denied qualified immunity to the agent. The court said that the Fourth Amendment applies to this kind of situation, that it clearly prohibits this kind of "seizure," and that it was clearly established at the time that the agent couldn't shoot the youth. The court distinguished Verdugo-Urquidez, saying that the agent in this case "acted on American soil subject to American law."

The court went on to rule that Bivens provided a remedy. The court said that while this case indeed presented a new Bivens context, Rodriguez had no other adequate remedy, and there were no "special factors" counseling hesitation.

Judge M. Smith dissented, arguing that Bivens did not extend to this case, and that the court's ruling created a circuit split and disregarded Supreme Court law.

August 8, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 3, 2018

Check it Out: Tillman and Blackman on Why the Special Counsel may be an Employee (but still invalidly appointed)

For yet a different take on Mueller's constitutionality, check out Seth Barrett Tillman and Josh Blackman's piece on Lawfare, Is Robert Mueller an "Officer of the United States" or an "Employee of the United States?"

They argue that under Lucia, the special counsel is really an "employee," not subject to the Appointments Clause:

The Supreme Court's recent decision in Lucia v. SEC explains that if a federal position is only "temporary," then such a position is likely not an "office of the United States." . . . Therefore, [the special counsel] may not be an "officer of the United States" under the rule in Lucia.

As an employee, they argue, the special counsel is subject to the ordinary appointment requirements for any (non-officer) civil servant.

Still, they argue that there are four reasons to question Mueller's appointment, including that he wasn't appointed pursuant to civil-servant rules, that he may exercises outsized power for an employee, and that his for-cause termination protection runs into Justice Scalia's dissent in Morrison. (On that last point, they say: Lucia may afford a potentially soon-to-be-more-conservative Supreme Court the opportunity to do what Judge Brett Kavanaugh speculated about in 2016: make Justice Scalia's Morrison dissent into a majority opinion.")

August 3, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 2, 2018

District Judge Rejects Challenge to Special Counsel Mueller's Appointment

Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell (D.D.C.) rejected a challenge to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's appointment under the Appointments Clause. The ruling, which came in response to a witness's challenge to a grand jury subpoena issued by Mueller, means that the witness--identified by several sources as Andrew Miller, a former associate of Roger Stone--will have to comply with the subpoena.

The ruling aligns with other district court rulings that upheld Mueller's appointment.

Miller challenged a grand jury subpoena issued by Mueller, arguing that Mueller was invalidly appointed under the Appointments Clause. Judge Howell rejected that claim. The court, relying on the factors in Morrison v. Olson, ruled that Mueller was an "inferior officer" and was validly appointed, pursuant to federal statute, by the head of a department. As to Miller's claim that DAG Rod Rosenstein wasn't the "Head of Department" for purposes of the Appointments Clause (because he was the DAG, not the AG), the court said that federal law authorizes the DAG to serve as Acting AG when the AG is recused, and that a different statutory provision allows the AG to delegate to the DAG authority to appoint the Special Counsel.

August 2, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sixth Circuit Says Mine Commission ALJs are Unconstitutional Under Lucia

The Sixth Circuit ruled this week in Jones Brothers, Inc. v. Sec'y of Labor that administrative law judges in the Mine Safety and Health Review Commission are "inferior officers" and were invalidly appointed under the Appointments Clause.

The very short ruling (on the merits) is a straight-line application of Lucia.

The case arose when the Mine Safety and Health Administration imposed a civil penalty on Jones Brothers for failing to comply with agency safety requirements. A Commission ALJ upheld the penalty, and the Commission itself affirmed.

The problem: The ALJ was appointed by the Commission's Chief ALJ, and not by the "department head" (the Commission itself).

The Sixth Circuit ruled that Mine Commission ALJs operated almost exactly like the SEC ALJs at issue in Lucia, and so were "inferior officers" under the Appointments Clause:

The Commission's administrative law judges are likewise established by statute . . . and exercise significant authority commensurate with their SEC counterparts. Like SEC administrative law judges, they preside over trial-like hearings. In that role, they shape the administrative record by taking testimony, regulating document production and depositions, ruling on the admissibility of evidence, receiving evidence, ruling on dispositive and procedural motions, and issuing subpoenas. Indeed, they exercise "nearly all the tools of federal trial judges."

And like SEC administrative law judges, they have the authority to issue initial decisions assigning liability and imposing sanctions. After 40 days, those decisions become final decisions of the Mine Commission unless the Commission decides to review them. But such review is available at "the sound discretion of the Commission," not as a "matter of right." This process is nearly identical to the SEC's review process.

The court said that Commission ALJs, like SEC ALJs, are therefore "inferior officers." And as "inferior officers," they have to be appointed by the President, a court, or a head of department. But they weren't: they were appointed by the Commission's Chief ALJ. So they're unconstitutional.

The court recognized that the Commission ratified the appointment of every ALJ. That works fine going forward, but for this case, the court, like the Supreme Court in Lucia, ordered that Jones Brothers get a new ALJ hearing before a validly appointed ALJ who is not the original ALJ.

The court spilled quite a bit of ink determining whether Jones Brothers forfeited the constitutional argument by not raising at the administrative stage. The court said that Jones Brothers did forfeit it, but that the forfeiture was excusable here.

August 2, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Ninth Circuit Strikes (Yet Another) Blow Against Trump's Anti-Sanctuary Cities Policy

The Ninth Circuit struck another blow today against the administration's anti-sanctuary cities policy, ruling in San Francisco v. Trump that the President can't unilaterally withhold federal grants from sanctuary jurisdictions without Congress's say-so.

The ruling is just the latest in a line of similar rulings, and aligns broadly with the Seventh Circuit's ruling in the spring. This ruling is just a little bit different, however, in that it focuses principally on President Trump's original and sweeping Executive Order (and not AG Sessions's interpretive memo). The court rejects the government's attempt to narrow the test of the EO by focusing instead on AG Sessions's memo as the actual government policy. It said that the memo doesn't align with the EO (and is therefore itself ultra vires), and that in any event it's only a post-hoc justification to get the EO to pass muster in the courts.

While the ruling is an outright win for San Francisco and Santa Clara County, the court threw a bone to the administration by vacating the district court's nationwide injunction and remanding the case for reconsideration and further findings on that issue.

The facts--or at least their general outline--is all too familiar by now: In an effort to clamp down on sanctuary jurisdictions, the President ordered that sanctuary jurisdictions come into line with 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373, which prohibits state and local jurisdictions from restricting their officers from communicating with federal immigration officials. (Other cases have also involved the "notice" and "access" conditions that AG Sessions purported to put on receipt of a certain federal grant in his memo. Those conditions required jurisdictions to provide notice to federal immigration enforcement officials of any detention, and access to state and local facilities for federal immigration enforcement. This ruling didn't deal with those, because it focused on the EO itself.)

The court simply held that under the separation of powers and Congress's Article I, Section 8, power of the purse, it's for Congress, not the Executive, to put conditions on federal spending. The court said that "because Congress has the exclusive power to spend and has not delegated authority to the Executive to condition new grants on compliance with Section 1373, the President's 'power is at its lowest ebb,'" under Justice Jackson's Youngstown framework. And at the lowest ebb, "[b]ecause the Executive Order directs Executive Branch administrative agencies to withhold funding that Congress has not tied to compliance with Section 1373, there is no reasonable argument that the President has not exceeded his authority." In sum:

Absent congressional authorization, the Administration may not redistribute or withhold properly appropriated funds in order to effectuate its own policy goals. Because Congress did not authorize withholding of funds, the Executive Order violates the constitutional principle of the Separation of Powers.

The court flatly rejected the administration's (pretty incredible) argument that its move to condition funds "is all bluster and no bite, representing a perfectly legitimate use of the presidential 'bully pulpit,' without any real meaning . . . .":

[E]ven if we ignore the statements made by and on behalf of the Administration outside the context of this litigation, the Administration's interpretation of the Executive Order strains credulity. And consideration of those statements suggests that the Administration's current litigation position is grounded not in the text of the Executive Order but in a desire to avoid legal consequences.

(Interestingly, the court said nothing about the constitutionality of Section 1373 itself. That provision is now questionable, in light of Murphy v. NCAA, as a possible "commandeering" of state governments in violation of the anti-commandeering principle. Judge Fernandez, in dissent, distinguished Murphy in a footnote by saying that the Court's articulated "principles behind the anticommnadeering rule" don't apply to Section 1373. But it's not clear how the plain ruling itself doesn't apply to Section 1373. More to come on this, I'm sure.)

The court then vacated the district court's nationwide injunction, because "the present record does not support a nationwide injunction." The court remanded "for a more searching inquiry into whether this case justifies the breadth of the injunction imposed."

(Along the way, the court also ruled that the plaintiffs had standing and that the case was ripe for judicial review.)

Judge Fernandez dissented, arguing that the case wasn't ripe and, in any event, that the EO was constitutional, because, by its plain terms, it only applies "to the fullest extent of the law."

August 1, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Court Says Maryland, D.C. Plausibly Alleged Emoluments Claims Against President, Case Can Go Forward

Judge Peter J. Messitte (D. Md.) ruled today that Maryland and D.C. sufficiently alleged emoluments claims against President Trump. The court denied the President's motion to dismiss the case, and will allow the case to move forward.

We last posted on the case here, when Judge Messitte ruled that the plaintiffs have standing.

Recall that Maryland and D.C. sued President Trump for violations of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses for payments by foreign and federal and state governments in connection with the President and the Trump Organization's ownership of the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. The President moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing that indirect and direct payments to him aren't "emoluments." The court disagreed.

President Trump's motion required the court to define "emolument": Is it a broad term that could encompass the direct and indirect benefits that President Trump receives from his hotel (as the plaintiffs would have it), or is it much narrower, only prohibiting particular kinds of additional, outside compensation for the President? But before the court came to that question, it took a beat to broadly explain its options for constitutional interpretation. The court concluded that it should use text, original public meaning and executive branch practice as precedent to sort it out.

The court said that the text favored the broad interpretation of the term offered by the plaintiffs (and not the much narrower definition offered by the President):

As Plaintiffs point out, the Foreign Clause bans, without Congressional approval, "any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever . . . . Use of such expansive modifiers significantly undermines the President's argument that this Clause was meant to prohibit only payment for official services rendered in an employment-type relationship. . . .

The phrase "any other Emolument" in the Domestic Emoluments Clause suggests the same broad interpretation of the term.

As to original public meaning, the court said that "[t]he clear weight of the evidence shows that an 'emolument' was commonly understood by the founding generation to encompass any 'profit,' 'gain,' or 'advantage,'" not limited to particular kinds of salary supplements. "Though the Court agreed that mere counting of dictionaries may not be dispositive, is nonetheless remains highly remarkable that "every English dictionary definition of 'emolument' from 1604 to 1806 relies on one or more of the elements of the broad definition DOJ rejects in its brief."

As to purpose, the court said that it "does not see how the historical record reflects anything other than an intention that the Emoluments Clauses function as broad anti-corruption provisions," and not a more limited purpose that would simply prohibit the President from receiving only "specifically identified categories of compensation."

Finally, the court said that executive branch precedent and practice also--and "overwhelmingly"--pointed toward a broad definition of "emoluments."

In conclusion,

With respect to the Foreign Emoluments Clause, Plaintiffs have alleged that foreign governments or their instrumentalities have patronized the Trump International Hotel, spending government funds to stay at the Hotel, eat at its restaurant, and sponsor events in the Hotel's event spaces. They have done so in some cases with the express intention to cater to the good graces of the President. . . .

[Plaintiffs plausibly plead] that the GSA's abrupt about-face position [first concluding that the President was, and later that the President was not, in violation of his GSA lease for failing to divest] was and is in direct contradiction of the plain terms of the Lease and that, by determining that the Hotel was and is in compliance with the Lease, the Federal Government bestowed upon the President an emolument in violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause.

In addition to foreign governments patronizing the Hotel, Plaintiffs claim that at least one State--Maine--has patronized the Hotel, spending state funds for its Governor and his entourage to stay at the Hotel and to frequent its facilities during an official visit of those officials to Washington, including an encounter with the President where Presidential action of interest to the Governor good place.

[Plaintiffs plausibly plead] that, in connection with the Hotel, the President has received substantial tax concessions from the District of Columbia.

The court's ruling went to the President acting in his official capacity, not individual capacity. "The Court will address the President's Motion to Dismiss the individual capacity claims against him in a subsequent Opinion."

Before the court ruled on President Trump's motion, it took on Prof. Seth Barrett Tillman's argument that the Foreign Emoluments Clause doesn't extend to the President. The court said that the text, the original public meaning and purpose, and executive branch precedent and practice all point to the conclusion that the Clause does apply to the President.

July 25, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, Interpretation, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 16, 2018

Check it Out: Adler on Kavanaugh's Administrative Record

Check out Jonathan Adler's piece at the NYT, Will Kavanaugh Curb Sloppy White House Deregulation? Adler argues that Judge Kavanaugh "has expressed concerns about the Chevron doctrine," and "is not one to give [agencies] a pass." Still, Adler argues that "Judge Kavanaugh's concern about overbroad applications of Chevron should not be misinterpreted as hostility to regulation."

July 16, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Trump Excepts ALJs from Competitive Hiring

President Trump issued an executive order earlier this week that created a new hiring process for administrative law judges, excepting them from competitive hiring rules and examinations and authorizing their appointments to the newly created "Schedule E" of the excepted service by department heads. (H/t to conlaw student Sahil Malhotra.)

The move abolishes the centralized process currently in place for the competitive selection of ALJs and places their appointments in department heads. The move has been criticized because it could politicize the appointments of ALJs, and thus politicize their work.

The EO says that the move is in response to the Supreme Court's recent ruling in Lucia. Recall that the Court held that SEC ALJs aren't mere employees, but instead are "officers" subject to the Appointments Clause. This means that they need to be appointed by the President or the department head (or the courts). It doesn't (necessarily) mean that they need to be excepted from competitive hiring altogether, though. Still, the EO appears to take the position that competitive hiring might be a violation of the Appointments Clause, and, for that reason, excepts ALJs from competitive hiring altogether. From the EO:

As evident from recent litigation, Lucia may also raise questions about the method of appointing ALJs, including whether competitive examination and competitive selection procedures are compatible with the discretion an agency head must possess under the Appointments Clause in selecting ALJs. Regardless of whether those procedures would violate the Appointments Clause as applied to certain ALJs, there are sound policy reasons to take steps to eliminate doubt regarding the constitutionality of the method of appointing officials who discharge such significant duties and exercise such significant discretion.

The EO applies Lucia to all ALJs across the Executive Branch, even though Lucia doesn't necessarily reach that far (which the EO itself recognizes). (Lucia was based on the roles and functions of SEC ALJs, which may be different than other agencies' ALJs.)

The EO doesn't apply to current ALJs. Under Lucia, some or all of these will require re-appointment by their agency head--again, depending on how similar they are to the SEC ALJs in Lucia (an question that agencies are currently working out). And notably the EO only changes ALJs' appointment, not their removal.

July 12, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Check it Out: Blackman on Trump v. Hawaii

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Check it Out: Nourse on the Special Counsel and the Unitary Executive Theory

Check out Victoria Nourse's American Constitution Society Issue Brief on The Special Counsel, Morrison v. Olson, and the Dangerous Implications of the Unitary Executive Theory.

The unitary executive theory is dangerous. . . . Once taken from the law journals and legal societies and handed to political agents, [it] appears to grant presidents license to dismiss the law, all based on a lonely dissent.

June 30, 2018 in Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 29, 2018

District Court Rebuffs Manafort's Challenge to Mueller's Indictment

Judge T.S. Ellis III (E.D. Va.) earlier this week rejected a motion by Paul Manafort to dismiss Special Counsel Robert Mueller's superseding indictment for bank fraud and tax charges.

Recall that Judge Berman Jackson (D.D.C.) earlier rejected a similar move by Manafort. The D.C. court's earlier ruling came in Manafort's civil challenge to Mueller's authority. In contrast, Judge Ellis's ruling this week came as a defense in Manafort's criminal case.

Judge Ellis ruled that the superseding indictment fell squarely within DOJ special-counsel regulations and Rod Rosenstein's memo authorizing Mueller's investigation and prosecution.

Judge Ellis also ruled that Mueller's appointment was valid, and that he had legal authority to issue the indictment. (This analysis came in response to Manafort's argument that Manafort had standing to challenge Mueller's indictment, notwithstanding the fact that DOJ regs specifically do not "create any rights . . . by any person . . . in any matter, civil, criminal, or administrative," based on the theory that Mueller lacks legal authority.)

The Special Counsel's legal authority is not grounded in the procedural regulations at issue here, but in the Constitution and in the statutes that vest the authority to conduct criminal litigation in the Attorney General and authorize the Attorney General to delegate these functions when necessary. And because the Special Counsel was appointed in a manner consistent with both these sources of legal authority, there is no basis for dismissal of the Superseding Indictment.

Along the way, Judge Ellis gave something of a (often highly critical) tutorial in the constitutional issues--Appointments Clause and separation of powers--involved in independent counsel and special counsel authorities, offering some scathing comments about the design of the special counsel office (though not about Mueller in particular). Here's just a flavor:

The Constitution's system of checks and balances, reflected to some extent in the regulations at issue, are designed to ensure that no single individual or branch of government has plenary or absolute power. The appointment of special prosecutors has the potential to disrupt these checks and balances, and to inject a level of toxic partisanship into the investigation of matters of public importance. This case is a reminder that ultimately, our system of checks and balances and limitations on each branch's powers, although exquisitely designed, ultimately works only if people of virtue, sensitivity, and courage, not affected by the winds of public opinion, choose to work within the confines of the Law. Let us hope that the people in charge of this prosecution, including the Special Counsel and the Assistant Attorney General, are such people. Although this case will continue, those involved should be sensitive to the danger unleashed when political disagreements are transformed into partisan prosecutions.

June 29, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Seventh Circuit Narrows Injunction Against DOJ's Sanctuary Cities Crackdown

The Seventh Circuit earlier this week narrowed the nationwide injunction against AG Sessions's crackdown on Chicago's sanctuary-cities practices so that it now only applies "as to the imposition of the conditions on the City of Chicago," and not the "geographic areas in the United States beyond the City of Chicago pending the disposition of the case by the en banc court."

The ruling means that the injunction now applies only to Chicago, and not nationwide.

The ruling was expected: the court said that it'd rule on the issue as soon as the Supreme Court handed down the travel ban decision.

The ruling gave no reasons for restricting the injunction. Recall that on Tuesday, in the travel ban case, the Court declined to address the issue of whether a lower court can issue a nationwide injunction. (It didn't have to rule on this, because it upheld the travel ban.)

June 28, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Federalism, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Check it Out: Matz and Adler on Chevron

Check out the back-and-forth between Joshua Matz (at Take Care) and Jonathan Adler (at Volokh) on Justice Kennedy's broadside in his Pereira concurrence this week against Chevron deference to administrative interpretations. Justice Kennedy wrote separately--joined by no one, but citing Chevron-critical opinions by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Gorsuch--that

it seems necessary and appropriate to reconsider, in an appropriate case, the premises that underlie Chevron and how courts have implemented that decision. The proper rules for interpreting statutes and determining agency jurisdiction and substantive agency powers should accord with constitutional separation-of-powers principles and the function and province of the Judiciary.

June 24, 2018 in Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 22, 2018

Court OKs Simultaneous Service on Different Military Courts

The Supreme Court ruled today in Ortiz v. United States that a military officer could serve on both the military Court of Criminal Appeals (as an inferior officer) and the Court of Military Commission Review (as a principal officer) without violating the Appointments Clause. The ruling also says that the dual appointment didn't violate federal statutory law.

The ruling leaves in place a conviction upheld by a CCA panel that included an officer who also had an appointment on the CMCR (which reviews military commission decisions--different than court martial rulings--out of Guantanamo Bay).

But before the Court said anything about the dual appointment, it said quite a bit about its jurisdiction to hear the case. Justice Kagan, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, wrote that the Court (the top of the Article III branch) had jurisdiction over the appeal from the military courts (located in Article I), because "the judicial character and constitutional pedigree of the court-martial system enable this Court, in exercising appellate jurisdiction, to review the decisions of the court sitting at its apex." The Court thus rejected arguments by amicus Professor Aditya Bamzai that the Court lacked jurisdiction over military-court appeals because military courts aren't Article III courts. (The argument is substantially more complicated than that; check out the opinion, and Prof. Bamzai's brief.) Justice Thomas concurred, basing his conclusion that military courts exercise a judicial function (and therefore that the Court can exercise appellate jurisdiction over them) on his originalist argument that adjudicating "private" rights is a core judicial function. Justice Alito, joined by Justice Gorsuch, dissented, arguing that military courts can't exercise judicial power, because that would violate the separation of powers:

Today's decision is unprecedented, and it flatly violates the unambiguous text of the Constitution. Although the arguments in the various opinions issued today may seem complex, the ultimate issue is really quite simple. The Court and the concurrence say that Congress may confer part of the judicial power of the United States on an entity that is indisputably part of the Executive Branch. But Article III of the Constitution vests "[t]he Judicial Power of the United States"--every single drop of it--in "one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish" in compliance with that Article. A decision more contrary to the plain words of the Constitution is not easy to recall.

On the merits, the Court held that the dual appointment didn't violate the Appointments Clause. The reason is easy: That Clause simply doesn't forbid dual service, even when one office is an "inferior office" and the other is a "principal office," especially so long as the two offices have nothing to do with each other:

The problem, [petitioner] suggests, is that the other (inferior officer) judges on the CCA will be "unduly influenced by" Judge Mitchell's principal-officer status on the CMCR.

But that argument stretches too far. This Court has never read the Appointments Clause to impose rules about dual service, separate and distinct from methods of appointment. Nor has it ever recognized principles of "incongruity" or "incompatibility" to test the permissibility of holding two offices. As Ortiz [the petitioner] himself acknowledges, he can "cite no authority holding that the Appointments Clause prohibits this sort of simultaneous service."

And if we were ever to apply the Clause to dual office-holding, we would not start here. Ortiz tells no plausible story about how Judge Mitchell's service on the CMCR would result in "undue influence" on his CCA colleagues. The CMCR does not review the CCA's decisions (or vice versa); indeed, the two courts do not have any overlapping jurisdiction. They are parts of separate judicial systems, adjudicating different kinds of charges against different kinds of defendants. We cannot imagine that anyone on the CCA acceded to Judge Mitchell's views because he also sat on the CMCR . . . . The CAAF put the point well: "When Colonel Mitchell sits as a CCA judge, he is no different from any other CCA judge." So there is no violation of the Appointments Clause.

The Court also ruled that the dual appointment didn't violate federal statutory law.

June 22, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Court Says that SEC ALJs are "Officers" and Lack Valid Appointment

The Supreme Court ruled today in Lucia v. SEC that SEC Administrative Law Judges are "Officers," and that their appointment by SEC employees violates the Appointments Clause. The ruling invalidates the ALJ decision before the Court and sends the case back for another hearing (before a different, validly appointed ALJ, or before the SEC itself). (The SEC "ratified" the appointment of its ALJs while this case was working its way up. But the Court didn't address the significance of the ratification, so we don't know whether this action makes the ALJs' appointments valid. The Court said it didn't matter to this case, though, because the SEC might assign the case to a validly appointed ALJ (outside the ratification) or the SEC itself.)

The ruling may affect the appointments, and decisions, of the many ALJs across the executive branch. (This depends on how they were appointed, and under what authority.) Under the Court's ruling, going forward, ALJs who exercise authority similar to the SEC ALJs will satisfy the Appointments Clause so long as they are appointed by the President, a court, or the head of a department. (The parties agreed that SEC ALJs were "inferior officers," and therefore didn't require presidential nomination and Senate advice and consent, as "principal officers" do. More on that below.)

Justice Kagan wrote for the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch.

The Court, relying on Freytag v. Commissioner, said that an "Officer" under the Appointments Clause is someone who (1) holds a continuing office and (2) exercises "significant authority" pursuant to the laws of the United States. (The Court distinguished between "Officer" and "employee," who is not covered by the Appointments Clause at all.) The Court said that SEC ALJs easily meet these two requirements. As to the first, it held that they plainly occupy a continuing office. As to the second, it said that Freytag "says everything necessary to decide this case":

the Commission's ALJs exercise the same "significant discretion" when carrying out the same "important functions" as STJs do [in Freytag]. Both sets of officials have all the authority needed to ensure fair and orderly adversarial hearings--indeed, nearly all the tools of federal trial judges. . . . So point for point--straight from Freytag's list--the Commission's ALJs have equivalent duties and powers as STJs in conducting adversarial inquiries.

And at the close of those proceedings, ALJs issue decisions much like that in Freytag--except with potentially more independent effect. . . . By contrast [to Freytag], the SEC can decide against reviewing an ALJ decision at all. And when the SEC declines review (and issues an order saying so), the ALJs decision itself "becomes final" and is "deemed the action of the Commission." That last-word capacity makes this an a fortiori case: If the Tax Court's STJs are officers, as Freytag held, then the Commission's ALJs must be too.

Because the ALJs are "Officers," they have to be appointed by the President, the courts, or the head of the department, here the SEC. And because they were appointed by SEC employees, and not the SEC itself, their appointment was invalid, as was the ALJ's ruling in this case.

Importantly, the Court assumed, as agreed by the parties, that the ALJs were "inferior officers," not "principal officers." This means that they can be appointed by the President, the courts, or the head of a department. This, in turn, means that SEC ALJs--and any other ALJs who weren't appointed by the head of a department--have to be reappointed by the head of a department under law. It also means that this case says nothing about the line between inferior officers and principal officers; it only speaks to the difference between "Officers" and "employees" (which are not covered by the Appointments Clause at all and are therefore not at all subject to Appointments Clause requirements).

The Court ordered the SEC to grant a new hearing to the petitioner, with a different and validly appointed ALJ or with the SEC itself.

Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Gorsuch, concurred, and argued that "Officer," under an original understanding, should sweep much, much more broadly, to "all federal civil officials 'with responsibility for an ongoing statutory duty.'"

Justice Breyer argued that the Court could've resolved the case under the Administrative Procedure Act (which provides for the appointment of ALJs) and Free Enterprise Fund:

I would not answer the question whether the Securities and Exchange Commission's administrative law judges are constitutional "Officers" without first deciding the preexisting Free Enterprise Fund question--namely, what effect that holding would have on the statutory "for cause" removal protections that Congress provided for administrative law judges. If, for example, Free Enterprise Fund means that saying administrative law judges are "inferior Officers" will cause them to lose their "for cause" removal protections, then I would likely hold that the administrative law judges are not "Officers," for to say otherwise would be to contradict Congress' enactment of those protections in the Administrative Procedure Act. In contrast, if Free Enterprise Fund does not mean that an administrative law judge (if an "Office[r] of the United States") would lose "for cause" protections, then it is more likely that interpreting the Administrative Procedure Act as conferring such status would not run contrary to Congress' intent. In such a case, I would more likely hold that, given the other features of the Administrative Procedure Act, Congress did intend to make administrative law judges inferior "Officers of the United States."

Justice Breyer, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor, also would have allowed the same ALJ to re-hear the case on remand.

Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ginsburg, dissented, arguing that "Commission ALJs are not officers because they lack final decisionmaking authority."

June 21, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Seventh Circuit Denies Motion for Quick Ruling on Nationwide Injunction in Sanctuary Cities Case

The Seventh Circuit this week denied the Justice Department's request to stay the nationwide injunction against the Department in Chicago's sanctuary cities case. The order says that the Seventh Circuit will wait until the Supreme Court rules in Trump v. Hawaii, the travel-ban case, before ruling on the issue.

Recall that a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit upheld a nationwide injunction issued by the district court against the Department enforcing two conditions imposed by the Attorney General on the DOJ-JAG/Byrne Grant program. DOJ filed a motion to stay the nationwide injunction pending appeal, and the full Seventh Circuit agreed to review the issue.

This latest round of jockeying came when DOJ sent a letter this week to the Seventh Circuit saying that if the Seventh Circuit didn't rule on its motion to stay the nationwide injunction by COB on June 18, DOJ would take it up with the Supreme Court. The Seventh Circuit interpreted the letter as a motion for an immediate ruling on DOJ's motion for a stay, and rejected it. The court said that it expected that the Supreme Court would have something to say about this in the travel-ban case, and it would await word from the high Court before ruling here.

The ruling makes it likely (or certain?) that DOJ will try to take this (the nationwide injunction) to the Supreme Court as early as Monday.

June 16, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Federalism, News, Separation of Powers, Spending Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)