November 09, 2012
Seventh Circuit Rejects Torture Claim Against Rumsfeld
The en banc Seventh Circuit this week ruled in Vance v. Rumsfeld that two American military contractors had no cause of action against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for torture. The ruling was expected: the court previously vacated the three-judge panel ruling allowing the case to move forward; oral arguments suggested that the full court was hostile to the plaintiffs' claims; and the ruling aligns with similar (but distinguishable and less sweeping) rulings in the Fourth and D.C. Circuits. We posted last on the case, with links to an earlier post, here.
The ruling ends the plaintiffs' case and effectively creates absolute immunity against such claims for military personnel and their civilian commanders--at least in the Seventh Circuit. Given similar rulings in the Fourth and D.C. Circuits--and no circuit going the other way--the case almost surely will not attract the attention of the Supreme Court. (Even if the Court took it up, it would almost certainly affirm the Seventh Circuit's ruling, given its trend with Bivens actions.) The case also extended the no-supervisory-liability rule for Bivens claims (affirmed in Iqbal), holding that Secretary Rumsfeld's alleged authorization of torture, even if true, was simply too attenuated from the actions of those who actually tortured the plaintiffs.
The case involved two American military contractors who claimed that they were detained and tortured by military authorities in Iraq. They sued Secretary Rumsfeld under Bivens based on his alleged authorization of torture techniques.
The en banc Seventh Circuit reversed a three-judge panel and held that Bivens did not offer a remedy to the plaintiffs. Chief Judge Easterbrook, writing for the court, set the tone early in his opinion, expressing hostility to "creating new Bivens claims":
[The Supreme Court] has not created another [Bivens] remedy during the last 32 years--though it has reversed more than a dozen appellate decisions that had created new actions for damages. Whatever presumption in favor of a Bivens-like remedy may once have existed has long since been abrogated. The Supreme Court never created or even favorably mentioned the possibility of a non-statutory right of action for damages against military personnel, and it has twice held that it would be inappropriate to create such a claim for damges. The Court has never created or even favorably mentioned a non-statutory right of action for damages on account of conduct that occurred outside the borders of the United States. Yet plaintiffs propose a novel damages remedy against military personnel who acted in a foreign nation--and in a combat zone, no less.
Op. at 9. Chief Judge Easterbrook wrote that "special factors" counseled against a Bivens remedy, in particular the courts' relative inability to assess the merits of military policies and decisions. Chief Judge Easterbrook also mentioned that Congress declined to create a statutory remedy, suggesting that it didn't want plaintiffs suing military personnel or their superiors, and that Congress created two administrative paths to remedies but that the plaintiffs did not pursue them. "But Congress has not authorized awards of damages against soldiers and their superiors, and creating a right of action in common-law fashion would intrude inapropriately into the military command structure." Op. at 17.
Note that the ruling (Part III) extends to "soldiers and their superiors," even though this case was only against Secretary Rumsfeld.
Chief Judge Easterbrook also wrote that Secretary Rumsfeld's authorization of torture was too attenuated from the actions of those who actually tortured the plaintiffs to survive the no-supervisor-liability rule for Bivens claims. The plaintiffs sought to navigate this rule by alleging that Secretary Rumsfeld personally authorized torture--i.e., that he wasn't vicariously liable, but was rather directly responsible. But Chief Judge Easterbrook wrote that Iqbal requires that a defendant "wants the unconstitutional or illegal conduct to occur." Op. at 19. That, he said, the plaintiffs did not allege.
Judge Wood concurred in the judgment only but wrote separately to emphasize that the alleged actions were torture, and could not hide behind the euphamism of enhanced interrogation techniques. Judge Wood also disagreed with the majority insofar as its opinion (Part III) would insulate military personnel (and not merely the Secretary of Defense) from Bivens liability.
Judges Hamilton, Rovner, and Williams all wrote a separate dissent and all joined each others' dissents, emphasizing different points. Judge Hamilton pointed out that the ruling gives more rights to aliens (under the Torture Victim Protection Act) than U.S. citizens and explained in great detail why U.S. law, in fact, assumes that the plaintiffs should have had a Bivens claim. Judge Rovner argued that the plaintiffs pleaded sufficiently specific facts related to Secretary Rumsfeld's direct responsibility to survive the pleading standards set in Iqbal and Twombley. And Judge Williams emphasized the remarkable scope of the majority's opinion. "No case from our highest court or our sister circuits has approached such a sweeping conclusion." Op. at 73.
November 9, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
October 17, 2012
DOJ Moves to Dismiss Fast and Furious Suit
Earlier this week the Justice Department filed its motion to dismiss and supporting memorandum in Committee on Oversight and Government Reform v. Holder. The motion was expected, and the arguments are not a surprise.
Recall that the Committee brought the case seeking a declaration that the administration's assertion of executive privilege was without merit and that its failure to turn over certain documents to the Committee in its investigation of the "Fast and Furious" program was without justification. The Committee seeks an order requiring the government to turn over these documents.
Recall also that since the Committee filed its suit, the DOJ Inspector General issued its report into the program and testified before Congress on it.
DOJ argues that the court lacks Article III jurisdiction because the case presents a political question and that separation-of-powers principles counsel against the case moving forward. In short, DOJ says that the political branches should work this out. According to the Department, this is especially so with regard to material on internal deliberations regarding the Department's responses to congressional inquiries for substantive material on the program.
DOJ also argued that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and that the Committee has no cause of action. It says that the Committee brought the case under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1331, but that given the history of that provision and 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1365, the court lacks jurisdiction. In particular, DOJ argues that Congress enacted 1365, giving the court jurisdiction over Senate subpoena enforcement actions, after Congress was foiled by the old amount-in-controversy in 1331. (Congress asserted no claim for monetary damages in that case.) Congress later removed the amount-in-controversy requirement, but DOJ argues that 1365, with its careful language limiting jurisdiction to cases brought by the Senate (not the House), trumps. (Otherwise 1365 would be a nullity.) If so, the court lacks jurisdiction over the House Committee's suit. Morever, DOJ says that the Committee has no cause of action, because the Declaratory Judgment Act contains no independent cause of action (contrary to the D.C. District court's own relatively recent prior ruling in Miers) and because the Constitution grants no independent cause of action.
Now we wait for the Committee's response.
October 17, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Political Question Doctrine, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
October 16, 2012
D.C. Circuit Vacates Hamdan's Conviction for "Material Support for Terrorism"
A unanimous three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit today in Hamdan v. U.S. reversed the judgment of the Court of Military Commission Review and directed that Salim Ahmed Hamdan's conviction for "material support for terrorism" be vacated. The ruling clears Hamdan, who already served time (66 months minus credit for time already served at Guantanamo) and has been released, of this conviction.
Hamdan here is the same Hamdan who successfully challenged the government's authority to try him by military commission in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. After Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and expanded the list of crimes for which a person could be tried by military commission, the government re-charged Hamdan with conspiracy and material support for terrorism. Hamdan was acquitted of conspiracy, but convicted of five specifications of material support for terrorism. He was sentenced to 66 months, but credited for served for most of that sentence, and released in Yemen in 2008.
The D.C. Circuit ruled that Hamdan's case was not moot (even though he already served time and was released in 2008 in Yemen) and that the MCA, which specifically made "material support for terrorism" a crime triable in a military commission, did not apply (in order to avoid ex post facto problems). This left the court to determine whether the government had authority to try Hamdan for "material support for terrorism" under 10 U.S.C. Sec. 821, which authorizes the government to try persons by military commission for violations of the "law of war."
In short, the court ruled that the international law of war at the time did not proscribe "material support for terrorism" and that the government therefore lacked authority to try Hamdan for that crime by military commission. The court wrote that
neither the major conventions on the law of war nor prominent modern international tribunals nor leading international-law experts have identified material support for terrorism as a war crime. Perhaps most telling, before this case, no person has ever been tried by an international-law war crimes tribunal for material support of terrorism.
Op. at 25. The court said that international law leaves "material support for terrorism" to domestic law (even if international law does establish some other forms of terrorism as war crimes), and domestic law didn't outlaw it until the 2006 MCA--after Hamdan's actions.
Judge Ginsburg joined the court's opinion but wrote separately to "explain the unfortunate state of . . . precedent" that saved the case from mootness.
Only Judge Kavanaugh, the author of the court's opinion, joined footnote 6, which explained why Congress had authority to make "material support for terrorism" a war crime, and why it is appropriate to address that question in the first place. Judge Kavanaugh wrote that Congress's war powers are not confined by international law, and therefore even if international law did not define "material support for terrorism" as a war crime, Congress could.
October 16, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
August 31, 2012
DOJ Closes Torture Investigations, Declines to Prosecute
Attorney General Eric Holder announced yesterday that the Justice Department will not pursue criminal charges in the two cases--the only two, and the last two--that it investigated involving torture of detainees in U.S. custody. The announcement means that no U.S. official, employee, or service member will face criminal charges for torture.
This announcement, along with the courts' now widely adopted view that civil suits for torture are barred by either the state secrets privilege or by "special factors" counseling against such suits (under Bivens), means that no U.S. official, employee, or service member is likely to face any judicial accountability for torture.
Recall that the Justice Department in 2009 tasked Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham of the District of Connecticut with an expanded investigation into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogations of specific detainees at overseas locations. But AG Holder said that the Department wouldn't prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance by the OLC. In June 2011, Durham recommended opening full criminal investigations into only two cases. The announcement today means that those investigations are now closed--without prosecutions.
August 27, 2012
No Fees, Costs for Common Benefit Litigant
The Alabama Supreme Court ruled in Ex Parte Bentley that the state constitution prohibited a common benefit litigant--one who successfully challenged the constitutionality of a permanent legislative committee--from collecting attorneys' fees and costs.
The case is the latest chapter in the McInnish litigation, involving a permanent state legislative committee designed to dole out community service grants. McInnish sued in the earlier case, arguing that the committee violated state constitutional separation of powers. McInnish claimed that the legislative committee, which received funds from a regular legislative appropriation, encroached on executive powers by deciding on particular grants to award and then awarding them.
The Alabama Supreme Court agreed. In McInnish v. Riley the court ruled that the legislative committee engaged in a quintessentially executive power by paying out the grants. It cited the state constitutional separation-of-powers provision, Section 43:
In the government of this state, except in the instances in this Constitution hereinafter expressly directed or permitted, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them; the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them; the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them; to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men.
In Ex Parte Bentley, the court ruled that McInnish couldn't collect attorneys' fees and costs under the common benefit doctrine, based on the state sovereign immunity provision, Section 14:
That the State of Alabama shall never be made a defendant in any court of law or equity.
According to the court, this section bars any action if it seeks to recover damages or funds from the state treasury--even when a litigant sues for the common benefit.
August 23, 2012
ICE Officers Sue to Halt DHS Deferred Action
A group of ICE officers sued DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano today in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas to halt the Department's deferred action program, which defers removal of qualifying aliens. (Deferred action is simply an exercise of executive discretion not to remove certain aliens; it's the administration's way of achieving the goals of the DREAM Act without a DREAM Act.) The administration has argued that the program is a valid exercise of prosecutorial discretion. We last posted on it here, including a link to a letter by immigration and constitutional law profs arguing that the action is fully constitutional (and outlining a handful of different ways that the administration might go about it).
It's not easy to get a case like this into the courts: by definition, it's hard to identify somebody who has been harmed (and thus who has Article III standing) by a non-action by the government. The ICE officers claim that they're harmed because their bosses, through deferred action, are forcing them to violate federal law and their oaths to uphold federal law and the Constitution. It's not clear that this will be enough; and even if it is, there's this problem: If the officers here have sufficient Article III harm, then any federal officer who has even a vague constitutional disagreement with his or her bosses' policies will be able to sue to stop them. There are other preliminary problems, too, maybe most obviously the political question doctrine and related separation-of-powers considerations.
The officers state five causes of action. First, the officers claim that deferred action requires them to violate federal law that requires them to detain any alien "who is not clearly and beyond a doubt entitled to be admitted." Next, they say that deferred action confers a benefit on qualifying aliens, the deferred action itself, that is not authorized by federal law. Third, the officers argue that deferred action confers the benefit of employment authorization on qualifying aliens without any statutory basis and "under the false pretense of 'prosecutorial discretion.'" Fourth, they say that deferred action amounts to a legislative act (as evidenced by the numerous DREAM Act bills in Congress that didn't pass) and thus intrudes on the powers of Congress. Finally, they claim that deferred action violates the executive's constitutional obligation to take care that the laws are faithfully executed.
Between the preliminary problems and the inherently weak claims, it's hard to see that this case has much of a future. But maybe it's not supposed to. The complaint--signed by Kris Kobach and apparently bankrolled by NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for "lower immigration levels"--seems as much designed to get the issue out in the public as it is to get the issue into the courts.
August 23, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
August 17, 2012
Court Dismisses Operation Flex Challenge on State Secrets Privilege
Judge Cormac J. Carney (C.D. Cal.) this week dismissed a case brought by several Muslims challenging an FBI surveillance program on the government's assertion of the state secrets privilege. (Thanks to emptywheel.net for links to the opinions below.)
The ruling, along with a companion ruling on the plaintiffs' FISA claim, terminates all but a sliver of the case. It also illustrates what a powerful weapon the state secrets privilege can be--protecting an indiscriminate surveillance program that, as described by the plaintiffs, even the judge called "disturbing." At the end of the day, Judge Carney dismissed the entire case (aside from the FISA claim, discussed below and dismissed in part on other grounds) on the government's own claim, based on a sealed declaration, that its defense would necessarily reveal state secrets.
The rulings in Fazaga v. FBI arose out of the plaintiffs' challenge to the FBI's "Operation Flex" program. According to the complaint, the FBI engaged a civilian, Craig Monteilh, to conduct indiscriminate surveillance on Muslims in Southern California. The surveillance resulted in hundreds of hours of video and thousands of hours of audio recordings from the mosques, homes, businesses, and associations of hundreds of Muslims. But it didn't result in a single criminal charge.
The plaintiffs sued the FBI and its officers under several constitutional and statutory theories, including FISA. The government moved to dismiss, arguing that its defense necessarily required disclosure of information that would harm national security--that is, state secrets--and the court agreed. Judge Carney explained:
Here, Plaintiffs' claims are predicated on their core allegation that Defendants engaged in an indiscriminate investigation, surveillance, and collection of information of Plaintiffs and the putative class because they are Muslim. . . . [T]he Court is persuaded that privileged information provides essential evidence for Defendants' full and effective defense against Plaintiffs' claims--namely, showing that Defendants' purported "dragnet" investigations were not indiscriminate schemes to target Muslims, but were properly predicated and focused. . . . [T]he Court is [also] convinced that the privileged and nonprivileged information are inextricably intertwined, such that litigating the instant case to judgment on the merits would present an unacceptable risk of disclosing state secrets.
Op. at 31, 33 (emphasis in original).
Judge Carney's ruling is thorough and thoughtful--explaining the Totten bar and the Reynolds privilege; navigating between and synthesizing recent rulings coming out of the Ninth Circuit (Jeppesen Dataplan) and the Fourth Circuit (El-Masri); reviewing the government's confidential supporting affidavit and memorandum; checking the government's assertion against the government's own standards and processes for asserting the privilege; and explaining in broad terms just what the kind of information might be disclosed in the litigation. In other words, the ruling seems modest, balanced, and reasonable.
But still there's this: Judge Carney dismissed the entire case because the government's defense would have required revealing information that would harm national security, based only on the government's own say so. The dramatic result creates a perverse incentive for the government to overreach in its surveillance programs, with the knowledge and comfort that it can successfully shut down an entire case simply by showing that any defense of it would reveal state secrets.
In the companion ruling, Judge Carney dismissed the plaintiffs' FISA claim against the government, but not the individual defendants. Judge Carney relied on the Ninth Circuit's recent ruling that FISA's civil damages provision did not unequivocally waive sovereign immunity. But Judge Carney also said that nothing in the civil damages provision stops the suit against the individual defendants. And the government didn't assert the state secrets privilege over the FISA part of the case.
As a result, the plaintiffs' FISA claim against the individual defendants appears to go on. We might expect a government assertion of the state secrets privilege over this remaining part of the case now. If so, it could face a hurdle: The Northern District of California ruled in In re Nat'l Sec. Agency Telecomms. Records Litig., 564 F. Supp. 2d 1109, 1120 (2008) that FISA preempts the state secrets privilege with respect to a FISA claim. While the court cited and discussed the case (in rehearsing the plaintiffs' argument), it's not clear that it would agree with it, or not.
August 17, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, State Secrets, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
August 13, 2012
House Committee Sues AG Holder for Fast and Furious Docs
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform filed its anticipated complaint today in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against Attorney General Eric Holder, seeking a declaration that AG Holder's assertion of executive privilege is without merit and that his failure to turn over certain documents to the Committee was without justification, and requiring AG Holder to turn over certain "obstruction" documents.
The complaint seeks a mere subset of the larger body of documents originally sought by the Committee--the so-called "Obstruction Component" documents, relating to DOJ's alleged obstruction of the Committee's investigation into the Fast and Furious program. (The Committee does not seek other documents covered in its earlier subpoena--the "Operations Component" documents, related to the operations of the program--although it maintains its right to seek and to receive those documents.) The Committee explains, in paragraph 62 of the complaint:
The Department's and the Attorney General's response to the Committee's investigation has been woefully inadequate in every respect. However, notwithstanding their lack of cooperation, the Committee has managed to obtain sufficient facts--principally through the aid of DOJ whistleblowers--to begin reporting to the American people on the Operations Component of its investigation. Accordingly, although the Committee has a legal and constitutional right to obtain from the Attorney General all documents responsible to the Holder Subpoena not already produced, the Committee chooses in this action to seek only a limited subset of such responsive but unproduced documents, namely, those documents that are relevant to the Obstruction Component of the Committee's investigation which the Committee cannot obtain from any other source. To that end, the Committee here seeks to compel the Attorney General to produce those documents dated or that were created after February 4, 2011, that are responsive to Categories 1, 4, 5, and 10 of the Holder Subpoena [attached to the complaint]. In the Committee's judgment, this limited subset of responsive documents--referred to herein as the "Post-February 4 Subset"--includes or constitutes the documents most likely to be relevant to the Obstruction Component of the Committee's investigation and, when produced, most likely to enable the Committee to complete its investigation.
Here's what the Committee thinks of the administration's executive privilege claim:
The principal legal issue presented here is whether the Attorney General may withhold that limited subset on the basis of "Executive privilege" where there has been no suggestion that the documents at issue implicate or otherwise involve any advice to the President, and where the Department's actions do not involve core constitutional functions of the President.
No Court has ever held that "Executive privilege" extends anywhere near as far as the Attorney General here contends that it does. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the Attorney General's conception of the reach of "Executive privilege," were it to be accepted, would cripple congressional oversight of Executive branch agencies, to the very great detriment of the Nation and our constitutional structure. Accordingly, the Committee asks this Court to reject the Attorney General's assertion of "Executive privilege" and order him forthwith to comply with the Committee's subpoena, as set forth below.
Compl. at page 3.
Recall that AG Holder urged the assertion of the privilege based on "executive branch deliberative communications"--supported, AG Holder argued, by several DOJ and OLC opinions (including DOJ advice, authored by Paul Clement, in the Bush administration relating to the assertion of executive privilege in the congressional investigation on the politicization of the Justice Department). See Holder Memo at 2-3.
The privilege dispute thus centers on whether the President himself had to be part of the communications--or whether the communication had to be in relation to advice to the President--or whether the privilege applies more broadly over "executive branch deliberative communications" that did not involve the President directly.
In the D.C. court's last foray into this and similar issues, in a similar case involving above-mentioned congressional investigations into the politicization of the Justice Department, Committee on the Judiciary v. Miers, Judge John D. Bates ruled that the Committee jumped the several significant hurdles to get the case into court and that White House Counsel Harriet Miers did not have absolute immunity from testifying before Congress. (The case was stayed pending appeal and resolved itself by agreement of the parties in January 2009.)
But while Judge Bates's opinion dealt at length with (and ultimately rejected) the defendants' claimed barriers to the Committee's suit, it did not resolve the executive privilege issues presented in this case.
Miers may provide useful guidance, though, for a more pragmatic reasons: The D.C. Circuit in that case declined to put the appeal on the fast track, suggesting that the case could become moot when the 110th Congress, along with its subpoenas, expired.
This case, like that one, will not reach final judicial resolution (and maybe even not a district court ruling) before the end of the current Congress. The case could fizzle out--that is, moot out, because the subpoena will have expired with the current Congress--when the new Congress comes in . . . unless the new House reauthorizes it.
August 13, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
August 10, 2012
Mass High Court Recognizes Judicial Deliberative Privilege
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in In the Matter of the Enforcement of a Subpoena formally recognized a judicial deliberative privilege rooted, in part, in state constitutional judicial independence and separation of powers.
The move simply puts a formal judicial stamp of approval on a privilege already recognized in other states and the federal system, and supported by Massachusetts common law. As the court said, "Such a privilege is deeply rooted in our common-law and constitutional jurisprudence and in the precedents of the United States Supreme Court and the courts of our sister States."
The court said the privilege applied to quash a subpoena issued by the Massachusets Commission on Judicial Conduct in relation to an investigation of allegations of bias against a Massachusetts judge. But the court also said that the Commission might issue a better tailored subpoena that would survive a motion to quash based on the privilege.
The court rooted the privilege in part on two state constitutional provisions, both requiring, in different ways, an independent and impartial judiciary. The first, Article 29 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, reads:
It is essential to the preservation of the rights of every individual, his life, liberty, property, and character, that there be an impartial interpretation of the laws, and administration of justice. It is the right of every citizen to be tried by judges as free, impartial and independent as the lot of humanity will admit. It is, therefore, not only the best policy, but for the security of the right of the people, and of every citizen, that the judges of the supreme judicial court should hold their offices as long as they behave themselves well; and that they should have honorable salaries ascertained and established by standing laws.
The second, Article 30 of the Declaration of Rights, referenced in a footnote in the opinion, reads:
In the government of this commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them; the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them; the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them; to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.
(Article 30 is part of Madison's survey of state separation-of-powers provisions in Federalist 47. Madison writes that Article 30 "corresponds precisely with the [strict separation of powers] doctrine of Montesquieu," but also that "[i]n the very Constitution to which it is prefixed, a partial mixture of powers has been admitted.")
The court said in the footnote that "[t]he circumstances of this case raise these very [separation-of-powers] concerns," because the complaint against the judge was initiated by an executive branch official (even though the Commission itself is formally a judicial body).
August 08, 2012
Ninth Circuit Says No Waiver of Sovereign Immunity in Case Challenging TSP
In the latest and perhaps last chapter of the Al-Haramain case, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the government did not unequivocally waive sovereign immunity through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act civil liability provision, ending the plaintiffs' case challenging the government's terrorist surveillance program.
As the court said, "[t]his case effectively brings to an end the plaintiffs' ongoing attempts to hold the Executive Branch responsible for intercepting telephone conversations without judicial authorization." Op. at 8784.
Recall that the plaintiffs sued under the FISA's civil liability provision for damages resulting from the government's surveillance of them through the TSP. Most recently, the district court ruled that the state secrets privilege did not foreclose the plaintiffs' suit--that "FISA preempts or displaces the state secrets privilege . . . in cases within the reach of its provisions"--and that the government implicitly waived sovereign immunity through FISA. The district court ruling would have allowed the case to move forward.
But the Ninth Circuit stopped it. The court ruled that the government did not unequivocally waive sovereign immunity through the FISA civil damages provision, and therefore the plaintiffs could not sue for damages from the government.
The FISA civil damages provision, 50 U.S.C. Sec. 1810, reads,
An aggrieved person . . . who has been subjected to an electronic surveillance or about whom information obtained by electronic surveillance of such person has been disclosed or used in violation of section 1809 of this title shall have a cause of action against any person who committed such violation . . . .
For the court, the key missing phrase was "the United States" (as in "against the United States" or "the United States shall be liable")--a mainstay of statutes in which the government unequivocally waived sovereign immunity. Without such an unequivocal waiver, the government cannot be sued for damages.
Even with the government off the hook, though, the plaintiffs still could have proceeded against FBI Director Mueller, another defendant in the action (and a "person" under 50 U.S.C. Sec. 1810). But the court said that the plaintiffs "never vigorously pursued its claim against Mueller" and dismissed it. Op. at 8797.
The case almost certainly puts an end to the plaintiffs' litigation efforts to hold the government responsible for the TSP.
August 8, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, State Secrets, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
July 06, 2012
D.C. Circuit Strikes Copyright Judges' Removal Protection
A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled today in Intercollegiate Broadcasting System, Inc. v. Copyright Royalty Board that the appointment of Copyright Royalty Judges, or CRJs, violated the Appointments Clause. The court remedied the violation by reading out of the CRJ statute the CRJs' for-cause removal provision and permitting the Librarian of Congress to remove CRJs at will. The court said that this alone changed CRJs from "Officers" to "inferior Officers" under the Appointments Clause and allowed them to be appointed by the Librarian of Congress (as provided by statute), and without Presidential nomination and advice and consent of the Senate.
The ruling simply modifies a characteristic of the CRJs' job to put them in line with the Appointments Clause (by making them inferior officers) and sends the case back to the lower court for consideration of the merits. It probably doesn't break any significant new ground under the Appointments Clause or separation of powers (even if this kind of ruling is relatively rare). The court looks to both the power of the position and to its removability to determine whether it's an "Office" or "inferior Office," but the court turns it from an "Office" into an "inferior Office" by focusing only on removability. The court's remedy--reading out of the CRJ statute the for-cause removal and leaving CRJs with only at-will removal--takes a page from the Supreme Court's playbook in Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB.
The case arose out of a challenge to a CRJ decision on licensing terms between an association of noncommercial webcasters who transmit digital music over the internet in high schools and colleges and owners of the songs' copyrights. CRJs have statutory authority to set these terms, subject to review, discussed below, when the parties can't come to an agreement. The association, Intercollegiate, didn't like the terms set by the CRJ and brought this case arguing that the CRJ is unconstitutional under the Appointments Clause.
That Clause, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2, says that the President "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . Officers of the United States," but that "Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments." Intercollegiate lodged a two-prong attack: First, it argued that CRJs were "Officers" and thus required Presidential nomination and Senate advice and consent (and that their appointment by the Librarian of Congress therefore violated the Appointments Clause); and second, it argued that the Library of Congress wasn't a "Department" (and that therefore Congress couldn't vest CRJs' appointment in its head, the Librarian of Congress, and their appointment was therefore unconstitutional).
The court agreed on the first argument, but disagreed on the second. The court, principally applying Edmond v. United States, ruled that the CRJs were "Officers," not "inferior Officers" the the purpose of the Appointments Clause. It wrote that the CRJs were supervised by the Librarian of Congress and the Registrar, but only as to pure issues of law, leaving the CRJs with vast discretion and authority to set rates on their own. It said that CRJs could only be removed by the Librarian of Congress for misconduct or neglect of duty. And it wrote that the CRJs' rate determinations were not reviewable or correctable by any other officer or entity within the executive branch (although they are reviewable by the D.C. Circuit). Thus it ruled that the three Edmond factors lined up in favor of "Officer," not "inferior Officer."
But the court didn't stop there. Following the Supreme Court's approach in Free Enterprise Fund, the court severed the removability provision for CRJs--the one that allows the Librarian of Congress to fire them only for misconduct or neglect of duty--and read out the "misconduct or neglect of duty" part. The effect was to leave CRJs with no protection against termination--and to allow the Librarian of Congress to remove them at will. This alone, the court ruled, turned the otherwise "Officers" into "inferior Officers." And this allowed Congress to vest their appointment in the Librarian of Congress--exactly what Congress did--and saved them. And: "We further conclude that free removability constrains their power enough to outweigh the extent to which the scope of their duties exceeds that of the special counsel in [Morrison v. Olson]."
As to Intercollegiate's second argument, the court ruled that the Library of Congress is a "Department" under the Appointments Clause. It ruled that the Library's power "to promulgate copyright regulations, to apply the statute to affected parties, and to set rates and terms case by case" are associated with executive authority, even if there are some aspects of the Library (like the Congressional Research Service) that make it look like a legislative agency. The Librarian of Congress is the Library's "head," and so the appointment of the now-inferior-officers is valid.
July 6, 2012 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
June 28, 2012
Congress Holds Holder in Contempt, Authorizes Suit
The House of Representatives voted today to approve House Resolution 706, holding AG Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for declining to turn over documents related to the DOJ's response to congressional and media inquiries into the Fast and Furious program. Under the Resolution, the House holds AG Holder in contempt and authorizes the Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, "to initiate or intervene in judicial proceedings in any Federal court of competent jurisdiction . . . to seek declaratory judgments affirming the duty of [AG Holder] to comply with any subpoena that is a subject of the resolution accompanying House Report 112-546"--the report issued by the Committee last week.
The move means that Rep. Issa and his committee can take the case directly to court, bypassing another option--referring the matter to the Assistant U.S. Attorney for D.C. If Rep. Issa files, he will ask the court to order AG Holder to turn over the subpoenaed documents, notwithstanding the administration's assertion last week of executive privilege.
The vote was 255 to 67, largely along party lines. Seventeen Democrats voted with Republicans; two Republicans crossed the aisle. More than 100 Democrats boycotted the vote altogether.
Supreme Court Upholds Affordable Care Act
A sharply divided Supreme Court today upheld key provisions in the Affordable Care Act (the "ACA," or Obamacare). The upshot is that five Justices (Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) held that universal coverage (or the individual mandate) is upheld, and that a three-Justice plurality (Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Breyer and Kagan) held Medicaid expansion is upheld in a somewhat weaker form. A different five Justices (Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito) held that the commerce clause did not support universal coverage (but for different reasons).
The ruling means that universal coverage stands, and Medicaid expansion stands, although in a somewhat weaker form.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority; by issue:
Taxing Clause. A five-Justice majority held that Congress could enact the universal coverage provision (also called the individual mandate) under the taxing authority. Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, wrote that the tax penalty for failing to purchase health insurance was a valid tax.
First, for most Americans the amount due will be far less than the price of insurance, and, by statute, it can never be more. It may often be a reasonable financial decision to make the payment rather than purchase insurance, unlike the "prohibitory" financial punishment in Drexel Furniture. Second, the individual mandate contains no scienter requirement. Third, the payment is collected solely by the IRS through the normal means of taxation--except that the Service is not allowed to use those means most suggestive of a punitive sanction, such as criminal prosecution.
Op. at 35-36. The majority was untroubled that the tax penalty could be a "tax" for taxing authority purposes, but a non-"tax" for Anti-Injunction Act purposes: Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Congress itself enacted the AIA and could therefore itself draft around it (which it did here); but Congress's taxing authority may support congressional action whether or not Congress calls its action a "tax."
Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito dissented, arguing that universal coverage exceeded the taxing power.
Commerce Clause. A five-Justice majority concluded that the Commerce Clause did not support congressional authority to enact universal coverage, but for two different reasons. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for himself alone, wrote that universal coverage amounted to regulating before entrance into the market for health services--i.e., regulating someone who's "inactive." (And Chief Justice Roberts didn't buy the government's claim that the maarket for health insurance was integrally connected to the market for health care.) Chief Justice Roberts wrote that universal coverage was unprecedented and unsupported by the Court's cases. (Chief Justice Roberts justified reaching the issue--even though the case could be (and was) decided on the taxing power alone--because, he said, the government designed universal coverage first as a regulation and only secondly (or alternatively) as a tax.)
Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito took a harder line, arguing that Congress here went too far, because it first sought to create commerce, and then to regulate it.
Medicaid Expansion. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for himself and Justices Breyer and Kagan that Medicaid expansion as-is under the ACA--in which a state declining to participate in Medicaid expansion would stand to lose its entire pot of federal Medicaid money--was unduly coercive. But the same plurality held that Medicaid expansion could be saved by simply reading the statute to mean that a declining state could lose only the additional federal money that would have come with the expansion.
Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor wrote separately to argue that Medicaid expansion as-is under the ACA did not violate the Constitution.
Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito dissented, writing that Medicaid expansion was flatly unconstitutional.
June 28, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Separation of Powers, Spending Clause, Taxing Clause | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
June 24, 2012
Arkansas High Court Rules State Method of Execution Act Unconstitutional
The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled on Friday in Hobbs v. Jones that the state's statutory method of execution violated state constitutional separation of powers. In particular, the court ruled that the general guidelines that the legislature provided to the Arkansas Department of Corrections, or ADC, to conduct intravenous lethal injections were too broad and constituted an unlawful delegation of legislative authority to the state executive agency.
The ruling leaves the state without a method of execution--at least for now. (The court also held that the offending sections of the act were nonseverable, ruling out a judicial excision or rewrite of the language and thus preserving the larger act.) The legislature could act relatively easily to amend the state's Method of Execution Act, or MEA, and to provide more detailed guidelines to the ADC within the bounds of the state's separation of powers principles and its nondelegation doctrine.
Arkansas is one of those states that has a specific separation-of-powers provision in its constitution. (The federal government does not have a specific separation-of-powers provision.) Article 4 reads:
Section 1. The powers of the government of the State of Arkansas shall be divided into three distinct departments, each of them to be confided to a separate body of magistracy, to-wit: Those which are legislative, to one, those which are executive, to another, and those which are judicial, to another.
Section 2. No person or collection of persons, being of one of these departments, shall exercise any power belonging to either of the others, except in the instances hereinafter expressly directed or permitted.
Under Article 4 and the state constitutional nondelegation doctrine, the Arkansas Supreme Court has held that the legislature may delegate to the executive, so long as it provides reasonable guidelines and appropriate standards. "A statute that, in effect, reposes an absolute, unregulated, and undefined discretion in an administrative agency bestows arbitrary power and is an unlawful delegation of legislative powers." Op. at 10.
The relevant portions of the MEA read as follows:
(a)(1) The sentence of death is to be carried out by intravenous lethal injection of one (1) or more chemicals, as determined in kind and amount in the discretion of the Director of the Department of Correction.
(2) The chemical or chemicals injected may include one (1) or more of the following substances:
(A) One (1) or more ultra-short-acting barbiturates
(B) One (1) or more chemical paralytic agents;
(C) Potassium chloride; or
(D) Any other chemical or chemicals, including but not limited to saline solution.
Ark. Code Ann. Sec. 5-4-617 (Supp. 2011).
The court ruled that these sections violated the state constitutional nondelegation doctrine, because they gave the ADC "absolute and exclusive discretion . . . to determine what chemicals are to be used." It said that (a)(2) did nothing to rein in that discretion, because by its plain terms--"may"--it is only permissive. In other words, the ADC could use chemicals that fall into these categories, or it could use any other chemicals it likes. Moreover, a later subsection, (a)(4), "gives complete discretion to the ADC to determine all policies and procedures to administer the sentence of death, including injection preparations and implementation." Op. at 14.
Justice Karen Baker, joined by Special Justice Bryon Freeland, dissented. Justice Baker argued that several other states have tolerated similar guidelines in the face of equally strict separation-of-powers clauses. In any event, she wrote that the guidelines in the MEA were detailed enough to withstand the challenge under the Arkansas Constitution, and that state and federal constitutional bans on cruel and unusual punishment provided an outside limit to what the ADC could do.
June 22, 2012
The Legality of the Administration's Position on Immigration
In the wake of President Obama's announcement last week that his administration would exercise prosecutorial discretion not to deport certain young people--undocumented aliens brought to the U.S. by their parents--Republicans cried foul and accused the President of overstepping his bounds by violating the law and not just enforcing it.
Representative Steve King (R-IA) apparently moved one step closer to filing a lawsuit to stop the administration's move, citing separation-of-powers concerns. Although we haven't seen a complaint yet, Rep. King argues, according to the Daily Caller, that the President's move was "constitutional overreach." According to King:
If he can do this by memorandum, then he can raise the debt limit by the same standard. He could argue that he's not going to audit nor enforce tax collection on certain classes of people. He could do that by age group. He could do that by race, by ethnicity. The president can do anything he wants to do.
According to the story, Rep. King's "central argument" is that "the president has legislated by memorandum."
Rep. King's legal claims aren't particularly developed--they're bald, they overstate any slippery slope, and they're at least in part obviously false--but they well represent the kinds of claims we've heard from opponents of the President's move.
On the other side, a group of immigration and constitutional law professors sent this letter to the White House late last month, outlining three different ways that President might exert prosecutorial discretion under the law and prior practice. According to the profs, the President could use "deferred action," "parole-in-place," or "deferred enforced departure" to support his prosecutorial discretion not to deport this class of individuals. The profs argue that these methods are supported in both law and prior executive practice.
Indeed, Secretary Janet Napolitano's memorandum implementing the President's announced practice draws on deferred action, even if it doesn't cite specific authority (as the profs do). The memo is careful to emphasize "prosecutorial discretion," attention to "enforcement priorities," and case-by-case consideration, ensuring that the practice stays on the execution-side of that sometimes fuzzy line between lawmaking (reserved for Congress) and law-executing (reserved for the President).
The memo sets out 5 criteria for individualized consideration and says,
Our Nation's immigration laws must be enforced in a strong and sensible manner. They are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Indeed, many of these young people have already contributed to our country in significant ways. Prosecutorial discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here.
As part of this exercise of prosecutorial discretion, the above criteria are to be considered whether or not an individual is already in removal proceedings or subject to a final order of removal. No individual should receive deferred action under this memorandum unless they first pass a background check[,] and requests for relief pursuant to this memorandum are to be decided on a case by case basis. DHS cannot provide any assurance that relief will be granted in all cases.
Opponents, like Representative King, seem to argue that President Obama's announcement represents a blanket policy that thrusts into the lawmaking power reserved for Congress. But Secretary Napolitano's memo makes clear that this is no blanket policy; it is more like guidance to ensure that enforcement officers take the administration's priorities into account when determining whether to pursue deportation on a case-by-case basis. And the law profs' letter shows why this exercise of prosecutorial discretion is supported by law and past executive practice.
Also working against opponents: Both the House and the Senate last year introduced legislation, but then let it stall in committee, to rein in the President's authority to do exactly what he did. The bills, cleverly titled the Hinder the Administration's Legalization Temptation, or HALT, Act, H.B. 2497 and S. 1380, are both tied up in committees. The bills, by moving to rein in the President, also recognize that the President has prosecutorial discretion. Yet Congress didn't pass them, or even, apparently, prioritize them.
June 20, 2012
President Asserts Executive Privilege in Fast and Furious Investigation
The President today formally asserted executive privilege in the ongoing dispute between the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and AG Eric Holder related to the Committee's subpoena for documents from Holder related to Fast and Furious. The move comes as the Committee is considering a contempt resolution against AG Holder for withholding documents related to the Department of Justice's investigation into the program and its reaction to Committee and media inquiries.
The move means that the contempt resolution by the Committee will have even less effect in ultimately producing any documents than it might have had before the assertion of privilege. (And it's not clear that the resolution would have had any effect, anyway.) If past practice is any guide, the invocation of executive privilege ensures that the Department of Justice will not prosecute for criminal contempt. (Recall that the contempt resolution, as of yesterday, refers the matter to the US Attorney for D.C., and apparently does not seek authority for the Committee or the House to pursue a civil judgment in federal court.)
AG Holder asked President Obama to invoke executive privilege in this letter yesterday. In the letter, AG Holder writes that he is
very concerned that compelled production to Congress of internal Executive Branch documents generated in the course of the deliberative process concerning its response to congressional oversight and related media inquiries would have significant, damaging consequences: It would inhibit the candor of such Executive Branch deliberations in the future and significantly impair the Executive Branch's ability to respond independently and effectively to congressional oversight. This would raise substantial separation of powers concerns and potentially create an imbalance in the relationship between these two co-equal branches of the Government.
AG Holder wrote that the Committee's interest in the material didn't meet the standard to overcome an assertion of executive privilege--"demonstrably critical to the responsible fulfillment of the Committee's functions," Select Comm. on Presidential Campaign Activities v. Nixon, 498 F.2d 725, 731 (D.C. Cir. 1974)--because it's not obviously related to a legislative function of the Committee, because the Department already substantially complied with the Committee's requests, and because an internal IG investigation should assuage any congressional concerns that the Department is attempting to conceal important facts.
Deputy AG James Cole wrote this letter to Representative Issa, summarizing AG Holder's legal analysis and reporting that the President had formally invoked the privilege.
June 19, 2012
Issa, Committee to Vote on Holder Contempt Resolution
Representative Darrell Issa, Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is poised to move forward tomorrow on a vote on a contempt resolution against AG Eric Holder. The Resolution and Report cite Holder's failure to turn over documents that the Committee earlier subpoenaed related to the "Fast and Furious" program.
The move will likely have no effect, except to further publicize Issa's dispute with Holder. The principal type of criminal contempt proposed in the Resolution--in which the Committee refers the matter to the U.S. Attorney for D.C.--is unlikely to go anywhere, especially if Holder cites executive privilege (which he apparently has not yet done). The other kind of contempt possibly suggested in the Resolution--inherent contempt, where Congress relies on its own constitutional power to detain a contemnor until that person complies--is long dormant (and unimaginable here). The Resolution apparently does not pursue a third kind of contempt--one in which Congress seeks a civil judgment in federal court that the person is legally obligated to comply with a congressional subpoena.
Here's the language of the Resolution:
Resolved, That Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General of the United States, shall be found to be in contempt of Congress for failure to comply with a congressional subpoena.
Resolved, That pursuant to 2 U.S.C. Secs. 192 and 194, the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall certify the report of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, detailing the refusal of Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, to produce documents to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as directed by subpoena, to the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, to the end that Mr. Holder be proceeded against in the manner and form provided by law.
Resolved, That the Speaker of the House shall otherwise take all appropriate action to enforce the subpoena.
Here's from the Report's Executive Summary:
The Department of Justice has refused to comply with congressional subpoenas related to Operation Fast and Furious, an Administration initiative that allowed around two thousand firearms to fall into the hands of drug cartels and may have led to the death of a U.S. Border Patrol Agent. The consequences of the lack of judgment that permitted such an operation to occur are tragic.
The Department's refusal to work with Congress to ensure that it has fully complied with the Committee's efforts to compel the production of documents and information related to this controversy is inexcusable and cannot stand. Those responsible for allowing Fast and Furious to proceed and those who are preventing the truth about the operation from coming out must be held accountable for their actions.
Having exhausted all available options in obtaining compliance, the Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee recommends that Congress find the Attorney General in contempt for his failure to comply with the subpoena issued to him.
Committee Democrats issued a 13-page memo with dissenting views, concluding that going forward with Issa's contempt citation would be "an extreme and blatant abuse of the congressional contempt power that undermines the credibility of the Committee."
The Congressional Research Service recently issued a thorough report on Congress's contempt power. You might take a look at the appendix, starting on page 62, which details the history of Congress's use of that power.
June 15, 2012
D.C. Circuit Rejects Torture Suit Against Rumsfeld
A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit today rejected a U.S. citizen's Bivens action against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for developing, authorizing, and implementing policies that led to his torture while in U.S. custody in Iraq. The panel, following an earlier similar ruling from the Fourth Circuit, Lebron v. Rumsfeld, held that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy--special factors "pertaining to military, intelligence, and national security."
The ruling comes on the heels of the Supreme Court's rejection of the plaintiffs' cert. petition in Lebron and while a similar suit is now pending before the en banc Seventh Circuit. (A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit earlier ruled that the plaintiffs in that case did have a Bivens remedy against Rumsfeld.)
The case means that U.S. citizens won't have a civil damage action for constitutional violations against U.S. officials in the D.C. Circuit, even when the violations resulted from torture while in U.S. custody. With two circuit rulings now on the books--this case, Joe Doe v. Rumsfeld, and Lebron--and with a Seventh Circuit ruling against the plaintiffs now all but certain, and with the Supreme Court's rejection of cert. in Lebron, it now seems all but certain that other circuits faced with the question will follow suit, and that therefore U.S. citizens won't have a civil damage action for constitutional violations against U.S. officials anywhere.
The case also gives extraordinary authority to the executive to evade suits for detention and mistreatment--even torture--of U.S. citizens. Congress, of course, could change this by authorizing such suits. But don't look for that to happen anytime soon--or ever.
The D.C. Circuit ruling closely follows the Fourth Circuit's earlier ruling. That is, the court today ruled that the "special factors" of military, intelligence, and national security foreclose a civil damage remedy for constitutional violations by U.S. citizens. Here's the court's special factor analysis:
In his complaint, Doe challenges the development and implementation of numerous military policies and decisions. The complaint would require a court to delve into the military's policies regarding the designation of detainees as "security internees" or "enemy combatants," as well as policies governing interrogation techniques.
Doe's allegations against Secretary Rumsfeld implicate the military chain of command and the discretion Secretary Rumsfeld and other top officials gave to [military] agents to detain and question potential enemy combatants. The allegations raise questions regarding Secretary Rumsfeld's personal control over the treatment and release of specific detainees. Litigation of Doe's case would require testimony from top military officials as well as forces on the ground, which would detract focus, resources, and personnel from the mission in Iraq. And . . . allowing such an action would hinder our troops from acting decisively in our nation's interest for fear of judicial review of every detention and interrogation.
Op. at 10-11.
The court also found persuasive--another "special factor" counseling against a Bivens remedy--that Congress did not authorize such suits under the Detainee Treatment Act, or any other statute.
Because the court ruled against Doe on Bivens, it did not rule on Rumsfeld's defense of qualified immunity.
June 15, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Authority, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
June 13, 2012
Court Declines Review in Padilla's Torture Case
The Supreme Court on Monday declined to review an earlier Fourth Circuit ruling rejecting Jose Padilla's civil case against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others for torture. The move leaves the Fourth Circuit ruling untouched and will almost certainly influence the outcome in a similar case now before the full Seventh Circuit. The move also lends further legitimacy to the Fourth Circuit's approach--that separation-of-powers principles can be a "special factor" counseling against a civil damage remedy in federal court--or, in short, that the executive has something close to a trump card to shut down litigation against executive officers for torture of individuals while detained for reasons that the executive says are related to national security or terrorism.
The case, Lebron v. Rumsfeld, arose out of Jose Padilla's detention and torture. Padilla filed a Bivens claim against Rumsfeld and others for violations of his constitutional rights. The Fourth Circuit ruled that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy and that Padilla had other forms of relief (i.e., habeas). As to special factors, the court said that separation-of-powers principles counseled against a Bivens remedy--in particular, that military matters like this are the province of the political branches, and that courts lack expertise and risk upsetting the military command structure and intelligence-gathering activities.
The Fourth Circuit ruling is in tension with similar recent rulings by the Seventh Circuit and two district courts. The Seventh Circuit case, Vance v. Rumsfeld, was vacated and is now on appeal to the full Seventh Circuit. The Court's rejection of Lebron will almost certainly influence the outcome of Vance (as if the outcome needed any influencing) and other cases by U.S. citizens alleging constitutional violations against executive officials related to national security, terror, intelligence, and the military.
The Court's rejection also lends further legitimacy to the Fourth Circuit approach, which was an aggressively pro-government, anti-plaintiff approach. The Fourth Circuit reasoning all but gives the executive a trump card to shut down constitutional litigation against executive officials anytime the government says that the case is related to national security, terror, intelligence, and the military. This approach gives the executive nearly complete control over this kind of litigation, takes the courts nearly entirely out of it, and sharply curtails plaintiffs' remedies for constitutional violations while in custody for anything that the executive says is related national security, terror, intelligence, and the military.
While the Court's rejection of Padilla's cert. petition is certainly not a ruling on the merits, the rejection signals a constriction of Bivens actions--a signal that the full Seventh Circuit will surely read and apply in the Vance case.
Congress, of course, could change this by authorizing suits for individuals like Padilla (or Vance and Ertel in the Seventh Circuit) for constitutional violations against executive officials. But don't look for that to happen anytime soon.
The next chapter in this saga will come when the full Seventh Circuit issues its ruling in Vance v. Rumsfeld. Especially now, in light of the Court's rejection of Padilla's cert. petition, look for the court to reverse the three-judge panel and to reject Vance's Bivens claim. The only interesting aspect of the Seventh Circuit ruling will be how closely the court follows the Fourth Circuit's reasoning.
June 13, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Separation of Powers, Supreme Court (US), War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
May 29, 2012
Washington Judge Defers to State AG in Health Reform Challenge
Washington Superior Court Judge Sharon S. Armstrong denied the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, or in the alternative for a permanent injunction and mandamus, in Mackey v. McKenna, the state court suit by a group of Washington women against the state attorney general challenging the state AG's role in the Affordable Care Act litigation now at the Supreme Court.
As we posted, a group of Washington women sued state AG Rob McKenna seeking a state court order requiring McKenna to file corrective pleadings asking the Supreme Court to uphold the ACA provisions that protect women's health care, even if it strikes down the so-called individual mandate. The plaintiffs claimed that McKenna himself said that it was in the best interest of Washingtonians to invalidate only the individual mandate, and to leave certain other provisions of the Act in place--in other words, to sever the mandate. Yet he joined the state in the multi-state suit challenging the entire ACA, and the plaintiffs' position in that case that the mandate was not severable. The plaintiffs said that this violated his professional duties to Washingtonians.
Judge Armstrong rejected the argument. She wrote:
Had Attorney General McKenna taken the formal legal position that only severability could protect the interests of the State of Washington and its citizens, and then filed contrary briefing in the federal courts, he would have violated his ethical duty to faithfully represent the interests of the State of Washington and its residents, would have improperly relinquished control over his role in the litigation to other attorneys general, and filed an erroneous brief to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But here the court found that statements by McKenna contrary to his litigation position were merely "political statements by an elected official," and were thus "issues to be addressed in the political realm." In the end, Judge Armstrong wrote that the court "lacked authority to second-guess the attorney general's legal strategy in the health care reform litigation, whatever the wisdom of his legal strategy."
The ruling is hardly a surprise. The case was a stretch to begin with, and even the plaintiffs' requested relief wouldn't have changed the picture at the Supreme Court. It was really about holding AG McKenna accountable for his statements, and his actions. Judge Armstrong was clear: Any holding-to-account should go through the ordinary political process, not the courts.