Monday, July 18, 2016
Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle (D.D.C.) ruled last week in State national Bank of Big Spring v. Lew rejected a Recess Appointments Clause challenge to Consumer Protection Financial Bureau Director Richard Cordray. At the same time, the court declined to rule on the plaintiffs' separation-of-powers challenge to the Bureau itself.
The ruling is a decisive win for Director Cordray and actions he took during his period of recess appointment (before he was confirmed by the Senate). But it leaves open the question whether the CFPB itself it unconstitutional--a question that the D.C. Circuit could answer any day now.
This is just the latest case in a spate of challenges to Cordray's appointment and the CFPB. We posted on this case when the D.C. Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs had standing.
The plaintiffs argued that Director Cordray's recess appointment in January 2012 violated the Recess Appointments Clause. And they had good reason to think they were right: the Supreme Court ruled in NLRB v. Noel Canning that the President's recess appointments to the NLRB on the same day he appointed Cordray violated the Clause.
But Judge Huvelle didn't actually rule on that argument. That's because President Obama re-nominated Cordray in 2013, and the Senate confirmed him; he then (as validly appointed head of the CFPB) issued a notice in the Federal Register ratifying all the actions he took during his recess-appointment period. Judge Huvelle said that under circuit law the ratification cured any actions during this period that would have been invalid because of his invalid recess appointment.
But at the same time, the court punted on the plaintiffs' separation-of-powers challenge to the CFPB itself. That argument--which says that the CFPB invalidly combines legislative, executive, and judicial powers in the hands of a single individual--is currently pending at the D.C. Circuit in another case, PPH Corp. v. CFPB, and the court could rule any day now.
Judge Huvelle's ruling is a clear win for the CFPB and Cordray. But the real heart of opponents' claims against the Bureau are the ones now at the D.C. Circuit--that the CFPB violates the separation of powers.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
The D.C. Circuit yesterday upheld a lower court's dismissal of David Patchak's long-running attempt to stop the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band's casino in Wayland Township, Michigan, based on a federal law that stripped the courts of jurisdiction over the case.
The ruling ends this dispute in favor of the Band and its casino, with little or no chance of further appeals.
The case started when David Patchak sued the Interior Department for putting certain land in Wayland Township in trust for the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians to build a casino. Patchak, a neighboring property owner, argued that Interior lacked authority under the Indian Reorganization Act and sought damages for economic, environmental, and aesthetic harms.
The case went to the Supreme Court on justiciability grounds, and the Court ruled in 2012 that Patchak had prudential standing.
After that ruling came down, Congress enacted a stand-alone law that affirmed that Interior had authority to put the land in trust and divested the courts of jurisdiction over Patchak's case. The act, in relevant part, read:
NO CLAIMS -- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an action (including an action pending in a Federal court as of the date of enactment of this Act) relating to the land described in subsection (a) shall not be filed or maintained in a Federal court and shall be promptly dismissed.
The district court then dismissed Patchak's case, and yesterday the D.C. Circuit affirmed.
The court first rejected Patchak's claim that the jurisdiction-stripping provision violated the separation of powers. The court looked to the familiar distinction (recently sharpened by the Court's ruling in Bank Markazi) between a congressional act that applies a new legal standard in pending civil cases (which is OK) and an act that "prescribes a rule of decision" in those cases (which is not). The court said that this act falls squarely in the former class, even though Congress set the legal standard in a separate, stand-alone statute (and not the statute at issue in the case, the IRA).
The court next rejected Patchak's various individual-rights claims. The court said that the Act did not violate Patchak's First Amendment right to access the courts, because that right isn't absolute, and it yields to Congress's power to set the jurisdiction of the lower federal courts. The court said that the Act also did not violate Patchak's due process rights (because the legislative process provided Patchak any process that he might have been due) and the Bill of Attainder Clause (because the Act wasn't punishment).
Given the Supreme Court's powerful reaffirmation of congressional authority of federal court jurisdiction in Bank Markazi, the D.C. Circuit's ruling almost certainly ends Patchak's challenge.
Thursday, June 23, 2016
The Supreme Court today deadlocked 4-4 in the case challenging President Obama's deferred action plan for certain unauthorized immigrants, or DAPA. The Court's ruling in United States v. Texas affirms the Fifth Circuit's ruling in the case. (Our preview of the case is here.)
While the Court's non-decision today has no precedential value, as a practical matter it upholds a nationwide preliminary injunction against enforcement of DAPA issued by district Judge Hanen. The ruling thus effectively halts enforcement of DAPA and sends the case back to Judge Hanen for proceedings on the merits. Here's the Fifth Circuit's summary of its ruling (which, again, is upheld under today's 4-4 split):
Reviewing the district court's order for abuse of discretion, we affirm the preliminary injunction because the states have standing; they have established a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their procedural and substantive APA claims; and they have satisfied the other elements required for an injunction.
Note that the Fifth Circuit ruling doesn't touch the Take Care Clause issue--an issue that the Supreme Court asked the parties to brief and argue, even though the government didn't seek review on this issue. Note, too, that the Fifth Circuit upholds a district judge's preliminary injunction that applies nationwide (and not, as would ordinarily be the case, in the judge's district only).
We don't know the justices' positions on particular issues in the case--standing, APA--because the per curiam order (as is customary for a 4-4 split) simply says that "[t]he judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court." Still, this appears to be one of those cases where Justice Scalia's absence matters: he would have likely voted with the four (likely the conservatives, although we don't know for sure) to uphold the Fifth Circuit, creating a five Justice majority opinion that would have created precedential law.
The government may petition the Court (now) for rehearing (after a ninth justice is confirmed).
Friday, June 3, 2016
The D.C. Circuit ruled today in Friends of Animals v. Jewell that Congress did not violate separation of powers when it enacted legislation ordering the Fish and Wildlife Service to reinstate a categorical exemption for captive-bred animals under the Endangered Species Act.
The ruling is a blow to endangered-species advocates, because it permits the FWS to grant an exemption to the ESA's prohibition on taking or possessing an endangered species without going through the previous individualized-exemption application process. In other words, FWS can now grant a blanket exemption to all holders of captive-bred endangered species without publicizing individual applications and individual exemptions--and also without allowing interested parties to weigh in.
The case arose when the FWS issued the Captive-Bred Exemption to the ESA's general prohibition on taking or possessing an endangered species. The Exemption meant that all captive-bred herds of three antelope species got an automatic pass, without having to go through the individual-application process in Section 10(c) of the ESA.
But Friends sued, arguing that the Exemption violated Section 10(c) of the ESA. The district court agreed, citing the plain language of Section 10(c), which says, "[t]he Secretary shall publish notice in the Federal Register of each application for an exemption or permit which is made under this section." (Emphasis added.)
After the district court struck the Exemption, the FWS backed off and withdrew the Exemption. But then Congress passed "Section 127," which ordered the FWS to "reissue the final rule published on September 2005," that is, the Exemption.
Friends sued again, this time arguing that Section 127 violated separation of powers--in particular, the rules in Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc. and United States v. Klein. (These cases were on full view in the Court's recent ruling in Bank Markazi.) The lower court dismissed the case, and the D.C. Circuit today affirmed (although on slightly different grounds).
The court rejected Friends' argument that Section 127 violated Plaut, because Section 127 is prospective legislation (and not a retroactive revival of a dismissed case, in violation of Plaut):
Section 127 is not retroactive legislation because it does not establish what the law was at an earlier time. Likewise, Section 127 does not apply to a case already decided and does not overturn the court's determination in [the earlier case]--it simply alters the prospective effect of [the ESA's prohibition on taking or possessing an endangered species without an individual exemption] by exempting U.S. captive-bred herds of the three antelope species from the Act's . . . prohibitions going forward.
The court rejected Friends' argument that Section 27 violate Klein, because Section 127 simply "amends applicable law":
On the record before us, we have no trouble in concluding that Section 127 amended the applicable law and thus does not run afoul of Klein. Section 127 directed the Secretary of the Interior to reissue the Captive-Bred Exemption "without regard to any other provision of statute or regulation that applies to issuance of such rule." By issuing this legislative directive, Congress made it clear that, with respect to U.S. captive-bred herds of the three antelope species, individual permits are no longer required to engage in activities otherwise prohibited by [the ESA].
The court also held that Friends had informational standing, based on the language of the ESA, which says that "[i]nformation received by the Secretary as part of any application [for an exemption] shall be available to the public as a matter of public record at every stage of the proceeding." According to the court, this was enough for Friends, an endangered-species advocacy organization, to assert informational standing.
Monday, May 16, 2016
The Court said no. It held that "Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation" (emphasis added), but then sent the case back for determination whether there was a concrete injury in this case.
The ruling makes clear that if Robins, the plaintiff, can show a concrete harm, he will have standing. But it makes equally clear that Congress cannot simply create standing by authorizing a new individual cause of action. A plaintiff still has to show a particularized and concrete injury.
The case involves the congressionally-created individual cause of action under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Under the FCRA, Congress granted adversely affected individuals a right to sue reporting agencies for failure to "follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning the individual about whom the report relates." Robins sued Spokeo under the provision, arguing that Spokeo posted incorrect information about him on its website. The Ninth Circuit held that Robins had standing.
The Supreme Court today vacated that decision and remanded. Justice Alito wrote for the Court and held that standing requires both a "particularized" injury and a "concrete" injury. The Ninth Circuit analyzed whether Robins's injury was particularized, but not whether it was concrete. Justice Alito wrote that a procedural harm--like the one here, because the FCRA establishes a procedure for reporting agencies to follow--could create a concrete injury, but the Ninth Circuit didn't analyze this in Robins's case. Therefore, the Court remanded to the Ninth Circuit to determine whether Robins sufficiently alleged a concrete harm.
At the same time, Justice Alito made clear that Congress could "elevat[e] to the status of legally cognizable injuries concrete, de facto injuries that were previously inadequate in law." But if so, a plaintiff still has to sufficiently allege both particularized and concrete injuries to meet the Article III standing requirement. This means that a plaintiff alleging a procedural injury alone wouldn't have standing, but a plaintiff alleging a procedural injury with a concrete and particularized harm would.
Congress' role in identifying and elevating intangible harms does not mean that a plaintiff automatically satisfies the injury-in-fact requirement whenever a statute grants a person a statutory right and purports to authorize that person to vindicate that right. Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation.
Justice Thomas concurred and reached the same result by drawing on the difference between suits vindicating private rights and suits vindicating public rights. (Justice Thomas's "public rights" are probably broader than procedural claims like Robins's, and so this approach is probably more restrictive on standing.)
Justice Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justice Sotomayor. She argued that Robins sufficiently alleged a concrete harm, and that remand wasn't necessary.
Thursday, May 12, 2016
Judge Rosemary Collyer (D.D.C.) ruled today that the Obama Administration spent money on reimbursements to insurers on the ACA exchanges without a valid congressional appropriation. Judge Collyer enjoined any further reimbursements to insurers until a valid appropriation is in place, but she stayed that injunction pending appeal.
Because of the stay, the ruling will have no immediate effect on government subsidies to insurers (and thus no immediate effect on the overall ACA, reductions in cost-sharing for certain purchasers on exchanges, or any other feature of the Act). But if Judge Collyer's ruling is upheld on appeal, and if Congress fails to specifically appropriate funds for Section 1402 reimbursements, or if the stay is lifted, this could deal a significant blow to the ACA. That's because the Act would require exchange insurers to provide a cost-sharing break to certain purchasers on the exchange, but the government wouldn't be able to reimburse the insurers for those costs, as the Act assumes. This could drive up costs, or drive insurers off the exchanges, or both--in any event, undermining the goals of the ACA.
The case involves Section 1402 of the ACA, which provides reimbursements to insurers on the ACA exchanges. Those reimbursements are designed to off-set reductions in deductibles, co-pays, and other cost-sharing expenses that the ACA requires exchange insurers to provide to lower-income insurance purchasers on an exchange. In other words, the ACA requires exchange insurers to cut cost-sharing costs for certain purchasers; and Section 1402 authorizes the government to reimburse insurers for those cuts.
But Congress didn't specifically appropriate funding for Section 1402. The administration nevertheless provided reimbursements on the theories that 1402 reimbursements are part of the integrated package that makes the ACA work, and that 1402 appropriations are covered in appropriations for other provisions in the Act.
Judge Collyer rejected these arguments. In particular, she wrote that Section 1402 is separate and distinct from other portions of the Act and requires its own, specific appropriation--not an inferred appropriation, based on a holistic reading of the Act, or based on appropriations for other features of the Act. (Behind these legal arguments is the idea that everyone understood that spending for Section 1402 reimbursements would be covered by appropriations for other portions of the Act. But "everyone understood" doesn't get very far in court.)
Moreover, she said that the government's attempts to leverage King v. Burwell to argue that Section 1402 funding is a necessary part of an integrated ACA fall flat:
This case is fundamentally different from King v. Burwell. There, the phrase "established by the State" . . . became "not so clear" when it was "read in context." . . . Simply put, the statute could not function if interpreted literally; it had to be saved from itself. . . .
The problem the Secretaries have tried to solve here is very different: it is a failure to appropriate, not a failure in drafting. Congress's subsequent inaction, not the text of the ACA, is what prompts the Secretaries to force the elephant into the mousehole.
Judge Collyer's ruling is obvious not the end of this matter: the government will surely appeal. In the meantime, her stay (alone) should allow government continued spending on insurer reimbursements, and thus (alone) won't have any significant impact on the ACA.
Judge Collyer earlier ruled that the House of Representatives had standing to bring this case, but that it lacked standing to challenge another administration act, delay of time when employers had to provide minimum health insurance to employees.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
The Supreme Court ruled today in Bank Markazi v. Peterson that Congress did not tread on the courts' territory in violation of the separation of powers by enacting a statute that ensured that the plaintiffs in an enforcement action would get the assets that they sought (and therefore win).
The ruling backs off the rule in United States v. Klein--that Congress can't legislate a rule of decision in a case--and thus gives somewhat wider berth to Congress (relative to Klein) to enact laws that impact currently pending cases. At the same time, however, the ruling reiterates familiar limits on Congress's authority over the judiciary.
This is the case in which over 1,000 victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism and their families filed in the Southern District of New York to enforce their monetary judgments against Iran--through assets owned by Bank Markazi, the Central Bank of Iran, held in a New York bank account--for sponsoring terrorism.
While this claim was pending, Congress passed a law saying that, if a court makes specific findings, "a financial asset . . . shall be subject to execution . . . in order to satisfy any judgment to the extent of any compensatory damages awarded against Iran for damages for personal injury or death caused by" certain acts of terrorism. The law goes on to define available assets as "the financial assets that are identified in and the subject of proceedings in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in Peterson et al. v. Islamic Republic of Iran et al., Case No. 10 Civ. 4518 (BSJ) (GWG), that were restrained by restraining notices and levies secured by the plaintiffs in those proceedings."
In other words, the newly enacted law, 22 U.S.C. Sec. 8772, ensured that the plaintiffs in this case would get these assets, notwithstanding the Bank's defenses.
The Bank claimed that the law violated the separation of powers--in particular, that Congress overstepped by directing the outcome of a case, in violation of United States v. Klein.
But the Supreme Court disagreed. Justice Ginsburg wrote the opinion for all but Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Sotomayor (and Justice Thomas, for a part of the opinion). She wrote that Congress may amend the law and apply the amendment to pending cases, even when the amendment is outcome determinative. She then said that's exactly what Congress did here: it wrote a law that covers all the various post-judgment execution claims that were consolidated in this case. She said it did not create a "one-case-only regime."
Justice Ginsburg also wrote that the law related to foreign policy--an area where the courts traditionally defer to the President and Congress. "The Executive has historically made case-specific sovereign-immunity determinations to which courts have deferred. Any exercise by Congress and the President of control over claims against foreign governments, as well as foreign-government-owned property in the United States, is hardly a novelty."
Along the way, Justice Ginsburg backed off on Klein. She wrote that Klein has been called "a deeply puzzling decision," and that "[m]ore recent decisions, however, have made it clear that Klein does not inhibit Congress from "amend[ing] applicable law." At the same time, she reiterated familiar limits: "Necessarily, [the courts' authority] blocks Congress from 'requir[ing] federal courts to exercise the judicial power in a manner that Article III forbids," "Congress, no doubt, 'may not usurp a court's power to interpret and apply the law to the [circumstances] before it," and "our decisions place off limits to Congress 'vest[ing] review of the decisions of Article III courts in officials of the Executive Branch.'" "Congress, we have also held, may not 'retroactively comman[d] the federal courts to reopen final judgments." Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc.
Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justice Sotomayor, dissented. He argued, in short, "[n]o less than if it had passed a law saying 'respondents win,' Congress has decided this case by enacting a bespoke statute tailored to this case that resolves the parties' specific legal disputes to guarantee respondents victory"--and therefore violates the separation of powers.
Friday, April 15, 2016
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Monday in United States v. Texas, the challenge to DAPA, the deferred action program for certain unauthorized aliens.The case involves two core issues: Does a state have standing to challenge DAPA; and does DAPA violate the APA or the Take Care Clause?
Here's my oral argument preview in the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases, with permission:
On November 20, 2014, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, issued a memorandum (called “guidance” by the government) that announced “new policies for the use of deferred action” for certain aliens who are not removal priorities for the Department. The memo directed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) “to establish a process . . . for exercising prosecutorial discretion through the use of deferred action, on a case-by-case basis,” for certain parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. The process is called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or “DAPA.” To qualify, an applicant must (1) be the parent of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident as of November 20, 2014; (2) have continuously resided in the United States since January 1, 2010, or before; (3) have been physically present here on November 20, 2014, and when applying for DAPA; (4) have no lawful immigration status on that date; (5) not fall within the Secretary’s enforcement priorities (which the Secretary set out in a companion memo, and which include removing aliens who are serious criminals and terrorists); and (6) “present no other factors that, in the exercise of discretion, make the grant of deferred action inappropriate.” The Secretary’s memo also expanded the criteria for deferred action under the earlier 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or “DACA.”
The Secretary’s memo explained that DAPA would reach “hard-working people who have become integrated members of American society,” have not committed serious crimes, and “are extremely unlikely to be deported” given the Department’s “limited enforcement resources.” Moreover, it would advance “this Nation’s security and economic interests and make common sense, because [it] encourage[s] these people to come out of the shadows, submit to background checks, pay fees, apply for work authorization . . . and be counted.” The memo emphasized that DAPA does not establish any right to deferred action, and that deferred action “does not confer any form of legal status” and “may be terminated at any time at the agency’s discretion.”
Under longstanding federal law, which recognizes deferred action, an alien with deferred action may apply for work authorization based on economic need. In addition, an alien with deferred action may qualify for certain federal earned-benefit programs that come with lawful work, such as Social Security retirement and disability, Medicare, and railroad-worker programs. But an alien with deferred action is not eligible to receive food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, temporary aid for need families, and many other federal public benefits. And an alien with deferred action is not eligible for any “[s]tate or local public benefit,” although states may voluntarily extend certain benefits to aliens with deferred action. For example, Texas voluntarily permitted an alien with deferred action to apply for and receive a driver’s license, which Texas subsidized.
On December 3, 2014, Texas and other states sued the Department, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against implementation of DAPA. The plaintiffs alleged that DAPA violated the Take Care Clause of the Constitution and the Administrative Procedures Act. The district court entered a nationwide preliminary injunction against implementation of DAPA.
A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court ruled that at least one plaintiff, Texas, had standing, because state law would require it to subsidize a driver’s license for an alien with deferred action under DAPA. The court also ruled that the plaintiffs were substantially likely to succeed on their claim that the Department should have used notice-and-comment rulemaking (and not a mere memo by the Director) to implement DAPA. Finally, the court ruled that DAPA was “manifestly contrary” to the Immigration and Naturalization Act.
This appeal followed.
The case involves two principal issues. Let’s take them one at a time.
Under Article III of the Constitution, in order to bring this case in federal court, at least one state has to show (1) that it suffered an actual or imminent “injury in fact,” (2) that DAPA caused, or will cause, the injury, and (3) that the lawsuit will redress the injury. Moreover, in order to sue under the APA, the states’ interests have to fall within the “zone of interests” of the relevant statute, here the INA. The parties frame their arguments around these rules.
The government argues first that no state has Article III standing, because DAPA does not directly injure the states or require them to do anything. The government says that any injury that DAPA causes the states is only indirect and incidental, and that states cannot establish standing on the basis of an indirect or incidental injury from the operation of immigration law (which the Constitution assigns exclusively to the federal government). Moreover, the government asserts that the claimed injury here, Texas’s costs in subsidizing temporary visitor driver’s licenses for aliens, is entirely self-imposed. The government contends that recognizing these kinds of injuries would permit states to force cases over a wide swath of federal programs, essentially allowing states to challenge the federal government at nearly every turn.
The government argues next that the states cannot sue under the APA, because their interests are not within the zone of interests under the INA. The government says that the states’ asserted interests—“reserving jobs for those lawfully entitled to work” and “comment[ing] on administrative decisionmaking”—are different than their interests in Article III standing (discussed above), and that they therefore impermissibly mix-and-match their interests for standing and APA purposes. The government also claims that the states’ asserted interests for their APA challenge, if accepted, would effectively eliminate the zone-of-interest requirement under the INA and open the door to a federal suit by any state that is unhappy with federal immigration policy.
Finally, the government argues that the executive’s enforcement discretion, including the enforcement discretion reflected in DAPA, is traditionally immune from judicial review. The government says that the decision to permit aliens to work, as an attribute of enforcement discretion, is similarly unreviewable in court.
The states argue that they have Article III standing, because DAPA requires at least one of them, Texas, to incur costs in subsidizing driver’s licenses. The states say that this injury is legitimate and not manufactured (because the driver’s license subsidy was already on the books), and therefore satisfies the Article III injury requirement. The states contend that DAPA also requires them to incur costs related to healthcare, education, and law enforcement. And they assert that they have standing to protect their citizens from “labor-market distortions, such as those caused by granting work authorization to millions of unauthorized aliens.” The states contend that they are entitled to “special solicitude” in the standing analysis under Massachusetts v. EPA. 549 U.S. 497 (2007).
The states argue next that they can challenge DAPA under the APA, because their interests fall squarely within the zone of interests in the INA. They say that DAPA grants lawful presence and eligibility for work authorization and other benefits, the crux of their interests. They say moreover that the INA does not grant the Department discretion to do this. Thus, they claim that their interests fall squarely within the zone of interests protected by the INA.
Under basic separation-of-powers principles, Congress is charged with making the law, and the President is charged with executing it. This means that administrative action like DAPA cannot violate the INA. Under the APA, it also means that DAPA must go through notice-and-comment rulemaking, if DAPA is a new “rule” (although DAPA need not go through notice-and-comment rulemaking if it is merely a new policy). Finally, under the Take Care Clause, it means that DAPA must be a proper execution of federal law, again the INA. The parties touch on each of these principles.
The government argues that the INA provides the Secretary ample authority for DAPA. The government claims that under the INA Congress has directed the Secretary to focus limited resources on removing serious criminals and securing the border, and that DAPA, in deferring action for aliens who are not priorities for removal, is perfectly consistent with this. The government claims that DAPA serves the additional purposes of “extending a measure of repose to individuals who have long and strong ties to the community” and encouraging hard work, on the books, so as to minimize competitive harm to American workers.
The government argues next that DAPA has deep historical roots. It says that the Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service before it have adopted more than 20 similar policies in the last 50 years, deferring deportation for large numbers of aliens in defined categories. Since the early 1970s, each of these actions has also resulted in eligibility for work authorization—a practice that was codified in formal regulations in 1981. The government contends that Congress has repeatedly ratified the Department’s authority, with full knowledge of these policies.
Third, the government argues that the states are wrong to say that DAPA violates the INA. The government claims that the INA itself and past practice refute the states’ assertion that the Secretary can only authorize deferred action and work authorization for categories of aliens that Congress has specifically identified. Moreover, it claims that even the states agree that the Secretary could provide separate temporary reprieve for every one of the individuals covered by DAPA, so DAPA itself cannot be “too big.” And the government points out that longstanding regulations permit the Secretary to authorize lawful work for aliens covered by deferred action.
Fourth, the government argues that DAPA is simply a policy statement regarding how the Department will exercise discretionary authority—and not a binding rule that requires notice-and-comment procedures. Indeed, the government points out that no prior deferred action policy has been subject to notice-and-comment requirements. The government says that DAPA requires Department agents to exercise discretion in granting deferred action, and that DAPA is no less a “policy” than one that gives individual agents authority to be less forgiving for specific reasons in any individual case.
Finally, the government argues that the Take Care Clause provides the states with no basis for relief. The government claims that the Take Care arguments are simply dressed-up versions of their statutory arguments, and that in any event the Take Care Clause is nonjusticiable. But even if the Take Care Clause requires something different than the statutory analysis, and even if it is justiciable, the government says that the Secretary has complied with it by enforcing and executing the INA (for the reasons stated above).
The states argue that DAPA violates the INA. They say that Congress has to expressly authorize the executive to defer removal for whole categories of aliens, because this question is so central to the INA’s statutory scheme. But they claim that Congress has not done this. They also contend that DAPA flouts the 1996 amendments to immigration statutes that deny certain benefits to unlawfully present aliens whom the executive elects not to remove. And they say that DAPA would render meaningless Congress’s comprehensive framework, which “define[s] numerous categories of aliens that are entitled to or eligible for work authorization.”
The states argue next that DAPA is invalid, because it was promulgated without notice-and-comment procedures. The states claim that DAPA is a substantive binding rule, not a policy, and was therefore subject to notice-and-comment requirements. They say that the President compared DAPA to a military order and promised consequences for officials who defied it. They also say that it gives no discretion to Department officials in its enforcement. Moreover, the states contend that DAPA is a rule because it affects individual rights and obligations, using legislative-type criteria to determine whether an alien qualifies for substantial government benefits. The states assert that “[t]his change is immensely important to the Nation and requires at least public participation through notice-and-comment procedure.”
Finally, the states argue that DAPA violates the Take Care Clause. They claim that DAPA declares conduct that Congress has determined unlawful to be lawful. They say that this is precisely the kind of power grab that the Take Care Clause was designed to prevent.
At its core, this case is about the meaning and sweep of DAPA. By the Secretary’s reckoning, DAPA is merely a policy that guides the discretion of Department agents in enforcing the INA—the same way that any Department policy might guide an agent’s discretion, well within the discretion authorized by the INA. But by the states’ reckoning, DAPA is a new and binding rule that contradicts the INA: it represents the executive’s effort to change the law, not simply enforce it.
To sort this out, the Court will look at the precise language of the INA and DAPA itself, of course. But it will also look to other indicia of congressional intent to enforce the INA. These may include things like congressional awareness of and acquiescence to longstanding Department regulations that seem to assume that the Department may use deferred action, and which grant benefits as a result of it. These may also include congressional appropriations, which amounted to $6 billion in 2016. This was enough to deport only a small portion of the estimated 11 million undocumented aliens currently living in the United States, thus strongly suggesting that Congress intended the Department not to remove large populations of unlawfully present aliens. (The government points out that the Department has recently been setting records for removals in a year, but still only removing about 440,000 in 2013, for example.) Finally, the Court will look at the Department’s prior deferred action policies, which at different times since 1960 covered undocumented Cuban nationals after the Cuban Revolution, undocumented spouses and children of aliens with legalized status, individuals who sought lawful status as battered spouses or victims of human trafficking, foreign students affected by Hurricane Katrina, widows and widowers of U.S. citizens who had no other avenue of immigration relief, and certain aliens who came to the U.S. as children.
Here’s one thing the Court won’t look at: the Department’s actual enforcement of DAPA. That’s because the states filed suit before the Department implemented DAPA, and so there is no record of Department enforcement of DAPA. The states claim that Department agents will implement DAPA much as they implemented DACA, and that under DACA agents did not exercise discretion in individual cases (suggesting that DACA and DAPA are new rules, and not merely policies guiding individual agent’s discretion).
Aside from the merits, the first issue in the case, standing, could be dispositive. It is not at all obvious that the states have standing under Court precedent. In perhaps the closest case, Massachusetts v. EPA, the Court held that the state had standing to challenge the EPA’s failure to regulate greenhouse gases, based on the state’s loss of coastline due to rising sea levels (due to increased greenhouse gases). But Massachusetts is hardly on all fours with this case. Still, it will likely play an important role in oral argument.
But it’s easy to think that these doctrinal issues are really just cover for underlying policy and political disputes. On the policy side, the case raises the important and contested questions of whether and how to deal with some of the 11 million unauthorized aliens in the United States. In particular: Should we protect certain classes of unauthorized aliens from immediate deportation for economic reasons (because they provide a net benefit to our economy), humanitarian reasons (to keep families together, for example), or just plain fairness reasons? The case also raises the important and contested question of who decides—the federal government, or the states. The Court answered that question unequivocally in favor of the federal government just four years ago in Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. ___ (2012), the SB 1070 case. This case gives the Court another crack at it.
On the political side, the case is (obviously) yet another battle in the continuing war between Republicans and President Obama over immigration and executive authority. All twenty-six states that brought the case are led by Republican governors. (Yet at least one state that has a far more sizeable portion of the unauthorized alien population in the U.S., California, led by a Democrat, is notably absent from the suit.) Moreover, President Obama said that he initiated DACA and DAPA in the first place as a reaction to congressional (Republican) failure to take up immigration reform. The case is thus at the center of the ongoing dispute between a Democratic President who in the face of congressional intransigence has governed by executive order, and the Republican opposition that claims that this represents “executive overreach.”
The Ninth Circuit ruled yesterday in CFPB v. Gordon that Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Chief Richard Cordray had authority and standing to bring an enforcement claim against Chance Gordon, a California attorney and putative provider of home loan modification services.
The ruling is a win for the hotly contested CFPB and Cordray's authority during the period after his recess appointment but before his Senate confirmation.
President Obama initially appointed Cordray by recess appointment on January 4, 2012--the same day that he appointed three individuals to the NLRB by recess appointment, an act that the Supreme Court ruled invalid in Noel Canning. President Obama later renominated Cordray, and he was confirmed by the Senate on July 16, 2013. A month and a half later, the CFPB issued a Notice of Ratification, ratifying all of Cordray's actions from January 4, 2012, through July 17, 2013.
The CFPB filed a civil enforcement action against Gordon in July 2012, apparently in this ratification period. Gordon moved to dismiss for lack of standing and for a violation of the Appointments Clause. A split panel of the Ninth Circuit rejected his claims.
The court ruled first that Cordray's appointment has nothing to do with Article III standing, because executive enforcement is independent of Article III. The court explained:
Here, Congress authorized the CFPB to bring actions in federal court to enforce certain consumer protection statutes and regulations. And with this authorization, the Executive Branch, through the CFPB, need not suffer a "particularized injury"--it is charged under Article II to enforce federal law. That its director was improperly appointed does not alter the Executive Branch's interest or power in having federal law enforced . . . . While the failure to have a properly confirmed director may raise Article II Appointments Clause issues, it does not implicate our Article III jurisdiction to hear this case.
Moreover, the court held that Cordray's ratification cures any Appointments Clause deficiencies that might otherwise destroy the CFPB's enforcement action against Gordon. In other words, Cordray ratified all his prior actions after his recess appointment but before his Senate confirmation, including the civil enforcement action against Gordon, and that solved any problems that he might have had for actions taken during that period.
Judge Ikuta dissented, arguing that because Cordray's recess appointment was invalid, "no one could claim the Executive's unique Article III standing. Because the plaintiff here lacked executive power and therefore lacked Article III standing, the district court was bound to dismiss the action."
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
The D.C. Circuit ruled today in U.S. v. Fokker Services B.V. that a federal district court cannot deny an exclusion of time under the Speedy Trial Act for a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) because the court disagrees with the government's charging decisions. The ruling, a victory for both parties, reverses the district court's decision on separation-of-powers grounds and remands the case.
The case arose when the parties asked the court for an exclusion of time under the Speedy Trial Act in order to allow the defendant to meet the government's conditions under the DPA. (The DPA provided that the government would defer prosecution so long as Fokker met certain conditions over an 18-month period. But if Fokker failed to meet the conditions after 18 months, the Speedy Trial Act would have prevented the government to pursue prosecution. So the parties moved the court for an exclusion of time under the Act.) The court denied the motion, saying that it disagreed with the government's decision to charge only the corporation, and not its individual officers, with violations. Both parties appealed.
The D.C. Circuit reversed. The court said that "[t]he Constitution allocates primacy in criminal charging decisions to the Executive Branch," and that "the Judiciary generally lacks authority to second-guess those Executive determinations, much less to impose its own charging preference." So when the court denied an exclusion of time because of its disagreement with the government's charging decision, it exceeded its own authority and intruded into the prerogative of the Executive.
The court said that "we construe [the Speedy Trial Act] in a manner that preserves the Executive's long-settled primacy over charging decisions and that denies courts substantial power to impose their own charging preferences."
The case now goes back to the district court for an order excluding time under the Speedy Trial Act and implementation of the DPA.
Thursday, March 31, 2016
South Africa's Constitutional Court on Corruption, Presidential and Legislative Responsibilities, and the Constitution
The controversy at the center of today's unanimous judgment by the South Africa Constitutional Court in Economic Freedom Fighters v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others; Democratic Alliance v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others arises from "improvements" to President Jacob Zuma's private residence in Nkandla done at public expense.
Although the cost of "security features" can be born by the state, other improvements - - - such as the visitors' centre, amphitheater, cattle kraal, chicken run, and swimming pool involved in this case - - - should not be state-funded and should be personally paid by the President.
The constitutional questions in the case are not only about apportioning costs, however, but are about apportioning power in the South Africa government.
The South Africa Constitution establishes the "Public Protector" (sections 181, 182) as an independent entity with the power
a. to investigate any conduct in state affairs, or in the public administration in any sphere of government, that is alleged or suspected to be improper or to result in any impropriety or prejudice;
b. to report on that conduct; and
c. to take appropriate remedial action.
In this case, the Public Protector, investigated the allegations of "irregular expenditure" and issues a report in 2014 directing the President to make reimbursements and reprimand the Ministers involved in the expenditures; this report was also submitted to the National Assembly.
The President basically refused to comply and the National Assembly "resolved to absolve the President of all liability." Once the matter reached the Constitutional Court's exclusive jurisdiction, President Zuma essentially agreed that he would pay the costs of improvement. Thus, the decision in the case is not surprising.
Nevertheless, the Constitutional Court's decision is an important one. It strongly sides with the Public Protector and states that her remedial action taken against the President is "binding." Additionally, it finds that both the President and the National Assembly acted unconstitutionally:
The failure by the President to comply with the remedial action taken against him, by the Public Protector in her report of 19 March 2014, is inconsistent with section 83(b) of the Constitution read with sections 181(3) and 182(1)(c) of the Constitution and is invalid.
The resolution passed by the National Assembly absolving the President from compliance with the remedial action taken by the Public Protector in terms of section 182(1)(c) of the Constitution is inconsistent with sections 42(3), 55(2)(a) and (b) and 181(3) of the Constitution, is invalid and is set aside.
Jennifer Elgot has a good basic overview of the 52 page decision and background controversy in her piece in The Guardian.
Pierre deVos, Constitutional Law Professor at University of Cape Town has a terrific discussion on his blog Constitutionally Speaking.
Monday, February 29, 2016
Federal Magistrate Finds All Writs Act Not Sufficient to Compel Apple to "Unlock" IPhone in Brooklyn Case
Bearing remarkable similarity to the ongoing controversy in California often styled as FBI v. Apple, a federal magistrate in the Eastern District of New York today sided with Apple, finding that the All Writs Act does not grant judicial authority to compel Apple to assist the government in "unlocking" an iPhone by bypassing the passcode security on a iPhone.
In his 50 page Memorandum and Order in In Re Order Requiring Apple, Inc. to Assist in the Execution of a Search Warrant Issued By This Court, Magistrate James Orenstein concluded that while the All Writs Act as applied here would be in "aid of jurisdiction" and "necessary and proper," it would not be "agreeable to the usages and principles of law," because Congress has not given such specific authority to the government. Similar to Apple's argument in the California case, Magistrate Orenstein notes the constitutional argument:
The government's interpretation of the breadth of authority the AWA confers on courts of limited jurisdiction thus raises serious doubts about how such a statute could withstand constitutional scrutiny under the separation-of-powers doctrine.
There is no mention of the First, Fifth, or Fourth Amendments.
Magistrate Orenstein engaged in an application of the United States v. New York Telephone Co. (1977) factors, finding that even if the court had power, it should not exercise it. The magistrate found that New York Telephone was easily distinguished. On the unreasonable burden factor, the magistrate stated:
The government essentially argues that having reaped the benefits of being an American company, it cannot claim to be burdened by being seen to assist the government. See Govt. II at 19 (noting the "significant legal, infrastructural, and political benefits" Apple derives from being an American company, as well as its "recourse to the American courts" and to the protection of "American law enforcement ... when it believes that it has been the victim of a crime"); id at 19-20 ("This Court should not entertain an argument that fulfilling basic civic responsibilities of any American citizen or company ... would 'tarnish' that person's or company's reputation."). Such argument reflects poorly on a government that exists in part to safeguard the freedom of its citizens – acting as individuals or through the organizations they create – to make autonomous choices about how best to balance societal and private interests in going about their lives and their businesses. The same argument could be used to condemn with equal force any citizen's chosen form of dissent.
At the end of his opinion, Judge Orenstein reflected on the divisive issues at stake and concluded that these were ones for Congress.
But Congress will certainly not be acting in time to resolve the pending controversies. Unlike the California case, this warrant and iphone resulted from a drug prosecution and had proceeded in a somewhat haphazard manner. Pursuant to the Magistrate's request about other pending cases,
Apple identified nine requests filed in federal courts across the country from October 8, 2015 (the date of the instant Application) through February 9, 2016. In each, Apple has been ordered under the authority of the AWA (or has been told that an order has been requested or entered) to help the government bypass the passcode security of a total of twelve devices; in each such case in which Apple has actually received a court order, Apple has objected. None of those cases has yet been finally resolved, and Apple reports that it has not to date provided the requested assistance in any of them.
So it seems that the California "terrorism" case is not unique. Judge Orenstein's opinion is well-reasoned and well-structured and could easily be echoed by the federal courts in California - - - and elsewhere.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle (D.D.C.) dismissed a complaint by the estates of two persons killed in a drone strike in Yemen. Judge Huvelle ruled that the complaint, which sought a declaration that the strike violated the Torture Victim Protection Act and customary international law, raised a non-justiciable political question.
The case, Bin Ali Jaber v. U.S., grew out of a drone strike that killed five individuals in Yemen. The estates of two of the victims sued, seeking a declaration that the U.S. violated the TVPA and international law. The government moved to dismiss the case as a non-justiciable political question.
Judge Huvelle granted the motion. She wrote that the court lacked judicially manageable standards for judging the legality of a drone strike, and that the decision to order the strike was a "policy determination of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion."
Judge Huvelle distinguished Comm. of U.S. Citizens Living in Nicaragua v. Reagan and Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta--cases in which the courts held that tort claims arising from foreign policy decisions were justiciable--because the plaintiffs in those cases raised constitutional claims. "Because the judiciary is the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution, constitutional claims can require a court to decide what would otherwise be a political question, but no such claims have been made here."
Judge Huvelle recognized that her ruling was in tension with Judge Weinstein's decision in In re Agent Orange Product Liability Litigation--with claims "not materially distinguishable from plaintiffs'." But she said, "[O]f course, this Court is bound by the decisions of the D.C. circuit, not the Eastern District of New York."
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Check this out: Alden Abbott outlines the case against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over at Heritage.
The CFPB, an independent regulatory agency created under Dodd-Frank that's charged with doing just what its name says, has been subject to a non-stop barrage of attacks from the right ever since its creation--for policy reasons, and for violations of separation of powers. Abbott summarizes the latter, drawing on Free Enterprise Fund:
The Free Enterprise Fund case strongly indicates that the CFPB's degree of independence goes beyond constitutionally acceptable norms.
First, the CFPB is more than one level removed from presidential oversight. Its director is independent from management supervision by the institution within which the bureau sits--the Federal Reserve System--and the Federal Reserve System is independent from presidential control.
Second, the bureau's independence from congressional appropriations or budgetary review prevents Congress from exercising its key means of oversight: the power of the purse.
Taken as a whole, these features grant the bureau greater autonomy than is allowed to any regulatory institution whose structure has been reviewed by the Court.
But neither feature of the CFPB is problematic. As to supervisory independence, Abbott's claim is simply wrong, on his own terms. He earlier says, correctly, that the head of the CFPB serves for five years, and can be removed by the President for cause. This isn't the kind of double-insulation that the Court found offensive in Free Enterprise Fund; instead, it's a direct line of accountability to the President that the Court has long approved. It doesn't matter that the CFPB sits within the Federal Reserve System, because the head of the CFPB answers to the President.
As to financial independence, it's hardly novel for an agency to self-fund outside the regular appropriations process, through fees or fines. Indeed, the Congressional Research Service says (correctly) that CFPB's funding--which comes from the Fed's combined earnings (and not regular appropriations)--"give the Bureau less flexibility than the OCC, FDIC, and other banking regulators that are able to increase assessments on the institutions within their jurisdiction to raise revenue, as needed to carry out their responsibilities." And Congress still has oversight: the CFPB reports regularly and is subject to audits by the Comptroller General, and the director must testify at least twice a year before Congress.
We'll continue to see challenges to the CFPB in the courts. But unless the Court changes its approach to independent agencies, or unless Congress changes things, don't expect the CFPB to go away.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Check out the ACSBlog, where Prof. Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia (Penn State) writes about her new book, Beyond Deportation: The Role of Prosecutorial Direscretion in Immigration Cases. With the Court's review of DAPA looming, Prof. Wadhia writes, "As law students and scholars grapple with the wave of headlines or latest litigation question faced by the courts on the question of prosecutorial discretion, my hope is that they gain a better understanding of the historical role of and legal foundation for prosecutorial discretion in immigration cases and the extent to which compassion has served as the foundation for how such decisions are made."
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Judge Amy Berman Jackson (D.D.C.) yesterday ordered the Attorney General to turn over certain post-February 4, 2011, documents generated in the executive branch over how to respond to congressional inquiries into the Fast and Furious program.
But don't chalk this up as a win for Congress. Judge Jackson ruled that the documents had to be turned over because the government had already revealed much of the content, in the publicly-available DOJ Inspector General report on the program, and not because they weren't otherwise protected by executive privilege.
If anything, this ruling is a win for the administration. That's because Judge Jackson ruled that documents related to how the government would respond to congressional and press inquiries were covered by deliberative process privilege--even if they failed the balance (but only because the government had already released their content).
In the end, though, maybe "split decision" best describes the ruling.
Judge Jackson's ruling is just the latest in the long-running dispute between the House Committee on Oversight and the administration. Recall that the Committee sought administration documents related to the Fast and Furious program, including post-February 4, 2011, documents discussing how the administration should respond to congressional requests for documents. (February 4, 2011, is significant, because that's the date when DOJ denied that it used the gun-walking tactic. DOJ later acknowledged the program. The Committee then expanded its investigation to include the circumstances of DOJ's initial denial, and why it took so long to tell Congress that its initial denial was wrong.)
Judge Jackson ruled that post-February 4, 2011, documents related to how the government would respond to congressional inquiries were protected under the deliberative process prong of executive privilege. (Under D.C. Circuit law, deliberative process covers communications between executive branch officials other than the President that are "crucial to fulfillment of the unique role and responsibilities of the executive branch." (Traditional executive privilege covers communications only between executive branch officials and the President.)) That's because they were both predecisional and deliberative, and fell within the kinds of communications that were covered under other circuit rulings. She also said that DOJ's list of those documents sufficiently showed that they were covered by the deliberative process privilege.
But coverage doesn't end the inquiry. The deliberative process privilege (like its parent executive privilege) is a qualified privilege, which means that the courts balance the government's interest against any counter-veiling interest in obtaining the privileged material. Here, Judge Jackson ruled that the Committee had an undisputed counter-veiling interest in oversight and investigation, and that DOJ had already released the content through the publicly-available OIG report:
What harm to the interests advanced by the privilege would flow from the transfer of the specific records sought here to the Committee when the Department has already elected to release a detailed Inspector General report that quotes liberally from the same records? The Department has already laid bare the records of its internal deliberations--and even published portions of interviews revealing its officials' thoughts and impressions about those records. While the defense has succeeded in making its case for the general legal principle that deliberative materials--including the sorts of materials at issue here--deserve protection even in the face of a Congressional subpoena, it can point to no particular harm that could flow from compliance with this subpoena, for these records, that it did not already bring about itself.
Judge Jackson also ordered DOJ to turn over eight documents over which DOJ asserted no privilege. She declined to order DOJ to turn over yet other post-February 4, 2011, documents that the parties are still wrangling over. (They can't agree on the scope of the Committee's request, and the court declined to intervene.)
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
The Supreme Court today agreed to hear Texas v. United States, the case testing President Obama's deferred action program for parents of Americans and lawful permanent residents, or DAPA.
We posted on the Fifth Circuit's ruling here, including a summary of the arguments and analysis.
The case arose when Texas and twenty-five other states sued the federal government, arguing that DHS violated federal law (the Immigration and Naturalization Act) and the Take Care Clause of the Constitution, and failed to use APA notice-and-comment rulemaking, in adopting DAPA. A district court issued a nationwide injunction, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the states had a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their INA and APA claims (but not ruling on the Take Care Clause claim). The courts also ruled that the plaintiffs had standing.
The government sought review at the Supreme Court, and today the Court agreed to hear the case. The issues include the INA and APA claims, and standing, and the Take Care Clause claim. This last one is a bit of a surprise, given that the Fifth Circuit did not rule on it. (The Court in its order today asked the parties to argue the issue.)
The Court could resolve the case on standing alone, by concluding that the states lack standing. After all, Texas's standing theory is hardly rock solid: it's based on Texas's costs in issuing drivers licenses to DAPA beneficiaries. But that's a voluntary cost--Texas doesn't have to issue the licenses in the first place. Moreover, plaintiffs don't usually have standing to challenge an executive lack of enforcement. A ruling against the plaintiffs on standing seems highly unlikely, however, especially now that the Court has asked for briefing on the Take Care question. It seems that the Court--or at least four Justices--want to get to the merits.
The case could affect the fates of about four million people and their children. It'll also be a significant addition to the Court's jurisprudence on standing and the Take Care Clause, and executive authority under the INA and APA notice-and-comment rulemaking.
Finally, it could have significant play in the presidential election: the Court will likely hear arguments in April and issue an opinion in June.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
Here's one way to oppose President Obama's recent executive actions to reduce gun violence (or any other federal action you don't like): Exempt your state from them.
That's just what Arizona HB 2024 does. It prohibits the use of any state funds or resources "to enforce, administer or cooperate with an executive order issued by the President of the United States that is not in pursuance of the Constitution of the United States and that has not been affirmed by a vote of the Congress of the United States and signed into law as prescribed by the Constitution of the United States." HB 2024 also prohibits the use of state funds and resources to enforce any federal administrative action not "affirmed by a vote of the Congress," and any Supreme Court ruling not "affirmed by a vote of Congress."
But HB 2024 (obviously) runs head-on into the Supremacy Clause. So it's only a political statement. But even so, it's an awfully weak one: It fundamentally misunderstands the separation of powers, in particular the President's role in enforcing the law and the Supreme Court's role in interpreting and applying the law.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Amy Goodman hosted a debate between John Velleco, director of federal affairs for Gun Owners of America, and Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society, on the separation-of-powers issues in President Obama's executive actions to control gun violence:
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
President Obama's executive actions to control gun violence are drawing predictable Second Amendment howls. But there's another constitutional claim against President Obama's actions--that President Obama overreached and violated the separation of powers.
The emerging separation-of-powers claim focuses on the President's attempt to clarify statutory language, in particular, which gun sellers are "engaged in the business of dealing firearms" under federal law. Sellers so engaged have to get a federal license and conduct background checks on purchasers.
Firearms dealers certainly qualify; individuals selling guns don't. But that leaves a big grey area and allows many sellers to avoid federal licensing and background checks, even if they sell a lot of guns. President Obama's actions are designed to give some guidance to federal regulators and law enforcement on who is "engaged in the business of dealing firearms," so that more sellers who sell many guns (but have previously flown under the regulatory radar) have to get a license and conduct background checks.
So: the President's action is either validly enforcing the law, or it's invalidly rewriting the law, in violation of the separation of powers.
Phillip Bump at WaPo has a nice, short summary of the positions.
Bob Adelmann, writing in the New American, says that the measure invalidly rewrites the law, and surveys the emerging arguments that support that position.
On the other side, law professors who urged President Obama to take action last month say that this measure is valid enforcement of federal law.
The law professors surely have the better argument. But the courts will soon have their own say.