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.
Friday, December 18, 2015
Judge Royce Lamberth (D.D.C.) ruled yesterday that the district court lacked jurisdiction over a Guantanamo detainee's habeas claim seeking his periodic review, as ordered by President Obama.
The ruling in Salahi v. Obama leaves Guantanamo detainees without a way to enforce the Periodic Review Board process set by executive order by President Obama.
Recall that President created an interagency process in 2011 to periodically review whether continued detention of certain Guantanamo detainees was "necessary to protect against significant threat to the security of the United States." Under EO 13567, every detainee was to get a full hearing every three years from a PRB, plus interim review under certain circumstances.
Salahi has been detained at Guantanamo since 2002, without charges, and has yet to have a PRB hearing (or even have one scheduled). He filed a habeas claim in the D.C. District seeking, among other things, a scheduled PRB hearing.
The court rejected his claim. The court said that "probabilistic" claims--that is, claims that only might lead to release--don't fall within habeas, and that in any event the EO didn't create any substantive rights that a Guantanamo detainee might actually enforce in court.
The upshot is that while the President may order periodic review, that doesn't mean that detainees can actually get it.
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
The full Second Circuit last week denied en banc review of its June ruling in Turkmen v. Ashcroft. That ruling allowed a civil rights case against former AG Ashcroft and former FBI Director Mueller, among others, by alien detainees held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York to go forward. (The June ruling was not a ruling on the merits, however.) The full Second Circuit denied review by a 6-6 vote. (H/t: Joe Dicola.)
The June ruling and the full court's denial of review are victories for the plaintiffs and, more generally, for access to justice. They deal a major blow to the government in defending detainee-abuse suits that arise in domestic, non-military detention facilities. But while the rulings are significant (to say the least), they may be short-lived. That's because the government is sure to appeal to the Supreme Court, and because the Court will almost surely take it.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
The Seventh Circuit ruled today that students who authorized the corporations who run the SAT and ACT standardized tests to provide their personal information to educational organizations lacked standing to challenge the corporations' sale of that information. The ruling means that the putative class action against the SAT and ACT is dismissed.
Along the way, the court also ruled that the Iqbal/Twombly heightened pleading standard ("plausibility") applies to facial challenges to standing under Rule 12(b)(6). This may raise the bar for plaintiffs in pleading and arguing standing. This portion of the ruling aligns with the approach in several other circuits; but it's in tension with the Ninth Circuit, which says that "Twombly and Iqbal are ill-suited to application in the constitutional standing context."
The case arose when ACT, Inc., and The College Board (which administers the SAT) sold personal information of students who signed up to take the tests. The students agreed that the corporations could share their personal information with educational groups (schools, scholarship funds, and the like), but they didn't know that the corporations were going to sell their personal information. (The price was small--$.33 per student per educational group--but would add up quickly for the defendants.) The plaintiffs argued that they were harmed by the sale because (1) they should have received some of the proceeds, (2) the sale diminished the value of their personal information, and (3) they paid a fee to take the ACT or SAT, which presumably would have been lower if they had not consented to the sale.
The Seventh Circuit flatly rejected these claims. The court ruled that under the Iqbal/Twombly standard, the plaintiffs' allegations didn't plausibly suggest that they'd been harmed. The court said that just because the defendants benefited doesn't mean that the plaintiffs were harmed for standing purposes: "Plaintiffs have claimed injury based solely on a gain to Defendants and without alleging a loss to themselves." (Although the court applied the Iqbal/Twombly standard, it looks like the plaintiffs would have failed even without it.)
The court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that their complaint gave rise to a reasonable inference that if they knew of the sale they would have conditioned their permission on receipt of a portion of the proceeds. The court said that the plaintiffs didn't provide factual support for the inference, so it didn't even need to get to whether the claim gives rise to a plausible claim of subject matter jurisdiction under Iqbal and Twombly.
In other words, it's not clear that the heightened Iqbal/Twombly standard mattered to the outcome at all. Still, the case says that the standard now applies to standing in the Seventh Circuit.
Monday, November 9, 2015
A sharply divided panel of the Fifth Circuit ruled today that states had a substantial likelihood of success on the merits in their case against the President's deferred action program for parents of Americans and lawful permanent residents, or DAPA. The ruling affirms a nationwide injunction issued by the lower court and means that the government is barred from enforcing DAPA across the country--unless and until the government files for and wins a stay and appeals.
The ruling is a win for plaintiff-states that don't like DAPA and a loss, though perhaps not unexpected (at the conservative Fifth Circuit), for the government.
The dispute between the majority and the dissent on the merits comes down to whether DAPA is really an exercise of discretionary non-enforcement (majority says no; dissent says yes) and whether DAPA violates federal law (majority says yes; dissent says no). The majority and dissent also dispute the states' ability to bring the suit in the first place, or their standing.
This ruling is surely not the last say on the question; this case is undoubtedly going to the Supreme Court.
The court issued four key holdings. First, the court said that the states had standing, and that the case is justiciable. Next, the court said that DAPA likely violated notice-and-comment rules of the APA. Third, the court said that DAPA likely violated federal law (the Immigration and Naturalization Act) and therefore violated substantive APA requirements. Finally, the court said that the district court was within its discretion to issue a nationwide injunction.
The court did not address the plaintiffs' Take Care Clause challenge.
As to standing, the court said as an initial matter that the states were due "special solicitude" for standing under Massachusetts v. EPA. The court went on to say that the states had standing because DAPA would require them to issue drivers licenses to DAPA beneficiaries, because DAPA would "impos[e] substantial pressure on them to change their laws" for drivers licenses, and because the states "now rely on the federal government to protect their interests" in immigration matters.
On the procedural APA claim, the court ruled that the states "established a substantial likelihood that DAPA would not genuinely leave the agency and its employees free to exercise discretion," despite conflicting evidence on the point, apparently ignored by the lower court. The court also ruled that DAPA is a substantive rule (and not procedural), because "receipt of DAPA benefits implies a 'stamp of approval' from the government and 'encodes a substantive value judgment,' such that the program cannot be considered procedural." As a result, according to the court, DAPA was subject to APA notice-and-comment rulemaking, and, because the government didn't use notice and comment, the states had a substantial likelihood of success on their procedural APA claim.
On the substantive APA claim, the court said that DAPA is "manifestly contrary to the [Immigration and Naturalization Act]," in particular, the INA's "specific and intricate provisions" that "directly addressed the precise question at issue." The court rejected the government's claim that DAPA is consistent with historical practice.
Importantly, the court did not "address whether single, ad hoc grants of deferred action made on a genuinely case-by-case basis are consistent with the INA . . . ." It only concluded "that the INA does not grant the Secretary discretion to grant deferred action and lawful presence on a class-wide basis to 4.3 million otherwise removable aliens."
Finally, the court said that the district court could issue a nationwide injunction, because, in short, immigration is a nationwide issue that calls for uniform regulation.
Judge King wrote a lengthy and sharp dissent, challenging the majority at each turn.
Monday, November 2, 2015
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Spokeo v. Robins, the case testing whether Congress can confer standing on a plaintiff by statute, even when the plaintiff lacks a sufficient and independent harm for Article III standing purposes.
The case is important for what it will say about access to the courts, and, in particular, class actions. The justices at oral arguments seemed sharply divided along conventional ideological lines, with progressives favoring access and conservatives, including Justice Kennedy, going the other way. If so, the case will take its place among the line of cases coming out of the Roberts Court that limit access to the judiciary and favor (corporate and government) defendants.
(Check out the outstanding Vanderbilt roundtable on the case, with six different takes, available here.)
The case arose when Spokeo, the owner of a web-site that provides searchable reports containing personal information about individuals, reported false information about Thomas Robins. For example, Spokeo reported that Robins had a graduate degree (he doesn't), that he was employed in a professional or technical field, with "very strong" "economic health" and wealth in the "Top 10% (he's unemployed), and that he's in his 50s, married, with children (he's not in his 50s, not married, and no children).
Robins filed suit, claiming that Spokeo's representations violated the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. He sought damages under the Act for a willful violation. Robins claimed that Spokeo's false report made it harder for him to find a job.
Justices Kagan and Scalia marked out the competing positions early in Spokeo's argument, and at times bypassed Spokeo's attorney (Andrew Pincus) entirely and simply argued with each other. At one point, Justice Scalia even intervened to answer a question for Pincus, and then told Pincus that it was the right answer. In short, Justice Kagan argued that Congress identified a concrete harm in the Act and provided a remedy for it; Justice Scalia argued that any harm was merely "procedural," because any harm was only Spokeo's violation of the Act's procedures (with no additional concrete harm). Here's a little of the exchange:
Justice Kagan: But did that procedural requirement--this is--this is exactly what Lujan says, "It's a procedural requirement the disregard of which could impair a concrete interest of the plaintiff."
And we distinguished that from procedural requirements in vacuo.
. . .
Justice Scalia: Excuse me. That--that would lead to the conclusion that anybody can sue . . . not just somebody who--whose information was wrong.
Pincus seemed to make an important concession in response to a question by Justice Kennedy, whether "Congress could have drafted a statute that would allow [Robins] to bring suit?" Pincus said yes, and proceeded to describe it--basically a statute that required a plaintiff to show a concrete harm that would be sufficient for Article III. If Justice Kennedy is in play, Pincus's softer position may assuage any concerns over an extreme position that Congress can never confer standing. The softer position also saves other statutes that have similar Congress-confered-standing provisions. (Justice Kennedy picked up this theme with Robins's attorney (William Consovoy) and noted that Consovoy's position of a Congress-created-harm (alone) seemed circular--but Consovoy didn't seem to give a satisfying answer.) At one point Pincus made another important concession: some plaintiffs might have standing under the FCRA, so long as they show an independent and sufficient harm.
On the other side, Chief Justice Roberts pressed Consovoy early on the limits of his argument--a point we're likely to see in the opinion:
Chief Justice Roberts: What about a law that says you get a--a--$10,000 statutory damages if a company publishes inaccurate information about you? . . . The company publishes your phone number, but it's wrong. That is inaccurate information about you, but you have no injury whatever. Can that person bring an action for that statutory damage?
Consovoy didn't have a response, or, rather, his response only opened new cans of worms. (Justice Breyer intervened and offered an interpretation of the statutory language that gives a cause of action to "any consumer who has obtained--who suffers from false information.") Chief Justice Roberts and Consovoy had a similar exchange later in the argument, too. Consovoy maintained that the FCRA was different than the Chief's hypotheticals, because the FCRA authorizes damages only for someone who was injured. He didn't seem to persuade the Chief on this point, though, despite Justice Breyer's help.
Justice Alito pointed to the record and argued that it didn't support a concrete harm. Indeed, he pointed out that nobody in the record (other than Robins himself) searched for him on Spokeo--a "quintessential speculative harm"--probably another point we'll see in the final opinion.
Chief Justice Roberts asked a different question--and a far more loaded one (politically, and constitutionally)--to the government, amicus for Robins:
Chief Justice Roberts: [L]et's kind of say your--your--Congress thinks that the president is not doing enough to stop illegal immigration, so it passes a law that says, anyone in a border State--so it's particularized--who is unemployed may bring an action against an illegal immigrant who has a job. And they get damages, maybe they get an injunction.
. . .
And I would have thought that the--the president would be concerned about Congress being able to create its own enforcement mechanism. I thought that you would be concerned that that would interfere with the executive prerogative.
The government tried to distinguish the hypo, but, again, counsel probably didn't persuade the conservatives.
November 2, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, October 26, 2015
The D.C. Circuit on Friday ruled in a fractured opinion that a U.S. citizen secretly detained, transferred involuntarily between countries, and threatened with torture by FBI agents did not have a claim for violation of the Fourth Amendment in federal courts. That's because "special factors" counseled against such a remedy under Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents.
The ruling means that Plaintiff Meshal's case is dismissed, and leaves him without a remedy. It also makes it yet even more difficult for plaintiffs like Meshal to get their cases heard in federal court.
The FBI originally detained and held Meshal because of his alleged connections to al Qaeda; it later released him without charges.
The court wrote that Meshal's claim involved a "new context" for Bivens--a strike against him right out of the gate:
Not only does Meshal's claim involve new circumstances--a criminal terrorism investigation conducted abroad--it also involves different legal components--the extraterritorial application of constitutional protections. Such a different context requires us to think anew. To our knowledge, no court has previously extended Bivens to cases involving either the extraterritorial application of constitutional protections or in the national security domain, let alone a case implicating both--another signal that this context is a novel one.
Because the case arose in a "new context," the court looked to special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy. And it found two, which, taken together, left Meshal without a Bivens cause of action: (1) the case involves "the military, national security, or intelligence," and (2) the conduct occurred outside the borders of the United States. The court also said that a host of "practical factors" counseled against a Bivens remedy, including requiring the court to second guest executive officials operating in foreign justice systems, unknown diplomatic consequences of the suit, and forcing the courts to answer hard questions about the extraterritorial application of the Constitution outside of peacetime.
Judge Kavanaugh wrote separately to especially emphasize the military, counter-terrorism, and foreign context of the suit--the "new context" that triggered the special factors analysis and weighted so heavily against a Bivens claim.
Judge Pillard wrote a lengthy and scathing dissent, dissecting the court's analysis point-by-point. Judge Pillard was particularly concerned about the blind judicial deference to the government's mere invocation, without reasonable explanation, of foreign policy and national security as special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy. She summed up the strange and deeply disturbing result:
Had Meshal suffered these injuries in the United States, there is no dispute that he could have sought redress under Bivens. If Meshal's tormentors had been foreign officials, he could have sought a remedy under the Torture Victim Protection Act. Yet the majority holds that because of unspecified national security and foreign policy concerns, a United States citizen who was arbitrarily detained, tortured, and threatened with disappearance by United States law enforcement agents in Africa must be denied any remedy whatsoever.
Friday, October 23, 2015
President Obama this week vetoed H.R. 1735, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, citing a variety of objections, including the NDAA's restriction on the use of funds to close Guantanamo Bay, to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, and to house them here in the United States.
In prior years, President Obama signed the NDAA, but issued a signing statement saying that the Guantanamo-closure provisions were unconstitutional.
But this year, he used those provisions--Sections 1031 through 1041 in the bill--along with other objectionable features of the bill, as a reason to veto. Here's what he said about restrictions on closing Guantanamo:
I have repeatedly called upon the Congress to work with my Administration to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and explained why it is imperative that we do so. As I have noted, the continued operation of this facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relations with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists. Yet in addition to failing to remove unwarranted restrictions on the transfer of detainees, this bill seeks to impose more onerous ones. The executive branch must have the flexibility, with regard to those detainees who remain at Guantanamo, to determine when and where to prosecute them, based on the facts and circumstances of each case and our national security interests, and when and where to transfer them consistent with our national security and our humane treatment policy. Rather than taking steps to bring this chapter of our history to a close, as I have repeatedly called upon the Congress to do, this bill aims to extend it.
At the same time, he said that he supported a provision imposing statutory restrictions on interrogation techniques and limiting techniques to those in the Army Field Manual.
Monday, September 28, 2015
The D.C. Circuit announced that it would rehear en banc a panel's earlier judgment vacating the military commission conviction of Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al Bahlul, an alien enemy combatant who one time bragged about his role in the 9/11 attacked.
A panel this past June vacated al Bahlul's conviction for inchoate conspiracy. The panel said that the conviction violated Article III because it was based on "the purely domestic crime" of inchoate conspiracy, which is not an offense under the international law of war.
The panel's summer ruling was a victory for al Bahlul and a blow to the government in conducting military commission trials. But the court's latest ruling gives it a second bite at this apple. The ruling vacates the panel's summer judgment and sets oral argument before the entire court for December 1, 2015.
Friday, September 11, 2015
The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that state regulation of attorneys who offer certain debt-relief services to clients violates state constitutional separation of powers principles. The ruling is quite limited, however, and does not extend to attorneys who set up a sham shop as a cover for a distinct debt-relief operation. (The ruling keeps the regulatory scheme on the books; it simply says that it can't apply to certain actual attorneys doing actual legal work.)
The ruling means that Connecticut attorneys who are really practicing law (but also providing debt-relief services) cannot be regulated outside the judiciary, but attorneys who are simply providing cover for debt-relief operations (without really practicing law) can be.
The case tested a Connecticut law that authorizes the state Banking Commissioner to license and regulate persons engaged in the debt negotiation business. Attorneys in this line of work are not exempt, except those who are "admitted to the practice of law in [Connecticut] who [engage] or [offer] to engage in debt negotiation as an ancillary matter to such [attorneys'] representation of a client . . . ."
A Connecticut law firm that enters into retainer agreements for legal services and an attorney-client relationship with clients, but also provides debt-relief counseling, challenged the licensing and regulation scheme on the ground that it's the courts, not the legislature, that regulate an attorney's law practice in Connecticut. The firm claimed that the Commissioner's attempts to regulate it intruded into the role of the judiciary and thus violated state constitutional separation of powers.
The court agreed. (Like many states, Connecticut has an explicit clause on separation of powers. Connecticut's says, "The powers of government shall be divided into three distinct departments, and each of them confided to a separate magistracy, to wit, those which are legislative, to one; those which are executive, to another; and those which are judicial, to another. . . .")
The court also emphasized, however, that a presumption that an attorney is practicing law (and not subject to Commissioner regulation) can be overcome where "the Connecticut attorney has failed to (1) exercise meaningful oversight over debt negotiation staff, (2) provide any genuine legal advice or other legal services, and/or (3) maintain a bona fide attorney-client relationship with the client." The court also reminded the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel of its "duty to regulate lawyers when they are acting as debt negotiators," and urged it "to monitor vigilantly their activities and fees in this area of practice."