Tuesday, November 12, 2019

SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments on Legality of DACA Rescission

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California (consolidated with Trump v. NAACP, and McAleenan v. Vidal) regarding the legality of the Trump Administration's rescission of the DACA program forestalling deportation proceedings against undocumented persons who have resided in the United States since childhood.

While the controversy implicates many constitutional issues, the argument before the Court centers on the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) regarding whether the rescission is subject to judicial review and if so, whether the rescission is supportable on the merits.  In part these questions revolve around the rescission memo by acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke (described by some as an "act of rebellion") and a subsequent June 2018 memo by DHS then-Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen (who famously resigned) regarding the rationales for the rescission.

One question is the extent to which these memos adequately considered the issue of reliance on the DACA policy.  The Solicitor General contended that

to the extent there are any reliance interests, they're extremely limited. DACA was always meant to be a temporary stop-gap measure that could be rescinded at any time, which is why it was only granted in two-year increments. So I don't think anybody could have reasonably assumed that DACA was going to remain in effect in perpetuity.

Yet some Justices seemed to question the assertion that reliance interests were limited. For example, Justice Breyer stated,

But there are all kinds of reliance interests.

I counted briefs in this Court, as I'm sure you have, which state different kinds of reliance interests. There are 66 healthcare organizations. There are three labor unions.

There are 210 educational associations. There are six military organizations. There are three home builders, five states plus those involved, 108, I think, municipalities and cities, 129 religious organizations, and 145 businesses. . . .

And they all list reliance interests, or most of them list interest reliance -- interests applicable to them, which are not quite the same, they are not quite the same as those of the 700,000 who have never seen any other country.

And more pointedly, Justice Sotomayor implicated the President in the reliance interests:

I think my colleagues have rightly pointed there's a whole lot of reliance interests that weren't looked at, including the very President of -- current President telling DACA-eligible people that they were safe under him and that he would find a way to keep them here.

And so he hasn't and, instead, he's done this. And that, I think, has something to be considered before you rescind a policy.

Yet even if the Court were to find a violation of the APA (a conclusion which is by no means clear at all), the remedy — remand to the agency — is problematical.

Justice Gorsuch gave the Solicitor General an opportunity to respond to the remand remedy, but the SG did not take up this invitation, arguing that the memos were adequate. Later, Justice Breyer asked the Michael Mongan, the Solicitor General of California arguing for the state respondents, whether it was just playing “ping-pong” to send it back to the agency reach the same result but do it differently. Mongan argued that the result was not a foregone conclusion:

We don't truly know what the agency would do if confronted with a discretionary choice. If they knew that DACA were lawful, there's a new Secretary, and the administration has expressed broad sympathy for this population, and they very well might continue the policy or stop short of wholesale termination.

In many ways, the arguments and issues here mirror the citizenship question on the census controversy,  Department of Commerce v. New York in which the Court did remand in its decision in June.  Whether or not the Court will follow a similar path is difficult to predict. 

 

November 12, 2019 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Oral Argument Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

District Court Strikes Trump Administration "Conscience Protections" for Healthcare Workers

Judge Paul A. Engelmayer (S.D.N.Y.) struck the Trump Administration rule designed to allow healthcare workers to decline services if they have a religious objection to a procedure. 

We posted on the final rule here.

The ruling deals a significant blow to the Administration's efforts to expand "conscience protections" for healthcare workers beyond what federal statutes currently provide.

The court held that the Health and Human Services rule exceed statutory authority, violate the law, and violated the separation of powers and the Spending Clause. The court held that it did not violate the Establishment Clause.

The rule provides, among other things, that a healthcare worker can decline to participate in a procedure when the worker has a religious or moral objection, that the worker's employer can't discriminate against the worker based on the worker's beliefs, and that HHS can revoke all HHS funding to any employer who violates these provisions. HHS purportedly adopted the rule under authority of 30 statutory provisions that recognize the right of an individual or entity to abstain from participation in medical procedures. 

The court ruled that the sweeping rule went well beyond HHS's statutory authority, and that the agency therefore exceeded its statutory authority in enacting the rule. It also held that the rule violates Title VII and the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. And it held that HHS's reasons for enacting the rule were not sufficient (among other things, "HHS's central factual claim of a 'significant increase' of complaints of Conscience Provision violations is flatly untrue."); that HHS's explanation for changing course was insufficient; and that HHS failed to consider the rule's application to medical emergencies and its interplay (and conflict with) Title VII. Finally, the court held that the rule's sweeping definition of "discrimination" "was not a logical outgrowth of the Rule as proposed." 

The court also ruled that HHS violated the separation of powers by adopting a rule that allowed the agency to withhold all federal funding, exceeding the agency's authority under federal law. It held that the rule violated the Spending Clause as against state plaintiffs, because the conditions on receipt of federal funds are ambiguous and impermissibly coercive. 

However, the court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the rule violated the Establishment Clause, "because the Rule, on its face, equally recognizes secular ("moral") and religious objections to the covered medical procedures."

The court vacated the entire rule (and declined to sever offending portions, given that the APA violates "are numerous, fundamental, and far-reaching") and held it invalid as to any plaintiff. 

November 6, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Spending Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 1, 2019

Ninth Circuit Rebuffs Administration Effort to Clamp Down on Sanctuary Cities

The Ninth Circuit affirmed a preliminary injunction against the Department of Justice's effort to clamp down on sanctuary cities by imposing two conditions on recipients of the DOJ-administered Byrne JAG grant program. The ruling keeps in place the injunction against DOJ's "notice" and "access" conditions that are designed to encourage local governments to cooperate with federal immigration authorities to identify unauthorized aliens.

The Ninth Circuit ruling is just the latest in a line halting the implementation of these conditions. We posted most recently on sanctuary litigation here.

The case, City of Los Angeles v. Barr, tests the two conditions that DOJ put on Byrne-JAG grant recipients without specific congressional authorization. The first condition, the "notice" condition, requires a recipient to honor DHS's requests for advance notice of the scheduled release date and time of any detained alien held in a grant recipient's correctional facilities. The second condition, the "access" condition, requires a grant recipient to give federal agents access to correctional facilities to meet with detained aliens.

The court rejected DOJ's arguments that two statutory provisions authorized it to impose the conditions. The first, a provision in the Violence Against Women Act, says that the Assistant AG shall "exercise such other powers and functions as may be vested in the Assistant Attorney General pursuant to this title or by delegation of the Attorney General, including placing such special conditions on all grants, and determining priority purposes for formula grants." The court held that the notice and access conditions were not "special conditions" under the provision, "because they are not conditions triggered by specific characteristics not addressed by established conditions, as was the case for high-risk grantees under [Department regulations]." It held that they weren't "priority purposes," because "[t]he notice and access conditions are not included as purposes of the Byrne JAG award, nor are they purposes of either of its predecessor grant statutes." The court said that the first provision therefore didn't authorize the conditions.

The second provision, a section of the Byrne-JAG statute itself, authorizes the AG to obtain certain information and to require coordination with agencies. The court held that maintenance and reporting requirements applied to programs under the statute, and not to notice of a detained alien. And it held that the coordination requirement applied to "agencies affected by the program to be funded by the Byrne JAG award," not "DHS agents who are not part of a funded program." The court said that the second provision therefore didn't authorize the conditions, either.

Because no statute authorized DOJ to impose the conditions, DOJ lacked authority to impose them, and the court upheld a preliminary injunction halting them.

November 1, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Spending Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

D.C. Circuit Stays District Court Order to Release Mueller Grand Jury Material

The D.C. Circuit today stayed last week's district court order that the Justice Department release material from the Mueller Report that was redacted because it was part of the grand jury proceeding. We posted on the district court order here.

This means that DOJ won't release the material to the Committee--at least not until the appeals court says so.

The ruling is not a surprise--it simply maintains the status quo--and says nothing about the merits. The court ordered the Committee to file a response to DOJ's emergency motion by Friday, and DOJ to file any reply by next Tuesday.

October 29, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Former National Security Official Sues for Declaration on Congressional Subpoena, Absolute Privilege

Former Deputy National Security Advisor and Acting National Security Advisor Charles Kupperman sued late Friday for a ruling on how he should navigate between a House committee subpoena to testify in the impeachment inquiry and White House instructions not to.

The case is unusual, in that the subject of a subpoena seeks a ruling before making a decision to testify. More commonly, a rebuffed House committee has filed suit to enforce its subpoena. 

Kupperman's complaint sets out two questions for the court. First, the complaint asks whether the White House is right in flatly instructing him not to testify based on its now-familiar categorical assertion of absolute executive privilege. On the one hand, he says that the Office of Legal Counsel "has consistently opined that 'the President and his immediate advisers are absolutely immune from testimonial compulsion by a Congressional committee' on matters related to their official duties," and that "[t]he Executive Branch has, with few exceptions, refused to permit close White House advisors to the President to testify before Congress since the 1940s when the Executive Office of the President was created." On the other, he points out that the D.C. District rejected just such an absolute, categorical claim of executive privilege in Committee on the Judiciary v. Miers. But he notes that the court "further concluded that the Counsel to the President was not entitled to absolute or qualified immunity because the inquiry did not 'involve the sensitive topics of national security or foreign affairs.'" He also notes that the ruling was stayed pending appeal, and that it settled before the D.C. Circuit had a chance to rule.

Next, the complaint asks whether the committee had authority under House rules to issue the subpoena. He cites Rule XI, clause 2(m), which grants committees subpoena power "[f]or the purpose of carrying out any of its functions and duties under this rule and rule X . . . ." He notes that the rule doesn't specifically include impeachment as one of the "functions and duties," and that Rule X speaks in terms of legislative functions, not impeachment. But he also points out that the D.C. Circuit recently held in Mazars "that Rule XI, clause 2(m) authorized the House Oversight Committee to issue a subpoena in furtherance of an investigation into alleged misconduct by the President," but that Judge Rao dissented on this point.

Kupperman asked the court for a declaration on how to reconcile the competing demands and for expedited review.

October 26, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 25, 2019

Court Orders DOJ to Release Grand Jury Material from Mueller Report to House,Validates House Impeachment Inquiry

Judge Beryl A. Howell (D.D.C.) today granted the House Judiciary Committee's application for portions of the Mueller Report that were redacted because they were part of a grand jury proceeding. "Consequently, DOJ is ordered to provide promptly, by October 30, 2019, to HJC all portions of the Mueller Report that were redacted pursuant to Rule 6(e) and any underlying transcripts or exhibits referenced in the portions of the Mueller Report that were redacted pursuant to Rule 6(e). HJC is permitted to file further requests articulating its particularized need for additional grand jury information requested in the initial application."

The ruling deals a sharp blow to the Trump Administration and its attempts to protect grand jury material from the Mueller Report from Congress. It's also a clear validation of the legitimacy of the House's impeachment process. It doesn't plow any new legal ground, however. Indeed, the case is only notable because it rebuffs the administration's extraordinary claims.

Still, there's sure to be an appeal.

The case, In re Application of the Committee on the Judiciary, arose when DOJ refused the House Judiciary Committee's request for grand jury material from the Mueller Report. DOJ cited Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e). That rule generally prohibits disclosure of "a matter occurring before the grand jury." But it has an exception for disclosure "preliminary to or in connection with a judiciary proceeding." The Committee filed its application with the district court under this exception and requested "the grand jury information referenced in or underlying the Mueller Report as well as grand jury information collected by the Special Counsel relating to four categories of information pursuant to Rule 6(e)'s exception . . . ."

The court ruled for the Committee. The court first concluded that a Senate impeachment trial is "a judicial proceeding." The court said that the phrase "judicial proceeding" has a broad meaning; that an impeachment trial is inherently judicial in nature; that historical practice supports this reading; and that D.C. Circuit law "forecloses any conclusion other than that an impeachment trial is a 'judicial proceeding.'" 

The court next concluded that the Committee's investigation is "preliminary to" that judicial proceeding. It held that the Committee's "primary purpose is to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment," and that requiring anything more would result in the court impermissibly intruding on Congress's Article I powers. 

Notably, the court emphasized that the Committee's work investigating impeachment is legitimate and constitutionally permissible, and that nothing requires the House to adopt an "impeachment inquiry resolution" to legitimate its work.

Finally, the court surveyed the several reasons why the Committee "has a 'particularized need' for the requested materials,'" including why and how this material may relate to the Ukraine investigation and to any other possible grounds for impeachment.

October 25, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Court to Review CFPB

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a separation-of-powers challenge to the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Court granted cert. to determine whether the for-cause removal provision for the head of the CFPB violates the separation of powers. It then ordered the parties to brief whether the for-cause removal provision was severable from the Dodd-Frank Act.

We previously posted on the case, Seila Law LLC v. CFPB, here. Notably, the CFPB itself now joins Seila Law in arguing that the structure is unconstitutional.

The case tests the for-cause removal provision for the head of the CFPB--long a target of opponents of independent agencies within the executive branch. Opponents argue that the for-cause removal provision impermissibly encroaches on the President's authority to execute the law, because it prohibits the President from firing the head of the agency at will.

The Court has long upheld similar protections that create agency independence. But the government argues that those rulings involved multi-member bodies (as in Humphrey's Executor v. U.S.) or "inferior offices" that lack the independent power of the CFPB (as in Morrison v. Olson), so that they don't unduly encroach on the President's authority.

The attack on the structure of the CFPB is just the latest in a long line of challenges that draw on a strong version of the "unitary executive theory," set out most prominently in Justice Scalia's lone dissent in Morrison v. Olson. Justice Scalia's position has gained traction since Morrison, and this case may now make it law.

In a different case dealing with the same question, then-Judge Kavanaugh wrote for a panel of the D.C. Circuit that the CFPB's structure violated the separation of powers. The ruling is a robust endorsement of the unitary executive theory and a roadmap for opponents of the agency's independence.

The severability question means that if the Court strikes the director's for-cause removal provision, it could also overturn the provisions in Dodd-Frank that created the agency in the first place. That could have sweeping effects, even potentially nullifying the agency's prior actions.

The Court hasn't yet scheduled the case for argument.

October 22, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Court Strikes President's Reprogramming Federal Funds for Border Wall

Judge David Briones (W.D. Texas) ruled on Friday that President Trump's effort to reprogram federal funds in the name of a "national emergency" to build a border wall exceeded his authority under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019. The ruling further invites the plaintiffs to file for a preliminary injunction to halt the reprogramming.

The ruling deals a substantial blow to President Trump in his effort to shift around money to pay for his border wall. Still, this isn't the end of this case: it'll surely be appealed.

We last posted on these issues here.

The case arose when El Paso County and Border Network for Human Rights sued President Trump to halt reprogramming under his national emergency declaration. Upon declaring the emergency, President Trump ordered the relevant secretaries to reprogram $2.5 billion of Defense Department funds appropriated for Support for Counterdrug Activities under 10 U.S.C. Sec. 284, and $3.6 billion of DOD funds appropriated for "military construction projects" under 10 U.S.C. Sec. 2808. The plaintiffs argued, among other things, that the order violated the 2019 CAA. The court agreed.

The court first ruled that the plaintiffs had standing. It wrote that El Paso was the target location for the new wall, that it suffered a reputational injury (in President Trump's statements about how dangerous it is), and that it suffered economic harm--all because of President Trump's order, and which would be redressed by a favorable ruling. It held that BNHR had standing, too, because it spent significant resources to respond to President Trump's actions that would have gone to support its regular activities. The court ruled that the plaintiffs had standing to sue under Section 2808, because the government took steps to fund the construction of a wall.

As to the CAA, the court held that the reprogramming violates the plain terms of the CAA:

the CAA specifically appropriates $1.375 billion for border-wall expenditures and requires those expenditures to be made on "construction . . . in the Rio Grande Valley Sector" alone. Defendants' funding plan, by contrast, will transfer $6.1 billion of funds appropriated for other more general purposes--military construction, under Section 2808, and counterdrug activities, under Section 284. Their plan therefore flouts the cardinal principle that a specific statute controls a general one and violates the CAA.

In addition, the court said that the proclamation violates Section 739 of the CAA, which provides

None of the funds made available in this or any other appropriations Act may be used to increase . . . funding for a program, project, or activity as proposed in the President's budget request for a fiscal year until such proposed change is subsequently enacted in an appropriation Act, or unless such change is made pursuant to the reprogramming or transfer provisions of this or any other appropriations Act.

The court explained: "Section 739 prohibits Defendants' plan to fund the border wall because the plan is barred by that provision's general rule and the plan does not fall within its exception," because neither Section 2808 nor Section 284 is an appropriations act.

Although the ruling grants summary judgment to the plaintiffs on these issues, it does not grant a preliminary injunction. "Defendants have countered that Plaintiffs cannot obtain equitable relief against the President. The Court has requested additional briefing on this issue and will reserve judgment in this regard for a later date."

In light of the Supreme Court's ruling this summer staying a permanent injunction because the government showed that the plaintiffs had no cause of action to challenge a Section 8005 transfer, the ruling says nothing about the government's Section 8005 authority to reprogram funds for Section 284 counterdrug activities. It also says nothing about reprogramming Treasury Forfeiture Funds.

October 12, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 11, 2019

D.C. Circuit Says House Can Subpoena Mazars for Trump Financial Records

The D.C. Circuit ruled today that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform acted within its powers, and not in violation of the Constitution, when it issued a subpoena to Mazars USA, LLP, for records related to work performed by President Trump and his business entities both before and after he took office.

The ruling deals a sharp blow to President Trump and his efforts to shield his financial records. But the D.C. Circuit probably won't have the last say: this seems destined for the Supreme Court.

We previously posted on the case here and on a related case here.

The case arose when the Committee subpoenaed Mazars for the records. President Trump sued to stop Mazars from releasing them, and the Justice Department filed an amicus brief on the side of the President.

The court flatly rejected the President's novel claims that the subpoena exceeded the Committee's authority and violated the Constitution. In particular, the court held that the subpoena was not an invalid exercise of law-enforcement (as opposed to legislative) power, because the Committee's explanation for the subpoena on its face stated a valid legislative purpose--to inform "multiple laws and legislative proposals under [the Committee's] jurisdiction." Moreover, the court noted that the House actually has pending legislation related to the subpoena, thus underscoring the legislative character of the subpoena, even though this isn't required.

The court held next that the subpoena has a valid legislative purpose. The court wrote that the subpoena could serve ethics and financial disclosure laws that apply to the President.

The court wrote that the subpoena's reach--seeking information before the President was elected and before he even announced his candidacy--fell within Congress's legislative power, because it could consider legislation requiring a President to disclose financial information going back before a President takes office.

Judge Rao dissented. She argued that the subpoena serves only the Committee's interest in determining "whether the President broke the law"; that the Committee can only take up this kind of law-enforcement function in the context of an impeachment; and that because the subpoena was issued outside of an impeachment proceeding, it is therefore invalid:

The majority breaks new ground when it determines Congress is investigating allegations of illegal conduct against the President, yet nonetheless upholds the subpoena as part of the legislative power. The Committee on Oversight and Reform has consistently maintained that it seeks to determine whether the President broke the law, but it has not invoked Congress's impeachment power to support this subpoena. When Congress seeks information about the President's wrongdoing, it does not matter whether the investigation also has a legislative purpose. Investigations of impeachable offenses simply are not, and never have been, within Congress's legislative power. Throughout history, Congress, the President, and the courts have insisted upon maintaining the separation between the legislative and impeachment powers of the House and recognized the gravity and accountability that follow impeachment. Allowing the Committee to issue this subpoena for legislative purposes would turn Congress into a roving inquisition over a co-equal branch of government.

October 11, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Daily Read: The Contempt Power of Congress

The practice and the announcement of the White House that it will not cooperate with the House of Representatives Impeachment Inquiry as we discussed here, raises the question of the resources available to Congress to enforce its subpoenas.  And as in so many cases about Congressional matters, there is a Congressional Research Service Report for that: Congressional Subpoenas: Enforcing Executive Branch Compliance, updated March 27, 2019.  

The Report includes this overview:

Congress currently employs an ad hoc combination of methods to combat non-compliance with subpoenas. The two predominant methods rely on the authority and participation of another branch of government. First, the criminal contempt statute permits a single house of Congress to certify a contempt citation to the executive branch for the criminal prosecution of an individual who has willfully refused to comply with a committee subpoena. Once the contempt citation is received, any later prosecution lies within the control of the executive branch. Second, Congress may try to enforce a subpoena by seeking a civil judgment declaring that the recipient is legally obligated to comply. This process of civil enforcement relies on the help of the courts to enforce congressional demands.

Congress has only rarely resorted to either criminal contempt or civil enforcement to combat non- compliance with subpoenas . . . . 

[footnotes omitted].

Of special note later in the Report is a discussion of "detention" of executive branch officials:

Although rare, the inherent contempt power has been used to detain executive branch officials, including for non-compliance with a congressional subpoena. During an 1879 investigation into allegations of maladministration by George F. Seward while a consul general in Shanghai, a House committee issued a subpoena to Seward for relevant documents and testimony.254 When Seward—then an ambassador to China—refused to comply, the House passed a resolution holding him in contempt and directing the Sergeant-at-Arms to take him into custody and bring him before the House. Seward was taken into custody and brought before the House, where he was ultimately released while the House considered impeachment articles.

In another example which gave rise to Marshall v. Gordon [1917], the House adopted a contempt resolution directing the Sergeant-at-Arms to arrest U.S. Attorney Snowden Marshall for an insulting letter sent to a committee chair. The arrest was then made and quickly challenged in federal court, where ultimately the Supreme Court ordered Marshall released. In doing so, the Court reaffirmed the contempt power generally, but concluded that in Marshall’s case the contempt was invalid as “not intrinsic to the right of the House to preserve the means of discharging its legislative duties.” Notably, the Court was silent on whether Marshall’s status as an executive branch official had any impact on the House’s exercise of the power.

Given these examples, and the Supreme Court’s general statements on the reach of the inherent contempt power, it would appear to be within Congress’s power to use inherent contempt to compel executive branch compliance with congressional subpoenas, at least in certain circumstances. But neither the Seward nor Marshall example involved an assertion of executive privilege, meaning that the Court did not need to consider what, if any, constraints that privilege may impose upon Congress’s exercise of its inherent contempt authority.

Moreover, an attempt by Congress to arrest or detain an executive official may carry other risks. There would appear to be a possibility that, if the Sergeant-at-Arms attempted to arrest an executive official, a standoff might occur with executive branch law enforcement tasked with protecting that official. This concern is also applicable in the event that a judicial marshal enforces a judicial order of contempt against an executive official, and perhaps will always be “attendant in high-stakes separation-of-powers controversies.”

[footnotes omitted].

There's a great deal more worth reading in this 45 page Report as what some are calling a "constitutional crisis" unfolds.

CRS Contempt

October 9, 2019 in Congressional Authority, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, Political Question Doctrine | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

White House Blasts Impeachment Inquiry, Says it Won't Cooperate

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone sent a scathing letter today to House leadership blasting the impeachment inquiry and stating that the White House won't cooperate. Given White House intransigence so far, it's not clear that the letter will really change anything on the ground.

Cipollone cited two flaws: the process lacks due process protections, and the House has no "legitimate basis" for the inquiry.

As to due process, Cipollone claims that an impeachment inquiry requires due process, and that the House process falls short:

To comply with the Constitution's demands, appropriate procedures would include--at a minimum--the right to see all evidence, to present evidence, to call witnesses, to have counsel present at all hearings, to cross-examine all witnesses, to make objections relating to the examination of witnesses or the admissibility of testimony and evidence, and to respond to evidence and testimony. Likewise, the Committees must provide for the disclosure of all evidence favorable to the President and all evidence bearing on the credibility of witnesses called to testify in the inquiry. The Committees' current procedures provide none of these basic constitutional rights.

Cipollone also complained that the committees' ranking members lack subpoena power, and that "the Committees have also resorted to threats and intimidation against potential Executive Branch witnesses."

The impeachment process, of course, is a nonjusticiable political question under Nixon v. United States. So we don't have the Supreme Court's say-so as to what, if any, measures of due process are required. In the case that Cipollone cites as support for his claim that impeachment requires due process, Judge Hasting's impeachment, Hastings raised similar due process complaints about his trial in the Senate. But in a ruling not cited by Cipollone, the district court ultimately dismissed Hasting's complaint as raising a nonjusticiable political question under Nixon, and therefore did not touch on any process that might be due in an impeachment.

Cipollone's claims don't come in the context of a court case, though, so the political question doctrine doesn't foreclose them. Instead, they may cleverly put House Democrats in an awkward spot. The only practical way that House Democrats can get White House cooperation is to go to court; but if they seek to enforce a subpoena issued in an impeachment inquiry in court, the White House will surely claim that the case is a nonjusticiable political question under Nixon. Regardless of merits of that claim, unless the House can get the courts to enforce their subpoenas, the House will have to base its articles of impeachment only on evidence that it can obtain independent of White House cooperation, and, of course, obstruction. This may make it even more likely (if that's possible) that the House will impeach, but it also may make it even less likely (if that's possible) that the Senate will convict.

As to the lack of a "legitimate basis" for the inquiry, Cipollone argues that President Trump's call to President Zelenskyy "was completely appropriate," that "the President did nothing wrong," and therefore that "there is no basis for an impeachment inquiry." This echoes the familiar (and tenuous) constitutional claim that we've heard from the White House in nearly every congressional investigation--that the House lacks a "legitimate legislative purpose." It also begs the question: the whole purpose of an impeachment inquiry, it seems, is to get more evidence to discover whether there's a basis for going forward with impeachment. The House needs information from the executive branch to help it make that determination.

Cipollone's letter is a stunning rebuke. But in the end, it's not clear that it's much of a game-changer, only because the White House hasn't much cooperated so far, anyway.

October 8, 2019 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Political Question Doctrine, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 27, 2019

Does Congress Have More Investigation Power in Impeachment Proceedings?

Three House committees together issued the first subpoena under the House's impeachment inquiry, notably citing the impeachment power (and not oversight power) as authority for the subpoena.

The subpoena is significant because the committees twice previously requested the exact same information citing the commitees' oversight authority. The administration ignored those requests. The new impeachment subpoena takes away the administration's arguments for stonewalling congressional inquiries under its oversight authority and may test whether Congress has more power when it engages in an impeachment than when it engages in regular oversight.

The subpoena, issued by the chairs of the House Foreign Affairs, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform, is directed at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It seeks information related to President Trump's efforts to urge Ukraine to interfere with the 2020 election.

The subpoena letter begins, "Pursuant to the House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry . . . ."

The committee twice before asked for the same information, but citing only their oversight authority. Those requests are here and here.

The administration has now made a habit of ignoring congressional oversight requests, arguing that they (1) lack a legitimate legislative purpose, (2) violate its new and sweeping version of executive privilege, and (3) constitute law enforcement (not lawmaking) in violation of the separation of powers.

But by invoking the House's impeachment authority, the committee undermine those arguments (to the extent that they had any force in the first place). In an impeachment, there is no legislative purpose. Impeachment, as a significant constitutional check on the President, weighs stronger against a President's claim of executive privilege. And Congress is engaged in an impeachment inquiry, not law enforcement.

The administration will undoubtedly come up with constitutional arguments to ignore this latest subpoena, too. But the impeachment power seems to take away these three.

So: Does Congress have more authority when seeking information under its impeachment power? We don't know for sure. But Molly Reynolds and Margaret Taylor survey the arguments in this May 2019 piece over at Lawfare.

September 27, 2019 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Impeachment Explained

With the news that the House of Representatives has launched an impeachment inquiry, many of us could use some explainers or refreshers on the rarely-used constitutional process of impeachment.

First, the Constitutional text. The United States Constitution provides for impeachment and removal of office for the President and other Executive officers in Article II §4:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The Constitution divides the power to impeach and the power to adjudicate impeachment between the chambers of Congress, with the House of Representatives having the power to impeach and the Senate having the power to adjudicate the impeachment and effect removal from office.

Article I §2 provides:

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

Article I §3 provides:

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

The Constitution does not further detail the processes, but there is the precedent of previous impeachment processes, including those against Presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and William Clinton which were resolved at various stages and none of which led to conviction and removal. There is also the more frequent experience with judicial impeachments.

The Congressional Research Service has two excellent explainers on impeachment. First and of immediate interest is the report entitled The Impeachment Process in the House of Representatives.  It was updated August 2019, and although it is only 15 pages, it is an excellent and substantive discussion of the process and requirements.  A somewhat longer report from 2015 entitled Impeachment and Removal provides an overview including grounds for impeachment and trial in the Senate. As this report also notes, the question of impeachment has been held to be a nonjusticiable political question by the United States Supreme Court in Nixon v. United States, 506 U.S. 224 (1993), a case involving the impeachment of federal Judge Walter Nixon (not President Nixon, who resigned in 1974).

There have also been several good explainers in the media; here are a few:

Jennifer Haberkorn, Impeachment 101: How could Congress remove President Trump from office?, Los Angeles Times (May 30, 2019);

Ed Kilgore, The Impeachment Process Explained: What Happens to Trump Now?, New York Magazine (September 25, 2019);

Amber Phillips, What you need to know about the impeachment inquiry into Trump, Washington Post (September 25, 2019);

Charlie Savage, How the Impeachment Process Works, New York Times (September 24, 2019).

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September 25, 2019 in Congressional Authority, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Trump Administration Urges Court to Strike CFPB Independence

The Trump Administration urged the Court this week to take up a case that challenges the political independence of the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If the Court takes the case, it would likely deal one more significant blow to agency independence--or to abolish agency independence altogether.

Congress created the CFPB as part of the Dodd-Frank Act to regulate consumer financial products and services. Under the Act, the head of the CFPB is appointed by the President, with Senate confirmation, for a five-year term and removable by the President only for "inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office." The removal provision is designed to ensure that the CFPB head isn't subject to the political whims of the White House.

In a brief in support of Court review this week, the administration argues that it violates the separation of powers. In particular, the administration claims that the termination provision encroaches too far into the President's authority to supervise the executive branch. It distinguishes Humphrey's Executor by arguing that, unlike the CFPB, the independent agency in that case, the FTC, involved a multi-member board with staggered appointment terms, and with quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial authority. It distinguishes Morrison v. Olson by arguing that, unlike the head of the CFPB, the independent office in that case, the Independent Counsel, was an inferior officer. By distinguishing these cases, the administration tries to thread the needle and strike CFPB independence while keeping multi-member agency and inferior officer independence on the books.

But if the Court can't see its way to navigate these waters, the administration has another suggestion: overrule Humphrey's Executor and Morrison v. Olson. Footnote 2 of the brief reads:

If this Court were to conclude that Humphrey's Executor or Morrison requires upholding the removal restriction, it should consider whether those cases should be overruled in part or in whole. That issue is fairly encompassed in the question presented.

If so, the whole idea of agency independence could go away.

September 19, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 29, 2019

District Court--Yet Again--Rejects Fed's Approval of State Medicaid Work Requirement

Judge James S. Boasberg (D.D.C.) ruled today that the Secretary of Health and Human Services violated the Administrative Procedure Act in approving a state's proposed work requirements for its Medicaid recipients.

The ruling in Philbrick v. Azar comes just months after the court struck HHS's approvals for Arkansas's and Kentucky's proposed work requirements.Those rulings are now on appeal to the D.C. Circuit.

The government didn't change its position or arguments from the earlier cases, suggesting that it's banking on higher courts to rule in its favor and uphold the approvals.

Judge Boasberg ruled here, as in the earlier cases, that HHS didn't sufficiently consider the purpose of the Medicaid program--to provide health care for the financially needy--in granting the approvals for work requirements. The court noted that the requirements mean that Medicaid beneficiaries lose benefits, not gain them, in direct contradiction to the purpose of the program.

Here's the court's summary:

Plaintiffs argue that the Secretary's approval of New Hampshire's plan suffers from the same deficiency [as the Arkansas and Kentucky plans] and thus must meet the same fate. The Court concurs. On their face, these work requirements are more exacting than Kentucky's and Arkansas's, mandating 100 monthly hours--as opposed to 80--of employment or other qualifying activities. They also encompass a larger age range than in Arkansas, which applied the requirements only to persons 19 to 49. Yet the agency has still not contended with the possibility that the project would cause a substantial number of persons to lose their health-care coverage. That omission is particularly startling in light of information before the Secretary about the initial effects of Arkansas's markedly similar project--namely, that more than 80% of persons subject to the requirements had reported no compliance for the initial months, and nearly 16,900 people had lost coverage. The agency's rejoinders--that the requirements advance other asserted purposes of Medicaid, such as the health and financial independence of beneficiaries and the fiscal sustainability of the safety net--are identical to those this Court rejected with respect to HHS's 2018 approval of Kentucky's program.

The government will surely appeal this ruling, too, and try to get the D.C. Circuit or, ultimately, the Supreme Court to bite at its arguments.

July 29, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 27, 2019

High Court Allows Border Wall Reprogramming Funding, Construction to Move Forward

The Supreme Court late Friday granted the administration's motion for a stay of the district court's permanent injunction, affirmed by the Ninth Circuit, prohibiting the administration from reprogramming funds to build a border wall. The ruling is a significant victory for President Trump. It means that the administration can go ahead with its plans to reprogram funds and build portions of the wall.

This ruling doesn't end the case. But it strongly suggests that any further ruling from the Court will also favor the administration.

The case, Trump v. Sierra Club, involves the Sierra Club's challenge to the administration's reprogramming of $2.5 billion from military accounts to build a border wall. The administration moved to reprogram funds after Congress granted the administration only $1.375 billion (of the $5.7 billion requested by the administration), and restricted construction to eastern Texas, for border wall construction. As relevant here, the administration announced that it would transfer $2.5 billion from Defense Department accounts to the Department of Homeland Security. In order to get the money in the right account, DoD had to transfer funds under Section 8005 of the DoD Appropriations Act of 2019. That section authorizes the Secretary of Defense to transfer up to $4 billion "of working capital funds of the Department of Defense or funds made available in this Act to the Department of Defense for military functions (except military construction)," so long as the Secretary determines that "such action is necessary in the national interest." The funds can be used "for higher priority items, based on unforeseen military requirements, than those for which originally appropriated and in no case where the item for which funds are requested has been denied by the Congress." 

The Sierra Club sued, arguing that the transfer violated the law, because wall funding wasn't "unforeseen" and because Congress had previously denied requested wall funding. The district court entered a permanent injunction, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The government filed an application for a stay with the Supreme Court.

A sharply, and ideologically, divided Court granted the stay. The Court (the majority comprised of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh) gave only this explanation in its short opinion: "Among the reasons is that the Government has made a sufficient showing at this stage that the plaintiffs have no cause of action to obtain review of the Acting Secretary's compliance with Section 8005." This probably refers to the government's argument that the Sierra Club wasn't within the "zone of interests" protected by Section 8005, and therefore wasn't a proper party to bring the case. It may also refer to the government's argument that the district court and the Ninth Circuit misread the "unforeseen" and "has been denied by the Congress" language in Section 8005. (The government offered a much narrower interpretation of those phrases than the lower courts adopted.)

The Court left the door open for Supreme Court review on a regular writ of certiorari. But given the ruling and alignment in its order granting the stay, it seems unlikely that the Court will rule against the administration.

Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan wrote (without explanation) that they would have denied the stay. Justice Breyer offered a middle ground: allow the administration to move forward with the contracts it needs to build under its strict timeline, but not allow it to actually begin construction until we get a final say-so from the Court.

July 27, 2019 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 30, 2019

District Court Halts Reprogramming Funds for Border Wall Construction

Judge Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr., (N.D. Cal.) issued a permanent injunction on Friday halting the Trump Administration's efforts to reprogram Defense Department funds to construct portions of a border wall. The ruling largely incorporates the court's reasoning from its earlier preliminary injunction.

The court declined to stay the injunction pending appeal. This means that the injunction will stay in place unless and until the Ninth Circuit vacates it.

The court ruled that Trump Administration officials "are enjoined from taking any action to construct a border barrier in the areas Defendants have identified as El Paso Sector 1, Yuma Sector 1, El Centro Sector, and Tucson Sectors 1-3 using funds reprogrammed by DoD under Sections 8005 and 9002 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2019."

At the same time, the court denied the plaintiffs' request for a declaratory judgment concerning the government's invocation of Sections 8005 and 9002 beyond those sectors, its invocation of Section 284 (but only because it didn't have to rule on this, see below), and its compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

The ruling does not stop the Administration from using other, valid sources of funding for the wall. Thus, the ruling does not stop the Administration from using $1.375 "for the construction of primary pedestrian fencing, including levee pedestrian fencing, in the Rio Grande Valley Sector" under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019 (although that funding comes with its own statutory restrictions). It also does not stop the Administration from using "[a]bout $601 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund."

But those together don't come anywhere close to the $5.7 billion sought by the President in the CAA process. That's why this ruling is such a blow to the Administration's effort to build a border wall. 

Importantly, the ruling is not based on the President's use of "emergency" power or the President's determination of what's in the "national interest." Instead, the court ruled that the reprogramming violated other statutory provisions.

Here's a quick review of the relevant statutory issues:

Sections 2005, 2009, and 284

Under Section 284, "[t]he Secretary of Defense may provide support for the counterdrug activities . . . of any other department or agency of the Federal Government" if "such support is requested . . . by the official who has responsibility for [such] counterdrug activities." 10 U.S.C. Sec. 284. But the Administration didn't (and doesn't) intend to use appropriated funds under Section 284 for a border wall. Instead, as the court said, "every dollar of Section 284 support to DHS and its enforcement agency, CBP, [for construction of the wall] is attributable to reprogramming mechanisms."

One of those mechanisms is Section 8005 of the 2019 DOD Appropriations Act. That provision authorizes the Secretary of Defense to transfer up to $4 billion "of working capital funds of the Department of Defense or funds made available in this Act to the Department of Defense for military functions (except military construction)." Under the provision, the transfer must be (1) either (a) DOD working capital funds or (b) "funds made available in this Act to the [DOD] for military functions (except military construction)," (2) first determined by the Secretary of Defense as necessary in the national interest, (3) for higher priority items than those for which originally appropriated, (4) based on unforeseen (5) military requirements, and (6) in  no case where the item for which funds are requested has been denied by Congress. 

The court ruled in its earlier order granting a preliminary injunction that the plaintiffs are likely to show that the funds were denied by Congress (because Congress considered, and denied, full funding for the wall); that the transfer is not based on "unforeseen military requirements" (because there was nothing "unforeseen" about this, as evidenced by "the Administration's multiple requests for funding for exactly that purpose dating back to at least early 2018"); and that the Administration's interpretation of Section 8005 would raise constitutional questions (because that interpretation would "authorize[] the Acting Secretary of Defense to essentially triple--or quintuple, when considering the recent additional $1.5 billion reprogramming--the amount Congress allocated to this account for these purposes, notwithstanding Congress's recent and clear actions in passing the CAA, and the relevant committees' express disapproval of the proposed reprogramming," and "reading Section 8005 to permit this massive redirection of funds under these circumstances likely would amount to an 'unbounded authorization for Defendants to rewrite the federal budget'" in violation of the separation of powers). 

In yesterday's order granting a permanent injunction, the court also rejected the Administration's effort to use Section 9002 of the DOD Appropriations Act of 2019 as a mechanism for reprogramming, because "Section 9002 authority . . . is subject to Section 8005's limitations."

Given that the government acknowledged that "all of the money they plan to spend on border barrier construction under Section 284 is money transferred into the relevant account under Sections 8005 and 9002 . . . the Court's ruling as to Sections 8005 and 9002 obviates the need to independently assess the lawfulness of Defendants' invocation of Section 284."

Section 2808

Section 2808 authorizes the Secretary of Defense to "undertake military construction projects, and may authorities the Secretaries of the military departments to undertake military construction projects, not otherwise authorized by law." 10 U.S.C. Sec. 2808. The provision requires that the President first declare a national emergency under the National Emergencies Act. The court previously ruled that "it is unclear how border barrier construction could reasonably constitute a 'military construction project' such that Defendants' invocation of Section 2808 would be lawful." The court incorporated that reasoning into its order granting a permanent injunction. 

NEPA

NEPA requires the government to undertake an environmental impact assessment of agency actions. The court ruled previously that DHS validly waived NEPA's requirements as to the wall, and that the actions therefore don't violate NEPA. It incorporated that reasoning on Friday. 

June 30, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 27, 2019

SCOTUS Remands Census Citizenship Case to Department of Commerce

In its highly anticipated opinion in Department of Commerce v. New York on the issue of whether the decision by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to include a citizenship question on the main census questionnaire for 2020 is lawful, the Court held that given the "unusual circumstances" of the case, the matter should be remanded to the agency to provide a "reasoned explanation" for its decision pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), thus affirming the district court on this point.

Chief Justice Roberts's opinion for the Court is relatively brief — 29 pages — but the brevity is undercut by the shifting alliances within the opinion's sections and the additional 58 pages of opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part. 

Recall the basic issue from oral argument: whether the challengers had standing, the actual enumeration requirements in the Constitution, Art. I, § 2, cl. 3, and Amend. XIV, § 2, and the nonconstitutional issues centering on the Administrative Procedure Act. The equal protection argument receded into the background on appeal, but has re-emerged in other proceedings.

After explaining the facts and procedural history, including the rather unusual question of whether the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, should be deposed, the Court unanimously held the challengers had standing, rejecting the government's contrary contention: "we are satisfied that, in these circumstances, respondents have met their burden of showing that third parties will likely react in predictable ways to the citizenship question, even if they do so unlawfully and despite the requirement that the Government keep individual answers confidential."

A majority of the Court, Roberts joined by Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh — held that the Enumeration Clause did not provide a basis to set aside the determination of Wilbur Ross. The majority held that the Constitution vests Congress with virtually unlimited discretion to conduct the census, and that Congress has delegated this broad authority to the Secretary of Commerce.  The majority stated that "history matters" so that "early understanding and long practice" of inquiring about citizenship on the census should control.

A notably different but numerically larger — 7 Justices — rejected the government's contention that the discretion given by Congress to the Secretary of Commerce is so broad as to be unreviewable. There is "law to apply" and the statute provides criteria for meaningful review.  Only Justices Alito and Gorsuch disagreed with this conclusion.

And yet another majority, the same majority as the holding for no claim under the Enumeration Clause — Roberts was joined by Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh — rejected the claim "at the heart of this suit" that Secretary Ross "abused his discretion in deciding to reinstate the citizenship question." Essentially, this majority held that because the statute gives the Secretary to make policy choices and "the evidence before the Secretary hardly led ineluctably to just one reasonable course of action."

That same majority rejected the claim of violations of the APA by Secretary Ross in the collection of information and data, and even if he did so, it was harmless.

Finally, the Chief Justice's opinion for the Court — this time with a majority of Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, considered the district judge's conclusion that the decision of the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, rested on a pretextual basis. The Court's opinion reviewed the evidence presented to the district court:

That evidence showed that the Secretary was determined to reinstate a citizenship question from the time he entered office; instructed his staff to make it happen; waited while Commerce officials explored whether another agency would request census-based citizenship data; subsequently contacted the Attorney General himself to ask if DOJ would make the request; and adopted the Voting Rights Act rationale late in the process. In the District Court’s view, this evidence established that the Secretary had made up his mind to reinstate a citizenship question “well before” receiving DOJ’s request, and did so for reasons unknown but unrelated to the VRA.

After considering other evidence, the Court concluded:

Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the Secretary gave for his decision. In the Secretary’s telling, Commerce was simply acting on a routine data request from another agency. Yet the materials before us indicate that Commerce went to great lengths to elicit the request from DOJ (or any other willing agency). And unlike a typical case in which an agency may have both stated and unstated reasons for a decision, here the VRA enforcement rationale—the sole stated reason—seems to have been contrived.

We are presented, in other words, with an explanation for agency action that is incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decisionmaking process. It is rare to review a record as extensive as the one before us when evaluating informal agency action— and it should be. But having done so for the sufficient reasons we have explained, we cannot ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given. Our review is deferential, but we are “not required to exhibit a naiveté from which ordinary citizens are free.” United States v. Stanchich, 550 F. 2d 1294, 1300 (CA2 1977) (Friendly, J.). The reasoned explanation requirement of administrative law, after all, is meant to ensure that agencies offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public. Accepting contrived reasons would defeat the purpose of the enterprise. If judicial review is to be more than an empty ritual, it must demand something better than the explanation offered for the action taken in this case.

In these unusual circumstances, the District Court was warranted in remanding to the agency . . . .

Thus the Court remanded the decision to the agency for further explanation.  To be sure, this conclusion and section seems inconsistent with the "abuse of discretion" section finding no "abuse of discretion."  And notably, Chief Justice Roberts is the only Justice supporting both of those conclusions.

Also notably, the Court's opinion does not comment on any of the recently revealed evidence or new proceedings - updates shortly.

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June 27, 2019 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 24, 2019

Court Strikes Law Criminalizing Possession of Firearm in Connection with "Crime of Violence"

The Supreme Court ruled today that a federal criminal law that enhances criminal penalties for using, carrying, or possessing a firearm in connection with any federal "crime of violence or drug trafficking crime" was unconstitutionally vague. The ruling strikes the law.

The case, United States v. Davis, tested the federal law that enhances penalties (over and above a defendant's base conviction) for using, carrying, or possessing a firearm "in furtherance of" any federal "crime of violence or drug trafficking crime." The statute then defines "crime of violence" in two subparts, an "elements clause" and a "residual clause." Under the act, a crime of violence is "an offense that is a felony" and

(A) has as an element the use, the attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or

(B) that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.

The Court ruled the residual clause, (B), unconstitutionally vague.

Justice Gorsuch wrote for the Court, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. He started by noting that the vagueness doctrine is designed to protect due process and the separation of powers:

In our constitutional order, a vague law is no law at all. Only the people's elected representatives in Congress have the power to write new federal criminal laws. And when Congress exercises that power, it has to write statutes that give ordinary people fair warning about what the law demands of them. Vague laws transgress both of those constitutional requirements. They hand off the legislature's responsibility for defining criminal behavior to unelected prosecutors and judges, and they leave people with no sure way to know what consequences will attach to their conduct. When Congress passes a vague law, the role of the courts under our Constitution is not to fashion a new, clearer law to take its place, but to treat the law as a nullity and invite Congress to try again.

Justice Gorsuch compared the residual clause to similar language that the Court ruled unconstitutionally vague in Johnson v. United States (defining "violent felony" as a "serious potential risk of physical injury to another") and Sessions v. Dimaya (defining "crimes of violence" for many federal statutes). He rejected the government's argument that the courts should interpret the residual clause on a case-by-case basis (to determine in any individual case whether the crime fit the definition), concluding that reading the act's text, context, and history, the act "simply cannot support the government's newly minted case-specific theory." He also rejected the government's constitutional avoidance argument, "doubt[ing] [that] the canon could play a proper role in this case even if the government's reading were 'possible.'" That's because "no one before us has identified a case in which this Court has invoked the canon to expand the reach of a criminal statute in order to save it."

Justice Kavanaugh dissented, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas and Alito. Justice Kavanaugh distinguished Johnson and Dimaya, arguing that "[t]hose cases involved statutes that imposed additional penalties based on prior convictions," while "[t]his case involves a statute that focuses on the defendant's current conduct during the charged crime." "The statute here operates entirely in the present[, and] [u]nder our precedents, this statute therefore is not unconstitutionally vague." He also pointed to the statute's impact on crime rates, and many years of application of it:

[One] cannot dismiss the effects of state and federal laws that impose steep punishments on those who commit violence crimes with firearms.

Yet today, after 33 years and tens of thousands of federal prosecutions, the Court suddenly finds a key provision of Section 924(c) to be unconstitutional because it is supposedly too vague. That is a surprising conclusion for the Court to reach about a federal law that has been applied so often for so long with so little problem. The Court's decision today will make it harder to prosecute violent gun crimes in the future. The Court's decision also will likely mean that thousands of inmates who committed violent gun crimes will be released far earlier than Congress specified when enacting Section 924(c). The inmates who will be released early are not nonviolent offenders. They are not drug offenders. They are offenders who committed violent crimes with firearms, often brutally violent crimes.

A decision to strike down a 33-year-old, often-prosecuted federal criminal law because it is all of a sudden unconstitutionally vague is an extraordinary event in this Court. The Constitution's separation of powers authorizes this Court to declare Acts of Congress unconstitutional. That is an awesome power. We exercise that power of judicial review in justiciable cases to, among other things, ensure that Congress acts within constitutional limits and abides by the separation of powers. But when we overstep our role in the name of enforcing limits on Congress, we do not uphold the separation of powers, we transgress the separation of powers.

Chief Justice Roberts did not join the portion of Justice Kavanaugh's dissent that argues that the statute is saved under the unconstitutional avoidance canon.

June 24, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 21, 2019

Nadler Preps to Sue McGahn, Citing Hicks Testimony, Testing Executive Privilege

House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler is preparing to sue former White House Counsel Don McGahn over McGahn's refusal to testify based on a White House invocation of absolute executive privilege, according to Politico

According to Politico's story, Nadler says that Hope Hicks's "blanket refusal to tell lawmakers about her tenure in the West Wing is the real-life illustration Democrats needed to show a judge just how extreme the White House's blockade on witness testimony has become."

We posted on Nadler's dispute with Counsel to the President Pat Cipollone over "absolute executive privilege" in McGahn's case here.

Cipollone asserted the same "absolute executive privilege" over Hicks's testimony this week. Cipollone wrote to Nadler in advance of Hicks's scheduled testimony:

Ms. Hicks is absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony with respect to matters occurring during her service as senior adviser to the President. . . . That immunity arises from the President's position as head of the Executive Branch and from Ms. Hicks's former position as a senior adviser to the President. "Subjecting a senior presidential advisor to the congressional subpoena power would be akin to requiring the President himself to appear before Congress on matters relating to the performance of his constitutionally assigned functions."

As the Department has recognized, "[w]hile a senior presidential adviser, like other executive officials, could rely on executive privilege to decline to answer specific questions at a hearing, the privilege is insufficient to ameliorate several threats that compelled testimony poses to the independence and candor of executive councils." . . .

Because of this constitutional immunity, and in order to protect the prerogatives of the Office of President, the President has directed Ms. Hicks not to answer questions before the Committee relating to the time of her service as a senior adviser to the President. . . .

Hicks nevertheless testified in a closed hearing this week. (The full transcript is here.) But White House attorneys repeatedly asserted absolute executive privilege in support of Hicks's refusal to answer a host of questions. Here's the first exchange between Nadler and a White House attorney:

Nadler: It's a matter of public record. Why would you object?

Purpura: Mr. Chairman, as we explained in Mr. Cipllone's letter yesterday, as a matter of longstanding executive branch precedent in the Department of Justice practice and advice, as a former senior adviser to the President, Ms. Hicks may not be compelled to speak about events that occurred during her service as a senior adviser to the President. That question touched upon that area.

Nadler: With all due respect, that is absolute nonsense as a matter of law. . . .

According to Politico, Nadler thinks that Hicks's refusal to answer such basic and silly questions as whether an Israel-Egypt war broke out while she worked in government vividly illustrates how extreme the White House's "absolute executive privilege" is--and provides good fodder for the House's lawsuit against McGahn.

Meanwhile, Republicans on the House Oversight Committee issued a Minority Report on the Committee's resolution recommending that the House find AG William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for failing to comply with a Committee subpoena for documents related to the addition of the citizenship question on the census. Among other points, the Report argues that the Committee wrongly inferred that the White House waived executive privilege:

As a "fundamental" privilege rooted in constitutional separation of powers, executive privilege ought to be afforded serious consideration. In addition, because an executive privilege waiver should not be lightly inferred, the Committee should be careful in imputing a waiver for failure to comply with Committee Rule 16(c). The Committee's contempt citation errs in concluding unilaterally that executive privilege can be waived when the President does not invoke executive privilege in accordance with Committee rules.

June 21, 2019 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)