Tuesday, January 21, 2020
The Office of Legal Counsel opined this weekend that House committees investigating articles of impeachment last fall against President Trump lacked legal authority to issue subpoenas to administration officials.
The opinion, dated January 19, appears to attempt to provide legal bases to President Trump's defenders in the Senate, who argue that the administration's categorical decision to ignore those subpoenas did not constitute obstruction of Congress (but instead was based on legal reasons why the subpoenas themselves were invalid).
The OLC memo is not the law, however; it's merely an opinion. Still, it gives President Trump's defenders legal arguments why his non-cooperation did not constitute obstruction.
(OLC's reasoning is quite formalistic--characteristic of this administration when arguing over congressional authority to investigate anything. For a different take--one that recognizes that there's not always a bright line between Congress's powers of oversight and its power of impeachment--check out this analysis by the Congressional Research Service.)
In short, OLC reasoned this way:
(1) Speaker Pelosi announced on September 24, 2019, that "the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry;"
(2) that announcement did not legally authorize an actual impeachment inquiry, because the full House didn't vote to authorize such an inquiry;
(3) House committees nevertheless issued subpoenas after September 24 under their impeachment-investigation authority and their general investigative and oversight authority;
(4) those subpoenas could not have been issued validly under the committees' impeachment authority, because, as in (2), there was no legally authorized impeachment inquiry;
(5) when the House came around to authorize an impeachment inquiry, it didn't ratify the earlier-issued subpoenas, so they are still invalid; and
(6) the committees lacked authority to issue the subpoenas under their general investigative and oversight authorities.
The Supreme Court issued a one-sentence order today denying a motion by Obamacare defenders to expedite review of the Fifth Circuit's ruling last month holding the individual mandate unconstitutional.
Recall that the Fifth Circuit ruled the individual mandate unconstitutional (because Congress zeroed out the penalty), but remanded the case to determine whether the mandate is severable from the rest of the Act--and therefore whether any other portions of the Act can stand. The district court previously ruled that the mandate was not severable, and that the entire Act must fall.
The Court's order means that the Court won't rule on the case until after the 2020 presidential election, if at all.
Thursday, January 16, 2020
In its Report issued today, the United States Government Accountability Office found that the Executive wrongfully withheld funds Congress appropriated to Ukraine.
The Report begins:
Office of Management and Budget—Withholding of Ukraine Security Assistance
B-331564 January 16, 2020
In the summer of 2019, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) withheld from obligation funds appropriated to the Department of Defense (DOD) for security assistance to Ukraine. In order to withhold the funds, OMB issued a series of nine apportionment schedules with footnotes that made all unobligated balances unavailable for obligation.
Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law. OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act (ICA). The withholding was not a programmatic delay. Therefore, we conclude that OMB violated the ICA.
The Report explains the constitutional and statutory frameworks, including the ICA, thusly:
The Constitution specifically vests Congress with the power of the purse, providing that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” U.S. Const. art. I, § 9, cl. 7. The Constitution also vests all legislative powers in Congress and sets forth the procedures of bicameralism and presentment, through which the President may accept or veto a bill passed by both Houses of Congress, and Congress may subsequently override a presidential veto. Id., art. I, § 7, cl. 2, 3. The President is not vested with the power to ignore or amend any such duly enacted law. See Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417, 438 (1998) (the Constitution does not authorize the President “to enact, to amend, or to repeal statutes”). Instead, he must “faithfully execute” the law as Congress enacts it. U.S. Const., art. II, § 3.
An appropriations act is a law like any other; therefore, unless Congress has enacted a law providing otherwise, the President must take care to ensure that appropriations are prudently obligated during their period of availability. See B-329092, Dec. 12, 2017 (the ICA operates on the premise that the President is required to obligate funds appropriated by Congress, unless otherwise authorized to withhold). In fact, Congress was concerned about the failure to prudently obligate according to its Congressional prerogatives when it enacted and later amended the ICA. See generally, H.R. Rep. No. 100-313, at 66–67 (1987); see also S. Rep. No. 93-688, at 75 (1974) (explaining that the objective was to assure that “the practice of reserving funds does not become a vehicle for furthering Administration policies and priorities at the expense of those decided by Congress”).
The Constitution grants the President no unilateral authority to withhold funds from obligation. See B-135564, July 26, 1973. Instead, Congress has vested the President with strictly circumscribed authority to impound, or withhold, budget authority only in limited circumstances as expressly provided in the ICA. See 2 U.S.C. §§ 681–688. The ICA separates impoundments into two exclusive categories—deferrals and rescissions. The President may temporarily withhold funds from obligation—but not beyond the end of the fiscal year in which the President transmits the special message—by proposing a “deferral.”4 2 U.S.C.§ 684. The President may also seek the permanent cancellation of funds for fiscal policy or other reasons, including the termination of programs for which Congress has provided budget authority, by proposing a “rescission.”5 2 U.S.C. § 683.
In either case, the ICA requires that the President transmit a special message to Congress that includes the amount of budget authority proposed for deferral or rescission and the reason for the proposal. 2 U.S.C. §§ 683–684. These special messages must provide detailed and specific reasoning to justify the withholding, as set out in the ICA. See 2 U.S.C. §§ 683–684; B-237297.4, Feb. 20, 1990 (vague or general assertions are insufficient to justify the withholding of budget authority).
The burden to justify a withholding of budget authority rests with the executive branch.
The Report found that the Executive did not meet that burden.
Obviously, this Report will not end the matter. The security funds to Ukraine are at the core of the impeachment of the President by the House of Representatives; the Articles of Impeachment are being delivered to the Senate for trial. Moreover, the Report itself ends by discussing the problem of the Executive's lack of cooperation:
OMB and State have failed, as of yet, to provide the information we need to fulfill our duties under the ICA regarding potential impoundments of FMF funds. We will continue to pursue this matter and will provide our decision to the Congress after we have received the necessary information.
We consider a reluctance to provide a fulsome response to have constitutional significance. GAO’s role under the ICA—to provide information and legal analysis to Congress as it performs oversight of executive activity—is essential to ensuring respect for and allegiance to Congress’ constitutional power of the purse. All federal officials and employees take an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution and its core tenets, including the congressional power of the purse. We trust that State and OMB will provide the information needed.
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Judge Peter J. Messitte (D. Md.) entered a preliminary injunction against enforcement of President Trump's executive order that effectively authorized state and local governments to veto federal resettlement of refugees. The ruling, while preliminary, deals a sharp blow to President Trump's effort to empower state and local governments to restrict refugee resettlement. At the same time, it's a significant victory for refugees and the refugee-rights community.
President Trump's EO provides that the federal government "should resettle refugees only in those jurisdictions in which both the State and local governments have consented to receive refugees under the Department of State's Reception and Placement Program." The EO effectively allowed state and local governments to veto resettlement.
The court ruled that this likely violated 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1522, which sets out the "conditions and considerations" for refugee resettlement and assistance programs:
[The statute] speaks in terms of "consulting" and "consultation" between and among the Resettlement Agencies and the State and Local Governments; establishes that the Resettlement Agencies and State and Local Governments must regularly "meet" to "plan and coordinate"; even acknowledges that "maximum consideration" be given to "recommendations" States make to the Federal Government. The challenged Order definitely appears to undermine this arrangement. As to States or Local Governments that refuse to give written consents, there will be no consultation, no meetings with the Resettlement Agencies, not just "recommendations." Those State and Local Governments can simply give or withhold their written consents to the resettlement of refugees within their borders.
The court also held that the EO "appears to run counter to the Refugee Act's stated purpose" and the congressional intent. (A report on the bill from the House Judiciary Committee couldn't have been clearer: "The Committee emphasizes that these requirements [of the act] are not intended to give States and localities any veto power over refugee placement decisions, but rather to ensure their input into the process and to improve their resettlement planning capacity.")
The court also held that individual government officials' enforcement of the EO was likely arbitrary and capricious, and thus invalid, under the Administrative Procedure Act.
The ruling preliminarily prohibits enforcement of the EO. But it also telegraphs the court's conclusion on the merits: the EO is unlawful.
Thursday, January 9, 2020
In a six page letter, the New York City Bar Association urged Congress to "commence formal inquiries into a pattern of conduct by Attorney General William P. Barr that threatens public confidence in the fair and impartial administration of justice."
The bar association letter discusses four specific instances of public comments that were inconsistent with the duties of the Attorney General
to act impartially, to avoid even the appearance of partiality and impropriety, and to avoid manifesting bias, prejudice, or partisanship in the exercise of official responsibilities are bedrock obligations for government lawyers. In the context of pending investigations, government lawyers also are obliged to be circumspect in their public statements and to avoid prejudging the outcomes of those investigations.
The letter also remarks that the specific "comments follow and are reminiscent of Mr. Barr’s earlier mischaracterizations of the Mueller Report, prior to his release of a redacted version of it, in which Mr. Barr claimed the special counsel had found insufficient evidence of any obstruction of justice by President Trump—a material mischaracterization of the Mueller Report and a proposition rejected by more than 1,000 former federal prosecutors based on the facts set forth in the Mueller Report."
In brief, the four instances are:
- On October 11, 2019, in an invitation-only speech at the University of Notre Dame, Mr. Barr launched a partisan attack against “so called ‘progressives’” for supposedly waging a “campaign to destroy the traditional moral order.”
- On November 15, 2019, in a speech at the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention, Mr. Barr again vilified “progressives” and “the Left” (characterizing as “the other side” those who “oppose this President”) in highly partisan terms.
- On December 3, 2019, drawing from earlier remarks, Mr. Barr warned at a DOJ awards ceremony that “the American people have to . . . start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves,” and “if communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.”
- On December 10, 2019, in a television interview soon after DOJ’s Inspector General released a report finding no improper political motivation in the FBI’s commencement of a counterintelligence investigation into alleged ties between the Trump-Pence campaign and Russian officials in 2016, Mr. Barr publicly rejected the Inspector General’s findings, asserting instead that a separate ongoing investigation into the FBI’s actions that he personally had directed would likely reach a different conclusion.
The letter asks for Congressional oversight of Attorney General Barr because, in short,
In a troubling number of instances, Mr. Barr has spoken and acted in a manner communicating an impression that he views himself as serving as the Attorney General not for the entire nation, but more narrowly for certain segments of society—whether defined in terms of religion, ideology (his own “side,” to borrow the language of Mr. Barr’s Federalist Society speech) or party affiliation.
Wednesday, January 8, 2020
The Eleventh Circuit ruled in National Association of the Deaf v. Florida that Congress validly abrogated state sovereign immunity in enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act, insofar as it requires the state to provide captioning for live and archived videos of Florida legislative proceedings. The ruling means that the plaintiffs' case can move forward on the merits.
The case arose when plaintiffs challenged the Florida legislature's practice of live-streaming and archiving videos of legislative sessions without captioning. The plaintiffs argued that this violated Title II of the ADA and the Rehab Act (more on that below). The state moved to dismiss, arguing that it was immune under the Eleventh Amendment and that Congress did not validly abrogate immunity in enacting the ADA.
The Eleventh Circuit disagreed. The court ruled that Congress, in enacting the ADA, sought to protect the fundamental right to participate in the democratic process, and that the state denied that very right to the plaintiffs:
Here, deaf citizens are being denied the opportunity to monitor the legislative actions of their representatives because Defendants have refused to provide captioning for legislative proceedings. Without access to information about the legislative actions of their representatives, deaf citizens cannot adequately "petition the Government for a redress of greivances," because they cannot get the information necessary to hold their elected officials accountable for legislative acts. This type of participation in the political process goes to the very core of the political system embodied in our Constitution.
The court went on to say that Congress also validly abrogated immunity even if only a non-fundamental right were at stake.
The court said that Congress enacted Title II against a backdrop of a "pattern of unequal treatment in the administration of a wide range of public services, programs, and activities," and that Title II was an "appropriate response" to this pattern:
The burden of adding captioning to legislative videos--which are already provided to the public--removes a complete barrier to this information for a subset of citizens with a remedy we expect can be accomplished with limited cost and effort. In this way, the remedy is a proportionate and "reasonable modification" of a service that is already provided, and it does not change the "nature" of the service whatsoever. Finally, if the cost or effort should prove to be prohibitively burdensome, the Defendants have available the affirmative defenses in Title II.
The court also held that the plaintiffs could pursue injunctive relief under Ex Parte Young for the ongoing violation of Title II. Finally, it remanded for further proceedings on whether state legislative defendants received federal financial funds, and were therefore on the hook for Rehab Act violations (as a federal conditioned spending program--federal funds in exchange for a state's agreement not to discriminate by disability).
Wednesday, January 1, 2020
Judge Richard Leon (D.D.C.) this week tossed former Deputy National Security Advisor and Acting National Security Advisor Charles Kupperman's lawsuit asking the court to determine which prevailed: a congressional subpoena, or the White House's instruction not to testify under an absolute privilege theory.
The ruling ends the case. It also means that we don't get another district court say-so on the White House theory of absolute privilege for senior presidential advisors. That means that we now have (1) a district court ruling from late November rejecting absolute privilege with respect to former White House Counsel Don McGahn's compelled testimony and (2) a 2008 district court ruling rejecting absolute privilege with respect to White House Counsel Harriet Mier's compelled testimony. No circuit court has yet to weigh in. We also have a series of Office of Legal Counsel memos, starting with the 1971 memo through the most recent McGahn memo. The district courts have flatly rejected the reasoning in these memos.
Just a wee little bit of background (more on our earlier posted, link above): Kupperman, a former White House official, received a subpoena to testify in the impeachment inquiry from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; but the White House instructed him not to testify, claiming an absolute privilege against compelled congressional testimony. Kupperman sued, asking the court to resolve his dilemma. But the House moved forward with impeachment without his testimony, and the Committee argued that his case was moot.
Judge Leon agreed. The court said that there's no longer a case or controversy over the matter, that the matter isn't "capable or repetition but evading review" (because the House has said unequivocally that it won't re-issue a subpoena, ever), and that there's no chance of enforcement against Kupperman.
Saturday, December 28, 2019
The Ninth Circuit last week refused to grant an emergency temporary stay of a district judge's temporary injunction against enforcement of President Trump's October 4 Proclamation that restricts entry into the United States by aliens "who will financial burden the United States healthcare system." The ruling means that the lower court's injunction stays in place, and the government cannot enforce the Proclamation. The court expedited review of the government's motion for a stay pending appeal, however, and will hear oral argument on January 9.
President Trump's proclamation, titled "Presidential Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry of Immigrants Who Will Financially Burden the United States," requires aliens to show proof of approved health insurance before getting a visa or otherwise entering the United States. Plaintiffs sued, arguing that the Proclamation exceeded the President's authority under law, that the President therefore engaged in impermissible lawmaking in violation of the separation of powers, and that the law impermissibly delegated lawmaking authority to the President in violation of the nondelegation doctrine. The district court agreed and issued a temporary injunction against enforcement of the Proclamation.
The Ninth Circuit most recently denied the government's request for an emergency temporary stay. The court wrote,
Here, the status quo would be disrupted by granting the temporary stay request. Therefore, we deny the request for a temporary stay. The Proclamation has not yet gone into effect. The changes it would make to American immigration policy are major and unprecedented; the harms the government alleges it will suffer pending review of the motion for stay pending appeal are long-term rather than immediate. Our ruling is based solely on the absence of a sufficient exigency to justify changing the status quo, particularly during the few weeks before scheduled oral argument on the merits of the emergency motion; we do not consider the merits of the dispute in any respect.
The court went on to expedite briefing and oral argument on the government's motion for a stay pending appeal.
Judge Bress dissented, arguing that "the district court's decision is clearly wrong as a matter of law." According to Judge Bress, "[i]n the supposed name of the separation of powers, the district court struck down part of a longstanding congressional statute, invalidated a presidential proclamation, and purported to grant worldwide relief to persons not before the court. And it did so based on the nondelegation doctrine--among the most brittle limbs in American constitutional law--and a reading of 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1184(f) that the Supreme Court expressly rejected in Trump v. Hawaii.
December 28, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Nondelegation Doctrine, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, December 19, 2019
The Fifth Circuit yesterday ruled that the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate is unconstitutional. At the same time, the court remanded to the district court to reconsider whether the individual mandate is severable from the rest of the Act (and therefore whether other portions of the Act can stand) and to consider the government's new request for relief.
We posted on the district court's ruling here.
The ruling is a big victory for opponents of the ACA, especially the individual mandate. But whether the case also strikes other portions of the ACA, and how far the ruling sweeps, are still undetermined.
The three-judge panel ruled that the individual mandate cannot stand as an exercise of Congress's taxing power, because Congress set the tax penalty at $0. With no revenue potential, the provision cannot be a tax:
Now that the shared responsibility payment amount is set at zero, the provision's savings construction [the NFIB ruling that the individual mandate is a valid exercise of Congress's taxing power] is no longer available. The four central attributes that once saved the statute because it could be read as a tax no longer exist. Most fundamentally, the provision no longer yields the "essential feature of any tax" because it does not produce "at least some revenue for the Government." Because the provision no longer produces revenue, it necessarily lacks the three other characteristics that once rendered the provision a tax. The shared-responsibility payment is no longer "paid into the Treasure by taxpayer[s] when they file their tax returns" because the payment is no longer paid by anyone. The payment amount is no longer "determined by such familiar factors as taxable income, number of dependents, and joint filing status." The amount is zero for everyone, without regard to any of these factors. The IRS no longer collects the payment "in the same manner as taxes" because the IRS cannot collect it at all.
The court went on to say that the district court failed to consider carefully enough whether the individual mandate is severable from the rest of the Act--that is, whether other provisions of the ACA can stand without the individual mandate. (The government switched its position on appeal and argued that the mandate is inseverable.) The district court previously ruled that it wasn't severable, and thus struck the entire Act, including the guaranteed-issue and community-rating provisions, but also including every other provision (like the provision that says young people can stay on their parents' insurance until age 26). But the Fifth Circuit held that the district court's analysis wasn't sufficient, and remanded to the court "to employ a finer-toothed comb . . . and conduct a more searching inquiry into which provisions of the ACA Congress intended to be inseverable from the individual mandate."
The court also directed the lower court to consider the government's new request for relief. The government switched positions on appeal and argued that, while the individual mandate is inseverable, the court should enjoin enforcement only as to the plaintiff states and only as to those provisions that injure the plaintiffs.
In short, while yesterday's ruling struck the individual mandate, it's not yet clear exactly how far that ruling will extend to also strike other provisions of the ACA, how far it will extend geographically, and how far it will extend beyond the plaintiffs in this case.
Judge King dissented, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing, and that (in any event) the individual mandate was constitutional.
Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Judge David Briones (W.D. Tex.) permanently enjoined the government from using one particular source of reprogrammed funds to build the border wall. The ruling follows an earlier one in which the court ruled that the particular reprogramming violated the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019. (We posted on that earlier ruling here.)
Recall that Judge Briones ruled in October that the government's attempt to reprogram Defense Department funds for "military construction projects" under 10 U.S.C. Sec. 2808 violated the CAA. Judge Briones then invited the parties to suggest an appropriate remedy. Yesterday's ruling grants that remedy.
Judge Briones held that the permanent injunction factors favored the plaintiffs. The court therefore issued a permanent injunction against the agency-head defendants to prevent them from reprogramming these particular funds.
The ruling (like the court's October ruling) doesn't halt reprogramming under Section 284, however. (The court noted that the Supreme Court this summer stayed a lower court ruling that halted Section 284 reprogramming.) All this means that the government can't reprogram under Section 2808 (unless and until it appeals and wins), but it can reprogram under Section 284.
Wednesday, December 4, 2019
The Second Circuit ruled that Deutsche Bank and Capital One have to comply with subpoenas issued by the House Financial Services and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence for financial records related to President Trump and his businesses. The court denied a preliminary injunction to halt the disclosures. While the ruling is technically preliminary, the court noted that it's effectively a ruling on the merits.
The ruling is yet another blow to President Trump and his continuing quest to keep his financial records secret. (We posted most recently here, on the Supreme Court's stay of a D.C. Circuit mandate to Mazars to release his financial records.) It's also yet another candidate for Supreme Court review.
After the Committees subpoenaed the banks, President Trump, his three oldest children, and some of their organizations sued the banks and the Committees seeking to halt the disclosure. The plaintiffs raised statutory and constitutional claims, although the court noted that President Trump specifically identified himself only as a private citizen.
The court held that the plaintiffs weren't likely to succeed on any of their claims. As to the first statutory claim, the court held that the Right to Financial Privacy Act did not prohibit the disclosures, because the RFPA doesn't apply to Congress. As to the second statutory claim, the court ruled that 26 U.S.C. Sec. 6103 and its several relevant subsections didn't bar the Committees from seeking the records from the banks.
As to the constitutional claim, the court rejected the plaintiffs' contention that the Committees exceeded their power to investigate in issuing the subpoenas. The court noted the breadth of the subpoenas, but nevertheless held that the Committees had a valid legislative purpose (not focusing on possible illegalities committed by the President, but instead "on the existence of such activity in the banking industry, the adequacy of regulation by relevant agencies, and the need for legislation") and that the "public need" to investigate for that purpose "overbalances any private rights affected." On this balancing, the court wrote,
"[T]he weight to be ascribed to" the public need for the investigations the Committees are pursuing is of the highest order. The legislative purposes of the investigations concern national security and the integrity of elections, as detailed above. By contrast, the privacy interests concern private financial documents related to businesses, possibly enhanced by the risk that disclosure might distract the President in the performance of his official duties.
The court went on to hold that the subpoenas were sufficiently tailored to the Committees' legitimate purposes.
The court identified one request, however, that "might reveal sensitive personal details having no relationship to the Committees' legislative purposes," and others "that have such an attenuated relationship to the Committees' legislative purposes that they need not be disclosed." The court remanded to the district court and specified a procedure by which the court could exclude certain "sensitive documents."
As to all other documents not identified for exclusion or possible exclusion, however, the court ordered the banks to "promptly transmit to the Committees in daily batches as they are assembled, beginning seven days from the date of this opinion."
The court rejected the amicus government's separation-of-powers argument, holding that this case isn't about the separation of powers (because it involves a congressional request from a third party for information of the President in his personal capacity).
Judge Livingston dissented. She agreed with the majority that the plaintiffs lacked a likelihood of success on the merits of their statutory claims. But she disagreed about how to treat the constitutional claims. She argued that the case raises serious separation-of-powers concerns, and that the current record simply isn't well enough developed to evaluate those concerns. So she argued for a full remand, "directing the district court promptly to implement a procedure by which the Plaintiffs may lodge their objections to disclosure with regard to specific portions of the assembled material and so that the Committees can clearly articulate, also with regard to specific categories of information, the legislative purpose that supports disclosure and the pertinence of such information to that purpose."
Tuesday, November 26, 2019
The full Supreme Court issued an order yesterday staying the D.C. Circuit's mandate to Mazars to release President Trump's financial records, including tax filings, pending a writ of cert. on or before December 5.
The order extends a previous stay issued by Chief Justice Roberts and prompts President Trump to seek Supreme Court review. But the very brief order itself signals nothing about whether the Court will grant review, or how it will rule if it does. There's no dissenting opinion.
The stay expires on December 5, at noon, if no writ of cert. is filed.
If the Court grants review, we could have a ruling this spring or summer. But we won't get the taxes in the meantime.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson (D.D.C.) ruled yesterday that former White House Counsel Don McGahn must comply with a subpoena issued by the House Judiciary Committee and testify before the Committee. The ruling rejects the sweeping claim that high-level presidential advisors enjoy categorical testimonial immunity.
At the same time, the court held that McGahn could assert appropriate privileges (like executive privilege) to specific questions from the Committee.
The ruling deals a sharp blow to the Trump Administration and its attempts to categorically shield certain White House officials from testifying before Congress. It applies directly to McGahn, of course; but the reasoning applies equally, or even with greater force, to House testimony by senior presidential advisors in the impeachment inquiry. (Why "or even with greater force"? Because the House may be on even firmer ground in issuing any subpoenas in the course of an impeachment inquiry.)
The administration will surely appeal. (DOJ is representing McGahn and presented arguments on behalf of the executive branch.) As a result, we're unlikely to see McGahn testify anytime soon. If the parties continue to press the issue, it'll surely go to the Supreme Court. (The 2008 Miers case, which the court said was "on all fours" with this one, didn't go up on appeal, because the parties settled. That could happen here, too.)
The case arose when the Committee sued McGahn to enforce its subpoena against him to testify in its investigation into whether President Trump and his associates engaged in misconduct in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. DOJ, representing McGahn, argued that McGahn was a high-level presidential advisor who enjoyed absolute testimonial immunity before Congress.
The court ruled that it had jurisdiction over the case and then rejected DOJ's sweeping claim of immunity. In short, the court held that the issue was already decided by Judge Bates in 2008, in Committee on Judiciary v. Miers. Here's a nice summary (pp. 41-42 of the opinion):
Unfortunately for DOJ, and as explained fully below, these contentions about the relative power of the federal courts [as to lack of jurisdiction], congressional committee, and the President distort established separation-of-powers principles beyond all recognition. Thus, ultimately, the arguments that DOJ advances to support its claim of absolute testimonial immunity for senior-level presidential aides transgress core constitutional truths (notwithstanding OLC's persistent heralding of these and similar propositions). By contrast, textbook constitutional law readily reveals that, precisely because the Constitution bestows upon the Judiciary the power to demarcate the boundaries of lawful conduct by government officials, the federal courts have subject-matter jurisdiction to entertain subpoena-enforcement disputes concerning legislative subpoenas that have been issued to Executive branch officials. It is similarly well established that, because the Constitution vests the Legislature with the power to investigate potential abuses of official authority--when necessary to hold government officials (up to, and including, the President) accountable, as representatives of the People of the United States--then House committees have both Article III standing and a cause of action to pursue judicial enforcement of their duly authorized and legally enforceable requests for information. What is missing from the Constitution's framework as the Framers envisioned it is the President's purported power to kneecap House investigations that Executive branch operations by demanding that his senior-level aides breach their legal duty to respond to compelled congressional process.
Luckily for this Court, an existing precedent that is on all fours with the instant matter (Miers) already systematically dismantles the edifice that DOJ appears to have erected over the years to enshrine the proposition that a President's senior-level aides have absolute immunity with respect to legislative subpoenas that Congress issues in the course of its investigations . . . .
November 26, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, November 24, 2019
Judge Carl J. Nichols (D.D.C.) earlier this week ordered House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal to provide President Trump and the court contemporaneous notice if he seeks President Trump's tax returns under New York's TRUST Act. Judge Nichols further ordered Chair Neal not to receive the tax returns for 14 days after any request.
The order is designed to allow the court to determine whether a request is valid. Without the notice and delay requirements, Chair Neal could request, and receive, the records without President Trump's knowledge, let alone his challenge, then immediately mooting his claim.
New York's TRUST Act authorizes certain congressional leaders to request and receive certain public officials' state tax returns, including the tax returns of the president, without providing prior notice to the officials. After enactment, President Trump sued, arguing that the TRUST Act violated Article I, because such a request would lack a legitimate legislative purpose, and the First Amendment. He also sought emergency relief under the All Writs Act, asking the court for an order that would allow the parties to litigate the legality of any request for his state returns before New York authorities would release them (and thus render any challenge moot).
Congressional Democrats moved to dismiss, arguing that they were immune from suit under the Speech and Debate Clause, and that President Trump lacked standing.
The court ruled that it couldn't yet determine whether Chair Neal would be immune from suit under the Speech and Debate Clause, because he hasn't yet requested the records. The court said that Speech & Debate immunity turns on whether any request would concern matters "on which legislative could be had," and thus turns on legislative purpose. But because nobody has made a request, the court can't determine the purpose of any request.
As to standing, the court ruled that President Trump has standing: because "[t]he risk of future harm to Mr. Trump thus requires just a single step by a single actor, Chairman Neal, who is a party to this litigation," "there is sufficiently substantial risk that future harm could occur to warrant limited relief under the All Writs Act."
The court then ordered that Chair Neal inform President Trump and the court at the same time when he makes any request, and not to receive the tax returns for 14 days after. According to the court, this "will prevent Mr. Trump's claims from becoming ripe and then moot almost simultaneously without notice to him or the Court."
November 24, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Judge William Alsup (N.D. Cal.) yesterday vacated the Trump Administrations "conscience rule" designed to allow healthcare workers to decline services if they have a religious objection to a procedure.
We posted recently on a similar ruling out of the Southern District of New York. Judge Alsup's ruling is narrower than the New York ruling, however, and says only that the rule goes well beyond statutory authorization. Both courts vacated the rule in its entirety.
Judge Alsup focused on how the rule's definitions expand conscience protections well beyond the statutory protections. As the court wrote, "[t]hese definitions . . . make the mischief . . . [and are] the heart of the problem."
In particular, the court held that the definitions of "assist in the performance of," "health care entity," "entity," "discriminate," and "referral" expand conscience protections far beyond what the relevant statutes authorize. The court ruled that the conscience rule was therefore contrary to law, and violated the Administrative Procedure Act.
The court described the conscience rule's effect this way: "Under the new rule, to preview just one example, an ambulance driver would be free, on religious or moral grounds, to eject a patient en route to a hospital upon learning that the patient needed an emergency abortion. Such harsh treatment would be blessed by the new rule."
Like the New York court, the California court held that the problems with the rule were so pervasive that it had no choice but to vacate the rule in its entirety.
The ruling means that the administration can appeal, or go back to the drawing board and re-write a conscience rule that comports with the law. But the administration can't enforce this rule.
Monday, November 18, 2019
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., issued an order today staying the mandate of the D.C. Circuit to Mazars to release President Trump's tax records.
Recall that the D.C. Circuit last week denied en banc review of a three-judge panel ruling that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform had authority to issue its subpoena for President Trump's financial records to his accounting firm, Mazars.
Chief Justice Roberts's brief order simply stayed the D.C. Circuit ruling "pending receipt of a response, due on or before Thursday, November 21, 2019, by 3 p.m. ET, and further order of the undersigned or of the Court." (The order is not a ruling on the merits, and does not foretell what the Court might do.) So we'll get more information on Thursday . . . .
November 18, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, November 14, 2019
The D.C. Circuit yesterday denied en banc review of last month's panel ruling that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform had authority to issue its subpoena for President Trump's financial records to his accounting firm, Mazars.
The ruling is yet another blow to President Trump and his attempts to protect his taxes. But it also paves the way for Supreme Court review.
We posted on the panel ruling here. The panel held that the Committee acted within its powers, and not in violation of the Constitution, in issuing the subpoena.
Judges Katsas and Rao, both joined by Judge Henderson, separately dissented. Judge Katsas argued that the subpoena posed a "threat to presidential autonomy and independence . . . far greater than that presented by compulsory process issued by prosecutors" in United States v. Nixon "or even by private plaintiffs" in Clinton v. Jones. Judge Rao argued that "the Committee exceeded its constitutional authority when it issued a legislative subpoena investigating whether the President broke the law. Investigations of impeachable offenses simply are not, and never have been, within the legislative power because impeachment is a separate judicial power vested in Congress."
Tuesday, November 12, 2019
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.
Wednesday, November 6, 2019
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.
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
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.