Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Fourth Circuit Tosses D.C., Maryland Emoluments Suit Against Trump for Lack of Standing

The Fourth Circuit ruled that Maryland and D.C. lacked standing to pursue their case against President Trump that he's violating the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses. The decision reverses a district court ruling and dismisses the case.

We last posted here and here.

The ruling means that this case goes away. And while the court only ruled on standing, it also noted that the plaintiffs faced plenty of other obstacles in bringing an emoluments case against the president--everything from the justiciability of emoluments claims to presidential immunity. In other words, even if there's some plaintiff with standing to bring this kind of suit, they'll face serious headwinds for other constitutional reasons.

The ruling is especially notable because it came on the president's motion for mandamus. Mandamus is an extraordinary form of relief, and the standard is quite high. Still, the court ruled that the president met it, underscoring just how wrong the Fourth Circuit thought the district court's ruling was.

The Fourth Circuit held that the plaintiffs lacked standing based on harm to their proprietary interests in their own convention centers when the Trump International Hotel siphons off business from them. According to the court, one problem was that the plaintiffs couldn't show that any violation of the Emoluments Clauses caused their harm:

To begin, the District and Maryland's theory of proprietary harm hinges on the conclusion that government customers are patronizing the Hotel because the Hotel distributes profits or dividends to the President, rather than due to any of the Hotel's other characteristics. Such a conclusion, however, requires speculation into the subjective motives of independent actors who are not before the court, undermining a finding of causation.

Another problem was redressability--that the plaintiffs' requested relief wouldn't redress their harm:

And, even if government officials were patronizing the Hotel to curry the President's favor, there is no reason to conclude that they would cease doing so were the President enjoined from receiving income from the Hotel. After all, the Hotel would still be publicly associated with the President, would still bear his name, and would still financially benefit members of his family.

The court next rejected the plaintiffs' claims of parens patriae standing to protect the economic interests of their citizens. The court said that these claims ran into exactly the same problems that the plaintiffs' own proprietary-harm claims ran into--no causation, no redressability.

Finally, the court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that they suffered an injury to their quasi-sovereign interests--that "[t]heir injury is the violation of their constitutionally protected interest in avoiding entirely pressure to compete with others for the President's favor by giving him money or other valuable dispensations" and that "it is the opportunity for favoritism that disrupts the balance of power in the federal system and injures the District and Maryland." The court said simply that "[t]his alleged harm amounts to little more than a general interest in having the law followed"--not enough for standing.

July 10, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | 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)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Court Strikes State Residency Requirement for Liquor Store Licenses

The Supreme Court ruled today in Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Ass'n v. Thomas that Tennessee's 2-year durational-residency requirement for retail liquor store license applicants violates the dormant Commerce Clause and is not saved by the Twenty-first Amendment.

The 7-2 ruling, authored by Justice Alito, is a strong endorsement of the Court's dormant Commerce Clause jurisprudence, which sets limits on states' economic protectionism and discrimination against interstate commerce.

Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Kavanaugh, wrote first that the residency requirement violated the dormant Commerce Clause. The Court said that while "[i]n recent years, some Members of the Court have authored vigorous and thoughtful critiques of" the dormant Commerce Clause,

the proposition that the Commerce Clause by its own force restricts state protectionism is deeply rooted in our case law. And without the dormant Commerce Clause, we would be left with a constitutional scheme that those who framed and ratified the Constitution would surely find surprising.

The Court went on to say that Tennessee's 2-year durational-residency requirement "plainly favors Tennesseans over nonresidents" in violation of the doctrine.

As to the Twenty-first Amendment, the Court said that despite "the ostensibly broad text of Section 2 . . . we have looked to history for guidance, and history has taught us that the thrust of Section 2 is to 'constitutionaliz[e]' the basic structure of federal-state alcohol regulatory authority that prevailed prior to the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment." Under that reading, the Court said that "as recognized during that period, the Commerce Clause did not permit the States to impose protectionist measures clothed as police-power regulations."

In short, "Section 2 cannot be given an interpretation that overrides all previously adopted constitutional provisions," including the dormant Commerce Clause, and therefore Tennessee's residency requirement isn't saved by the Twenty-first Amendment.

Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justice Thomas, dissented. Justice Gorsuch argued that the plain text of the Twenty-first Amendment, the history, and early Court interpretations all point toward permitting state residency requirements:

But through it all, one thing has always held true: States may impose residency requirements on those who seek to sell alcohol within their borders to ensure that retailers comply with local laws and norms. In fact, States have enacted residency requirements for at least 150 years, and the Tennessee law at issue before us has stood since 1939. Today and for the first time, the Court claims to have discovered a duty and power to strike down laws like these as unconstitutional.

June 26, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Dormant Commerce Clause, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Auer Deference, Limited, Hangs On (but Chevron may soon go)

In a closely watched administrative law and separation-of-powers case, Kisor v. Wilkie, the Court today declined to overrule Auer v. Robbins, which says that courts should defer to agencies' interpretations of their own ambiguous regulations. At the same time, however, the Court sharply limited its application. As a result, Auer deference hangs on, but in a more (perhaps much more) limited form.

And although the case didn't raise Chevron deference (which says that courts defer to agencies' interpretation of applicable federal law), signs suggest that it's next on the chopping block.

The Court split sharply over whether to overrule Auer. Justice Kagan, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor on this point, wrote to keep it in place, but limit it. Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, and Kavanaugh, wrote to overrule it.

Writing for the Court, Justice Kagan wrote that Auer deference depends on a preceding two-step, thus limiting it in future applications. "First and foremost, a court should not afford Auer deference unless the regulation is genuinely ambiguous. If uncertain does not exist, there is no plausible reason for deference." Next, "[i]f genuine ambiguity remains, moreover, the agency's reading must still be 'reasonable.' In other words, it must come within the zone of ambiguity the court has identified after employing all its interpretive tools. . . ." Even then,

[s]till, we are not done--for not every reasonable agency reading of a genuinely ambiguous rule should receive Auer deference. We have recognized in applying Auer that a court must make an independent inquiry into whether the character and context of the agency interpretation entitles it to controlling weight. . . .

To begin with, the regulatory interpretation must be one actually made by the agency. . . .

Next, the agency's interpretation must in some way implicate its substantive expertise. . . .

Finally, an agency's reading of a rule must reflect "fair and considered judgment" to receive Auer deference. . . .

The Court also held that under stare decisis principles, Auer should stay in place.

Chief Justice Roberts joined much, but not all, of the Court's opinion (the portions specifying the limits of Auer deference and upholding Auer under stare decisis) and wrote separately "to suggest that the distance between the majority and JUSTICE GORSUCH is not as great as it may initially appear." Importantly, he also wrote that nothing in today's ruling says anything about the continued validity of Chevron deference: "Issues surrounding judicial deference to agency interpretations of their own regulations are distinct from those raised in connection with judicial deference to agency interpretations of statutes enacted by Congress. [Chevron.]"

Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justices Alito, Thomas, and Kavanaugh, would have overruled Auer. (Indeed, Justice Gorssuch read the majority's ruling to more-or-less do that.)

The four conventional progressives differed sharply from four conventional conservatives (minus Chief Justice Roberts) over the history and reasons for Auer deference, whether Auer deference violates the Administrative Procedure Act, and whether it violates the separation of powers. (On this last point, four conservatives (again, minus Chief Justice Roberts) argued that Auer deference meant that executive agencies were exercising the judicial power, in violation of the separation of powers. The four progressives disagreed.) This means that there's 4-4 split on the Court over these questions, with Chief Justice Roberts declining to join either side (but nevertheless voting to uphold Auer under stare decisis).

Justice Kavanaugh, joined by Justice Alito, wrote separately to agree with Chief Justice Roberts that "the distance between the majority and JUSTICE GORSUCH is not as great as it may initially appear," and that this case doesn't touch on Chevron deference.

June 26, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | 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)

Industry Group Has Standing to Appeal FOIA Ruling

The Supreme Court ruled today in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media that an industry group had standing to appeal a lower court's FOIA ruling that would have required government disclosure of information that would have harmed the group's members.

The case arose when Argus Leader Media filed a FOIA request with the USDA for the names and addresses of all retail grocery stores that participate in the national food-stamp program, SNAP, along with each store's annual SNAP redemption data from 2005 to 2010. USDA declined to provide the redemption data, citing FOIA's Exemption 4, which protects "confidential" commercial information. The district court ruled against the agency under the circuit's "substantial harm" test to determine whether information is "confidential." (Under the test, information is protected if its disclosure would create a substantial harm to the competitive position of the person or firm from whom the information was obtained (the participating grocery stores).) USDA declined to appeal, so the Food Marketing Institute stepped in to challenge the ruling.

The Court today ruled that the Institute had standing to appeal. The Court held that disclosure of the requested information would "likely cause some financial injury" to its members, and that a favorable Court ruling would redress that injury. As to Argus's claim that a judicial ruling would simply restore the government's discretion to withhold the data (and thus that redressability was speculative, not a sure thing), the Court said that "the government has represented unequivocally that, consistent with its longstanding policy and past assurances of confidentiality to retailers, it 'will not disclosure' the contested data unless to do so by the district court's order."

The Court went on to abandon the "substantial harm" test (thus lowering the bar on Exemption 4 and making it easier for an agency to withhold information under that Exemption) and to rule in favor of the Institute:

At least where commercial or financial information is both customarily and actually treated as private by its owner and provided to the government under an assurance of privacy, the information is "confidential" within the meaning of Exemption 4. Because the store-level SNAP data at issue here is confidential under that construction, the judgment of the court of appeals is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

June 24, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | 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)

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Nondelegation Standard Hangs On (but maybe not for long)

The Supreme Court today rejected a nondelegation challenge to a provision in the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act that authorized the Attorney General to "specify the applicability" of the registration requirement under the Act to pre-Act offenders. We last posted on the case--an analysis of the oral arguments--here.

The ruling leaves the nondelegation standard in place, but perhaps not for long. There are three clear votes (Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Gorsuch), and probably a fourth (Justice Alito), to reevaluate and tighten up the standard. If Justice Kavanaugh, who was recused from today's ruling, joins those four, the Court will likely take a new approach to nondelegation in coming Terms, and sharply restrict Congress's authority to delegate powers to executive agencies. Depending on the approach, this could take down any number of federal statutes that give discretion to executive agencies.

In short: We still have an "intelligible principle" approach to the nondelegation doctrine, which permits Congress to delegate broad authority and discretion to executive agencies. But that's likely to change soon.

The case, Gundy v. United States, tested SORNA's delegation to the AG as a violation of the separation of powers. In short, Gundy argued that Congress ceded away too much law-making authority to the Executive Branch when it authorized the AG to "specify the applicability" of the Act's registration requirement to pre-Act offenders.

The Court ruled 5-3 (Justice Kavanaugh recused) to uphold the delegation.

Justice Kagan wrote the plurality opinion, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. The plurality said that SORNA's delegation to the AG satisfied the long-standing nondelegation doctrine test--that a congressional act that delegates authority to the Executive Branch with "intelligible principles" does not violate the separation of powers. Justice Kagan wrote that SORNA's delegation provided "intelligible principles," because it only delegated to the AG the power to determine when (but not if) SORNA's registration requirement would apply to pre-Act offenders. She argued that Congress authorized this flexibility because of the possible logistical issues for some pre-Act offenders (those who have been released from prison, e.g.) to register. She wrote that this understanding of the delegation is confirmed by the Act's test and legislative history, and by the Court's interpretation of the delegation in Reynolds v. United States.

Justice Alito concurred in the result, but wrote separately to say that he'd be willing to consider the "intelligible principle" approach to the nondelegation doctrine in an appropriate case.

Justice Gorsuch dissented, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas. Justice Gorsuch argued that the "intelligible principle" approach to the nondelegation doctrine allows too much congressional delegation to the Executive Branch and violates the separation of powers.

June 20, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 17, 2019

SCOTUS Upholds Virginia's Ban on Uranium Mining

The Supreme Court today upheld Virginia's ban on uranium mining against a federal preemption challenge by a mining company. The ruling says that the federal Atomic Energy Act does not preempt Virginia's ban.

The case, Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren, arose when Virginia Uranium sought to mine raw uranium ore from a site near Coles Hill, Virginia. The problem: Virginia law prohibits uranium mining in the Commonwealth. So Virginia Uranium sued, arguing that the ban was preempted under the federal AEA.

The Court ruled 6-3 that the AEA did not preempt the Commonwealth's ban. Justice Gorsuch wrote the lead opinion, joined by Justices Thomas and Kavanaugh. He wrote that the AEA, by its plain terms, regulated milling and waste disposal, but not mining. So the AEA doesn't field-preempt Virginia's ban, and it doesn't obstacle-preempt Virginia's ban. Justice Gorsuch emphasized a textual approach, because, he argued, considering state legislative purposes (in a field preemption analysis) and congressional purposes (in an obstacle preemption analysis) would be fraught with difficulties and uncertainties.

Justice Ginsburg wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan. She agreed with Justice Gorsuch, but argued that "his discussion of the perils of inquiring into legislative motive sweeps well beyond the confines of this case, and therefore seems to me inappropriate in an opinion speaking for the Court, rather than for individual members of the Court." Moreover, "Virginia Uranium's obstacle preemption arguments fail under existing doctrine, so there is little reason to question, as Justice Gorsuch does, whether that doctrine should be retained."

Chief Justice Roberts dissented, joined by Justices Breyer and Alito. He argued that Virginia sought an end-run around the AEA by banning mining (which the AEA doesn't regulate), but for the purpose of banning milling and waste (which the AEA does regulate).

Thus, the question before us is whether, consistent with the AEA and our precedents, the Commonwealth may purport to regulate a non-preempted field (mining safety) with the purpose and effect of indirectly regulating a preempted field (milling and [waste]). That should have made for an easy case.

Under our AEA precedents, a state law is preempted not only when it "conflicts with federal law," but also when its purpose is to regulate within a preempted field.

June 17, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0)

High Court Affirms Separate Sovereigns Doctrine

The Supreme Court today upheld the "separate sovereigns" doctrine that permits, consistent with double jeopardy, the prosecution of the same person for the same criminal act under state and federal law.

The ruling means that both a state government and the federal government can prosecute the same person for the same crime without running afoul of the Fifth Amendment's prohibition on double jeopardy.

It also means that those subject to federal prosecution in the Mueller investigation can be prosecuted under state law. That's significant, because President Trump can't pardon someone for a violation of state law.

The ruling, Gamble v. United States, grew out of a federal felony-in-possession charge against Terance Gamble after he had been convicted of felony in possession under Alabama law. Gamble argued that the federal charge violated double jeopardy. The Court disagreed.

Justice Alito wrote for the Court, including Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Kavanaugh. Justice Alito made it simple:

We start with the text of the Fifth Amendment. Although the dual-sovereignty rule is often dubbed an "exception" to the double jeopardy right, it is not an exception at all. On the contrary, it follows from the text that defines that right in the first place. "[T]he language of the Clause . . . protects individuals from being twice put in jeopardy 'for the same offence,' not the same conduct or actions," as Justice Scalia wrote in a soon-vindicated dissent. And the term "'[o]ffense was commonly understood in 1791 to mean 'transgression,' that is, 'the Violation or Breaking of a Law.'" As originally understood, then, an "offence" is defined by a law, and each law is defined by a sovereign. So where there are two sovereigns, there are two laws, and two "offences."

The Court rejected Gamble's claim that the dual sovereignty doctrine contradicts the common-law rights that the Double Jeopardy Clause was originally understood to protect:

The English cases are a muddle. Treatises offer spotty support. And early state and federal cases are by turns equivocal and downright harmful to Gamble's position. All told, this evidence does not establish that those who ratified the Fifth Amendment took it to bar successive prosecutions under different sovereigns' laws--much less do so with enough force to break a chain of precedent linking dozens of cases over 170 years.

The Court also rejected his claim that "the Double Jeopardy Clause's incorporation against the states washed away any theoretical foundation for the dual-sovereignty rule," because "the premises of the dual-sovereignty doctrine have survived incorporation intact." "Incorporation meant that the States were now required to abide by this Court's interpretation of the Double Jeopardy Clause. But that interpretation has long included the dual-sovereignty doctrine, and there is no logical reason why incorporation should change it."

Justice Thomas wrote a concurring opinion and argued that "the Court's typical formulation of the stare decisis standard does not comport with our judicial duty under Article III because it elevates demonstrably erroneous decisions--meaning decisions outside the realm of permissible interpretation--over the text of the Constitution and other duly enacted federal law." Justice Thomas argued that the Court's strong application of stare decisis to "demonstrably erroneous precedent" means that the Court is making the law, and impermissibly encroaching on the role of Congress in violation of the separation of powers. If there were any doubt, he singled out precedents under substantive due process as examples of "demonstrably erroneous precedent."

Justice Ginsburg dissented, arguing that "[t]he United States and its constituent States, unlike foreign nations, are 'kindred systems,' 'parts of ONE WHOLE'" and that "[w]ithin that 'WHOLE,' the Federal and State Governments should be disabled from accomplishing together 'what neither government [could] do alone--prosecute an ordinary citizen twice for the same offense.'"

Justice Gorsuch also dissented, arguing that "this 'separate sovereigns exception' to the bar against double jeopardy finds no meaningful support in the text of the Constitution, its original public meaning, structure, or history."

June 17, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Justice Department Argues that Congress Can't Get Trump's Tax Returns

The Office of Legal Counsel late yesterday issued an opinion giving its reasons why the Treasury Department doesn't have to comply with House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal's request, authorized by federal law, for President Trump's tax returns. We last posted on the controversy here.

The opinion is the culmination of breathtaking efforts by the Trump Administration to protect President Trump's tax returns from the Committee. Why breathtaking? Because federal law says that Treasury "shall furnish" (as in must furnish) the returns upon the request of the Committee Chair.

26 U.S.C. Sec. 6103 says that Treasury "shall furnish" tax-return information "[u]pon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives." Chair Neal issued the requisite written request, stating that he sought the returns in order to investigate how the IRS audits presidents' tax returns. So far, Treasury declined to turn them over, saying that Chair Neal's request lacks a "legitimate legislative purpose," and that the Office of Legal Counsel would soon elaborate. Yesterday's opinion is that elaboration.

OLC's opinion riffs on Treasury's well worn claim--that Neal's request for the returns doesn't serve a "legitimate legislative purpose," and therefore Treasury can ignore the mandatory language (quoted above) in federal law.

In short, the opinion says that while Chair Neal claimed that he sought the returns to investigate how the IRS conducts audits of presidents (a legitimate legislative purpose), Chair Neal's real reason for requesting the returns is to release them to the public--and that's not a legitimate legislative purpose. The opinion draws on statements by Neal and other Democrats in the prior Congress suggesting that they'd like to publicize President Trump's tax returns when they gain a majority in the House. The memo says that this creates a mismatch between Chair Neal's stated reason for requesting the returns (to investigate how the IRS conducts audits) and his real reason (simply to publicize the President's returns).

The opinion cites several reasons why OLC believes that Chair Neal's stated reasons aren't his real reasons. First, OLC says that Chair Neal didn't also request other information, like IRS audit procedures. Next, it says that Chair Neal requested six years of the President's returns, even though "only the last two years correspond to his time in office." Third, OLC argues that the request focuses on just one taxpayer, President Trump, and not other Presidents and Vice-Presidents. OLC also notes that "the Chairman's request appeared to be 'perfectly tailored' to accomplish the Chairman's long-standing and avowed goal, namely 'to obtain and expose the President's tax returns.'"

Given that the courts are quite deferential to Congress in determining the scope of its own investigation authority, you might wonder where the administration gets off second-guessing Congress's motives. That is: Why does the administration think it can be less deferential to Congress regarding Congress's reasons for conducting an investigation? Here's part of the reason:

Allowing a congressional committee to dictate when Treasury must keep tax information confidential and when it must disclose such information would impermissibly intrude on executive power by ceding control to the Committee over ensuring that section 6103 is implemented in a manner consistent with the constitutional limitations.

Here's the rest:

Separated from the democratic process, the federal courts are not well equipped to second-guess the action of the political branches by close scrutiny of their motivations. . . .

These same limitations do not apply to the Executive Branch, which operates as a politically accountable check on the Legislative Branch. The Founders separated the President from the Congress, giving him "a separate political consistency, to which he alone was responsible," and "the means to resist legislative encroachment" upon his duty to executive the laws. The head of the Executive Branch, who is elected separately from Congress, ultimately must answer to the people for the manner in which he exercises his authority. The separation of powers would be dramatically impaired were the Executive required to implement the laws by accepting the legitimacy of any reason proffered by Congress, even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. In order to prevent the "special danger . . . of congressional usurpation of Executive Branch functions," we believe that Treasury must determine, for itself, whether the Committee's stated reason reflects its true one or is merely a pretext.

Next step: Look for the Committee to seek to enforce Chair Neal's request in court.

June 15, 2019 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 14, 2019

Fourth Circuit Upholds Federal Hate Crimes Statute Against As-Applied Commerce Clause Challenge

The Fourth Circuit this week rejected an as-applied Commerce Clause challenge to the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. The divided court (2-1) ruled that the Act, which criminalizes certain hate-crimes based on sexual orientation, fell within Congress's Commerce Clause authority.

As the court noted, this is the first federal appeals court ruling on "[w]hether the Hate Crimes Act may be constitutionally applied to an unarmed assault of a victim engaged in commercial activity at his place of work . . . ."

The case, United States v. Hill, turned on the Act's "jurisdictional element," which requires a commercial connection--but, importantly, by its plain terms not necessarily a "foreign" or "inter-state" commercial connection. It's that lack of a textual "foreign" or "inter-state" commercial connection that divided the majority and dissent. The majority held that the jurisdictional element, as applied to this case, fell within Congress's Commerce Clause authority, even without a specific textual required a "foreign" or "inter-state" commercial connection. The dissent said not.

The case arose when James Hill III physically and violently assaulted Curtis Tibbs, a co-worker at an Amazon fulfillment center, because Tibbs is gay. (Hill didn't deny this; indeed, he boasted about it.) Hill repeatedly punched Tibbs in the face, causing significant bruising, cuts, and a bloody nose. Tibbs left his shift to go to the hospital for treatment, and the facility shut down the area of the assault for 30 to 45 minutes to clean blood off the floor.

Because Tibbs worked as a "packer," preparing goods for interstate shipment, and because Virginia doesn't have a hate-crimes law that criminalizes assault because of sexual orientation, the federal government charged Hill under the Shepard & Byrd Act. The government relied on a "jurisdictional element" in the Act that requires that the defendant's behavior "interfere[d] with commercial or other economic activity in which the victim [was] engaged at the time of the conduct."

Hill was convicted, but the district court granted is motion for a judgment of acquittal, holding that the Act was unconstitutional as applied to Hill. The Fourth Circuit reversed.

The court ruled that the Hill's assault met the jurisdictional element (because Tibbs was packing goods for shipment in commerce), and that the jurisdictional element fell within Congress's Commerce Clause authority.

[W]hen Congress may regulate an economic or commercial activity, it also may regulate violent conduct that interferes with or affects that activity. Hence, if individuals are engaged in ongoing economic or commercial activity subject to congressional regulation--as Tibbs was at the time of the assault--then Congress also may prohibit violent crime that interferes with or affects such individuals' ongoing economic or commercial activity, including the type of bias-motivated assaults proscribed by the Hate Crimes Act.

The court rejected Hill's argument that the assault didn't have a substantial effect on commerce because the facility as a whole still met its shipments:

That Amazon was able to absorb the impact of Tibbs' absence without missing any key shipping deadlines and that the fulfillment center's performance during the shift impacted by Tibbs' assault was in-line with its performance during other shifts does not call into question this determination. On the contrary, the Supreme Court and this Court repeatedly have clarified that Congress may regulate interferences with commerce, even if the effect of the interference on interstate commerce in an individual case is "minimal." . . . .

Similarly, this Court has held that, in as-applied Commerce Clause challenges, "the relevant question . . . is not whether one particular offense has an impact on interstate commerce, but whether the class of acts proscribed has such an impact."

The court acknowledged the importance of the jurisdictional element in the case--and, by extension, to any congressional act--writing that the "Defendant has not identified any case--nor have we found any such case--in which a federal criminal statute including an interstate commerce jurisdictional element has been held to exceed Congress's authority under the Commerce Clause."

Judge Agee dissented, arguing that the jurisdictional element "does not limit the class of activities being regulated to acts that fall under Congress' Commerce Clause power" and that "the root activity . . . regulated in this case--a bias-motivated punch--is not an inherently economic activity." As to the jurisdictional element, Judge Agee argued that it is different than other jurisdictional elements in this statute and in other statutes, and that it sweeps beyond Congress's power to regulate inter-state or foreign commerce:

In contrast, [the jurisdictional element here] is a distinct outlier without an interstate or foreign commerce statutory nexus. Nor is the unrestricted phrase "commercial or other economic activity" one of the categories the Supreme Court has identified as an area Congress can regulate under its Commerce Clause power. By [the jurisdictional element's] plain terms, it contains no jurisdictional nexus to Congress' authority under the Commerce Clause that thus fails under Lopez to be a "jurisdictional element" that has "an explicit connection with or effect on interstate commerce." This textual difference is meaningful . . . .

June 14, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

President Asserts Executive Privilege Over Docs Related to Census Citizenship Question

President Trump today formally asserted executive privilege over documents related to the Commerce Department's addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The assertion, communicated by the Commerce Department, comes after the Justice Department informed House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings late yesterday that it would ask the President to assert executive privilege if the Committee proceeded with a contempt vote against AG William Bar and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

In yesterday's letter, Assistant AG Stephen Boyd wrote,

a limited subset of the documents is protected from disclosure by the deliberative process, attorney-client communications, or attorney work product components of executive privilege. These are the kind of materials that the Executive Branch regularly and appropriately withholds in connection with oversight matters, because the disclosure of such information would have a significant chilling effect on future deliberations among senior executive branch officials, and would compromise the confidentiality on which the Executive Branch's attorney-client relationships depend. . . .

The Committee has failed to abide by the constitutionally mandated accommodation process by declining to negotiate over the scope of the subpoenaed materials or to recognize legitimate executive branch interests, as well as by its premature decision to schedule a contempt vote. In the face of this threatened contempt vote, the Attorney General is now compelled to request that the President invoke executive privilege with respect to the materials . . . .

Commerce followed up today:

Accordingly, I hereby advise you that the President has asserted executive privilege over the specific subset of the documents identified by the Committee in its June 3, 2019 letter--documents that are clearly protected from disclosure by the deliberative process, attorney-client communications, or attorney work product components of executive privilege. In addition, I advise you that the President has asserted executive privilege over the balance of the Department's documents responsive to the Committee's April 2, 2019 subpoena. As the Attorney General indicated in his letter to you yesterday, this protective assertion of executive privilege ensures the President's ability to make a final decision whether to assert privilege following a full review of these materials.

June 12, 2019 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 10, 2019

Court Says Federal Law Does Not Borrow State Labor Law on Outer Continental Shelf

The Supreme Court ruled today that federal law does not borrow state labor law on the Outer Continental Shelf. The unanimous ruling reverses the Ninth Circuit.

Given the unusual statutory provision at issue, and given the federal enclave status of the OCS, the ruling is quite narrow, based only on the particular statutory language, and does not say anything more general about the Court's preemption or federalism jurisprudence.

The case, Parker Drilling Management Services, Ltd. v. Newton, tested an unusual provision in federal law that applies to the OCS. That provision says that the laws of the adjacent state will apply to the OCS "[t]o the extent that they are applicable and not inconsistent with [federal law]." In other words, federal law applies on the OCS, and federal law borrows state law when it's "applicable and not inconsistent with" federal law.

So what happens when state law is more generous to workers than federal law? Does the state law apply (as it would under ordinary preemption analysis), or does the federal law apply?

A unanimous Supreme Court said that federal law applies. Justice Thomas, writing for the Court, noted first that the OCS is a federal enclave, where only federal law applies. (Remember, under the Act federal law borrows state law as its own.) He said that in that situation, ordinary preemption analysis doesn't apply; instead, the Court needs to determine what the phrase "applicable and not inconsistent" means in a location where the default is that only federal law applies.

Taken together, these provisions convince us that state laws can be "applicable and not inconsistent" with federal law under [the Act] only if federal law does not address the relevant issue. As we have said before, [the Act] makes apparent "that federal law is 'exclusive' in its regulation of [the OCS], and that state law is adopted only as surrogate federal law." [The Act] extends all federal law to the OCS, and instead of also extending state law writ large, it borrows only certain state laws. These laws, in turn, are declared to be federal law and are administered by federal officials. Given the primacy of federal law on the OCS and the limited role of state law, it would make little sense to treat the OCS as a mere extension of the adjacent State, where state law applies unless it conflicts with federal law. That type of pre-emption analysis is applicable only where the overlapping, dual jurisdiction of the Federal and State Governments makes it necessary to decide which law takes precedence. But the OCS is not, and never was, part of a State, so state law has never applies of its own force.

June 10, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 7, 2019

Seventh Circuit Upholds Ballot Access Requirement

The Seventh Circuit this week upheld a signatures requirement to get on the ballot in the Cook County sheriff's race.

The case, Acevedo v. Cook County Officers Electoral Board, arose when Acevedo, a would-be candidate for Cook County sheriff, failed to obtain the necessary signatures of 0.5% of qualified voters in Cook County. Acevedo noted that the signatures formula for Cook County sheriff required him to obtain more signatures (0.5% of qualified voters equals 8,236 signatures) than candidates for statewide offices (who must get only 5,000 signatures). He claimed that the signatures requirement for Cook County therefore violated strict scrutiny (because the lower signatures requirement for statewide offices showed that the government could meet its interest in a less burdensome way).

The Seventh Circuit rejected the claim. Applying the Anderson-Burdick balancing test, the court said that strict scrutiny was far too high a standard, and that the government easily met it:

We have stressed before that "[w]hat is ultimately important is not the absolute or relative number of signatures required by whether a 'reasonably diligent candidate could be expected to be able to meet the requirements and gain a place on the ballot.'" If the burden imposed is slight, Anderson and Burdick make clear that no justification beyond the state's interest in orderly and fair elections is necessary--even if less burdensome alternatives are available.

The ruling ends this challenge and upholds the signatures requirement for Cook County sheriff.

June 7, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Check it Out: Tribe, Chemerinsky, Raskin Talk High Crimes and Misdemeanors

Check out the latest podcast from Prof. Harry Litman's outstanding Talking Feds, High Crimes and Misdemeanors, featuring Prof. Laurence Tribe, Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, and Congressman Jamie Raskin. The high-power panel talks, well, high crimes and misdemeanors.

June 5, 2019 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

White House Instructs Hicks, Donaldson Not to Comply with House Judiciary Subpoenas

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone wrote to House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler today that the White House had instructed former staffers Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson not to comply with Committee subpoenas for documents related to their time in the White House. The instruction is categorical.

Cipollone's letter is here.

The reasons are all too familiar, even if ill defined. Cipollone wrote,

Th[e subpoenaed documents] include White House records that remain legally protected from disclosure under longstanding constitutional principles, because they implicate significant Executive Branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege.

It's not at all clear which documents Cipollone is referring to (all? some? which?), and it's not clear how "confidentiality interests" and executive privilege apply. Cipollone writes that this spaghetti-on-the-wall approach has DOJ's concurrence. He also writes that the White House and the Committee might be able to work something out.

Absent from this latest White House effort at frustrating congressional oversight is another familiar claim: that the Committee has no "legitimate legislative purpose" in the material. Perhaps that'll come out if and when this goes to litigation.

June 4, 2019 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 3, 2019

Court Says House Lacks Standing to Challenge Trump's Border Wall Funding

Judge Trevor N. McFadden (D.D.C.) ruled today that the House of Representatives lacks standing to challenge President Trump's reallocation of appropriated funds to build a border wall.

We last posted on the case here.

The ruling deals a sharp blow to the House in this case (although one imagines it'll be appealed). But other legal challenges against the reallocation of funds are still pending. And as Judge McFadden wrote in some detail, the House has other ways to hold President Trump to account.

Recall the background: Congress declined to appropriate the full amount of money that President Trump sought for the wall; President Trump then turned to three statutory authorities, including an "emergency" authority, that he claimed authorized him to reallocate funds appropriated for other purposes for the wall; and the House sued, arguing that the reallocation violated the Appropriations Clause and federal law.

We analyzed the merits arguments here.

Today's ruling in U.S. House of Representatives v. Mnuchin says that the House hasn't suffered a sufficient concrete injury because of President Trump's reallocation of funds to build the wall. In particular, the court said that the House hasn't suffered a "complete nullification" of its appropriations powers, and therefore hasn't suffered a sufficient injury to support standing:

But unlike the plaintiffs in Raines, the House retains the institutional tools necessary to remedy any harm caused to this power by the Administration's actions. Its Members can, with a two-thirds majority, override the President's veto of the resolution voiding the National Emergency Declaration. They did not. It can amend appropriations laws to expressly restrict the transfer or spending of funds for a border wall under Sections 284 and 2808. Indeed, it appears to be doing so. And Congress "may always exercise its power to expand recoveries" for any private parties harmed by the Administration's actions.

More still, the House can hold hearings on the Administration's spending decisions.

You might wonder why the (Republican) House had standing to challenge President Obama's decision to reallocate funds for the cost-sharing reduction payments under the Affordable Care Act, but the (Democratic) House has no standing to challenge President Trump's reallocation of funds for the wall.

I don't have a good answer, and I'm not sure the court in today's case does, either.

Judge McFadden seems to say that standing in the cost-sharing case was based on the House's constitutional (Appropriations Clause) claim, whereas this case looked more like a statutory claim (in which the House wouldn't have standing). But that seems weak: Judge McFadden himself says that the distinction between a constitutional claim and statutory claim is murky; and the constitutional claim in this case seems as strong, or stronger, than the constitutional claim in the cost-sharing case. Judge McFadden also says that allowing the House to sue here would also allow the House to sue over "every instance of the Executive's statutory non-compliance." But that's plainly not the case.

(Maybe you can understand the court's analysis better than I can. Take a crack: it's at pages 14 to 15 of the enclosed version of the opinion.)

June 3, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Ninth Circuit Lets Environmental "Citizen Suit" Move Forward

The Ninth Circuit ruled today that a lower court had jurisdiction over environmental organizations' lawsuit against the United States Forest Service under the "citizen suit" provision in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

The ruling reverses the lower court decision on this point and remands the case for further proceedings related to the merits.

The case, Center for Biological Diversity v. United States Forest Service, started when the Center and others sued the USFS for its failure to address the use of lead ammunition by hunters in Arizona's Kaibab National Forest. According to the plaintiffs, scavenger species, including the California condor, suffer from lead poisoning after they ingest lead ammunition left in animal carcasses by hunters. The Center sought declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to the RCRA's citizen-suit provision.

The district court dismissed the case, ruling that it amounted to a request for an advisory opinion. The Ninth Circuit reversed.

The Ninth Circuit held that the case was not an advisory opinion. The court said that the Center's challenge presents a "genuine adversary issue between the parties," and that "a ruling in the Center's favor would require USFS to mitigate in some manner--not necessarily by banning the use of lead ammunition in the Kaibab--the harm caused by spent lead ammunition, thereby leading to a change in USFS's operation of the Kaibab."

The court rejected the lower court's conclusion that any judicial ruling would amount only to a recommendation. That's because the RCRA specifically grants the courts jurisdictions over this type of claim and relief, including jurisdiction "to restrain any person who has contributed or who is contributing to [a substantial endangerment to health or the environment], to order such person to take such other action as may be necessary, or both." The court also rejected the lower court's conclusion that any order "would be an improper intrusion into the domain of the USFS." The court said that this is exactly what the RCRA authorizes, and that this position, if accepted, "would preclude courts from issuing injunctions against expert administrative agencies, which, of course, we regularly do."

The court also rejected the USFS's argument that the courts should "declin[e] jurisdiction out of deference to the policy choices of the other branches of the federal government." The court said that the RCRA grants it jurisdiction, and that it has a "virtually unflagging obligation . . . to exercise the jurisdiction given [it]."

The case goes back to the district court for further proceedings related to the merits.

May 30, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Ripeness | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sixth Circuit Tosses Civil Rights Case Against State Judge

The Sixth Circuit this week ruled that a state judge enjoys absolute immunity from a lawsuit stemming from the judge's role in a conspiracy to deprive the plaintiff of its civil rights.

The case, HLV, LLC v. Van Buren County, arose when HLV filed a collection action against another corporation, ELC Leasing, in state court, Judge Hamre presiding. The parties came to an agreement, and Judge Hamre signed off. But then things went south. For one, HLV tried to inspect ELC assets (pursuant to the agreement), but ELC physically resisted--an encounter that ultimately drew the police (but no arrests). For another, Judge Hamre issued a series of questionable motions-rulings that undermined the agreement to HLV's detriment.

At one point, Judge Hamre hosted a status conference, with HLV attorneys calling in, but ELC attorneys attending in person. After the conference ended, Judge Hamre and ELC attorneys discussed the case, and Judge Hamre told the attorneys that ELC wouldn't have to comply with the parties' agreement (among other things).

But unbeknownst to Judge Hamre and the ELC attorneys, an HLV attorney was still on the line, and transcribed the entire conversation.

HLV attorneys moved to disqualify Judge Hamre and the ELC attorneys. Soon after, they received a call from a police officer who said that the county prosecutor issued warrants for their arrest for the earlier confrontation.

HLV sued the whole lot of them (Judge Hamre, the prosecutor, the ELC attorneys) for civil rights violations and conspiracy, among other things. The district court dismissed the case against Judge Hamre, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed.

The court ruled that Judge Hamre was absolutely immune from suit under the doctrine of absolute judicial immunity. It also ruled that he didn't fall into either one of the exceptions, because his actions were "truly judicial" (and not nonjudicial) and because the court had jurisdiction (and there was no "absence of jurisdiction"). It didn't matter that Judge Hamre's decisions exceeded jurisdiction, or that they were legally wrong. That's the point of absolute judicial immunity. As the court explained:

Immunizing judges from civil liability helps prevent [judicial timidity out of fear of liability, which would "detract from independent and impartial adjudication"] by allowing judges to "exercise their functions with independence and without fear of consequence." But there is a cost: one incidental effect of judicial immunity is that judges who have abused their position may escape civil liability.

Judge Hamre ultimate recused himself (but only because he might be called as a witness in the criminal case against the HLV attorneys) and retired.

May 30, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)