Friday, November 16, 2018
Tom Goldstein, frequent Supreme Court litigator and publisher of SCOTUSblog, asked the Supreme Court today to rule on the legality of President Trump's designation of Matthew Whitaker as Acting AG. The issue came up in Goldstein's motion to substitute Rod Rosenstein (and not Matthew Whitaker) in a case against the AG.
The case pits the AG Succession Act (which specifies an automatic line of succession for the office) against the Vacancies Reform Act (which applies more broadly and gives the President more flexibility in naming an acting officer). It also asks whether the President's designation violated the Appointments Clause, because the AG is an "officer" that requires Senate confirmation.
The government's position is set out here, in the OLC memo concluding that President Trump had authority to designate Whitaker. Walter Dellinger and Marty Lederman have an outstanding "initial reactions" here, at Just Security.
Wednesday, October 3, 2018
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in Gundy v. United States, the case testing whether the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act delegated too much authority to the Attorney General to determine the Act's application to pre-Act offenders. Our preview is here.
If the arguments any any predictor, the Non-Delegation Doctrine challenge to the Act faces an uphill battle. Indeed, there was only one Justice, Justice Gorsuch, who seriously went to bat against the Act. And his problems with the Act sounded more in due process (void-for-vagueness), and not in the separation of powers or non-delegation.
The question for the Court was whether SORNA's delegation to the AG to determine the applicability of the Act to pre-Act offenders provided an "intelligible principle" to guide the AG's decision. If so, there's no delegation problem; if not, there's a violation of the Non-Delegation Doctrine. (That Doctrine seeks to preserve the separation of powers by preventing Congress from delegating too much law-making authority to the Executive Branch.)
The Court's approach will likely turn on two considerations. First, can the Court look to the Act in its entirety in determining whether Congress legislated with an "intelligible principle," or is it restricted to the particular provision that delegates authority to the AG to determine its application to pre-Act offenders? (Related: Should the Court seek to interpret the Act to avoid a delegation problem?) Court precedent and most of the Justice who spoke seemed to favor the former approach; only Justice Gorsuch spoke out forcefully in favor of the latter approach (and, again, his objections really sounded in due process, not the separation of powers). Next, does the Non-Delegation Doctrine apply differently to legislation that provides more serious enforcement than to legislation that provides less serious enforcement? In particular, is the Doctrine more rigorous when the delegation goes to the AG (as chief federal prosecutor of federal crimes, as opposed to an ordinary regulatory agency), because a vague delegation would put both the power to interpret the law and the power to prosecute the criminal law in the hands of one executive officer? Again, precedent and questions seemed to say no, and, again, only Justice Gorsuch seriously pushed back.
As far as the separation of powers goes, it's worth noting that if the Court rules that SORNA violates the Non-Delegation Doctrine, this is a net gain for the judicial branch: it means that the courts can play a more aggressive role than they have played in determining the authority of executive agencies in interpreting and executing the law. To that extent, we might consider this case alongside other challenges to the administrative state (challenges to the Chevron doctrine, challenges to Morrison v. Olson and independent agencies, etc.).
It's certainly possible that the Court might do some refining around the edges of the Non-Delegation Doctrine. (Maybe that's why the Court granted cert. Otherwise, the grant seems a mystery.) But it seems quite unlikely that the Court will hold the SORNA's delegation to the AG unconstitutional.
Monday, October 1, 2018
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Gundy v. United States, the case testing whether Congress violated the separation of powers by delegating too much authority to the Attorney General to determine whether the Sex Offender and Registration and Notification Act applies to pre-Act offenders. Here's my preview for the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases (with permission):
The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act
In 2006, Congress enacted SORNA to “establish a comprehensive national system for the registration” of sex offenders. Before SORNA, every state had its own registration system, and the federal government required states to adopt certain unifying measures or lose certain federal funds. SORNA strengthened these baselines, but it also did more.
In particular, SORNA created—and required states to create, as a condition of receiving certain federal funds—criminal penalties for individuals who fail to comply with its registration requirements. SORNA created a federal three-tier system for classifying sex offenders based on the significance of their offense, and made it a federal crime to fail to register for a specified number of years (depending on the tier of the crime). (This was different than the classification system that many states previously used, which set requirements based on individualized risk assessments of the offenders.) The Act states that a person who (1) “is required to register under” SORNA; (2) “travels in interstate or foreign commerce”; and (3) “knowingly fails to register or update a registration as required by” SORNA is guilty of a federal crime punishable to up to ten years in prison. 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a). It also requires states (again, as a condition of receiving certain federal funds) to “provide a criminal penalty that includes a maximum term that is greater than 1 year for the failure of a sex offender to comply with” SORNA’s registration requirements.
But Congress didn’t specify whether these new criminal provisions would apply to pre-Act offenders. (The question was important: legislators estimated that there were more than 500,000 pre-Act offenders when Congress passed the law.) Instead, Congress left it to the Attorney General. SORNA says: “The Attorney General shall have the authority to specify the applicability of the requirements of this subchapter to sex offenders convicted before the enactment of this chapter . . . and to prescribe rules for the registration of any such sex offenders . . . .” 34 U.S.C. § 20913(d).
This gives the Attorney General quite a bit of discretion. It allows the Attorney General to apply SORNA to pre-Act offenders immediately, or later, or not at all. It also allows the Attorney General to make a decision at one time, but to change course later, or under any new President, with regard to whether and how SORNA’s registration requirements would apply to pre-Act offenders.
In fact, the Attorney General exercised this discretion, at least to some extent. Attorney General Alberto G. Gonzales issued an interim rule about six months after Congress passed SORNA stating that SORNA would apply to pre-Act offenders. Since then, different Attorneys General issued different guidelines as to how it would apply, particularly with regard to offenders who had been released from prison for longer than SORNA’s maximum registration periods (for example, a person who was released more than 25 years before Congress enacted SORNA, but who would be subject to a maximum 25-year registration period under SORNA). As relevant to this case, Attorney General Eric Holder issued guidance in 2010 that SORNA credit pre-Act offenders with their entire prior period in the community, regardless of what a local jurisdiction might decide.
In 2005, Herman Avery Gundy pled guilty in Maryland to sexual assault of a minor. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, with ten years suspended and five years of probation.
In November 2010, Gundy completed his state sentence and was transferred to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to serve a related federal sentence. The Bureau of Prisons transferred Gundy from Maryland to a prison in Pennsylvania. In July 2012, it transferred him from Pennsylvania to a halfway house in New York to complete his sentence. Gundy was released on August 27, 2012. He remained in New York.
In October 2012, Gundy was arrested in New York and charged with violating SORNA’s federal criminal provision. The indictment alleged that Gundy (1) was “an individual required to register” under SORNA based on his 2005 Maryland sex offense, (2) traveled in interstate commerce, and (3) “thereafter resided in New York without registering” as required by SORNA.
Gundy moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing, among other things, that SORNA could not constitutionally apply to him, because Congress delegated too much authority to the Attorney General to make a fundamentally legislative decision about whether SORNA applied to pre-Act offenders. The district court initially dismissed the indictment, but later, on remand from the Second Circuit, rejected Gundy’s constitutional argument. The Second Circuit affirmed, and remanded the case for trial. Gundy was convicted, and the district court sentenced him to time served and five years of supervised release. Gundy appealed, again arguing that SORNA could not constitutionally apply to him. The Second Circuit again rejected this argument. This appeal followed.
In order to protect Congress’s lawmaking authority within our separation-of-powers system—and to ensure that Congress does not cede this authority to the Executive Branch—the Court has set a standard for congressional delegations: it requires Congress to provide “intelligible principles” whenever it delegates authority to enforce the law to agencies within the Executive Branch. This is called the “Nondelegation Doctrine.”
Historically speaking, the Nondelegation Doctrine has been loose and quite permissive, giving Congress wide berth. Thus, the Court has said that a congressional delegation satisfies the Nondelegation Doctrine “if Congress clearly delineates the general policy, the public agency which is to apply it, and the boundaries of th[e] delegated authority.” American Power & Light Co. v. SEC, 329 U.S. 90 (1946). To date, the Court has found only two statutory delegations that violated the Doctrine, and both of those provided almost no guidance to the Executive.
Still, Gundy contends that SORNA’s delegation to the Attorney General to determine the Act’s application to pre-Act offenders violates the Doctrine. Gundy argues first that SORNA provides no intelligible principles to the Attorney General, because it doesn’t say “whether he should make any pre-Act offenders register; which offenders should be required to register; or even what he must (or must not) consider in deciding these questions.” He says that even the government concedes that SORNA allows the Attorney General to take no action at all, to wait years before taking action, and to reverse course at any time. Gundy claims this unbridled authority “can only be characterized as ‘legislative’ power” in violation of the separation of powers.
Gundy argues next that the Court should apply a heightened nondelegation standard in this context, and that SORNA violates the heightened standard, too. In particular, Gundy claims that SORNA delegates “significant power” to the Attorney General “to make policy decisions that bear directly on an individual’s liberty . . . ; disturb settled expectations of law . . . ; and infringe states’ sovereign interests (by regulating purely intrastate conduct and dictating to states, as a condition of federal funding, how they must regulate and criminalize conduct within their own borders).” Gundy contends that these features of SORNA require a heightened nondelegation standard, and that SORNA fails, because “the statute gives the Attorney General no meaningful guidance as to how to exercise these vast powers.”
The government counters that SORNA satisfies the traditional Nondelegation Doctrine. The government says that the Act identifies the official to whom it delegates authority (the Attorney General), and that SORNA’s text and history sufficiently provide a “general policy” that the Attorney General should pursue in making the determination. The government claims that SORNA thus easily satisfies the deferential traditional nondelegation standard.
To illustrate its point, the government contends that SORNA provides the Attorney General the exact same discretion as a hypothetical (and valid) statute that required all pre-Act offenders to register but authorized the Attorney General to grant waivers. Under this hypothetical (and, again, valid) statute, “the scope of [the Attorney General’s] authority . . . would be the same.” The government says that if Congress can enact this hypothetical statute (which it can), then it can also enact SORNA.
The government argues next that the Court need not address Gundy’s argument about a heightened nondelegation standard. The government contends that SORNA does not raise especial concerns that would justify a heightened standard, that the Court has already rejected a heightened standard, and that SORNA would satisfy any standard, anyway.
This case addresses a key question left open the last time the Court took on SORNA, in Reynolds v. United States. 565 U.S. 432 (2012). In that case, the Court ruled that pre-Act offenders do not have to register under SORNA until the Attorney General validly specified that the Act’s registration provisions applied to them. In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, noted that SORNA potentially raised a nondelegation problem:
it is not entirely clear to me that Congress can constitutionally leave it to the Attorney General to decide—with no statutory standard whatever governing his discretion—whether a criminal statute will or will not apply to certain individuals. That seems to me sailing close to the wind with regard to the principle that legislative powers are nondelegable.
This case picks up that cue. That’s notable, because the Nondelegation Doctrine has been all but dormant since 1935. In that year, the Court ruled in Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan, 293 U.S. 388 (1935), and Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495 (1935), that two different statutes were unconstitutional. Since then, the Court has not ruled a single act of Congress unconstitutional under the Doctrine. This case could resurrect this long-dormant doctrine.
This could be especially significant in the broader context of a Court that seems increasingly skeptical, even hostile, to aggressive agency rule-making—what some describe as impermissible “lawmaking”—within the Executive Branch. This hostility comes out in the increasingly common arguments from some quarters against judicial deference toward agency rule-making under so-called “Chevron deference.” Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. 467 U.S. 837 (1984). Chevron deference says that the courts should defer to an agency’s interpretation of a statute, so long as the interpretation is reasonable. Opponents of Chevron deference call for greater judicial scrutiny of agency interpretations, in order to rein them in. (As this piece goes to print, Judge Brett Kavanaugh is fielding questions on this precise topic from Senators on the Judiciary Committee.) Arguments against Chevron deference share this feature with arguments against the deferential Nondelegation Doctrine: They both seek to control an Executive bureaucracy that some see as an unaccountable, lawmaking “fourth branch” of government.
Within this context, the Court’s ruling could contribute to a more general move by the Court to rein-in Executive agency actions. Such a move could shift power away from Executive agencies to Congress.
But on that point, it’s important to remember that in our separation-of-powers system there’s a third independent branch of government, the judiciary. And if the Court exercises its prerogative to shift power in this way—by tightening up the Nondelegation Doctrine, by doing away with Chevron deference, or by otherwise reining in agencies’ actions—it looks more like the Court is the branch that gets a boost in power.
Friday, September 28, 2018
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan (D.D.C.) ruled today in Blumenthal v. Trump that members of Congress have standing to sue President Trump for violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause. At the same time, Judge Sullivan declined to rule on the President's other three arguments for dismissal--that the plaintiffs lack a cause of action, that they've failed to state a claim (because the President's business interests aren't "emoluments" under the Clause), and that injunctive relief sought is unconstitutional. Thus, the ruling is a set-back for the President, but Judge Sullivan may yet end up dismissing the case on other grounds.
We posted here on the earlier district court ruling that another Emoluments case, brought by Maryland and D.C., can move forward.
The Congressmembers' case alleges that President Trump's overseas business holdings and properties generate income and benefits for the President, without the consent of Congress, in violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause. That Clause says:
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.
The 201 plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief. They claimed that they were harmed (for standing purposes) because the President, by failing to seek congressional consent, denied each of them a "vote on the record about whether to approve his acceptance of a prohibited foreign emolument."
The court agreed:
[E]ach time the President allegedly accepts a foreign emolument without seeking congressional consent, plaintiffs suffer a concrete and particularized injury--the deprivation of the right to vote on whether to consent to the President's acceptance of the prohibited foreign emolument--before he accepts it. And although the injury is an institutional one, the injury is personal to legislators entitled to cast the vote that was nullified.
The court went on to say that standing didn't violate the separation of powers. The court held that the plaintiffs lacked an alternative legislative remedy, and that the case was appropriate for judicial review.
September 28, 2018 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Senator Jeff Merkley today sued President Trump, Senate colleagues, and others in federal court (D.D.C.) to halt the confirmation process of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Senator Merkley argues that the defendants' actions violate the separation of powers and the Senate's constitutional role in providing advice and consent on Judge Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court.
The lawsuit relates to the defendants' failure to produce documents, not the more recent sexual assault and misconduct allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. The government will surely file a motion to dismiss based on the political question doctrine (itself a separation-of-powers matter), among others. The outcome of the case (and the confirmation process more generally) will set the standards for document release and Senate advice-and-consent for future judicial nominations, by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Here's the gist:
This case arises from the direct and substantial interference by President Trump and other agents of the executive branch in the ability of the Senate to examine the record and evaluate the fitness of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the President's nominee for a lifetime appointment as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. President Trump and agents of the executive branch interfered in the ability of Senator Merkley and the Senate to provide advice and consent by, inter alia, imposing a broad and unprecedented blockade on the Senate's and public's access to reams of key documents that directly bear on Judge Kavanaugh's views, experience, and character. This improper process regarding the production of relevant documents prevents Senator Merkley and his colleagues from properly exercising their constitutional obligation to provide advice and consent on the qualifications of the nominee and deprives them of the ability to fully assess the nominee's fitness to assume the position of an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
The President and officers of the executive branch have interfered in the Senate's advice and consent responsibility in three critical ways: encouraging the Senate Majority to not request documents related to Kavanaugh's time while serving as Staff Secretary to George W. Bush; blocking access to an extensive set of documents related to the nominee's views and actions while serving in President George W. Bush's Office of White House Counsel; and blocking full access by all Senators and the public to documents delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee but marked "Committee Confidential."
Senator Merkley asks the court to order that
(a) Defendant Trump withdraw his excessive invocation of executive privilege and produce a privilege log for documents truly subject to executive privilege;
(b) Defendants McConnell, Grassley, Adams, and Stenger not hold or permit a vote on the nominee's confirmation, or otherwise act to advance the confirmation process, until the National Archives releases his records, including the records requested by Senator Grassley regarding the nominee's work at the Office of White House Counsel, and there is sufficient time for the U.S. Senate to review the documents and conduct a careful review of the newly released documents;
(c) National Archives expedite the production of the documents to the earliest date practical;
(d) Defendant Burck cease and desist from usurping the traditional role of the neutral professionals at the National Archives.
Sunday, August 26, 2018
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson (D.D.C.) ruled yesterday in American Federation of Government Employees v. Trump that President Trump's executive orders sharply curtailing federal employees' collective bargaining and labor rights violate federal labor law. The ruling means that most of the EOs' limitations are invalid.
Together, the EOs set a timeframe for completion of collective bargaining negotiations; removed certain matters from the bargaining table completely; set certain procedures for negotiations; limited the extent to which federal employees could engage in union work during business hours; limited the government resources that union members could use for union activities; made it easier for the government to dismiss federal employees for unsatisfactory performance.
The court recognized that the EOs are subject to restrictions in statutory law, but that "the President could always theoretically claim that he possesses the inherent constitutional authority to take a given action, regardless of any conflict with a congressional statute and his resulting lack of statutory authority." "But Defendants have made no such assertion in the instant case; instead, they have 'expressly recognized statutory limitations on the President's authority to act in this area.'" The court, therefore, didn't rule on the constitutional question.
The government's omission of a constitutional argument might seem surprising, given the President's recent constitutional extrapolation from the Court's ruling in Lucia in an EO designed to rein in control over executive branch ALJs. That move seemed like an attack, under cover of Lucia and claimed plenary Article II authority over the executive branch, on civil service laws that in any way restrict the President's claimed authority to hire and fire whomever he wants. That attack would seem to apply equally here. But the government didn't press it.
On the statutory questions, Judge Jackson summarized:
[T]he Order provisions concerning matters such as the reduction of the availability of and support for official time activities [to engage in union-related work], and the specific prohibitions against bargaining over [certain matters], or hte unilateral narrowing of any negotiated grievance procedures, dramatically decrease the scope of the right to bargain collectively, because, in the [Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Act], Congress clearly intended for agencies and unions to engage in a broad and meaningful negotiation over nearly every "condition of employment." Likewise, the Orders' requirements, such as the directive that agencies should "ordinarily" seek to conclude collective bargaining negotiations within five to seven months, or should limit the applicability of grievance procedures "[w]henever reasonable[,]" effectively instruct federal agencies and executive departments to approach collective bargaining in a manner that clearly runs counter to the FSLMRS's expectation of good-faith conduct on the part of negotiating parties. . . .
[T]he only challenged provisions of [the EOs] that can stand are those that neither contribute to a reduction in the scope of the collective bargaining that Congress has envisioned nor impede the ability of agencies and executive departments to engage in the kind of good-faith bargaining over conditions of federal employment that Congress has required.
Friday, August 24, 2018
The Ninth Circuit last week authorized a constitutional tort under Bivens against an ICE official for forging a document that would have led to the plaintiff's deportation. (H/t Theo Lesczynski.) The ruling means that the plaintiff's case can move forward.
The ruling is the second time in recent weeks that the Ninth Circuit authorized a Bivens action in a "new context." (The earlier case involved a Border Patrol officer's cross-border shooting of a Mexican youth.)
The case, Lanuza v. Love, arose when ICE Assistant Chief Counsel Jonathan Love submitted an I-826 form, forged with Lanuza's signature, at Lanuza's immigration hearing. The form indicated that Lanuza accepted voluntary departure to Mexico in 2000, breaking Lanuza's period of accrued continuous residency in the U.S. Without this continuous residency, Lanuza didn't qualify for cancellation of removal; and, based on the forged document, the immigration judge denied cancellation and ordered Lanuza removed. The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed.
Lanuza then hired a new attorney, who discovered the forgery. (Among other things, the forged document referred to the "U.S. Department of Homeland Security," which did not yet exist at the time that Lanuza purportedly signed the form.) The agency then adjusted Lanuza's status to lawful permanent resident.
Lanuza brought a Bivens claim against Love for violation of his Fifth Amendment rights. The district court dismissed the case, but the Ninth Circuit reversed.
The court ruled that the case raised a "new context," but that no special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy. Indeed, the court said that certain factors favored a Bivens remedy in a case like this, where a government official submitted false evidence in a quasi-judicial proceeding:
Indeed, there are few persons better equipped to weigh the cost of compromised adjudicative proceedings than those who are entrusted with protecting their integrity. And, more often than not, the Judicial Branch, not Congress or the Executive, is responsible for remedying circumstances where a court's integrity is compromised by the submission of false evidence. Thus, it falls within the natural ambit of the judiciary's authority to decide whether to provide a remedy for the submission of false evidence in an immigration proceeding.
The court also denied qualified immunity.
The ruling sends the case back to the district court for proceedings on the merits.
Thursday, August 23, 2018
The letters take on a new significance this week, as events draw even more attention to Judge Kavanaugh's views--and how those views might translate if any issue arising out of the Mueller investigation were to reach the Court.
In one letter, former OLCers write on Judge Kavanaugh's critical remarks on United States v. Nixon; in the other, they write on the proliferation of presidential signing statements when Judge Kavanaugh served as staff secretary to President Bush.
From the first (which also captures the gist of the second):
[W]e are troubled by Judge Brett Kavanaugh's apparent commitment to a version of the unitary executive theory of presidential power that holds that the President has total control of actions and decisions of any executive branch official, and that in many cases this control cannot be reviewed by a court of law nor regulated by Acts of Congress.
Wednesday, August 15, 2018
This isn't the first time West Virginia's courts have been embroiled in constitutional/political disputes. We posted on Caperton here.
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
President Trump late yesterday issued a breathtaking constitutional signing statement on the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019. The President called out dozens of provisions for impinging on the commander-in-chief authority, the foreign affairs authority, the appointments authority, executive privilege, and the President's authority to recommend legislation.
Perhaps most alarming, the President identified 18 separate sections that require public disclosure or reports to Congress on various topics as categorically "protected by executive privilege."
My Administration will treat these provisions consistent with the President's constitutional authority to withhold information, the disclosure of which could impair national security, foreign relations, law enforcement, or the performance of the President's constitutional duties.
The move pits the President's inherent Article II powers against Congress's powers to appropriate funds, its war powers and powers over the military, its foreign-relations powers, and its oversight authority (to say nothing of any interest or right that the people have in knowing what their government is up to). But unless Congress is willing to push back (for example, by issuing and enforcing subpoenas for reports required by the Act, but over which the President has claimed a categorical "executive privilege"), or unless a person or group has standing to challenge any of the President's rejection of funding restrictions or requirements or appointments matters, these claims will never see the inside of a courtroom.
If not, then the President will have effectively line-item vetoed a whopping 50 or more provisions of a single Act of Congress, with no check.
Monday, August 13, 2018
Judge Dabney L. Friedrich (D.D.C.) today rejected challenges to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office and authority by a defendant in the criminal case against thirteen Russian individuals and three corporations. The ruling in U.S. v. Concord Management says that the special counsel office is constitutional and that Special Counsel Mueller was acting within his authority in bringing this case. The ruling allows the case to go on.
The court first ruled that the special counsel is an "inferior" office under the Appointments Clause and was validly appointed by the Acting AG. The court said that different features of the office pointed in both the "principal officer" and "inferior officer" direction under Edmond, but ultimately the revocability of DOJ's special counsel regulations mean that the office is "inferior":
The regulations' revocability is "[t]he crucial difference" between the Special Counsel regulations and a statute that seeks to bind the executive branch from without, and it is this different that ensures the Special Counsel is an inferior officer. That is, to the extent that the regulations threaten to impair the Acting Attorney General's ability to direct and supervise the Special Counsel, the Department of Justice may simply rescind or revise the regulations at any time. This ability to rescind or revise the regulations as needed means that the Special Counsel is subject to the Acting Attorney General's plenary supervision. It also makes the Special Counsel effectively removable at will: if the for-cause provision stands in the way, the Acting Attorney General need only rescind or revise the regulation in order to remove the Special Counsel.
The court also ruled that the special counsel was an "inferior office" under Morrison v. Olson.
The court went on to say that the office didn't violate the separation of powers. In particular, the court ruled that even if the special counsel regulations are nonbinding on the special counsel (as Concord argued), then "the Special Counsel would be subject to the Acting Attorney General's plenary control by statute. Because executive power would remain wholly within the executive branch, no separation-of-powers problem would arise." Moreover, the court said that the AG had plenty of statutory authority to issue the special counsel regs.
Finally, the court said that Special Counsel Mueller wasn't acting outside of his appointment authority in bringing this particular case.
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
The D.C. Circuit yesterday rejected a habeas claim by a long-time (17 years) Guantanamo detainee who argued that the basis for his detention has "unraveled" and that the conflict that originally authorized his detention has ended. In so ruling, the court affirmed that the 2001 AUMF, along with the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, remain in force, strong as ever, and continue to authorize his detention.
The claimant, a Yemeni who, according to the government, trained with and fought alongside the Taliban, filed an earlier habeas petition in 2005. The courts rejected that petition, concluding that "the Government's account of Al-Alwi'd Taliban-related activities was supported by a preponderance of the evidence, thereby making Al-Alwi an enemy combatant who could lawfully be detained."
This time, however, he claimed that even if his earlier detention was authorized, the authority for his ongoing detention is stale. The court rejected that argument.
The court ruled first that the "[a]uthority to detain has not unraveled." It said that the AUMF retains its original force so long as "hostilities between the United States and the Taliban and al Qaeda continue." "Both [the AUMF and the National Defense Authorization Act] authorize detention until the end of hostilities. Although hostilities have been ongoing for a considerable amount of time, they have not ended."
The court ruled next that "[a]uthority to detain has not expired." The court said that "termination" is "a political act," and that it hasn't yet occurred. "The Executive Branch represents that armed hostilities between the United States forces and those entities persist."
The ruling underscores that the AUMF will remain in full force until the political branches say that hostilities have ended.
The Ninth Circuit ruled yesterday in Rodriguez v. Swartz that a case against a U.S. Border Patrol agent for shooting and killing a Mexican youth across the U.S.-Mexican border can go forward. The court denied qualified immunity for the agent and ruled that the plaintiff had a valid Bivens claim.
This case is yet another cross-border shooting case, different than Hernandez v. Mesa. Recall that the Court remanded that case for further proceedings on the Bivens question. The Fifth Circuit held that Bivens did not provide a remedy in that case, because the case raised a new Bivens context, and because "extending Bivens would interfere with the political branches' oversight of national security and foreign affairs"; "would flout Congress's consistent and explicit refusals to provide damage remedies for aliens injured abroad"; and "would create a remedy with uncertain limits."
The Ninth Circuit ruling thus splits with the Fifth Circuit.
Rodriguez arose when a Border Patrol agent shot and killed a Mexican youth across the border for no apparent reason whatsoever, and without knowing the youth's nationality. The youth's representatives sued under Bivens.
The Ninth Circuit first denied qualified immunity to the agent. The court said that the Fourth Amendment applies to this kind of situation, that it clearly prohibits this kind of "seizure," and that it was clearly established at the time that the agent couldn't shoot the youth. The court distinguished Verdugo-Urquidez, saying that the agent in this case "acted on American soil subject to American law."
The court went on to rule that Bivens provided a remedy. The court said that while this case indeed presented a new Bivens context, Rodriguez had no other adequate remedy, and there were no "special factors" counseling hesitation.
Judge M. Smith dissented, arguing that Bivens did not extend to this case, and that the court's ruling created a circuit split and disregarded Supreme Court law.
Friday, August 3, 2018
Check it Out: Tillman and Blackman on Why the Special Counsel may be an Employee (but still invalidly appointed)
For yet a different take on Mueller's constitutionality, check out Seth Barrett Tillman and Josh Blackman's piece on Lawfare, Is Robert Mueller an "Officer of the United States" or an "Employee of the United States?"
They argue that under Lucia, the special counsel is really an "employee," not subject to the Appointments Clause:
The Supreme Court's recent decision in Lucia v. SEC explains that if a federal position is only "temporary," then such a position is likely not an "office of the United States." . . . Therefore, [the special counsel] may not be an "officer of the United States" under the rule in Lucia.
As an employee, they argue, the special counsel is subject to the ordinary appointment requirements for any (non-officer) civil servant.
Still, they argue that there are four reasons to question Mueller's appointment, including that he wasn't appointed pursuant to civil-servant rules, that he may exercises outsized power for an employee, and that his for-cause termination protection runs into Justice Scalia's dissent in Morrison. (On that last point, they say: Lucia may afford a potentially soon-to-be-more-conservative Supreme Court the opportunity to do what Judge Brett Kavanaugh speculated about in 2016: make Justice Scalia's Morrison dissent into a majority opinion.")
Thursday, August 2, 2018
Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell (D.D.C.) rejected a challenge to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's appointment under the Appointments Clause. The ruling, which came in response to a witness's challenge to a grand jury subpoena issued by Mueller, means that the witness--identified by several sources as Andrew Miller, a former associate of Roger Stone--will have to comply with the subpoena.
The ruling aligns with other district court rulings that upheld Mueller's appointment.
Miller challenged a grand jury subpoena issued by Mueller, arguing that Mueller was invalidly appointed under the Appointments Clause. Judge Howell rejected that claim. The court, relying on the factors in Morrison v. Olson, ruled that Mueller was an "inferior officer" and was validly appointed, pursuant to federal statute, by the head of a department. As to Miller's claim that DAG Rod Rosenstein wasn't the "Head of Department" for purposes of the Appointments Clause (because he was the DAG, not the AG), the court said that federal law authorizes the DAG to serve as Acting AG when the AG is recused, and that a different statutory provision allows the AG to delegate to the DAG authority to appoint the Special Counsel.
The Sixth Circuit ruled this week in Jones Brothers, Inc. v. Sec'y of Labor that administrative law judges in the Mine Safety and Health Review Commission are "inferior officers" and were invalidly appointed under the Appointments Clause.
The very short ruling (on the merits) is a straight-line application of Lucia.
The case arose when the Mine Safety and Health Administration imposed a civil penalty on Jones Brothers for failing to comply with agency safety requirements. A Commission ALJ upheld the penalty, and the Commission itself affirmed.
The problem: The ALJ was appointed by the Commission's Chief ALJ, and not by the "department head" (the Commission itself).
The Sixth Circuit ruled that Mine Commission ALJs operated almost exactly like the SEC ALJs at issue in Lucia, and so were "inferior officers" under the Appointments Clause:
The Commission's administrative law judges are likewise established by statute . . . and exercise significant authority commensurate with their SEC counterparts. Like SEC administrative law judges, they preside over trial-like hearings. In that role, they shape the administrative record by taking testimony, regulating document production and depositions, ruling on the admissibility of evidence, receiving evidence, ruling on dispositive and procedural motions, and issuing subpoenas. Indeed, they exercise "nearly all the tools of federal trial judges."
And like SEC administrative law judges, they have the authority to issue initial decisions assigning liability and imposing sanctions. After 40 days, those decisions become final decisions of the Mine Commission unless the Commission decides to review them. But such review is available at "the sound discretion of the Commission," not as a "matter of right." This process is nearly identical to the SEC's review process.
The court said that Commission ALJs, like SEC ALJs, are therefore "inferior officers." And as "inferior officers," they have to be appointed by the President, a court, or a head of department. But they weren't: they were appointed by the Commission's Chief ALJ. So they're unconstitutional.
The court recognized that the Commission ratified the appointment of every ALJ. That works fine going forward, but for this case, the court, like the Supreme Court in Lucia, ordered that Jones Brothers get a new ALJ hearing before a validly appointed ALJ who is not the original ALJ.
The court spilled quite a bit of ink determining whether Jones Brothers forfeited the constitutional argument by not raising at the administrative stage. The court said that Jones Brothers did forfeit it, but that the forfeiture was excusable here.
Wednesday, August 1, 2018
The Ninth Circuit struck another blow today against the administration's anti-sanctuary cities policy, ruling in San Francisco v. Trump that the President can't unilaterally withhold federal grants from sanctuary jurisdictions without Congress's say-so.
The ruling is just the latest in a line of similar rulings, and aligns broadly with the Seventh Circuit's ruling in the spring. This ruling is just a little bit different, however, in that it focuses principally on President Trump's original and sweeping Executive Order (and not AG Sessions's interpretive memo). The court rejects the government's attempt to narrow the test of the EO by focusing instead on AG Sessions's memo as the actual government policy. It said that the memo doesn't align with the EO (and is therefore itself ultra vires), and that in any event it's only a post-hoc justification to get the EO to pass muster in the courts.
While the ruling is an outright win for San Francisco and Santa Clara County, the court threw a bone to the administration by vacating the district court's nationwide injunction and remanding the case for reconsideration and further findings on that issue.
The facts--or at least their general outline--is all too familiar by now: In an effort to clamp down on sanctuary jurisdictions, the President ordered that sanctuary jurisdictions come into line with 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373, which prohibits state and local jurisdictions from restricting their officers from communicating with federal immigration officials. (Other cases have also involved the "notice" and "access" conditions that AG Sessions purported to put on receipt of a certain federal grant in his memo. Those conditions required jurisdictions to provide notice to federal immigration enforcement officials of any detention, and access to state and local facilities for federal immigration enforcement. This ruling didn't deal with those, because it focused on the EO itself.)
The court simply held that under the separation of powers and Congress's Article I, Section 8, power of the purse, it's for Congress, not the Executive, to put conditions on federal spending. The court said that "because Congress has the exclusive power to spend and has not delegated authority to the Executive to condition new grants on compliance with Section 1373, the President's 'power is at its lowest ebb,'" under Justice Jackson's Youngstown framework. And at the lowest ebb, "[b]ecause the Executive Order directs Executive Branch administrative agencies to withhold funding that Congress has not tied to compliance with Section 1373, there is no reasonable argument that the President has not exceeded his authority." In sum:
Absent congressional authorization, the Administration may not redistribute or withhold properly appropriated funds in order to effectuate its own policy goals. Because Congress did not authorize withholding of funds, the Executive Order violates the constitutional principle of the Separation of Powers.
The court flatly rejected the administration's (pretty incredible) argument that its move to condition funds "is all bluster and no bite, representing a perfectly legitimate use of the presidential 'bully pulpit,' without any real meaning . . . .":
[E]ven if we ignore the statements made by and on behalf of the Administration outside the context of this litigation, the Administration's interpretation of the Executive Order strains credulity. And consideration of those statements suggests that the Administration's current litigation position is grounded not in the text of the Executive Order but in a desire to avoid legal consequences.
(Interestingly, the court said nothing about the constitutionality of Section 1373 itself. That provision is now questionable, in light of Murphy v. NCAA, as a possible "commandeering" of state governments in violation of the anti-commandeering principle. Judge Fernandez, in dissent, distinguished Murphy in a footnote by saying that the Court's articulated "principles behind the anticommnadeering rule" don't apply to Section 1373. But it's not clear how the plain ruling itself doesn't apply to Section 1373. More to come on this, I'm sure.)
The court then vacated the district court's nationwide injunction, because "the present record does not support a nationwide injunction." The court remanded "for a more searching inquiry into whether this case justifies the breadth of the injunction imposed."
(Along the way, the court also ruled that the plaintiffs had standing and that the case was ripe for judicial review.)
Judge Fernandez dissented, arguing that the case wasn't ripe and, in any event, that the EO was constitutional, because, by its plain terms, it only applies "to the fullest extent of the law."
Wednesday, July 25, 2018
Court Says Maryland, D.C. Plausibly Alleged Emoluments Claims Against President, Case Can Go Forward
Judge Peter J. Messitte (D. Md.) ruled today that Maryland and D.C. sufficiently alleged emoluments claims against President Trump. The court denied the President's motion to dismiss the case, and will allow the case to move forward.
Recall that Maryland and D.C. sued President Trump for violations of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses for payments by foreign and federal and state governments in connection with the President and the Trump Organization's ownership of the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. The President moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing that indirect and direct payments to him aren't "emoluments." The court disagreed.
President Trump's motion required the court to define "emolument": Is it a broad term that could encompass the direct and indirect benefits that President Trump receives from his hotel (as the plaintiffs would have it), or is it much narrower, only prohibiting particular kinds of additional, outside compensation for the President? But before the court came to that question, it took a beat to broadly explain its options for constitutional interpretation. The court concluded that it should use text, original public meaning and executive branch practice as precedent to sort it out.
The court said that the text favored the broad interpretation of the term offered by the plaintiffs (and not the much narrower definition offered by the President):
As Plaintiffs point out, the Foreign Clause bans, without Congressional approval, "any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever . . . . Use of such expansive modifiers significantly undermines the President's argument that this Clause was meant to prohibit only payment for official services rendered in an employment-type relationship. . . .
The phrase "any other Emolument" in the Domestic Emoluments Clause suggests the same broad interpretation of the term.
As to original public meaning, the court said that "[t]he clear weight of the evidence shows that an 'emolument' was commonly understood by the founding generation to encompass any 'profit,' 'gain,' or 'advantage,'" not limited to particular kinds of salary supplements. "Though the Court agreed that mere counting of dictionaries may not be dispositive, is nonetheless remains highly remarkable that "every English dictionary definition of 'emolument' from 1604 to 1806 relies on one or more of the elements of the broad definition DOJ rejects in its brief."
As to purpose, the court said that it "does not see how the historical record reflects anything other than an intention that the Emoluments Clauses function as broad anti-corruption provisions," and not a more limited purpose that would simply prohibit the President from receiving only "specifically identified categories of compensation."
Finally, the court said that executive branch precedent and practice also--and "overwhelmingly"--pointed toward a broad definition of "emoluments."
With respect to the Foreign Emoluments Clause, Plaintiffs have alleged that foreign governments or their instrumentalities have patronized the Trump International Hotel, spending government funds to stay at the Hotel, eat at its restaurant, and sponsor events in the Hotel's event spaces. They have done so in some cases with the express intention to cater to the good graces of the President. . . .
[Plaintiffs plausibly plead] that the GSA's abrupt about-face position [first concluding that the President was, and later that the President was not, in violation of his GSA lease for failing to divest] was and is in direct contradiction of the plain terms of the Lease and that, by determining that the Hotel was and is in compliance with the Lease, the Federal Government bestowed upon the President an emolument in violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause.
In addition to foreign governments patronizing the Hotel, Plaintiffs claim that at least one State--Maine--has patronized the Hotel, spending state funds for its Governor and his entourage to stay at the Hotel and to frequent its facilities during an official visit of those officials to Washington, including an encounter with the President where Presidential action of interest to the Governor good place.
[Plaintiffs plausibly plead] that, in connection with the Hotel, the President has received substantial tax concessions from the District of Columbia.
The court's ruling went to the President acting in his official capacity, not individual capacity. "The Court will address the President's Motion to Dismiss the individual capacity claims against him in a subsequent Opinion."
Before the court ruled on President Trump's motion, it took on Prof. Seth Barrett Tillman's argument that the Foreign Emoluments Clause doesn't extend to the President. The court said that the text, the original public meaning and purpose, and executive branch precedent and practice all point to the conclusion that the Clause does apply to the President.
Monday, July 16, 2018
Check out Jonathan Adler's piece at the NYT, Will Kavanaugh Curb Sloppy White House Deregulation? Adler argues that Judge Kavanaugh "has expressed concerns about the Chevron doctrine," and "is not one to give [agencies] a pass." Still, Adler argues that "Judge Kavanaugh's concern about overbroad applications of Chevron should not be misinterpreted as hostility to regulation."
Thursday, July 12, 2018
President Trump issued an executive order earlier this week that created a new hiring process for administrative law judges, excepting them from competitive hiring rules and examinations and authorizing their appointments to the newly created "Schedule E" of the excepted service by department heads. (H/t to conlaw student Sahil Malhotra.)
The move abolishes the centralized process currently in place for the competitive selection of ALJs and places their appointments in department heads. The move has been criticized because it could politicize the appointments of ALJs, and thus politicize their work.
The EO says that the move is in response to the Supreme Court's recent ruling in Lucia. Recall that the Court held that SEC ALJs aren't mere employees, but instead are "officers" subject to the Appointments Clause. This means that they need to be appointed by the President or the department head (or the courts). It doesn't (necessarily) mean that they need to be excepted from competitive hiring altogether, though. Still, the EO appears to take the position that competitive hiring might be a violation of the Appointments Clause, and, for that reason, excepts ALJs from competitive hiring altogether. From the EO:
As evident from recent litigation, Lucia may also raise questions about the method of appointing ALJs, including whether competitive examination and competitive selection procedures are compatible with the discretion an agency head must possess under the Appointments Clause in selecting ALJs. Regardless of whether those procedures would violate the Appointments Clause as applied to certain ALJs, there are sound policy reasons to take steps to eliminate doubt regarding the constitutionality of the method of appointing officials who discharge such significant duties and exercise such significant discretion.
The EO applies Lucia to all ALJs across the Executive Branch, even though Lucia doesn't necessarily reach that far (which the EO itself recognizes). (Lucia was based on the roles and functions of SEC ALJs, which may be different than other agencies' ALJs.)
The EO doesn't apply to current ALJs. Under Lucia, some or all of these will require re-appointment by their agency head--again, depending on how similar they are to the SEC ALJs in Lucia (an question that agencies are currently working out). And notably the EO only changes ALJs' appointment, not their removal.