Saturday, October 12, 2019
Judge David Briones (W.D. Texas) ruled on Friday that President Trump's effort to reprogram federal funds in the name of a "national emergency" to build a border wall exceeded his authority under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019. The ruling further invites the plaintiffs to file for a preliminary injunction to halt the reprogramming.
The ruling deals a substantial blow to President Trump in his effort to shift around money to pay for his border wall. Still, this isn't the end of this case: it'll surely be appealed.
The case arose when El Paso County and Border Network for Human Rights sued President Trump to halt reprogramming under his national emergency declaration. Upon declaring the emergency, President Trump ordered the relevant secretaries to reprogram $2.5 billion of Defense Department funds appropriated for Support for Counterdrug Activities under 10 U.S.C. Sec. 284, and $3.6 billion of DOD funds appropriated for "military construction projects" under 10 U.S.C. Sec. 2808. The plaintiffs argued, among other things, that the order violated the 2019 CAA. The court agreed.
The court first ruled that the plaintiffs had standing. It wrote that El Paso was the target location for the new wall, that it suffered a reputational injury (in President Trump's statements about how dangerous it is), and that it suffered economic harm--all because of President Trump's order, and which would be redressed by a favorable ruling. It held that BNHR had standing, too, because it spent significant resources to respond to President Trump's actions that would have gone to support its regular activities. The court ruled that the plaintiffs had standing to sue under Section 2808, because the government took steps to fund the construction of a wall.
As to the CAA, the court held that the reprogramming violates the plain terms of the CAA:
the CAA specifically appropriates $1.375 billion for border-wall expenditures and requires those expenditures to be made on "construction . . . in the Rio Grande Valley Sector" alone. Defendants' funding plan, by contrast, will transfer $6.1 billion of funds appropriated for other more general purposes--military construction, under Section 2808, and counterdrug activities, under Section 284. Their plan therefore flouts the cardinal principle that a specific statute controls a general one and violates the CAA.
In addition, the court said that the proclamation violates Section 739 of the CAA, which provides
None of the funds made available in this or any other appropriations Act may be used to increase . . . funding for a program, project, or activity as proposed in the President's budget request for a fiscal year until such proposed change is subsequently enacted in an appropriation Act, or unless such change is made pursuant to the reprogramming or transfer provisions of this or any other appropriations Act.
The court explained: "Section 739 prohibits Defendants' plan to fund the border wall because the plan is barred by that provision's general rule and the plan does not fall within its exception," because neither Section 2808 nor Section 284 is an appropriations act.
Although the ruling grants summary judgment to the plaintiffs on these issues, it does not grant a preliminary injunction. "Defendants have countered that Plaintiffs cannot obtain equitable relief against the President. The Court has requested additional briefing on this issue and will reserve judgment in this regard for a later date."
In light of the Supreme Court's ruling this summer staying a permanent injunction because the government showed that the plaintiffs had no cause of action to challenge a Section 8005 transfer, the ruling says nothing about the government's Section 8005 authority to reprogram funds for Section 284 counterdrug activities. It also says nothing about reprogramming Treasury Forfeiture Funds.
Friday, October 11, 2019
The D.C. Circuit ruled today that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform acted within its powers, and not in violation of the Constitution, when it issued a subpoena to Mazars USA, LLP, for records related to work performed by President Trump and his business entities both before and after he took office.
The ruling deals a sharp blow to President Trump and his efforts to shield his financial records. But the D.C. Circuit probably won't have the last say: this seems destined for the Supreme Court.
The case arose when the Committee subpoenaed Mazars for the records. President Trump sued to stop Mazars from releasing them, and the Justice Department filed an amicus brief on the side of the President.
The court flatly rejected the President's novel claims that the subpoena exceeded the Committee's authority and violated the Constitution. In particular, the court held that the subpoena was not an invalid exercise of law-enforcement (as opposed to legislative) power, because the Committee's explanation for the subpoena on its face stated a valid legislative purpose--to inform "multiple laws and legislative proposals under [the Committee's] jurisdiction." Moreover, the court noted that the House actually has pending legislation related to the subpoena, thus underscoring the legislative character of the subpoena, even though this isn't required.
The court held next that the subpoena has a valid legislative purpose. The court wrote that the subpoena could serve ethics and financial disclosure laws that apply to the President.
The court wrote that the subpoena's reach--seeking information before the President was elected and before he even announced his candidacy--fell within Congress's legislative power, because it could consider legislation requiring a President to disclose financial information going back before a President takes office.
Judge Rao dissented. She argued that the subpoena serves only the Committee's interest in determining "whether the President broke the law"; that the Committee can only take up this kind of law-enforcement function in the context of an impeachment; and that because the subpoena was issued outside of an impeachment proceeding, it is therefore invalid:
The majority breaks new ground when it determines Congress is investigating allegations of illegal conduct against the President, yet nonetheless upholds the subpoena as part of the legislative power. The Committee on Oversight and Reform has consistently maintained that it seeks to determine whether the President broke the law, but it has not invoked Congress's impeachment power to support this subpoena. When Congress seeks information about the President's wrongdoing, it does not matter whether the investigation also has a legislative purpose. Investigations of impeachable offenses simply are not, and never have been, within Congress's legislative power. Throughout history, Congress, the President, and the courts have insisted upon maintaining the separation between the legislative and impeachment powers of the House and recognized the gravity and accountability that follow impeachment. Allowing the Committee to issue this subpoena for legislative purposes would turn Congress into a roving inquisition over a co-equal branch of government.
Tuesday, October 8, 2019
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone sent a scathing letter today to House leadership blasting the impeachment inquiry and stating that the White House won't cooperate. Given White House intransigence so far, it's not clear that the letter will really change anything on the ground.
Cipollone cited two flaws: the process lacks due process protections, and the House has no "legitimate basis" for the inquiry.
As to due process, Cipollone claims that an impeachment inquiry requires due process, and that the House process falls short:
To comply with the Constitution's demands, appropriate procedures would include--at a minimum--the right to see all evidence, to present evidence, to call witnesses, to have counsel present at all hearings, to cross-examine all witnesses, to make objections relating to the examination of witnesses or the admissibility of testimony and evidence, and to respond to evidence and testimony. Likewise, the Committees must provide for the disclosure of all evidence favorable to the President and all evidence bearing on the credibility of witnesses called to testify in the inquiry. The Committees' current procedures provide none of these basic constitutional rights.
Cipollone also complained that the committees' ranking members lack subpoena power, and that "the Committees have also resorted to threats and intimidation against potential Executive Branch witnesses."
The impeachment process, of course, is a nonjusticiable political question under Nixon v. United States. So we don't have the Supreme Court's say-so as to what, if any, measures of due process are required. In the case that Cipollone cites as support for his claim that impeachment requires due process, Judge Hasting's impeachment, Hastings raised similar due process complaints about his trial in the Senate. But in a ruling not cited by Cipollone, the district court ultimately dismissed Hasting's complaint as raising a nonjusticiable political question under Nixon, and therefore did not touch on any process that might be due in an impeachment.
Cipollone's claims don't come in the context of a court case, though, so the political question doctrine doesn't foreclose them. Instead, they may cleverly put House Democrats in an awkward spot. The only practical way that House Democrats can get White House cooperation is to go to court; but if they seek to enforce a subpoena issued in an impeachment inquiry in court, the White House will surely claim that the case is a nonjusticiable political question under Nixon. Regardless of merits of that claim, unless the House can get the courts to enforce their subpoenas, the House will have to base its articles of impeachment only on evidence that it can obtain independent of White House cooperation, and, of course, obstruction. This may make it even more likely (if that's possible) that the House will impeach, but it also may make it even less likely (if that's possible) that the Senate will convict.
As to the lack of a "legitimate basis" for the inquiry, Cipollone argues that President Trump's call to President Zelenskyy "was completely appropriate," that "the President did nothing wrong," and therefore that "there is no basis for an impeachment inquiry." This echoes the familiar (and tenuous) constitutional claim that we've heard from the White House in nearly every congressional investigation--that the House lacks a "legitimate legislative purpose." It also begs the question: the whole purpose of an impeachment inquiry, it seems, is to get more evidence to discover whether there's a basis for going forward with impeachment. The House needs information from the executive branch to help it make that determination.
Cipollone's letter is a stunning rebuke. But in the end, it's not clear that it's much of a game-changer, only because the White House hasn't much cooperated so far, anyway.
Friday, September 27, 2019
The subpoena is significant because the committees twice previously requested the exact same information citing the commitees' oversight authority. The administration ignored those requests. The new impeachment subpoena takes away the administration's arguments for stonewalling congressional inquiries under its oversight authority and may test whether Congress has more power when it engages in an impeachment than when it engages in regular oversight.
The subpoena, issued by the chairs of the House Foreign Affairs, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform, is directed at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It seeks information related to President Trump's efforts to urge Ukraine to interfere with the 2020 election.
The subpoena letter begins, "Pursuant to the House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry . . . ."
The administration has now made a habit of ignoring congressional oversight requests, arguing that they (1) lack a legitimate legislative purpose, (2) violate its new and sweeping version of executive privilege, and (3) constitute law enforcement (not lawmaking) in violation of the separation of powers.
But by invoking the House's impeachment authority, the committee undermine those arguments (to the extent that they had any force in the first place). In an impeachment, there is no legislative purpose. Impeachment, as a significant constitutional check on the President, weighs stronger against a President's claim of executive privilege. And Congress is engaged in an impeachment inquiry, not law enforcement.
The administration will undoubtedly come up with constitutional arguments to ignore this latest subpoena, too. But the impeachment power seems to take away these three.
So: Does Congress have more authority when seeking information under its impeachment power? We don't know for sure. But Molly Reynolds and Margaret Taylor survey the arguments in this May 2019 piece over at Lawfare.
Tuesday, September 24, 2019
In its opinion and judgment in R. (on behalf of Miller) v. The Prime Minister and Cherry and others v. Advocate General for Scotland, the U.K. Supreme Court considered whether "the advice given by the Prime Minister to Her Majesty the Queen on 27th or 28th August 2019 that Parliament should be prorogued from a date between 9th and 12th September until 14th October was lawful." The Court's eleven Justices unanimously held it was not.
The prorogation or suspension of Parliament, as we discussed here and which the opinion discusses is the situation in which the Crown suspends Parliament, having both immediate and wider constitutional effects. After the Court's discussion of the events leading up to the prorogation, the Court articulated the issues:
1) Is the question of whether the Prime Minister’s advice to the Queen was lawful justiciable in a court of law?
(2) If it is, by what standard is its lawfulness to be judged?
(3) By that standard, was it lawful?
(4) If it was not, what remedy should the court grant?
The Court first held that the matter was justiciable: "although the courts cannot decide political questions, the fact that a legal dispute concerns the conduct of politicians, or arises from a matter of political controversy, has never been sufficient reason for the courts to refuse to consider it." However, the Court reasoned that to resolve justiciability, the court must "determine whether the present case requires it to determine where a legal limit lies in relation to the power to prorogue Parliament, and whether the Prime Minister’s advice trespassed beyond that limit, or whether the present case concerns the lawfulness of a particular exercise of the power within its legal limits." This question is "closely related to the identification of the standard by reference to which the lawfulness of the Prime Minister’s advice is to be judged."
Turning to the standard, the Court discussed the U.K.'s "unwritten Constitution;"
Although the United Kingdom does not have a single document entitled “The Constitution”, it nevertheless possesses a Constitution, established over the course of our history by common law, statutes, conventions and practice. Since it has not been codified,it has developed pragmatically, and remains sufficiently flexible to be capable of further development. Nevertheless, it includes numerous principles of law, which are enforceable by the courts in the same way as other legal principles. In giving them effect, the courts have the responsibility of upholding the values and principles of our constitution and making them effective. It is their particular responsibility to determine the legal limits of the powers conferred on each branch of government, and to decide whether any exercise of power has transgressed those limits. The courts cannot shirk that responsibility merely on the ground that the question raised is political in tone or context.
The standard — the relevant limit upon the power to prorogue — was expressed by the Court as:
that a decision to prorogue Parliament (or to advise the monarch to prorogue Parliament) will be unlawful if the prorogation has the effect of frustrating or preventing, without reasonable justification, the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions as a legislature and as the body responsible for the supervision of the executive. In such a situation, the court will intervene if the effect is sufficiently serious to justify such an exceptional course.
Under that standard, it was clear that "the Prime Minister’s action had the effect of frustrating or preventing the constitutional role of Parliament in holding the Government to account," and this "was not a normal prorogation in the run-up to a Queen’s Speech." While the Court stated it would not inquire into the Prime Minister's motive, there must be a reason for his actions:
It is impossible for us to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us, that there was any reason - let alone a good reason - to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, from 9th or 12th September until 14th October. We cannot speculate, in the absence of further evidence, upon what such reasons might have been. It follows that the decision was unlawful.
As for remedy, the unlawfulness of the prorogation means that "Parliament has not been prorogued," so that "the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker can take immediate steps to enable each House to meet as soon as possible to decide upon a way forward."
The Court's opinion is a mere 25 pages, written in an accessible style despite its details and discussions of Seventeenth Century practices. ("The 17th century was a period of turmoil over the relationship between the Stuart kings and Parliament, which culminated in civil war. That political controversy did not deter the courts from holding, in the Case of Proclamations (1611) 12 Co Rep 74, that an attempt to alter the law of the land by the use of the Crown’s prerogative powers was unlawful." ).
There is also a four page judgment summary.
New York DA Cyrus Vance, Jr., yesterday filed a motion to dismiss President Trump's federal lawsuit that seeks to shut down the state grand jury proceeding.
Recall that the state grand jury issued a subpoena to Mazurs USA for financial and tax records of a number of New York entities and individuals, including President Trump. President Trump then sued in federal court to halt the state process, arguing that he is absolutely immune from any criminal process. (His argument wasn't limited to just state criminal process or any criminal prosecution; instead, he argued that he is absolutely immune from any criminal process.)
Vance argues that 28 U.S.C. sec. 2283 and Younger abstention compel the federal court to dismiss the case. Section 2283 provides that "[a] court of the United States may not grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a State court except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments." Similarly, Younger abstention requires a federal court to abstain from interfering in certain state-court proceedings.
Vance argues that the federal court should abstain from ruling on President Trump's constitutional claims until the state courts have a chance to do so. He says that there's no "special circumstances suggesting bad faith, harassment or irreparable injury that is both serious and immediate" that would justify an exception to the general abstention principle.
Moreover, Vance argues that President Trump failed to show irreparable harm and is wrong on the merits. As to harm, Vance says that subpoenaed records would be destroyed if the courts later rule the Mazurs subpoena invalid, and that the President's claims that he'd be distracted by the state criminal process is belied by the President's handling of other criminal processes. As to the merits--the President's sweeping claim of absolute immunity from any criminal process--Vance writes, "As the President's own papers make plain, no authority exists to support such a sweeping claim of immunity, which makes a showing of likelihood of success on the merits impossible."
Friday, September 20, 2019
President Trump filed suit yesterday to halt the Manhattan D.A.'s criminal investigation into the President's hush-money payments in the run-up to the 2016 election. The President argues that he's absolutely immune from any criminal process, including criminal investigation.
Here's why (quoting the 1973 OLC memo):
"To wound [the President] by a criminal proceeding is to hamstring the operation of the whole governmental apparatus, both in foreign and domestic affairs." The President thus cannot be subject to criminal process, for any conduct of any kind, while he is serving as President.
The President also makes a federalism claim--that it would violate federal supremacy to permit the Manhattan D.A. to saddle the President with a criminal investigation.
The President's argument extends the view of the OLC that the President is immune to criminal prosecution while in office. (Here's the 1973 OLC memo drawing that conclusion; here's the 2000 OLC memo, same.) At the same time, it leaves open the possibility that a President could be subject to criminal investigation (and prosecution) after leaving office. (For that reason, it argues that it's not claiming that "the President is above the law.)
Thursday, September 19, 2019
The Trump Administration urged the Court this week to take up a case that challenges the political independence of the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If the Court takes the case, it would likely deal one more significant blow to agency independence--or to abolish agency independence altogether.
Congress created the CFPB as part of the Dodd-Frank Act to regulate consumer financial products and services. Under the Act, the head of the CFPB is appointed by the President, with Senate confirmation, for a five-year term and removable by the President only for "inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office." The removal provision is designed to ensure that the CFPB head isn't subject to the political whims of the White House.
In a brief in support of Court review this week, the administration argues that it violates the separation of powers. In particular, the administration claims that the termination provision encroaches too far into the President's authority to supervise the executive branch. It distinguishes Humphrey's Executor by arguing that, unlike the CFPB, the independent agency in that case, the FTC, involved a multi-member board with staggered appointment terms, and with quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial authority. It distinguishes Morrison v. Olson by arguing that, unlike the head of the CFPB, the independent office in that case, the Independent Counsel, was an inferior officer. By distinguishing these cases, the administration tries to thread the needle and strike CFPB independence while keeping multi-member agency and inferior officer independence on the books.
But if the Court can't see its way to navigate these waters, the administration has another suggestion: overrule Humphrey's Executor and Morrison v. Olson. Footnote 2 of the brief reads:
If this Court were to conclude that Humphrey's Executor or Morrison requires upholding the removal restriction, it should consider whether those cases should be overruled in part or in whole. That issue is fairly encompassed in the question presented.
If so, the whole idea of agency independence could go away.
Sunday, August 18, 2019
The Ninth Circuit on Friday declined to stay a district court injunction against the Administration's "Asylum Eligibility and Procedural Modifications" rule, but limited the injunction to the Ninth Circuit.
The ruling allows the district court to develop a more complete record that would support a nationwide injunction. But at the same time, the motions panel also set a briefing schedule and put the case on the December 2019 argument calendar.
In all, this means (1) that the administration cannot enforce its new asylum rule in the Ninth Circuit (but it can enforce it elsewhere, at least for now), (2) that the district court can nevertheless develop a record that would support a nationwide preliminary injunction, and issue such an injunction, even as the appeal is pending at the Ninth Circuit, and (3) the case will go to the Ninth Circuit on the merits later this year.
The court started by noting that the Administration has "not made the required 'strong showing' that they are likely to succeed" on its claim that the district court erroneously concluded that the asylum policy likely violated the Administrative Procedure Act. It went on to say, though, that the record before the district court didn't justify a nationwide injunction:
Here, the district court failed to discuss whether a nationwide injunction is necessary to remedy Plaintiffs' alleged harm. Instead, in conclusory fashion, the district courts stated that nationwide relief is warranted simply because district courts have the authority to impose such relief in some cases and because such relief has been applied in the immigration context. The district court clearly erred by failing to consider whether nationwide relief is necessary to remedy Plaintiffs' alleged harms. And, based on the limited record before us, we do not believe a nationwide injunction is justified.
Judge Tashima dissented, arguing that the majority impermissibly parsed the district court record to reconsider the nationwide injunction, and that the briefing and argument order is in tension with the district court potentially developing a record that permits a nationwide injunction.
The order comes as the practice of issuing nationwide injunctions, in general, is under increased scrutiny. The Ninth Circuit's approach here is cautious with regard to a nationwide injunction, but at the same time it leaves open plenty of room for the district court to develop a more complete record that would support such an injunction. And the panel held no punches when it said that the Administration hasn't made the "strong showing" required to stay the district court's injunction.
Monday, July 29, 2019
Judge James S. Boasberg (D.D.C.) ruled today that the Secretary of Health and Human Services violated the Administrative Procedure Act in approving a state's proposed work requirements for its Medicaid recipients.
The ruling in Philbrick v. Azar comes just months after the court struck HHS's approvals for Arkansas's and Kentucky's proposed work requirements.Those rulings are now on appeal to the D.C. Circuit.
The government didn't change its position or arguments from the earlier cases, suggesting that it's banking on higher courts to rule in its favor and uphold the approvals.
Judge Boasberg ruled here, as in the earlier cases, that HHS didn't sufficiently consider the purpose of the Medicaid program--to provide health care for the financially needy--in granting the approvals for work requirements. The court noted that the requirements mean that Medicaid beneficiaries lose benefits, not gain them, in direct contradiction to the purpose of the program.
Here's the court's summary:
Plaintiffs argue that the Secretary's approval of New Hampshire's plan suffers from the same deficiency [as the Arkansas and Kentucky plans] and thus must meet the same fate. The Court concurs. On their face, these work requirements are more exacting than Kentucky's and Arkansas's, mandating 100 monthly hours--as opposed to 80--of employment or other qualifying activities. They also encompass a larger age range than in Arkansas, which applied the requirements only to persons 19 to 49. Yet the agency has still not contended with the possibility that the project would cause a substantial number of persons to lose their health-care coverage. That omission is particularly startling in light of information before the Secretary about the initial effects of Arkansas's markedly similar project--namely, that more than 80% of persons subject to the requirements had reported no compliance for the initial months, and nearly 16,900 people had lost coverage. The agency's rejoinders--that the requirements advance other asserted purposes of Medicaid, such as the health and financial independence of beneficiaries and the fiscal sustainability of the safety net--are identical to those this Court rejected with respect to HHS's 2018 approval of Kentucky's program.
The government will surely appeal this ruling, too, and try to get the D.C. Circuit or, ultimately, the Supreme Court to bite at its arguments.
Saturday, July 27, 2019
The Supreme Court late Friday granted the administration's motion for a stay of the district court's permanent injunction, affirmed by the Ninth Circuit, prohibiting the administration from reprogramming funds to build a border wall. The ruling is a significant victory for President Trump. It means that the administration can go ahead with its plans to reprogram funds and build portions of the wall.
This ruling doesn't end the case. But it strongly suggests that any further ruling from the Court will also favor the administration.
The case, Trump v. Sierra Club, involves the Sierra Club's challenge to the administration's reprogramming of $2.5 billion from military accounts to build a border wall. The administration moved to reprogram funds after Congress granted the administration only $1.375 billion (of the $5.7 billion requested by the administration), and restricted construction to eastern Texas, for border wall construction. As relevant here, the administration announced that it would transfer $2.5 billion from Defense Department accounts to the Department of Homeland Security. In order to get the money in the right account, DoD had to transfer funds under Section 8005 of the DoD Appropriations Act of 2019. That section authorizes the Secretary of Defense to transfer up to $4 billion "of working capital funds of the Department of Defense or funds made available in this Act to the Department of Defense for military functions (except military construction)," so long as the Secretary determines that "such action is necessary in the national interest." The funds can be used "for higher priority items, based on unforeseen military requirements, than those for which originally appropriated and in no case where the item for which funds are requested has been denied by the Congress."
The Sierra Club sued, arguing that the transfer violated the law, because wall funding wasn't "unforeseen" and because Congress had previously denied requested wall funding. The district court entered a permanent injunction, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The government filed an application for a stay with the Supreme Court.
A sharply, and ideologically, divided Court granted the stay. The Court (the majority comprised of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh) gave only this explanation in its short opinion: "Among the reasons is that the Government has made a sufficient showing at this stage that the plaintiffs have no cause of action to obtain review of the Acting Secretary's compliance with Section 8005." This probably refers to the government's argument that the Sierra Club wasn't within the "zone of interests" protected by Section 8005, and therefore wasn't a proper party to bring the case. It may also refer to the government's argument that the district court and the Ninth Circuit misread the "unforeseen" and "has been denied by the Congress" language in Section 8005. (The government offered a much narrower interpretation of those phrases than the lower courts adopted.)
The Court left the door open for Supreme Court review on a regular writ of certiorari. But given the ruling and alignment in its order granting the stay, it seems unlikely that the Court will rule against the administration.
Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan wrote (without explanation) that they would have denied the stay. Justice Breyer offered a middle ground: allow the administration to move forward with the contracts it needs to build under its strict timeline, but not allow it to actually begin construction until we get a final say-so from the Court.
Sunday, June 30, 2019
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 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 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.
Wednesday, June 26, 2019
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.
Monday, June 24, 2019
The Supreme Court ruled today that a federal criminal law that enhances criminal penalties for using, carrying, or possessing a firearm in connection with any federal "crime of violence or drug trafficking crime" was unconstitutionally vague. The ruling strikes the law.
The case, United States v. Davis, tested the federal law that enhances penalties (over and above a defendant's base conviction) for using, carrying, or possessing a firearm "in furtherance of" any federal "crime of violence or drug trafficking crime." The statute then defines "crime of violence" in two subparts, an "elements clause" and a "residual clause." Under the act, a crime of violence is "an offense that is a felony" and
(A) has as an element the use, the attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or
(B) that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.
The Court ruled the residual clause, (B), unconstitutionally vague.
Justice Gorsuch wrote for the Court, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. He started by noting that the vagueness doctrine is designed to protect due process and the separation of powers:
In our constitutional order, a vague law is no law at all. Only the people's elected representatives in Congress have the power to write new federal criminal laws. And when Congress exercises that power, it has to write statutes that give ordinary people fair warning about what the law demands of them. Vague laws transgress both of those constitutional requirements. They hand off the legislature's responsibility for defining criminal behavior to unelected prosecutors and judges, and they leave people with no sure way to know what consequences will attach to their conduct. When Congress passes a vague law, the role of the courts under our Constitution is not to fashion a new, clearer law to take its place, but to treat the law as a nullity and invite Congress to try again.
Justice Gorsuch compared the residual clause to similar language that the Court ruled unconstitutionally vague in Johnson v. United States (defining "violent felony" as a "serious potential risk of physical injury to another") and Sessions v. Dimaya (defining "crimes of violence" for many federal statutes). He rejected the government's argument that the courts should interpret the residual clause on a case-by-case basis (to determine in any individual case whether the crime fit the definition), concluding that reading the act's text, context, and history, the act "simply cannot support the government's newly minted case-specific theory." He also rejected the government's constitutional avoidance argument, "doubt[ing] [that] the canon could play a proper role in this case even if the government's reading were 'possible.'" That's because "no one before us has identified a case in which this Court has invoked the canon to expand the reach of a criminal statute in order to save it."
Justice Kavanaugh dissented, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas and Alito. Justice Kavanaugh distinguished Johnson and Dimaya, arguing that "[t]hose cases involved statutes that imposed additional penalties based on prior convictions," while "[t]his case involves a statute that focuses on the defendant's current conduct during the charged crime." "The statute here operates entirely in the present[, and] [u]nder our precedents, this statute therefore is not unconstitutionally vague." He also pointed to the statute's impact on crime rates, and many years of application of it:
[One] cannot dismiss the effects of state and federal laws that impose steep punishments on those who commit violence crimes with firearms.
Yet today, after 33 years and tens of thousands of federal prosecutions, the Court suddenly finds a key provision of Section 924(c) to be unconstitutional because it is supposedly too vague. That is a surprising conclusion for the Court to reach about a federal law that has been applied so often for so long with so little problem. The Court's decision today will make it harder to prosecute violent gun crimes in the future. The Court's decision also will likely mean that thousands of inmates who committed violent gun crimes will be released far earlier than Congress specified when enacting Section 924(c). The inmates who will be released early are not nonviolent offenders. They are not drug offenders. They are offenders who committed violent crimes with firearms, often brutally violent crimes.
A decision to strike down a 33-year-old, often-prosecuted federal criminal law because it is all of a sudden unconstitutionally vague is an extraordinary event in this Court. The Constitution's separation of powers authorizes this Court to declare Acts of Congress unconstitutional. That is an awesome power. We exercise that power of judicial review in justiciable cases to, among other things, ensure that Congress acts within constitutional limits and abides by the separation of powers. But when we overstep our role in the name of enforcing limits on Congress, we do not uphold the separation of powers, we transgress the separation of powers.
Chief Justice Roberts did not join the portion of Justice Kavanaugh's dissent that argues that the statute is saved under the unconstitutional avoidance canon.
June 24, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, June 21, 2019
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."
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.
Thursday, June 20, 2019
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.
Saturday, June 15, 2019
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.
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
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 . . . .
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.
Wednesday, June 5, 2019
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.
Tuesday, June 4, 2019
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.
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.