Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Sixteen states filed suit in the Northern District of California to halt President Trump's emergency action to reprogram federal funds to build the wall. The lawsuit follows an earlier suit filed by Public Citizen, and a third one filed by environmental groups. (Both of those are in the D.C. District.)
The suits all raise similar claims (there is no "emergency" under the National Emergencies Act, and, even if there were, it doesn't unlock the authorities that President Trump is using to reprogram funds, and other cited authorities are unavailable) and ask for similar relief (a declaration that President Trump's action is unlawful, and an injunction to halt it).
In addition to declaring an emergency under the NEA, President Trump identified three sources of funds for reprogramming. First, 10 U.S.C. Sec. 2808 allows the Secretary of Defense to "undertake military construction projects . . . not otherwise authorized by law that are necessary to support such use of the armed forces." (Section 2808 funds are only available upon the President's declaration of an emergency under the NEA, so the President's emergency declaration "unlocks" those funds.) Second, 10 U.S.C. Sec. 284 authorizes the Secretary of Defense to support certain counterdrug actions on the request of another department or agency or a state or local official, including "[c]onstruction of roads and fences and installation of lighting to block drug smuggling corridors across international boundaries of the United States." (Section 284 allows the Secretary of Defense to reprogram funds without an emergency declaration under the NEA.) Finally, 31 U.S.C. Sec. 9705 provides that after reserves and required transfers, the Treasury Forfeiture Fund's "unobligated balances . . . shall be available to the Secretary . . . for obligation or expenditure in connection with the law enforcement activities of any Federal agency. . . ." (Section 9705 also allows action without a presidential emergency declaration.) (The proclamation also invokes the Ready Reserve provision, allowing the Secretary of Defense, upon the President's declaration of an emergency, to call up "any unit, and any member not assigned to a unit to serve as a unit . . . for not more than 24 months.")
According to the White House Fact Sheet, President Trump's action authorizes reprogramming of funds (1) from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund (Section 9705, about $601 million), (2) counterdrug activities (Section 284, up to $2.5 billion), (3) and military construction (Section 2808, up to $3.6 billion). Importantly, "[t]hese funding sources will be used sequentially and as needed."
The states argue first that there is no emergency under the NEA, and that President Trump therefore lacked authority to declare one. The complaint details the ton of evidence, much from the government itself, on illegal immigration across the southern border, crime by illegal immigrants, and drugs that cross the southern border and argues that this simply doesn't add up to an NEA "emergency."
The states claim that even if there is an emergency, the President can't unlock federal funds under Section 2808. That's because building the wall doesn't "require use of the armed forces." Moreover, the President can't reprogram counterdrug money under Section 284, because "the proposed border wall will not assist in blocking 'drug smuggling corridors.'" Finally, the President can't tap Treasury Forfeiture Funds, because the statutory criteria under that statute aren't satisfied.
The states also argue that the administration violated the National Environmental Protection Act, because it failed to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment for the wall.
The states claim that the President's actions violate the separation of powers, encroach upon Congress's spending power, and violate the relevant statutes.
As to standing, the states argue that they'll lose federal funds and the resulting economic activity when the administration reprograms money already allocated to other projects:
If the Administration were to use the funding sources identified in the Executive Actions, Plaintiff States collectively stand to lose millions in federal funding that their national guard units receive for domestic drug interdiction and counter-drug activities, and millions of dollars received on an annual basis for law enforcement programs from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund, harming the public safety of Plaintiff States. The redirection of funding from authorized military construction projects located in Plaintiff States will cause damage to their economies. Plaintiff States will face harm to their proprietary interests by the diversion of funding from military construction projects for the States' national guard units. And the construction of a wall along California's and New Mexico's southern borders will cause irreparable environmental damage to those States' natural resources.
Monday, February 18, 2019
The First Circuit ruled last week that the congressionally created Board to oversee the restructuring of Puerto Rico's debt was constituted in violation of the Appointments Clause. The court, however, stopped short of halting the Board's federal lawsuit to initiate debt adjustment proceedings on behalf of Puerto Rico, giving the government 90 days to cure the appointments defect.
The ruling in Aurelius Investment v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico puts the ball in the government's court to get the Board members properly appointed before the debt readjustment proceeding can move forward.
The case involves the Financial Oversight Management Board created under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act ("PROMESA"). Congress created the Board to provide independent supervision and control over Puerto Rico's financial affairs and to help the Island "achieve fiscal responsibility and access to capital markets." Under the Act, Board members are appointed by the President from a slate of candidates created by congressional leadership. (If the President doesn't select a member from one of these lists, the Senate has to confirm the President's nominee. But current Board members all came from a list, without Senate confirmation.)
The Board filed for debt readjustment on behalf of Puerto Rico. Debt-holders sought to dismiss the suit, arguing that the Board lacked authority to file, because Board members weren't appointed pursuant to the Appointments Clause. The Board responded that Congress had authority to constitute the Board this way under the Territorial Clause.
The First Circuit ruled against the Board. The court first acknowledged that the Territorial Clause gives Congress broad authority over U.S. territories, but rejected the argument that the the Clause is so powerful as to allow Congress to bypass the Appointments Clause. The court applied the specific-governs-the-general canon and held that the specific Appointments Clause prevails over the more general Territorial Clause. Moreover, the court said that the Territorial Clause doesn't allow Congress to override the requirement of other structural provisions, like presentment (under the Presentment Clause); so, too, it it doesn't allow Congress to override the requirements of the Appointments Clause.
The court also rejected the claim that the nondelegation doctrine, which operates more flexibly in territories (allowing Congress wider berth to delegate lawmaking authority), gives Congress room to bypass the Appointments Clause. Moreover, the court rejected arguments based on congressional control over the D.C. courts, and declined to read the Insular Cases as creating an Appointments Clause-free-zone in Puerto Rico.
As to the Appointments Clause itself, the court ruled that Board members are "officers" and therefore subject to the Clause, because the positions are "continuing," the incumbent exercises significant authority, and that authority is exercised pursuant to the laws of the United States. On this last point, the court noted that "[e]ssentially everything [Board members] do is pursuant to federal law." The court distinguished high-level Puerto Rican officials who are elected by Puerto Ricans, even though their ultimate authority traces to Congress. "So the elected Governor's power ultimately depends on the continuation of a federal grant. But that fact alone does not make the laws of Puerto Rico the laws of the United States, else every claim brought under Puerto Rico's laws would pose a federal question."
Finally, the court held that Board members are "principal" officers, because, under Edmond, "[t]hey are answerable to and removable only by the President and are not directed or supervised by others who were appointed by the President with Senate confirmation." As such, they must be nominated by the President, with advice and consent of the Senate.
The court declined to dismiss the Board's Title III petitions, however, because "[a]t a minimum, dismissing the Title III petitions and nullifying the Board's years of work will cancel out any progress made towards PROMESA's aim of helping Puerto Rico 'achieve fiscal responsibility and access to the capital markets.'" Moreover, the court stayed its ruling for 90 days to give the government time for Senate confirmation.
Saturday, February 16, 2019
Public Citizen and the Frontiera Audubon Society sued President Trump for declaratory and injunctive relief yesterday over the president's declaration of a national emergency in order to reallocate funds to build the wall. The lawsuit, filed in the District of Columbia, is the first of (undoubtedly) many.
The lawsuit, Alvarez v. Trump, alleges that President Trump unlawfully invoked the National Emergencies Act because there is, in fact, no emergency, and that he unlawfully reallocated funding from Defense Department construction projects and drug interdiction efforts to build the wall. The complaint details the government's now well known statistics about immigration at the Southern border, and related matters, and quotes from President Trump's press conference yesterday: "I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this, but I'd rather do it much faster"--a statement seemingly at odds with an "emergency." (But remember that the Supreme Court, in Trump v. Hawaii, upheld the travel ban under the President's authority to suspend entry of aliens if entry "would be detrimental to the interests of the United States," under the INA. In doing so, the Court managed to disregard so much of what President Trump actually said about the travel ban--which had nothing to do with "the interests of the United States." This suggests that the Supreme Court will be quite deferential to the President when the wall case gets to the high Court.)
The complaint alleges that the President violated the separation of powers by encroaching on Congress's appropriations power. In short: Congress only appropriated $1.35 billion for the wall; President Trump invoked the NEA to reallocate funds from other pots, even though there was no emergency; in so reallocating appropriated funds, President Trump encroached on Congress's power of the purse.
The complaint does not allege that the NEA's definition of "emergency" delegates too much lawmaking authority to the executive in violation of the nondelegation doctrine.
The plaintiffs include landowners along the border, who have been told that the government would use their land to build a wall, if it got the money to do so.
Tuesday, February 12, 2019
In a word: No. At least not without specific congressional authorization.
Remember that President Obama tried a similar move with the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act. The CSR was designed to reimburse insurance companies for keeping costs low for certain purchasers on the exchanges. But Congress zero-funded the CSR line-item. The Obama Administration went ahead with payments, on the theory that CSR was part-and-parcel of the well integrated ACA--and payments were therefore allowed, even if not specifically authorized.
But when the (then-Republican) House of Representatives sued, the district court ruled the payments unlawful. (The court wrote that "[t]he [ACA] unambiguously appropriates money for Section 1401 premium tax credits but not for Section 1402 reimbursements to insurers. Such an appropriation cannot be inferred. None of the Secretaries' extra-textual arguments--whether based on economics, "unintended" results, or legislative history--is persuasive.") The court stayed an injunction pending appeal. But the Trump Administration reversed course.
In doing so, the Trump Administration adopted the same legal analysis as the district court that struck the payments. (Again: this was a switch from the legal position in the Obama Administration.) In language that's telling and relevant to the wall question, the Trump DOJ wrote this:
There is no more fundamental power granted to the Legislative Branch than its exclusive power to appropriate funds. And the Executive Branch cannot unilaterally spend money that Congress has not appropriated. Congress's repeated choice to deny funding for CSR payments is thus Congress's prerogative. When Congress refuses to appropriate money for a program, the Executive is required to respect that decision.
So, no: By the Administration's own reckoning, and by district court precedent, absent specific congressional authorization to do so, President Trump cannot move money around to fund the wall.
Friday, January 25, 2019
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan (D.D.C.) today denied the government's request to stay the court's earlier order vacating the government's restrictions on asylum pending appeal. The ruling means that the court's order will remain in place--and the government can't enforce its crabbed "credible fear" standard in expedited removal proceedings--while the government appeals the earlier ruling.
Recall that the court halted DOJ's and USCIS's standards for "credible fear" determinations by asylum officers in expedited removal proceedings, because those standards violated the Immigration and Naturalization Act or were otherwise arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act. (AG Sessions initiated the change in a ruling in Matter of A-B-, and DHS followed up with administrative guidance.) Those standards restricted claims by individuals who claim asylum based on a fear of domestic violence and gang violence.
The government claimed that the court only had authority to rule on the government's standards with regard to the plaintiffs in this case, and not across the board.
But the court rejected that argument, pointing to the language of the INA and the legislative history. The court also wrote that the government won't be irreparably harmed, and that third parties (other immigrants subject to the government's standard) would be harmed with a stay.
The ruling underscores the court's original order on the merits.
Judge Richard J. Leon (D.D.C.) earlier this week denied a temporary restraining order in favor of the federal employees who sued to get backpay and to not have to go to work during the shutdown. Judge Leon ordered further argument next Thursday, but the case is now likely moot (in light of today's agreement to get things going again, even if only temporarily).
The ruling means that the court declines to order the government to do anything for the employees, and leaves things to the political branches to work it out.
Judge Leon wrote in explicit separation-of-powers terms (and animated text--all emphasis in original):
But I want and need to make something very clear: the Judiciary is not just another source of leverage to be tapped in the ongoing internal squabble between the political branches. We are an independent, co-equal branch of government, and whether or not we can afford to keep our lights on, our oath is to the Constitution and the faithful application of the law. In the final analysis, the shutdown is a political problem. It does NOT, and can NOT, change this Court's limited role. Of that I am very certain.
But a TRO is designed to freeze the state of affairs, not throw the status quo into disarray. The TROs sought here would do the latter. Moreover, the emergency relief standard is a sliding scale, and one of the factors I have to weigh is whether granting relief sought is in the public interest. [One group of plaintiffs] would effectively have me order the Federal Aviation Administration to pay [their] unpaid salaries with money that the FAA does not have right now. As plaintiffs well know, Congress has the power of the purse, not me. I cannot grant injunctive relief in that form.
[Another group of plaintiffs] would have me, in effect, give all currently excepted federal employees--numbering in the hundreds of thousands across dozens of agencies--the option not to show up for work tomorrow. These are employees who perform functions that the relevant agencies have determined bear on the safety of human life and/or the protection of property. If I were to issue a TRO, there is no way to know how many of these excepted employees would choose not to report to work tomorrow, and there is no way to know what public services would therefore go unprovided.
It would be profoundly irresponsible under these circumstances--with no record whatsoever telling me what government functions would be impacted--for me to grant that TRO. At best, it would create chaos and confusion--at worst, catastrophe!
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Over the last week, three separate lawsuits have been filed against President Trump and administration officials arguing that the government violates due process, the Thirteenth Amendment, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Anti-Deficiency Act in ordering certain federal workers to work without pay. In short, the plaintiffs collectively argue that compelled work amounts to a taking of property without due process; that compelled work without pay amounts to involuntary servitude; that the government violates the FLSA by failing to provide on-time payments of overtime wages; and that the government violates the Anti-Deficiency Act by ordering federal employees to work, even if their services aren't needed "in connection with an imminent threat to human life or property" (as required by the Act). (The plaintiffs argue that the government's interpretation of the Anti-Deficiency Act, based on OLC memos, is at odds with the 1990 amendments to the Act. They also argue that this interpretation, and the Act itself, unconstitutionally encroach on Congress's appropriations authority.)
The plaintiffs (again, collectively) seek declaratory relief, back pay and overtime pay, and an injunction prohibiting the government from ordering them to work without pay, among other things.
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Judge Emmet Sullivan (D.D.C.) today ruled that several aspects of the DOJ's and USCIS's standards for "credible fear" determinations by asylum officers in expedited removal proceedings violated the Immigration and Naturalization Act or were otherwise arbitrary and capricious and therefore invalid under the Administrative Procedure Act.
Judge Sullivan vacated the credible fear policies; permanently enjoined the government from applying those policies and from removing plaintiffs who are currently in the United States without first providing a valid credible fear determination; and ordered the government to return to the United States the plaintiffs who were unlawfully deported and to provide them with a new credible fear determination. (At the same time, the court identified portions of the standards that were not inconsistent with the INA.)
The ruling means that the government cannot implement its sweeping and unilateral restrictions on asylum claims at the credible fear stage based on domestic violence and gang violence. It follow by just a couple weeks another significant ruling against Administration asylum restrictions.
The ruling is a huge victory for asylum claimants, and a serious blow against the Trump Administration's efforts to restrict the bases for asylum at the credible fear stage by unilateral agency action.
The case tested then-AG Sessions's ruling in Matter of A-B- and a USCIS Policy Memo, both of which had the effect of denying asylum to victims of domestic violence and gang violence. The court ruled that most of the standards in these administrative documents violated the INA and the APA.
Wednesday, December 12, 2018
In the wake of the government's release of sentencing memos for Michael Cohen--and their fingering of President Trump for unlawful acts during the campaign--there's renewed interest in whether a president can be criminally charged.
Marty Lederman has an op-ed in today's NYT, where he argues that President Trump could be indicted, but that there are bigger fish to fry in the Mueller investigation:
Perhaps Mr. Trump will become the first president to face criminal charges. Perhaps not. But that's the least of it. We'd be wise to shift our attention from the unlikely possibility of a trial to the much more important matter of what the Mueller investigation might tell us about Mr. Trump's relationships with Russia and whether they compromise his ability to protect and defend the nation.
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle (D.D.C.) dismissed a suit challenging President Trump's Infrastructure Council under the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
The ruling in Food & Water Watch v. Trump arose out of the plaintiff's FACA challenge to the Council, which was (or would have been) designed to give the President advice on infrastructure policy. The plaintiff claimed that the Council was stacked with President Trump's friends, and thus violated FACA's membership and transparency requirements.
The problem: the Council never got off the ground. For that reason, the court said it wasn't a "committee" or even a "de facto committee" under FACA, and the court therefore lacked jurisdiction.
Judge Huvelle emphasized how narrowly courts interpret FACA in order to avoid a separation-of-powers problem. Citing In re Cheney, she wrote
Congress could not have meant that participation in committee meetings or activities, even influential participation, would be enough to make someone a member of the committee . . . . Separation-of-powers concerns strongly support this interpretation of FACA. In making decisions on personnel and policy, and in formulating legislative proposals, the President must be free to seek confidential information from many sources, both inside the government and outside.
The court also denied the plaintiff's request for further discovery.
December 11, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, December 7, 2018
If you want to know what William P. Barr, President Trump's nominee for Attorney General, thinks about congressional interference with executive-branch operations and the "unitary executive," check out his 1989 memo as assistant attorney general in the OLC. (Spoiler alert: He's an aggressive proponent of a unitary executive, in ways both familiar and less familiar in today's constitutional politics.)
Notably--and contrary to a trend among unitary executive advocates--he doesn't disavow Morrison v. Olson (at least not in this memo); he just says that most or all independent offices are distinguishable from the independent counsel (and therefore unconstitutional even under that case). Given the current political winds, it seems likely his position on Morrison will likely change. In any event, this doesn't necessarily say anything about his position on Special Counsel Mueller: Mueller was appointed pursuant to DOJ regs, not a congressional statute, so doesn't raise the same separation-of-powers concerns as the old independent counsel.
The memo outlines these "Common Legislative Encroachments On Executive Branch Authority":
- Interference with the President's Appointment Power, including incompatibility and ineligibility issues (e.g., appointing members of Congress to executive-branch commissions that have more than advisory roles), directing the president to appoint from an approved list of candidates, and delegations of authority to positions outside the executive branch (e.g., qui tam statutes).
- The creation of hybrid commissions that reach into executive authority.
- Attempts to constraint the president's "removal power."
- "Micromanagement of the Executive Branch," by mandating certain executive processes and bureaucratic organization.
- "Attempts to Gain Access to Sensitive Executive Branch Information."
- Legislative vetoes (even after Chadha).
- Requirements that executive officials submit legislation to Congress.
- Restrictions on the president's recess appointment power.
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Check out Elizabeth Goitein's piece in The Atlantic on the president's statutory emergency powers, and their potential misuse. From the piece:
the president has access to emergency powers contained in 123 statutory provisions, as recently calculated by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, where I work. These laws address a broad range of matters, from military composition to agricultural exports to public contracts. For the most part, the president is free to use any of them; the National Emergencies Act doesn't require that the powers invoked relate to the nature of the emergency. Even if the crisis at hand is, say, a nationwide crop blight, the president may activate the law that allows the secretary of transportation to requisition any privately owned vessel at sea. Many other laws permit the executive branch to take extraordinary action under specified conditions, such as war and domestic upheaval, regardless of whether a national emergency has been declared.
Saturday, December 1, 2018
Judge Edgardo Ramos (S.D.N.Y.) this week issued a sweeping ruling against the Trump Administration and its attempts to clamp down on sanctuary jurisdictions. The ruling is a significant victory for sanctuary jurisdictions, and a blow to the Trump Administration.
The case involves the states of New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington; the commonwealths of Massachusetts and Virginia; and the city of New York. These jurisdictions sued the Administration to halt its unilateral anti-sanctuary conditions on their DOJ JAG/Byrne grants. In particular, they sought to stop the Administration from enforcing its three conditions on grant-receiving jurisdictions, on threat of losing their grants: (1) the "notice condition," which requires jurisdictions to give advance notice to DHS of the scheduled release date and time of aliens housed in state or local correctional facilities; (2) the "access condition," which requires jurisdictions to give federal agents access to aliens in state or local correctional facilities in order to question them about their immigration status; and (3) the "1373 compliance" condition, which requires jurisdictions to comply with 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373, which, in turn, prohibits state or local governments from prohibiting their officials from communicating with the federal government about the immigration status of detainees.
Importantly, former AG Sessions imposed these conditions himself, without specific congressional authority (or any congressional action).
The court ruled that DOJ lacked statutory authority to impose the conditions, and thus acted ultra vires and in violation of the separation of powers in imposing them unilaterally (that is, without specific congressional authority). It also ruled that the conditions were arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.
As to Section 1373, the court said that it violated the anti-commandeering principle, based on Murphy v. NCAA. (The anti-commandeering principle says that the federal government can't compel a state to act in its sovereign capacity. Recall that the Court held in Murphy extended this principle to when the government compels a state not to act--as in Section 1373.)
The court granted the plaintiffs' request for mandamus relief and ordered the government to reissue their Byrne grant award documents without the conditions. It also enjoined the government from imposing the conditions against any of the plaintiffs in the future.
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Chief Justice Roberts issued an extraordinary statement today defending the independence of the judiciary. The statement came after President Trump attacked Judge Tigar as an "Obama judge" because of Judge Tigar's ruling yesterday halting President Trump's restrictions on asylum claims at the Mexican border.
The statement reads,
We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.
Here's Adam Liptak's report in the NYT.
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Judge Jon S. Tigar (N.D. Cal.) issued a temporary restraining order today against President Trump's move to prevent aliens along the Mexico border from applying for asylum except at ports of entry. The court ruled that government action violated the plain terms of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, and, alternatively, that there were "serious questions" about whether the government could bypass notice-and-comment procedures under the Administrative Procedure Act (as it did).
The order applies nationwide.
The ruling strikes a substantial blow against President Trump's effort to restrict aliens' ability to apply for asylum. The next step is a show-cause hearing on December 19, during which Judge Tigar will hear arguments whether the government "should not be enjoined from taking any action continuing to implement the Rule and ordered to return to the pre-Rule practices for processing asylum applications, pending the final disposition of this action."
DOJ and DHS published a joint interim rule, bypassing notice-and-comment procedures under the APA's "military or foreign affairs function" and "good cause" exemptions, that renders an alien categorically ineligible for asylum "if the alien is subject to a presidential proclamation or other presidential order suspending or limiting the entry of aliens along the southern border with Mexico . . . ." President Trump then issued a presidential proclamation (claiming authority under 8 U.S.C. Secs. 1182(f) and 1185(a)) suspending "[t]he entry of any alien into the United States across the international boundary between the United States and Mexico" for ninety days, but exempts "any alien who enters the United States at a port of entry and properly presents for inspection."
The problem is that this runs headlong into the INA. 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1158(a)(1) (emphasis added) provides:
Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien's status, may apply for asylum . . . .
In short: the government's rule violates the statute. "Basic separation of powers principles dictate that an agency may not promulgate a rule or regulation that renders Congress's words a nullity."
The court rejected the government's argument that its rule is consistent with the statute, because the statute says that an alien can apply for asylum, while the rule uses the port-of-entry requirement to render an alien ineligible for asylum. "The argument strains credulity. To say that one may apply for something that one has no right to receive is to render the right to apply a dead letter. There is simply no way to harmonize the two."
The court went on to say that there were "serious questions" about the government's invocation of the "foreign affairs" and "good cause" exceptions to the APA's notice-and-comment requirements. Although the court didn't have to rule on the exceptions (because it held that the rule violates the plain terms of the INA), it did, for completeness.
Senators Richard Blumenthal, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Mazie Hirono filed suit yesterday against "purported Acting Attorney General" Matthew Whitaker and President Trump, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against President Trump's designation of Whitaker as Acting AG.
The complaint contends that the designation (done under the purported authority of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act) violated the Appointments Clause and sidestepped the DOJ succession statute. (These arguments are similar to the points in the filing last week seeking Supreme Court review of the designation.)
The complaint points especially to the Senate's advice-and-consent role in principal officer appointments as a separation-of-powers check. That's partly to establish standing: "By designating Mr. Whitaker to perform the functions and duties of the Attorney General without having been subject to Senate confirmation, President Trump has unlawfully denied the Plaintiffs their right, as sitting U.S. Senators, to vote on whether to consent to his appointment to that role."
But it's also to illustrate why the Senate's role matters. Quoting Federalist 76, the complaint says:
It is precisely so that matters like these can be thoroughly examined by Senators that the Constitution prohibits the appointment of principal federal Officers without the Senate's advice and consent. That safeguard, the Framers recognized, helps prevent the President from appointing Officers with "no other merit than that of . . . possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure." The Framers regarded the advice-and-consent requirement as "an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President" that "would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, and from family connection, [and] from personal attachment."
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)