Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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The river basin is formed by the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers, which flow south through Georgia and converge at Lake Seminole, just north of Florida, where the Apalachicola River begins and flows south into the Gulf of Mexico. Florida sued, seeking a decree equitably apportioning the basin’s waters. The Supreme Court agreed to exercise its original jurisdiction and appointed a Special Master. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declined to waive sovereign immunity. The Master recommended that the Court dismiss Florida’s complaint, concluding that Florida did not present clear and convincing evidence that its injuries could be redressed by a decree capping Georgia’s upstream water consumption if the decree does not bind the Corps. The Supreme Court remanded, concluding that the Special Master applied too strict a standard. In interstate water disputes raising questions beyond the interpretation of an interstate compact's language, the doctrine of equitable apportionment applies. Equitable apportionment is flexible and requires consideration of physical and climatic conditions, the consumptive use of water in the several sections of the river, the character and rate of return flows, the extent of established uses, the availability of storage water, the practical effect of wasteful uses, and the damage to upstream areas as compared to the benefits to downstream areas if a limitation is imposed. Extensive, specific factual findings are essential. Until the Master makes the findings necessary to determine the nature and scope of likely harm caused by the absence of water and the amount of additional water necessary to ameliorate that harm significantly, Florida should not have to prove the details of a workable decree by “clear and convincing” evidence but only that, applying the principles of “flexibility” and “approximation,” it is likely to prove possible to fashion such a decree. At this stage and in light of certain assumptions, Florida made a sufficient showing that the extra water that would result from its proposed consumption cap would lead to increased streamflow in Florida’s Apalachicola River and significantly redress the economic and ecological harm that Florida has alleged. The United States has indicated that the Corps will cooperate. View "Florida v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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The river basin is formed by the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers, which flow south through Georgia and converge at Lake Seminole, just north of Florida, where the Apalachicola River begins and flows south into the Gulf of Mexico. Florida sued, seeking a decree equitably apportioning the basin’s waters. The Supreme Court agreed to exercise its original jurisdiction and appointed a Special Master. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declined to waive sovereign immunity. The Master recommended that the Court dismiss Florida’s complaint, concluding that Florida did not present clear and convincing evidence that its injuries could be redressed by a decree capping Georgia’s upstream water consumption if the decree does not bind the Corps. The Supreme Court remanded, concluding that the Special Master applied too strict a standard. In interstate water disputes raising questions beyond the interpretation of an interstate compact's language, the doctrine of equitable apportionment applies. Equitable apportionment is flexible and requires consideration of physical and climatic conditions, the consumptive use of water in the several sections of the river, the character and rate of return flows, the extent of established uses, the availability of storage water, the practical effect of wasteful uses, and the damage to upstream areas as compared to the benefits to downstream areas if a limitation is imposed. Extensive, specific factual findings are essential. Until the Master makes the findings necessary to determine the nature and scope of likely harm caused by the absence of water and the amount of additional water necessary to ameliorate that harm significantly, Florida should not have to prove the details of a workable decree by “clear and convincing” evidence but only that, applying the principles of “flexibility” and “approximation,” it is likely to prove possible to fashion such a decree. At this stage and in light of certain assumptions, Florida made a sufficient showing that the extra water that would result from its proposed consumption cap would lead to increased streamflow in Florida’s Apalachicola River and significantly redress the economic and ecological harm that Florida has alleged. The United States has indicated that the Corps will cooperate. View "Florida v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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President Trump lawfully exercised the broad discretion granted to him under section 1182(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), to issue Proclamation No. 9645, suspending the entry of aliens into the United States, and the Proclamation does not violate the Establishment Clause. The Proclamation sought to improve vetting procedures for foreign nationals traveling to the United States by identifying ongoing deficiencies in the information needed to assess whether nationals of particular countries present a security threat,and placed entry restrictions on the nationals of foreign states whose systems for managing and sharing information about their nationals the President deemed inadequate. The Supreme Court held that section 1182(f) entrusts to the President the decisions whether and when to suspend entry, whose entry to suspend, for how long, and on what conditions; Trump fulfilled section 1182(f)'s sole prerequisite that the President find that the entry of the covered aliens would be detrimental to the interests of the United States; even assuming that some form of inquiry into the persuasiveness of the President's findings was appropriate, plaintiffs' attacks on the sufficiency of the findings could not be sustained; the Proclamation comports with the remaining textual limits in section 1182(f); plaintiffs failed to identify any conflict between the Proclamation and the immigration scheme reflected in the INA that would implicitly bar the President from addressing deficiencies in the Nation's vetting system; and plaintiffs' argument that the President's entry suspension violates section 1152(a)(1)(A) ignored the basic distinction between admissibility determinations and visa issuance that runs throughout the INA. Finally, the Court applied rational basis review and held that plaintiffs, although they have standing to challenge the exclusion of their relatives, have not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the Proclamation violates the Establishment Clause where the Proclamation was expressly premised on legitimate purposes and said nothing about religion. The Court drew a distinction between whether it must consider not only the statements of a particular President, but also the authority of the Presidency itself. The Court concluded that the Government has set forth a sufficient national security justification to survive rational basis review. View "Trump v. Hawaii" on Justia Law

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The integrated “court-martial system” begins with the court-martial, which determines guilt or innocence and levies punishment. There are four appellate courts: the Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) for the Army, Navy-Marine Corps, Air Force, or Coast Guard. They review decisions where the sentence is a punitive discharge, incarceration for more than one year, or death. The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) sits atop the system and is a “court of record” composed of five civilian judges, 10 U.S.C. 941. Ortiz, an Airman First Class, was convicted by a court-martial of possessing and distributing child pornography. He was sentenced to imprisonment and a dishonorable discharge. An Air Force CCA panel, including Colonel Mitchell, affirmed. Judge Mitchell had recently been appointed to the Court of Military Commission Review (CMCR) by the Secretary of Defense under his authority (10 U.S.C. 950f(b)(2)) to “assign [officers] who are appellate military judges” to serve on that court. The President also appointed Judge Mitchell to the CMCR. The Supreme Court affirmed CCA's holding that Judge Mitchell’s simultaneous service on the CCA and the CMCR violated neither the Appointments Clause nor 10 U.S.C. 973(b)(2)(A), which provides that unless “otherwise authorized by law,” an active-duty military officer “may not hold, or exercise the functions of,” certain “civil office[s]” in the federal government. Even if a seat on CMCR is a covered “civil office” section 950f(b) “otherwise authorize[s]” Judge Mitchell’s service by providing for the assignment of military officers to the CMCR. The Appointments Clause distinguishes between principal officers and inferior officers but does not impose rules about dual service. Ortiz does not show how Judge Mitchell’s CMCR service would result in “undue influence” on his CCA colleagues. In holding that it had jurisdiction over the case, the Court stated that the military justice system’s essential character is judicial and the Court’s appellate jurisdiction covers more than decisions by Article III courts. View "Ortiz v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has authority to enforce securities laws by instituting an administrative proceeding against an alleged wrongdoer, typically overseen by an administrative law judge (ALJ). Other staff members, rather than the Commission, selected all of the five current ALJs, who have “authority to do all things necessary and appropriate” to ensure a “fair and orderly” adversarial proceeding, 17 CFR 201.111, 200.14(a). After a hearing, the ALJ issues an initial decision. The Commission can review that decision, but if it opts against review, it issues an order that the initial decision is “deemed the action of the Commission,” 15 U.S.C. 78d–1(c). The SEC charged Lucia and assigned ALJ Elliot to adjudicate the case. Following a hearing, Elliot issued an initial decision concluding that Lucia had violated the law and imposing sanctions. Lucia argued that the proceeding was invalid because SEC ALJs are “Officers of the United States,” subject to the Appointments Clause. Under that Clause, only the President, “Courts of Law,” or “Heads of Departments” can appoint “Officers.” The SEC and the D. C. Circuit rejected Lucia’s argument. The Supreme Court reversed. SEC ALJs are subject to the Appointments Clause. To qualify as an officer, rather than an employee, an individual must occupy a “continuing” position established by law, and must “exercis[e] significant authority pursuant to the laws of the United States,” SEC ALJs hold a continuing office established 5 U.S.C. 556–557, 5372, 3105, and exercise “significant discretion." The ALJs have nearly all the tools of federal trial judges: they take testimony, conduct trials, rule on the admissibility of evidence, can enforce compliance with discovery orders, and prepare proposed findings and an opinion including remedies. Judge Elliot heard and decided Lucia’s case without a constitutional appointment. View "Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission" on Justia Law

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The Upper Skagit Indian Tribe purchased land and commissioned a boundary survey, which convinced the Tribe that about an acre of its land lay on the other side of a boundary fence between its land and land owned by the Lundgrens. The Lundgrens filed a quiet title action in Washington state court, arguing adverse possession and mutual acquiescence. The Washington Supreme Court rejected the Tribe’s sovereign immunity claim, reasoning that tribal sovereign immunity does not apply to in rem suits. The U.S. Supreme Court vacated and remanded. The precedent on which the state court relied (Yakima) addressed not the scope of tribal sovereign immunity, but a question of statutory interpretation of the Indian General Allotment Act of 1887. The Act authorized the President to allot parcels of reservation land to individual tribal members and directed the government to issue fee patents to the allottees. In 1934, Congress reversed course but did not withdraw the lands already conveyed so that Indian reservations sometimes contain both trust land held by the government and fee-patented land held by private parties. The Supreme Court held that the state collection of property taxes on fee-patented land within reservations was allowed under the Act; Yakima resolved nothing about the law of sovereign immunity. View "Upper Skagit Tribe v. Lundgren" on Justia Law

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SAS sought inter partes review (35 U.S.C. 311(a)) of ComplementSoft’s software patent, alleging that all 16 of the patent’s claims were unpatentable. The Patent Office instituted review on some of the claims and denied review on the rest. The Federal Circuit rejected SAS’s argument that section 318(a) required the Board to decide the patentability of every claim challenged in the petition. The Supreme Court reversed. When the Patent Office institutes an inter partes review, it must decide the patentability of all of the claims the petitioner has challenged. Section 318(a), which states that the Board “shall issue a final written decision with respect to the patentability of any patent claim challenged by the petitioner” is mandatory and comprehensive. The Director’s claimed “partial institution” power (37 CFR 42.108(a)) appears nowhere in the statutory text. The statute envisions an inter partes review guided by the initial petition. While section 314(a) invests the Director with discretion on whether to institute review, it does not invest him with discretion regarding what claims that review will encompass. The Director’s policy argument—that partial institution is efficient because it permits the Board to focus on the most promising challenges and avoid spending time and resources on others—is properly addressed to Congress. View "SAS Institute Inc. v. Iancu" on Justia Law

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Oil States sued Greene's Energy for infringement of a patent relating to technology for protecting wellhead equipment used in hydraulic fracturing. Greene’s challenged the patent’s validity in court and petitioned the Patent Office for inter partes review, 35 U.S.C. 311-319. The district court issued a claim-construction order favoring Oil States; the Board concluded that Oil States’ claims were unpatentable. The Federal Circuit rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of inter partes review. The Supreme Court affirmed. Inter partes review does not violate Article III. Congress may assign adjudication of public rights to entities other than Article III courts. Inter partes review falls within the public-rights doctrine. Patents are “public franchises” and granting patents is a constitutional function that can be carried out by the executive or legislative departments without “judicial determination.’ Inter partes review involves the same basic matter as granting a patent. Patents remain “subject to [the Board’s] authority” to cancel outside of an Article III court. The similarities between the procedures used in inter partes review and judicial procedures does not suggest that inter partes review violates Article III. The Court noted that its decision “should not be misconstrued as suggesting that patents are not property for purposes of the Due Process Clause or the Takings Clause.” When Congress properly assigns a matter to adjudication in a non-Article III tribunal, “the Seventh Amendment poses no independent bar to the adjudication of that action by a nonjury factfinder.” View "Oil States Energy Services, LLC v. Greene's Energy Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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Petitioners sought compensation under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, 28 U.S.C. 1350, based on terrorist acts committed abroad. They alleged that those acts were in part facilitated by Arab Bank, a Jordanian institution with a New York branch. They claimed that the bank used that branch to clear dollar-denominated transactions that benefited terrorists through the Clearing House Interbank Payments System (CHIPS) and to launder money for a Texas-based charity allegedly affiliated with Hamas. The Second Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the case. Foreign corporations may not be defendants in suits brought under the ATS, which is "strictly jurisdictional” and does not provide or define a cause of action for international law violations. The Court noted that after the Second Circuit permitted plaintiffs to bring ATS actions based on human-rights laws, Congress enacted the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act, creating an express cause of action for victims of torture and extrajudicial killing. ATS suits then became more frequent but “the presumption against extraterritoriality applies to [ATS] claims.” Separation-of-powers concerns that counsel against courts creating private rights of action apply with particular force to the ATS, which implicates foreign-policy concerns. Courts must exercise “great caution” before recognizing new forms of liability under the ATS. In this case. the only alleged connections to the United States, the CHIPS transaction and a brief allegation about a Texas charity, are “relatively minor” and the litigation has caused diplomatic tensions with Jordan, a critical ally. View "Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC" on Justia Law

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Patchak filed suit challenging the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to invoke the Indian Reorganization Act, 25 U.S.C. 5108, and take into trust the Bradley Property, on which the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians wished to build a casino. In an earlier decision, the Supreme Court held that the Secretary lacked sovereign immunity and that Patchak had standing. While the suit was on remand, Congress enacted the Gun Lake Act, 128 Stat. 1913, which “reaffirmed as trust land” the Bradley Property, and provided that “an action . . . relating to [that] land shall not be filed or maintained in a Federal court and shall be promptly dismissed.” The D.C. Circuit and the Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of Patchak’s suit. Section 2(b) of the Gun Lake Act does not violate Article III of the Constitution. While Congress may not exercise the judicial power, it may make laws that apply retroactively to pending lawsuits, even when it effectively ensures that one side will win. Congress violates Article III when it “compel[s] . . . findings or results under old law,” but not when it “changes the law.” By stripping federal courts of jurisdiction over actions “relating to” the Bradley Property, section 2(b) changed the law and is a jurisdiction-stripping statute. When Congress strips federal courts of jurisdiction, it exercises a valid legislative power. View "Patchak v Zinke" on Justia Law