Justia U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
by
Every 10 years, the U.S. undertakes an “Enumeration” of its population “in such Manner” as Congress “shall by Law direct.” The Secretary of Commerce must “take a decennial census of population . . . in such form and content as he may determine,” 13 U.S.C. 141(a), and report to the President, who must transmit to Congress a “statement showing the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed, as ascertained” under the census, 2 U.S.C. 2a(a), applying the “method of equal proportions” formula to the population counts to calculate the number of House seats for each state.In July 2020, the President issued a memorandum to the Secretary, announcing a policy of excluding from the apportionment base aliens who are not in lawful immigration status. The President ordered the Secretary “to provide information permitting the President, to the extent practicable, to exercise the President’s discretion to carry out the policy.”The Supreme Court vacated an injunction, prohibiting the Secretary from including the information needed to implement the President’s memorandum and directed dismissal of the lawsuits for lack of jurisdiction. The threatened impact of an unlawful apportionment on congressional representation and federal funding does not establish a “legally cognizable injury.” Any chilling effect from the memorandum dissipated upon the conclusion of the census. The Secretary has not altered census operations in a concrete manner that will predictably change the count. Any prediction of how the Executive Branch might eventually implement the general statement of policy is conjecture. It is unclear how many aliens have administrative records that would allow the Secretary to avoid impermissible estimation; whether the Census Bureau can timely match its records to census data; and to what extent the President might direct the Secretary to “reform the census” to implement his general policy. The plaintiffs suffer no concrete harm from the challenged policy, which does not require them “to do anything or to refrain from doing anything.” View "Trump v. New York" on Justia Law

by
Delaware’s Constitution contains a political balance requirement for appointments to the state’s major courts. No more than a bare majority of judges on any of its five major courts “shall be of the same political party.” Art. IV, section 3. On three of those courts, those members not in the bare majority “shall be of the other major political party.” Adams, a Delaware lawyer and political independent, sued, claiming that those requirements violate his First Amendment right to freedom of association by making him ineligible to become a judge unless he joins a major political party.The Supreme Court held that because Adams has not shown that he was “able and ready” to apply for a judicial vacancy in the imminent future, he failed to show a “personal,” “concrete,” and “imminent” injury necessary for Article III standing. A grievance that amounts to nothing more than abstract and generalized harm to a citizen’s interest in the proper application of the law is not an “injury in fact.” Adams must at least show that he is likely to apply to become a judge in the reasonably foreseeable future if not barred because of political affiliation. Adams’ only supporting evidence is his statements that he wanted to be, and would apply to be, a judge on any of Delaware’s courts. The evidence fails to show that, when he filed suit, Adams was “able and ready” to apply for a judgeship in the reasonably foreseeable future. Adams’ statements lack supporting evidence, like efforts to determine possible judicial openings or other preparations. Adams did not apply for numerous existing judicial vacancies while he was a registered Democrat. He then read a law review article arguing that Delaware’s judicial eligibility requirements unconstitutionally excluded independents, changed his political affiliation, and filed suit. View "Carney v. Adams" on Justia Law

by
Committees of the U. S. House of Representatives issued subpoenas seeking information about the finances of President Trump, his children, and affiliated businesses. The subpoenas were issued to financial institutions and the President’s personal accounting firm. The President in his personal capacity, his children, and affiliated businesses argued that the subpoenas lacked a legitimate legislative purpose and violated the separation of powers. The President did not argue that any of the requested records were protected by executive privilege.The Supreme Court vacated decisions by the D.C. Circuit and the Second Circuit and remanded. The courts below did not take adequate account of the significant separation of powers concerns implicated by congressional subpoenas for the President’s information. A congressional subpoena is valid only if it is “related to, and in furtherance of, a legitimate task of the Congress” and serves a “valid legislative purpose.” Congress may not issue a subpoena for the purpose of “law enforcement,” because that power is assigned to the Executive and the Judiciary.While executive privilege protections should not be transplanted to cases involving nonprivileged, private information, a limitless subpoena power could transform the established practice of the political branches and allow Congress to aggrandize itself at the President’s expense. The subpoenas at issue represent not a run-of-the-mill legislative effort but rather a clash between rival branches of government over records of intense political interest. Separation of powers concerns are no less palpable because the subpoenas were issued to third parties.A balanced approach is necessary to address those concerns. Courts should carefully assess whether the asserted legislative purpose warrants the significant step of involving the President and his papers. Congress may not rely on the President’s information if other sources could reasonably provide Congress the information it needs in light of its particular legislative objective. Courts should insist on a subpoena no broader than reasonably necessary to support Congress’s legislative objective and should be attentive to the nature of the evidence that a subpoena advances a valid legislative purpose. Courts should assess the burdens imposed on the President and incentives to use subpoenas for institutional advantage. Other considerations may also be pertinent. View "Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP" on Justia Law

by
The New York County District Attorney’s Office served a subpoena duces tecum on the personal accounting firm of President Trump, seeking financial records relating to the President and his businesses. The President, acting in his personal capacity, sought to enjoin enforcement of the subpoena.The Second Circuit and the Supreme Court affirmed the denial of injunctive relief. Article II and the Supremacy Clause do not categorically preclude or require a heightened standard for the issuance of a state criminal subpoena to a sitting President. The Court examined precedent concerning federal subpoenas, from Aaron Burr’s motion for a subpoena directed at President Jefferson, through Monroe, Clinton, and Nixon, and concluded that, with respect to the state subpoena, the President’s “generalized assertion of privilege must yield to the demonstrated, specific need for evidence in a pending criminal trial.”The Court rejected an argument that a state grand jury subpoena for a sitting President’s personal records must meet a heightened standard of need because of the possibility of diversion, stigma, and harassment. The President conceded that the criminal investigations are permitted under Article II and the Supremacy Clause; the receipt of a subpoena does not categorically magnify the harm to the President’s reputation and grand jury secrecy rules aim to prevent the stigma the President anticipates.Although a President cannot be treated as an “ordinary individual” when executive communications are sought, with regard to private papers, a President stands in “nearly the same situation with any other individual.” Absent a need to protect the Executive, the public interest in fair and effective law enforcement cuts in favor of comprehensive access to evidence. A President may avail himself of the same protections available to every other citizen, including the right to challenge the subpoena on grounds permitted by state law, such as bad faith and undue burden or breadth. A President can raise subpoena-specific constitutional challenges in either a state or a federal forum and can challenge the subpoena as an attempt to influence the performance of his official duties, in violation of the Supremacy Clause. View "Trump v. Vance" on Justia Law

by
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) requires covered employers to provide women with “preventive care and screenings” without cost-sharing requirements and relies on Preventive Care Guidelines “supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration” (HRSA) to define “preventive care and screenings,” 42 U.S.C. 300gg–13(a)(4). Those Guidelines mandate that health plans cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods. When the Federal Departments incorporated the Guidelines, they gave HRSA the discretion to exempt religious employers from providing contraceptive coverage. Later, the Departments promulgated a rule accommodating qualifying religious organizations, allowing them to opt out of coverage by self-certifying that they met certain criteria to their health insurance issuer, which would then exclude contraceptive coverage from the employer’s plan and provide participants with separate payments for contraceptive services without any cost-sharing requirements.In its 2014 “Hobby Lobby” decision, the Supreme Court held that the contraceptive mandate substantially burdened the free exercise of closely-held corporations with sincerely held religious objections. In a later decision, the Court remanded challenges to the self-certification accommodation so that the parties could develop an approach that would accommodate employers’ concerns while providing women full and equal coverage.The Departments then promulgated interim final rules. One significantly expanded the church exemption to include an employer that objects, based on its sincerely held religious beliefs, to coverage or payments for contraceptive services. Another created an exemption for employers with sincerely held moral objections to providing contraceptive coverage. The Third Circuit affirmed a preliminary nationwide injunction against the implementation of the rules.The Supreme Court reversed. The Departments had the authority under the ACA to promulgate the exemptions. Section 300gg–13(a)(4) states that group health plans must provide preventive care and screenings “as provided for” in comprehensive guidelines, granting HRSA sweeping authority to define that preventive care and to create exemptions from its Guidelines. Concerns that the exemptions thwart Congress’ intent by making it significantly harder for women to obtain seamless access to contraception without cost-sharing cannot justify supplanting that plain meaning. “It is clear ... that the contraceptive mandate is capable of violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” The rules promulgating the exemptions are free from procedural defects. View "Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

by
Montana grants tax credits to those who donate to organizations that award scholarships for private school tuition. To reconcile the program with the Montana Constitution, which bars government aid to any school “controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination,” the Montana Department of Revenue promulgated “Rule 1,” which prohibited families from using the scholarships at religious schools. Parents sued, alleging that the Rule discriminated on the basis of religion. The Montana Supreme Court held that the program, unmodified by Rule 1, aided religious schools in violation of the Montana Constitution’s no-aid provision and that the violation required invalidating the entire program.The Supreme Court remanded. The application of the no-aid provision discriminated against religious schools and the families whose children attend or hope to attend them in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the Federal Constitution. Disqualifying otherwise eligible recipients from a public benefit “solely because of their religious character” imposes “a penalty on the free exercise of religion that triggers the most exacting scrutiny. Montana’s no-aid provision does not zero in on any essentially religious course of instruction but bars aid to a religious school “simply because of what it is.” The protections of the Free Exercise Clause do not depend on a case-by-case analysis. To satisfy strict scrutiny, government action must advance interests of the highest order and must be narrowly tailored in pursuit of those interests. Montana’s interest in creating a greater separation of church and state than the U.S. Constitution requires cannot qualify as compelling. The Montana Supreme Court was obligated to disregard the no-aid provision and decide this case consistent with the Federal Constitution. View "Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

by
Following the 2008 financial crisis, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), was established by the Dodd-Frank Act as an independent regulatory agency tasked with ensuring that consumer debt products are safe and transparent. The administration of 18 existing federal statutes was transferred to CFPB. A new prohibition on unfair and deceptive practices in the consumer-finance sector, 12 U.S.C. 5536(a)(1)(B), gave CFPB extensive rulemaking, enforcement, and adjudicatory powers, including the authority to conduct investigations, issue subpoenas and civil investigative demands, initiate administrative adjudications, prosecute civil actions in federal court, and issue binding decisions in administrative proceedings. CFPB is led by a single Director, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, for a five-year term, during which the President may remove the Director only for “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance,” 12 U.S.C. 5491(c)(1),(3).CFPB issued a civil investigative demand to Seila, a law firm that provides debt-related legal services. The Ninth Circuit affirmed an order requiring that Seila comply.The Supreme Court vacated. CFPB’s leadership by a single individual removable only for inefficiency, neglect, or malfeasance violates the separation of powers. Precedent has established two exceptions to the President’s unrestricted removal power: for a multi-member body of experts who were balanced along partisan lines, appointed to staggered terms, performed only “quasi-legislative” and “quasi-judicial functions,” and were not to exercise executive power, and for an inferior officer—an independent counsel—who had limited duties and no policymaking or administrative authority. Neither of those exceptions applies to CFPB.The Court declined to extend the precedents to an independent agency led by a single Director and vested with significant executive power. CFPB’s structure has no foothold in history or tradition and is incompatible with the Constitution, which—with the sole exception of the Presidency—avoids concentrating power in the hands of any single individual. The Director’s five-year term and receipt of funds outside the appropriations process heighten the concern that the agency will slip from the Executive’s control and from that of the people. The Court found the Director’s removal protection severable from the other provisions of Dodd-Frank that establish CFPB. View "Seila Law LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau" on Justia Law

by
The United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003 limited the funding of American and foreign nongovernmental organizations to those with “a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking,” 22 U.S.C. 7631(f). In 2013, that Policy Requirement was held to be an unconstitutional restraint on free speech when applied to American organizations. Those American organizations then challenged the requirement’s constitutionality when applied to their legally distinct foreign affiliates. The Second Circuit affirmed that the government was prohibited from enforcing the requirement against the foreign affiliates.The Supreme Court reversed. The plaintiffs’ foreign affiliates possess no First Amendment rights. Foreign citizens outside U.S. territory do not possess rights under the U. S. Constitution and separately incorporated organizations are separate legal units with distinct legal rights and obligations.The Court rejected an argument that a foreign affiliate’s policy statement may be attributed to the plaintiffs, noting that there is no government compulsion to associate with another entity. Even protecting the free speech rights of only those foreign organizations that are closely identified with American organizations would deviate from the fundamental principle that foreign organizations operating abroad do not possess rights under the U.S. Constitution. The 2013 decision did not facially invalidate the Act’s funding condition, suggest that the First Amendment requires the government to exempt plaintiffs’ foreign affiliates from the Policy Requirement, or purport to override constitutional law and corporate law principles. View "Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Petitioners solicited foreign nationals to invest in a cancer-treatment center. A Securities and Exchange Commission investigation revealed they misappropriated the funds. The SEC may seek “equitable relief” in civil proceedings, 15 U.S.C. 78u(d)(5). The SEC brought a civil action for disgorgement equal to the amount raised from investors. Petitioners argued that the remedy failed to account for their legitimate business expenses. The Ninth Circuit affirmed an order holding Petitioners jointly and severally liable for the full amount.The Supreme Court vacated A disgorgement award that does not exceed a wrongdoer’s net profits and is awarded for victims is equitable relief authorized under section 78u(d)(5). Equity practice has long authorized courts to strip wrongdoers of their ill-gotten gains; to avoid transforming that remedy into a punitive sanction, courts restrict it to an individual wrongdoer’s net profits to be awarded for victims. These long-standing equitable principles were incorporated into section 78u(d)(5).If on remand the court orders the deposit of the profits with the Treasury, the court should evaluate whether that order would be for the benefit of investors, consistent with equitable principles. Imposing disgorgement liability on a wrongdoer for benefits that accrue to his affiliates through joint-and-several liability runs against the rule in favor of holding defendants individually liable but the common law permitted liability for partners engaged in concerted wrongdoing. On remand, the court may determine whether Petitioners can, consistent with equitable principles, be found liable for profits as partners in wrongdoing or whether individual liability is required. The court must deduct legitimate expenses before awarding disgorgement. View "Liu v. Securities and Exchange Commission" on Justia Law

by
In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows certain unauthorized aliens who arrived in the U.S. as children to apply for a two-year forbearance of removal to become eligible for work authorization and various federal benefits. Two years later, a related program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), proposed to make 4.3 million parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents eligible for the same forbearance, work eligibility, and other benefits. States obtained a nationwide preliminary injunction barring implementation of both. The Fifth Circuit upheld the injunction, concluding that the program violated the Immigration and Nationality Act, which defines eligibility for benefits. The Supreme Court affirmed. In 2017, DHS rescinded the DAPA Memorandum. Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Duke then rescinded DACA.Following decisions by the Second, Ninth, and D.C. Circuits, the Supreme Court held that DHS’s rescission decision was arbitrary and capricious.As a preliminary matter, the Court held that the decision is reviewable under the APA, rejecting an argument that DACA is a general non-enforcement policy. The DACA Memorandum did not merely decline to institute enforcement proceedings; it created a program for conferring affirmative immigration relief. The parties did not challenge any removal proceedings so that judicial review would be barred by 8 U.S.C. 1252.The Court declined to consider additional justifications for the decision that were offered nine months later. Judicial review of agency action is limited to the grounds that the agency invoked when it took the action. The later justifications bore little relationship to those offered originally and constitute “post hoc rationalization.” Acting Secretary Duke’s rescission memorandum failed to consider important aspects of the issue, such as eliminating benefits eligibility while continuing forbearance. In failing to consider that option, Duke failed to supply the “reasoned analysis” required by the APA. Duke also failed to address whether there was “legitimate reliance” on the DACA Memorandum. DHS has flexibility in addressing reliance interests and could have considered various accommodations. View "Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of University of California" on Justia Law