Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Can Obama’s Legal End-Run Around Congress be stopped?

By DAVID RIVKIN and ELIZABETH PRICE FOLEY

The Constitution, many of us learned in grade school, assigns the legislative power to the legislative branch, not the executive. The Constitution also commands that the president “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Unfortunately, President Obama either missed that lesson or considers it inapplicable to his own administration. Thus, his promise-cum-threat, made in the heat of last year’s campaign: “Where Republicans refuse to cooperate on things that I know are good for the American people, I will continue to look for ways to do it administratively and work around Congress.”

Obama has delivered on his promise and worked around Congress with breathtaking audacity. In his signature legislative achievement alone, the Affordable Care Act, the president has unilaterally amended the law multiple times, including delaying the employer mandate and caps on out-of-pocket expenses, waiving the individual mandate for certain people, extending tax credits to individuals who purchase insurance through the federal health insurance exchange and ignoring a statutory requirement that Congress and their staff participate in the exchanges. But the president’s audacity doesn’t stop with Obamacare. He has also suspended immigration law, refusing to deport certain young illegal aliens—a major reform that Congress has refused to enact. Similarly, with the stroke of a magisterial pen, he has gutted large swaths of federal law that enjoy bipartisan support, including the Clinton-era welfare reform work requirement, the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law and the classification of marijuana as an illegal controlled substance.

So much for the separation of powers.

In a desperate attempt to stem the hemorrhaging of legislative power, members of Congress are turning to the courts to enforce their constitutional prerogative. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), for example, filed a lawsuit last week challenging the president’s decision to exempt Congress from the exchanges. And Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) is plotting a broadside attack on executive lawlessness through a resolution, called the Stop This Overreaching Presidency (STOP), that would authorize the House to legally challenge several presidential workarounds. Congressional friend-of-the-court briefs have been popping up in numerous lawsuits challenging Obama administration overreach.

But Congress’s ability to reclaim its powers through litigation faces a substantial roadblock in the form of a presumption against congressional “standing.” Standing is a constitutional prerequisite to maintaining a case in federal court; without it, a case is quickly dismissed. A plaintiff has standing when he or she can demonstrate a concrete, particularized injury, caused by the defendant, which can be remedied by a court. Abstract injuries suffered by society at large do not suffice.

The Supreme Court seemed to shut the door to congressional standing in Raines v. Byrd (1997), a lawsuit brought by six congressmen who challenged the constitutionality of the presidential line-item veto. The court held that the congressmen lacked standing, because the loss of congressional power they lamented was a “wholly abstract and widely dispersed” injury.

The post-Raines presumption against congressional standing is appropriate as a general matter. It is not desirable to allow a single member of Congress, or an ad hoc group of members, to challenge any presidential action with which they politically disagree. Such lawsuits would be abstract, inefficient and potentially destructive to the president’s legitimate authority.

But Raines is best understood as establishing only a presumption against congressional standing that can be rebutted in the right circumstances. Indeed, there are powerful reasons why members of Congress should be permitted to sue the president when the situation warrants.

First, standing should not bar enforcement of the separation of powers when there are no other plaintiffs capable of enforcing this critical constitutional principle. In Raines itself, for example, the court knew that other plaintiffs, who possessed standing, were waiting in the wings to sue the president. Indeed, in the subsequent case of Clinton v. City of New York (1998), standing was established by several businesses, individuals and a city that had lost tax benefits, and the court then declared the line-item veto unconstitutional.

But no other plaintiffs possess standing to challenge several of President Obama’s recent acts. This is because they are “benevolent” suspensions, in which the president exempts certain classes of people from the operation of law. No one person was sufficiently harmed to create standing to sue, for instance, when Obama instructed the Department of Homeland Security to stop deporting young illegal immigrants. Indeed, these actions have helped affected individuals, rather than harmed them, even while shredding the rule of law. In such situations, courts should permit congressional standing as a last resort to enforce the basic constitutional architecture.

Second, in Raines, it was an ad hoc congressional group that filed the suit. The court emphasized that the plaintiffs “have not been authorized to represent their respective Houses of Congress in this action, and indeed both Houses actively oppose their suit.” However, when House or Senate rules have a mechanism for designating a bipartisan, official body with authority to file lawsuits on their chamber’s behalf, the case for standing is more compelling. Then, the lawsuit is not an isolated political dispute, but a representation by one of the two chambers of the legislative branch that the institution believes its rights have been violated. These types of serious, broad-based institutional lawsuits should be in a different category than Raines.

In United States v. Windsor (2013), for example, the Supreme Court suggested that such official lawsuits are different in character. In Windsor, a surviving member of a same-sex married couple sued to obtain a federal spousal estate tax exemption. The exemption was denied based upon the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage, for purposes of federal law, as one man, one woman. The federal government defended DOMA in the trial court but abandoned its defense at the appellate level. When the Obama administration bowed out, a bipartisan group of House leaders—the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG)—stepped in to defend the law.

The Supreme Court found that BLAG had standing to defend DOMA for several reasons. There was a continuing controversy between the plaintiff and federal government, regardless of who was defending the law. Moreover, House rules authorized BLAG to represent that chamber in litigation. It had every incentive to vigorously defend its law. If BLAG could not defend DOMA, the administration’s refusal to defend could have precluded judicial review, posing “grave challenges to the separation of powers,” the court explained, because “the Executive at a particular moment [would] be able to nullify Congress’ enactment solely on its own initiative and without any determination from the Court.”

These same considerations would exist in a lawsuit challenging President Obama’s benevolent law suspensions. Such suspensions directly infringe congressional power, setting up a conflict between two branches of government. If a bipartisan group authorized by House or Senate rules authorized a legal challenge, it guarantees a vigorous defense of the law and counsels in favor of judicial review. Most importantly, without judicial review of the president’s suspension, there is literally no other way—short of impeachment—to defend separation of powers.

Indeed, the third factor counseling in favor of recognizing congressional standing to challenge benevolent suspensions is the nature of the controversy itself, which is completely unlike the dispute in Raines. There, congressional plaintiffs had failed to stop passage of the Line Item Veto Act and were seeking to undo their political loss via litigation. The court correctly concluded that such “angry loser” situations could not justify congressional standing.

But President Obama’s actions have not been blessed by an explicit act of Congress, as was the case in Raines when the president exercised a line-item veto. To the contrary: The suspensions of Obamacare and other statutes defy the plain language of these laws. The fact that the president is exercising this suspension power openly and even brazenly gravely damages the rule of law. A congressional lawsuit would not be about angry losers, but about Congress defending its legislative power and demanding faithful execution of the laws by the president.

If congressional standing is denied in such cases, there will be no other way to check such presidential usurpation short of impeachment. This is not something the framers of the Constitution would have sanctioned. As the court observed in Clinton, the president does not have “unilateral power to change the text of duly enacted statutes.” That is an important constitutional rule that the current president apparently thinks he can ignore, but the courts must ultimately be willing to enforce.

SOURCE: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/01/barack-obama-constitution-legal-end-run-around-congress-102231.html?hp=pm_2#.Utlq5KX0Aci

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David Rivkin served in the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. He practices appellate litigation with particular focus on constitutional law at Baker Hostetler LLP and represented the 26 states that challenged the constitutionality of Obamacare. Elizabeth Price Foley is professor of constitutional law at Florida International University College of Law. She is the author, most recently, of The Tea Party: Three Principles. 

Is Obama trying to pack the DC appeals court?

By David B. Rivkin, Jr. and Andrew M. Grossman 

The D.C. Circuit is the nation’s top regulatory court, responsible for scrutinizing many of the federal government’s most expensive and far-reaching actions. No wonder, then, that President Barack Obama is now trying to push three new judges onto the court and tilt it decisively in his favor. A great deal is at stake here for the U.S. economy, and it is high time for the Senate to have its say.

For a president with an aggressive second-term regulatory agenda, the D.C. Circuit may be a greater impediment than the Supreme Court. By statute, the court hears all challenges to nationwide rules under the Clean Air Act, as well as many major challenges to regulations affecting water, labor relations, securities law, and other fields. It vets agencies’ compliance with constitutional requirements. More than a third of cases in the D.C. Circuit are administrative appeals, compared to 16 percent in other appeals courts. And because the Supreme Court takes so few cases each year, the D.C. Circuit’s word is typically the last when it comes to regulatory challenges.

The court hasn’t exactly been clamoring for more judges. It has the equivalent of 11.25 full-time judges: eight active judges, split 4-4 between Democratic and Republican appointees, plus another six senior judges whose workloads add up to 3.25 full-time judges. While the court has three vacancies, they are not among the 32 “judicial emergencies” identified by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts—and the president hasn’t even made nominations to most of those seats.  Moreover, the court’s caseload is among the lowest of the courts of appeals, at 88 cases per judge, and declining. According to one current judge, “If any more judges were added now, there wouldn’t be enough work to go around.”

So why three new judges? And why now?

The best explanation is that the court has played an important role checking the Obama administration’s most legally adventuresome actions. It blocked Obama administration regulations that required some states to reduce air pollution by more than they actually emitted and struck down the president’s attempt to bypass the Senate by “recess” appointing pro-union lawyers to the National Labor Relations Board when the Senate was still in session.

Just recently, it ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to follow the law and reopen consideration of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, which the Administration had shut down for political reasons. The court felt the need to remind the administration: “The President and federal agencies may not ignore statutory mandates or prohibitions merely because of policy disagreement with Congress.”

To be clear, the court is not set against Obama’s agenda—far from it. Where agencies hew to the letter of the law and present reasoned explanations for their actions, they fare well. Indeed, the D.C. Circuit has turned back challenges to the vast majority of the Obama administration rules, including EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations, which many observers viewed as legally vulnerable for deviating from the language of the Clean Air Act. (The Supreme Court recently agreed to review that precise issue.)

Problems typically arise when regulators overreach by playing fast and loose with the law to carry out their political agendas. As D.C. Circuit Judge David Tatel has explained, “You’d be surprised how often agencies don’t seem to have given their authorizing statutes so much as a quick skim.”

The president is right to fear that his agencies may face tough going in the D.C. Circuit during his second term. Despite a number of high-profile court losses for failure to follow the law, President Obama declared after his reelection that he intends to act even more aggressively. He said that he is “not going to…wait for Congress” to carry out his agenda. “Wherever we have an opportunity and I have the executive authority to go ahead and get some things done, we’re just going to go ahead and do ‘em.” He has followed through on that promise, pushing the EPA to effectively ban new coal-fired power plants and to issue standards for existing plants that are likely to be among the most expensive regulations ever.  EPA is also contemplating new rules targeting natural gas.

Thus, the president’s rush to place three liberal stalwarts on the court. Today, the D.C. Circuit enjoys a reputation for careful legal reasoning and attention to detail. It is sensitive to the tough policy choices faced by public officials, without unduly deferring to their judgments on issues of law. For those very reasons, it poses a real threat to the president’s plans to skirt the normal lawmaking process—that is, working with Congress—in favor of unilateral action.

It’s easier to win in court, of course, when you get to pick the judges.  A second reason for the rush is to prevent the Senate from careful review of his nominees’ records.

This, in particular, should give Senators pause, because it stands in the way of carrying out their constitutional duty to provide “advice and consent” on judicial nominations. Given the stakes, a full airing of the nominees’ records is warranted, followed by careful deliberation by the Senate.

Rivkin Jr. and Grossman practice law in the Washington office of BakerHostetler. Rivkin served in the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

 

Sourcehttp://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/judicial/188872-is-obama-trying-to-pack-the-dc-appeals-court

Why the President’s ObamaCare Maneuver May Backfire

By postponing the employer mandate, Obama has given millions of Americans the legal standing to sue.

By  DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. AND LEE A. CASEY

President Obama’s announcement on July 2 that he is suspending the Affordable Care Act’s employer health-insurance mandate may well have exposed his actions to judicial review—even though that is clearly what he sought to avoid.

The health-care reform law’s employer mandate requires businesses with more than 50 employees to provide a congressionally prescribed set of health-insurance benefits or pay a penalty calculated at about $2,000 per employee. The law was to take effect on Jan. 1, 2014, but Mr. Obama has “postponed” its application until 2015. His aim, the administration said, was to give employers more time to comply with the new rules. But it was also seen as a way to avoid paying at least part of ObamaCare’s mounting political price in the 2014 congressional elections.

Whatever the reason, the president does not have the power to stop the implementation of a law. If there is one bedrock constitutional legal principle, it is that the president must “faithfully execute” federal statutes. He cannot suspend laws he dislikes on policy grounds or because he fears their political consequences.

Mr. Obama, however, has made a habit of exercising an unlawful suspending power, refusing to enforce selected federal laws, including various provisions of the immigration laws against young, undocumented aliens; work requirements enacted as part of the 1996 federal welfare reform law; and the testing accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind education law.

One key problem with suspension power—aside from the fact that it destroys the balance of power between the two political branches—is that, when skillfully exercised, it sidelines the judiciary. The Constitution requires that a party commencing litigation must have what is commonly called “standing,” i.e., the party must have suffered or will suffer a legal injury that a court can redress. A determined president can head off litigation by effectively rewriting federal statutes in ways that do not create individual injuries so no party has standing.

By suspending the Affordable Care Act’s employer insurance mandate, however, the president has potentially given millions of Americans the necessary standing to challenge his conduct. This is because the Affordable Care Act is a highly integrated law, with many of its key provisions dependent on each other. In addition to the employer mandate, the law also contains an “individual mandate,” requiring most Americans to sign up for a required level of health-insurance coverage or pay a penalty.

The individual mandate was one of the core parts of the Affordable Care Act considered by the Supreme Court in the 2012 case of NFIB v. Sebelius, where the court upheld the statute against constitutional attack. Throughout that litigation, the Obama administration portrayed the individual mandate as an “integral part of a comprehensive scheme of economic regulation” that included the employer insurance mandate, which was intended to give millions of Americans a way of meeting their new obligation to have health insurance. In other words, suspending the employer insurance mandate prevents the individual insurance mandate from working the way Congress intended.

Like the employer mandate, the individual mandate by law will take effect in January 2014 (unless the president postpones that as well). Individuals who will then have to buy their own health insurance will arguably have suffered an injury sufficient to give them standing to sue.

Once in court, these litigants can argue that the very integrated nature of the Affordable Care Act would make it unlawful to apply one part against them, while suspending another section. They can also argue that only Congress can determine whether, once a statute is fundamentally changed post-enactment, it should survive or fall.

This inquiry usually arises when courts, having invalidated on constitutional grounds part of a statute, must determine whether or not Congress would have wanted the valid remaining parts of the law to remain in effect. The relevant constitutional doctrine is called “severability.”

As the Supreme Court noted in the leading severability case, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (2006), the ultimate fate of the revised statute is decided based on the “legislative intent.” In the case of the Affordable Care Act, if the courts were, for example, to determine that the employer insurance mandate is unconstitutional, the well-established severability analysis would lead them to conclude that the individual mandate (and likely the entire law) must also fall because Congress did not intend those provisions to operate in the absence of the employer insurance mandate. The president’s suspension of that part of the law, therefore, should also produce the same result, rendering the remainder of the statute unenforceable.

This argument should find favor with judges who are weary of the use of suspension power that improperly aggrandizes presidential authority, diminishes congressional power, and denies the judiciary an opportunity to have its say. Courts would have to conclude that the whole statute must fall while the president’s suspension is in effect. While reaching this conclusion, they might also declare the suspension itself unconstitutional. Both results would mark a significant win for the American people.

Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323368704578596360026187772.html?mod=wsj_streaming_stream