Posts Tagged ‘D.C. Circuit’

Free speech, Brett Kavanaugh, and the Supreme Court

Yesterday was a two-podcast day for me. The first was a discussion at FIRE on prospects for free speech at the Supreme Court after Anthony Kennedy’s retirement and the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. Other panelists were First Amendment experts Robert Corn-Revere and Paul Sherman and the moderator was FIRE’s Nico Perrino.

At the Cato Daily Podcast, Caleb Brown interviewed me about what we know from nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s career as a judge, which has been spent on the influential but atypical D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. That means we know a lot about his views on some subjects (regulatory and administrative law, separation of powers, national security law) but much less about his approach toward issues that loom larger as a share of the docket in other circuits, such as disputes involving schools, land use, police abuse and prisoner cases, torts, and so forth.

Related to both podcasts, Ken at Popehat assesses Kavanaugh’s record on the First Amendment and finds it quite speech-protective, while Jonathan Adler has more.

Not very closely related: you’ve probably heard the theory that Trump made the choice he did because Kavanaugh doesn’t think Presidents should be investigated or charged with criminal offenses. Here’s Ben Wittes, who’s anything but a Trump fan, on the problems with that theory. [Lawfare]

More: And now a video of the FIRE panel:

D.C. Circuit: pipeline environmental review must include impacts of eventual gas use

Before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can approve a new pipeline it must engage in environmental review not just of the impact of the pipeline itself on its surroundings, but of the later carbon emissions when end users burn the gas it carries. So ruled the D.C. Circuit August 24 in Sierra Club v. FERC. [Emily Flitter/Reuters, Timothy Cama/The Hill, Pace Law] Judge Janice Rogers Brown dissented in relevant part, noting that FERC’s regulatory authority in this instance does not extend to later decisions about use:

Case law is clear: When an agency “‘has no ability to prevent a certain effect due to’ [its] ‘limited statutory authority over the relevant action[],’ then that action ‘cannot be considered a legally relevant cause’” of an indirect environmental effect under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”).

One wonders whether review of the siting of new supermarkets will someday need to include the environmental impacts expected to follow after local residents consume food sold there.

D.C. Circuit: IRS must face suit in targeting scandal

Yesterday, in a major ruling, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rebuked the IRS over its targeting of conservative groups and said that it would have to face a lawsuit by two plaintiffs, reversing a lower court that had declared the dispute moot. The unanimous three-judge panel ruled that there is “little factual dispute” in the case and it is “plain…that the IRS cannot defend its discriminatory conduct on the merits,” that the wrongdoing included not only targeting itself but massively burdensome and intrusive examinations of targeted groups, and that despite the IRS’s claims to have ended the discriminatory treatment, there is evidence that it continues today. My new piece at Ricochet explains.

Sarah Westwood in the Washington Examiner also quotes me on the case: “This is a blistering rebuke to the IRS and its defenders.” Remember in June when the Washington Post ran an editorial dismissing this all as not much of a scandal? Here was my response then.

P.S. Kim Strassel passes the following along in her much-talked-about new book, The Intimidation Game: “So, yes, the president was saying—two months after the news broke—that the whole IRS thing was just a ‘phony scandal.’”

June 22 roundup

  • Funny how the government sometimes regards our time as necessarily worth $15 an hour or more, and other times as worth far less [Coyote]
  • “Trademark lawsuit over LARP archery gets thrown out of court” for lack of personal jurisdiction [Joe Mullin/ArsTechnica, earlier here, etc.]
  • A sucker deal? Consumer class action alleges substitution of squid for canned octopus [Nick Farr, Abnormal Use]
  • Those who knowingly send texts that distract drivers could face liability in Pennsylvania [ABA Journal]
  • Zach Graves, “Optometrists Push For State Laws Blocking Online Eye Exams” [TechDirt]
  • D.C. Circuit upholds net neutrality regulations in a “majority opinion…dripping with agency deference.” [Daniel Lyons, Jonathan Adler, Michael Greve]

D.C. Circuit: Don’t second-guess DPAs

Deferred prosecution agreements and their close relatives non-prosecution agreements (DPAs/NPAs) have become a major tool of white-collar prosecution in recent years. Typically, a business defendant in exchange for escape from the costs and perils of trial agrees to some combination of cash payment, non-monetary steps such as a shakeup of its board or manager training, and submission to future oversight by DoJ or other monitors. Not unlike plea bargains in more conventional criminal prosecution, these deals dispense with the high cost of a trial; they also dispense with the need for the government to prove its allegations in the first place. DPAs may also pledge a defendant to future behavior that a court would never have ordered, or conversely fail to include remedies that a court would probably have ordered. And they may be drawn up with the aim of shielding from harm — or, in some other cases, undermining — the interests of third parties, such as customers, employees, or business associates of the targeted defendant, or foreign governments.

So there was a flurry of interest last year when federal district judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C., declined to approve a waiver, necessary under the Speedy Trial Act, for a DPA settling charges that Fokker Services, a Dutch aerospace company, sold U.S.-origin aircraft systems to foreign governments on the U.S. sanctions list, including Iran, Sudan, and Burma. While acknowledging that under principles of prosecutorial discretion the Department of Justice did not have to charge Fokker at all, Judge Leon said given that it had, the judiciary could appropriately scrutinize whether the penalties were too low.

Now a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit has unanimously overruled Judge Leon. It pointed out that under well settled law, charging decisions are entrusted to the DoJ or other executive branch prosecutors, not the judiciary, and that judges may not intervene to insist that additional or more stringent charges be filed – and that is what the pattern in this case amounted to, in the appeals panel’s view.

So far so good, you might think. But the language of the appellate ruling in places might be read to suggest that courts should simply defer to the Justice Department’s judgment and green-light the DPAs it may negotiate, period. And that would be disturbing, since over-lenience is only one of the possible problems with these devices. Noting the rule-of-law concerns that scholars have voiced about DPAs, Michael Greve writes that the new Fokker Services decision “in sharp contrast, oozes with ‘trust your friendly prosecutor’ language” and speaks of dispensing with “seeking a conviction that the prosecution may believe would be difficult to obtain or would have undesirable collateral consequences.” Greve adds: “Inquiring minds might want to know whether the conviction would be ‘difficult to obtain’ for practical reasons — or because the charges are preposterous and brought for reasons bordering on extortion. …No judicial scrutiny means more than boundless prosecutorial discretion. It means mobilizing the courts to create a due process façade for highly suspect bargains.” Let’s hope the ruling isn’t read that way.

[cross-posted from Cato at Liberty; & Scott Greenfield]

D.C. Circuit: IRS can’t rewrite ObamaCare. Fourth: Oh, yes it can

A panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled today that the IRS is not free to rewrite the ObamaCare statute to extend tax credits from users of state-run health exchanges, as per the law’s language, to users of the federal exchange as well, because the federal government is not a “State.” [Halbig v. Burwell; Ilya Shapiro, Cato] Later today, a panel of the Fourth Circuit ruled that yes, it’s free to do so. [King v. Burwell] Given the instant one-day circuit split and the importance of the issue, further court consideration is inevitable, and the Obama administration has already indicated that it will seek en banc consideration by the full D.C. Circuit, packed with its own recent appointees. More: The work of my Cato colleague Michael Cannon and Case Western lawprof Jonathan Adler helped undergird the suit; Cannon has commentary here and here and Adler here and here.

Nomination filibusters and the Senate “nuclear option”

Comments from my Cato Institute colleagues Roger Pilon and Ilya Shapiro, as well as CEI’s Hans Bader. A “totally risk-free strategy for Democrats, as long as they are never again in the minority.” [Lowering the Bar] Patterico on the elegant consistency of the New York Times editorial page over the years (it is consistent, once you know to look for the pattern) and an unheeded 2005 prayer (YouTube, auto-plays) from then-Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.). And some further observations from Jonathan Adler.

P.S. Further thoughts from Roger Pilon regarding the immediate focal point of the struggle, the three nominations to the D.C. Circuit:

…a second point, too little noted, concerns the implications from there being numerous “judicial emergencies” in the other circuits — vacancies in seriously overworked circuits for which the president hasn’t even named anyone. Judicial emergencies have increased 90 percent since 2006, and the vacancies with nominees have declined from 60 percent to 47 percent. Yet rather than attend to filling those vacancies, Obama and Reid are focused on adding three more judges to the already seriously underworked and overstaffed DC Circuit. That speaks volumes, of course, about what their agenda is. As I wrote yesterday, the DC Circuit’s docket is mostly about challenges to administrative decisions. Judges in such cases have considerable discretion about whether or not to defer to the judgment of those agencies. If you want to rule by executive diktat, as Obama plainly does, you’ll want “your people” on that court, deferring to “your people” at EPA, HHS, OSHA, the FEC, the IRS, and so on down the line. Let the folks out in the country wait a little longer to get justice.

P.P.S. And relatedly from Mickey Kaus:

Regulation is D.C.’s economic substructure, its mode of production, as Marx might say – even more so than legislation. Those big gleaming office buildings aren’t filled with Congressional lobbyists! They’re filled with administrative lawyers. Now, with a full 11 member court stacked to favor Democrats, there will be even more rules to litigate, more counsel to hire, more mansions to house them and restaurants to feed them. Whatever happens in the rest of America, the capital’s economic future is secure.

They should erect a statue of Harry Reid outside the Mazza Gallerie.

Great moments in legal journalism: Slate on RFRA standing

Slate really embarrassed itself the other day with a column by Emily Bazelon and Dahlia Lithwick flatly misreporting the holding of a Janice Rogers Brown opinion on religious liberty and Obamacare. I wrote this piece in response, which just appeared at PowerLine.

More: West Coast politics and law blogger Patterico likes my piece. Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center writes on Twitter to say that a post he wrote on Saturday “seems to be what triggered [the] weak correction.”

Recess appointments, shmecess appointments, we’ve got the power

Although the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled its composition invalid, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) “declares that it will keep doing business as if nothing happened.” [WSJ via Fed Soc Blog]

This is by no means the first face-off between the D.C. Circuit and an agency resistant to its will: for another, see this 1981 Regulation account (PDF, scroll to page 11, “Reversing the D.C. Circuit at the FCC”) of a series of showdowns between the appeals court and the Federal Communications Commission. That one ended happily for the independent agency, but then the FCC may have been on firmer ground going to bat for its right to exercise policy discretion as an expert agency than it would have for its right to be constituted improperly through unconstitutional appointments.