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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Parties file amicus briefs in CFPB constitutionality challenge

Courts U.S. Supreme Court CFPB Single-Director Structure Seila Law Dodd-Frank U.S. House State Attorney General


On January 22, a coalition of attorneys general from 23 states and the District of Columbia filed an amicus brief in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court should preserve the CFPB and other consumer protections provide under Title X of Dodd-Frank. Last October the Court granted cert in Seila to answer the question of whether an independent agency led by a single director violates the Constitution’s separation of powers under Article II. The Court also directed the parties to brief and argue whether 12 U.S.C. §5491(c)(3), which sets up the CFPB’s single director structure and imposes removal for cause, is severable from the rest of the Dodd-Frank Act, should it be found to be unconstitutional. (Previous InfoBytes coverage of the parties’ submissions available here.) In their amicus brief, the AGs argue that the Bureau’s structure is constitutional, and that—even if the for-cause removal provision is deemed invalid—the Bureau and the rest of Title X should survive. The brief highlights joint enforcement actions and information sharing between the states and the Bureau, and emphasizes the importance of Title X provisions that are unrelated to the Bureau but provide states “powerful new tools” for combating fraud and abuse. “These provisions are entirely independent of the provisions governing the CFPB, and they serve distinct policy goals that Congress would not have wanted to abandon even if the CFPB itself were no longer operative,” the AGs write. While the AGs support the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s decision that the Bureau’s single-director structure is constitutional (previously covered by InfoBytes here), they stress that should the leadership structure be declared unconstitutional, the specific clause should be severed from the rest of Dodd-Frank. According to the AGs, “[s]everability is supported not only by [Dodd-Frank’s] express severability clause, but also by Congress’s strongly expressed intent to create a more robust consumer-protection regime to avert another financial crisis.” Moreover, the AGs assert that the states would suffer concrete harm if the Court decides to eliminate the Bureau or rule that the entirety of Title X should be invalidated.

The same day the U.S. House of Representatives filed an amicus brief arguing that the Court should resolve Seila without deciding the constitutionality of the Bureau director’s removal protection because the removal protection has no bearing on the issue in the case, which is an action addressing whether the Bureau’s civil investigative demand should be enforced. However, should the Court take up the constitutionality question, the brief asserts it should uphold the removal protection. “In establishing the CFPB, Congress built upon its long history of creating, and this Court’s long history of upholding, independent agencies.” The brief states that the “CFPB performs the same functions independent regulators have long performed, and it does so under the same for-cause standard this Court first blessed 85 years ago. The CFPB’s single-director structure does not transform that traditional standard into an infringement on the President’s authority.”

Earlier on January 21, Seila Law filed an unopposed motion for divided argument and enlargement of time for oral argument, which states that all parties “agree that divided argument is warranted among petitioner, the government, and the court-appointed amicus.” The brief suggests a total of 70 minutes, with 20 minutes for the petitioner, 20 minutes for the government, and 30 minutes for the court-appointed amicus, and notes that any time allotted to the House of Representative should come from the court-appointed amicus’ time. (The House filed a separate brief asking to be allotted oral argument time.)

A full list of amicus briefs is available here. Oral arguments are set for March 3.

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