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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CFPB brief defends funding structure

Courts CFPB U.S. Supreme Court Appellate Fifth Circuit Payday Lending Payday Rule Funding Structure Constitution


On May 8, petitioner CFPB filed its brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, criticizing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Community Financial Services Association of America v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where the appellate court found that the Bureau’s “perpetual self-directed, double-insulated funding structure” violated the Constitution’s Appropriations Clause (covered by InfoBytes here and a firm article here). The 5th Circuit’s decision also vacated the agency’s Payday Lending Rule on the premise that it was promulgated at a time when the Bureau was receiving unconstitutional funding. 

Earlier this year, the Bureau filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, which the Court granted (covered by InfoBytes here). The Bureau explained in its petition that the 5th Circuit’s decision would negatively impact its “critical work administering and enforcing consumer financial protection laws” and “threatens the validity of all past CFPB actions as well” as the decision vacates a past agency action based on the purported Appropriations Clause violation. Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA) filed a conditional cross-petition, seeking review on other aspects of the 5th Circuit’s decision, including that the 5th Circuit’s decision does not warrant review because the appellate court correctly vacated the Payday Lending Rule, which, according to the respondents, has “multiple legal defects, including but not limited to the Appropriations Clause issue.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)

In its opening brief, the Bureau expanded on why it believes the 5th Circuit erred in its holding. The Bureau argued that the text of the Appropriations Clause “does not limit Congress’ authority to determine the specificity, duration, and source of its appropriations.” The agency further explained that Congress has chosen similar funding mechanisms for many other financial regulatory agencies, including the FDIC, NCUA, FHFA, and the Farm Credit Administration (and agencies outside of the financial regulatory sector), where they are all funded in part through the collection of fees, assessments, and investments. The Bureau emphasized that the 5th Circuit and the CFSA failed “to grapple with the Appropriation Clause’s text, Congress’ historical practice, or [Supreme] Court precedent,” but instead asserted only that the funding mechanism was “unprecedented.” “Congress enacted a statute explicitly authorizing the CFPB to use a specified amount of funds from a specified source for specified purposes,” the Bureau emphasized. “The Appropriations Clause requires nothing more.” The 5th Circuit’s “novel and ill-defined limits on Congress’s appropriations authority contradict the Constitution’s text and congressional practice dating to the Founding.”

The Bureau also addressed the now-vacated Payday Lending Rule. Arguing that even if there were some constitutional flaw in 12 U.S.C. § 5497 (the statute creating the Bureau’s funding mechanism), the 5th Circuit should have looked for some cure to allow the remainder of the funding mechanism to stand independently instead of “adopting an unjustified and profoundly disruptive retrospective remedy” and presuming the funding mechanism created under Section 5497(a)-(c) was entirely invalid. The Bureau also stressed that vacatur of the agency’s past actions was not an appropriate remedy and is inconsistent with historical practice. Adopting a remedial approach, the Bureau warned, would inflict significant disruption by calling into question 12 years of past agency actions.

The Bureau urged the Court to at most grant only “prospective relief preventing the CFPB from enforcing the Payday Lending Rule against [CFSA] or their members until Congress provides the Bureau with funding from another source.” While such an approach could still “upend” the Bureau’s activities, “it would at least avoid the profoundly disruptive effect of unwinding already completed and concededly authorized agency actions like the Payday Lending Rule,” the Bureau wrote, adding that “[v]acatur of the CFPB’s past actions would be inappropriate in light of the significant disruption that such vacatur would produce.”