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On December 9, parties filed briefs in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the U.S. Supreme 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, while also directing 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. While both parties are in agreement on the CFPB’s single-director leadership structure, they differ on how the matter should be resolved.
According to Seila Law’s brief, the CFPB’s single-director leadership structure is a blatant violation of the Constitution’s separation of powers clause. Seila Law proposes that the Court eliminate the CFPB entirely, leaving Congress to determine how to address the unconstitutionality of the Bureau, rather than save the law by making the director an at-will employee of the President. Removing the director at will, Seila Law argues, “would radically reshape the CFPB, creating a mutant version of the agency that Congress envisioned—one that would still be unaccountable to Congress, yet fully within presidential control.” Discussing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s reliance in part on a 1935 Supreme Court decision in Humphrey’s Executor v. United States (which dealt with removal protections for members of a nonpartisan, multimember commission) in its May ruling which held that the Bureau’s single-director structure is constitutional (InfoBytes coverage here), Seila Law states that the Court’s ruling in Humphrey’s Executor was “badly reasoned, wrongly decided, and should be overruled,” and, in any event, is distinguishable when addressing the CFPB’s single-director leadership structure. Whether the Court distinguishes or overturns Humphrey’s Executor’s precedent, Seila Law argues, it should hold that the Bureau’s structure violates the separation of powers clause and reverse the 9th Circuit’s judgment.
“By insulating the director of the CFPB from removal at will by the President while empowering him to exercise substantial executive power, Congress breached the President’s core prerogatives under Article II of the Constitution,” Seila Law further asserts, claiming that the appropriate remedy for the constitutional violation would be to deny the CFPB’s petition to enforce the CID and ultimately let Congress determine how to address the “constitutional defect in the CFPB’s structure.” Seila Law also argues that should the Court decide to engage in severability analysis, it should invalidate all of Title X of Dodd-Frank, which does not allow the current leadership structure to be altered to a multi-member commission.
In contrast, though the CFPB concedes that Dodd-Frank’s restriction on the President’s ability to remove the Bureau’s director violates the “separation of powers” principles of the Constitution, it contends in its brief that, should the removal provision be found unconstitutional, it should be severed from the rest of the law in accordance with Dodd-Frank’s express severability clause. “Even considering only the Bureau-specific provisions contained in Title X . . . , there is no basis to conclude that Congress would have preferred to have no Bureau at all rather than a Bureau headed by a Director who would be removable like almost all other single-headed agencies,” the CFPB wrote. “Nothing in the statutory text or history of the Bureau’s creation suggests, much less clearly demonstrates, that Congress would have preferred, for example, that the regulatory authority vested in the Bureau revert back to the seven federal agencies that previously administered those responsibilities if a court were to invalidate the Director’s removal restriction.”
Oral arguments are scheduled for March 3, 2020.
On October 18, the U.S. Supreme Court granted cert in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB, 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 Bureau’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. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the law firm filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Court, appealing the May decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held that (i) the Bureau’s single-director structure is constitutional, and (ii) the district court did not err when it granted the Bureau’s petition to enforce the law firm’s compliance with a 2017 Civil Investigative Demand (previously covered by InfoBytes here). In response to the petition, the Bureau and the DOJ filed a brief arguing that the for-cause restriction on the president’s authority to remove the Bureau’s single director violates the Constitution’s separation of powers. While the Bureau previously defended the single-director structure to the 9th Circuit, the brief notes that since the May decision was issued, “the Director has reconsidered that position and now agrees that the removal restriction is unconstitutional.”
In response to the Court’s decision to grant cert, an online loan servicer that operated on tribal lands has withdrawn its appeal from the 9th Circuit challenging the Bureau’s structure pending the Court’s decision in Seila Law. In the original action, the district court found that an online loan servicer that operated on tribal lands engaged in deceptive practices by collecting on loans that exceeded the usury limits in various states, and ordered it and its affiliates to pay a $10 million penalty, far short of the Bureau’s request. (Previously covered by InfoBtyes here and here.)
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