Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Supreme Court
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In 2019, the Department of Homeland Security implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP): certain non-Mexican nationals arriving by land from Mexico were returned to Mexico to await the results of their removal proceedings. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) section 1225(b)(2)(C) provides: “In the case of an alien ... who is arriving on land ... from a foreign territory contiguous to the United States, the [Secretary] may return the alien to that territory pending a proceeding under section 1229a.” The Biden administration later suspended the program. The Fifth Circuit affirmed an order enjoining the termination of MMP.The Supreme Court reversed. The rescission of MPP did not violate INA section 1225. The contiguous-territory return authority in section 1225(b)(2)(C) is discretionary and remains discretionary notwithstanding any violation of section 1225(b)(2)(A), which provides for mandatory detention of such aliens. Since its enactment, every Presidential administration has interpreted section 1225(b)(2)(C) as discretionary, notwithstanding the consistent shortfall of funds to comply with section 1225(b)(2)(A). Interpreting section 1225(b)(2)(C) as a mandate imposes a significant burden upon the Executive’s ability to conduct diplomatic relations with Mexico. The availability of parole as an alternative means of processing applicants for admission (section 1182(d)(5)(A)), additionally makes clear that the Court of Appeals erred.The Court of Appeals also erred to the extent it understood itself to be reviewing an abstract decision apart from the specific agency actions contained in memoranda in which the Secretary of Homeland Security terminated MMP. View "Biden v. Texas" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated the Clean Power Plan rule, which addressed carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, citing Section 111 of the Clean Air Act,” 42 U.S.C. 7411(d). Although the states set the enforceable rules governing existing sources, EPA determines the emissions limit with which they have to comply by determining the “best system of emission reduction” (BSER). In the Clean Power Plan, EPA determined that the BSER for existing coal and natural gas plants included “heat rate improvements” at coal-fired plants and “generation-shifting,” i.e., a shift in electricity production from existing coal-fired to natural-gas-fired plants and from both coal and gas plants to renewables (wind and solar). An operator could reduce the regulated plant’s production of electricity, build or invest in new or existing equipment, or purchase emission allowances as part of a cap-and-trade regime. No existing coal plant could achieve the emissions performance rates without generation-shifting.The Supreme Court stayed the Clean Power Plan in 2016. It was later repealed when EPA determined that it lacked authority “of this breadth.” EPA then promulgated the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, mandating equipment upgrades and operating practices. The D.C. Circuit held that EPA’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan rested on a mistaken reading of the Clean Air Act and vacated the ACE rule.The Supreme Court reversed. Congress did not grant EPA the authority to devise emissions caps based on the Clean Power Plan's generation-shifting approach. Restructuring the nation’s mix of electricity generation cannot be the BSER under Section 111. Under the major questions doctrine, an agency must point to “clear congressional authorization” for such an unprecedented exercise of authority. On EPA’s view of Section 111(d), Congress implicitly tasked it alone with balancing vital considerations of national policy. Issues of electricity transmission and distribution are not within EPA’s traditional expertise. The Clean Power Plan “conveniently enabled" EPA to enact a program, cap-and-trade, that Congress rejected numerous times. View "West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Enacted pursuant to Article I of the Constitution, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), gives returning service members the right to reclaim their prior jobs with state employers and authorizes suit if those employers refuse to accommodate veterans’ service-related disabilities, 38 U.S.C. 4301. Torres, a state trooper, was called to active duty in the Army Reserves and deployed to Iraq, where he was exposed to toxic burn pits. Torres, honorably discharged, returned home with constrictive bronchitis. Torres asked his former employer to accommodate his condition by re-employing him in a different role. Texas refused. A state court held that his USERRA claims should be dismissed based on sovereign immunity.The Supreme Court reversed. By ratifying the Constitution, the states agreed their sovereignty would yield to the national power to raise and support the Armed Forces. Congress may exercise this power to authorize private damages suits against nonconsenting states, as in USERRA.The test for whether the structure of the original Constitution itself reflects a waiver of states’ immunity is whether the federal power is “complete in itself, and the states consented to the exercise of that power—in its entirety—in the plan of the Convention.” Congress’ power to build and maintain the Armed Forces fits that test. Congress has long legislated regarding military forces at the expense of state sovereignty. USERRA expressly “supersedes any State law . . . that reduces, limits, or eliminates in any manner any right or benefit provided by this chapter, including the establishment of additional prerequisites to the exercise of any such right or the receipt of any such benefit.” View "Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety" on Justia Law

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North Carolina amended its Constitution to require photographic identification for in-person voting. S.B. 824 was enacted to implement the amendment. In a federal constitutional challenge, the Board of Elections was defended by the state’s attorney general, a former state senator who had opposed an earlier voter identification law. Legislative leaders moved to intervene, arguing that important state interests would not be adequately represented, given the Governor’s opposition to S.B. 824, the Board’s allegiance to the Governor, the Board’s tepid defense of S.B. 824 in state-court proceedings, and the attorney general’s opposition to earlier voter-ID efforts. The Fourth Circuit ruled that the legislative leaders were not entitled to intervene.The Supreme Court reversed. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2) provides that a court must permit anyone to intervene who timely claims an interest in the subject of the action unless existing parties adequately represent that interest. States possess a legitimate interest in the enforcement of their statutes. When a state allocates authority among different officials who do not answer to one another, different interests and perspectives, all important to the administration of state government, may emerge. Federal courts should rarely question that a state’s interests will be practically impaired if its authorized representatives are excluded from participating in federal litigation challenging state law. Permitting participation by lawfully authorized state agents promotes informed federal-court decision-making. North Carolina law explicitly provides that the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate “shall jointly have standing to intervene on behalf of the General Assembly as a party in any judicial proceeding challenging a North Carolina statute” or constitutional provision. View "Berger v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP" on Justia Law

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The employer-sponsored group health plan offers all of its participants the same limited coverage for outpatient dialysis. A dialysis provider sued the plan, citing the Medicare Secondary Payer statute, which makes Medicare a “secondary” payer to an individual’s existing insurance plan for certain medical services, including dialysis, when that plan already covers the same services, 42 U.S.C. 1395y(b)(1)(C), (2), (4). To prevent plans from circumventing their primary-payer obligation for end-stage renal disease treatment, a plan may not differentiate in the benefits it provides between individuals having end-stage renal disease and other individuals based on the existence of end-stage renal disease, the need for renal dialysis, “or in any other manner” and may not take into account that an individual is entitled to or eligible for Medicare due to end-stage renal disease. The Sixth Circuit ruled that the limited payments for dialysis treatment had a disparate impact on individuals with end-stage renal disease.The Supreme Court reversed. The plan's coverage terms for outpatient dialysis do not violate section 1395y(b)(1)(C) because those terms apply uniformly to all covered individuals. The statute prohibits a plan from differentiating in benefits between individuals with and without end-stage renal disease; it cannot be read to encompass a disparate-impact theory. The statute simply coordinates payments between group health plans and Medicare without dictating any particular level of dialysis coverage. The plan does not “take into account” whether its participants are entitled to or eligible for Medicare. View "Marietta Memorial Hospital Employee Health Benefit Plan v. DaVita Inc." on Justia Law

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Washington enacted a workers’ compensation law that applied only to Hanford site workers who were “engaged in the performance of work, either directly or indirectly, for the United States.” The Hanford site, once used to produce nuclear weapons, is undergoing decontamination. Most workers involved in the cleanup process are employed by private companies under contract with the federal government; a few are state employees, private employees, and federal employees. As compared to Washington’s general workers’ compensation scheme, the law made it easier for Hanford's federal contract workers to establish entitlement to workers’ compensation, thus increasing workers’ compensation costs for the federal government. The Ninth Circuit upheld the law as within the scope of a federal waiver of immunity, 40 U.S.C. 3172.A unanimous Supreme Court reversed. Washington’s law facially discriminates against the federal government and its contractors; section 3172 does not clearly and unambiguously waive immunity from discriminatory state laws, so Washington’s law is unconstitutional. While section 3172(a) says that “[t]he state authority charged with enforcing and requiring compliance with the state workers’ compensation laws . . . may apply [those] laws to all land and premises in the State which the Federal Government owns,” and “to all projects, buildings, constructions, improvements, and property in the State and belonging to the Government, in the same way, and to the same extent as if the premises were under the exclusive jurisdiction of the State,” the waiver does not “clear[ly] and unambiguous[ly]” authorize a state to enact a discriminatory law that facially singles out the federal government for unfavorable treatment.The Court held that the case was not moot, despite Washington’s enactment of a new statute that, arguably, applies retroactively. View "United States v. Washington" on Justia Law

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George joined the Marine Corps in 1975 without disclosing his history of schizophrenic episodes. His medical examination noted no mental disorders. George suffered an episode during training. The Marines medically discharged him. George applied for veterans’ disability benefits based on his schizophrenia, 38 U.S.C. 1110. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals denied his appeal from a regional office denial in 1977. In 2014, George asked the Board to revise its final decision. When the VA denies a benefits claim, that decision generally becomes “final and conclusive” after the veteran exhausts the opportunity for direct appeal. George sought collateral review under an exception allowing revision of a final benefits decision at any time on grounds of “clear and unmistakable error,” 38 U.S.C. 5109A, 7111. He claimed that the Board applied a later-invalidated regulation to deny his claim without requiring the VA to rebut the statutory presumption that he was in sound condition when he entered service.The Veterans Court, Federal Circuit, and Supreme Court affirmed the denial of relief. The invalidation of a VA regulation after a veteran’s benefits decision becomes final cannot support a claim for collateral relief based on clear and unmistakable error. Congress adopted the “clear and unmistakable error doctrine” developed under decades of prior agency practice. The invalidation of a prior regulation constitutes a “change in interpretation of law” under historical agency practice, not “clear and unmistakable error.” That approach is consistent with the general rule that the new interpretation of a statute can only retroactively affect decisions still open on direct review. The fact that Congress did not expressly enact the specific regulatory principle barring collateral relief for subsequent changes in interpretation does not mean that the principle did not carry over. View "George v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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In 1968, Congress recognized the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Indian tribe. In 1983, Texas renounced its trust responsibilities with respect to the Tribe and expressed opposition to any new federal legislation that did not permit the state to apply its gaming laws on tribal lands. Congress restored the Tribe’s federal trust status in the 1987 Restoration Act, “prohibiting” all “gaming activities which are prohibited by the laws of the State of Texas.” Congress then adopted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which permitted Tribes to offer class II games—like bingo—in states that “permi[t] such gaming for any purpose by any person, organization or entity,” 25 U.S.C. 2710(b)(1)(A). IGRA allowed Tribes to offer class III games—like blackjack and baccarat—only pursuant to negotiated tribal/state compacts. Texas refused to negotiate a compact regarding class III games. In 1994, the Fifth Circuit held that the Restoration Act superseded IGRA.In 2016, the Tribe began offering bingo, including “electronic bingo.” The Fifth Circuit upheld an injunction, shutting down all of the Tribe’s bingo operations.The Supreme Court vacated. The Restoration Act bans, on tribal lands, only those gaming activities also banned in Texas. Texas laws do not “forbid,” “prevent,” or “make impossible” bingo operations but allow the game according to rules concerning time, place, and manner. Texas’s bingo laws are regulatory, not prohibitory. When Congress adopted the Restoration Act, Supreme Court precedent held that California’s bingo laws—materially identical to Texas’s laws—were regulatory and that only “prohibitory” state gaming laws could be applied on the Indian lands in question, not state “regulatory” gaming laws. The Restoration Act provides that a gaming activity prohibited by Texas law is also prohibited on tribal land as a matter of federal law. Other gaming activities are subject to tribal regulation and must conform to IGRA. View "Ysleta del Sur Pueblo v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The formula that the Department of Health and Human Services must employ annually to set reimbursement rates for certain outpatient prescription drugs provided by hospitals to Medicare patients, 42 U.S.C. 1395l(t)(14)(A)(iii), provides two options. If HHS has conducted a survey of hospitals’ acquisition costs for each covered outpatient drug, it may set reimbursement rates based on the hospitals’ “average acquisition cost” for each drug, and may “vary” the reimbursement rates “by hospital group.” Absent a survey, HHS must set reimbursement rates based on “the average price” charged by manufacturers for the drug as calculated and adjusted by the Secretary. For 2018 and 2019, HHS did not conduct a survey but issued a final rule establishing separate reimbursement rates for hospitals that serve low-income or rural populations through the “340B program” and all other hospitals. The district court concluded that HHS had acted outside its statutory authority. The D.C. Circuit reversed. A unanimous Supreme Court reversed. The statute does not preclude judicial review of HHS’s reimbursement rates. Absent a survey of hospitals’ acquisition costs, HHS may not vary the reimbursement rates only for 340B hospitals; HHS’s 2018 and 2019 reimbursement rates for 340B hospitals were therefore unlawful. HHS’s power to increase or decrease the price is distinct from its power to set different rates for different groups of hospitals and HHS’s interpretation would make little sense given the statute’s overall structure. Congress, when enacting the statute, was aware that 340B hospitals paid less for covered prescription drugs and may have intended to offset the considerable costs of providing healthcare to the uninsured and underinsured in low-income and rural communities. View "American Hospital Association v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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The named plaintiffs, aliens who were detained under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1231(a)(6) after reentering the United States illegally, filed a putative class action, alleging that aliens detained under section 1231(a)(6) are entitled to bond hearings after six months’ detention. The district court certified a class of similarly situated plaintiffs and enjoined the government from detaining the class members under section 1231(a)(6) for more than 180 days without providing each a bond hearing. The Ninth Circuit affirmed.The Supreme Court reversed. INA section 1252(f )(1) deprived the district courts of jurisdiction to entertain aliens’ requests for class-wide injunctive relief. Section 1252(f )(1) generally strips lower courts of jurisdiction or authority to “enjoin or restrain the operation of ” certain INA provisions. Section 1252(f )(1)’s one exception allows lower courts to “enjoin or restrain the operation of ” the relevant statutory provisions “with respect to the application of such provisions to an individual alien against whom proceedings under such part have been initiated.” Here, both district courts entered injunctions that “enjoin or restrain the operation” of section 1231(a)(6) because they require officials to take actions that (in the government’s view) are not required by 1231(a)(6) and to refrain from actions that are allowed; the injunctions do not fall within the exception for individualized relief. Section 1252(f )(1) refers to “an individual,” not “individuals.” View "Garland v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law