By Kent Greenfield. Greenfield is a Professor of Law, and Law Fund Research Scholar at Boston College Law School.
Before the end of the latest SCOTUS term, flush with the excitement of the right’s anticipated victory in the ACA case, a small bank in Texas and a few additional plaintiffs sued to contest the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOB), two new agencies created by the Dodd-Frank legislation in 2010.
Few would have noticed except that the main lawyer for the plaintiffs is C. Boyden Gray, the White House counsel for George H.W. Bush. The Wall Street Journal printed an op-ed the day they filed suit, and several other right-leaning media outlets gave it mention. One commenter on the WSJ page said the lawsuit is more important for the future of the country than the presidential election.
If the lawsuit were to be victorious, it would disembowel the most important innovations of the Dodd-Frank legislation, which, even with its numerous flaws, was an important legislative victory during Obama’s first term. [image of president signing legislation in summer 2010]
Should progressives worry?
I read through the complaint, and I don’t think we should.
If you separate out all the sturm und drang, the main focus of the constitutional claim is that Dodd-Frank created independent agencies that have too much discretion to regulate, especially using post-hoc adjudication. While the arguments against such independence, discretion, and post-hoc adjudication could occupy several hours of discussion in an introductory constitutional law class, they are hardly questions of first impression in the courts. On the contrary, the questions of whether administrative agencies (1) may be insulated from political control by the president, (2) may define operative regulatory terms, and (3) use adjudication to make law have been answered in the affirmative for decades.
So this lawsuit is not like the suits brought against the ACA that arguably raised new arguments about the scope of the commerce clause (action versus inaction, broccoli, and all that). This is a lawsuit wanting to re-litigate decades of settled law.