Did the Supreme Court put some federal jobs at risk?
Despite the Supreme Court's rulings on Monday about gun rights to the Vatican sex abuse case, patents and university student groups, thousands of federal officials should take a gander at the a ruling on the validity of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
"The 5 to 4 decision sowed doubts about the job security and legal authority of high-level government officials in agencies as varied as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Social Security Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Federal Trade Commission," colleague David Hilzenrath writes in today's Post.
"The target of the plaintiffs...was the nonprofit organization created in 2002 to oversee the firms that audit publicly traded companies. The plaintiffs argued that the board's setup violated the separation of powers by giving executive responsibilities to officials beyond presidential control.
"The court said board members were too insulated from removal by the president" and it "struck down only the part that said the Securities and Exchange Commission needs good cause to remove board members. The court said the SEC has the power to remove board members at will."
In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said that supervision of the accounting board “violates no separation-of-powers principle," and said the court's majority opinion questions the constitutional status of many government officials.
“Reading the criteria as stringently as possible,” he wrote, “I still see no way to avoid sweeping hundreds, perhaps thousands of high level government officials within the scope of the court’s holding, putting their job security and their administrative actions and decisions constitutionally at risk.”
Mark Kende, director of the constitutional law center at Drake University Law School in Iowa, told the Wall Street Journal that the majority's decision wasn't binding on other agencies but "leaves the question open" to be pursued in future cases.
New York University's Paul C. Light, a professor of public service, told Hilzenrath that the opinion "opens a Pandora's box of uncertainty" and will have a chilling effect on officials who are left to wonder if they are vulnerable.
So why did Congress give the board such a structure in the first place? Tom Shoop writes that lawmakers established the board as a private nonprofit corporation stacked with members and employees are not considered government "officer[s] or employee[s]" for statutory purposes. The board can thus pay salaries above $500,000, well above the government pay scale.
It does seem that people upset with decisions by administrative law judges and various federal agencies and commissions inevitably will face at least some legal challenges to their constitutional validity. Some federal officials should prepare to lawyer up.
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• Commodity Futures Trading Commission approves second movie futures exchange: But legislation banning trading of box-office futures is included in the sweeping overhaul of financial regulation now awaiting a final vote in Congress.
• Pentagon looks for $100 billion in cost savings: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates wants contracts scrutinized more closely for inefficiencies and unneeded overhead.
• House leader: Defense cuts can reduce debt: Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called the country's rising debt a "national security threat" and suggested that the government trim fat from the defense budget.
• Colonel charged with gun smuggling: A retired U.S. Air Force colonel tied to the Iran-contra affairs allegedly conspired with an Israeli aeronautics engineer to illegally export 2,000 AK-47s to Somalia.
• Report faults U.S. for being too optimistic about Afghan security capabilities: Efforts to prepare and equip Afghan forces are also plagued by a shortage of U.S.-led coalition trainers and mentors and a corrupt and inadequate Afghan logistics system.
• White House backs FCC plan to add airwaves for mobile broadband: Over the next decade, President Obama pledged to make available 500 megahertz of radiowaves for high-speed wireless carriers.
• FDA seeks less use of antibiotics in animals to keep them effective for humans: The agency urged farmers on Monday to stop giving antibiotics to cattle, poultry, hogs and other animals to spur their growth
• Small business owners air contracting frustrations: Dozens of small business contractors expressed frustration with a system they claim is geared unfairly to large companies.
• Contractors' roles in psychological operations raise concerns: The Pentagon plans to spend nearly $1 billion on psychological operations (PSYOP) worldwide in fiscal 2011 -- and nearly 40 percent of it will go for contracted services and products.
• FBI arrests 10 accused of working as Russian spies: The arrests involved video surveillance, hidden microphones and surreptitious FBI searches of homes along the East Coast.
• Russian spy case reveals old espionage tricks: Russian intelligence evidently still relies on espionage methods – “tradecraft,” in spy lingo – as old as the Rome hills.
• Obama opens door to Space arms treaty: The Obama administration renounces the unilateral stance of the Bush administration and instead emphasizes international cooperation.
• Unions set wish list for new TSA administrator: Most of all, they want face time with John Pistole.
| June 29, 2010; 6:20 AM ET
Categories: Eye Opener
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