Appeals court majority is skeptical of PHH case against CFPB

Last Wednesday, a majority of judges expressed skepticism of PHH’s arguments that the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional during oral arguments at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in PHH Corporation vs. CFPB.

The consensus coming out of the argument is that the CFPB is the favorite to win:

Wall Street Journal: “Federal appeals court appears hesitant to rule CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional . . . . [S]ix of the 11 judges on Wednesday’s case were appointed by Democratic presidents. None of them showed signs that they were eager or willing to strike down the CFPB’s structure, and at least one of the Republican appointees, Judge Thomas Griffith, also expressed some reservations about upending the bureau. He and other judges cited past Supreme Court rulings they said were problematic for PHH’s challenge, including one from 1935 that said the president didn’t have a free hand to remove a member of the Federal Trade Commission.”

Reuters: “U.S. regulator may have edge in court arguments on its structure: A divided U.S. appeals court on Wednesday appeared to tilt slightly in favor of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s arguments that its structure does not violate the Constitution . . . .”

Daily Caller: “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit seemed poised Wednesday to side with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a regulatory agency championed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former President Barack Obama, in a dispute over the constitutionality of the agency’s leadership structure.”

Here is what the appellate judges said …  

On the single-director structure being more accountable than a Commission:

  • Judge Millett: “Chief Justice Roberts said in Free Enterprise that the diffusion of power diffuses accountability, so having one person is more accountable than having three or five.” (Listen – 8:00)
  • Judge Griffith: “That seems to strengthen the President’s power–if you only need to get rid of one person, that seems to be strengthening the President’s power.” (Listen – 4:48)

On the importance of the CFPB’s independence:

  • Judge Pillard: “There is a pattern in the financial regulatory agencies of actually wanting to have some amount of separation, and, as I take it, it’s consistent with the Constitution and with the Executive’s authority to take care that the laws be faithfully executed–to have those people removable for inefficiency, for malfeasance in office, neglect of duty, but not have them removable because the President disagrees as a policy matter . . . [to] avoid financial cronyism in favor of faithful execution of the laws, and you’re saying that’s out of bounds?” (Listen – 22:25)

On Supreme Court precedent:

  • Judge Tatel: “But we’re an appeals court. We’re bound by Supreme Court precedent, including Morrison v. Olson…. I have not seen an argument in your brief, even if I agreed with you that there is a serious risk from the “for cause” removal provision for this director…, I don’t see how as a judge on an appeals court, bound by Morrison and Humphrey’s that I can go there… I don’t see where this court gets that flexibility… I have not heard an argument from you yet that we’re not bound by that.” (Listen – 13:23)

— Brian Simmonds Marshall

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