Corporate Accountability

RELEASE: Handing Chamber Another Win, Court Weakens the CFPB

WASHINGTON – On news that the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Seila Law LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, ruling that the CFPB’s independent leadership structure is unconstitutional, CAC President Elizabeth Wydra issued the following statement:

Chalk up yet another win for the interests of big business before the Roberts Court—one in a long line over the past dozen years that disregard the Constitution’s text and history and, here, nearly a century of precedent. 

Today’s 5-4 ruling—written by Chief Justice Roberts leading the five conservative justices—ignores that our Constitution’s Framers did not give the President unlimited power to fire all federal officers at will, but instead gave Congress great flexibility in structuring the federal government to meet new challenges. The majority today cherry-picks historical evidence that supports its result while ignoring contrary evidence and constitutional text. It also departs from almost 100 years of precedent establishing that when Congress makes the leaders of regulatory agencies removable for good cause, there’s no infringement on the president’s constitutional powers. As Justice Kagan noted in a powerful dissent: “Throughout the Nation’s history, this Court has left most decisions about how to structure the Executive Branch to Congress and the President, acting through legislation,” and “our Constitution and history demand that result.”

As the nation’s economy reels from the coronavirus pandemic, today’s ruling will diminish the effectiveness of the CFPB—designed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to protect consumers from harmful practices of the financial services industry and thereby prevent the types of abuses that caused that crisis in the first place. With its decision today, the Court’s five conservatives have made the CFPB entirely subject to the policy whims of the president, while restricting Congress’s ability to design new federal agencies in the way that will best serve the needs of the American people.

And if that weren’t bad enough, this ruling also threatens the future of other agencies whose existence thrives on independence, such as the Federal Reserve, by opening the door to litigation challenging their independence from the president.

Corporations, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have had a shockingly free hand before the Roberts Court. The Chamber has won 70% of the cases in which it has filed briefs at the Court since 2006—a win rate far and away above their record during comparable periods in previous decades. No one should begrudge a litigant that wins a close case with strong arguments on their side. However, corporations and the Chamber—as we see today—know that they can depend on the Roberts Court to rule their way in a striking number of critically important cases whether the law favors them or not. As Justice Kagan put it: “In second-guessing the political branches” based on rules not found in the Constitution, “the Court today fails to respect its proper role.”

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Resources:

CAC brief on behalf of current and former members of Congress in Seila Law LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: https://www.theusconstitution.org/litigation/seila-law-llc-v-consumer-financial-protection-bureau/

Corporations and the Supreme Court—CAC’s long-term study of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its 70% win rate before the Roberts Court: https://www.theusconstitution.org/series/chamber-study/ 

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Constitutional Accountability Center is a think tank, public interest law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text and history. Visit CAC’s website at www.theusconstitution.org.

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