Justia Summary

The SEC and FTC initiated enforcement actions. Instead of making a claim within the Commission itself, and then (if needed) in a federal court of appeals, the subjects of the actions filed constitutional claims in federal district courts, arguing that the ALJs are insufficiently accountable to the President, in violation of separation-of-powers principles. One suit also challenged the combination of prosecutorial and adjudicatory functions within the agency. The Ninth Circuit held that the FTC's statutory review scheme precluded district court jurisdiction. The Fifth Circuit disagreed with respect to the SEC.

The Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit and affirmed the Fifth Circuit. The review schemes set out in the Securities Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. 78a, and the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. 41, do not displace district court jurisdiction over the far-reaching constitutional claims at issue.

A statutory review scheme may preclude district courts from exercising “federal question” jurisdiction over challenges to federal agency action but does not necessarily extend to every claim. The relevant question is whether the particular claims brought were “of the type Congress intended to be reviewed within this statutory structure.” The claims here challenge functions at the core of the agencies’ existence. They do not challenge any specific substantive decision or commonplace procedures. The alleged harm is “being subjected” to “unconstitutional agency authority.” It is impossible to remedy that harm once the proceeding is over and appellate review becomes available. The claims do not depend on winning or losing before the agency. The separation-of-powers claims are collateral to any Commission orders or rules from which review might be sought. The claims are outside the agencies’ expertise. Agency adjudications are generally ill-suited to address structural constitutional challenges and these constitutional claims are not intertwined with matters on which the Commissions are experts.