A couple of months ago, we discussed the possibility that a case involving the CFPB and PHH Mortgage might go against the CFPB, including a potential finding that the CFPB's very existence (as created by the Franken-Dodd Monster) is unconstitutional. The prior blog post linked to a Forbes article by former White House official Susan Dudley in which Ms. Dudley listed the various arguments on which a finding of unconstitutionality could be based.
Long-time bank lawyer (and current Dorsey & Whitney partner) Joe Lynyak gave his analysis of the same topic in an article in the Westlaw Journal's "Bank and Lender Liability" entitled "The Constitutionality of the CFPB —An Exegesis." That's an imposing title, but at only four pages, it's worth a read, especially if, like this blogger, you've been wishing upon a star that the CFPB might, at best, take a long walk off a short pier, or, at worst, get its extremely large, flapping wings clipped.
Joe lists a number of the same arguments against the CFPB that Ms. Dudley also discussed, including:
- All authority is vested in a single director with extraordinarily broad power, no oversight by a board or commission, and tenure that can be shortened only by removal by the president "for cause."
- Unique existence as a bureau" within the Federal Reserve, an independent entity whose budget (and, therefore, the CFPB's budget, which the Federal Reserve is mandated to fund) is immune from Congressional oversight or control or, for that matter, any oversight or control by the FRB.
- "Broad administrative authority to examine and supervise a wide range of consumer financial firms, with administrative hearing authority to enforce orders requiring corrective measures. Favorable hearing determinations by an administrative judge can be summarily reversed by the director."
- The ability of the bureau to exercise such broad enforcement authority over any "unfair, deceptive, or abusive act or practice," which "need not be illegal; instead, it may be merely unfair in the view of the bureau."
- The ability of the CFPB ignore the due process rights of people and entities subject to its jurisdiction by regulating via enforcement orders — a practice that in many cases obviates the responsibility to extend the protections afforded by the Administrative Procedure Act (the In every instance
governmental agency power has remained subject to acceptable levels of oversight by the three branches of the federal government —at least until now. APA affords the opportunity for public comments and dialogue prior to the exercise of an
- The CFPB's"position that statutes of limitation do not apply to its enforcement activities, with the result being that targeted institutions have been sanctioned for conduct occurring well beyond the five-year federal agency statute of limitations governing agency enforcement actions that seek monetary penalties."
As to the PHH case, Joe does what many weak-kneed commentators often fail to do: he offers an actual opinion.
As to whether the CFPB’s current structure can withstand a constitutional challenge¸ it is suggested that the correct answer to that question is no. Although the necessities of a federal agency’s administrative mission concededly require flexibility, in the CFPB’s case the outer parameters of permissible agency boundaries have been far exceeded.
A review of the somewhat patchwork set of judicial decisions addressing this issue indicates that courts balance several factors against an infringement on the president’s right to dismiss agency officials without cause.
In light of the clear efforts of consumer proponents of the CFPB to statutorily insulate the bureau from any meaningful oversight, it is very probable that the CFPB will be found to be unconstitutionally structured.
After dropping that "hot sports opinion" on his audience, he then offers some insight into what festivities might ensue as supporters and opponents of The Adjustment Bureau attempt to either resurrect it or to decapitate it, drive a stake through its heart, and set the remains on fire.
Importantly, should the CFPB’s structure be struck down, the bureau’s prior actions and interpretative pronouncements (now spanning more than five years in length) arguably will become void. Also (and absent judicial mischief that might create a solution to the absence of a reasonable degree of executive oversight), any corrective measures to remedy a constitutional infirmity relating to the CFPB must be considered and adopted by Congress.
Finally, if the CFPB is found to be operating on a constitutionally infirm basis, legislative efforts to defend the bureau will encounter an interesting role reversal.
In the past few years, critics of the CFPB have attempted to amend the bureau’s statutory structure. These attempts have been soundly defeated by supporters who have effectively filibustered any such efforts. (The most frequent attempts for statutory changes have involved proposing a commission form of agency governance, as well as imposing congressional oversight through the budget process.)
Even though it might be relatively simple to minimally modify the CFPB’s structure in order to pass constitutional muster, opponents of the bureau could filibuster any attempt to cure the statutory difficulties without obtaining the concessions demanded by critics. Although this result seems highly likely if the CFPB is found to be unconstitutional, the belief that the bureau has brought about a paradigm shift in consumer protection may prevent consumer advocates from both anticipating this result and compromising sooner rather than later.
I'd pay for tickets and movie theater popcorn prices just to see all that unfold.
On Independence Day, it's pleasant to contemplate the possible demise of a tyrannical overlord, especially one whose minions clothe themselves in the mantle of "doing god's work," the US Constitution be damned.