CategoryFederal

Trump administration proposes new independent agency to manage federal student aid

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed establishing a new independent federal agency to manage the federal student loan program. DeVos argued that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA), which manages the federal government’s $1.5 trillion student loan portfolio, was not created to function as an apolitical bank, despite congressional policy expectations.
“FSA’s mission is to serve students and families, but its structure is set up to serve politicians and their policies,” DeVos told attendees at the department’s annual conference.
The proposal would move the student loan management responsibilities of the FSA to a new, independent federal agency “run by a professional, expert and apolitical board of governors,” according to DeVos.
Congressional action would be required to implement DeVos’ proposal. House Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) issued a statement arguing that the FSA should be able to operate apolitically as it is currently structured.
An independent federal agency is an administrative agency that operates with some degree of autonomy from the executive branch. These agencies may be established outside of the Executive Office of the President or the 15 executive departments. Top officials at independent federal agencies may also have cause removal protections, which aim to insulate agencies from political interference by the president or other elected officials.
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Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) announces 2020 retirement

Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) announced that he would not seek re-election to the U.S. House in 2020. In a statement, Holding said that “the newly redrawn Congressional Districts were part of the reason I have decided not to seek reelection. But, in addition, this is also a good time for me to step back and reflect on all that I have learned.” Holding also said he hopes to return to public office someday.
On December 2, 2019, a three-judge panel of North Carolina’s superior court ruled that U.S. House elections in 2020 will take place under a remedial district map approved by state legislators in November. The court previously ruled that the original map constituted a partisan gerrymander. Following the December ruling, The Cook Political Report changed its 2020 race rating for North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District from “Lean R” to “Likely D.”
Holding was first elected to the U.S. House representing the 2nd District in 2012. He was the 22nd Republican member of the U.S. House to announce he would not seek re-election in 2020. Nine Democratic representatives had announced they would not seek re-election. In the 2018 election cycle, 52 members of the U.S. House—18 Democrats and 34 Republicans—did not seek re-election.
Currently, Democrats hold a 233-197 majority in the U.S. House with one independent member of the chamber. In November 2020, all 435 seats will be up for election.
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170 federal judicial confirmations during Trump administration

The U.S. Senate has confirmed six new nominees to U.S. District Court judgeships. Overall, the Senate has confirmed 170 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—two Supreme Court justices, 48 appellate court judges, 118 district court judges, and two U.S. Court of International Trade judges—since January 2017. At the end of the 115th Congress in January 2019, the Senate had confirmed 85 of the president’s judicial nominees.
 
The confirmed nominees were:
 
  • Eric Komitee, confirmed to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. After he receives his judicial commission and takes his oath, the court will have three vacancies, six Republican-appointed judges, and six Democrat-appointed judges.
  • Sarah Pitlyk, confirmed to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. After she receives her judicial commission and takes her oath, the court will have no vacancies, four Republican-appointed judges, and five Democrat-appointed judges.
  • R. Austin Huffaker, Jr., confirmed to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. After he receives his judicial commission and takes his oath, the court will have no vacancies, three Republican-appointed judges, and no Democrat-appointed judges.
  • David Barlow, confirmed to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah. After he receives his judicial commission and takes his oath, the court will have no vacancies, two Republican-appointed judges, and three Democrat-appointed judges.
  • John Sinatra, Jr., confirmed to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. After he receives his judicial commission and takes his oath, the court will have no vacancies, one Republican-appointed judge, and three Democrat-appointed judges.
  • Douglas Cole, confirmed to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. After he receives his judicial commission and takes his oath, the court will have two vacancies, three Republican-appointed judges, and three Democrat-appointed judges.
 
There are 94 U.S. District Courts. They are the general trial courts of the United States federal court system.
 


Two Congressmen announce 2020 retirements

Reps. Denny Heck (D-Wash.) and Tom Graves (R-Ga.) announced this week that they will not run for re-election n 2020.
 
In a statement issued on Dec. 4, Heck did not give a reason for his retirement but said he planned on writing at least two books. He was first elected to the U.S. House in 2012 representing Washington’s 10th Congressional District. He won re-election in 2018 by 23 percentage points.
 
In a statement issued on Dec. 5, Graves cited his desire to spend more time with his family as a reason for his retirement. Graves was first elected to represent Georgia’s 14th Congressional District in June 2010. He won re-election in 2018 by 53 percentage points.
 
As of Graves’ announcement, these were the ninth Democratic and 21st Republican U.S. House retirements in the 2020 election cycle. In the 2018 election cycle, 52 members of the U.S. House—18 Democrats and 34 Republicans—did not seek re-election.
 
Democrats hold a 233-197 majority in the U.S. House with one independent member of the chamber. In November 2020, all 435 seats will be up for election.
 
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Rep. Duncan Hunter pleads guilty to using campaign funds for personal expenses

File:Duncan D. Hunter, official photo portrait, 111th Congress.jpg
On Tuesday, Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) pleaded guilty to using campaign funds for personal expenses, ending a three-year investigation into the congressman’s misuse of over $200,000.
 
Hunter’s wife pleaded guilty in June to knowingly and willingly using campaign funds with her husband for their family’s benefit, agreeing to testify against him. Weeks later, federal prosecutors accused Hunter of using campaign funds for extramarital affairs with five women, including an aide.
 
Hunter will serve jail-time for the violations and is scheduled for sentencing on March 17, 2020. He is also expected to resign his seat in California’s 50th Congressional District, stating, “It’s been a privilege to serve in Congress. I think we’ve done a lot of great things for the nation.”
 
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) will have 14 days after Hunter’s resignation to call a special election for the seat.
 


Harris ends presidential campaign, 15 Democrats remain

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) ended her presidential campaign on Tuesday, saying she lacked the financial resources to continue.
 
Harris had raised $11.6 million in the third quarter of 2019, roughly matching her $12 million haul in the first quarter and $11.8 million take in the second quarter.
 
“I’m not a billionaire. I can’t fund my own campaign. And as the campaign has gone on, it’s become harder and harder to raise the money we need to compete,” she said in a statement.
 
Harris is the third Democratic candidate to leave the presidential race this week. Former Rep. Joe Sestak (Pa.) and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock withdrew on Sunday and Monday, respectively.
 
Fifteen Democratic presidential candidates remain in the race. At this point in the 2016 presidential election cycle, there were 14 Republican candidates still running.
 


U.S. Supreme Court releases February argument calendar

The U.S. Supreme Court has released its February argument calendar for the 2019-2020 term. The court will hear nine hours of oral argument in 11 cases between February 24 and March 4.
 
As of November 25, 2019, the court had agreed to hear 57 cases during its 2019-2020 term.
 
February 24, 2020
  • United States Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association (consolidated with Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association)
  • Opati v. Republic of Sudan
 
February 25, 2020
  • United States v. Sineneng-Smith
 
February 26, 2020
  • Lomax v. Ortiz-Marquez
 
March 2, 2020
  • Nasrallah v. Barr
  • Department of Homeland Security v. Thuraissigiam
 
March 3, 2020
  • Seila Law v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
  • Liu v. Securities and Exchange Commission
 
March 4, 2020
  • June Medical Services LLC v. Gee (consolidated with Gee v. June Medical Services)
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U.S. Supreme Court sets argument dates for three administrative state cases

On November 26, the U.S. Supreme Court released its upcoming argument calendar, which included dates it will hear oral argument in three upcoming cases related to the administrative state.
 
On March 2, 2020, the court will hear Department of Homeland Security v. Thuraissigiam, which involves the question of when asylum seekers may challenge in traditional courts of law the decisions made during administrative agency adjudication hearings.
 
The court will hear two cases on March 3. In Seila Law v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, at issue is whether the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau violates the separation of powers. In Liu v. Securities and Exchange Commission, the court will decide the limits of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement powers.
 


Justice Kavanaugh open to reviving the nondelegation doctrine

In a statement published with the U.S. Supreme Court’s November 25 orders, Justice Brett Kavanaugh hinted that he would consider reviving the nondelegation doctrine. Suggesting that at least some congressional delegations of power are in his view unconstitutional, Kavanaugh argued that Justice Neil Gorsuch’s analysis of the nondelegation doctrine in Gundy v. United States (2019) “may warrant further consideration in future cases.” 
 
The nondelegation doctrine is a legal principle that prohibits legislative bodies from delegating their legislative powers to executive agencies or to private entities. Gorsuch argued in his Gundy dissent that Congress cannot let administrative agencies decide major policy questions.
 
In his statement, Kavanaugh also pointed to a 1980 opinion written by former Chief Justice William Rehnquist, which said that “major national policy decisions must be made by Congress and the President in the legislative process, not delegated by Congress to the Executive Branch.” Kavanaugh said that the arguments made by Rehnquist and Gorsuch “raised important points that may warrant further consideration in future cases.”
 
Law professor Jonathan Adler, a critic of impermissibly delegated legislative power, responded to Kavanaugh’s statement saying that if Kavanaugh’s message is “not an invitation for litigants to bring additional non-delegation challenges” then he does “not know what is.”
 
Ian Millhiser, a Supreme Court writer for Vox who defends delegation as settled law, suggested that Kavanaugh’s statement is “significant because it shows that there are almost certainly five votes on the Supreme Court to slash agencies’ regulatory power.” 
 


SCOTUS adds new case to merits docket

The U.S. Supreme Court added a new case to the merits docket on Friday. As of November 25, 2019, the court had agreed to hear 57 cases during its 2019-2020 term. The Supreme Court began hearing cases for the term on October 7, 2019.
 
The new case—FNU Tanzin v. Tanvir—concerns the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. It came on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
 
Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibah, and Naveed Shinwari, three Muslim men born outside of the U.S. but living lawfully inside the country, were approached by FBI agents and asked to act as informants. Citing their religious beliefs, the three men declined. Tanvir, Algibah, and Shinwari alleged the FBI agents then retaliated against their refusal to act as informants by placing them on the national “No Fly List.” They sued the agents in their official and individual capacities in U.S. federal court under the First Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the RFRA.
 
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed the claims against the agents in their individual capacity. Tanvir, Algibah, and Shinwari appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, which reversed the lower court’s ruling. FBI Special Agent FNU (First Name Unknown) Tanzin moved for the circuit court to rehear the case en banc, but the circuit court denied the motion. Tanzin then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a hearing.
 
In his petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, Tanzin argued, “The court of appeals’ anomalous ruling clears the way for a slew of future suits against national-security officials, criminal investigators, correctional officers, and countless other federal employees, seeking to hold them personally liable for alleged burdens on any of the myriad religious practices engaged in by the people of our Nation.”
 
The question presented in the case, according to the petition, is “whether the provision in RFRA allowing litigants to ‘obtain appropriate relief against a government,’ 42 U.S.C. 2000bb-1(c), authorizes an award of money damages against federal employees sued in their individual capacities.”
 
The case has not been set for argument before the court.
 


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