The House of Representatives filed an amicus curiae brief urging the Supreme Court to reject a challenge to the constitutionality of the CFPB. The CFPB is an independent agency within the Federal Reserve System created by Title X of the Dodd-Frank Act. The Supreme Court scheduled the matter for oral argument on March 3, 2020.
The House brief argued that the Court should affirm the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Seila Law LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 923 F.3d 680 (9th Cir. 2019), which upheld the CFPB’s constitutionality following the refusal of Seila Law LLC (“Seila”), a debt-collection firm, to comply with a civil investigative demand (“CID”) issued by that agency. In its petition to the Supreme Court, Seila argued that the CID is unlawful because the CFPB is unconstitutionally structured. In particular, Seila maintained that CFPB’s regulatory structure violates the Constitution’s separation of powers because it is an independent agency headed by a single Director who exercises substantial executive power but can be removed by the President only for cause.
The House brief addressed two questions: (i) whether the CFPB Director’s removal protection violates the separation of powers and (ii) whether a constitutional flaw in the CFPB Director’s removal protection entitles Seila to relief from the civil investigative demand, and requires invalidation of Title X of the Dodd-Frank Act, the statutory provision creating the CFPB.
In its brief, the House urged the Supreme Court to avoid ruling on the constitutionality of the CFPB Director’s removal protection, arguing that the Court should rule that the CID would be enforceable even if the removal protection is invalid. Second, the House contended that if the Court does reach the constitutional question, it should uphold the CFPB Director’s removal protection, arguing that such protection “is exactly the same as” that provided members of other independent agencies such as the FTC, and that the CFPB’s single-director structure enhances, rather than diminishes, the agency’s accountability to the President. Finally, the House argued that the constitutionality of the removal protection should not affect Title X and, therefore, the legal viability of the CFPB, pointing to the severability provision within the Dodd-Frank Act, which states that if “any provision” of the statute “is held to be unconstitutional, the remainder of th[e] Act . . . shall not be affected thereby.”
Amici curiae briefs from New York and 23 other state attorneys general, the National Consumer Law Center, and several other consumer-advocacy organizations echoed similar arguments in support of preserving the CFPB’s structure. Click here to see all amici briefs submitted on the constitutionality of the CFPB.
Leaving aside the big picture question of the constitutionality of the CFPB structure, the CFPB structure makes for bad public policy. It represents an immense amount of power concentrated in the hands of a single individual, who does not report to any branch of Congress. There is simply no good reason why the CFPB should not be reorganized following the same basic structure as the other independent regulatory agencies, with representation from both political parties on the Commission, and the leader of the Commission being appointed by the current President, of whichever party that might be.