Reviewing Administrative Action: Salinas v. RR Retirement Board

The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board said, “we refuse to reconsider our decision to deny a railroad worker disability benefits.” The Supreme Court replied, “Fine. Federal courts can review your refusal.” The vote was 5:4. The majority’s decision is another win for those—like me—who generally favor judicial review of administrative action. But the win is a shaky one; the Justices disagreed about how to interpret a single clause in an Act of Congress, and both interpretations are intrinsically valid.

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Formalism Resurgent? Seila Law v. CFPB

The Supreme Court has a new mixed drink: it’s five parts formalism to four parts functionalism, with a splash of Humphrey’s Executor. This new drink was on full display in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB, in which five Justices concluded that Congress violated the separation of powers when it placed limits on the President’s power to fire the CFPB’s director. Those five Justices used what’s called the “formalist” approach, prevailing over the competing “functionalist” approach adopted by the four dissenting Justices. Throughout history, the Court has oscillated between formalism and functionalism, especially in cases involving the President’s power to remove public officials. For the latter half of the 20th century, functionalism appeared to be the dominant approach to removal-power cases—until two recent decisions from the Roberts court. Might formalism now be seeing a resurgence?

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