The federal district court in Washington heard oral argument this morning in the case of English v. Trump, the challenge brought by Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Deputy Director Leandra English to President Trump’s appointment of Mick Mulvaney as Acting Director of the CFPB. The case largely turns on whether the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA) authorized Mulvaney’s appointment, as the government claims, or whether the Dodd Frank Act instead directs that the Deputy Director of the agency – and only the Deputy Director – can serve as the Acting Director when the Director resigns. The oral argument lasted nearly two hours and was lively and engaging. Judge Timothy Kelly was extremely well-prepared and ran the argument along topical lines about which he had questions. Judge Kelly did not rule from the bench, but most of his questions were for English’s counsel and based on the nature of the questions it seems quite likely that Judge Kelly will deny her request for a preliminary injunction.
Judge Kelly moved methodically through the questions on the merits as well as the standards for a preliminary injunction. He asked questions about: the nature of the relief requested (is this a mandatory injunction and if so does that change the applicable standard); the nature of the claims in plaintiff’s complaint (does she really have a separate constitutional claim or does that claim collapse into her statutory claim); how to apply certain cannons of statutory interpretation when comparing the FVRA’s use of the word “may” and the Dodd Frank Act’s use of the word “shall”; how other provisions of Dodd Frank impact the analysis; whether the Dodd Frank Act provision the plaintiff relies on applies to a Director’s resignation; possible constitutional concerns with plaintiff’s argument; what constitutes irreparable injury; and what the balance of the equities supports. In the back-and-forth, plaintiff’s counsel got most of the questions and did most of the talking. Plaintiff’s counsel pressed the point that the President’s appointment of OMB Director Mulvaney undermines the CFPB’s independence and closed by arguing that the case posed a threat to the tradition of independent financial regulators more generally. The government’s lawyer (Chad Readler, the Acting Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Division) – clearly sensing that the Judge was on the government’s side and facing fewer questions – tended to make more targeted arguments that raised two or three points in rebuttal to the plaintiff. A more comprehensive summary of the argument follows. Continue Reading English v Trump: Round 2