Back to Inspector General’s main page
Government and People
SUPERIOR COURT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
LINDA W. CROPP, Chairman, et al., Plaintiffs, vs. ANTHONY A. WILLIAMS, Mayor, Defendant
Civil Action No. 03ca4569
This action for declaratory and injunctive relief is before me on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. The 13 member of the District of Columbia city Council have sued the Mayor of the District, seeking to require him to implement a Council-enacted provision that would require the incumbent Inspector General of the District to vacate his position. The parties agree that there are no material facts in dispute, and that the case is appropriately resolved by declaratory judgment.
For the reasons stated in this Memorandum Order, the defendant Mayor's Motion for Summary Judgment will be GRANTED. As explained more fully below, the section of the statute that applies to the incumbent Inspector General is declared to be void, on the ground that it violates principles of separation of powers.
Earlier this year, the District of Columbia Council enacted measures amending D.C. Code § 2-302.08 (2001), which establishes and describes the office of the District's Inspector General.1 The measures (which I will refer to as "the 2003 IG Act" or simply as "the Act") changed the job qualifications for. the post of Inspector General by adding new requirements to the existing ones. Notably, most of the new requirements are ones that the incumbent Inspector General, Charles Maddox, does not meet. Of equal significance, the amendments, which were intended to take effect immediately, make the new qualifications applicable to the incumbent. In effect, then, the legislation would require Mr. Maddox to step down from his post.
The Mayor vetoed the measures. The Council then overrode the vetoes. Ordinarily, of course, that would have ended the matter: the legislation would have gone into effect, and Mr. Maddox would have been required to vacate his position as of June 1, 2003 (the effective date of the pertinent section of the Act). On May 30, 2003, however, the Mayor informed the Council that he had advised Mr. Maddox to remain in his job, despite the new legislation, on the ground that the legislation was null and void because it violated separation of powers principles.
This lawsuit followed. The Councilmember plaintiffs charge that the Mayor has acted beyond his executive authority, and in derogation of their legislative authority, by effectively refusing to implement the 2003 IG Act. They contend that the Act is a classic legislative action, the product of the Council's oversight responsibilities, and that it is simply intended to improve the effectiveness of the Inspector General's Office by revising and strengthening the qualifications required for the person who heads it. In their view, if the new qualifications have the effect of forcing the incumbent to resign because he does not meet them, then this effect, while incidental to the legislation, is nevertheless a proper and salutary result of it. Once the Council concluded that new qualifications for the Inspector General were vital to the effective functioning of the agency, they reason, it would have been senseless for the changes to sit unimplemented, and the agency presumably to stagnate, while waiting two more years for Mr. Maddox's term to expire.
The defendant Mayor counters that the legislation is void and so need not be enforced. He argues that ousting Mr. Maddox, far from being an "incidental effect" of the 2003 IG Act, is in fact its central and animating purpose, as well as its most immediate effect. This, he argues, is beyond the Council's power: Mr. Maddox is an executive appointee and is subject to removal "only for cause by the Mayor," D. C. Code § 2-302.08(a)(1)(A). The Mayor emphasizes, moreover, that the executive's removal power is grounded in basic separation of powers principles. Accordingly, he argues, at least the section of the Act that subjects the incumbent to the new qualifications encroaches impermissibly on that core executive power.
Each side, then, says that the other's actions exceed its authority under the District's fundamental separation of powers structure.2 In an earlier ruling, I concluded that the Councilmember plaintiffs have standing to pursue this lawsuit, on the theory that the Mayor's actions have nullified their votes as legislators. Order of June 18, 2003. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the merits, and oppositions. I heard oral argument on July 10, 2003. As noted, the parties agree that the case can now be decided on the cross-motions, by means of a declaratory judgment. See McIntosh v. Washington, 395 A.2d 744, 748-49 (D. C. 1978).3
The Office Of The Inspector General
Section 2-302.08 of the D. C. Code contains the provisions that establish and set the duties of the office of Inspector General. In its current form (that is, before the 2003 IG Act), the statute generally directs the Office to perform independent audits, inspections, and investigations of District departments and agencies; to make recommendations for combating corruption, mismanagement, waste, fraud, and the like; and to report to other government components. The statute specifies that the Office of the Inspector General is created "within the executive branch" of the District's government; that the Inspector General "shall be appointed by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the Council"; and that he "shall be subject to removal only for cause by the Mayor." D.C. Code § 2-302.08(a)(1)(A), (C). The appointment is for a six-year term, renewable without limitation.
Before the amendments at issue here, the only qualifications for the office of Inspector General were those set out in subsection (a)(1)(D) of section 2-302.08. They are these: "The Inspector General shall be appointed without regard to party affiliation and solely on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability in accounting, auditing, financial management analysis, public administration, or investigations." The incumbent Inspector General, Mr. Maddox, was appointed by the Mayor to a six-year term in May 1999.
The 2003 IG Act works several changes to this law, all concerning who may hold the office and under what circumstances. Most pertinent to this case, the Act prescribes significant new job qualifications for the Inspector General. Subsection (a)(1)(D) is amended to add that the officeholder must have at least seven years' supervisory or management experience, as well as seven years' experience in one of the relevant fields, which now would include "law" as another alternative to "accounting, auditing, financial management analysis, public administration, or investigations." In addition, the Act adds a new subsection, (a)(1)(D-i), which is the provision at issue here. This new subsection requires that the Inspector General either (1) be a graduate of an accredited law school, have been a member of the D.C. Bar for seven years, and have seven years' experience practicing law, or (2) have been licensed as a certified public accountant for seven years and have seven years' experience in accounting, tax consulting, or financial consulting.4 Most importantly, the new subsection also provides that its requirements shall apply to the incumbent: "(A] person who holds the position of Inspector General and who does not meet the requirements [of subsection (a)(1)(D-i)] on June 1, 2003, shall not continue to hold the position." There is no dispute that the current Inspector General, Mr. Maddox, does not meet the subsection (a)(1)(D-i) qualifications.
Under the District's-separation of powers structure, the legislative power of the District government is vested in the city council. D. C. Code § 1-204.04(a). The Council is granted statutory authority to "create, abolish, or organize any office, agency, department, or instrumentality of the government of the District, and to define the powers, duties, and responsibilities" of any such office. Id. § 1-204.04(b). Cases from other jurisdictions establish that in most instances this legislative authority includes the power to specify the qualifications that an executive appointee to such an office must possess. See, e.g, Goodrich v. Mitchell, 75 P. 1034, 1035 (Kan. 1904); State ex rel. Butz v. Marion Circuit Court, 72 N.E.2d 225, 230 (Ind. 1947); State ex rel. Associated Master Barbers & Beauticians v. Eischen, 76 N.W.2d 385 (Minn. 1956); Fair Housing Council, Inc., v. New Jersey Real Estate Comm., 358 A.2d 221, 223 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div.), cert. denied, 366 A.2d 681 (N.J. 1976). The defendant Mayor does not contest the Council's authority to set such qualifications, and makes no serious challenge here to the reasonableness of the newly enacted qualifications themselves.
For all its powers to affect the structure and responsibilities of an executive branch office, and even to require certain qualifications for the officeholder, a legislature generally cannot remove that officeholder once he or she is appointed. The power to appoint executive officeholders - and the reciprocal power to remove them - is vested exclusively in the executive; it is a principal aspect of the executive function. Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52, 122 (1926). The Supreme Court has struck down statutory enactments that invaded or compromised that prerogative by involving Congress in the removal of officials exercising executive powers. See, e.g., id. at 176 (statute unconstitutionally conditioned removal of certain postmasters on advice and consent of the Senate); Bowsher v. Synar, 478 U.S. 714, 733-34 (1986) (statute unconstitutionally conferred executive powers on Comptroller General, who is removable by Congress). The reasons for this sharp demarcation are not hard to discern. As the Court observed in Bowsher, "[t]he Constitution does not contemplate an active role for Congress in the supervision of officers charged with the execution of the laws it enacts." 478 U.S. at 722. Accordingly, "[a] direct congressional role in the removal of officers charged with the execution of the laws . . . is inconsistent with separation of powers." Id. at 723. If this separation were not observed, the legislature "could simply remove, or threaten to remove, an officer for executing the laws in any fashion found to be unsatisfactory to [the legislature]." Id. at 726. Such a result would be "constitutionally impermissible." Id. at 727.
In practice, nevertheless, this nominally strict assignment of removal power to the executive branch is given some necessary flexibility. The principle is not always easy to apply in a complex world, and not every apparent violation of it is significant enough to warrant judicial action. The proper separation of powers inquiry therefore requires examining whether the statute, taken as a whole, " unduly interfer[es]" with the executive role. Morrison v. Olson, 487 U.S. 654, 693 (1988). The test thus has a pragmatic aspect given the need to "integrate the dispersed powers into a workable government." Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579, 635 (1952) (Jackson, J., concurring). This "flexible understanding" of separation of powers, Mistretta v. United States, 488 U.S. 361, 381 (1989), focuses not on any harmless commingling of function or trivial blurrings of the line, but on serious dangers of "encroachment or aggrandizement of one branch at the expense of the other." Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 122 (1976). Provisions of law that either "accrete to a single Branch powers more appropriately diffused among separate Branches," or that "undermine the authority and independence" of a coordinate branch, violate the separation of powers. Mistretta, 488 U.S. at 382.
The plaintiffs here acknowledge that they believe Mr. Maddox should be removed from his office. They deny any ad hominem or invidious motivation, and insist on calling his removal an "incidental effect" of their enactment, but they do not conceal their desire to see him go. In their pleadings they state that "the incumbent's unsatisfactory performance served as a catalyst" for their review of the Inspector General's office. Plaintiffs' Motion, at 23. They reason that once they "had determined . . . that the Inspector General was not performing capably," they were virtually duty-bound to try to arrange his removal: it would have been "an abdication of the Council's paramount responsibility to the public" for the Council to have "allow[ed] a person it considers unqualified to continue to hold office." Id. at 25. Plainly, removing Mr. Maddox was at least one of the purposes of the 2003 IG Act, however much plaintiffs characterize it as "incidental," and the Council crafted a measure that would accomplish that goal. By implication at least, the plaintiffs assert that given the public need, it was a good and proper thing to do, and that this justifies or excuses any temporary appropriation of executive powers.
This argument has a certain plausibility. In fact, although plaintiffs present it as an appeal more to common sense and good government than to legal principles, it does draw some support from statements in the caselaw. In Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S. 425 (1977), the Supreme Court described its separation of powers inquiry as focusing, first, on "the extent to which [a statute] prevents the Executive Branch from accomplishing its constitutionally assigned functions," and then, if there is a danger of such disruption, on "whether that impact is justified by an overriding need to promote objectives within the constitutional authority of [the legislature]." Id. at 443. Here, the plaintiffs presumably would argue that they faced an "overriding need" to "promote [the] objective" of immediately improving the performance of the Inspector General's office, and that the resulting intrusion into executive powers was minimal. In this view, it would actually undermine the entire legislative goal not to apply the new qualifications to an incumbent whose current term extends well into the future.
I conclude, however, that this argument fails. To be sure, there is no separation of powers principle that barred the Council from examining Mr. Maddox's performance in office. It would be slightly absurd, in fact, to suggest that a legislative body, in carrying out its oversight responsibilities toward-a particular. agency, could not properly consider how an incumbent officeholder was doing his job. It is equally unobjectionable for that legislature to consider its evaluation of the incumbent in crafting legislation affecting the agency, including changes to the qualifications of the officeholder. The question, however, is whether the Council could then apply those reformed qualifications, not just to all future occupants of the office, but to that same incumbent, forcing him to relinquish his appointed position.
Reforming the Inspector General's office is certainly an "objective within the authority of [the Council)." But it does not necessarily follow that accomplishing it immediately specifically by removing an incumbent whom the Council has decided is unqualified to hold office - is therefore also a legitimate legislative objective. In a system of separated powers, there will always be urgent and important objectives that simply cannot be addressed by a given branch of government, or that can be addressed in some ways, but not in others. It is no answer to this to say that the legislature was acting in the public good, or that it was pursuing a pressing governmental need in the face of dereliction by another branch. The Supreme Court cautioned against the lure of such justifications when it warned that "[t]he hydraulic pressure inherent within each of the separate Branches to exceed the outer limits of its power, even to accomplish desirable objectives, must be resisted." INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919, 951 (1983) (emphasis supplied). Moreover, accepting plaintiffs' invitation to inspect their reasons for enacting this statute would involve the Court in the tricky business of attempting to divine the "true" motives of a collective legislative body. Legislative intent (what they meant to do) can be difficult enough to discover and interpret; legislative motivation (why they did it) lies entirely too deep. As courts have long recognized, in any event, a judicial inquiry into a legislature's motivation should ordinarily be avoided. Not only is such an inquiry inherently speculative; it represents a significant intrusion into the affairs of a coequal branch of government. See e.g., Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 268 n.18 (1977); United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 383 (1968); McCray v. United States, 195 U.S. 27, 56 (1904).
Finally, and most directly to the point, good intentions (or bad, for that matter) surely should have no bearing on a separation of powers analysis. As one federal judge has observed, I have difficulty accepting the notion that congressional [enactments] should turn on whether Congress had its heart in the right place." In re Benny, 812 F.2d 1133, 1144 (9th Cir. 1987) (Norris, J., concurring). Here, the Inspector General statute vests the power to remove the incumbent, for "good cause" only, with the Mayor, as the appointing Executive. D.C. Code § 2-302.08(a)(1)(A); see id § 1-204.22 (vesting executive power of the District in the Mayor). It does not grant that power - for good cause, excellent cause, exigent cause, or any other cause - to the Council. Nor could any statute do so, given the separated powers of our government.
To resist this result, the plaintiffs point to a scattering of cases from other states. None evaluated a statute exactly like the one at issue here, but each did involve a separation of powers challenge to legislation that had the actual effect of removing an incumbent officeholder appointed by a different branch. See, e.g., Commonwealth ex rel. Kelley v.. Clark, 193 A. 634, 636-37 (Pa. 1937) (holding unconstitutional a statute that abolished a city commission, terminated the appointments of its members, and created a new commission with different members; the new commission's duties were indistinguishable from the old, rendering the statute a "mere subterfuge" to oust the incumbents); State ex rel. Hammond v. Maxfield, 132 P.2d 660, 664-66 (Utah 1942) (upholding a statute that effectively merged an existing "road commission" into a new "engineering commission" with broader duties, resulting in the road commissioners losing their appointments; the incumbent's loss of office was "merely an incident and not the. objective" of a "bona fide scheme of reorganization"); Ahearn v. Bailey, 451 P.2d 30, 35-36 (Ariz. 1969) (holding unconstitutional a portion of a statute that made :.:: ... certain organizational changes to a state commission and increased the number of commissioners; the offending section, however, shortened the term of the existing members; since this had "no discernible relationship to the [reorganizational] objects to be accomplished in the remainder of the enactment," it constituted an impermissible removal of the incumbents).5
The basic pattern of these state removal cases is that the legislature passed a statute that in effect abolished and then recreated a government agency, or that substantially transformed the agency, and as a part of the change terminated the appointments of the incumbent officeholders. As I read these cases, they conclude that such legislation can survive a separation of powers scrutiny if the enactment in fact makes a substantial change in the agency's identity (such as by combining it with another office as part of a genuine reorganization, or by giving it entirely new duties) and if the termination of the incumbent's appointment is logically related to the changes made to the office. This is an interesting proposition, and makes logical sense. It has no application, however, to this case. The 2003 IG Act plainly did not make any changes at all to the office of the Inspector General, substantial or not. Its sole effect, and its admitted purpose, is to change the qualifications necessary to become the officeholder, without any accompanying changes to the duties of the office.
Presumably perceiving this problem, the plaintiffs argue for a significantly more generous reading of these state removal cases. They derive the following principle: even if an "incidental effect" of an enactment is to remove an incumbent officeholder, the legislature has acted within its authority as long as the measure makes "reasonable and substantial" changes to the "existing scheme." Plaintiffs would include in this definition changes to any aspect of the law governing the agency - including simply changes to the qualifications for holding the office. Turning to our case, the newly enacted qualifications for Inspector General concern training and experience in the fields of law or accounting, which are obviously related to the Inspector General's work. Unquestionably, these changes are both reasonable and substantial. Therefore, according to plaintiffs' test, the 2003 Act would pass muster, regardless of the fact that it happens to apply to the incumbent.
This interpretation asks far too much of the handful of cases on which it is based. Most obviously, none of those cases upheld a statute making changes, "reasonable and substantial" or not, to anything except the duties or structure of the subject agency itself. Moreover, in the one case in which the only "substantial" change was to the requirements or conditions under which an incumbent held office, the court invalidated the statute. See Ahearn v. Bailey, 341 P.2d at 36 (incumbent's term of appointment cut from 6 to 3 years). Finally, there is no limit to the principle that the plaintiffs propose. A legislature could arrogate to itself any part of the executive appointment and removal power, as long as it did so in a "substantial" way and for some plausible reason. The plaintiffs have cited no cases that actually support the standard they propose, and no sound reason to adopt that standard. They also have cited no cases upholding a statute like the one involved here, which makes no substantive change to the office, yet nevertheless removes the incumbent officeholder.6
In the end, having considered all of the parties' arguments, it is my judgment that the section of the 2003 IG Act that applies to the incumbent cannot survive separation of powers scrutiny. Under the standards articulated in Mistretta and similar cases, I conclude that the provision at issue encroaches on a key part of the Mayor's authority, namely his appointment and removal power. In fact, it usurps a portion of it entirely. Moreover, the statute just as certainly accretes to the Council powers it was never intended to have. Indeed, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that what has happened here is precisely what the Supreme Court foresaw in Bowsher: the Council has "remove[d] ... an officer for executing the laws in [a] fashion found to be unsatisfactory" to the Council. 478 U.S. at 726. This is impermissible, no matter how justified it may seem to the plaintiffs.
The Council states clearly what it sees as the consequences of a decision invalidating this provision of the Act: "Adoption of the Mayor's position would mean that the Council could never impose new qualifications upon an incumbent officeholder if the imposition of the otherwise valid qualifications would have the incidental affect of forcing the incumbent to vacate the office." Plaintiffs' Motion, at 25 (emphasis on original). This, however, is exactly the point. It reflects the "hydraulic pressure" within a legislative body to exceed the bounds of granted authority. INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. at 951. The Council seeks a power that is not assigned to it: to remove an appointed officeholder, by imposing stricter job qualifications, because it thinks the circumstances justify such action. That, however, is affirmatively not the legislature's decision to make. Instead, it is a power granted exclusively to the executive. One can understand that the Council might chafe at this restriction of its ability to do what it thinks is best for the city. But it is a restriction carefully considered and deliberately built into the design of our government.
Accordingly, it is this 1st day of August, 2003, hereby
(1) that the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED;
(2) that the plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED; and
(3) that the pertinent section of the Inspector General Qualifications Amendment Act, which would be codified as section 2-302.08(a)(1)(D-1) of the D.C. Code, is severed from the remainder of the Act and hereby declared void.
John M. Campbell
Copies mailed to:
Charlotte Brook ins-Hudson, Esquire
Robert Spagnoletti, Esquire
1. The three separate enactments were; the "Inspector General Qualifications Emergency Amendment Act" (D. C. Act 15-78), 50 D.C. Reg. 3643 (2003); the "Inspector General Qualifications Temporary Amendment Act" (D.C. Act 15-79), 50 D.C. Reg, 3647 (2003);. and. the Inspector General Qualifications Amendment Act" (D.C. Act 15-94), 50 D.C. Reg. 4651 (2003). The three acts are substantively identical, and differ only in the timing of their effective dates and in their relationships to the process by which Congress reviews and approves local legislation. In effect, the changes were to become effective immediately, on an emergency basis, and then to continue in place following congressional approval.
2. See Wilson v. Kelly, 615 A.2d 229, 231 (D.C. 1992) (concluding from "the familiar tripartite structure" of the District's government that the same separation of powers principles that apply to the national government should control the exercise of power here); D. C. Code § 1-301.44(b) (Council "recognizes the principle of separation of powers in the structure of the District of Columbia government").
3. The parties argue other grounds for relief , but these require little discussion. The plaintiffs contend that because the Mayor has a general statutory obligation to enforce the law, he is precluded from resisting the applicability of this statute. This is difficult to understand. Presumably, the Mayor could have filed suit against the Council, seeking a declaratory judgment concerning the Act. Instead, they sued him. I do not see how the Mayor could be barred from making his arguments simply because he responded to a lawsuit instead of initiating one.
The Mayor, for his part, contends that the case should be dismissed because only a quo warranto proceeding could accomplish what the plaintiffs seek. I disagree with his view of the relief sought in this case. Moreover, in my earlier ruling on the question of standing, I had meant to imply, in the course of ruling that the plaintiffs have standing to bring this action, that this is an appropriate action to bring. If this was not clear, I make it explicit now, and reject the defendant's argument.
4. Subsection (a)(1)(D-i) lists a third alternative, which also concerns experience iii accounting, but which permits the officeholder to hold a certificate from the District of Columbia Board of Accounting instead of being a CPA. The defendant points out that this particular Board no longer issues certificates, and has not for four years. Suffice it to say that Mr. Maddox does not hold such a certificate.
5. Plaintiffs also rely on State ex rel. Maloney v. Wells, 112 N.W.2d 601 (S.D. 1961). The plaintiff was the former state Employment Security Commissioner, appointed by the Governor. During her term, the legislature amended the underlying statute, changing the post to "Employment Security Commissioner and Counsel," adding legal services to the officeholder's existing duties; and requiring that the officeholder be a licensed and experienced attorney. attorney. The state Supreme Court upheld the statute, concluding that the old office was effectively abolished by tie new. Id. at 604. Superficially, then, the case involved a legislative change in job qualifications that resulted in an incumbent's losing her job. This seems close to the mark. In fact, as the defendant points out, there are crucial differences. Most important, the statute was no challenged or upheld on the ground that the legislation violated separation of powers by invading the executive's removal powers. Moreover, and unlike the present case, the statute clearly changed the office itself by imposing new legal services duties, and the new job qualifications related directly to the new responsibilities of the office.
6. Interestingly, the defendant Mayor also places stock in this same collection of cases, although for different reasons. He emphasizes that in each case the court's reasoning explicitly placed weight on the good or bad faith, or good or bad motives, of the legislature. He then urges me to do the same here, and to conclude that the Council's plain intent to oust Mr. Maddox should invalidate the Act. As I previously concluded, however, more persuasive federal caselaw frowns on judicial expeditions into the mind of the legislature. To the extent the state cases hold otherwise, I decline to follow them.
Back to top of page
Send mail with questions or comments to email@example.com
Web site copyright ©DCWatch (ISSN 1546-4296)