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“Rubberstamp” Ratifications Can’t Cure Constitutional Defects in Agency Rules

William Yeatman, Ilya Shapiro, and Spencer Davenport

The Constitution requires that significant government decisions be made by principal officers who have been appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. In stark and ongoing violation of this constitutional requirement, the Food & Drug Administration has an entrenched process whereby mere employees sign off on major rules.

In 2016, for example, the FDA issued the Deeming Rule, which put the vaping industry under the government’s regulatory thumb. Yet no constitutionally appointed officer took responsibility for this controversial policy. Instead, the Deeming Rule bears the signature of a career civil servant.

A group of mom‐​and‐​pop vaping retailers, represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, challenged the FDA’s Deeming Rule in a federal district court. They argued that the rule is invalid because it was finalized by someone without the constitutional authority to do so. Their lawsuit clearly had merit—as demonstrated by the FDA’s own actions. About 18 months after the litigation began, the agency had a properly appointed principal officer “ratify” the Deeming Rule, in an effort to “cure” the constitutional defect. The FDA’s cursory ratification took up a single paragraph.

The district court upheld the FDA’s “rubberstamp” ratification, and the D.C. Circuit affirmed. Now, the challengers seek Supreme Court review. Yesterday, the Cato Institute, joined by the Reason Foundation, filed a brief in support of the petitioners. We explain that there is much more at stake than vaping regulations. Due to a variety of factors (including recent Supreme Court decisions and presidential power grabs), a substantial amount of administrative action suffers an apparent defect in constitutional authority. As a result, agencies increasingly are turning to rubberstamp ratifications that deny aggrieved parties any meaningful relief for their constitutional harms. Our brief urges the Court to take the case and provide guidance on this important federal question.

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