Public Citizen v. United States Department of Justice Washington Legal Foundation/Concurrence Kennedy

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Opinion of the Court
Concurring Opinion
Kennedy


Justice KENNEDY, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and Justice O'CONNOR join, concurring in the judgment.

"In a government, where the liberties of the people are to be preserved . . ., the executive, legislative and judicial, should ever be separate and distinct, and consist of parts, mutually forming a check upon each other." C. Pinckney, Observations on the Plan of Government Submitted to the Federal Convention of May 28, 1787, reprinted in 3 M. Farrand, Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, p. 108 (rev. ed. 1966).

The Framers of our Government knew that the most precious of liberties could remain secure only if they created a structure of Government based on a permanent separation of powers. See, e.g., The Federalist Nos. 47-51 (J. Madison). Indeed, the Framers devoted almost the whole of their attention at the Constitutional Convention to the creation of a secure and enduring structure for the new Government. It remains one of the most vital functions of t is Court to police with care the separation of the governing powers. That is so even when, as is the case here, no immediate threat to liberty is apparent. When structure fails, liberty is always in peril. As Justice Frankfurter stated:

"The accretion of dangerous power does not come in a day. It does come, however slowly, from the generative force of unchecked disregard of the restrictions that fence in even the most disinterested assertion of authority." Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579, 594, 72 S.Ct. 863, 889, 96 L.Ed. 1153 (1952) (concurring opinion).

Although one is perhaps more obvious than the other, this suit presents two distinct issues of the separation of powers. The first concerns the rules this Court must follow in interpreting a statute passed by Congress and signed by the President. On this subject, I cannot join the Court's conclusion that the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), 85 Stat. 770, as amended, 5 U.S.C.App. § 1 et seq. (1982 ed. and Supp. V), does not cover the activities of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Federal Judiciary in advising the Department of Justice regarding potential nominees for federal judgeships. The result seems sensible in the abstract; but I cannot accept the method by which the Court arrives at its interpretation of FACA, which does not accord proper respect to the finality and binding effect of legislative enactments. The second question in the case is the extent to which Congress may interfere with the President's constitutional prerogative to nominate federal judges. On this issue, which the Court does not reach because of its conclusion on the statutory question, I think it quite plain that the application of FACA to the Government's use of the ABA Committee is unconstitutional.

* The statutory question in this suit is simple enough to formulate. FACA applies to "any committee" that is "established or utilized" by the President or one or more agencies, and which furnishes "advice or recommendations" to the President or one or more agencies. 5 U.S.C.App. § 3(2). All concede that the ABA Committee furnishes advice and recommendations to the Department of Justice and through it to the President. Ante, at 452. The only question we face, therefore, is whether the ABA Committee is "utilized" by the Department of Justice or the President. See ibid.

There is a ready starting point, which ought to serve also as a sufficient stopping point, for this kind of analysis: the plain language of the statute. Yet the Court is unwilling to rest on this foundation, for several reasons. One is an evident unwillingness to define the application of the statute in terms of the ordinary meaning of its language. We are told that "utilize" is "a woolly verb," ibid, and therefore we cannot be content to rely on what is described, with varying levels of animus, as a "literal reading," ante, at 454, a "literalistic reading," ante, at 463, 464, and "a dictionary reading" of this word, ante, at 452, n. 8. We also are told in no uncertain terms that we cannot rely on (what I happen to regard as a more accurate description) "a straightforward reading of 'utilize.' " Ante, at 453. Reluctance to working with the basic meaning of words in a normal manner undermines the legal process. These cases demonstrate that reluctance of this sort leads instead to woolly judicial construction that mars the plain face of legislative enactments.

The Court concedes that the Executive Branch "utilizes" the ABA Committee in the common sense of that word. Ibid. Indeed, this point cannot be contested. As the Court's own recitation of the facts makes clear, the Department of Justice has, over the last four decades, made regular use of the ABA Committee to investigate the background of potential nominees and to make critical recommendations regarding their qualifications. See ante, at 443-445. This should end the matter. The Court nevertheless goes through several more steps to conclude that, although "it seems to us a close question," ante, at 465, Congress did not intend that FACA would apply to the ABA Committee.

Although I believe the Court's result is quite sensible, I cannot go along with the unhealthy process of amending the statute by judicial interpretation. Where the language of a statute is clear in its application, the normal rule is that we are bound by it. There is, of course, a legitimate exception to this rule, which the Court invokes, see ante, at 453-454, citing Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, 143 U.S. 457, 459, 12 S.Ct. 511, 512, 36 L.Ed. 226 (1892), and with which I have no quarrel. Where the plain language of the statute would lead to "patently absurd consequences," United States v. Brown, 333 U.S. 18, 27, 68 S.Ct. 376, 380, 92 L.Ed. 442 (1948), that "Congress could not possibly have intended," FBI v. Abramson, 456 U.S. 615, 640, 102 S.Ct. 2054, 2069, 72 L.Ed.2d 376 (1982) (O'CONNOR, J., dissenting) (emphasis added), we need not apply the language in such a fashion. When used in a proper manner, this narrow exception to our normal rule of statutory construction does not intrude upon the lawmaking powers of Congress, but rather demonstrates a respect for the coequal Legislative Branch, which we assume would not act in an absurd way.

This exception remains a legitimate tool of the Judiciary, however, only as long as the Court acts with self-discipline by limiting the exception to situations where the result of applying the plain language would be, in a genuine sense, absurd, i.e., where it is quite impossible that Congress could have intended the result, see ibid., and where the alleged absurdity is so clear as to be obvious to most anyone. A few examples of true absurdity are given in the Holy Trinity decision cited by the Court, ante, at 454, such as where a sheriff was prosecuted for obstructing the mails even though he was executing a warrant to arrest the mail carrier for murder, or where a medieval law against drawing blood in the streets was to be applied against a physician who came to the aid of a man who had fallen down in a fit. See 143 U.S., at 460-461, 12 S.Ct., at 512-513. In today's opinion, however, the Court disregards the plain language of the statute not because its application would be patently absurd, but rather because, on the basis of its view of the legislative history, the Court is "fairly confident" that "FACA should [not] be construed to apply to the ABA Committee." Ante, at 465. I believe the Court's loose invocation of the "absurd result" canon of statutory construction creates too great a risk that the Court is exercising its own "WILL instead of JUDGMENT," with the consequence of "substituti[ng] [its own] pleasure to that of the legislative body." The Federalist No. 78, p. 469 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961) (A. Hamilton).

The Court makes only a passing effort to show that it would be absurd to apply the term "utilize" to the ABA Committee according to its commonsense meaning. It offers three examples that we can assume are meant to demonstrate this point: the application of FACA to an American Legion Post should the President visit that organization and happen to ask its opinion on some aspect of military policy; the application of FACA to the meetings of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) should the President seek its views in nominating Commissioners to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and the application of FACA to the national committee of the President's political party should he consult it for advice and recommendations before picking his Cabinet. See ante, at 452-453.

None of these examples demonstrate the kind of absurd consequences that would justify departure from the plain language of the statute. A commonsense interpretation of the term "utilize" wou d not necessarily reach the kind of ad hoc contact with a private group that is contemplated by the Court's American Legion hypothetical. Such an interpretation would be consistent, moreover, with the regulation of the General Services Administration (GSA) regulation interpreting the word "utilize," which the Court in effect ignores. See infra, at 477. As for the more regular use contemplated by the Court's examples concerning the NAACP and the national committee of the President's political party, it would not be at all absurd to say that, under the Court's hypothetical, these groups would be "utilized" by the President to obtain "advice or recommendations" on appointments, and therefore would fall within the coverage of the statute. Rather, what is troublesome about these examples is that they raise the very same serious constitutional questions that confront us here (and perhaps others as well). [1] The Court confuses the two points. The fact that a particular application of the clear terms of a statute might be unconstitutional does not, in and of itself, render a straightforward application of the language absurd, so as to allow us to conclude that the statute does not apply. See infra, at 481.

Unable to show that an application of FACA according the plain meaning of its terms would be absurd, the Court turns instead to the task of demonstrating that a straightforward reading of the statute would be inconsistent with the congressional purposes that lay behind its passage. To the student of statutory construction, this move is a familiar one. It is, as the Court identifies it, the classic Holy Trinity argument. "[A] thing may be within the letter of the statute and yet not within the statute, because not within its spirit, nor within the intention of its makers." Holy Trinity, supra, at 459, 12 S.Ct., at 512. I cannot embrace this principle. Where it is clear that the unambiguous language of a statute embraces certain conduct, and it would not be patently absurd to apply the statute to such conduct, it does not foster a democratic exegesis for this Court to rummage through unauthoritative materials to consult the spirit of the legislation in order to discover an alternative interpretation of the statute with which the Court is more comfortable. It comes as a surprise to no one that the result of the Court's lengthy journey through the legislative history is the discovery of a congressional intent not to include the activities of the ABA Committee within the coverage of FACA. The problem with spirits is that they tend to reflect less the views of the world whence they come than the views of those who seek their advice.

Lest anyone think that my objection to the use of the Holy Trinity doctrine is a mere point of interpretive purity divorced from more practical considerations, I should pause for a moment to recall the unhappy genesis of that doctrine and its unwelcome potential. In Holy Trinity, the Court was faced with the interpretation of a statute which made it unlawful for

"any person, company, partnership, or corporation, in any manner whatsoever, to prepay the transportation, or in any way assist or encourage the importation or migration of any alien or aliens, any foreigner or foreigners, into the United States . . ., under contract or agreement . . . made previous to the importation or migration of such alien or aliens, foreigner or foreigners, to perform labor or service of any kind in the United States." 143 U.S., at 458, 12 S.Ct., at 511.

The Church of the Holy Trinity entered into a contract with an alien residing in England to come to the United States to serve as the director and pastor of the church. Notwithstanding the fact that this agreement fell within the plain language of the statute, which was conceded to be the case, see ibid., the Court overrode the plain language, drawing instead on the background and purposes of the statute to conclude that Congress did not intend its broad prohibition to cover the importation of Christian ministers. The central support for the Court's ultimate conclusion that Congress did not intend the law to cover Christian ministers is its lengthy review of the "mass of organic utterances" establishing that "this is a Christian nation," and which were taken to prove that it could not "be believed that a Congress of the United States intended to make it a misdemeanor for a church of this country to contract for the services of a Christian minister residing in another nation." Id., at 471, 12 S.Ct., at 516. I should think the potential of this doctrine to allow judges to substitute their personal predelictions for the will of the Congress is so self-evident from the case which spawned it as to require no further discussion of its susceptibility to abuse.

Even if I were inclined to disregard the unambiguous language of FACA, I could not join the Court's conclusions with regard to Congress' purposes. I find the Court's treatment of the legislative history one sided and offer a few observations on the difficulties of perceiving the true contours of a spirit.

The first problem with the Court's use of legislative history is the questionable relevance of its detailed account of Executive practice before the enactment of FACA. This background is interesting but not instructive, for as the Court acknowledges, even the legislative history as presented by the Court "evinces an intent to widen the scope of" the coverage of prior Executive Orders, ante, at 458, and in any event the language of the statute is "more capacious" than any of the previous "narrower formulations," ante, at 462. Indeed, Congress would have had little reason to legislate at all in this area if it had intended FACA to be nothing more than a reflection of the provisions of Executive Order No. 11007, 3 CFR 573 (1959-1963 Comp.), which was already the settled and governing law at the time this bill was introduced, considered, and enacted. In other words, the background to FACA cannot be taken to illuminate its breadth precisely because FACA altered the landscape to address the many concerns Congress had about the increasing growth and use of advisory committees.

Another problem with the Court's approach lies in its narrow preoccupation with the ABA Committee against the background of a bill that was intended to provide comprehensive legislation covering a widespread problem in the organization and operation of the Federal Government. The Court's discussion takes portentous note of the fact that Congress did not mention or discuss the ABA Committee by name in the materials that preceded the enactment of FACA. But that is hardly a remarkable fact. The legislation was passed at a time when somewhere between 1,800 and 3,200 target committees were thought to be in existence, see S.Rep. No. 92-1098, pp. 3, 4 (1972), and the congressional Reports mentioned few committees by name. More to the point, its argument reflects an incorrect understanding of the kinds of laws Congress passes: it usually does not legislate by specifying examples, but by identifying broad and general principles that must be applied to particular factual instances. And that is true of FACA.

Finally, though the stated objective of the Court's inquiry into legislative history is the identification of Congress' purposes in passing FACA, the inquiry does not focus on the most obvious place for finding those purposes, which is the section of the Conference Committee Report entitled "Findings and Purposes." That section lists six findings and purposes that underlie FACA:

"(1) the need for many existing advisory committees has not been adequately reviewed;

"(2) new advisory committees should be established only when they are determined to be essential and their number should be kept to the minimum necessary; "(3) advisory committees should be terminated when they are no longer carrying out the purposes for which they were established;

"(4) standards and uniform procedures should govern the establishment, operation, administration, and duration of advisory committees;

"(5) the Congress and the public should be kept informed with respect to the number, purpose, membership, activities, and cost of advisory committees; and

"(6) the function of advisory committees should be advisory only, and that all matters under their consideration should be determined, in accordance with law, by the official, agency, or officer involved." H.R.Conf.Rep. No. 92-1403, pp. 1-2 (1972).

The most pertinent conclusion to be drawn from this list of purposes is that all of them are implicated by the Justice Department's use of the ABA Committee. In addition, it shows that Congress' stated purposes for addressing the use of advisory committees went well beyond the amount of public funds devoted to their operations, which in any event is not the sole component in the cost of their use; thus the Court errs in focusing on this point.

It is most striking that this section of the Conference Committee Report, which contains Congress' own explicit statement of its purposes in adopting FACA, receives no mention by the Court on its amble through the legislative history. The one statement the Court does quote from this Report, that FACA does not apply " 'to advisory committees not directly established by or for [federal] agencies,' " ante, at 462, quoting H.R.Conf.Rep. 92-1403, supra, at 10, U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1972, p. 3509 (emphasis deleted), is of uncertain value. It is not clear that this passage would exclude the ABA Committee, which was established in 1946 and began almost at once to advise the Government on judicial nominees. It also is not clear why the reasons a committee was formed should determine whether and how they are "utilized by" the Government, or how this consideration can be squared with the plain language of the statute. The Court professes puzzlement because the Report says only that the Conference Committee modified the definition of "advisory committee" to include the phrase "or utilized," but does not explain the extent of the modification in any detail. Ante, at 461-462. One would have thought at least that the Court would have been led to consider how the specific purposes Congress identified for this legislation might shed light on the reasons for the change.

Not only does the Court's decision today give inadequate respect to the statute passed by Congress, it also gives inadequate deference to the GSA's regulations interpreting FACA. I have already mentioned that, under the GSA's interpretation of FACA, the Court's hypothetical applications of the Act to groups such as the American Legion are impossible. More important, however, it is plain that, under the GSA's regulations, the ABA Committee is covered by the Act. The GSA defines a "utilized" advisory committee as

"a committee or other group composed in whole or in part of other than full-time officers or employees of the Federal Government with an established existence outside the agency seeking its advice which the President or agency official(s) adopts, such as through institutional arrangements, as a preferred source from which to obtain advice or recommendations on a specific issue or policy within the scope of his or her responsibilities in the same manner as that individual would obtain advice or recommendations from an established advisory committee." 41 CFR § 101-6.1003 (1988).

I cannot imagine a better description of the function of the ABA Committee. First, the ABA Committee is "composed in whole or in part of other than full-time officers or employees of the Federal Government." Second, the committee has "an established existence outside the agency seeking its advice." Third, the committee has been adopted by the Department of ustice "as a preferred source from which to obtain advice or recommendations of a specific issue or policy." Indeed, the committee performs no other significant function beyond advising the Government on judicial appointments. Fourth, the relation is carried out through what cannot in fairness be denied, after four decades, to be an "institutional arrangement." The committee's views are sought on a regular and frequent basis, are given careful consideration, and are usually followed by the Department. Fifth, the committee is used to obtain advice and recommendations on judicial appointments "in the same manner as . . . an established advisory committee." In this regard, it is pertinent that the Department discloses to the committee the names of the candidates and other confidential Government information. This unusual privilege is normally accorded only to other parts of the Government.

The Court concedes that the regulations present difficulties for its conclusion that FACA does not apply to the ABA Committee. Ante, at 464, n. 12. It nevertheless relegates its entire discussion of this controlling point to a footnote appended as a ragged afterthought to its extensive discussion of the legislative history. See ibid. The Court offers four reasons for slighting the agency's interpretation in favor of its own. First, we are told that the language of the GSA regulations, like the statute itself, "appears too sweeping" to be read according to its terms. Of course, once again the Court does not mean either that the agency regulation is not a reasonable interpretation of the plain language of the statute, or that the agency interpretation itself would produce absurd consequences. Rather, what the Court means is that the agency regulation is not entirely consistent with the "spirit" of the Act which it professes to have divined from the legislative history. I do not think this a sound reason for ignoring the binding interpretation of the statute rendered by the implementing agency.

Second, the Court tells us that it "is questionable" whether the GSA regulations apply to the ABA Committee. This is quite wrong. The Court does not deny that the committee falls squarely within the terms of the regulations. The Court's doubts on this issue stem entirely from the fact that the GSA's annual report does not list the ABA Committee as one of the advisory committees covered by FACA. But it seems to me to be without relevance one way or the other whether the GSA is aware that the regulations cover the committee. What matters is that the regulations the GSA adopted, which contain a very reasonable interpretation of the statute, plainly cover the committee. If the Court's interpretive approach on this issue were accepted, then the text of the agency's regulations, for which notice was afforded and upon which comment was received, would be of no independent force.

Third, the Court notes that the agency's interpretation was not promulgated until 1983 and not made final until 1987, whereas FACA was passed in 1972. I cannot imagine why it is a sensible principle that an agency regulation which is promulgated a decade after the initial passage of a statute should be given less deference because of the mere passage of time. I would not draw any such distinction one way or the other, but if anything one would think that the GSA's regulation should be entitled to more deference than a regulation promulgated immediately after the passage of a bill, for at least in the situation we have here, we can have some assurance that GSA thought long and hard, based upon considerable experience and the benefits of extensive notice and comment, before it promulgated an administrative rule that has the binding force of law.

The primary case cited in support of the Court's view, see ante, at 464-465, n. 12, citing General Electric Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125, 97 S.Ct. 401, 50 L.Ed.2d 343 (1976), is not at all pertinent. Although in Gilbert the Court mentioned the passage of time in its discussion of the regulations, it made nothing of this point on its own but instead refused to defer to the regulations because they "flatly contradict[ed] the position which the agency had enunciated at an earlier date, closer to the enactment of the governing statute." Id., at 142, 97 S.Ct., at 411. Here, however, the GSA's regulations are consistent with a memorandum prepared by the Office of Management and Budget and distributed to all Government agencies immediately after FACA was enacted. See 38 Fed.Reg. 2307 (1973) (the "utilized by" language of FACA would apply, for example, "to an already existing organization of scholars enlisted by an agency to provide advice on a continuing basis"). [2]

The fourth justification the Court offers for ignoring the agency's interpretation is that the GSA lacks statutory authority to issue a binding regulatory interpretation of the term "advisory committee." In Gilbert, for example, the agency which adopted the regulations at issue did not act pursuant to explicit statutory authority to promulgate regulations, and thus its regulations were at most of persuasive rather than controlling force. 429 U.S., at 141-142, 97 S.Ct., at 410-411. But the Court errs in suggesting that the GSA's regulations are mere nonbinding administrative guidelines. The GSA is conceded to be the agency "charged with the administration of [FACA]," Blum v. Bacon, 457 U.S. 132, 141, 102 S.Ct. 2355, 2361, 72 L.Ed.2d 728 (1982); see ante, at 463, n. 12; it possesses statutory authority to implement the law by promulgating regulations and performing various other specific tasks that have binding effect on other Government agencies and all advisory committees, see FACA, 5 U.S.C.App. §§ 4(a), 7(a)-7(e), 10(a)(2), 10(a)(3) (1982 ed. and Supp. V); see also 40 U.S.C. § 486(c) (granting statutory authority for the GSA to promulgate regulations necessary to implement the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949), and it issued its regulations pursuant to that authority, see 41 CFR §§ 101-6.1001 to 101-6.1035 (1988).

In sum, it is quite desirable not to apply FACA to the ABA Committee. I cannot, however, reach this conclusion as a matter of fair statutory construction. The plain and ordinary meaning of the language passed by Congress governs, and its application does not lead to any absurd results. An unnecessary recourse to the legislative history only confirms this conclusion. And the reasonable and controlling interpretation of the statute adopted by the agency charged with its implementation is also in accord.

The Court's final step is to summon up the traditional principle that statutes should be construed to avoid constitutional questions. Although I agree that we should "first ascertain whether a construction of the statute is fairly possible by which the [constitutional] question may be avoided," Crowell v. Benson, 285 U.S. 22, 62, 52 S.Ct. 285, 296, 76 L.Ed. 598 (1932), this principle cannot be stretched beyond the point at which such a construction remains "fairly possible." And it should not be given too broad a scope lest a whole new range of Government action be proscribed by interpretive shadows cast by constitutional provisions that might or might not invalidate it. The fact that a par icular application of the clear terms of a statute might be unconstitutional does not provide us with a justification for ignoring the plain meaning of the statute. If that were permissible, then the power of judicial review of legislation could be made unnecessary, for whenever the application of a statute would have potential inconsistency with the Constitution, we could merely opine that the statute did not cover the conduct in question because it would be discomforting or even absurd to think that Congress intended to act in an unconstitutional manner. The utter circularity of this approach explains why it has never been our rule.

The Court's ultimate interpretation of FACA is never clearly stated, except for the conclusion that the ABA Committee is not covered. It seems to read the "utilized by" portion of the statute as encompassing only a committee "established by a quasi-public organization in receipt of public funds," ante, at 460, or encompassing "groups formed indirectly by quasi-public organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences," ante, at 462. This is not a "fairly possible" construction of the statutory language even to a generous reader. I would find the ABA Committee to be covered by FACA. It is, therefore, necessary for me to reach and decide the constitutional issue presented.

Although I disagree with the Court's conclusion that FACA does not cover the Justice Department's use of the ABA Committee, I concur in the judgment of the Court because, in my view, the application of FACA in this context would be a plain violation of the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.

The essential feature of the separation-of-powers issue in this suit, and the one that dictates the result, is that this application of the statute encroaches upon a power that the text of the Constitution commits in explicit terms to the President. Article II, § 2, cl. 2, of the Constitution provides as follows:

"[The President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments." [3]

By its terms, the Clause divides the appointment power into two separate spheres: the President's power to "nominate," and the Senate's power to give or withhold its "Advice and Consent." No role whatsoever is given either to the Senate or to Congress as a whole in the process of choosing the person who will be nominated for appointment. As Hamilton emphasized:

"In the act of nomination, [the President's] judgment alone would be exercised; and as it would be his sole duty to point out the man who, with the approbation of the Senate, should fill an office, his responsibility would be as complete as if he were to make the final appointment." The Federalist No. 76, 456-457 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961) (emphasis added).

"It will be the office of the President to nominate, and, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint. There will, of course, be no exertion of choice on the part of the Senate. They may defeat one choice of the Executive, and oblige him to make another; but they cannot themselves choose-they can only ratify or reject the choice he may have made." Id., No. 66, at 405 (emphasis in original). [4]

Indeed, the sole limitation on the President's power to nominate these officials is found in the Incompatability Clause, which provides that "[n]o Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time." U.S.C.onst., Art. I, § 6, cl. 2.

In some of our more recent cases involving the powers and prerogatives of the President, we have employed something of a balancing approach, asking whether the statute at issue prevents the President " 'from accomplishing [his] constitutionally assigned functions.' " Morrison v. Olson, 487 U.S. 654, 695, 108 S.Ct. 2597, 2621, 101 L.Ed.2d 569 (1988), quoting Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S. 425, 443, 97 S.Ct. 2777, 2790, 53 L.Ed.2d 867 (1977), and whether the extent of the intrusion on the President's powers "is justified by an overriding need to promote objectives within the constitutional authority of Congress." Ibid. In each of these cases, the power at issue was not explicitly assigned by the text of the Constitution to be within the sole province of the President, but rather was thought to be encompassed within the general grant to the President of the "executive Power." U.S.Const., Art. II, § 1, cl. 1. Thus, for example, the relevant aspect of our decision in Morrison involved the President's power to remove Executive officers, a power we had recognized is not conferred by any explicit provision in the text of the Constitution (as is the appointment power), but rather is inferred to be a necessary part of the grant of the "executive Power." See Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52, 115-116, 47 S.Ct. 21, 24-25, 71 L.Ed. 160 (1926). Similarly, in Administrator of General Services, supra, we were confronted with the question of the Executive Branch's power to control the disposition of Presidential materials, a matter which, though vital to the President's ability to perform his assigned functions, is not given to exclusive Presidential control by any explicit provision in the Constitution itself. We said there that "the proper inquiry focuses on the extent to which [the congressional restriction] prevents the Executive Branch from accomplishing its constitutionally assigned functions," and that we would invalidate the statute only if the potential for disruption of the President's constitutional functions were present and if "that impact [were not] justified by an overriding need to promote objectives within the constitutional authority of Congress." 433 U.S., at 443, 97 S.Ct., at 2790. See also United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 703-707, 94 S.Ct. 3090, 3105-3107, 41 L.Ed.2d 1039 (1974) (Executive privilege).

In a line of cases of equal weight and authority, however, where the Constitution by explicit text commits the power at issue to the exclusive control of the President, we have refused to tolerate any intrusion by the Legislative Branch. For example, the Constitution confers upon the President the "Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment." U.S.Const., Art. II, § 2, cl. 1. In United States v. Klein, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 128, 20 L.Ed. 519 (1872), the Court considered a federal statute that allowed citizens who had remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War to recover compensation for property abandoned to U ion troops during the War. At issue was the validity of a provision in the statute that barred the admission of a Presidential pardon in such actions as proof of loyalty. Although this provision did not impose direct restrictions on the President's power to pardon, the Court held that the Congress could not in any manner limit the full legal effect of the President's power. As we said there: "[I]t is clear that the legislature cannot change the effect of . . . a pardon any more than the executive can change a law." Id., at 148. More than a century later, in Schick v. Reed, 419 U.S. 256, 95 S.Ct. 379, 42 L.Ed.2d 430 (1974), we reiterated in most direct terms the principle that Congress cannot interfere in any way with the President's power to pardon. The pardon power "flows from the Constitution alone . . . and . . . cannot be modified, abridged, or diminished by the Congress." Id., at 266, 95 S.Ct., at 385. See also Ex parte Garland, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 333, 380, 18 L.Ed. 366 (1867).

INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919, 103 S.Ct. 2764, 77 L.Ed.2d 317 (1983), is another example of the Court's refusal to apply a balancing test to assess the validity of an enactment which interferes with a power that the Constitution, in express terms, vests within the exclusive control of the President. In Chadha, the Court struck down a legislative veto provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act on the ground, inter alia, that it violated the explicit constitutional requirement that all legislation be presented to the President for his signature before becoming law. Id., at 946-948, 957-959, 103 S.Ct., at 2781-2783, 2787-2788. In so holding, the Court did not ask whether the "overriding need to promote objectives within the constitutional authority of Congress" justified this intrusion upon the Executive's prerogative, but rather stated that the lawmaking process must adhere in strict fashion to the "[e]xplicit and unambiguous provisions of the Constitution [which] prescribe and define the respective functions of the Congress and of the Executive in the legislative process." Id., at 945, 103 S.Ct., at 2781. [5]

The justification for our refusal to apply a balancing test in these cases, though not always made explicit, is clear enough. Where a power has been committed to a particular Branch of the Government in the text of the Constitution, the balance already has been struck by the Constitution itself. It is improper for this Court to arrogate to itself the power to adjust a balance settled by the explicit terms of the Constitution. To take an obvious example, it would be improper for us to hold that, although the Constitution sets 35 as the age below which one cannot be President, age 30 would in fact be a permissible construction of this term. See U.S.C.onst., Art. II, § 1. And it would be equally improper for us to determine that the level of importance at which a jury trial in a common-law suit becomes available is $1,000 instead of $20, as the Constitution provides. See U.S.C.onst., Amdt. 7. These minor adjustments might be seen as desirable attempts to modernize the original constitutional provisions, but where the Constitution draws a clear line, we may not engage in such tinkering.

However improper would be these slight adjustments to the explicit and unambiguous balances that are struck in various provisions of the Constitution, all the more improper would it be for this Court, which is, after all, one of the three coequal Branches of the Federal Government, to rewrite the particular balance of power that the Constitution specifies mong the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Departments. This is not to say that each of the three Branches must be entirely separate and distinct, for that is not the governmental structure of checks and balances established by the Framers. See Mistretta v. United States, 488 U.S. 361, 380-381, 109 S.Ct. 647, 659, 102 L.Ed.2d 714 (1989); Humphrey's Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602, 629, 55 S.Ct. 869, 874, 79 L.Ed. 1611 (1935). But as to the particular divisions of power that the Constitution does in fact draw, we are without authority to alter them, and indeed we are empowered to act in particular cases to prevent any other Branch from undertaking to alter them.

These considerations are decisive of the suit before us. The President's power to nominate principal officers falls within the line of cases in which a balancing approach is inapplicable. The Appointments Clause sets out the respective powers of the Executive and Legislative Branches with admirable clarity. The President has the sole responsibility for nominating these officials, and the Senate has the sole responsibility of consenting to the President's choice. See supra, at 483. We have, in effect, already recognized as much in Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 96 S.Ct. 612, 46 L.Ed.2d 659 (1976). In Buckley, the Court held that the appointment of Federal Election Commissioners through procedures that were inconsistent with those set forth in the Appointments Clause was unconstitutional. In doing so, it rejected outright the arguments advanced by the Federal Election Commission and various amici that because the Constitution gave Congress "explicit and plenary authority to regulate [the] field of activity" at issue (federal elections), and because Congress "had good reason[s] for not [creating] a commission composed wholly of Presidential appointees," that Congress could allow these officials to be appointed to their positions without complying with the strict letter of the Appointments Clause. As we stated there:

"While one cannot dispute the basis for [Congress' concern that an election commission exist not in whole of presidential appointees] as a practical matter, it would seem that those who sought to challenge incumbent Congressmen might have equally good reason to fear a Commission which was unduly responsive to members of Congress whom they were seeking to unseat. But such fears, however rational, do not by themselves warrant a distortion of the Framers' work." Id., at 134, 96 S.Ct., at 689 (emphasis added).

It is also plain that the application of FACA would constitute a direct and real interference with the President's exclusive responsibility to nominate federal judges. The District Court found, "at minimum, that the application of FACA to the ABA Committee would potentially inhibit the President's freedom to investigate, to be informed, to evaluate, and to consult during the nomination process," and that these consequences create an "obvious and significant potential for 'disruption' of the President's constitutional prerogative during the nomination process," 691 F.Supp. 483, 493 (DC 1988), and these findings are not contested here. As we said in the context of the pardon power, "[t]he simplest statement is the best." United States v. Klein, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.), at 148. The mere fact that FACA would regulate so as to interfere with the manner in which the President obtains information necessary to discharge his duty assigned under the Constitution to nominate federal judges is enough to invalidate the Act. "We think it unnecessary to enlarge." Ibid.

For these reasons, I concur in the judgment affirming the District Court.

NotesEdit

^1  I do not address here any possible problems under the First Amendment with the application of FACA to the ABA Committee.

^2  Although the Court cites six cases to support the view that a noncontemporaneous agency interpretation of the governing statute is entitled to less deference from a reviewing court, five of the cases do not stand for that proposition, but only quote one another on the general issue. In fact, in those cases the Court did defer to agency regulations because they were promulgated pursuant to statutory authority, constituted reasonable interpretations and practical applications of the statutory language, and reflected a consistent agency position of long standing. See ante, at 464-465, n. 12 (citing cases). All those points are true in the cases before us.

^3  No issue has been raised in this suit with respect to the Congress' power to vest the appointment of "inferior" officers in anyone other than the President. Cf. Morrison v. Olson, 487 U.S. 654, 673-677, 108 S.Ct. 2597, 2609-2612, 101 L.Ed.2d 569 (1988).

^4  Hamilton also explained why it is that the Presid nt was given the sole prerogative of nominating principal officers:

"The sole and undivided responsibility of one man will naturally beget a livelier sense of duty and a more exact regard to reputation. He will, on this account, feel himself under stronger obligations, and more interested to investigate with care the qualities requisite to the stations to be filled, and to prefer with impartiality the persons who may have the fairest pretensions to them." The Federalist No. 76, at 455-456.

^5  Our decision in Chadha might also be read for the more general principle that where an enactment transgresses the explicit distribution of power in the text of the Constitution, then regardless of whether it implicates the Legislative, the Judicial, or the Executive power, a balancing inquiry is not appropriate. I need not address the broader principle in this case.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).