Oral argument: Dec. 7, 2009
Appealed from: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Aug. 22, 2008)
AGENCIES, ADMINISTRATIVE LAW, SEPARATION OF POWER, APPOINTMENTS CLAUSE, SARBANES-OXLEY ACT OF 2002
In 2002, Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in reaction to the perceived failures of the self-regulatory system for accounting procedures that led to the infamous Enron and WorldCom scandals. The Act established the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board to supervise the audit of public companies. Although the Board is under the authority of the Securities and Exchange Commission, its members are not subject to direct removal or appointment by the President and it retains the power to set and raise its own budget. In this case, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Act’s establishment of the Board is an unconstitutional violation of separation of power principles and whether the Board’s structure violates the Appointments Clause. Petitioners argue that the Act violates separation of powers by diminishing the President’s ability to control or supervise Board members. Respondents argue that the Act does not violate separation of powers because Congress can grant exclusive appointment and removal authority to the Heads of Departments. Petitioners additionally argue that the Board’s structure violates the Appointment Clause because Board members are Principal Officers and, even if they were to be construed as Inferior Officers, their appointment is still unconstitutional, because the SEC is not a “Department” and its Commissioners are not the SEC’s “Head,” as required by the Clause. In response, Respondents argue that Board members are inferior officers because they are controlled directly by the SEC, and that the SEC is in fact a “Department” over which the President can exercise broad control and the Commission is its “Head” because it exercises the SEC’s collective powers. The case will ultimately determine the permissibility of the scheme currently in place that regulates US financial markets.