In an opinion released today involving the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Executive Branch has no authority to disregard congressional mandates merely on policy grounds.

This obviously has important implications for Obama’s decisions to disregard congressional mandates in areas such as immigration, and even as to Obamacare itself as to which Obama unilaterally has delayed implementation of certain key aspects.

The case is In Re: Aiken County (full opinion embedded at bottom of post) (h/t Don Willet):

This case raises significant questions about the scope of the Executive’s authority to disregard federal statutes. The case arises out of a longstanding dispute about nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The underlying policy debate is not our concern. The policy is for Congress and the President to establish as they see fit in enacting statutes, and for the President and subordinate executive agencies (as well as relevant independent agencies such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) to implement within statutory boundaries. Our more modest task is to ensure, in justiciable cases, that agencies comply with the law as it has been set by Congress.
Here, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has continued to violate the law governing the Yucca Mountain licensing process. We therefore grant the petition for a writ of mandamus…..

Our analysis begins with settled, bedrock principles of constitutional law. Under Article II of the Constitution and relevant Supreme Court precedents, the President must follow statutory mandates so long as there is appropriated money available and the President has no constitutional objection to the statute. So, too, the President must abide by statutory prohibitions unless the President has a constitutional objection to the prohibition. If the President has a constitutional objection to a statutory mandate or prohibition, the President may decline to follow the law unless and until a final Court order dictates otherwise. But the President may not decline to follow a statutory mandate or prohibition simply because of policy objections. Of course, if Congress appropriates no money for a statutorily mandated program, the Executive obviously cannot move forward. But absent a black of funds or a claim of unconstitutionality that has not been rejected by final Court order, the Executive must abide by statutory mandates and prohibitions….

In this case, however, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has declined to continue the statutorily mandated Yucca Mountain licensing process. Several justifications have been suggested in support of the Commission’s actions in this case. None is persuasive….

This case does not involve a Commission decision not to prosecute violations of federal law. Rather, this case involves a Commission decision not to follow a law mandating that the Commission take certain non-prosecutorial action. So the Executive’s power of prosecutorial discretion provides no support for the Commission’s inaction and disregard of federal law here….

This case has serious implications for our constitutional structure. It is no overstatement to say that our constitutional system of separation of powers would be significantly altered if we were to allow executive and independent agencies to disregard federal law in the manner asserted in this case by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Ironically, while Obama arguably is violating the principles articulated by the Court here when it comes to unilateral decisions not implement parts of Obamacare, who will bring suit to force Obama to implement Obamacare as written?

Are Republicans, who want Obamacare defunded and repealed, willing to force Obamacare to fail of its own weight by seeking an injunction requiring that the law be implemented as written?

Yucca Mountain Case – D.C. Circuit Court Opinion

 
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