Elgin v. Department of the Treasury

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Employment Law
  • Date Filed: February 27, 2012
  • Case #: 11-45
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Court Below: 641 F.3d 6 (1st Cir. 2011)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether the Civil Service Reform Act ("CSRA") prevents federal district courts from having jurisdiction over constitutional challenges to employment dismissals under the Military Selective Services Act ("MSSA").

The MSSA bars citizens and resident aliens who were required to register with the Selective Service, but “knowingly and willfully” failed to do so before age 26, from being employed with the federal government. 5 U.S.C. § 3328(a) (2006). Elgin and the other three petitioners either were discharged or resigned from federal employment when confronted with the discovery that they had failed to register with the Selective Service. The CSRA provides discharged federal employees with a remedy through the Merit Systems Protection Board (“MSPB”) and judicial review in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Petitioners challenged the MSSA’s bar to employment in federal district court, claiming that the statutory provision is an unconstitutional bill of attainder and that it violates the petitioners’ rights to equal protection. The government argued that because the CSRA provides the petitioners with a remedy through the MSPB with appellate review in the Federal Circuit, the district court does not have jurisdiction to hear petitioners’ claims. The district court refused to dismiss the claims on jurisdictional grounds but ruled against the petitioners on their constitutional claims. The First Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the lower court’s judgment and remanded for the entry of a new judgment denying relief for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the petitioners argue that the federal district courts have jurisdiction to hear petitioners’ constitutional claims and the power to grant equitable relief for the petitioners’ claims despite the CSRA procedure. The petitioners contend that Congress did not intend for the CSRA to divest the district courts of the power to review equitable constitutional claims. The petitioners argue that the MSPB review was not designed to deal with constitutional challenges to federal statutes, but was merely designed to adjudicate employee disputes. Moreover, Congress did not intend to eliminate the district courts’ authority to grant equitable relief on claims like the petitioners’ where federal statutes under which the petitioners were terminated are challenged as facially unconstitutional. Furthermore, jurisdiction in the district court is proper because the MSPB did not adequately develop the record as to petitioners’ constitutional claims, and the Federal Circuit, like the other appellate courts, cannot create the record needed to resolve the claims.

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