Eleventh Circuit Overturns Department of Labor’s Claim of Authority As “Absurd”

The U.S. Department of Labor claimed the authority to issue rules governing the H-2B guest worker program on the grounds that the underlying statute provides for it to be consulted as part of the program’s administration. On Monday, the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals curtly rebuffed this “absurd” claim. From its opinion:

In its proposed and final rules, DOL cited two statutory provisions as the source of its rulemaking authority. First, DOL cited 8 U.S.C. § 1184(c)(1), which instructs the Secretary of DHS to consult with the “appropriate agencies of the Government” in resolving whether to grant a foreign worker a visa upon the “petition of the importing employer.” Although there is no grant of rulemaking authority to DOL in this statutory section, DOL asserts that as the result of the permission it grants to DHS to consult with it, DOL “has authority to issue legislative rules to structure its consultation with DHS.” The end result, in DOL’s view, is that it is empowered to engage in rulemaking, even without the DHS.

We reject this interpretation of “consultation.” Under this theory of consultation, any federal employee with whom the Secretary of DHS deigns to consult would then have the “authority to issue legislative rules to structure [his] consultation with DHS.” This is an absurd reading of the statute and we decline to adopt it.

Meanwhile, today’s Washington Post reports that the Obama Administration is anxious to get more of its appointees confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, which hears more regulatory appeals than any other, on the grounds that the current roster of judges on the circuit too frequently strikes down the administration’s regulations as exceeding the federal government’s authority.  Perhaps the administration would not have to worry about seeing so many of its regulations struck down if it took care not to ground them on claims of authority that are “absurd.”