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Returning Separation-of-Powers Analysis to Its Normative Roots: The Constitutionality of Qui Tam Actions and Other Private Suits to Enforce Civil Fines
Environmental Law Reporter (2000)
  • Peter M. Shane, Ohio State University - Main Campus
This paper examines the status of debates concerning the constitutionality of private suits to enforce civil fines in light of the Supreme Court's decisions in Vermont Agency of Natural Resources v. United States ex rel. Stevens and Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw Environmental Services, as well as a pending Fifth Circuit decision in United States ex rel. Riley v. St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital. The two Supreme Court opinions have upheld qui tam and citizen suits against standing challenges, but have reserved the question of their constitutionality under Article II. The Riley panel opinion held qui tam actions to be unconstitutional under Article II, but the Fifth Circuit took the matter en banc on its own motion on the very day the opinion was published.  (Subsequent to the publication of this article, the Fifth Circuit overturned the panel opinion and upheld the constitutionality of qui tam actions, Riley v. St. Luke's Episcopal Hosp., 252 F.3d 749 (5th Cir. 2001).)

In the author's judgment, all such private suits to enforce civil fines are plainly constitutional under both Article II and Article III. That such suits appear to raise constitutional doubts is the consequence of missteps in the Supreme Court's implementation of separation of powers principles. The Court, led chiefly in this respect by Justice Scalia, has written often as if constitutionally vested executive authority guarantees the President plenary policy control over all federal civil administration, and as if the purpose of standing doctrine were largely to protect such executive authority from judicial interference. The author believes that the vesting of executive power is better understood as an effort to remove Congress from the business of administration. Standing rules, for their part, ought chiefly to be understood as protecting the judiciary from the dilution of judicial power that would come from the resolution of abstract or collusive litigation. The author explains why the Court should go back to requiring no more as a matter of standing doctrine than that a case be presented in an adversary context and in a manner historically viewed as capable of judicial resolution. The Court's injury, causality, and redressability inquiries should be abandoned in favor of a more straightforward questioning whether plaintiffs in federal lawsuits have constitutional or statutory causes of action to support their complaints. In Article II cases, the Court should adhere to the analytic framework of Morrison v. Olson, and abandon the more wooden and categorical approach to interpreting executive power that informs Justice Scalia's Morrison dissent and his alternative holding in Printz v. United States.
  • standing,
  • executive power,
  • presidential power,
  • environmental law,
  • qui tam,
  • citizen suits,
  • separation of powers,
  • Article II,
  • Article III
Publication Date
Citation Information
Peter M. Shane. "Returning Separation-of-Powers Analysis to Its Normative Roots: The Constitutionality of Qui Tam Actions and Other Private Suits to Enforce Civil Fines" Environmental Law Reporter (2000)
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