Judge asks attorneys to file briefs on how a Civil War era U.S. Supreme Court decision affects the city’s lawsuit against CDCR

As hard as it might be to wrap one’s head around the reality of recent actions taken by our state legislature and governor to simply repeal the laws that form the basis of an on-going constitutionally protected lawsuit for a redress of grievances filed by the city of Susanville regarding the closure of the California Correctional Center, an action visiting judge Robert F. Moody called “an absolute bombshell to this case,” he raised an interesting and provocative new wrinkle — U.S. v. Klein, a United States Supreme Court decision handed down way back in 1871.

According to Moody, the 1871 case raises “separation of powers” questions and perhaps even constitutional issues that must be addressed before the case can move forward. He called the issues this old case raises “a thicket of complexity.”

Moody acknowledged U.S. v. Klein has a “unusually checkered history,” but it has never been “displaced, criticized or set aside,” and “it still stands as a landmark case regarding the separation of powers.”

At the Tuesday, Aug. 2 hearing, Moody also denied the state’s ex parte request for a dismissal and a renewal of its demurrer as the state attorneys argued CCC workers and CDCR itself would suffer “irreparable harm” if it could not move forward with its desire to close the institution.

Moody said he understood the state’s “haste” in seeking a ruling because it is “armed with a statute,” and he acknowledged if this separation of powers issue can be resolved in the state’s favor, “that ends this case.”

A state attorney, argued even if the city wins the case, the “ultimate relief” is a “do over” that would simply send CDCR “back to the drawing board” regarding its efforts to close CCC.

And she said the separation of powers issue does not apply to this case, because “CCC, by statute, is going to close.”

She also argued Moody should dismiss the city’s lawsuit and let it file a new action if it so desired in light of the new statutes.

Moody agreed if the state wins the separation of powers debate, “the new statute is fully operative.” But he also added his concern eliminating the requirements of a California Environmental Quality Act review “may be unconstitutional.”

In any case, the judge said he was “disinclined to rule at this point” unless and until the separation of powers issue is resolved in the state’s favor.

The state also asked the court to return the funds it had provided for the special master or referee who is not currently involved with the case. Moody said he didn’t know exactly where the money is, but he would handle that.

U.S. v. Klein
U.S. v. Klein addresses issues that arose in the aftermath of the American Civil War as President Abraham Lincoln sought to bring the South and Southerners back into the Union.

According to Justia.com, Congress provided for the “collection of abandoned and captured property in insurrectionary districts” within the United States but with the government acting only as a “trustee.”

Lincoln was allowed “to offer pardon on such conditions as he might think advisable” …  “which promised a restoration of all rights, except as to slaves,”… and gave the Southern property owners a right to recover their property.

Now, see if this sounds familiar?
“During the Civil War, Congress passed a law that allowed people whose property had been seized to recover it or receive compensation if they could show that they had been loyal during the war,” according to Justia. “Klein received a presidential pardon for his actions during the war, which the Supreme Court ruled to constitute sufficient proof of loyalty. He received an award of compensation for the seizure of his property, and the government appealed it. While the appeal was pending, Congress passed a law that provided that pardons without an express disclaimer of guilt would constitute proof of disloyalty, overruling the previous Supreme Court decision. Courts also were required under the new law to dismiss claims for lack of jurisdiction if there was such a pardon.”

The Supreme Court disagreed. According to the 7-2 majority opinion, “Congress may withhold the right of appeal in certain types of cases, but it may not remove jurisdiction from a court and direct it how to decide a case. The legislative branch may not impose rules of decision on courts since they have been granted sole authority over these cases under the Constitution. Congress also has violated the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches by undermining the effect of a Presidential pardon … This decision emphasized the separation of power under the Constitution, finding that Congress had exceeded the proper scope of its authority by taking a role usually reserved to the judicial and executive branches.”

According to LexisNexis, “The Court concluded that (1) the congressional provision improperly denied the Court appellate jurisdiction regarding decisions by the Court of Claims based on such pardons and (2) the congressional provision infringed the President’s constitutional power to grant pardons.”

City of Susanville attorney Scott McLaren reported the city has heard high-ranking prison officials participated in writing AB200, the budget trailer bill that changed the law underlying this case, but he noted the city has been unable to substantiate those allegations. The judge reminded McLaren the court does not deal in suspicions.

A state attorney said CDCR was not responsible for the change in the law — that was done by the legislature — but Moody countered CDCR and the state legislature are both part of the government.

According to the discussion, if someone from CDCR actually was involved in writing AB200, they also could be in violation of the preliminary injunction issued by Lassen County Superior Court Judge Mark Nareau ordering that CDCR take no further action to close the prison until the legal issues are resolved in court.

McLaren said those providing the information to the city that CDCR officials had a role in drafting the AB20o legislation “are reluctant to come forward,” but they say CDCR officials had a role in drafting the AB200 legislation.

Next court date
Both sides will file briefs by Tuesday, Aug. 23 and the next court date will be 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 26.

“Let’s get on with this case,” Moody said.