515 U.S. 177 (1995), 94-431, Ryder v. United States

Docket Nº:Case No. 94-431
Citation:515 U.S. 177, 115 S.Ct. 2031, 132 L.Ed.2d 136, 63 U.S.L.W. 4516
Party Name:Ryder v. United States
Case Date:June 12, 1995
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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515 U.S. 177 (1995)

115 S.Ct. 2031, 132 L.Ed.2d 136, 63 U.S.L.W. 4516

Ryder

v.

United States

Case No. 94-431

United States Supreme Court

June 12, 1995

Argued April 18, 1995

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ARMED FORCES

Syllabus

Petitioner, an enlisted member of the Coast Guard, was convicted by a court-martial of drug offenses, and the Coast Guard Court of Military Review affirmed. On rehearing, that court rejected petitioner's claim that its composition violated the Appointments Clause, U.S. Const., Art. II, § 2, cl. 2, because two of the judges on petitioner's three-judge panel were civilians appointed by the General Counsel of the Department of Transportation. The Court of Military Appeals agreed with petitioner that the appointments violated the Clause under its previous decision in United States v. Carpenter, 37 M. J. 291, that appellate military judges are inferior officers who must be appointed by a President, a court of law, or a head of a department. The court nonetheless affirmed petitioner's conviction on the ground that the actions of the two civilian judges were valid de facto, citing Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976) (per curiam).

Held:

The Court of Military Appeals erred in according de facto validity to the actions of the civilian judges of the Coast Guard Court of Military Review. Pp. 180-188.

(a) The de facto officer doctrine—which confers validity upon acts performed under the color of official title even though it is later discovered that the legality of the actor's appointment or election to office is deficient—cannot be invoked to authorize the actions of the judges in question. Those cases in which this Court relied upon the doctrine in deciding criminal defendants' challenges to the authority of a judge who participated in the proceedings leading to their conviction and sentence, see, e.g., Ball v. United States, 140 U.S. 118, are distinguishable here because, inter alia, petitioner's claim is that there has been a trespass upon the constitutional power of appointment, not merely a misapplication of a statute providing for the assignment of already appointed judges. One who makes a timely challenge to the constitutionality of the appointment of an officer who adjudicates his case is entitled to a decision on the merits of the question and whatever relief may be appropriate if a violation indeed occurred. Cf. Glidden Co. v. Zdanok, 370 U.S. 530, 536. Any other rule would create a disincentive to raise Appointments Clause challenges with respect to questionable judicial appointments. Buckley v. Valeo and Connor v. Williams, 404 U.S. 549,

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which Buckley cited as authority, were civil cases that did not explicitly rely on the de facto officer doctrine in validating the past acts of public officials against constitutional challenges, and this Court is not inclined to extend those cases beyond their facts. Pp. 180-184.

(b) The Court rejects the Government's several alternative defenses of the Court of Military Appeals' decision to give its Carpenter holding prospective application only. First, the argument that the latter court exercised remedial discretion pursuant to Chevron Oil Co. v. Huson, 404 U.S. 97, is unavailing because there is not the sort of grave disruption or inequity involved in awarding retrospective relief to this petitioner that would bring the Chevron Oil doctrine into play. Nor is it persuasively argued that qualified immunity, which specially protects public officials from damages liability for judgment calls made in a legally uncertain environment, should be extended to protect such officials from Appointments Clause attacks, which do not involve personal damages, but can only invalidate actions taken pursuant to defective title. Similarly, the practice of denying criminal defendants an exclusionary remedy from Fourth Amendment violations when those errors occur despite the Government actors' good faith, United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, does not require the affirmance of petitioner's conviction, since no collateral consequence arises from rectifying an Appointments Clause violation, see id., at 907, and such rectification provides a suitable incentive to make challenges under the Clause, see id., at 918-921. Finally, the Government's harmless-error argument need not be considered, since it was not raised below and there is no indication that the Court of Military Appeals determined that no harm occurred in this case. The related argument that any defect in the Court of Military Review proceedings was in effect cured by review in the Court of Military Appeals must be rejected because of the difference in function and authority between the two courts. Petitioner is therefore entitled to a hearing before a properly appointed panel of the Coast Guard Court of Military Review. Pp. 184-188.

39 M. J. 454, reversed and remanded.

Allen Lotz argued the cause and filed a brief for petitioner. With him on the briefs were G. Arthur Robbins and Alan B. Morrison. Deputy Solicitor General Wallace argued the cause for the United States. On the brief were Solicitor General

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Days, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, Malcolm L. Stewart, and Paul M. Geier.

Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, an enlisted member of the United States Coast Guard, challenges his conviction by a court-martial. His conviction was affirmed first by the Coast Guard Court of Military Review, and then by the United States Court of Military Appeals.[1] The latter court agreed with petitioner that the two civilian judges who served on the Court of Military Review had not been appointed in accordance with the dictates of the Appointments Clause, U.S. Const., Art. II, § 2, cl. 2, but nonetheless held that the actions of those judges were valid de facto. We hold that the judges' actions were not valid de facto.

Petitioner was convicted of several drug offenses, and was sentenced by a general court-martial to five years' confinement (later reduced to three years), forfeiture of pay, reduction in grade, and a dishonorable discharge. He appealed to the Coast Guard Court of Military Review, which, except in one minor aspect, affirmed his conviction. 34 M. J. 1077(1992). On request for rehearing, petitioner challenged the composition of that court as violative of the Appointments Clause of the Constitution because two of the judges on the three-judge panel were civilians appointed by the General Counsel of the Department of Transportation. The court granted rehearing and rejected this challenge. 34 M. J. 1259 (1992).

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The Court of Military Appeals likewise affirmed petitioner's conviction, 39 M. J. 454 (1994), although it agreed with petitioner that the appellate judges on the Coast Guard Court of Military Review had been appointed in violation of the Appointments Clause. The court relied for this conclusion on its previous decision in United States v. Carpenter, 37 M. J. 291 (1993), where it had decided that appellate military judges are inferior officers whose service requires appointment by a President, a court of law, or a head of a department. U.S. Const., Art. II, § 2, cl. 2.[2] Despite finding a constitutional violation in the appointment of two judges on petitioner's three-judge appellate panel, the Court of Military Appeals affirmed his conviction on the ground that the actions of these judges were valid de facto, citing Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976) (per curiam). We granted certiorari. 513 U.S. 1071 (1995).

The de facto officer doctrine confers validity upon acts performed by a person acting under the color of official title even though it is later discovered that the legality of that person's appointment or election to office is deficient. Norton v. Shelby County, 118 U.S. 425, 440 (1886). "The de facto doctrine springs from the fear of the chaos that would result from multiple and repetitious suits challenging every action taken by every official whose claim to office could be open to question, and seeks to protect the public by insuring the orderly functioning of the government despite technical defects in title to office." 63A Am. Jur. 2d, Public Officers

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and Employees § 578, pp. 1080-1081 (1984) (footnote omitted). The doctrine has been relied upon by this Court in several cases involving challenges by criminal defendants to the authority of a judge who participated in some part of the proceedings leading to their conviction and sentence.

In Ball v. United States, 140 U.S. 118 (1891), a Circuit Judge assigned a District Judge from the Western District of Louisiana to sit in the Eastern District of Texas as a replacement for the resident judge who had fallen ill and who later died. The assigned judge continued to sit until the successor to the deceased judge was duly appointed. The assigned judge had sentenced Ball after the resident judge had died, and Ball made no objection at that time. Ball later moved in arrest of judgment challenging the sentence imposed upon him by the assigned judge after the death of the resident judge, but this Court held that the assigned judge "was judge de facto if not de jure, and his acts as such are not open to collateral attack." Id., at 128-129.

Similarly, in McDowell v. United States, 159 U.S. 596(1895), a Circuit Judge assigned a judge from the Eastern District of North Carolina to sit as a District Judge in the District of South Carolina until a vacancy in the latter district was filled. McDowell was indicted and convicted during the term in which the assigned judge served, but made no objection at the time of...

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