Synar v. United States, Civ. A. No. 85-3945

Decision Date07 February 1986
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 85-3945,85-4106.
Citation626 F. Supp. 1374
PartiesRepresentative Mike SYNAR, et al., Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES of America, Defendant, United States Senate, Speaker and Bipartisan Leadership Group of the United States House of Representatives, Comptroller General of the United States, Intervenors. NATIONAL TREASURY EMPLOYEES UNION, Plaintiff, v. UNITED STATES of America, Defendant, United States Senate, Speaker and Bipartisan Leadership Group of the United States House of Representatives, Comptroller General of the United States, Intervenors.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia


Alan B. Morrison, with whom Katherine A. Meyer was on brief, for plaintiffs in No. 85-3945.

Lois G. Williams, with whom Gregory O'Duden and Richard S. Edelman were on brief, for plaintiff in No. 85-4106.

Richard K. Willard, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom Joseph E. diGenova, U.S. Atty., David J. Anderson, Branch Director, Neil H. Koslowe, Sp. Litigation Counsel, and Douglas Letter, Harold J. Krent, Robert E. Kopp, Leonard Schaitman, Judith Ledbetter, Lee Sarah Liberman, Lori Fields and Richard Greenberg, Attys., U.S. Dept. of Justice, were on brief, for defendant U.S.

Michael Davidson, Counsel, with whom Ken U. Benjamin, Deputy Counsel, and Morgan J. Frankel and John C. Grabow, Asst. Counsel, U.S. Senate, were on brief, for intervenor-defendant U.S. Senate.

Steven R. Ross, Gen. Counsel, with whom Charles Tiefer, Deputy Gen. Counsel, and Michael L. Murray, Asst. Counsel to the Clerk of U.S. House of Representatives, were on brief, for intervenor-defendant Speaker and Bipartisan Leadership Group of U.S. House of Representatives.

Lloyd N. Cutler, with whom Harry R. Van Cleve, Gen. Counsel, James F. Hinchman, Deputy Gen. Counsel, Robert P. Murphy, Attorney-Advisor, U.S. Gen. Accounting Office, John H. Pickering, William T. Lake, Michael S. Helfer, Daniel M. Drory and Richard K. Lahne were on brief, for intervenor-defendant Comptroller General of U.S.

Before SCALIA, Circuit Judge, JOHNSON, District Judge and GASCH, Senior District Judge.


Plaintiffs in these consolidated cases challenge the constitutionality of certain features of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, Pub.L. No. 99-177, 99 Stat. 1037, popularly known as the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, signed into law by President Reagan on December 12, 1985. The principal issues presented are whether the plaintiffs, Members of Congress and the National Treasury Employees Union, have standing to litigate the points they raise; whether the Act unconstitutionally delegates legislative powers that may be exercised only by Congress; and, if not, whether it confers upon the Comptroller General executive powers that may not constitutionally be given to an officer removable by Congress. We find that plaintiffs in both cases have standing, and that the powers in question may lawfully be delegated, but that the delegation to the Comptroller General violates the constitutionally requisite separation of powers.


In the Act, Congress has set a "maximum deficit amount" for each of the fiscal years 1986 through 1991, its size progressively reducing to zero in fiscal year 1991. Section 251 provides that each year the Directors of the Office of Management and Budget ("OMB") and the Congressional Budget Office ("CBO") shall estimate the amount of the deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, and, if it exceeds the maximum deficit amount for that fiscal year by more than a specified amount, shall calculate, program by program pursuant to rules specified in the Act, the budget reductions necessary to ensure that the deficit does not exceed the maximum deficit amount for that year. The Directors must jointly report their deficit estimates and budget reduction calculations to the Comptroller General. After reviewing the Directors' report, the Comptroller General must issue his own report, containing his deficit estimates and budget reduction calculations, to the President and Congress. Section 252 of the Act requires the President to issue a "sequestration" order containing the budget reductions specified by the Comptroller General. After a prescribed time, the sequestration order becomes effective and the spending reductions included in that order are automatically made. The automatic deficit reduction process for fiscal year 1986 has progressed to the point of issuance, on February 1, 1986, of the presidential sequestration order, which will take effect on March 1, 1986. See Order, Emergency Deficit Control Measures for Fiscal Year 1986 (Feb. 1, 1986).

The Act also provides what might be called a "fallback" deficit reduction process, to take effect if any of the reporting procedures of the above-described "automatic" deficit reduction process are found unconstitutional. Under the fallback process, the report prepared by the Directors of the OMB and the CBO is submitted, instead of to the Comptroller General, to a special joint committee of Congress, which must in five days report to both Houses a joint resolution setting forth the contents of the Directors' report. The joint resolution is then considered under special rules, and, if passed and signed by the President, serves as the basis for the presidential sequestration order under section 252.

Civil Action No. 85-3945, seeking declaratory relief against the United States, was commenced on December 12, 1985 by Mike Synar, a Member of the House of Representatives who voted against the Act. An amended complaint, filed on December 19, 1985, added as plaintiffs eleven other Representatives who voted against the Act. Jurisdiction is averred to exist pursuant to subsection 274(a)(1) of the Act, which authorizes any Member of Congress to bring an action in this court "for declaratory and injunctive relief on the ground that any presidential order that might be issued pursuant to section 252 violates the Constitution."1

The complaint alleges that the automatic deficit reduction process, under which the President is required by section 252 to issue a sequestration order implementing the report issued by the Comptroller General pursuant to section 251, is unconstitutional in two respects. Plaintiffs' first contention, briefly and essentially, is that the delegation of power by Congress to the President and other government officials is an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power. Their second contention is that the powers assigned to the Comptroller General and the Director of the CBO, both deemed legislative branch officials by plaintiffs, constitutionally must be assigned to executive branch officials. The Representatives allege that these unconstitutional provisions injure them by (1) interfering with their constitutional duties to enact laws regarding federal spending; (2) causing automatic reductions in their salaries, staff salaries, and office expenses; and (3) causing automatic reductions in a variety of programs benefiting their constituents. They seek a judgment declaring that the automatic deficit reduction process is unconstitutional and that the President is without power, therefore, to order spending reductions pursuant to that process.

In response to the Synar complaint, the United States filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that the congressional plaintiffs lack standing to bring the action. The United States Senate and the Comptroller General moved for leave to intervene as defendants and also filed motions to dismiss on the ground that the Act is constitutional. The unopposed motions to intervene were granted on December 31, 1985.

Civil Action No. 85-4106, challenging the constitutionality of the automatic deficit reduction process on legal theories identical to those presented in the Synar action, was filed on December 31, 1985 by the National Treasury Employees Union ("NTEU"). NTEU, an unincorporated association representing the interests of both active and retired federal employees, alleges that its retired members have been injured as a result of the Act's automatic spending reduction provisions, which have operated to suspend cost-of-living adjustments ("COLAs") otherwise due federal retirees on January 1, 1986, and which will operate to cancel those COLAs and other COLAs due in the future. NTEU invokes the court's jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and to subsection 274(a)(2) of the Act, which provides, in pertinent part, that "any other person adversely affected by an action taken under this title, may bring an action in this court for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief concerning the constitutionality of this title." By Order dated January 2, 1986, the NTEU suit was consolidated with the earlier action.

Subsequent to consolidation, the congressional plaintiffs and NTEU filed their respective motions for summary judgment on January 6, 1986. The congressional plaintiffs also filed an opposition to the motion of the United States to dismiss their complaint for lack of standing. Thereafter, on January 8, 1986, the Speaker and Bipartisan Leadership Group of the United States House of Representatives, granted leave to intervene as a defendant in the consolidated cases, filed a memorandum of law in support of the constitutionality of the Act.

The United States filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, again contending that the complaint of the congressional plaintiffs must be dismissed for lack of standing but conceding that NTEU appears to have standing. On the merits, the position of the United States is that the Act does not unconstitutionally delegate legislative authority but that the role of the Comptroller General in the automatic deficit reduction process violates the principle of separation of powers.2

The motions of plaintiffs for summary judgment, as well as the cross-motion of the United States for summary judgment on the merits, are opposed by the Senate, the Comptroller General, and the Speaker...

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