Notice & Comment

D.C. Circuit Review – Reviewed: Win or Lose

Belatedly, here are the summaries of last week’s decisions. Yesterday’s unsealed opinion in United States v. Trump will await a future post.  Both decisions from last week come in lawsuits against Attorney General Garland relating to matters that have been in the news.

The first, Langeman v. Garland, concerns the FBI’s decision to terminate Michael Langeman as a Special Agent for his role in mishandling an investigation into sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, a physician for USA Gymnastics. Among other things, Langeman argued that the summary termination deprived him of a property right in his employment created by a 1997 FBI memorandum that set forth standard procedures for terminating FBI employees. The district court rejected his claim because the memorandum expressly preserved FBI’s summary dismissal authority, meaning Langeman had no property interest in his employment. The panel (Judge Childs, joined by Judges Katsas and Pan) affirmed.

The second, Saline Parents v. Garland, arises from an Attorney General memorandum directing DOJ to investigate reported incidents of harassment and threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff. The memorandum issued after the National School Boards Association wrote a controversial letter to President Biden describing recent parent protest activities relating to schools’ COVID response and curriculum concerning race as a form of “domestic terrorism.” Parents from Saline, Michigan, and Loudon County, Virginia, believed that the DOJ memorandum was directed at their spirited but lawful advocacy. They sought a declaration that the agency’s actions targeting them for constitutionally protected conduct are unlawful. Below, the government agreed that the conduct described in the complaint was constitutionally protected and not the sort of harassment or intimidation described in the memorandum.

The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of standing, and the D.C. Circuit (Judge Edwards, joined by Judges Rao and Pan) affirmed. The Court held that the parents had failed to allege an injury-in-fact, either from a threat of enforcement or from reputational harm. The memorandum, the Court reasoned, was not “regulatory, proscriptive, or compulsory,” and the parents’ position—combined with the government’s agreement—that their conduct was lawful undermined the inference that they were the targets of an investigation directed at criminal conduct. For similar reasons, the Court also held that the pre-enforcement challenge was not ripe for adjudication.

The parents may technically have lost this appeal, but with their dismissal comes something akin to the relief they sought: a recognition that their advocacy–at least as described in the complaint–was lawful.

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