The Supreme Court held today that constitutional challenges to administrative agencies’ structure can be brought in federal district court and need not be raised through an administrative proceeding with subsequent appellate review. The decision in Axon Enterprise, Inc. v. Federal Trade Commission (U.S. Apr. 14, 2023) – which involved challenges to two federal agencies’ use of Administrative Law Judges (“ALJs”) for enforcement proceedings – considered only the issue of where such challenges can be brought. The Court did not address substantive questions about whether the ALJ process or the agency structure itself is constitutional – hot topics that could come before the Court in other matters.
In Jarkesy v. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a remarkable opinion holding numerous aspects of the SEC’s administrative enforcement regime are unconstitutional. The May 18, 2022 ruling stands to eliminate the SEC’s ability to adjudicate enforcement actions seeking penalties using ALJs, rather than bringing suit in federal district court. It also could tee up further argument at the Supreme Court to resolve the scope of the SEC’s – and, perhaps, other administrative bodies’ – adjudicatory powers.