End of the semester reading assignments for those interested in topics related to FCPA enforcement.
Thus far in 2014, every SEC FCPA enforcement action (both corporate and individual) has been resolved via the SEC’s administrative process. Against this backdrop, Judge Jed Rakoff’s (S.D.N.Y.) recent speech “Is the SEC Becoming a Law Unto Itself” is a suggested read.
Prosecutorial common law most certainly impacts FCPA enforcement. My amicus brief filed in connection with the recent Supreme Court “foreign official” cert petition highlighted, among other things, how judicial percolation of the “foreign official” issue is unlikely given how the FCPA is enforced. Against this backdrop, a recent statement by Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas is a suggested read.
Both suggested reads are excerpted below.
Judge Rakoff’s Speech
In this recent speech Judge Jed Rakoff (S.D.N.Y.) asks “is the SEC becoming a law unto itself” and discusses “some dangers that seem to lurk … in the SEC’s apparent new policy of bringing a greater percentage of its significant enforcement actions as administrative proceedings.” In pertinent part, Judge Rakoff stated:
“[I]n recent months the S.E.C. has signaled its intention to bring as administrative actions certain kinds of enforcement actions that historically it has more often brought in the federal courts. As early as October of 2013, Andrew Ceresney, Director of the Division of Enforcement, stated that “Our expectation is that we will be bringing more administrative proceedings given the recent statutory changes.” He followed that up last June when, with specific reference to insider trading cases, which previously had only very rarely been brought administratively, rather than in federal court, Mr. Ceresney stated: “I do think we will bring more insider-trading cases as administrative proceedings in appropriate cases.” Not to be outdone, Kara Brockmeyer, the head of the SEC’s antiforeign- corruption enforcement unit, stated just two weeks ago that “It’s fair to say it’s the new normal. Just like the rest of the enforcement division, we’re moving towards using administrative proceedings more frequently.”
Judge Rakoff next provided an informative historical overview of the SEC’s evolving enforcement powers including recent Section 929 of Dodd-Frank which gave the SEC the power through internal administrative proceedings to impose monetary penalties.
In the words of Judge Rakoff:
“The net result of all this is that the S.E.C. can today obtain through internal administrative proceedings nearly everything it might obtain by going to court. This sea-change has come about almost entirely at the request of the S.E.C., usually by tacking the provisions authorizing such expansion onto one or another statute enacted in the wake of a financial scandal.
What has been the stated rationale for all these changes? Usually nothing more than a claim of greater efficiency. Thus, for example, when then-Director of Enforcement Robert Khuzami submitted a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of Dodd-Frank, he devoted all of one sentence to what became Section 929P(a), stating: “Additional legislative proposals that would serve to enhance the Division’s effectiveness and efficiency include the ability to seek civil penalties in [administrative] cease-and-desist proceedings.” Similarly, the sole legislative history of Section 929P(a) in the House Report on Dodd-Frank states that “This section streamlines the SEC’s existing enforcement authorities by permitting the SEC to seek civil money penalties in cease-and-desist proceedings under Federal securities laws.”
While a claim to greater efficiency by any federal bureaucracy suggests a certain chutzpah, it is hard to find a better example of what is sometimes disparagingly called “administrative creep” than this expansion of the S.E.C.’s internal enforcement power.
To be sure, an S.E.C. enforcement action brought internally is in some superficial respects more “effective and efficient” and more “streamlined” than a similar action brought in federal court, for the simple reason that S.E.C. administrative proceedings involve much more limited discovery than federal actions, with no provision whatsoever for either depositions or interrogatories. Similarly, at the hearing itself, the Federal Rules of Evidence do not apply and the S.E.C. is free to introduce hearsay. Further still, there is no jury, and the matter is decided by an administrative law judge appointed and paid by the S.E.C. It is hardly surprising in these circumstances that the S.E.C. won 100% of its internal administrative hearings in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2014, whereas it won only 61% of its trials in federal court during the same period.
But, although the informality and arguable unfairness of S.E.C. administrative proceedings might present serious problems for those defending such actions, you might suppose that federal judges would be delighted to have fewer complicated securities cases burdening their overcrowded dockets. The reason, though, that I suggest that the judiciary and the public should be concerned about any trend toward preferring the S.E.C.’s internal administrative forum to the federal courts is that it hinders the balanced development of the securities laws.”
[G]iven the expansion of its internal jurisdiction occasioned by Dodd-Frank, the S.E.C. might well be tempted in the future to bring such cases as administrative enforcement actions, and thereby likely avoid the sting of well-publicized defeats. But the result would be that the law in such cases would effectively be made, not by neutral federal courts, but by S.E.C. administrative judges.
This is because, at least in the case of administrative decisions that have been formally approved by the S.E.C., such decisions, though appealable to the federal courts of appeals, are presumed correct unless unreasonable. In other words, while the decisions of federal district courts on matters of law are subject to de novo review by the appellate courts, the law as determined by an administrative law judge in a formal administrative decision must be given deference by federal courts unless the decision is not within the range of reasonable interpretations.
To put it in terms that this audience is familiar with, an S.E.C. administrative judge’s formal ruling on an otherwise undecided issue of statutory interpretation of the securities law is, just like rules enacted by the Commission, entitled to “Chevron” deference.”
In short, what you have here are broad anti-fraud provisions, critical to the transparency of the securities markets, that have historically been construed and elaborated by the federal courts but that, under Dodd-Frank, could increasingly be construed and interpreted by the S.E.C.’s administrative law judges if the S.E.C. chose to bring its more significant cases in that forum. Whatever one might say about the S.E.C.’s quasijudicial functions, this is unlikely, I submit, to lead to as balanced, careful, and impartial interpretations as would result from having those cases brought in federal court.
In the short-run, this would be unfair to the litigants. In the longer-run, it might not be good for the S.E.C. itself, which has its own reputation for fairness to consider. But, most of all, in the both the short-run and the long-run, it would not be good for the impartial development of the law in an area of immense practical importance.
Almost from the very outset of the administrative state, the defense of the huge power we accord to administrative agencies – as classically stated by the second Chairman of the S.E.C., James Landis, in his book The Administrative Process – is that no practical alternative exists in our complex society. But when it comes to interpreting the securities laws, a practical alternative – and the very one provided by the Constitution – has functioned very effectively for decades, namely, adjudication in the federal courts. I see no good reason to displace that constitutional alternative with administrative fiat, and I would urge the S.E.C. to consider that it is neither in its own longterm interest, nor in the interest of the securities markets, nor in the interest of the public as a whole, for the S.E.C. to become, in effect, a law onto itself.”
Justice Scalia / Thomas Statement
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court denied cert in an insider trading case, Whitman v. United States. Much of the news surrounding the denial though focused on this statement by Justice Scalia and joined by Justice Thomas. The statement reads in full (internal citations omitted) as follows.
“A court owes no deference to the prosecution’s interpretation of a criminal law. Criminal statutes “are for the
courts, not for the Government, to construe.” This case, a criminal prosecution under §10(b) of the Securities
Exchange Act of 1934 raises a related question: Does a court owe deference to an executive agency’s interpretation of a law that contemplates both criminal and administrative enforcement?
The Second Circuit thought it does. It deferred to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s interpretation of §10(b), and on that basis affirmed petitioner Douglas Whitman’s criminal conviction. Its decision tilled no new ground. Other Courts of Appeals have deferred to executive interpretations of a variety of laws that have both criminal and administrative applications.
I doubt the Government’s pretensions to deference. They collide with the norm that legislatures, not executive officers, define crimes. When King James I tried to create new crimes by royal command, the judges responded that “the King cannot create any offence by his prohibition or proclamation, which was not an offence before.” James I, however, did not have the benefit of Chevron deference. With deference to agency interpretations of statutory provisions to which criminal prohibitions are attached, federal administrators can in effect create (and uncreate) new crimes at will, so long as they do not roam beyond ambiguities that the laws contain. Undoubtedly Congress may make it a crime to violate a regulation, but it is quite a different matter for Congress to give agencies—let alone for us to presume that Congress gave agencies—power to resolve ambiguities in criminal legislation.
The Government’s theory that was accepted here would, in addition, upend ordinary principles of interpretation. The rule of lenity requires interpreters to resolve ambiguity in criminal laws in favor of defendants. Deferring to the prosecuting branch’s expansive views of these statutes “would turn [their] normal construction . . . upside-down, replacing the doctrine of lenity with a doctrine of severity.”
The best that one can say for the Government’s position is that in Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter, Communities for Great Ore., 515 U. S. 687 (1995), we deferred, with scarcely any explanation, to an agency’s interpretation of a law lenity aside in a footnote, stating that “[w]e have never suggested that the rule of lenity should provide the standard for reviewing facial challenges to administrative regulations.” That statement contradicts the many cases before and since holding that, if a law has both criminal and civil applications, the rule of lenity governs its interpretation in both settings. The footnote in Babbitt added that the regulation at issue was clear enough to fulfill the rule of lenity’s purpose of providing “fair warning” to would-be violators. But that is not the only function performed by the rule of lenity; equally important, it vindicates the principle that only the legislature may define crimes and fix punishments. Congress cannot, through ambiguity, effectively leave that function to the courts—much less to the administrative bureaucracy. Babbitt’s drive-by ruling, in short, deserves little weight.
Whitman does not seek review on the issue of deference, and the procedural history of the case in any event makes it a poor setting in which to reach the question. So I agree with the Court that we should deny the petition. But when a petition properly presenting the question comes before us, I will be receptive to granting it.”