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Trouble With A Capital C: Cordray’s Move To Name His Own Successor At The CFPB

In contrast to his big wins on Jeopardy! in the 1980s, Richard Cordray lost badly in 2017 after staking so much on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (“CFPB”) Final Rule, which would have prohibited the use of class action waivers in the arbitration clauses of consumer financial contracts, such as credit card agreements and mortgages. The CFPB’s Final Rule drew sharp, valid criticism from both the U.S. Treasury Department and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. After the House of Representatives and the Senate acted pursuant to the Congressional Review Act to nullify the Final Rule, Mr. Cordray pleaded unsuccessfully with President Trump for a veto. It is unsurprising, really, that he decided to step down far earlier than anticipated.

Mr. Cordray’s parting-shot - his effort to name his own successor by appointing a presumably sympathetic Deputy Director - will likely miss its mark. Under the provision of Dodd-Frank that Senator Elizabeth Warren has cited in support of Mr. Cordray’s maneuver, the CFPB’s Deputy Director serves as acting Director only “in the absence or unavailability of the Director” (12 U.S.C. § 5491(b)(5)), not in the event the Director resigns. Moreover, 12 U.S.C. § 5491(b)(3) states that, “…the Director shall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.”  Senator Warren’s November 24th “tweet,” that “if there is a [CFPB] Director vacancy, the Deputy Director becomes the Acting Director … [and] [President Trump] can’t override that[,]” simply appears to read too much into the provision of Dodd-Frank she cites.

In fact, the appropriate legislation appears to us to be the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, which provides in pertinent part as follows:

(a) If an officer of an Executive agency (including the Executive Office of the President, and other than the Government Accountability Office) whose appointment to office is required to be made by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, dies, resigns (italics supplied), or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office—

(1)  the first assistant to the office of such officer shall perform the functions and duties of the office temporarily in an acting capacity subject to the time limitations of section 3346;

(2) notwithstanding paragraph (1) (italics supplied), the President (and only the President) may direct a person who serves in an office for which appointment is required to be made by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to perform the functions and duties of the vacant office temporarily in an acting capacity subject to the time limitations of section 3346; or

(3) notwithstanding paragraph (1) (italics supplied), the President (and only the President) may direct an officer or employee of such Executive agency to perform the functions and duties of the vacant office temporarily in an acting capacity, subject to the time limitations of section 3346, if—

(A) during the 365-day period preceding the date of death, resignation, or beginning of inability to serve of the applicable officer, the officer or employee served in a position in such agency for not less than 90 days; and

(B) the rate of pay for the position described under subparagraph (A) is equal to or greater than the minimum rate of pay payable for a position at GS–15 of the General Schedule. (5 U.S.C. § 3345(a)).

The late Justice Felix Frankfurter once observed that the three fundamental rules of statutory interpretation are: 1) read the statute, 2) Read The Statute, and 3) READ THE STATUTE.

These issues will now be resolved in court after Leandra English, the Deputy Director, filed a lawsuit late Sunday night, seeking to block President Trump's choice of OMB Director Mick Mulvaney as the agency's acting director. Download a copy of the lawsuit (PDF). The Hinshaw team will keep you posted as this controversy plays out.

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