United States v. Fausto

484 U. S. 439

January 25, 1988

A very low level government employee named Joseph Fausto was suspended without pay for 30 days for misconduct. He tried to challenge this suspension in court under some old laws, but the government agency responded that the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) took away his right to judicial or administrative review.

In a 5-3 ruling, the Court held that the CSRA did indeed foreclose outside review of his suspension. Scalia said that the CSRA was intended as a comprehensive regulation of the hiring and firing of government employees, and that it superseded all old legal actions that had been available. The CSRA did not have a provision for really low level employees to challenge suspensions. Scalia demonstrated that the CSRA’s structure was inconsistent with Fausto’s claimed right of judicial review. This was not repeal by implication, because the old laws he wanted to sue under still stood – only their breadth of application had changed. In a concurring opinion, Blackmun lightly hinted that there might yet be a judicial remedy for Fausto.

Stevens, joined by Brennan and Marshall, dissented. He felt that if CSRA was meant to foreclose outside review for low level workers, it should have said so directly. He further claimed that the Act’s purpose was far narrower than the majority thought – it was mainly intended to set out standards for higher level workers, and not act as the complete set of standards for all of them. Stevens contended that the majority’s reading was indeed an effective repeal by implication, and noted that Congress had directly amended many other laws whose operation was directly touched by the CSRA.

It’s cases like this where I don’t know who to believe. It almost makes you wish that the Supreme Court could gather all the surviving members of the 95th Congress together and poll them on the legal question in this case. As absurd as that sounds, it does seem like the fairest and most accurate way to figure out the CSRA’s true intended effect. When statutes are clear, everything is cool. When they’re not clear, trying to discern the correct interpretation can be nigh impossible.

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