to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States.
The essential claim in Humphrey "was that Congress must affirmatively set its own salaries, and may not, in conformity with the Ascertainment Clause, delegate this responsibility to the President." Humphrey, 848 F.2d at 216. The Court rejected this argument.
Plaintiffs argue that, under the 27th amendment, Humphrey is no longer good law. The Court disagrees. The 27th amendment does nothing to alter Congress' legitimate delegation of responsibilities to implement a duly enacted salary structure and adjustment mechanism. Plaintiffs do not provide, and the Court cannot find, any convincing evidence that the drafters and ratifiers of the amendment contemplated such a far-fetched interpretation of the amendment.
Second, plaintiffs suggest that each COLA constitutes a separate law, which varies Congress' compensation before an election has intervened and which therefore violates the 27th Amendment. This argument is equally far-fetched. The annual COLAs are not subject to the bi-cameralism requirements of the Constitution; each year the COLA becomes effective by the terms of the 1989 Act; no additional law is necessary. In short, each COLA is not a law and, therefore, is not subject to the requirements of the 27th amendment. Hence, no additional intervening elections are necessary before each COLA can take effect.
In passing the Ethics Reform Act, Congress determined to provide automatic annual adjustments to its Members salaries, in order to keep up with inflation and earnings in the private sector. To implement its decision, Congress prescribed a COLA formula and delegated the tasks of calculating and otherwise implementing the COLA to officials at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and at Congress. This is a classic example of an authorized delegation of responsibility to perform non-policy, ministerial tasks, a delegation which the Court cannot read the 27th amendment to prohibit.
Plaintiffs have asked the Court to address two narrow provisions of the Ethics Reform Act, while ignoring the crucial interrelation between these provisions and the rest of the Act. Such an approach would work a great disservice to the painstaking and conscientious work Congress and the President put into developing this legislation.
The Court finds that the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 was as salutary a piece of government legislation as any enacted in modern times. Those members of Congress and such outside groups as Common Cause that devised the legislation must certainly be commended for eliminating the deleterious "off the books" system of compensation, for providing that our lawmakers be paid a modest living wage and for including in the system a provision that keeps Congress' pay up to date. What members of Congress must now do is to withstand the onslaught of those who would undermine this worthwhile legislation by unfairly and often times deceitfully criticizing those who supported and passed the legislation. There comes a time when citizens must reject demagogues and not always view everything their elected representatives do in a cynical way.
What those who passed the Ethics Reform Act did was to insure as best they could that the citizenry would get honest legislators, not for purchase by any special interest group. To abandon the system created by the Act would rebroadcast the message that our legislators are for sale to the highest bidder. This would invite the return of an intolerable situation, and would represent a traumatic set back for all those fighting for good government.
Fortunately, the Constitution of the United States does not command such a result. The Ethics Reform Act of 1989 is excellent legislation. Congress should stand tall in its continued support of its principles and objectives and not be demagogued to repeal it. The increase in question--3.2% or roughly $ 4100 annually--is a small price to pay for good honest government and for preventing reversion to a system of special interest payoffs.
What this Court holds is that the Ethics Reform Act of 1989, in providing a methodology for automatic annual adjustments to Congressional salaries meets both the language and the spirit of the 27th amendment. Since a Congressional election has intervened between the passage of the Act and its implementation, the 27th amendment will not be offended, so long as the methodology prescribed by Congress is followed.
While the Court cannot foresee that any pay raises resulting from the quadrennial review process will violate the constitution, so long as the procedures set out in the Ethics Reform Act are followed, a definitive ruling on this issue will have to await the particular pay-setting event, to determine whether the statute has been fully complied with.
United States District Court
ORDER - December 16, 1992, Filed
By agreement of all parties, a decision on the merits of this case has been consolidated with a ruling on the preliminary relief sought by plaintiffs. Upon consideration of plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction, Defendants' and amicus curiae's oppositions thereto, and all other papers filed in this case, and after hearing oral argument from all parties involved, for the reasons stated in the foregoing opinion, it is hereby
ORDERED that plaintiffs' motion is denied and summary judgment is granted in favor of defendants.
United States District Court