Supreme Court

Federal Court Condemns Congress for Giving Unconstitutional Regulatory Powers to Amtrak

D.C. Circuit strikes down federal law that "grants Amtrak, a self-interested entity, power to regulate its competitors."

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D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals

The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, also known as Amtrak, was chartered by Congress in 1970 under the explicit mandate that it "shall be operated and managed as a for-profit company." Yet under the terms of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, this "for-profit company" was permitted to craft federal rules governing the entire railroad industry, including timetables and other scheduling regulations that benefit Amtrak while harming Amtrak's competitors in the freight-hauling sector. On Friday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against the 2008 federal statute. "The due process of law is violated," observed Judge Janice Rogers Brown for a unanimous three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit, "when a self-interested entity is 'intrusted with the power to regulate the business…of a competitor.'"

Friday's ruling in Association of American Railroads v. United States Department of Transportation was not the first time that Judge Brown sought to prevent Amtrak from using government authority against its competitors. In 2013 Judge Brown struck down portions of the Passenger Rail and Improvement Act on the grounds that by granting Amtrak "unprecedented regulatory powers," Congress violated the constitutional principle which says that lawmaking authority may not be delegated to a non-government entity. The federal government's treatment of Amtrak, Judge Brown observed, "vitiates the principle that private parties must be limited to an advisory or subordinate role in the regulatory process."

Two years later, however, that judgment was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. "Amtrak is a governmental entity, not a private one, for purposes of determining the constitutional issues presented in this case," the Court said. (Never mind that Amtrak was explicitly chartered as a "for-profit company."). But the Supreme Court also sent the case back down to the lower court because other "substantial questions respecting the lawfulness of the [railroad regulations]…may still remain."

Friday's decision by the D.C. Circuit dealt with those remaining matters. "The abstract legal question at the heart of this case is whether it violates due process for Congress to give a self-interested entity rulemaking authority over its competitors," Judge Brown observed. "While freight operators and Amtrak may not directly compete for customers, they compete for scarce track, and Amtrak's authority to manipulate that competition entails the power to modify freight schedules to accommodate Amtrak trains, reschedule maintenance work, or reroute freight traffic." The Constitution, Judge Brown held, forbids a "self-interested market participant" like Amtrak from wielding that sort of governmental regulatory power.

The D.C. Circuit's opinion in Association of American Railroads v. United States Department of Transportation is available here.

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  1. Never mind that Amtrak was explicitly chartered as a “for-profit company.”

    I thought only socon rednecks questioned SCOTUS decisions?

    1. It’s fine to question SCOTUS decisions if they are the “right” ones. Heller for example.

  2. “…whether it violates due process for Congress to give a self-interested entity rulemaking authority over its competitors,”

    Now if only Congress would apply that to themselves.

  3. “There’s something about a *train*!”

  4. Never mind that Amtrak was explicitly chartered as a “for-profit company.”

    And PPACA’s individual mandate was explicitly sold to everyone as not being-

    Oh, never mind.

    1. Silly Fist, words only mean what they mean in the context of your current Supreme Court argument. As soon as you move on to another argument, you reset the meaning of the words.

    2. If you actually read the decision, SCOTUS said just because Congress said Amtrak was a private company did not make it so – the government controlled Amtrak to such an extent that Amtrak was a government entity. Now if they would apply that consistently, let’s look at Fanny and Freddie and Sallie Mae. “Private corporations” my ass – we all know who’s bailing those fuckers out.

  5. my co-worker’s aunt makes $84 an hour on the computer . She has been fired from work for nine months but last month her pay was $19262 just working on the computer for a few hours. learn this here now

    ??? http://www.ReportMax90.com

  6. Choo Choo…

    1. Is this the Choo Back At Ya defense?

    2. “Choo choo” is currently my toddler’s favorite word/thing in the world.

      /really hoping it’s a phase…

      1. Yeah, it gets way funnier when they learn how much shouting bad words in public freaks you out.

  7. RE: Federal Court Condemns Congress for Giving Unconstitutional Regulatory Powers to Amtrak
    D.C. Circuit strikes down federal law that “grants Amtrak, a self-interested entity, power to regulate its competitors.”

    What’s wrong with this picture?
    Everyone knows the subsidies AMTRAK gets from the taxpayers.
    That in itself should allow AMTRAK to have an unfair advantage over their competitors, and the power to regulate its competitors.
    Besides, AMTRAK was the brain child of Comrade Richard Nixon.
    We all know what a great president he was.

    1. AMTRAK was the brain child of Comrade Richard Nixon.

      So was the EPA…

    2. Was it his brain child or did it merely happen on his watch? I’d blame the war on drugs for being Nixon’s brainchild more than Amtrak.

      1. amtrak was necessary. the war on drugs was an attack.

  8. Oh my. There is an ad displayed on the top of the page that reads: Show Donald Trump that you are not afraid to play the “woman’s card”. HillaryClinton/woman, your official woman’s card. Or some such nonsense. I’m getting a chuckle out of her wasted ad revenue. Silly rabbit, TANFL.

    1. be sure to click on that ad 😉

    2. Its only wasted if you click on it

  9. Picture this: The election comes down (officially) to Hillary vs. Trump. The Republicans in the Senate are starting to think Merrick Garland is looking pretty good all of a sudden. But wait! President Obama withdraws his nomination of Garland and nominates Janice Rogers Brown!! The Republicans realize they have no choice and vote to confirm her. Justice Rogers Brown ushers in a new era of libertarian friendly court decisions as the newest justice.

    Ah, one can dream…

    1. Obama would never ever appoint Janice Rogers Brown.

      It would be nice to see our next Repub president appoint her to fill Scalia’s seat.

      1. Since the next President will be a Democrat you might be waiting a very long while for another Republican SC appointment.

  10. Is it a coincidence that “railing” someone means fucking them really hard?

  11. In a much better alternate universe. Janice Rogers Brown is on the Supreme Court instead of Roberts

    1. The decision that overturned her prior ruling was unanimous. Never mind Roberts who unsurprisingly joined the opinion, so too did Scalia, Alito, and Thomas.

      Too many years of smelling their own farts, I guess.

  12. Amtrak was created, supposedly, to preserve passenger rail service after most of the major railroads were about to go bankrupt and could no longer afford to run passenger trains thanks to competition from airlines. A few years later, the federal government created Conrail because the Penn Central railroad, which controlled most of the freight routes in the Northeast, was also faced with bankruptcy. Both were government-sponsored private corporations, yet Conrail did pretty well, becoming financially-independent by the mid-1980s and acquired by two major private railroads, NS and CSX, in 1999. Amtrak, as we all know, continues to fester and suck at the government teat. Don’t know why moving things is profitable but moving people is not, but maybe it has something to do with the larger number of employees required to staff a passenger train, or the congressmen who insist on keeping Amtrak stations open in rural towns with one train every three days.

    1. passenger rail has never been profitable, even when rail was the only game in town. it is just not high revenue, like freight. it has always been subsidized, either through government and/or transferring freight profits to keep passenger rail going.
      now, when gas is expensive amtrak does well. when gas is cheap, not so much.

    2. passenger rail has never been profitable, even when rail was the only game in town. it is just not high revenue, like freight. it has always been subsidized, either through government and/or transferring freight profits to keep passenger rail going.
      now, when gas is expensive amtrak does well. when gas is cheap, not so much.

      1. You say that to Dagney Taggart’s face

    3. Freight rail can cover its costs because railroads can pack each railcar wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with revenue-earning coal, or grain, or widgets. If you could pile passengers into a railcar like so much steel pipe loaded onto a gondola car, then passenger rail would pay for itself as well. But an Amfleet II coach only has up to 84 seats. Even assuming all those seats are filled, it’s hard to get passengers to pay enough to cover just operating expenses, let alone the substantial fixed costs (e.g., investment in locomotives, railcars, allocated share of track and roadbed) associated with their transportation.

  13. How long will it be before the people totally sicken of this corrupt government.

  14. “In 2013 Judge Brown struck down portions of the Passenger Rail and Improvement Act on the grounds that by granting Amtrak “unprecedented regulatory powers,” Congress violated the constitutional principle which says that lawmaking authority may not be delegated to a non-government entity.”

    Oh Obama, put this judge on the supreme court please! They seem almost reasonable!

    “Two years later, however, that judgment was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

    Oh…right. Reason doesn’t apply.

    If only they took this view of entities like the EPA it would be amazing. Considering the EPA cleans up disasters, yet they’re also responsible for disasters, it seems like such reasoning might apply as a justification for getting rid of a government organization that makes decisions for Congress so they can point at the President as a malefactor.

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