You are here

Court Rebuffs Challenge to Illegal Chrysler Bailout and Takeover; Pension Funds Will Appeal to Supreme Court

A federal appeals court has refused to block the Administration's illegal auto bailout, which rips off taxpayers and pension funds to enrich the UAW union. The pension funds that challenged the bailout will now appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The bailout violates the federal TARP statute by diverting financial-system bailout funds to a takeover of the auto industry. And the government's reorganization plan for Chrysler violates federal bankruptcy laws by ripping off lenders to give the company to the UAW union.

As I noted earlier, the Indiana State Teachers' Retirement Fund is challenging the diversion of tens of billions of dollars of federal TARP bank bailout money to pay for auto bailouts in the Chrysler bankruptcy case. That diversion violates the law. It is part of the government's unfair reorganization plan for Chrysler, which rips off pension funds to provide short-sighted, unsustainable preferential treatment for the UAW.

(The bailouts have been counterproductive. General Motors and Chrysler would actually have been better off if they had filed for bankruptcy last year, rather than taking federal money, since the bailouts have come with costly political strings attached, such as dropping opposition to costly CAFE regulations and other federal mandates, and bowing to political meddling in fundamental corporate decisionmaking, and have left the automakers with higher labor costs than if they had just ripped up their collective bargaining agreements in a standard bankruptcy. That endangers their long-run competitiveness. Indeed, the politicized auto bailouts resemble the failed British auto bailouts of the 1970s).

The Obama and Bush Administrations used money from the $700 billion financial system bailout for an auto industry bailout. To do that, they have seized on the fact that the bailout statute contains a broad definition of "financial institution," which the Administration claims includes virtually any institution, financial or not. The bailout statute defines "financial institutions" eligible for the bailout as "including, but not limited to, any bank, savings association, credit union, security broker or dealer, or insurance company." Never mind that Congress listed as examples of "financial institutions" only entities that were banks, insurance companies, or financial institutions, not automakers. (Congress rejected auto bailout legislation last year precisely because it lacked safeguards against the use of bailout money to prop up uncompetitively high UAW wages -- exactly what the Obama Administration is using the money for now. During the debate over the auto bailout legislation, the Treasury Department admitted that automakers are not financial institutions covered by the bank bailout statute).

Legal scholars at the Heritage Foundation, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and many other commentators have argued that using the money for auto bailouts violates the financial bailout statute under the principle of statutory construction known as ejusdem generis, which says that when a term's definition includes examples that are all of a similar kind, it limits the meaning of the term to things similar in kind to such examples.

But if that's not so, and the bailout was just a big slush fund for the Administration to dispense with as it chooses, then the bailout law itself was unconstitutional, since it conferred unbridled discretion in the hands of the President to do whatever he wanted with it. The Supreme Court ruled in the Schechter Poultry case that giving the executive uncabined discretion violates the constitutional separation of powers between different branches of government, by giving the president essentially legislative powers. (An earlier version of the bailout law was even more clearly a violation of separation of powers, since it failed to provide for judicial review of the vast discretion it gave the president, unlike past delegations of power upheld in cases like the Amalgamated Meat Cutters case). The government's incredibly broad reading of the bank bailout statute should be rejected, since it violates the canon of constitutional doubt.

Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock was right to raise these important legal questions in court. Mourdock correctly notes that the unfair plan for Chrysler pushed by the Administration violates the bankruptcy laws and rips off Indiana residents by leaving state employee pension funds and construction funds with a tiny fraction of what they are owed by Chrysler, far less than the UAW is getting, even though the pension funds are secured lenders and the UAW is not. By cheating Chrysler's lenders, the government's plan discourages lending, and sets a dangerous precedent that makes it harder for companies like Chrysler to raise money to create jobs in the future, as newspapers like USA Today have noted.

The federal government's poorly-conceived bailouts will also endanger Indiana jobs in the long run by leaving Chrysler and General Motors with uncompetitive work rules and compensation.

On June 2, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals entered a temporary stay of the bankruptcy judge's ruling rubberstamping the government's plans for Chrysler, in an appeal brought by the Indiana State Teachers' Retirement Fund. On June 5, however, it refused to block the government's plan for Chrysler. The case is In re Chrysler, LLC, Docket # 09-2311-mb.

As a lawyer who has handled both constitutional cases, and bankruptcy-related cases, I think that Indiana's position has merit, and that the Supreme Circuit should rule in favor of its appeal. The Supreme Court should grant review, since the issues are of overriding national importance, and the Second Circuit has created a circuit split by countenancing circumvention of the bankruptcy laws as long applied in circuits across the country.