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Elgin v. Dep’t of the Treasury

Docket No. Op. Below Argument Opinion Vote Author Term
11-45 1st Cir. Feb 27, 2012 Jun 11, 2012 6-3 Thomas OT 2011

Holding: The Civil Service Reform Act provides the exclusive avenue to judicial review when a qualifying federal employee challenges an adverse employment action by arguing that a federal statute is unconstitutional.

Plain English Summary: With a few exceptions, federal law requires all male U.S. citizens between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five to register for the draft. A different federal law bars from the civil service (which encompasses most of the jobs within the executive branch) anyone who knowingly refused to do so. The lead petitioner in this case was Michael Elgin, a former federal employee who was fired when the government discovered that he failed to register for the draft. Elgin tried to challenge the law in court, arguing among other things that the law violates the Constitution because women are not required to register for the draft – and therefore can never be fired for failing to do so. At issue before the Court was not whether Elgin is correct, but instead how he gets to raise his challenge. By a vote of six to three, the Court sided with the federal government, which argued that a former federal employee like Elgin must first bring his claims to a federal agency (the Merit Systems Protection Board, or MSPB), rather than a court – even if the MSPB isn’t allowed to decide constitutional claims like his. The Court reasoned that, even if the MSPB can’t decide Elgin’s claims, the federal appeals court that reviews the MSPB’s decisions – the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit – can. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that Congress meant to allow litigants like Elgin to bypass the procedure it created for most other employment-related claims.

Judgment: Affirmed, 6-3, in an opinion by Justice Thomas on June 11, 2012. Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan.

Briefs and Documents

Merits Briefs for the Petitioner

Amicus Briefs in Support of the Petitioners

Merits Briefs for the Respondents

Certiorari-stage documents