Supreme Court To Define Jurisdiction Under The Civil Service Reform Act

By Tim Young

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the Elgin V. Department of Treasury case today to determine whether The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 prevented federal employees who were terminated from obtaining federal district court review of the statute that caused their termination.

Michael Elgin, as well as three other federal employees, were terminated by their respective federal agencies after it was discovered that they had never registered with the selective service.  Elgin and two of the other petitioners stated that their failure to register was not knowing and willful because they had only become aware of the requirement after the age of 26.  At the time of his termination, Elgin had been an employee of the federal government for more than 16 years.

Elgin took his case to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), claiming that the federal act requiring registration with the selective service was unconstitutional because it only involves a specific group of men and therefore discriminates based on sex.

Lawyers for Elgin argued that the statutes governing the case did not preclude a federal employee from taking their case to federal district court.  They also argued that Congress, in enacting the law, never specified jurisdictional restraints either.

The Department of Treasury argued that the MSPB can make decisions in constitutional matters, which brought on many comments and questions from the Court, especially from Justice Kagan, who described that ability as “weird.”

Questions from all the Justices continued to focus on why the MSPB would have the ability to make constitutional decisions and what type of employee can bring action in what jurisdiction.

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