Governor Fitial has filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. He hopes to get a ruling that, at least temporarily, stops application of the law to the CNMI.
The U.S. defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the case. They hope for a ruling that disposes of the case completely and thus clears the way for application of the law to proceed.
A Brief Recap:
In April 2008, the U.S. Congress passed S. 2739, which President Bush signed into law as P.L. 110-229 in May 2008. It extends U.S. immigration to the CNMI, beginning in June 2009. In September 2008, Governor Fitial filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C. against US defendants (Homeland Security and Labor officials), challenging the law.
Fitial's challenge focuses on two essential claims: that the law allegedly violates the CNMI's right to self-government guaranteed by the Covenant; and that the law was unconstitutionally enacted without the CNMI's participation in the legislative process. Fitial claims that the law will wreak havoc on the CNMI economy, devastating it.
For more on the complaint and claims made, see my previous blog posts at:
Fitial vs. federalization: a neutral summary at Day In Court
Fitial vs. federalization: 1st installment at Saipanwriter
Fitial vs. federalization: 2nd installment at Saipanwriter.
For Fitial to succeed on the preliminary injunction motion, he has to meet the federal law standard:
To obtain a preliminary injunction, the plaintiffs must prove: (1) a likelihood of success on the merits; (2) irreparable harm; (3) that less harm will result to the defendant if the preliminary injunction issues than to the plaintiffs if the preliminary injunction does not issue; and (4) that the public interest, if any, weighs in favor of plaintiffs. See Pappan Enterprises, Inc. v. Hardees's Food Systems, Inc., 143 F.3d 800, 803 (3d Cir. 1998)).
Injunctive relief is considered an extraordinary measure and is not lightly granted. Fitial will need to make a strong showing in order to prevail.
He faces high hurdles on all prongs of the test.
1) likelihood of success on the merits: The chance for success on the merits is frought with difficulties.
On his claim for violation of the Covenant, Fitial faces the contradiction of the Covenant itselt. Fitial uses as the basis for his claim the Covenant's guarantee of a right to the CNMI's "self-government," but the Covenant also expressly permits the U.S. Congress to extend U.S. immigration to the CNMI. Clearly, the framers of the Covenant did not view federal immigration control as defeating local self-government.
On his claim for violation of the U.S. Constitution: The Covenant provides for participation in the U.S. political process through a Resident Representative and through 902 negotiations. It did not provide for direct participation in the Legislative process. The U.N. found that the Covenant was sufficient and that the CNMI, by ratifying it at a plebiscite by an overwhelming majority, effectively engaged in its self-determination. Although there is no doubt that participation in legislative processes is a fundamental aspect of democracy, Fitial will have to show that the U.S. Constitution requires participation to be through an elected Legislator and that the U.S. Constitution prohibits participation of the kind defined in the Covenant. In other words, Fitial will have to show that 200 years of U.S. territorial policy violates the U.S. Constitution.
2) irreparable harm: In order to get a preliminary injunction to stop application of P.L. 110-229, Fitial must show that he faces irreparable harm that would be caused by the law if he doesn't get the injunction. There is no clarity of harm to him. He asserts a right to claim harm to all of the CNMI because he is the Governor. He relies on speculative reports that discount their own reliabiity for predictive assessments. Much of the harm he is concerned about seems tied to other economic factors, as well.
3) balance of hardship tips in favor of movant: Fitial claims certain hardship and economic doom from application of the law, in particular difficulty in attracting foreign investment and a manpower shortage. On the other side of the balance, the law was designed to address other hardships, including labor abuses and the disincentive of local manpower. Delay in implementing the law adds to these hardships. The law also includes some measures to provide for a temporary continuation of the current use of alien labor and a gradual phasing out of reliance on it, cushioning some of the hardship Fitial complains of. Additionally, granting the preliminary injunction will add to the uncertainty here and would likely worsen the climate for foreign investment, not remedy it.
4) public interest: This is the most politically divisive issue because it requires an impartial assessment of the CNMI's policies. Many in the CNMI are sensitive to criticism and refuse to acknowledge any failure or responsibility on our part.
My view of the public interest: The CNMI has built its economy on foregin workers by keeping their wages low and their availability high. The CNMI has also denied foreign workers any entry into permanent status, keeping them in a permanent state of powerlessness. These CNMI policies have made for a private sector with low wages, few workers' rights, and poor working conditions. This third-world economy private sector has not attracted local workers, who prefer government jobs or opportunities in Guam, Hawaii and the mainland. While the CNMI has had some short-term economic benefit from its policies, it has done so at a high moral cost. It also ruined its international image, creating a vision of the CNMI as a place of sweatshops, sex trade, and human trafficking. Fitial argues that a return to this style of economy is in the public interest. I disagree.
I think it unlikely that Fitial will prevail on his motion for preliminary injunction. However, loss on the preliminary injunction would not necessarily be an end to the case.
The Federal Motion:
The U.S. Defendants seek to dismiss the case on four grounds: 1) jurisdiction: case or controversy. The injuries alleged are not concrete and particularized, but instead speculative and hypothetical; 2) jurisdiction: The case is not ripe for review; 3) jurisdiction: Fitial lacks standing; and 4) failure to state a claim: The law is expressly authorized by the Covenant.
1) Case or controversy--the CNMI's standing: In order to bring a case to court, a party must have suffered an "injury in fact." There must be a legally cognizable interest that is violated. And the violation of that interest must be the cause of the alleged injury.
The federal defendants complain that the CNMI's case is based on speculation, not fact; that the injury to the economy stems as much or more from other considerations like the CNMI's own bad policies and world economic forces and personal investor decisions than from the prospect of US immigration; that the CNMI has no legally cognizable interest in handling its own immigration; and that granting relief as requested in the complaint is no guarantee of a remedy for the injuries alleged.
This last point is especially clear when applied to the second cause of action in Fitial's lawsuit: The remedy of delaying application of P.L. 110-229 would have NO effect whatever on the claimed constitutional violation--the CNMI's lack of participation in the legislative process. In fact, P.L. 110-229 is the law that amplifies the CNMI's role by giving us a delegate to Congress.
It's also clear that the remedy sought will not address the declining economy that is due to the pull-out of the garment industry and the migration of local workers to the mainland.
2) Ripeness: This is a jurisprudence consideration that prevents courts from premature adjudication, from deciding abstract disagreements, or weighing in on differences on policy. The CNMI has the ability to work with the federal agencies to craft the regulations that implement the law, and thereby avoid some or all of the fears they express in the lawsuit. Where the injury alleged may never occur, the case is not deemed ripe for review.
3) Fitial's standing: This is different than the CNMI's standing addressed in #1 above. Fitial brings the action as governor. He claims no other basis than his concern as the chief executive of the CNMI. The federal defendants call this a "parens patriae" case, meaning the Governor is acting as a father-figure raising the concerns of his constituents. However, the federal defendants say that the U.S. government acts as the parens patriae on matters about the relationship of citizens to the federal government, and the state government does not have the right to do so.
Fitial must have a "procedural" interest in order to bring the action, a statutory or legal duty apart from his general role as Governor, that gives him a concrete and particularized injury in his own right. Fitial apparently has none, and in fact, as pointed out in our local newspapers by Representative Tina Sablan, the duty to represent the CNMI in legal matters rests with the Attorney General.
I suspect that the CNMI Acting AG will step in, and thereby address this procedural defect.
4) Failure to state a claim: This is perhaps the most basic aspect of the federal government's motion. The Covenant authorizes the U.S. Legislature to extend federal immigration to the CNMI. The U.S. Legislature has done so.
The federal defendants argue that the self-government protections of the Covenant relate to "institutional" guarantees, not substantive. That the protection is for us to elect our own local leaders and have our own local government free from federal intrusion, not to have control over certain spheres of influence. They cite a CNMI-9th Circuit case that expressly interpreted the Covenant in this manner.
The federal defendants also point out the obvious--that federal immigration laws are not labor laws. But even if they were, the Covenant permits application of federal labor laws, too.
If the federal Court grants the U.S. Defendants' motion to dismiss, the case will be over at the trial level. It is possible that Fitial would appeal, but it seems unlikely he would get the immediate relief he so desperately wants.
My personal analysis leads me to think that the U.S. Defendants must prevail on both motions. However, it's never safe to predict a judge's conclusions. From a quick review of Judge Friedman's more prominent decisions, it appears that he is conscientious and dedicated to the law. We can only wait and see how he views these issues.