Duane Morris Takeaways: On September 26, 2023, in Texas v. Biden, No. 6:22-CV-00004 (S.D. Tex. Sept. 26, 2023), Judge Drew B. Tipton of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas granted in part and denied in part the States’ Motion for Summary Judgment and enjoined the federal government from enforcing Executive Order 14,026 and the Final Rule against the States of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi and their agencies. Judge Tipton found that the President acted exceeded his authority by issuing Executive Order 14,026 and unilaterally requiring federal contractors to increase their employees’ minimum wage from $10.10 to $15 per hour. Other district courts have considered the President’s authority in issuing Executive Order 14,026, but Judge Tipton is the first federal judge to find that the President exceeded his authority. This ruling hits only the surface of what is yet to come. The parties in other cases have already filed appeals in the Ninth and Tenth Circuits challenging district court opinions that have issued contrary rulings, and the government in this case is bound to appeal this decision to the Fifth Circuit.
The Federal Property and Administrative Services Act (“Procurement Act” or the “Act”) applies to federal and contractor employees. Congress implemented the Act to centralize the process by which various good and services are purchased by agencies on behalf of the government.
On April 21, 2021, President Biden, relying solely on the Act, issued Executive Order 14,026 (“EO 14,026”) to require federal contractors and subcontractors to pay certain employees $15 per hour. EO 14,026 was scheduled to begin on January 30, 2023, with annual increases thereafter. Specifically, in issuing EO 14,026, President Biden invoked his authority to “promote economy and efficiency in procurement by contracting with sources that adequately compensate their workers.” Id. at 5. After engaging in notice-and-comment rulemaking, the U.S. Department of Labor published its Final Rule, Increasing the Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors, on November 24, 2021, implementing EO 14,026 (the Final Rule and EO 14,026 are the “Wage Mandate”). Id.
Three months later, three states – Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi (the “States”) – sued President Biden, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”), and certain DOL executives (collectively the “federal government”) challenging the validity of the Wage Mandate. Id. at 2-3.
The parties cross-filed cross-motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment. The federal government argued generally that two of the Act’s provisions, read together, provide the President with a broad grant of authority to implement policies “that the President considers necessary to foster an economical and efficient system for procuring and supplying goods and services for using property,” including the Wage Mandate. Id. at 13. The States argued that the Act is far more narrow and that it is primarily meant as a means to “centralize and introduce flexibility into government contracting to remedy duplicative contracts and inefficiencies,” which does not include setting the minimum wage for federal contractors. Id.
The District Court’s Decision
The District Court granted in part and denied in part the States’ cross-motion for summary judgment. It found that the States proved that that the President acted “ultra vires,” or beyond his authority in issuing EO 14,026. Judge Tipton enjoined the federal government from enforcing EO 14,026 and the Final Rule against Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi and their agencies.
The District Court agreed with the States and held that Sections 101 and 102 of the Act “read together, unambiguously limit the President’s power to the supervisory role of buying and selling goods.” Id. The District Court found that the Act’s historical context further supported its holding that the President’s authority “does not include a unilateral policy-making power to increase the minimum wage of employees of federal contractors.” Id. at 15.
Judge Tipton further found that the purpose of the Act purpose conflicts with the Wage Mandate. He explained that the Act’s purpose is to provide “a relatively hands-off framework that enables agencies to determine for themselves the quantity and quality of items to procure on behalf of the federal government. It does not confer authority for the President to decree broad employment rules.” Id. at 20. As an example, the District Court compared the Act to two other permissible federal wage statutes – the Davis Bacon Act and the Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act. Id. at 20-21. Judge Tipton opined that unlike those two permissible federal wage-statutes, in which Congress expressly gave the Secretary of Labor limited power to tailor the minimum wage of certain classes of federal contractors, the Procurement Act did not permit the President unlimited wage-setting authority. Id. at 21. The District Court concluded that the “Procurement Act’s text, history, purpose and structure limit the President to a supervisory role in policy implementation rather than a unilateral, broad policy-making power to set a minimum wage.” Id. at 22.
The federal government will likely appeal the decision, and the Fifth Circuit will join the Ninth and Tenth Circuits in deciding whether the President exceeded his authority in issuing EO 14,026.
Implications for Employers
The District Court’s decision is a huge win for employers in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi as the federal government is prohibited from enforcing EO 14,026. Companies should stay tuned for the imminent showdown in the Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuit’s on the President’s Authority over increasing the minimum wage for federal contractors and subcontractors.