posted at 9:41 am on November 23, 2016 by Ed Morrissey
Time’s running out on the Obama administration and its ability to extend its regulatory adventurism, an end emphasized by a federal judge in Texas yesterday — or at least a pause. Twenty-one states sued the Department of Labor over new rules that would have extended overtime pay to around four million salaried Americans, and Judge Amos Mazzant issued a temporary injunction to keep it from being enforced as planned on December 1st:
A Texas judge ruled Tuesday to put the brakes on federal rules that would have expanded overtime pay to more than 4 million workers.
A rule from the Department of Labor that was supposed to take effect next week would have made overtime pay available to full-time salaried employees earning up to $47,476 a year, more than doubling the current threshold of $23,660 a year. …
When the Labor Department finalized the overtime rule in May, consumer advocates and union groups hailed the move as a major victory for low- to middle- income workers. Before the latest action, the regulation had not been updated in more than a decade. Supporters of the rule said many workers who put in 50 to 60 hours a week may end up earning less than minimum wage after all of their hours are factored in. The expectation was that the long-awaited rule, which was requested by President Obama in 2014, would boost paychecks for some workers putting in extra hours.
But the rule faced stiff opposition from small businesses, states, universities and other groups who said the higher threshold would raise costs. Instead of offering bigger paychecks, some groups predicted that they would have to switch employees from salaried jobs to hourly positions. Others said that some workers would be assigned fewer hours.
It’s worth noting that Mazzant only recently arrived on the federal bench. Barack Obama himself nominated Mazzant in June 2014 after having served as a judge in Texas for the previous decade. That’s roughly the same time that the DoL promulgated this rule. The Senate confirmed him in a voice vote in December of that year, so Mazzant has yet to hit his second anniversary. It’s not the first setback for the Obama administration in Mazzant’s courtroom either; he dismissed SEC fraud charges against Texas AG Ken Paxton last month.
The administration hasn’t lost this case yet. The injunction is only temporary, pending a hearing on the merits of the case. However, the New York Times reports that analysts believe that Mazzant’s language indicates that the government will have a tough time overcoming the challenge:
While the injunction is only a temporary measure that suspends the regulation until the judge can issue a ruling on the merits, many said the judge’s language indicated he was likely to strike down the regulation.
“We are, assuming that this preliminary injunction holds and there isn’t an appeal or some other thing that disrupts it, done with this regulation,” said Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which had challenged the rule.
The DoL could appeal the injunction, but that runs into another problem — the transition to the Trump administration. Donald Trump will have his own Labor Secretary in place and at least a theoretical mandate to roll back regulation, especially those that interfere with economic growth. Even if they did file an appeal, it’s unlikely that it would get heard in the next 58 days, at which point the rule is almost certain to be withdrawn anyway. This injunction gives Trump even more political cover to roll this rule back — he can even say that an Obama appointee agreed that Labor overshot its authority.
This demonstrates that the end of the Obama administration’s rule-making authority has already arrived. The White House can keep publishing new rules, but they would have only survived had Hillary Clinton won the election, as they expected. At this point, any new rules will only have symbolic value, but even that’s not much — they will be forgotten as quickly as the new administration can reverse them. This duck has suddenly gotten very, very lame.