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Supreme Court sides with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, spurning a conservative attack

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a conservative-led attack that could have undermined the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The justices ruled 7-2 that the way the CFPB is funded does not violate the Constitution, reversing a lower court.

The CFPB was created after the 2008 financial crisis to regulate mortgages, car loans and other consumer finance. The case was brought by payday lenders who object to a bureau rule.

The CFPB case is among several major challenges to federal regulatory agencies on the docket this term for a court that has for more than a decade been open to limits on their operations. The CFPB, the brainchild of Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, has long been opposed by Republicans and their financial backers.

Unlike most federal agencies, the consumer bureau does not rely on the annual budget process in Congress. Instead, it is funded directly by the Federal Reserve, with a current annual limit of around $600 million.

The federal appeals court in New Orleans, in a novel ruling, held that the funding violated the Constitution’s appropriations clause because it improperly shields the CFPB from congressional supervision.

Justice Clarence Thomas reached back to the earliest days of the Constitution in his majority opinion to note that “the Bureau’s funding mechanism fits comfortably with the First Congress’ appropriations practice.”

Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, Thomas’ colleagues in the court’s conservative bloc, dissented. “The Court upholds a novel statutory scheme under which the powerful Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) may bankroll its own agenda without any congressional control or oversight,” Alito wrote.

The case was argued more than seven months ago, during the first week of the court’s term. Lopsided decisions like Thursday’s 7-2 vote typically don’t take so long, but Alito’s dissent was longer than the majority opinion, and two other justices, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, wrote separate opinions even though they both were part of the majority.

While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some other business interests backed the payday lenders, mortgage bankers and other sectors regulated by the CFPB cautioned the court to avoid a broad ruling that could unsettle the markets.

In 2020, the court decided another CFPB case, ruling that Congress had improperly insulated the head of the bureau from removal. The justices said the director could be replaced by the president at will but allowed the bureau to continue to operate.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court at https://apnews.com/hub/us-supreme-court.

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