Webster v. Doe Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) determined that Respondent John Doe’s homosexuality presented a security threat, and terminated his employment pursuant to authority under Section:102(c) of the National Security Act (Act). Respondent filed an action in District Court, and the CIA (Petitioner) moved to dismiss on the ground that Section:102(c) precluded judicial review of the Director’s determination.

Facts of the case

Question

Were decisions of the Director under Section:102(c) reviewable, and if so, to what extent?

Answer

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The language and structure of Section:102(c) indicate that Congress meant to commit individual employee discharges to the Director’s discretion, and Section:701(a)(2) accordingly precludes judicial review of those decisions under the APA. Reversed the Court of Appeals to the extent that it found such terminations reviewable by the courts. However, Section:102(c) cannot be read to preclude constitutional claims. Where Congress intends to preclude judicial review of constitutional claims, its intent to do so must be clear. Petitioner’s colorful constitutional claim was not precluded. Dissent. Justice Scalia agreed with the Court that the Director’s decision to terminate a CIA employee is committed to agency discretion by law, but could not understand how decision could be both unreviewable and yet reviewable for constitutional defect, as the court held. Concurring in part, Dissenting in Part. Justice O’Connor agreed that the APA does not authorize judicial review of the employment decisions referred to in Section:102(c) because the statute does not provide a meaningful standard for judicial review, but disagreed with the Court’s conclusion that a constitutional claim could nonetheless be brought in a federal district court.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court found that 5 U.S.C.S. § 706 precluded judicial review of an agency termination decision. Accordingly, the Supreme Court found that the appellate court erred in finding the employee’s termination reviewable. However, the Supreme Court found that § 102(c) of the National Security Act of 1947 did not preclude judicial review of the employee’s constitutional claims.

  • Case Brief: 1988
  • Petitioner: Webster
  • Respondent: Doe
  • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

Citation: 486 US 592 (1988)
Argued: Jan 12, 1988
Decided: Jun 15, 1988