David S. Tatel

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David Tatel
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Assumed office
October 7, 1994
Appointed by Bill Clinton
Preceded by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Personal details
Born (1942-03-16) March 16, 1942 (age 73)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Alma mater University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
University of Chicago

David S. Tatel (born March 16, 1942) is an American jurist who has been a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 1994.


Tatel received his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and his J.D. from the University of Chicago. Following law school, he served as an instructor at the University of Michigan Law School and then joined Sidley Austin in Chicago. Since then, he served as founding director of the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Director of the National Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Director of the Office for Civil Rights of the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare during the Carter Administration. Returning to private practice in 1979, Tatel joined Hogan & Hartson, where he founded and headed the firm's education practice until his appointment to the D.C. Circuit. While on sabbatical from Hogan and Hartson, Tatel spent a year as a lecturer at Stanford Law School.

Notable opinions[edit]

Comcast v. Federal Communications Commission, 600 F.3d 642 (D.C. Cir. 2010): The D.C. Circuit held that, under current Supreme Court and D.C. Circuit precedent, the Federal Communications Commission had not demonstrated sufficient statutory authority – express or “ancillary” – to regulate the network management practices of a particular internet service provider. The Court therefore vacated the F.C.C.’s Order on review.

Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Mukasey, 573 F.Supp.2d 221 (D.D.C. 2008): Rejecting a constitutional challenge to the Voting Rights Act's preclearance requirement, Judge Tatel’s 121-page opinion held that the rationality standard articulated in South Carolina v. Katzenbach and City of Rome v. United States—two Supreme Court decisions upholding prior versions of the Act—remains the appropriate standard of review despite the congruence and proportionality test announced in City of Boerne v. Flores. After a thorough review of the legislative record, which documented the continuing problem of racial discrimination in voting, the court concluded that the preclearance requirement satisfies both the rationality standard and the more demanding congruence and proportionality test.

In Re: Grand Jury Subpoena, Judith Miller, 397 F.3d 964 (D.C. Cir. 2005): While investigating the Valerie Plame affair, a grand jury issued subpoenas to journalists Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper regarding their communications with Scooter Libby. Refusing to testify before the grand jury, Miller spent ninety days in jail for civil contempt. The D.C. Circuit unanimously upheld the contempt decision. Judge Tatel concurred, suggesting that there is a federal common law, qualified journalist privilege, but that it was not met in this case because the grand jury’s need for the journalists’ testimony outweighed the burden of disclosure on newsgathering. Borrowing Tatel’s suggestion for a federal, qualified journalist privilege, the Free Flow of Information Act is now under consideration in Congress.

Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, 415 F.3d 50 (D.C. Cir. 2005): The D.C. Circuit held that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) properly had declined to exercise its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. Later vindicated by the Supreme Court, Judge Tatel’s dissent argued that the EPA had failed to comply with the mandate of the Clean Air Act when it had declined to issue regulations without giving a statutorily based justification for not making a finding of environmental endangerment.

Center for National Security Studies v. U.S. Department of Justice, 331 F.3d 918 (D.C. Cir. 2003): Denying a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking the names of post-9/11 detainees and their attorneys, the D.C. Circuit, articulating what would become known as the Mosaic theory, held that this information was within FOIA’s law enforcement exemption. Judge Tatel dissented, saying the “court’s uncritical deference to the government’s vague, poorly explained arguments for withholding [information] as well as its willingness to fill in the factual and logical gaps in the government’s case, eviscerates both FOIA itself and the principles of openness in government that FOIA embodies.” Moreover, Judge Tatel noted, there was “ample evidence of agency wrongdoing. The record includes [many public documents] reporting alleged governmental abuses such as holding detainees for long periods without allowing them to seek or communicate with counsel and without charging them.... History, moreover, is full of examples of situations in which just these sorts of allegations led to the discovery of serious government wrongdoing.” Litigation related to the post-9/11 detainment of hundreds of Arab and Muslim immigrants and citizens remains pending in many courts.

Nextwave Personal Communications v. Federal Communications Commission, 254 F.3d 130 (D.C. Cir. 2001): The FCC cancelled the licenses of a telecommunications company that had declared bankruptcy and failed to make installment payments for the license. On appeal, the D.C. Circuit held that the installment payments constituted dischargeable debts under the Bankruptcy Code. As a result, the FCC could not cancel the licenses simply for Nextwave’s failure to make those payments, and instead had to proceed like a normal creditor. Eight justices of the Supreme Court voted to affirm the court’s decision.

American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. Environmental Protection Agency, 175 F.3d 1027 (D.C. Cir. 1999): Invalidating national ambient air quality standards for ozone and particulate matter, the D.C. Circuit concluded that Congress unconstitutionally delegated its legislative powers to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Tatel dissented, rebutting the majority’s non-delegation theory and arguing that EPA acted within its statutory authority under the Clean Air Act. Agreeing with Judge Tatel, a unanimous Supreme Court, in an opinion written Justice Scalia, reversed the D.C. Circuit. On remand, Judge Tatel’s majority opinion held that the EPA’s regulations were neither arbitrary nor capricious.

In re: Sealed Case, 124 F.3d 230 (D.C. Cir. 1997): In this case, a grand jury subpoenaed testimony from an attorney on the contents of his discussions with and work on behalf of a deceased client (Vince Foster). The attorney and his law firm successfully moved to quash the subpoenas in the district court, but the D.C. Circuit reversed, creating a balancing test to determine when communications are privileged in cases such as this. In a dissenting opinion, Judge Tatel wrote that the common law’s attorney-client privilege survives the death of the client. In a 6-3 decision (Swidler & Berlin v. United States, 524 U.S. 399), the Supreme Court agreed.

Personal life[edit]

Tatel is a member of the National Academy of Sciences' Committee of Science, Technology, and Law; the American Philosophical Society; and the National Academy of Education. He chaired the Board of The Spencer Foundation from 1990 to 1997, the Board of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching from 2005 to 2009, and served on the Board of Equal Justice Works. Tatel and his wife, Edith, have four children and eight grandchildren.

Tatel has been blind since 1972 due to retinitis pigmentosa.[1][2]


  1. ^ Slavin, Barbara (July 28, 1994). "A Judge of Character". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 27, 2014. 
  2. ^ [1] Tillman, Zoe. "John Payton, 'Champion of Equality,' Remembered." The Blog of the Legal Times, April 16, 2012 (National Law Journal photo by Diego M. Radzinschi).

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit