S. 610 Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1997

S. 610 Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1997

To implement the obligations of the United States under the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction, known as `the Chemical Weapons Convention' and opened for signature and signed by the United States on January 13, 1993. MEMORANDUM
Re: Section 603 of Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act
Editor's Note: Other Commentary on Section 603 of S. 610:

Also included in this response: A letter to Rep. Lee H. Hamilton and a proposed section addressing concerns regarding the automatic stay.

Karen Cordry has written a spirited defense of proposed revisions to the exemptions from the automatic stay. I have the following brief points in reply:

  • I fully support exemptions to the stay for chemical weapons teams. That, however is not the issue.

  • There are two types of issues that divide Ms. Cordry and me: process issues; and substantive issues.

  • The process issues involve how we should go about amending the Bankruptcy Code. I do not believe that lobbyist-supported and lobbyist-drafted language should go into the Code without any hearings on the matter, and without giving other interested parties a chance to comment. Further, the National Bankruptcy Review Commission debated this very topic last fall, and took no action after that debate. The Commission revived the topic this June, but has still not acted. Thus, if Congress enacts Section 603, not only will the normal hearing and comment process be short-circuited, but Congress will ignore the deliberations of the body it created to advise it on the necessity of proposed changes to the Code.

  • On the process issue, my colleague Douglass Boshkoff and I have written to Representative Lee Hamilton, who is the sponsor of the companion bill in the House (H.R. 1590). We have urged him not to add language similar to Section 603 to the House bill, or to any final bill approved by the House. We have also drafted language which addresses the narrow concern presented by the Chemical Weapons Convention which could be used instead of Section 603. That letter is reprinted below, as well as the proposed alternative language. Anyone who wishes to write to Representative Hamilton may do so using the address on our letter.

  • The substantive issue is Ms. Cordry's assertion that the changes are "inevitable" and that without the unfettered ability of government agencies to unilaterally seize a debtor's property "a civilized society cannot function." I note that the provisions at issue have been in the Code for almost 20 years, and the world as we know it has not ended yet.

  • There is a further substantive point. The proposed language is badly drafted. The inclusion of an exception to §362(a)(6) is a key (but not only) example of the overbreadth. Section 362(a)(6) stays any action "to collect, assess or recover a [pre-petition] claim against the debtor . . . ." If the bill becomes law, then a government entity could use its police or regulatory power to collect or recover a debt if it is doing so pursuant to its police and regulatory power. That is what the language says. As I stated before, I don't know what this means, but I submit that it means more than a "simple clarif[ication] that the extremely broad language in that section should not be used to bar legitimate governmental actions . . . ." And I will wager that members of Ms. Cordry's organization will likely say that it means more than that as well. Given that it would be relatively easy to draft language which specifically addresses the Chemical Weapon Convention concerns, one wonders why this overbroad and confusing language is being proposed.

  • In addition, in Ms. Heitkamp's memorandum explaining the bill, the assertion is made, in bold type, that: "The proposal, however, specifically excludes the enforcement of monetary judgments from the police and regulatory power exception." I disagree. The relevant language states that there are exemptions for:
    the commencement or continuation of an action or proceeding by a governmental unit . . .to enforce such governmental unit's . . . police and regulatory power, including the enforcement of a judgment other than a money judgment, obtained in an action or proceeding by the governmental unit to enforce such governmental unit's . . . police or regulatory power."
    I do not see how this language "specifically excludes" money judgments. Indeed, it does the opposite. Under the Code, "includes" is not limiting. Section 102(1). Thus the bold-faced language above does not limit the general language by excluding anything. It is an explanatory appositive. At best, Ms. Heitkamp's statement is bad interpretation; at worst it is dissembling.

  • Ms. Cordry's response also seems to assume that once a state or government passes a law, of whatever type, bankruptcy courts must enforce it unless it is unconstitutional. That is not my understanding of the law. For example, bankruptcy courts can (although for good reasons they often don't) enjoin bad faith criminal prosecutions for writing bad checks if the purpose of that prosecution is to aid private recovery. See Collier on Bankruptcy ¶105.03[3][c]. I suspect a bankruptcy court could also apply the same reasoning (using Younger v. Harris reasoning) to a civil forfeiture statute that was drafted and being used for the purpose of augmenting tax coffers, rather than protecting the public.

  • Ms. Cordry likewise raises the Supremacy and Due Process Clauses to my analysis of the Court's Seminole decision. Talking about Seminole in an abbreviated forum such as this is problematic, but let me try again: Seminole may (and time will tell) have two components: a jurisdictional bar, and a federalism overlay. Initially, if all the decision did was to move the dispute to state instead of federal court, I would grumble about the erosion of the goal of having the bankruptcy court as the single forum to resolve disputes, but I wouldn't object too loud. State courts are competent. But that is part of the problem. Once you get into state court, you are suing the sovereign that established that court. Competent state court judges will then notice that there are state sovereign immunity concerns, particularly with money judgments. In short, even if the state court has jurisdiction over the state, the state may have a complete and total affirmative defense: sovereign immunity. If the state has not seen fit to waive sovereign immunity, I think the bankrutpcy estate is in a quandry. Does it then have to go into federal court alleging that the failure to waive sovereign immunity is unconstitutional? Does it appeal that decision to the State Supreme Court? If the Eleventh Amendment means what it says, where is the jurisdiction for the any federal district court (or indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court) to hear the case against the state? How is a harmed debtor to collect? Even if my immunity analysis is flawed (and I hope it is) haven't we just increased the cost of proving that the state has proceeded unconstitutionally, thereby ensuring practical immunity for the state in cases involving amounts where the cost of litigation is less than the amount at issue? Especially in an area where we are concerned with insolvent estates, I question the wisdom of this approach.

  • Finally, Ms. Cordry suggests that if the bankruptcy bar does not like civil forfeiture laws (which appear to be the focus of much of this debate), then they should go to Congress to get them changed. I agree with that suggestion. I suspect, however, that Ms. Cordry would like to get advance notice of the proposed changes so that she could express her organization's view to Congress (even though some changes are inevitable), would expect Congress to at least listen to agencies created to study the legislation, and would not expect to see the changes for the first time after they had been opportunistically tacked-on to an unrelated bill. At least I think those would be her expectations.

The Honorable Lee H. Hamilton,
Member, United States House of Representatives
9th Congressional District, Indiana
2314 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-1409

Re: Changes to Bankruptcy Code (title 11, U.S.C.) Contained in H.R. 1590 (Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1997)

Dear Representative Hamilton:

We teach bankruptcy and commercial law at Indiana University School of Law—Bloomington. We write to you in your capacity as sponsor of H.R. 1590, the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1997 ("Chemical Weapons Convention.").

As you know, the Senate passed a similar bill on May 23 (S. 610), and that bill was introduced in the House on June 10, 1997.

We write to point out that S. 610 contains a provision (Section 603) amending title 11 (the Bankruptcy Code) in ways wholly unrelated to the needs of assuring compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. One of us has written on Section 603, and we include that article with this letter. To summarize, however, Section 603 purports to modify bankruptcy's automatic stay—a provision necessary for orderly liquidation and efficient reorganization—to allow entities charged with enforcing the Chemical Weapons Convention to dispense with bankruptcy court approval for any actions taken when dealing with debtors in bankruptcy.

While it certainly does this, it does far more. In addition, it would permit federal, state and local governments to seize or take control of any property of a debtor in bankruptcy so long as the seizure was for "police or regulatory power," regardless of whether the governmental entities' activity has any relation to the Chemical Weapons Convention. This power is new, controversial and would amend a provision of title 11 that has been unchanged since the adoption of the current Bankruptcy Code in 1978.

Although we think the proposed amendment unwise, our concerns are more fundamental. We do not think Congress should amend the Bankruptcy Code in such a piecemeal basis. In 1994, Congress created the National Bankruptcy Review Commission in part to address this problem, and that body debated the advisability of similar changes as recently as June 20, 1997. It has yet to reach a consensus. Moreover, the Senate held no hearings, and as far as we know, invited no comment beyond that of the National Association of Attorneys General who suggested the amendment. Changes of the type proposed by Section 603, especially when the National Bankruptcy Review Commission is debating similar changes, deserve better and wider input from interested parties.

To the extent the bankruptcy concerns addressed by Section 603 are valid, we include a revised section which only permits relief from the automatic stay for purposes of enforcing the Chemical Weapons Convention. We believe this section addresses all legitimate concerns.

In summary, we urge you to resist efforts to change H.R. 1590 bill to conform to Section 603 of S. 610. To the extent that some modification of the automatic stay is necessary, we urge you to go no further than the text we have supplied.

Thank you for your time.

Very truly yours, Douglass Boshkoff
Robert McKinney Professor of Law (Emeritus)

Bruce A. Markell
Professor of Law

Proposed Section Addressing Concerns Regarding Automatic Stay

Section 362(b) of title 11, United States Code, is amended—(1) by adding a new paragraph (19) which would read as follow:
"(19) under paragraph (1), (2) or (3) of subsection (a) of this section, of the commencement or continuation of any action or proceeding, or the taking of any action, by any person or governmental unit exercising authority under the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction, opened for signature on January 13, 1993."