Rule 5.1 – Constitutional Challenge to a Statute
(a) Notice by a Party. A party that files a pleading, written motion, or other paper drawing into question the constitutionality of a federal or state statute must promptly:
(1) file a notice of constitutional question stating the question and identifying the paper that raises it, if:
(A) a federal statute is questioned and the parties do not include the United States, one of its agencies, or one of its officers or employees in an official capacity; or
(B) a state statute is questioned and the parties do not include the state, one of its agencies, or one of its officers or employees in an official capacity; and
(2) serve the notice and paper on the Attorney General of the United States if a federal statute is questioned—or on the state attorney general if a state statute is questioned—either by certified or registered mail or by sending it to an electronic address designated by the attorney general for this purpose.
(b) Certification by the Court. The court must, under 28 U.S.C. §2403, certify to the appropriate attorney general that a statute has been questioned.
(c) Intervention; Final Decision on the Merits. Unless the court sets a later time, the attorney general may intervene within 60 days after the notice is filed or after the court certifies the challenge, whichever is earlier. Before the time to intervene expires, the court may reject the constitutional challenge, but may not enter a final judgment holding the statute unconstitutional.
(d) No Forfeiture. A party’s failure to file and serve the notice, or the court’s failure to certify, does not forfeit a constitutional claim or defense that is otherwise timely asserted.
(As added Apr. 12, 2006, eff. Dec. 1, 2006; amended Apr. 30, 2007, eff. Dec. 1, 2007.)
View Advisory Committee Historical Notes
Committee Notes on Rules—2006
Rule 5.1 implements 28 U.S.C. §2403, replacing the final three sentences of Rule 24(c). New Rule 5.1 requires a party that files a pleading, written motion, or other paper drawing in question the constitutionality of a federal or state statute to file a notice of constitutional question and serve it on the United States Attorney General or state attorney general. The party must promptly file and serve the notice of constitutional question. This notice requirement supplements the court’s duty to certify a constitutional challenge to the United States Attorney General or state attorney general. The notice of constitutional question will ensure that the attorney general is notified of constitutional challenges and has an opportunity to exercise the statutory right to intervene at the earliest possible point in the litigation. The court’s certification obligation remains, and is the only notice when the constitutionality of a federal or state statute is drawn in question by means other than a party’s pleading, written motion, or other paper.
Moving the notice and certification provisions from Rule 24(c) to a new rule is designed to attract the parties’ attention to these provisions by locating them in the vicinity of the rules that require notice by service and pleading.
Rule 5.1 goes beyond the requirements of §2403 and the former Rule 24(c) provisions by requiring notice and certification of a constitutional challenge to any federal or state statute, not only those “affecting the public interest.” It is better to assure, through notice, that the attorney general is able to determine whether to seek intervention on the ground that the act or statute affects a public interest. Rule 5.1 refers to a “federal statute,” rather than the §2403 reference to an “Act of Congress,” to maintain consistency in the Civil Rules vocabulary. In Rule 5.1 “statute” means any congressional enactment that would qualify as an “Act of Congress.”
Unless the court sets a later time, the 60-day period for intervention runs from the time a party files a notice of constitutional question or from the time the court certifies a constitutional challenge, whichever is earlier. Rule 5.1(a) directs that a party promptly serve the notice of constitutional question. The court may extend the 60-[day] period on its own or on motion. One occasion for extension may arise if the court certifies a challenge under §2403 after a party files a notice of constitutional question. Pretrial activities may continue without interruption during the intervention period, and the court retains authority to grant interlocutory relief. The court may reject a constitutional challenge to a statute at any time. But the court may not enter a final judgment holding a statute unconstitutional before the attorney general has responded or the intervention period has expired without response. This rule does not displace any of the statutory or rule procedures that permit dismissal of all or part of an action—including a constitutional challenge—at any time, even before service of process.
Changes Made After Publication and Comment. Rule 5.1 as proposed for adoption incorporates several changes from the published draft. The changes were made in response to public comments and Advisory Committee discussion.
The Advisory Committee debated at length the question whether the party who files a notice of constitutional question should be required to serve the notice on the appropriate attorney general. The service requirement was retained, but the time for intervention was set to run from the earlier of the notice filing or the court’s certification. The definition of the time to intervene was changed in tandem with this change. The published rule directed the court to set an intervention time not less than 60 days from the court’s certification. This was changed to set a 60-day period in the rule “[u]nless the court sets a later time.” The Committee Note points out that the court may extend the 60-day period on its own or on motion, and recognizes that an occasion for extension may arise if the 60-day period begins with the filing of the notice of constitutional question.
The method of serving the notice of constitutional question set by the published rule called for serving the United States Attorney General under Civil Rule 4, and for serving a state attorney general by certified or registered mail. This proposal has been changed to provide service in all cases either by certified or registered mail or by sending the Notice to an electronic address designated by the attorney general for this purpose.
The rule proposed for adoption brings into subdivision (c) matters that were stated in the published Committee Note but not in the rule text. The court may reject a constitutional challenge at any time, but may not enter a final judgment holding a statute unconstitutional before the time set to intervene expires.
The published rule would have required notice and certification when an officer of the United States or a state brings suit in an official capacity. There is no need for notice in such circumstances. The words “is sued” were deleted to correct this oversight.
Several style changes were made at the Style Subcommittee’s suggestion. One change that straddles the line between substance and style appears in Rule 5.1(d). The published version adopted the language of present Rule 24(c): failure to comply with the Notice or certification requirements does not forfeit a constitutional “right.” This expression is changed to “claim or defense” from concern that reference to a “right” may invite confusion of the no-forfeiture provision with the merits of the claim or defense that is not forfeited.
Committee Notes on Rules—2007 Amendment
The language of Rule 5.1 has been amended as part of the general restyling of the Civil Rules to make them more easily understood and to make style and terminology consistent throughout the rules. These changes are intended to be stylistic only.