Category Archives: politics

What Kind of a Judge Is Neil Gorsuch?

By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. and ANDREW M. GROSSMAN

The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 31, 2017 

Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump ’s nominee to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia, is a native Coloradan and avid outdoorsman. He clerked for a federal appellate judge and two Supreme Court justices and spent a decade practicing law before his appointment in 2006, at age 39, to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In the decade since, he has written some 850 opinions.

The way to take a judge’s measure is to read his opinions, and so we set out to review Judge Gorsuch’s. It was not an arduous task, for his prose is unusually engaging—think Scalia, with none of the abrasiveness. Justice Elena Kagan has declared herself a fan of his writing style. The only difficulty in summarizing Judge Gorsuch’s output is the compulsion to quote, at length, from so many of his opinions.

One opens this way: “Haunted houses may be full of ghosts, goblins, and guillotines, but it’s their more prosaic features that pose the real danger. Tyler Hodges found that out when an evening shift working the ticket booth ended with him plummeting down an elevator shaft.” The case, by the way, was a prosaic dispute between insurers. Another opinion starts: “What began as a fight at a strip club finds its way here as a clash over hearsay.”

Judge Gorsuch shows a concern for the people whose disputes are before the court. Each opinion typically begins with the name of the person seeking relief and why. A recent example: “After a bale of hay hit and injured Miriam White while she was operating her tractor, she sued the manufacturer, Deere & Company.” Ms. White’s appeal was summarily denied, but even the brief, three-page opinion reflects a serious engagement with her arguments and the facts—in contrast with the boilerplate language judges often use in such decisions. Win or lose, parties appearing before Judge Gorsuch surely know that they have been treated with fairness, consideration and respect.

These are not stylistic flourishes, but central to how Judge Gorsuch views the judicial role. “In our legal order,” he has written, “judges distinguish themselves from politicians by the oath they take to apply the law as it is, not to reshape the law as they wish it to be.” When a judge understands that he has no authority to legislate from the bench, cases that might otherwise be hard become straightforward exercises in applying law to facts.

Thus, Judge Gorsuch could recognize the “tragic circumstances” of a family whose daughter had died in a rafting accident, while still holding that the liability release she had signed was legally binding. That Colorado allows people to assume such risks, he explained, was a choice for the state’s General Assembly, not the court.

In a similar dissent, Judge Gorsuch argued for allowing a seventh-grader who was arrested for horseplay in gym class to sue the police officers, reasoning that no New Mexico statute authorized the arrest. And he has vigorously enforced rights of religious exercise under statutes like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, deferring to Congress’s decision to vindicate, as he put it, “this nation’s long-held aspiration to serve as a refuge of religious tolerance.”

Judge Gorsuch is among the judiciary’s most consistent and adept practitioners of textualism, the approach Scalia championed. In a memorial lecture last year, Judge Gorsuch said that “an assiduous focus on text, structure, and history is essential to the proper exercise of the judicial function.” Textualism, he added, serves to “confine the range of possible outcomes and provide a remarkably stable and predictable set of rules people are able to follow.” On the other hand, attempting to divine legislative intent, as he wrote in one opinion, is a “notoriously doubtful business.” Another opinion decried the judicial “conjuring” that substitutes the court’s view of optimal policy for Congress’s.

In an influential 2015 decision, Judge Gorsuch excavated the meaning of a law increasing penalties on anyone who “uses” a gun “during and in relation to” a drug offense. He carefully employed “plain old grade school grammar”—including a sentence diagram.

Judge Gorsuch’s textualism extends to the Constitution, quite emphatically: “That document,” he wrote, “isn’t some inkblot on which litigants may project their hopes and dreams for a new and perfected tort law, but a carefully drafted text judges are charged with applying according to its original public meaning.” Looking to the “original public meaning” of the Fourth Amendment, for example, Judge Gorsuch has rejected the government’s view that a search warrant could be applied across jurisdictional lines. He also disputed its claim that police officers may ignore “No Trespassing” signs to invade a homeowner’s property without a warrant.

What about the Constitution’s separation of powers, intended to safeguard liberty? Judge Gorsuch has been at the vanguard of applying originalism to the questions raised by today’s Leviathan state, which is increasingly controlled by unaccountable executive agencies. These questions loom large after the rash of executive actions by President Obama, and now the whiplash reversals by the Trump administration.

The deference that judges now must give to agencies’ interpretations of the law, he wrote in an opinion last year, permits the executive “to swallow huge amounts of core judicial and legislative power and concentrate federal power in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution of the framers’ design.”

Judge Gorsuch added: “Maybe the time has come to face the behemoth.” His addition to the Supreme Court would give the justices a better chance than ever to do precisely that.

Messrs. Rivkin and Grossman practice appellate and constitutional law with Baker & Hostetler in Washington.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-kind-of-a-judge-is-neil-gorsuch-1485912681

When Is a Judge Not Really a Judge?

By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. and ANDREW M. GROSSMAN

Jan. 23, 2017 in the Wall Street Journal

An “alphabet soup” of federal agencies established since the 1930s have gradually supplanted the rule of Congress and the courts with the rule of supposed expertise. This accumulation of power is what James Madison identified in Federalist No. 47 as “the very definition of tyranny.” An example of this trend is the Securities and Exchange Commission’s increased use of in-house administrative law judges under the Obama administration.

Following high-profile losses in federal court—remember the insider trading charges against Mark Cuban?—the SEC decided to file fewer enforcement cases in courts presided over by independent judges. Instead, the agency began to take advantage of its in-house administrative law judges. Conveniently, a change in the Dodd-Frank Act authorized the agency’s judges to hear more kinds of cases and dispense more penalties.

Administrative law judges are agency employees. The proceedings they oversee provide fewer protections than court cases. They also tend to set stern deadlines and limit the right to factual investigation, often leaving defendants to rely on the SEC’s evidence. According to a 2015 Wall Street Journal analysis, the agency’s shift paid off: Through the beginning of that year, it won 90% of cases in its in-house court, compared with 69% of regular court cases. Administrative decisions can be appealed to court but are rarely reversed. That’s because the judges apply a deferential “clear error” standard to the agency’s factual findings.

The due-process problems inherent in this arrangement are apparent. Less obvious, at least to the SEC, is that it also violates the Constitution’s Appointments Clause, which requires Senate hearings and confirmation votes for department heads and other senior officials. To promote political accountability, the Constitution also requires that “inferior officers” with significant responsibility be appointed by the president or senior officials who are confirmed by the Senate.

This month, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the SEC’s administrative law judges aren’t mere employees but inferior officers. They take testimony, rule on motions, issue subpoenas, preside over triallike hearings, make factual determinations and can even enter judgments and impose penalties in certain circumstances. The court’s analysis was guided by a 1991 Supreme Court decision holding the same about “special trial judges” who had similar powers under the U.S. Tax Court. The SEC will surely appeal, and there is a high likelihood that the Supreme Court will affirm the lower court’s ruling.

The immediate problem for the SEC is that Congress hasn’t authorized the appointment of administrative law judges through the constitutional process. So the agency faces the risk, in cases it tries in-house, that its decisions will be voided. The SEC and its allies will push for a legislative fix so that in-house judges can be properly appointed. Congressional Republicans should use the demand for legislation as a bargaining chip for other reforms, such as restricting cases that can be heard in administrative courts.

But a legislative fix only heightens the contradictions of trying these cases outside of real courts. Due process requires that judges be neutral. A fix would make them political appointees.

Moreover, in Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Accounting Oversight Board (2010), the Supreme Court struck down an arrangement whereby appointed officers were double-insulated from removal. They could lose their jobs only for good cause, and the agency head with the power to remove them could himself only be fired for good cause. That kind of double protection, the court explained, impermissibly “subverts the President’s ability to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed” and “the public’s ability to pass judgment on his efforts.”

Administrative law judges are nearly identically insulated from political control. They can be dismissed only for good cause by their agencies, and even then only if the Merit Systems Protection Board agrees. If the 10th Circuit’s decision is upheld, this will almost certainly be the next shoe to drop, and it will leave administrative law judges subject to political control.

That means the in-house judges will be political appointees subject to the supervision of other political appointees—and at risk of dismissal for failure to follow instructions. Will agencies be able to maintain the pretense that they are “judges” in any meaningful sense? It’s difficult to see how.

The SEC’s overreaching may spell the end of the administrative state’s growth—marking the point when Congress and the courts started to regain lost ground. Thanks, Mr. Obama.

Messrs. Rivkin and Grossman practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington, D.C.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/when-is-a-judge-not-really-a-judge-1485215998

Trump doesn’t need to divest: Opposing view

by David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey

December 26, 2016, in USA Today

President-elect Donald Trump is perfectly entitled to retain his business holdings, and to permit his adult children to run those businesses, as a means of avoiding conflicts-of-interest during his presidency. The Constitution does not require him to divest his holdings, nor do other federal laws.

Although many previous presidents have chosen to put their personal holdings in a “blind trust,” this was not required and in Trump’s case such a requirement would be particularly iniquitous. Trump could not simply liquidate his holdings in the public securities markets at market prices. He would have to find buyers for a vast array of real estate holdings and ongoing businesses. Each of those potential buyers would be well aware of his need to sell, and to sell quickly, and the value of his holdings would be discounted.

In addition, of course, the Trump Organization is a family business, as it has been since the time of Trump’s father. Most of his children are employed in that business. Neither law nor logic require Trump to pull the rug out from under them. A newly elected president is simply not required to make such personal sacrifices as the price of assuming an office to which he was constitutionally elected.

Hold On Jasta Minute!

Legal tradition says that hard cases make bad law. Few cases are harder than those having to do with the plight of the families of 9/11 victims.

This led Congress to adopt the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. Jasta, as it is known, gives federal courts the power to determine whether a foreign state has intentionally sponsored terror against American citizens. This power, however, belongs to the president and cannot be constitutionally wielded by the judiciary.

Jasta was enacted in September over President Obama’s veto. Although the law mentions no particular state, its target is clearly Saudi Arabia. The families of 9/11 victims have long sought money damages from the kingdom, based on the Saudi citizenship of most of the 9/11 attackers and planners.

The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 gives countries immunity from being sued in federal courts. Jasta strips that immunity from any country the court finds acted with a culpable level of intent in sponsoring a terrorist attack on American soil. Mere negligence is insufficient under the law. In making this determination, the courts will also inevitably be branding the relevant state as a sponsor of terrorism.

A federal judge’s determination that Saudi Arabia intended to sponsor the 9/11 attacks would greatly strain U.S.-Saudi relations. More generally, whether the U.S. should identify any particular state as a terrorism sponsor is a supremely sensitive foreign-policy decision, involving myriad factors and rendering impossible U.S. cooperation with such a state.

For this reason, the Constitution reserves such determinations to the political branches of government, and more particularly to the president, who is principally responsible for the formulation and implementation of American foreign policy.

If a president decides to classify a nation as a sponsor of terrorism, Congress can define the consequences, including depriving such states of the sovereign immunity from lawsuit that they ordinarily enjoy in U.S. courts. It cannot, however, force a president to make such a determination. Nor can Congress vest such decision-making authority in the courts.

The Supreme Court’s ruling last year in Zivotofsky v. Kerry is instructive here. The court struck down Congress’s effort to require the executive branch to recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel by permitting American citizens born there to have their passports indicate “Israel” as their birthplace. It said, “these matters are committed to the Legislature and the Executive, not the Judiciary.”

The judiciary doesn’t have access to the sort of information that would enable it to determine the motives of a foreign state. And even if it did, deciding whether to classify a country as a sponsor of terrorism is a task inherently ill-suited for judicial discernment. Recognizing and acting upon such information lies at the very core of the president’s foreign-affairs powers.

Jasta’s enactment has already damaged U.S.-Saudi relations and has alarmed many traditional U.S. allies, who understandably do not like the outsourcing of sensitive foreign-policy issues to the American judiciary and private litigants. Jasta is unconstitutional and should be struck down as such.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington, D.C.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/hold-on-jasta-minute-1480551317

Trump Can Ax the Clean Power Plan by Executive Order

President Obama pledged to wield a pen and phone during his second term rather than engage with Congress. The slew of executive orders, enforcement memorandums, regulations and “Dear Colleague” letters comprised an unprecedented assertion of executive authority. Equally unparalleled is the ease with which the Obama agenda can be dismantled. Among the first actions on President Trump’s chopping block should be the Clean Power Plan.

In 2009 Congress rejected a cap-and-trade scheme to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency then devised a nearly identical scheme to mandate shifting electricity generation from disfavored facilities, like those powered by coal, to those the EPA prefers, like natural gas and renewables. No statute authorized the EPA to seize regulatory control of the nation’s energy sector. The agency instead discovered, in an all-but-forgotten 1970s-era provision of the Clean Air Act, that it had that power all along.

To support its preferred policy, the agency was compelled to “interpret” the statute in a way that contradicts what it acknowledges is the “literal” reading of the text and clashes with decades of its own regulations. It also nullifies language blocking regulation for power plants because they are already regulated under an alternative program. By mangling the Clean Air Act to intrude on areas it was never meant to, the regulation violates the constitutional bar on commandeering the states to carry out federal policy.

These defects are why the Supreme Court put the EPA’s plan on hold while an appeals court in Washington, D.C., considers challenges brought by the energy industry and 27 states. These legal challenges now appear to have been overtaken by events. President Trump can immediately issue an executive order to adopt a new energy policy that respects the states’ role in regulating energy markets and that prioritizes making electricity affordable and reliable. Such an order should direct the EPA to cease all efforts to enforce and implement the Clean Power Plan. The agency would then extend all of the regulation’s deadlines, enter an administrative stay and commence regulatory proceedings to rescind the previous order.

That would leave the D.C. appeals court—which some supporters of the plan are still counting on for a Hail Mary save—or the Supreme Court with little choice but to send the legal challenges back to the agency. While the Clean Power Plan could technically linger in the Code of Federal Regulations for a year or so, it would have no legal force.

When an agency changes course, it must provide a reasoned explanation to address factual findings supporting its prior policy. In certain instances that requirement may impose a real burden. For example, a rule rescinding the EPA’s “Endangerment Finding” regarding the effects of greenhouse gases would have to address the evidence underlying it. A failure to provide a satisfactory explanation of a change in policy may render a rule “arbitrary and capricious” and vulnerable to legal challenge.

Environmentalist groups have already vowed to bring suit to defend the Clean Power Plan, but a challenge would be toothless. The aggressive legal positions underlying the Obama administration’s most controversial rules—including the Clean Power Plan, the Waters of the United States rule, and the FCC’s Open Internet order—will make it easier to rescind them. That’s because rejecting the assertion of legal authority underlying such a rule is enough to justify a policy change. If the agency’s view is that it simply lacks the power to carry out a rule, then it follows that the rule must be withdrawn.

Even if a court were to find that the EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act underlying the plan is permissible, that would still not compel the Trump EPA to accept that interpretation as the only permissible one. And even if a court were to rule—erroneously, in our view—that the Clean Power Plan does not violate the Constitution’s vertical separation of powers, that would still not absolve the executive branch of the responsibility to consider that constitutional issue for itself and then act accordingly.

President Obama may soon come to understand that the presidential pen and phone is a double-edged sword.

Messrs. Rivkin and Grossman, who practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington, D.C., represent the state of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality in their challenge to the Clean Power Plan.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-can-ax-the-clean-power-plan-by-executive-order-1479679923

Let the Electoral College Do Its Duty

By DAVID B. RIVKIN, JR. and ANDREW M. GROSSMAN
September 7, 2016, in the Wall Street Journal

To those counting the days until Nov. 8 when the presidential election campaign will finally end, some bad news: The contest won’t truly be decided until the Electoral College’s vote on Dec. 19. Then again, this could be good news for Americans who still hope to escape the dilemma presented by the major parties’ nomination of two unpopular candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump—but only if the electors’ constitutionally guaranteed independence is observed in the face of state laws seeking to control their votes.

America’s method of presidential selection is as peculiar and clever as the federalism and separation-of-powers principles that fostered it. To guard against the passions of populism, the Framers interposed a college of state-based electors between voters and the actual presidential selection. To discourage political obligation and intrigue, they provided that the electors would meet just once, in their respective states, for the sole purpose of casting ballots for the next president and vice president.

And to prevent the presidency from being captured by regional interests, they required the winner to obtain a majority of the Electoral College votes. Failing that, the election is thrown to the House of Representatives, to choose among the top three vote-getters.

Today, the Electoral College vote is regarded as a nearly mechanical process: The parties nominate their slates, elector seats are awarded (in most states) to the popular vote winner’s party slate, and a few weeks later the electors certify what the people have already chosen.

In an unusual campaign year like this one, however, that may be too much to take for granted. Electors are typically party stalwarts, but many ideologically committed Democrats and Republicans lack enthusiasm for this year’s top-of-ticket candidates. Several would-be Republican electors are already publicly flirting with the idea of casting their votes for someone other than Mr. Trump, believing that his erratic outbursts have “disqualified” him from being president.

Right or wrong, that is exactly the kind of discernment that the Constitution demands electors exercise. It was their duty, Alexander Hamilton explained, to ensure that “the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

Instead, representing the interests of their states and constituents, the electors would vote only for those possessing “the esteem and confidence of the whole Union” sufficient to win the requisite majority vote, thereby providing “a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.” If the parties have failed in that task, then it falls to the electors to provide a final check.

Elector independence is also a practical necessity. Federal law provides no other means to respond to the death or incapacitation of the popular vote-winner after Election Day but before the Electoral College votes. Likewise, death or disability shortly before Election Day may present the same quandary, given state-law delays in altering ballots. And should electors blind themselves to revelations of corruption or foreign control that might emerge in the weeks before they meet? To deal with all of these contingencies, the Framers’ intention was that electors would exercise their discretion and judgment.

As a matter of original constitutional meaning, elector independence is not a controversial proposition. Both Article II of the Constitution and the 12th Amendment, which clarified the selection of the vice president, provide that electors shall “vote by ballot,” a term of art referring to secret ballots rather than publicly cast votes.

By contrast, other constitutional provisions use words like “choose” or “election” that do not indicate secrecy. Voting in secret is the means by which electors may exercise their discretion, free from any attempt to control their vote.

Nonetheless, 29 states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books purporting to bind electors to vote for their party’s candidate or in accord with the state’s popular vote. Some enforce those mandates with fines or even criminal penalties—typically a misdemeanor charge. Others regard the casting of a “faithless” elector vote as resignation from the post and cancellation of the ballot. Despite dozens of electors choosing over the years to cast ballots for someone other than their party’s candidate or to abstain, these laws have never been enforced. Nonetheless, their very existence misleads the public and, even worse, chills electors from discharging their duty to exercise judgment.

The time is ripe to put an end to this legal charade and establish, as federal-court precedent, that the Constitution forbids enforcement of elector-binding mandates. The Supreme Court ruled in a 1952 decision, Ray v. Blair , that delegate pledges are unobjectionable, as nothing prevents an elector from announcing his intended vote beforehand. But the court recognized that enforcement of pledges raises constitutional concerns.

State courts that have considered the matter have held that elector pledges can impose, in the words of the Supreme Court of Ohio in 1948, only “a moral obligation, not a legal one.” As that court concluded, when a state attempts to “dictate to the electors the choice which they must make for president and vice president, it has invaded the field set apart to the electors by the Constitution of the United States, and such action cannot stand.”

Messrs. Rivkin and Grossman practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington, D.C. They represented Beau Correll, a delegate to the Republican National Convention, in his successful legal challenge to Virginia’s delegate-binding statute.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/let-the-electoral-college-do-its-duty-1473290734

Release the GOP Delegates

Trump’s nomination isn’t inevitable—delegates won’t be legally ‘bound’ going into the convention.

by Erik O’Keefe and David B. Rivkin Jr., Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2016

Recent weeks have not been kind to the Grand Old Party. Republicans have been embarrassed by Donald Trump ’s racist attacks on Gonzalo Curiel, the federal judge presiding over a fraud lawsuit against Trump University. They have watched him assault popular GOP leaders like Speaker Paul Ryan and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. Many among the party faithful are realizing that Mr. Trump may flame out before Election Day—and that he could bring the party’s slate of candidates down with him.

Yet conventional wisdom remains that Mr. Trump’s nomination is inevitable. The theory is twofold: First, his primary victories give him enough delegates to prevail on the first ballot at the Republican convention in July. Second, those delegates are bound to vote for Mr. Trump by state laws and GOP rules.

Not so fast. Although 20 states have passed laws that purport to bind delegates, these statutes can’t be legally enforced. When Republican delegates arrive in Cleveland to select their party’s nominee, they should recognize that they are bound only by their consciences.

It’s true that Rule 16 of the Republican National Committee says primaries will be used to “allocate and bind” delegates. But that rule expires at the convention’s start. Though a majority of delegates could vote to adopt a binding rule at the convention, that’s unlikely. It has happened only once before, in 1976, when loyalists of President Ford sought to block the insurgency of Ronald Reagan. This year the Rules Committee will be packed with supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz, who has not endorsed Mr. Trump.

State laws that purport to bind delegates can’t be enforced without violating the First Amendment. A political party is a private association whose members join together to further their shared beliefs through electoral politics, and they have a right to choose their representatives. The government has no business telling parties how to select their candidates or leaders: That would be a serious infringement of the rights to free association and speech. Continue reading