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An originalist libel defense

By David B. Rivking Jr. and Andrew M. Grossman

31 July 2019 in the Wall Street Journal

A federal judge in Kentucky dismissed high-school student Nicholas Sandmann’s libel suit against the Washington Post last week. That’s no vindication of the newspaper’s skewed reporting on the teen’s run-in with American Indian activist Nathan Phillips on the National Mall in January. But it’s a vindication of the First Amendment’s limitations on state libel law, which have come under scrutiny of late, including from President Trump and Justice Clarence Thomas.

Mr. Sandmann and his peers were targeted by a Twitter mob, and the Post joined in portraying him as the villain in a “white privilege” morality play. Mr. Sandmann claimed the Post had defamed him by repeating Mr. Phillips’s claim that Mr. Sandmann had physically “blocked” him. That judge held that was an opinion, not a factual claim, and therefore shielded by the First Amendment.

That conclusion may be debatable, but the First Amendment’s protection of opinion shouldn’t be. It is the legal expression of America’s “national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open,” as Justice William Brennan put it in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964), which established that the Constitution imposes limits on state libel law.

Mr. Trump said in 2016 that he wanted to “open up” libel laws, and in February Justice Thomas wrote a solo opinion arguing that Sullivan departs from the Constitution’s original meaning. He has a point: Brennan’s reasoning is all policy. For decades, originalists like Justice Antonin Scalia have criticized it as an exercise of raw judicial power. Yet there’s a good originalist case for limits on libel law.

Sullivan established that government officials suing for defamation must demonstrate that the defendant either knew that the defamatory statements were false or acted with “reckless disregard” for their accuracy—a standard confusingly known as “actual malice.” Later decisions extended the requirement to all “public figures,” whether or not they hold office.

Sullivan made it far more difficult for plaintiffs to win libel suits, even for statements that are false and seriously damaging. That price is worth paying, the justices reasoned, to provide breathing room for “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open” debate of public issues, given that inadvertent falsehoods are inevitable. Critics blame Sullivan for declining journalistic standards—including the Post’s mobbing of Mr. Sandmann and his classmates.

But that’s all policy. What about the law?

Sullivan was right to recognize the Constitution’s relevance in libel cases. It doesn’t matter that libel suits are brought by private parties, rather than the state, because it is the state’s law that imposes the liability. If the First Amendment precludes a statute imposing fines for speech criticizing government officials, why would the constitutional analysis be different for a law that awards money to a plaintiff?

And while it may be that “the freedom of speech” recognized by the First Amendment does not protect defamatory speech—which was Scalia’s view and apparently is Justice Thomas’s—no one seriously argues that a state can punish any speech it wants, free from constitutional scrutiny, merely by labeling it “defamation.” That means the court has to define the term somehow.

For all Justice Thomas’s criticism of Sullivan, he doesn’t take issue with its conclusion that the Constitution limits the reach of libel law. His beef is with the actual-malice standard. And that’s where things get complicated.

To begin with, he doesn’t say what he thinks the proper constitutional standard should be. He observes that judge-made common law provides the “backdrop” for understanding the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech and the press, and he cites cases showing that the adoption of the First and 14th amendments “did not abrogate the common law of libel.” That suggests he would have courts scrutinize libel claims for whether they comport with the historical understanding of defamation—if so, the speech would be unprotected. As he notes, it was black-letter law at the time of the framing that a libel plaintiff didn’t have to assert actual malice at the outset of the case.

But plaintiffs often did have to prove actual malice to prevail. The law recognized circumstances in which a libel defendant could assert a “qualified” or “defeasible” immunity from damages and thereby put the plaintiff to the burden of proving “express” or “actual” malice under more or less the same standard Sullivan prescribed. One musty treatise, published in 1877, reports such immunity applies whenever the speaker has a “legal, social, or moral” duty to comment on another’s character, fitness or conduct, including in matters of business, crime, morality or religion. Moreover, libel claims concerning government officials’ conduct were often subject to the actual-malice standard, as were claims for punitive damages. Sullivan’s reasoning was loose, but it didn’t fashion actual malice out of whole cloth.

And it may be that Justice Thomas’s understanding of the First Amendment is wrong. What if “the freedom of speech” does protect defamation? There was no reason for it to be excluded. James Madison’s view was that freedom of speech should be understood as a broad natural right, not a specialized legal concept. The only other appearance of “speech” in the Constitution is the Speech or Debate Clause, which completely immunizes members of Congress from liability for legislative speech. The federal government had no general authority to punish or regulate libel. No one expected in 1789 that the First Amendment would apply to state law, and it didn’t until it was incorporated under the 14th Amendment.

Yet this poses a conundrum: Imposing so strict a rule on the states would abolish libel laws altogether. Among the ways a court might reconcile the First and 14th amendments, actual malice has the benefits of historical pedigree, practical experience, and balancing vigorous public debate with at least some compensation and deterrence.

Modern originalism is young, and answers to these questions of original meaning often involve some doubt. Yet the Sullivan court might have stumbled onto a standard that comports with the Constitution.

Messrs. Rivkin and Grossman practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington. Mr. Rivkin served at the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office. Mr. Grossman is an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/an-originalist-libel-defense-11564613833

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Saudi Probe Is Not a Job For the U.N.

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

October 24, 2018, in the Wall Street Journal

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi has justly triggered international outrage. Yet calls for a United Nations-led investigation are neither justified nor prudent.

Those urging the U.N. to investigate argue that with so much at stake, no sovereign state can be trusted to conduct a full and fair probe. And there is a potential for bias—by the Saudis, whose officials are implicated; by Turkey, a rival of Riyadh; and by the U.S., the Saudis’ longstanding strategic partner. The same is true of many other states, including Britain, France and Germany, all of which have economic and strategic interests in the region.

But this objection proves too much. There are numerous instances in which countries have been accused of terrible crimes, including torture and extrajudicial killings. The list includes the U.S. and every other permanent member of the Security Council. This standard would disqualify virtually every U.N. member.

The general rule is that sovereign states both have the authority and the obligation to put their own houses in order by investigating and prosecuting alleged offenses. Only in the most extreme circumstances can an international inquiry be justified—such as when the state concerned is incapable of undertaking the investigation, or when the alleged offenses rise to the level of widespread international crimes, for which international law prescribes individual criminal responsibility.

The classic examples are war crimes and crimes against humanity, neither at issue here. The murder of a specific person has very rarely been the subject of an international investigation, as in the case of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s 2005 assassination. Syrian and Hezbollah involvement was suspected, and the Lebanese government was unable to conduct an investigation free of interference. Beirut thus agreed to the Security Council resolution establishing an independent investigative commission. Yet that probe was shunned by most intelligence services and failed to bring to justice any high-level culprits.

In this instance, Saudi Arabia is fully capable of investigating Khashoggi’s death and has the greatest interest in the matter. Khashoggi was a Saudi national; so, it appears, are his killers. There is obvious concern about the fairness of a Saudi investigation because of the potential involvement of high-level officials close to the royal family, and the conflicting Saudi explanations have been justifiably criticized. Yet the kingdom has been a respected member of the international community and surely understands a whitewash would severely damage its standing.

Turkey, too, has legitimate interests here. If Riyadh officially sanctioned Khashoggi’s killing in its Istanbul consulate, it would be an abuse of the diplomatic rights Turkey affords another sovereign under treaty. The U.S. and other Western powers can and should support and assist both Riyadh’s and Ankara’s investigations.

The U.S. has a strong interest in preserving international legal norms, grounded in the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which recognize the nation-state as the highest authority and establish rules that apply equally to all states. There is a determined movement to undermine this traditional system in favor of a supranational authority. These efforts have frequently targeted America, including its operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, renditions, interrogations and drone strikes. These matters have elicited condemnations at the U.N. and demands for international investigations. The U.S. has properly opposed such demands because it can and does investigate the allegations itself.

This leaves us with only one solution, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put it a few days ago: “We’re going to give them”—the Saudis and the Turks—“the space to complete their investigations of this incident, and when they issue their reports, we’ll form our judgment about the thoroughness, depth and the decisions they make about accountability connected to that.”

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey practice appellate and constitutional law and have argued before international legal bodies, including the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/saudi-probe-is-not-a-job-for-the-u-n-1540335772

Begging Your Pardon, Mr. President

The Trump presidency has been consumed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s efforts to uncover collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Mr. Mueller reportedly has secured one or more indictments that he will announce Monday. Some Republicans now seek a new special counsel to investigate if the Clinton Campaign “colluded” with Russians to smear Candidate Trump, along with other aspects of the Clintons’ relationship with Russia and Russian nationals. But one special counsel already is one too many.

During the 1980s and ’90s, American politics was repeatedly distorted, and lives devastated, through the appointment of independent counsels under the post-Watergate Ethics in Government Act. These constitutionally anomalous prosecutors were given unlimited time and resources to investigate officials, including President Clinton, and scandals, such as Iran-Contra. Once appointed, almost all independent counsels built little Justice Departments of their own and set out to find something—anything—to prosecute. Hardly anyone lamented the expiration of this pernicious law in 1999.
But special counsels, appointed by the attorney general and in theory subject to Justice Department oversight, haven’t proved any better in practice. Mr. Mueller’s investigation has already morphed into an open-ended inquiry. It is examining issues—like Donald Trump’s private business transactions—that are far removed from the Russian question. It also has expanded its focus beyond the original question of collusion with the Russians to whether anyone involved in the Russia investigation has committed some related offense. That is evident from investigators’ efforts to interview White House aides who were not involved in the 2016 campaign, and from leaks suggesting that Mr. Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey might have “obstructed” justice.

That claim is frivolous, and it damages America’s constitutional fabric even to consider it. A president cannot obstruct justice through the exercise of his constitutional and discretionary authority over executive-branch officials like Mr. Comey. If a president can be held to account for “obstruction of justice” by ending an investigation or firing a prosecutor or law-enforcement official—an authority the constitution vests in him as chief executive—then one of the presidency’s most formidable powers is transferred from an elected, accountable official to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats and judges.

Mr. Mueller’s investigation has been widely interpreted as partisan from the start. Mr. Trump’s opponents instantaneously started talking of impeachment—never mind that a special counsel, unlike an independent counsel, has no authority to release a report to Congress or the public. Mr. Trump’s supporters count the number of Democratic donors on the special-counsel staff. The Mueller investigation is fostering tremendous bitterness among Trump voters, who see it as an effort by Washington mandarins to nullify their votes.

Mr. Trump can end this madness by immediately issuing a blanket presidential pardon to anyone involved in supposed collusion with Russia or Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign, to anyone involved with Russian acquisition of an American uranium company during the Obama administration, and to anyone for any offense that has been investigated by Mr. Mueller’s office. Political weaponization of criminal law should give way to a politically accountable democratic process. Nefarious Russian activities, including possible interference in U.S. elections, can and should be investigated by Congress.

Partisan bitterness will not evaporate if lawmakers take up the investigation. But at least those conducting the inquiry will be legitimate and politically accountable. And the question of whether Russia intervened in the 2016 election, and of whether it made efforts to influence U.S. policy makers in previous administrations, is first and foremost one of policy and national security, not criminal law.

The president himself would be covered by the blanket pardon we recommend, but the pardon power does not extend to impeachment. If Congress finds evidence that he was somehow involved in collusion with Russia, the House can determine whether to begin impeachment proceedings. Congress also is better equipped, as part of its oversight role, to determine whether and how the FBI, Justice Department and intelligence agencies might have been involved in the whole affair, including possible misuse of surveillance and mishandling of criminal investigations.

There is ample precedent for using the presidential pardon authority to address matters of political importance. Certainly it is what the framers expected. As Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist 69, the pardon power was to “resemble . . . that of the king of Great Britain.” In Federalist 74, he observed that “there are often critical moments, when a well-timed offer of pardon to . . . insurgents or rebels may restore the tranquility of the commonwealth.”

Securing harmony in the body politic was President Washington’s motivation when he offered amnesty to participants in the Whiskey Rebellion in the 1790s, and it was President Lincoln’s motivation when he issued an amnesty during the Civil War for Confederates who would return their allegiance to the Union. Similar reasons motivated President Ford to pardon Richard Nixon, and President Carter when he offered amnesty to Vietnam-era draft evaders.

Lincoln’s proclamation of Dec. 8, 1863, is an excellent model of a broadly drafted and complete amnesty: “I . . . do proclaim, declare and make known to all persons who have directly or by implication participated in the existing rebellion, except as hereinafter excepted, that a full pardon is granted to them . . . upon condition that every such person shall take and subscribe an oath” of loyalty to the U.S. A similar pardon can be issued with respect to the Russian affair, ending the criminal investigations and leaving the business to Congress.

Permitting the criminal law again to become a regular weapon in politics is more destructive of democratic government than ham-handed efforts by a foreign power to embarrass one or more presidential candidates. It is true that Washington’s Augean stables need periodic cleaning, but it is Congress that should wield the shovels.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington. They served in the White House Counsel’s office and Justice Department in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/begging-your-pardon-mr-president-1509302308

The Ninth Circuit Ignores Precedent and Threatens National Security

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals violated both judicial precedent and the Constitution’s separation of powers in its ruling against President Trump’s executive order on immigration. If the ruling stands, it will pose a danger to national security.

Under normal rules of standing, the states of Washington and Minnesota should never have been allowed to bring this suit. All litigants, including states, must meet fundamental standing requirements: an injury to a legally protected interest, caused by the challenged action, that can be remedied by a federal court acting within its constitutional power. This suit fails on every count.

The plaintiff states assert that their public universities are injured because the order affects travel by certain foreign students and faculty. But that claim involved no legally protected interest. The granting of visas and the decision to admit aliens into the country are discretionary powers of the federal government. Unadmitted aliens have no constitutional right to enter the U.S. In hiring or admitting foreigners, universities were essentially gambling that these noncitizens could make it to America and be admitted. Under the theory of standing applied in this case, universities would be able to sponsor any alien, anywhere in the world, then go to court to challenge a decision to exclude him.

It is also settled law that a state can seek to vindicate only its own rights, not those of third parties, against the national government. The U.S. Supreme Court held in Massachusetts v. Mellon (1923) that it is not within a state’s duty or power to protect its citizens’ “rights in respect of their relations with the Federal Government.” Thus the plaintiffs’ claims that the executive order violates various constitutional rights, such as equal protection, due process and religious freedom, are insufficient because these are individual and not states’ rights.

Even if states could articulate a concrete injury, this is not a case in which the courts ultimately can offer redress. The Constitution grants Congress plenary power over immigration, and Congress has vested the president by statute with broad, nonreviewable discretionary authority to “suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens . . . he may deem to be appropriate” to protect “the interest of the United States.” Numerous presidents have used this authority to suspend entry of aliens from specific countries.

Further, as the Supreme Court explained in Knauff v. Shaughnessy (1950), the authority to exclude aliens “stems not alone from the legislative power but is inherent in the executive power to control the foreign affairs of the nation.” In issuing the order, the president was acting at the apex of his authority. As Justice Robert Jackson noted in Youngstown v. Sawyer (1952): “When the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate.” That point the Ninth Circuit ignored entirely.

The order, frequently mischaracterized as a “Muslim ban,” is actually directed at seven countries that the president believes present a particular threat to U.S. security—a view with which Congress agreed in 2015. All are beset by terrorists and so uncertain and chaotic that proper vetting of potential refugees and immigrants is virtually impossible.

President Obama chose to toughen vetting standards for these countries’ nationals rather than bar their entry completely. But if Mr. Trump has a different view of the threat, it is not up to the courts to decide who is right. This is a classic example of a nonjusticiable “political question,” involving matters constitutionally vested in the president and Congress.

Judges—were they adjudicating a suit brought by a party with standing—could overturn the president’s order if it entailed clear violations of due process or equal protection. But attempting to discern Mr. Trump’s motivation in selecting these countries exceeds the judiciary’s proper constitutional role. Judges scrutinize government motives in the domestic context, if presented with allegations that facially neutral governmental action is motivated by invidious discrimination. That inquiry is inappropriate in the foreign-policy sphere.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision represents an unprecedented judicial intrusion into the foreign-affairs authority of Congress and the president. The stakes transcend this particular executive order and even immigration issues generally. By removing restrictions on standing and other limitations on the exercise of judicial power, the Ninth Circuit would make the courts the ultimate arbiters of American foreign policy. The ruling risks creating both a constitutional and a security crisis. It must be reversed.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey practice constitutional and appellate law in Washington and served in the White House Counsel’s Office and U.S. Justice Department during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-ninth-circuit-ignores-precedent-and-threatens-national-security-1486748840

Is President Trump’s executive order constitutional?

February 6, 2017, in the Washington Post

Editor’s note: On Friday, U.S. District Judge James L. Robart issued a ruling temporarily halting enforcement of President Trump’s executive order barring entry to the U.S. for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries. On Monday evening, David Rivkin and Karen Tumlin exchanged views and predictions about the legal fight over the executive order. The email discussion was moderated by Post Opinions digital editor James Downie and has been edited for style and clarity.

Karen Tumlin: Hi, James and David, looking forward to having this discussion with you both on this important topic.

The executive order has several legal problems. I would highlight two of the most serious. First, ours is a nation that was founded on the premise that individuals should be free from religious discrimination by the government. That principle is enshrined in our Constitution and prohibits the federal government from discriminating against or favoring any religious group. This executive order does both. By banning the entry of individuals with valid visas from seven majority-Muslim countries, there is no question that the executive order singles out Muslims for disfavored treatment. Equally questionable is the preference given to minority religions under the executive order for refugees. Practically, this favors the admission of Christians.

Second, in addition to this broad delegation of authority from Congress, the president has inherent, formidable constitutional authority of his own over foreign affairs and national security, with the power to control immigration being an integral part of those authorities. So, here we have two political branches that have spoken in unison on this issue, placing the president in the strongest possible legal position. Last but not least, well-established Supreme Court precedents indicate that states — like the states of Washington and Minnesota — have no equal-protection rights of their own, nor can they vindicate equal-protection rights of their citizens. The same is true about being able to challenge alleged religious discrimination. This limitation on the states’ authority to champion such claims is fundamental to our separation-of-powers architecture.

Tumlin: When looking at the legality of this executive order, we have to look back to the very clear, discriminatory intentions for the order that were laid down repeatedly on the campaign trail by then-candidate Trump to create a ban on the entry of Muslims to the United States. The text of the executive order serves to implement that shameful campaign promise, as do statements by the president and the drafters of the order since its signing. Our Constitution does not stand for this kind of governmental discrimination.

You don’t have to discriminate against every Muslim in the world to run afoul of our Constitution’s protections and human decency.

The executive order doesn’t make us safer as a country, it puts us more at risk. But don’t just take my word for it. Have a look at the declaration submitted Monday at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit by a host of national security ex-officials from both sides of the aisle noting that in their “professional opinion, this Order cannot be justified on national security or foreign policy grounds.”

Rivkin: I disagree. There are a few instances that arise in the unique context of domestic equal-protection challenges to governmental actions that are facially neutral but produce substantial discriminatory impacts on groups of people, based on such suspect classifications as race, nationality, ethnic origin, etc. This doctrine has never been used in foreign affairs, both because of the tremendous judicial deference owed in this area to the two political branches and because discerning the intentions of the president is particularly difficult in the national security area, given the inherent lack of judicial competence in foreign affairs and lack of access to classified information.

 And, as a practical matter, under your logic, courts would rule differently on the constitutionality of exactly the same executive orders, suspending entry of certain types of aliens — with Obama’s order delaying the entrance of refugees from Iraq and President Ronald Reagan’s suspending the entrance of certain Cuban nationals — depending on how they felt about the subjective intentions of a given president. This cannot possibly be true.

And, to reiterate, as far as the judgments regarding whether or not this order makes us safer, such judgments are uniquely unsuited for judicial discernment and the judiciary is barred from engaging on them on the basis of the Supreme Court’s case law, known as the political question doctrine. The fact that some former national security officials challenge the policy wisdom of the order, while other national security officials — most notably those of this administration — support it, merely demonstrates that these are policy disputes that the judiciary is both ill-equipped and constitutionally barred from arbitrating.

James Downie: Karen, how would you respond to the argument that the president has the authority to enact this order?

Tumlin: The president is not king. He, too, must abide by our Constitution as well as the immigration laws duly written and passed by Congress. What the president has done here is attempt to hastily legislate by executive fiat. The result has been confusion among federal officials unsure of how to interpret or implement this presidential dictate and very real human suffering. And let’s be clear, this executive order does not only target non-U.S. citizens living abroad. It has profound consequences on U.S. citizens who can’t bring their parents in to witness the birth of a child, or on businesses that can’t send their most talented U.S.-based executives abroad for important meetings. And the order has left others in limbo overseas who may have taken a trip abroad to, for example, visit an ill relative, and unless the Washington state decision stands will not be able to return to their families and jobs in the United States because their validly issued visa vanished overnight.

Downie: David, can you expand on the argument that it’s not discriminatory against Muslims? Ilya Somin elsewhere on The Post’s site writes, “The unconstitutional motive behind Trump’s order can’t be sidestepped by pointing out that it blocks some non-Muslim refugees too. Poll taxes and literacy tests excluded a good many poor whites from the franchise, but were still clearly aimed at blacks.” What are your thoughts on that?

 Rivkin: My argument is focused on the fact that a relatively small percentage of the world’s Muslim countries are impacted by this order. Stated differently, this executive order is a singularly ineffective — in legal parlance, it would be called under-inclusive — form of a Muslim ban. Accordingly, it is not a Muslim ban at all, but a suspension of entrants from seven countries with conditions on the ground that both promote terrorism and make effective vetting impossible. By contrast, poll taxes were very effective in excluding blacks, as well as impacting many poor whites; in legal parlance, they were overly inclusive but nevertheless served their intended discriminatory purpose. This is fundamentally not the case here.

Tumlin: I would humbly submit that a more relevant lens to look at this question is in terms of recent Muslim migration to the United States. For example, 82 percent of all Muslim refugees who entered the United States in fiscal years 2014 through 2016 hailed from the seven countries. The executive order may not use the words “Muslims keep out,” but it certainly would serve to achieve that goal if allowed to stand.

Downie: In closing, how do you expect the 9th Circuit to decide on Robart’s ruling?

Rivkin: I believe that the 9th Circuit will not let Robart’s decision stand. I say this fully appreciating the fact that the 9th Circuit is the most idiosyncratic in the country and the one most often overruled by the Supreme Court. However, given the fact that the case brought by the states is so deeply flawed — they fail both standing-wise and merits-wise — I believe that the 9th Circuit will do the right thing and will rule in a matter of days. I would also expect that, because the plaintiffs in this case lack standing, the 9th Circuit would not only overturn Robart’s temporary restraining order but would dismiss the entire case without ever reaching the merits. If I am wrong and the 9th Circuit fails to do this, I have every confidence that this would be the result reached by the Supreme Court, when it became seized of that case.

Tumlin: I respectfully disagree with David on this always risky judicial crystal ball-gazing. In the 10 days since the executive order was signed, we have seen people take to the streets all across this country to protest it, lawyers like me have taken to the courts to challenge its illegality, and a diverse and stunning cross-section of Americans from every walk of life have questioned its wisdom. All because this executive order stands in sharp contrast with our legal and moral principles as a nation. I have every confidence that the 9th Circuit will let this temporary block on this harmful executive order stand.

 It is also worth mentioning that a real question exists as to the propriety of the 9th Circuit weighing in on the district court’s order at all at this time. Generally, temporary restraining orders are not appealable immediately to the higher courts.

Rivkin: In our constitutional system, the extent of political controversies, including the protests, surrounding a given issue is utterly unrelated to the analysis of legality and should have no effect on any court. And whether or not this order is inconsistent with our moral and legal traditions is a classical hortatory declaration, suitable for political debates, and is not a viable legal argument.

David B. Rivkin Jr. practices appellate and constitutional law in the District and served in the Justice Department under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Karen Tumlin is legal director for the National Immigration Law Center and the NILC Immigrant Justice Fund.

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/is-president-trumps-executive-order-constitutional/2017/02/06/26ee9762-ecc1-11e6-9973-c5efb7ccfb0d_story.html

Five Ways to Restore the Separation of Powers

The worst legacy of the Obama administration may be disdain for the Constitution’s separation of powers. President Obama’s actions have created dangerous stress fractures in our constitutional architecture, making it imperative that the Trump administration and Republican Congress commence immediate repairs.

The Constitution separates power in two ways: among the three branches of the federal government and between the federal government and states. As James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers, separation creates “a double security” for liberty because “different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.”

The Obama administration has spurned this core constitutional principle, aggrandizing executive power at the expense of Congress and states. It has rewritten laws, disregarding its constitutional duty to faithfully execute them.

ObamaCare’s implementation provides multiple examples: delaying statutory deadlines, extending tax credits to groups Congress never included, exempting unions from fees, expanding hardship waivers beyond recognition and granting “transition relief” for preferred employers.

Mr. Obama even usurped Congress’s power of the purse, spending billions for “cost-sharing subsidies” that pay ObamaCare insurers for subsidizing deductibles and copays. Congress never appropriated money for these subsidies, so the administration shifted money appropriated for other purposes. The House sued to defend its constitutional prerogative, and in May a federal court ruled against the administration, which has appealed.

Mr. Obama also exempted five million illegal immigrants from deportation, though Congress had unambiguously declared them deportable. He waived the mandatory work requirement of the 1996 welfare reform. He redefined sexual discrimination under Title IX, forcing schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms of their non-biological gender, and threatening to withdraw funds if colleges refuse to reduce due process protections for individuals accused of sexual assault.

The president has exhibited particular antipathy toward the Senate’s advice-and-consent duty. In Noel Canning v. NLRB (2014), the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the administration violated separation of powers by making unilateral appointments to the National Labor Relations Board while the Senate was in session. And the president unilaterally committed the nation to an unpopular nuclear deal with Iran, bypassing the Senate’s treaty ratification power.

Mr. Obama’s actions have also shattered federalism. The administration rewrote the 1970 Clean Air Act, commanding states to revamp their electricity generation and distribution infrastructure. It rewrote the 1972 Clean Water Act, claiming vast new power to regulate ditches and streams under the risible notion that they are “navigable waters.” It has refused to enforce existing federal drug laws, emboldening states to legalize marijuana.

The media and academy enabled the administration’s unconstitutional behavior because they support its policy agenda. But the Framers expected members of Congress to jealously defend congressional power against executive encroachment—even from a president of the same political party. As Madison observed, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place.”

This principle disappeared during the past eight years. In his 2014 State of the Union address, the president vowed to implement his agenda “wherever and whenever I can” without congressional involvement—to thunderous applause by Democrats. In November 2014, Democratic Senators urged the president to vastly expand his unilateral amnesty for illegal immigrants.

The Trump administration and GOP Congress should resist the temptation to follow this Constitution-be-damned playbook. The greatest gift Republicans could give Americans is a restored separation of powers. But this cannot be accomplished by merely rescinding the Obama administration’s unconstitutional executive orders. While this is a necessary step, Congress should enact additional reforms.

First, Congress can amend the 1996 Congressional Review Act to require affirmative approval of major executive-branch regulations. The law now allows regulations to go into effect automatically if Congress does not disapprove them. The act has been used only once to overturn a regulation because it requires passage of a joint resolution of disapproval—which must be signed by the president. This requirement should be inverted: If Congress does not affirmatively approve a regulation, it never goes into effect.

Second, Congress could prohibit “Chevron deference,” in which federal courts defer to executive branch interpretations of ambiguous statutes. Chevron deference is a judge-made doctrine that has aggrandized executive power, ostensibly to implement Congress’s intent. If Congress denounces such deference, it can simultaneously reduce executive power and encourage itself to legislate with greater specificity.

Third, Congress can augment its institutional authority by expanding its contempt power. The criminal contempt statute should require the U.S. attorney to convene a grand jury upon referral by the House or Senate without exercising prosecutorial discretion. Congress should also extend the civil contempt statute to the House, not merely the Senate, and enact a new law specifying a process for using Congress’s longstanding (but rarely invoked) inherent contempt authority.

Fourth, Congress can require that all major international commitments be ratified by treaty. A statute defining the proper dividing line between treaties and executive agreements would reassert the Senate’s constitutional role, provide clarification to the judiciary, and encourage communication and negotiation between Congress and the president.

Fifth, Congress can enact a law further restricting its ability to coerce states into adopting federal policies or commanding state officials to carry them out. While the courts have ultimate say on the contours of these federalism doctrines, a law could force greater consensus and debate, provide guidelines on Congress’s use of its powers, and signal to the judiciary a reinvigorated commitment to federalism.

Restoring separation of powers is necessary and possible. It should be the highest priority of the Trump administration and Congress.

Mr. Rivkin and Ms. Foley practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington, D.C. Ms. Foley is also a professor of constitutional law at Florida International University College of Law.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/five-ways-to-restore-the-separation-of-powers-1482192048

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