Tag Archives: Congress

A Champion of Constitutional Safeguards

Days before President Trump announced his choice of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, Senate Democrats had vowed to oppose any nominee. Backed by an activist-fueled propaganda machine, they now will unleash relentless personal attacks—on Judge Kavanaugh’s Catholic faith, his “elitist” Yale degrees, his service in the George W. Bush administration.

As with the attacks last year on Justice Neil Gorsuch, they should be unavailing. Over Judge Kavanaugh’s 12 years on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, he has developed an impressive record as a legal thinker and a champion of the Constitution’s structural safeguards against overweening government.

Typical is a 2008 dissent in which Judge Kavanaugh concluded that the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board was unconstitutionally structured because it improperly insulated the agency from political accountability. The opinion was a tour de force of historical exposition and originalist methodology—that is, interpreting the Constitution’s text as it was originally understood. The Supreme Court ultimately agreed, adopting the reasoning of Judge Kavanaugh’s dissent.

Yet he is equally wary of unbridled executive authority, as a 2013 case shows. When the Nuclear Regulatory Commission declined to proceed with licensing the proposed waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev., which the agency appeared to oppose on policy grounds, he wrote: “The President may not decline to follow a statutory mandate or prohibition simply because of policy objections.”

In articles and speeches as well as formal opinions, Judge Kavanaugh has been a leading critic of Chevron deference, the courts’ practice of giving agencies free rein to interpret their own statutory authority. In a 2016 law-review article, he wrote that Chevron encourages the executive branch “to be extremely aggressive in seeking to squeeze its policy goals into ill-fitting statutory authorizations and restraints,” cutting Congress out of the picture. “The American rule of law, as I see it, depends on neutral, impartial judges who say what the law is.”

On that score, Judge Kavanaugh rivals the late Justice Antonin Scalia in his ability to make sense of Congress’s often knotty statutory constructions. Judge Kavanaugh considers textualism to be an important restraint on judges that prevents them from imposing their policy preferences. As he put it in that 2016 article: “When courts apply doctrines that allow them to rewrite the laws (in effect), they are encroaching on the legislature’s Article I power.”

That’s why the Democrats’ formulaic charges of partisanship won’t stick. In case after case, Judge Kavanaugh sided with the Obama administration in the war on terror. He turned away a constitutional challenge to ObamaCare on jurisdictional grounds, while writing that the government’s defenses of the law were “unprecedented” and without “principled limit.”

Across three successive administrations, Judge Kavanaugh has frequently ruled against the government. According to Jennifer Mascott of Scalia Law School, he “has written 40 opinions finding agency action to be unlawful and joined majority opinions reversing agency action in at least 35 additional cases.” That’s a muscular record on a court often criticized for deference to government.

Democrats may make an issue of a 1998 academic article in which Judge Kavanaugh—who early in his career worked in the Office of Independent Counsel during the Clinton administration—questioned whether the Constitution permits criminal prosecution of a sitting president. He didn’t actually reach a conclusion on the question, but the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel did, holding that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Since that opinion is binding on special counsel Robert Mueller, there’s no prospect the issue will reach the Supreme Court.

Democrats will also roll out culture-war issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. There is nothing in Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial or scholarly record to indicate how he would vote on any of those issues. Only one sitting justice, Clarence Thomas, has said he favors overturning Roe v. Wade, so the status quo on abortion seems likely to prevail for some time. As for same-sex marriage, there appears to be little appetite on the court to revisit it, and even less reason to believe that a case doing so is likely to arise, given its rapid public acceptance.

At any rate, it would be improper for Judge Kavanaugh to answer senators’ questions about how he would vote on any particular issue. Since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s appointment in 1993, her “Ginsburg Rule”—“no hints, no forecasts, no previews”—has stood. Judges do not decide abstract issues but concrete cases with specific facts, arguments, and governing law. Judges have a duty to decide cases as they arise, without prejudgment. Like Justice Ginsburg, Judge Kavanaugh can and should be questioned on his record. And a fine record it is.

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 at the Cato Institute.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-champion-of-constitutional-safeguards-1531189515

 

Advertisements

Mueller’s Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

Trump has the Constitution on his side

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

June 12, 2018 in the Washington Post

The Constitution vests all executive power in the president. He has the authority to determine what matters will, and will not, be investigated and prosecuted by the U.S. government. This is also a core part of the president’s obligation to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” — and it remains so even if done through an unorthodox channel such as Twitter.

So it is puzzling to see so much criticism of President Trump’s demand that the Justice Department investigate allegations about his presidential campaign being improperly subjected to an FBI counterintelligence probe. Same goes for his instruction to the Justice Department and the FBI that they should grant congressional requests for information about that matter.

Indeed, Trump would have been well within his authority, and well within precedent, to order an investigation entirely independent of the Justice Department and the FBI, as President Lyndon B. Johnson did when he created, by executive order, the Warren Commission to investigate the circumstances of President John F. Kennedy’s death.

When critics claim that a president cannot direct federal law-enforcement activities, they are implying that subordinate executive-branch officials can both judge and act upon their own assessment of a president’s motivations. There is no basis in the Constitution’s language, statute or Supreme Court precedent for such a notion. Those who object to a president’s instructions may resign, but they cannot usurp executive authority and defy him.

Imagine a world where this kind of insulation from presidential control existed. Such a system would create more opportunities for misconduct than the constitutionally enshrined system. Unlike appointed officials and employees, the president is accountable to the electorate. If he misuses his power, the voters can punish him. And if he abuses his authority, Congress can remove him from office through impeachment proceedings. By contrast, when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was, for all practical purposes, insulated from presidential control, his tenure lasted decades and encompassed law-enforcement abuses and civil rights violations.

Only in one post-Watergate statute did Congress limit the president’s ability to oversee criminal investigations by providing for appointment of an independent counsel who could be removed only for cause. The Supreme Court upheld this law in Morrison v. Olson, even though it trenched upon the president’s executive authority, concluding that the statute did not unduly limit the president’s power because the imposition was slight. Effectively treating all federal prosecutors as independent and placing the entire federal law-enforcement apparatus beyond the president’s supervision would fly in the face of Morrison.

Besides, with accountability being a paramount constitutional virtue, there is another fundamental constitutional problem with the kind of insulation that Trump’s critics propose. Congressionally mandated insulation of independent counsels at least left Congress politically accountable.

By contrast, bureaucratic self-­insulation is inherently imprecise and destroys accountability. And unlike the statutorily based insulation that the Supreme Court reviewed in Morrison, self-insulation evades judicial review. This is anathema to our constitutional architecture and the rule of law.

Similarly, the Justice Department’s assertion of executive privilege to shield from disclosure documents — such as those sought by Congress on federal surveillance of the Trump campaign — is also a core presidential function. This power is grounded in the president’s right — as the head of a co-equal branch of government — to maintain his independence and do his job. As the Supreme Court noted in United States v. Nixon, in which White House tape recordings of the president’s own conversations were at issue, the “privilege is fundamental to the operation of Government and inextricably rooted in the separation of powers under the Constitution.”

The court found, of course, that the privilege is not absolute. In Nixon and other cases, courts have required production of confidential executive materials. None has suggested, however, that a president’s voluntary decision to provide materials to Congress can be gainsaid, either by subordinate executive-branch officials or the courts. If the president determines to provide such materials to Congress, then the relevant agency officials must comply with his decision or resign. They have no legal authority to overrule such a presidential decision or to impose additional conditions on how Congress handles these materials.

This is true, though the documents being sought involve law-­enforcement materials. Indeed, as explained in a letter to Congress by Attorney General William French Smith in 1982, it has been Justice Department policy since at least President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration not to withhold such documents if they may “contain evidence of criminal or unethical conduct by agency officials.” Thus, to the extent Justice Department officials now object to Trump’s orders to provide the materials Congress seeks regarding surveillance of his presidential campaign, those objections cannot be sustained even under the department’s own policies.

Whatever one feels about the wisdom of Trump’s directives, fidelity to the Constitution best protects our democracy in the long run.

David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, who practice appellate and constitutional law in the District, served in the Justice Department under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Rivkin also served in the White House counsel’s office in the George H.W. Bush administration.

Source: www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/yes-trump-has-the-power-to-investigate-the-fbis-probe-of-his-campaign/2018/06/12/dfaf7f84-6e5a-11e8-afd5-778aca903bbe_story.html

 

What’s at Stake in the Attack on Haspel

Gina Haspel reportedly offered last week to withdraw her nomination as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The White House declined and now must stand behind her as she faces an unjustified assault involving the Bush administration’s enhanced-interrogation program.

Shortly after 9/11, the administration concluded that it needed to obtain as much actionable intelligence as possible to avert future attacks. It decided to explore, and ultimately adopted, the use of interrogation methods against some al Qaeda operatives far more rigorous than would have been permissible against lawful prisoners of war.

The administration was properly mindful of U.S. statutes and obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Even unlawful enemy combatants may not be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. Where to draw the line? It was not for the CIA, much less Ms. Haspel, to answer that question, but for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which advises federal agencies on the law.

OLC’s guidance, in the form of several memos issued in 2002 and 2003, was communicated through the CIA’s general counsel to agents in the field and was the basis on which the enhanced-interrogation program was carried out. The guidance was precise and unambiguous. It listed all the legally permissible interrogation techniques, backed up by appropriate safeguards. The details of this program were fully and repeatedly briefed to the so-called congressional Gang of Eight—the House and Senate majority and minority leaders and chairmen and ranking members of the intelligence committees. None raised a word of objection.

But as the fear of terrorism receded, one of OLC’s memos was leaked to the press, in June 2004. It ignited a debate, in and out of government, over what the administration’s opponents labeled “torture.” (We supported the administration in these pages.) OLC soon withdrew that memo and issued revised guidance on Dec. 30, 2004. Although narrower and more cautiously reasoned than the original, the new guidance stated unequivocally that “we have reviewed this Office’s prior opinions addressing issues involving treatment of detainees and do not believe that any of their conclusions would be different under the standards set forth in this memorandum.”

The CIA program ended in November 2007, and President Obama formally banned coercive interrogations in January 2009. Congress also passed a series of statutes limiting the CIA’s interrogation protocols to the benign techniques featured in the U.S. Army Field Manuals.

To assuage concerns about Ms. Haspel’s career, the CIA has offered to make the relevant materials available to the Senate for review behind closed doors. It should resist the request of some senators to declassify her entire personnel file. Since Ms. Haspel spent almost her whole career in clandestine service, was posted overseas on numerous occasions, and ran covert assets against hard targets, such disclosure would be certain to expose sensitive operations, jeopardize the safety of U.S. and allied intelligence agents, and damage national security.

Ms. Haspel has been criticized for her role in the CIA’s 2005 destruction of videotapes showing interrogations. At the time, she served as chief of staff to Jose Rodriguez, director of clandestine programs, who authorized the destruction. Given the existence of written transcripts, which included descriptions of the specific interrogation techniques being used, retention of the tapes was not required by law or regulation. There was also justifiable concern that the tapes might be leaked someday, revealing the identity of covert CIA operatives. When Mr. Obama’s deputy CIA director, Mike Morrell, investigated the matter, he wrote that he “found no fault with the performance of Ms. Haspel,” who had acted “appropriately.” Mr. Rodriguez was reprimanded only for not obtaining explicit approval of his superiors before destroying the tapes.

What is at stake here is not just the career of a courageous, dedicated public servant. Like other government employees, intelligence officers cannot ignore the policy decisions of their political superiors. Those appointees, and ultimately the president, are accountable for their actions—as are the congressional leaders who raised no objection to enhanced interrogation at the time. If agents are blamed following the directives of their superiors, the CIA’s ability to protect the U.S. will be fundamentally compromised.

The White House is right to stand behind Ms. Haspel—not only because she risked life and limb in the service of her country, but because of the important principles at stake.

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

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/whats-at-stake-in-the-attack-on-haspel-1525731820

FISA Abuses Are a Special Threat to Privacy and Due Process

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

Feb. 26, 2018, in the Wall Street Journal

The House Democratic surveillance memo is out, and it should worry Americans who care about privacy and due process. The memo defends the conduct of the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation in obtaining a series of warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to wiretap former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

The Democrats argue that Christopher Steele, the British former spy who compiled the Trump “dossier” on which the government’s initial warrant application was grounded, was credible. They also claim the FISA court had the information it needed about the dossier’s provenance. And they do not dispute former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s acknowledgment that the FBI would not have sought a FISA order without the Steele dossier.

The most troubling issue is that the surveillance orders were obtained by withholding critical information about Mr. Steele from the FISA court. The court was not informed that Mr. Steele was personally opposed to Mr. Trump’s election, that his efforts were funded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, or that he was the source of media reports that the FBI said corroborated his dossier. These facts are essential to any judicial assessment of Mr. Steele’s veracity and the applications’ merits.

The FBI should have been especially wary of privately produced Russia-related dossiers. As the Washington Post and CNN reported in May 2017, Russian disinformation about Mrs. Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch evidently prompted former FBI Director James Comey to announce publicly the close of the investigation of the Clinton email server, for fear that the disinformation might be released and undermine the bureau’s credibility.

In addition, even assuming the dossier was accurate regarding Mr. Page, its allegations are thin. Mr. Page was said to have met in Moscow with Russian officials, who raised the potential for cooperation if Trump was elected; Mr. Page was noncommittal. The most significant claim—that those officials offered Mr. Page a bribe in the form of Russian business opportunities—suggests he was not a Russian agent. Existing operatives don’t need to be bribed.

There was no good reason to withhold from the FISA court any information regarding Mr. Steele, his anti-Trump biases, or the dossier’s origin as opposition research. The court operates in secret, so there was no danger of revealing intelligence sources and methods. The inescapable conclusion is that the information was withheld because the court would have been unlikely to issue the order if it knew the whole truth.

That’s a problem because following the rules and being absolutely candid with the court is even more essential in the FISA context than in ordinary criminal investigations. Congress enacted FISA in 1978 to create a judicial process through which counterintelligence surveillance could take place within the U.S., even when directed at American citizens, consistent with “this Nation’s commitment to privacy and individual rights.”

Because the purpose of counterintelligence is to gather information, not necessarily to prosecute criminals, the standards required for issuance of a FISA order are less demanding than those governing warrant requests in criminal cases. In both contexts a finding of “probable cause” is required. But an application for a criminal warrant must show, among other things, that “there is probable cause for belief that an individual is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a particular offense” under federal law. Under FISA, it’s enough to show probable cause that the targeted U.S. person’s “activities may involve a violation of the criminal statutes of the United States” (emphasis ours).

This difference is subtle but crucial. The FISA standard is far easier to meet; and in the past, the FISA court has criticized the government for taking advantage of the lower standard to obtain FISA warrants for use in criminal investigations. The lower standard makes it imperative that the responsible officials be extra careful when validating the information on which the order is based, in ensuring that the statutory standards are met, and in keeping the FISA court fully informed.

Slipshod and duplicitous FISA order applications also necessarily raise constitutional issues. FISA has been generally considered permissible under the Fourth Amendment, even though its probable-cause standard is “more flexible,” as one court noted, because of the statute’s procedural safeguards. But those protections mean very little if investigators withhold material information from the court. Moreover, in an ordinary criminal case, the target of surveillance has full due-process rights in a public trial. If a FISA order is obtained improperly, the target’s privacy is still invaded, but there is no opportunity for vindication. The perpetrators of the abuse, and even the abuse itself, will likely never be exposed.

Congress must consider carefully the actions of the FBI and Justice Department, with a determination to hold the responsible parties to account and to ask whether these abuses, which nearly went undetected, demand significant changes to the FISA process itself to protect the privacy and due-process rights of Americans.

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/fisa-abuses-are-a-special-threat-to-privacy-and-due-process-1519689446

The Judicial ‘Resistance’ Is Futile

The U.S. Supreme Court does not act in haste, so the justices raised some eyebrows last month when they took only two weeks to agree to hear the government’s appeal of an immigration case. Normally it would have taken several months, and a ruling might not have come until 2019. Instead the court is expected to issue a decision in Trump v. Hawaii by the end of the current term, in June.

Why the rush? Because lower-court judges have been playing an extraordinary cat-and-mouse game with the Supreme Court over President Trump’s three executive orders limiting immigration from several terror-prone countries. Over the past year, numerous trial and appellate courts have enjoined those orders, only to have the high court stay their decisions.

The lower-court judges have defied precedent by holding that the president has neither constitutional nor statutory authority to issue these orders. They have improperly questioned Mr. Trump’s motives, even analyzing his campaign statements for evidence of bad intent. And they have responded to each reversal from the high court by spinning new theories to strike down the orders. The judges appear to have joined the “resistance,” and it wouldn’t be surprising if the justices concluded enough is enough.

The case the court will now review is the handiwork of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which engaged in an analysis that ignored key precedents and misapplied accepted canons of statutory interpretation.

Any legal analysis of the travel orders must begin with the core constitutional propositions, articulated by the Supreme Court in Knauff v. Shaughnessy (1950), that “an alien who seeks admission to this country may not do so under any claim of right” and that the authority to exclude aliens “stems not alone from legislative power but is inherent in the executive power to control the foreign affairs of the nation.” Congress has the leading role in determining who may immigrate, stay and become a citizen. But the president has independent plenary authority to exclude aliens for foreign-policy or national-security reasons.

The Ninth Circuit brushed aside Knauff and held that Mr. Trump “lacks independent constitutional authority to issue the Proclamation, as control over the entry of aliens is a power within the exclusive province of Congress.” Then it went a step beyond that.

In 1952 Congress enacted a statute authorizing the president to “suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens” whenever he finds their entry to be “detrimental” to the national interest and to establish restrictions on entry. The Ninth Circuit declared that the law as written amounts to an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power—never mind that in Knauff the high court dismissed such a challenge to a similar statute, holding that Congress had merely reaffirmed the president’s own constitutional authority.

The Ninth Circuit further argued that even if the statutory language was constitutional, it was outweighed by a provision in the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act barring discrimination on the basis of nationality. But that provision applies to the issuance of immigrant visas, not the entry of aliens. Holding that a statute dealing with one issue vitiates a statute dealing with another matter is not, to put it mildly, an accepted statutory interpretation method.

The circuit judges still weren’t done. They held that even if the 1952 statute applied, Mr. Trump failed to comply with it. The judges characterized his proclamation as reflecting “general immigration concerns” not grounded in critical foreign-policy or national-security findings. In fact, the order clearly stated the action or inaction of the eight designated governments made it impossible to assess adequately whether admission of their nationals creates an unacceptable risk to the U.S.

That was an especially egregious error. The Constitution and Supreme Court cases going back to the seminal Marbury v. Madison (1803) grant the courts no authority to review the discretionary policy choices made by the political branches. When it comes to immigration, the judiciary’s role is limited to determining whether any procedural requirements Congress had enacted have been satisfied. That is what the Supreme Court did in Knauff and what the Ninth Circuit should have done here.

The Supreme Court seems likely to correct this error. The justices voted 7-2 in December to stay any judicial order stopping implementation of the current immigration policy, even before the Ninth Circuit’s decision was issued. One hopes the justices will strongly affirm that the president has the power to exclude aliens from the U.S. for foreign-policy and national-security purposes, and that the judiciary has no role in reviewing his policy choices in this area. A unanimous ruling would send an especially strong message.

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://t.co/CTxCOOSJ8F

The Zero That Makes Mulvaney a Hero

By Democrats’ design, the CFPB director has vast power. He can use it to shrink the bureau.

Richard Cordray asked Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen for $217 million in October—his last such request as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Last week Mr. Cordray’s acting successor, Mick Mulvaney, made his first quarterly funding request: “$0.” What a difference a few months make.

Established in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis according to now-Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s vision, the CFPB ran wild under Mr. Cordray’s leadership—issuing reams of punishing regulations and conducting endless fishing expeditions, sometimes into industries Congress had specifically excluded from its jurisdiction.

This was possible because the bureau was designed to be insulated from accountability. It is led by a single director, whom the president cannot fire except for cause, and funded by the Fed, so that it need not justify its actions and funding needs to Congress.

Whether this arrangement is constitutional is an open question, currently pending in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. But for now, as that court’s Judge Brett Kavanaugh has observed, it renders the CFPB director “the single most powerful official in the entire United States Government” (with the possible exception of the president).

That power now belongs to Mr. Mulvaney—and if Mr. Cordray had no constraints in his overreach, his successor is equally free to rein it in. Mr. Mulvaney has already frozen new regulations as well as regulatory “guidance,” which agencies often treat as carrying the force of law. But with Mr. Cordray’s minions burrowed into the bureau’s 1,600-person workforce, tweaks to rules and enforcement policies will only go so far.

The linchpin for fast and effective deregulation is substantially defunding the agency and clearing out its ranks in the process. Mr. Mulvaney’s request of zip from Ms. Yellen is a good first step.

The statute creating the bureau sets its budget at “the amount determined by the Director to be reasonably necessary to carry out the authorities of the Bureau,” and no one is authorized to second-guess that determination. That supports Mr. Mulvaney’s decision to forgo additional funding this quarter and draw down the unauthorized $177 million “reserve fund” Mr. Cordray built up during his tenure.

The language that authorizes Mr. Mulvaney to slash funding applies equally to spending—after all, determining what is “reasonably necessary” to do the bureau’s business implies determining what that business is. When Congress has made a lump-sum appropriation to an agency without mandates for spending on particular items, the courts have viewed that as authorization for the agency to choose how to spend the funds. The CFPB’s funding mechanism confers even broader discretion on the director given that he controls revenue as well.

It is possible that a court would require funding for the CFPB’s statutory obligations. The statute requires, for example, that the bureau establish an office focused on “traditionally underserved consumers and communities.” That mandate suggests that the director cannot zero out the office’s budget. But it says nothing about how much funding is required or whether assistance to underserved communities is best organized at the state level, with a skeleton crew at the CFPB playing a coordinating role. There is no standard by which a court could review those decisions.

The bottom line is that all of the CFPB’s discretionary spending is at the pleasure of the director, and the bulk of its $630 million budget is discretionary. That gives Mr. Mulvaney the power to reshape the agency radically—and resize it—in short order. And by exerting his powers to their fullest, perhaps Mr. Mulvaney will be able to convince even congressional Democrats that those powers are excessive and ought to be restrained.

Messrs. Rivkin and Grossman practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-zero-that-makes-mulvaney-a-hero-1516566319