Tag Archives: David B Rivkin

Democrats Abandon the Constitution

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

October 16, 2018, in the Wall Street Journal

Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court has sparked a firestorm of outrage and recrimination on the left. Some attacks seem aimed at intimidating the justices into supporting progressive causes. “The Court must now prove—through its work—that it is worthy of the nation’s trust,” Eric Holder, President Obama’s attorney general, tweeted Oct. 6.

Yet the attacks go beyond ideology. Detractors of Justice Kavanaugh and President Trump are denouncing the Constitution itself and the core elements of America’s governmental structure:

• The Electoral College. Mr. Trump’s opponents claim he is an illegitimate president because Hillary Clinton “won the popular vote.” One commentator even asked “what kind of nation allows the loser of a national election to become president.” The complaint that the Electoral College is undemocratic is nothing new. The Framers designed it that way. They created a republican form of government, not a pure democracy, and adopted various antimajoritarian measures to keep the “demos” in check.

The Electoral College could be eliminated by amending the Constitution. But proposing an amendment requires two-thirds votes in both houses of Congress, and the legislatures of three-fourths, or 38, of the states would have to ratify it.

• The Senate. The complaint here is that the 50 senators who voted in Justice Kavanaugh’s favor “represent” fewer people than the 48 who voted against him. But senators represent states, not people.

Equal Senate representation for the states was a key part of the Connecticut Compromise, along with House seats apportioned by population. The compromise persuaded large and small states alike to accept the new Constitution. It was so fundamental that Article V of the Constitution—which spells out the amendment procedure—provides that “no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” That means an amendment changing the structure of the Senate would require ratification by all 50 states.

• Judicial independence. Commentators who disapprove of the Supreme Court’s composition have urged, as one law professor put it, “shrinking the power of the courts to overrun our citizens’ democratic decisions.” Some suggest limiting and staggering the justices’ terms so that a vacancy would come up every other year, ensuring that the court follows the election returns. That could be achieved via constitutional amendment, but it would go against the Framers’ wisdom. As Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 78, life tenure for judges is “the best expedient which can be devised in any government, to secure a steady, upright and impartial administration of the laws.”

Some of Justice Kavanaugh’s detractors have demanded that if Democrats take the House next month, they open an investigation into the sex-crime allegations Senate Democrats failed to substantiate. But although Congress has wide oversight powers with respect to the executive branch, it has no such oversight authority over the judiciary. The only way the House can legitimately investigate a sitting judge is in an impeachment proceeding.

And Justice Kavanaugh cannot be impeached for conduct before his promotion to the Supreme Court. Article III provides that judges “hold their Offices during good Behavior,” so that a judge can be removed only for “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” committed during his term in office.

That puts inquiry into allegations about Justice Kavanaugh’s conduct as a teenager and young adult well outside Congress’s investigative authority, along with any claims that he misled the Judiciary Committee. Such claims could be reviewed only as part of a criminal investigation by federal prosecutors based on a referral from the Senate, the only body that may decide whether his testimony contained “material” misrepresentations. For the House to inquire into this matter would impermissibly encroach on the Senate’s advice-and-consent power.

Michael Barone has observed that “all procedural arguments are insincere.” Those who now complain about the undemocratic nature of the Electoral College and the Senate were quite content when their party seemed to have a lock on the former and held a large majority in the latter. And it is the Supreme Court’s countermajoritarian character that made possible the decisions, such as Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges, that progressives now fear are at risk of being overturned or pared back.

There’s one thing the left could do to make the Supreme Court more liberal without amending the Constitution. Some have suggested a return to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “court packing” plan, which sought to expand the court to as many as 15 justices. Nothing in the Constitution prevents Congress from expanding the Supreme Court’s membership. Article III merely establishes a Supreme Court; it does not say how many justices it should have. Congress has altered the number of justices by statute several times, most recently in the Circuit Judges Act of 1869, which expanded the court from seven members to nine. But this would require a president and House and Senate majorities willing to go down this path, likely at considerable political cost. In other words, progressives would have to win elections. And if they did that, they’d be able to change the court without making it bigger.

The anger and disappointment of Justice Kavanaugh’s opponents is understandable, as would be that of his supporters if the vote had gone the other way. They are perfectly entitled to pursue political remedies, including using his appointment as a campaign issue. They also are entitled to pursue amendments to the Constitution that would make our system of government more responsive to the popular will. What they cannot do is overturn the Connecticut Compromise guaranteeing each state equal representation in the Senate, or launch unconstitutional investigations or impeachment of a sitting Supreme Court justice. The Constitution protects all of us, even Supreme Court justices.

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/democrats-abandon-the-constitution-1539645364

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The Rule of Law Prevails in the Travel Ban Case

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

 

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

Unappointed ‘Judges’ Shouldn’t Be Trying Cases

Trump Is Right to Pardon Scooter Libby, an Innocent Man

President Trump has pardoned I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, convicted in 2007 of perjury and obstruction of justice. The president was right to do so. Mr. Libby’s conviction was a travesty.

Mr. Libby, who served as Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, got caught up in a special counsel’s investigation about the disclosure to the press of a CIA agent’s identity. It appears Mr. Cheney was the investigation’s real target. Mr. Libby’s lawyers have said prosecutors offered to drop the charges against Mr. Libby if he would incriminate his boss. But, there was “no there, there.” Neither Mr. Libby nor Mr. Cheney had anything to do with the “leak” or with covering it up. No one was charged with a crime in the “outing” of the agent, Valerie Plame, and it’s not clear it was a crime.

The Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 makes it a crime to reveal the identity of a “covert” intelligence agent. Ms. Plame was a midlevel employee stationed at Central Intelligence Agency headquarters. In early 2002, she urged her superiors to tap her husband, retired diplomat Joe Wilson, to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy processed uranium in Niger. The CIA interpreted Mr. Wilson’s report as supporting that claim, but a year later he publicly declared the evidence was dubious and became a vocal critic of President Bush’s Iraq policy.

The late Robert Novak wrote a column revealing that Mr. Wilson had gone to Niger at Ms. Plame’s urging. Mr. Wilson asserted that the revelation of his wife’s CIA employment was meant to punish him. But her identity was well-known around Washington, suggesting that she had not taken “affirmative measures” to conceal her “intelligence relationship to the United States,” a necessary element of the crime.

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed by his friend James Comey, then deputy attorney general. From the start, Mr. Fitzgerald knew that the critical “leak” to Novak had come from then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. He nevertheless commenced an extensive investigation to “discover” what had happened.

The charges against Mr. Libby were based on his description of various conversations he had with journalists at the time, including the New York Times’s Judith Miller. Based on notes she had made containing the word “bureau” in association with Ms. Plame’s job, Ms. Miller became the only reporter to testify that Mr. Libby had discussed Ms. Plame’s CIA connection with her. Mr. Fitzgerald called her testimony “critical” in his closing argument to the jury, which found Mr. Libby guilty on four of five counts.

But Ms. Miller later realized her testimony had been mistaken. Ms. Plame published a memoir in late 2007, months after Libby’s trial. In Ms. Miller’s 2015 book, “A Reporter’s Story,” she writes that one particular point in Ms. Plame’s account immediately caught her eye: Ms. Plame’s CIA “cover” had been as an employee of a State Department bureau. Mr. Libby would have known the CIA has “divisions,” not “bureaus.” He could not, therefore, have been the person who revealed Ms. Plame’s CIA connection to Ms. Miller.

Ms. Miller did not recognize her mistake when preparing her trial testimony, because she did not know that Ms. Plame had a State Department cover. Had she known, she would not have claimed she and Mr. Libby had discussed Ms. Plame’s CIA status. But Mr. Fitzgerald knew, and Ms. Miller believes he deliberately led her away from the truth.

All this means that Mr. Libby was telling the truth about his conversations with Ms. Miller, and that he did not deliberately mislead Mr. Fitzgerald’s grand jury or the FBI. For her part, Ms. Miller had not lied at Mr. Libby’s trial; she had given false testimony in good faith. “With the information about Plame’s cover that Fitzgerald had withheld, it was hard not to conclude that my testimony had been wrong,” she writes. “Had I helped convict an innocent man?

She had. It is now established that Mr. Libby never told any reporter about Ms. Plame, never knew that she had any special status, and had no reason to lie about any of this—and that the “leak” had caused no harm to the CIA, its personnel or operations. But the time for Mr. Libby’s appeals has long passed.

One court partially righted the wrong Mr. Libby suffered. In 2016, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, a local tribunal, restored Mr. Libby’s license to practice law in the nation’s capital. This action was based on a report by the D.C. Bar’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which specifically noted that Mr. Libby had consistently maintained his innocence, that he never denied the seriousness of the offenses of which he was convicted, and that Ms. Miller, as a “key prosecution witness . . . has changed her recollection of the events in question.”

Long ago, Hillary Clinton’s friend and law partner Vince Foster wrote that Washington was a place where “ruining people is considered sport.” He left those words in a note found after his 1993 suicide. Foster’s observation is undeniably true—but should not be. Mr. Trump promised to change the way Washington works, and has himself experienced the full force of this detestable Washington pastime since before he took office. By granting Scooter Libby a full pardon, he has taken a step toward changing Washington’s culture, and he has righted a grievous wrong.

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.

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