Tag Archives: David B Rivkin

In Texas, judges waive bail for the indigent, distorting the Constitution

by DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. & LEE A. CASEY

May 31, 2017, in the National Review

The Constitution protects arrestees against “excessive bail.” This guarantee, however, has never been understood to provide indigents the right to a zero-dollar bail simply because they cannot afford more. That, however, is the clear import of in ODonnell v. Harris County, a recent decision by a federal district court in Houston. Unless reversed on appeal, such a rule would require the release of any arrestee, irrespective of the seriousness of the charges being brought, who claims that he or she cannot afford bail — even if the arrestee has a history of failing to appear for trial. This would have wide-ranging implications for how the balance is struck between the rights of criminal defendants and society at large. And policy consequences aside, another judge-engineered right would enter the Constitution’s firmament.

The ODonnell case is part of a recent wave of lawsuits asking unelected federal judges to require the release of arrestees without any bail if they cannot afford it, regardless of what the Constitution says or what such a sweeping abolition of money-bail requirements might portend. Indeed, for many individuals who are accused of a crime, facing months or years in jail, the temptation is great to skip court and avoid justice, and money bail can be a powerful incentive to check this temptation.

When judges set bail, they may obviously consider an arrestee’s ability to pay. But the Constitution does not require this to be the only factor. In fact, Texas law requires judges to consider not only an arrestee’s ability to pay but also their flight risk, criminal history, and danger to the community. Indigent arrestees who present little flight risk are frequently released without posting money bail. But public safety is not served by releasing, with no financial constraint, arrestees with long rap sheets and rich histories of failing to appear in court — which is what the Houston court’s decision arguably now requires.

Certainly the Constitution does not require the indiscriminate release of any arrestee, even for comparatively minor charges, on his or her own terms. The Eighth Amendment expressly protects arrestees from “excessive bail,” but federal courts have repeatedly and squarely held, in the words of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit — which has jurisdiction over the federal courts in Texas — that bail “is not constitutionally excessive merely because a defendant is financially unable to satisfy the requirement.”

Because they cannot prevail under the Eighth Amendment’s specific protection against excessive bail, the plaintiffs in ODonnell attempted to find a right to affordable bail in the Fourteenth Amendment’s more general “equal protection” and “due process” guarantees. But the Supreme Court has held that courts cannot sidestep an enumerated constitutional limitation on government power (here, the Eighth Amendment’s protection against “excessive bail”) by discovering an even more robust limitation on that power in the vaguer language of the Fourteenth Amendment. Otherwise, litigants could do just what the plaintiffs seek to do in the bail cases: Replace the Constitution’s standard for excessive bail with their own preferred standard.

This is not the only problem with the plaintiffs’ argument. Their claim boils down to the idea that facially neutral bail systems have a disparate impact on indigents, but the Supreme Court held in Washington v. Davis (1976) that disparate-impact claims are not cognizable under the Fourteenth Amendment, as opposed to certain federal statutes that allow for such claims. Indeed, every law, at some level, has a disparate impact. In fact, in attempting to eliminate an alleged disparate impact on the indigent, the Houston court’s order creates express discrimination: Those who claim they are indigent may be released without providing any sureties, while those who are not indigent may be required to provide secured money bail or sit in jail. The Supreme Court has rejected such invidious reverse discrimination. And in ordering Houston to release prisoners, the district court also ignored the Supreme Court’s admonition that federal courts cannot use civil-rights lawsuits to order the release of arrestees.

The plaintiffs’ case rests largely on the policy argument, set forth by a few academics, that arrestees who are held in jail because they cannot make bail are more likely to plead guilty or commit crimes than those who are released on bail. But a recent study in Dallas found that failure-to-appear rates are, indeed, lower among misdemeanor arrestees released on secured bail those of arrestees released without a secured money requirement. This study confirms the elementary notion, obvious to anyone who has taken out a secured loan, that people are more likely to make good on a promise if they commit to forfeit something of value in the event that they renege.

More important, if opponents of money bail object to the time-tested bail system on policy grounds, or because of the latest academic study, they are free to try to convince their neighbors to abandon money bail by democratic choice, at the ballot box. The courts simply are not the correct forum to effect such changes.

— David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey practice constitutional and appellate law in Washington, D.C.

Source: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/448115/odonnell-v-harris-county-excessive-bail-constitution-distorted

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The Fourth Circuit Joins the ‘Resistance’

Another court has weighed in against President Trump’s executive order temporarily limiting entry to the U.S. of aliens from six terrorist hotspot countries in Africa and the Middle East. In ruling against the order last week, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals defied Supreme Court precedent and engaged the judicial branch in areas of policy that the Constitution plainly reserves to the president and Congress. The high court should reverse the decision.

In International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump, the Fourth Circuit affirmed a Maryland district judge’s nationwide injunction halting enforcement of the president’s order. Chief Judge Roger Gregory, writing for the 10-3 majority, acknowledged that the “stated national security interest is, on its face, a valid reason” for the order. But he went on to conclude that the administration acted in bad faith based on, among other things, “then-candidate Trump’s numerous campaign statements expressing animus towards the Islamic faith.”

Whatever one may think of that conclusion as a political matter, as a legal matter the judges overstepped their bounds. The controlling case is Kleindienst v. Mandel (1972), in which the Supreme Court rejected a petition from American scholars seeking admission to the country on behalf of a foreign colleague who had been kept out because he advocated communism. The plaintiffs argued that the government’s refusal to admit their colleague on account of his views violated their First Amendment rights. The justices upheld his exclusion and made three things clear: first, aliens have no constitutional right to enter the U.S.; second, American citizens have no constitutional right to demand entry for aliens; and third, the decision to deny admission to an alien must be upheld if it is based on “a facially legitimate and bona fide reason.”

 The high court has repeatedly reaffirmed and followed Mandel. Fiallo v. Bell (1977) rejected a challenge to immigration preferences that openly favored legitimate over illegitimate children and female U.S. nationals over male—distinctions that almost certainly would have been found unconstitutional in a domestic-policy context. In Kerry v. Din (2015), the justices upheld visa denial for the complainant’s husband, who had been a member of the Taliban. When the executive branch makes a decision “on the basis of a facially legitimate and bona fide reason,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, quoting Mandel, the judiciary can “ ‘neither look behind the exercise of that discretion, nor test it by balancing its justification against’ the constitutional interests of the citizens the visa denial might implicate.”

In holding that Mr. Trump acted in bad faith, the Fourth Circuit fundamentally misconstrued Justice Kennedy’s opinion in Din,which nowhere suggested that, once the government had articulated a facially legitimate purpose, the courts could weigh whether there might have been an additional, improper purpose. As the Fourth Circuit dissenters explained, Mandel requires only a facially legitimate and facially bona fide reason.

Any other standard would constitute an invitation to the judiciary to direct the nation’s foreign and defense policies. Having misapplied Din, the Fourth Circuit went on to apply a standard domestic case-law analysis, under which the existence of a discriminatory purpose essentially dooms the exercise of governmental authority irrespective of other justifications. Under that approach, the government would have lost in Mandel, Fiallo and Din.

If the Fourth Circuit’s reasoning were to stand, it could cripple the president’s ability to defend the country. The judges claim Mr. Trump’s campaign statements, supposedly hostile to Islam rather than Islamist terror, transform his order into an “establishment” of religion in violation of the First Amendment. If the president is forbidden to impose temporary limitations on immigration from any Muslim-majority nations, it would follow that he is prohibited from taking any hostile or unfavorable actions, including the use of economic sanctions or military force, toward any Muslim-majority nation.

Making foreign policy is not the judiciary’s job, and the court’s decision in this case is in direct conflict with the Supreme Court’s admonition in Mandel that courts may not review the president’s exercise of discretion on foreign affairs—or balance it against asserted constitutional interests—once a facially legitimate and bona fide reason has been articulated. Further, the executive order is clearly authorized by Congress under the Immigration and Nationality Act. As Justice Robert Jackson famously observed in Youngstown v. Sawyer (1952), the president’s authority is most formidable when he is acting with Congress’s consent.

It is therefore difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Fourth Circuit and the other courts that have stayed Mr. Trump’s executive orders on immigration are engaged in the judicial equivalent of the “resistance” to his presidency. Judges are, in effect, punishing the American electorate for having chosen the wrong president. That is not the judiciary’s role. Every federal judge has an obligation to accept the limitations imposed by the Constitution on his power—to exercise “neither force nor will, but merely judgment,” as Hamilton put it in Federalist No. 78.

The government is likely to seek an emergency Supreme Court stay of the Fourth Circuit’s decision. That may be difficult, because it requires a showing of “irreparable harm.” But even without a stay, there is little doubt the Supreme Court will remain faithful to its precedents and reverse the Fourth Circuit’s wrongheaded decision.

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

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-fourth-circuit-joins-the-resistance-1496071859

Trump doesn’t need to divest: Opposing view

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

December 26, 2016, in USA Today

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

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

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

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

Can Trump cut off funds for sanctuary cities? The Constitution says yes.

By David Rivkin and Elizabeth Price Foley

December 7, 2016, in the Los Angeles Times

But whatever one thinks about Trump’s strategy, it almost certainly would pass muster at the Supreme Court.Several cities and public universities have vowed to resist President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to deport undocumented criminals by doubling down on sanctuary policies. In response, Trump has pledged to curtail federal funding for sanctuary providers. Activists, predictably, are crying foul, and some legal scholars, such as Harvard’s Noah Feldman, have even claimed that such a response would be unconstitutional.  

Feldman and others point to New York v. United States (1992) and Printz v. United States (1997), in which the Supreme Court concluded that the federal government cannot conscript state or local officials to carry out federal law. The federal government must enforce its own laws, using federal personnel. So when state or local police arrest immigrants who are present in the country illegally, they are under no obligation to deport them, as deportation is the responsibility of the federal government alone. 

This “anti-commandeering” doctrine, however, doesn’t protect sanctuary cities or public universities — because it doesn’t apply when Congress merely requests information. For example, in Reno v. Condon (2000), the Court unanimously rejected an anti-commandeering challenge to the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, which required states under certain circumstances to disclose some personal details about license holders. The court concluded that, because the DPPA requested information and “did not require state officials to assist in the enforcement of federal statutes,” it was consistent with the New York and Printz cases.

It follows that, consistent with the anti-commandeering doctrine, Congress can require state, local or university police to tell federal agents when they arrest an immigrant present in the country illegally.

It’s true that cities such as Los Angeles instruct city employees not to ask about immigration status, but they may still have access to that information. Under California law, for example, driver’s licenses issued to immigrants in the country illegally contain prominent distinguishing language stating, “federal limits apply.” Indeed, Congress could specify that licenses issued to immigrants in the country illegally must include a distinguishing feature, or they won’t be accepted for federal purposes, such as TSA airport security. Congress already has enacted the Real ID Act, which mandates that driver’s licenses display certain details.

A separate constitutional doctrine, the anti-coercion doctrine, likewise won’t shield sanctuaries. This doctrine holds that while Congress may impose conditions on receipt of federal funds, it cannot coerce states into accepting those conditions.

In the 1980s, Congress passed a law withholding 5% of highway funds from any state that refused to adopt a minimum drinking age of 21. The Supreme Court, in South Dakota v. Dole (1987), upheld it. Because highway funds are expended — in part — to ensure safe travel, the court reasoned that raising the drinking age was “relevant to the federal interest in the project and the overall objectives thereof.” More significantly, withholding 5% of federal funds wasn’t coercive because while it represented a loss of $615 million dollars, it was only 0.19% of states’ total budgets.

By contrast, in NFIB v. Sebelius (2012), the Supreme Court found that Congress violated the anti-coercion doctrine. Specifically, in the Affordable Care Act, Congress withheld 100% of states’ Medicaid funding if they didn’t expand those programs. A court plurality characterized this as a coercive “gun to the head” because it involved a loss of over $233 billion dollars — more than 20% of states’ budgets.

The South Dakota and NFIB cases teach that Congress can cut off funds if the conditions imposed are relevant “to the federal interest in the project” and the threatened loss of money doesn’t amount to a “gun to the head,” defined by a substantial percentage — approaching approximately 20% — of states’ budgets.

Congress certainly could meet these standards. Many federal programs provide billions to universities and state and local law enforcement. Provided the percentage withheld didn’t approach the 20% threshold, it should be constitutional. As with the highway funds in South Dakota, these programs are designed in part to improve safety of campuses and communities. This goal would be furthered by withholding funds from cities and universities that provide sanctuary for criminals present in the country illegally. Such individuals, by definition, not only are unvetted by the federal government, but have committed crimes while here.

Whatever one’s view of the best immigration policy, it should be uniform. Some, including the Washington Post’s editorial board, have suggested that Congress should give sanctuary cities flexibility to report only those who’ve committed the most serious violent offenses. But precisely which criminals should be subject to deportation requires resolution by Congress, not each city or university.

Sanctuary policies create Balkanization on an issue with important foreign policy implications and corresponding potential for diplomatic embarrassment. As the Supreme Court affirmed in Arizona v. United States (2012), “the removal process is entrusted to the discretion of the Federal Government” because it “touch[es] on foreign relations and must be made with one voice.”

The Constitution is clear that power to determine deportation policies belongs to Congress, not states, municipalities or universities.

David Rivkin and Elizabeth Price Foley practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington, D.C. Rivkin served at the Department of Justice and the White House Counsel’s office during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Foley is also a professor of constitutional law at Florida International University College of Law.

Source: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-rivkin-foley-sanctuary-city-20161207-story.html

‘Clean Power’ Plays and the Last Stand for Federalism

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

Sept. 25, 2016, in the Wall Street Journal

After Congress turned down President Obama ’s request to enact a law regulating power plants’ greenhouse-gas emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency turned to the states—not with a request, but with instructions to carry out the president’s energy policy. The EPA’s “Clean Power Plan” now faces the scrutiny of the nation’s chief regulatory review court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

If the Constitution’s federalism is to endure, the Clean Power Plan must be struck down.

The Constitution establishes a federal government of limited and enumerated powers while the states retain a plenary “police power,” subject only to the specific limitations of federal law. This is what Justice Anthony Kennedy called the Constitution’s “genius”: It “split the atom of sovereignty” to ensure accountability when meeting both local and national concerns, while fostering rivalry between the two levels to curb excessive political ambition that might threaten liberty.

Only in recent decades did politicians learn how to realize their ambitions through collusion. The federal government now entices states with transfer payments to establish and administer social-welfare programs. And, in schemes that the courts describe as “cooperative federalism,” it offers states the choice to regulate their citizens according to federal dictates, as an alternative to the feds regulating directly and having states get out of the way.

Even these approaches were not enough for the Obama administration to cajole the states to carry out its energy agenda. So it resolved to obliterate one of the last vestiges of the Constitution’s vertical separation of powers: the bar on federal commandeering of the states and their officials to carry out federal policy.

The Clean Power Plan is enormously complicated, but its overall approach is straightforward. Previous emissions regulations have focused on reducing emissions from particular facilities, but this one relies on shifting electricity generation from disfavored facilities (coal-fired power plants) to those the EPA prefers (natural gas and renewables). The EPA then determined what, in its view, is the maximum amount of such shifting that each of the nation’s regional electric grids could possibly accommodate and calculated the emissions reductions.

Parcel those figures out by state, factor in additional reductions due to estimated efficiency improvements at older plants, and the result is state-specific reduction targets. The states can elect to achieve those targets themselves—or, if they decline, the EPA will do it for them. “Textbook cooperative federalism,” says the EPA.

Not quite. Whether or not the states choose to implement the plan directly, it leaves them no choice but to carry out the EPA’s federal climate policy. That’s because the EPA can destroy but not create. It can regulate emissions of existing facilities, but it lacks the legal authority to facilitate the construction and integration of new power sources, which is ultimately the only way to achieve the plan’s aggressive targets.

That duty falls to the states, which the plan depends upon to carry out what the EPA calls their “responsibility to maintain a reliable electric system.” Doing nothing, as in the cooperative federalism scenario, is not an option.

So this is how the plan works: The EPA pushes coal-fired plants off the grid, and then counts on the states to ensure that the resulting reductions in capacity are matched by increases in EPA-preferred forms of power generation. State agencies will have to be involved in decommissioning coal-fired plants, addressing replacement capacity—like wind turbines and solar arrays—addressing transmission and integration issues, and undertaking all manner of related regulatory proceedings. All this to carry out federal policy.

The Clean Power Plan implicates every evil associated with unconstitutional commandeering. It dragoons states into administering federal law, irrespective of their citizens’ views. It destroys accountability, by directing the brunt of public disapproval for increased electricity costs and lost jobs onto state officials, when the federal government deserves the blame. And it subverts the horizontal separation of powers, by allowing the executive branch to act where Congress has refused to legislate.

One can only wonder what will be left of our constitutional order if the plan passes judicial muster.

The federal government would no longer be a government of limited powers, but instead be able to compel the states to do its bidding in any area. The states, in turn, would be reduced to puppets of a federal ventriloquist, carrying out the dirty work for which federal actors wish to avoid accountability. And the federal executive, in many instances, could effectively create new law by working through the states, free of the need to win over Congress.

So it is difficult to imagine a U.S. where the Clean Power Plan is the law of the land. It would not be the same country, or the same Constitution, that Americans have enjoyed all these years.

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

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/clean-power-plays-and-the-last-stand-for-federalism-1474841482

Legislators go back to court for contempt ruling against McAuliffe

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

September 11, 2016, in the Richmond Times-Dispatch

This past July, the cronyist government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro threw out more than half of the signatures on a petition for a recall to remove him from office, citing “unclear handwriting.”

That is not a problem shared by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, whose autopen machine traces a perfectly legible facsimile of his signature every time. Following the autocratic example of Venezuela and other rule-of-law pariahs, McAuliffe has his autopen working overtime to transform Virginia into a banana republic, one signature at a time.

The signatures — a mere 206,000 or so of them — are the centerpiece of McAuliffe’s scheme to circumvent the Virginia Supreme Court’s July ruling striking down his executive order that suspended the Virginia Constitution’s general rule stripping felons’ voting rights. The court agreed with legislative leaders who had challenged the order that it was not a legitimate exercise of the governor’s power to grant clemency in particular cases. It was, instead, an unlawful attempt to suspend the operation of a law simply because the governor disagrees with it.

Does he ever. The same day that the decision issued, McAuliffe told the press that he “cannot accept” it. A few days later, citing the venerable maxim that “you’ve got to do what you got to do,” he vowed that “all 206,000 (felons) will have their rights back” in a matter of weeks.

Thus, the autopen. Rather than a single bulk order suspending an entire felon-voting bar, McAuliffe would achieve the same result by issuing an individual order for each felon in Virginia who has completed his or her incarceration and supervised release. On Aug. 22, the governor announced that he had issued 13,000 orders restoring voting rights for the felons who had registered to vote under the order struck down by the Supreme Court and promised (many) more to come.

In response, the same legislators who defeated McAuliffe’s first order have asked the Virginia Supreme Court to hold the governor in contempt and act to enforce its prior judgment.

As their motion exhaustively describes, McAuliffe’s new orders amount to outright defiance of the court’s earlier decision. That decision did not turn on the fact that McAuliffe had issued a blanket order, but instead focused on the “practical effect” of that order as nullifying the law. The new orders have the same effect as the old one, unilaterally suspending the operation of the constitution’s felon-voting bar in precisely the same way, with respect to precisely the same persons. As the legislators’ contempt motion observes, the “Court did not reduce the suspension clause of the Constitution to a printing requirement.”

Indeed, seeking to foreclose further legalistic scheming, the court took pains to state that a Virginia governor cannot “suspend unilaterally the enforcement of any criminal law in the Code of Virginia, based solely on his personal disagreement with it, simply by issuing categorical, absolute pardons to everyone” subject to it. And it made clear that proper exercise of the pardon power requires a “specific request by individuals seeking such relief” and consideration of their “individual circumstances.”

So, whether the Virginia Supreme Court’s decision got the law right or wrong, there is no disputing that McAuliffe’s current actions clash with what it ruled. And that is reason enough for the court to hold the governor in contempt and invalidate his flurry of orders.

But the stakes are far higher than in the last round. McAuliffe’s disrespect for the law and for a co-equal branch of government threatens the freedom and political rights of all Virginians. It is worth recalling President John Kennedy’s admonition, offered in response to defiance of the court-ordered desegregation of the University of Mississippi, that “observance of the law is the eternal safeguard of liberty and defiance of the law is the surest road to tyranny.” As Americans, we are free “to disagree with the law but not to disobey it.”

That principle applies with special force to those whom we entrust with the power and responsibility to carry out the law. Nicolas Maduro may be above the law, but Terry McAuliffe and his autopen are not.

David B. Rivkin Jr. and Andrew M. Grossman practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington, D.C. 

Source: http://www.richmond.com/opinion/their-opinion/guest-columnists/article_758b5af8-7db4-5c23-b45b-91f8fa015a9c.html