Tag Archives: Federalism

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

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Let the Electoral College Do Its Duty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nevada’s Right Choice on Immigration

By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. And LEE A. CASEY, Feb. 2, 2015 7:40 p.m. ET

A very public dispute broke out last week when Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt went against Gov. Brian Sandoval’s wishes and joined a lawsuit filed by 25 other states challenging President Obama’s imposition of his immigration reform policies by executive action.

Messrs. Sandoval and Laxalt are both Republicans who agree that the current immigration system is broken and that comprehensive reform is necessary. But Mr. Sandoval opposes litigation and has suggested that new immigration reform legislation is the best way to proceed.

Yet on Jan. 26 Mr. Laxalt announced that Nevada had joined the plaintiff states in Texas v. United States of America. “As Nevada’s chief legal officer,” he explained, “I am directed by Nevada’s Constitution and laws to take legal action whenever necessary ‘to protect and secure the interest of the state.’ ”

Mr. Laxalt was right to join the suit. Mr. Sandoval’s legislative path will neither solve America’s vexing immigration problems nor rein in a president who has ignored the Constitution’s limits on executive power.

Texas v. United States of America challenges the president’s use of an executive order to suspend federal immigration laws that require, among other things, deportation of undocumented immigrants and strict limits on who may lawfully work in the U.S. The Constitution requires that the president “Take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” and provides no exemption for laws with which the president disagrees.

As the Supreme Court stated in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952), ruling against President Harry Truman’s seizure of the nation’s steel industry during the Korean War, “the President’s power to see that the laws are faithfully executed refutes the idea that he is to be a lawmaker.”

The president is, in other words, stuck with laws passed by Congress and signed into law by previous presidents. The reason for this is at the heart of America’s constitutional separation of powers—the power to make laws and to execute them are divided between separate branches of government, Congress and the president respectively.

The third branch—the judiciary—has the power to say what the law is, including when the president and or Congress have crossed the constitutional lines. It is only litigation before the courts that can now vindicate the most basic tenets of our constitutional system.

However desirable immigration reform might be, congressional action won’t prevent this president from ignoring provisions in a new law that he dislikes or opposes. Only a determination by the courts that he has overstepped his constitutional authority can do that. Unless the president’s ability to play lawmaker is decisively defeated in litigation, congressional legislation on any contentious public-policy issue would be inherently futile.

Nor is Mr. Laxalt obliged to follow Gov. Sandoval’s preference. Nevada law permits the governor to direct the attorney general to bring or defend an action in the courts. But as Mr. Laxalt explained, it also imposes an entirely independent obligation on the attorney general to take such action if he believes it necessary to secure the state’s interests.

All American states, including Nevada, have critical interests at stake here, both because of the burdens President Obama’s suspension of federal immigration law imposes on their state budgets and governments, but also because of their basic character as coequal sovereigns. The Constitution is a “grand bargain” among the states and the American people. That bargain includes a powerful federal government, but one that has limited powers that may be exercised only in accordance with the institutional arrangements the Constitution creates.

The separation of legislative and executive authority is among the most important limitations on federal power. It is now up to the federal courts to restore the Constitution’s balance between the president and Congress and between the federal government and the states. Mr. Laxalt made the right choice. Those state attorneys general that have yet to join Texas v. United States of America should follow his lead.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey practice law in Washington, D.C., and served in the White House and Justice Department during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/david-rivkin-and-lee-casey-nevadas-right-choice-on-immigration-1422924012

Plenty of debates, not much about states

Democrats regard federalism as quaint, Republicans at least pay lip service to it

By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. AND ELIZABETH PRICE FOLEY

In the presidential debates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney ranged across dozens of topics, but an important one didn’t come up: federalism. And no wonder.

The idea that the Constitution grants only limited and enumerated powers and leaves the remainder to the states is foreign to those who believe that the national government should or even could address voters’ every concern. But contrary to the view widely shared by the political class, Washington—in particular, Congress—does not have the power to pass any law it wants in the name of the “general welfare.”

Politicians should take heed. Voters are increasingly focused on the proper role of government in society: Witness the rise of the tea party and unease over the massive debt caused by entitlements and other government handouts. The continuing loud objection to ObamaCare’s takeover of health care shows that voters want to preserve the Constitution’s architecture of limited federal power.

Keeping the federal government within its proper constitutional sphere is critical to all Americans, regardless of their political allegiance. This is because federalism is not about protecting “states’ rights” but about preserving individual liberty. In the words of a unanimous 2011 Supreme Court decision, Bond v. United States, by “denying any one government complete jurisdiction over all the concerns of public life, federalism protects the liberty of the individual from arbitrary power. When government acts in excess of its lawful powers, that liberty is at stake.”

Federalism also allows states to craft policies that best suit the preferences and needs of their citizens, who can always vote with their feet. Likewise, leaving key policy choices to state governments benefits voters through sheer proximity to decision makers. State legislators are often part-timers who work and live in our communities and are more palpably accountable to us.

State-level reform thus comes more swiftly and better reflects the desires of ordinary constituents. States in recent years have led the way in reforming welfare, health care, education and regulatory policies. They have cut deficits, balanced budgets, reformed tax codes and produced jobs.

Federalism also benefits the national government. By having up to 50 different approaches to an issue, Congress can see what works.

Despite federalism’s many virtues, it is not much in vogue. Democrats view it as a quaint, 18th-century relic, another disposable constitutional concept that stands in the way of “progress.” The Obama administration has been particularly disdainful of federalism, with ObamaCare unconstitutionally coercing states into fundamentally revising their Medicaid programs and compelling individuals—under the guise of regulating interstate commerce—to buy a government-approved health-insurance policy.

Republicans pay lip service to federalism but too often toss it aside to achieve their own policy goals. For example, many congressional Republicans, concerned about abusive lawsuits, would nationalize many aspects of medical malpractice, an area of law traditionally reserved to the states.

Meanwhile big-spending states such as California and Illinois have been lobbying Congress for a federal bailout of their unfunded pensions. From the federalist perspective, it is appropriate that the promiscuous spending of some states makes it difficult for them to borrow more money. Such consequences, while dire, provide the political leverage that citizens living within those states need to force their elected representatives to reform.

Yet Washington may well end up rescuing these nearly bankrupt states—because some states will compromise their own sovereignty when the price is right, and the federal government is only too happy to take over and claim political credit. For there is no more assiduous underminer of federalism than the federal government itself. Every session of Congress and every administration adds to the existing voluminous body of federal law that continues to federalize wide swaths of traditional state authority. This must stop.

There was one glimmer of hope for federalism in the third presidential debate, when Mitt Romney talked about saving Medicaid by making block grants to states. “We’ll take that health-care program for the poor and we give it to the states to run because states run these programs more efficiently,” he said. “As a governor, I thought please, give me this program. I can run this more efficiently than the federal government and states, by the way, are proving it.”

If Mr. Romney succeeds in his race for the White House, let’s hope he doesn’t forget that states can be trusted to run their own affairs.

Mr. Rivkin served in the Justice Department under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and represented 26 states in challenging ObamaCare. He has advised the Romney campaign. Ms. Foley is a law professor at Florida International University College of Law and author of “The Tea Party: Three Principles” (Cambridge, 2011).

Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443328404578022821421131956.html