Tag Archives: separation of powers

Is President Trump’s executive order constitutional?

February 6, 2017, in the Washington Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Kind of a Judge Is Neil Gorsuch?

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

The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 31, 2017 

Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump ’s nominee to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia, is a native Coloradan and avid outdoorsman. He clerked for a federal appellate judge and two Supreme Court justices and spent a decade practicing law before his appointment in 2006, at age 39, to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In the decade since, he has written some 850 opinions.

The way to take a judge’s measure is to read his opinions, and so we set out to review Judge Gorsuch’s. It was not an arduous task, for his prose is unusually engaging—think Scalia, with none of the abrasiveness. Justice Elena Kagan has declared herself a fan of his writing style. The only difficulty in summarizing Judge Gorsuch’s output is the compulsion to quote, at length, from so many of his opinions.

One opens this way: “Haunted houses may be full of ghosts, goblins, and guillotines, but it’s their more prosaic features that pose the real danger. Tyler Hodges found that out when an evening shift working the ticket booth ended with him plummeting down an elevator shaft.” The case, by the way, was a prosaic dispute between insurers. Another opinion starts: “What began as a fight at a strip club finds its way here as a clash over hearsay.”

Judge Gorsuch shows a concern for the people whose disputes are before the court. Each opinion typically begins with the name of the person seeking relief and why. A recent example: “After a bale of hay hit and injured Miriam White while she was operating her tractor, she sued the manufacturer, Deere & Company.” Ms. White’s appeal was summarily denied, but even the brief, three-page opinion reflects a serious engagement with her arguments and the facts—in contrast with the boilerplate language judges often use in such decisions. Win or lose, parties appearing before Judge Gorsuch surely know that they have been treated with fairness, consideration and respect.

These are not stylistic flourishes, but central to how Judge Gorsuch views the judicial role. “In our legal order,” he has written, “judges distinguish themselves from politicians by the oath they take to apply the law as it is, not to reshape the law as they wish it to be.” When a judge understands that he has no authority to legislate from the bench, cases that might otherwise be hard become straightforward exercises in applying law to facts.

Thus, Judge Gorsuch could recognize the “tragic circumstances” of a family whose daughter had died in a rafting accident, while still holding that the liability release she had signed was legally binding. That Colorado allows people to assume such risks, he explained, was a choice for the state’s General Assembly, not the court.

In a similar dissent, Judge Gorsuch argued for allowing a seventh-grader who was arrested for horseplay in gym class to sue the police officers, reasoning that no New Mexico statute authorized the arrest. And he has vigorously enforced rights of religious exercise under statutes like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, deferring to Congress’s decision to vindicate, as he put it, “this nation’s long-held aspiration to serve as a refuge of religious tolerance.”

Judge Gorsuch is among the judiciary’s most consistent and adept practitioners of textualism, the approach Scalia championed. In a memorial lecture last year, Judge Gorsuch said that “an assiduous focus on text, structure, and history is essential to the proper exercise of the judicial function.” Textualism, he added, serves to “confine the range of possible outcomes and provide a remarkably stable and predictable set of rules people are able to follow.” On the other hand, attempting to divine legislative intent, as he wrote in one opinion, is a “notoriously doubtful business.” Another opinion decried the judicial “conjuring” that substitutes the court’s view of optimal policy for Congress’s.

In an influential 2015 decision, Judge Gorsuch excavated the meaning of a law increasing penalties on anyone who “uses” a gun “during and in relation to” a drug offense. He carefully employed “plain old grade school grammar”—including a sentence diagram.

Judge Gorsuch’s textualism extends to the Constitution, quite emphatically: “That document,” he wrote, “isn’t some inkblot on which litigants may project their hopes and dreams for a new and perfected tort law, but a carefully drafted text judges are charged with applying according to its original public meaning.” Looking to the “original public meaning” of the Fourth Amendment, for example, Judge Gorsuch has rejected the government’s view that a search warrant could be applied across jurisdictional lines. He also disputed its claim that police officers may ignore “No Trespassing” signs to invade a homeowner’s property without a warrant.

What about the Constitution’s separation of powers, intended to safeguard liberty? Judge Gorsuch has been at the vanguard of applying originalism to the questions raised by today’s Leviathan state, which is increasingly controlled by unaccountable executive agencies. These questions loom large after the rash of executive actions by President Obama, and now the whiplash reversals by the Trump administration.

The deference that judges now must give to agencies’ interpretations of the law, he wrote in an opinion last year, permits the executive “to swallow huge amounts of core judicial and legislative power and concentrate federal power in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution of the framers’ design.”

Judge Gorsuch added: “Maybe the time has come to face the behemoth.” His addition to the Supreme Court would give the justices a better chance than ever to do precisely that.

Messrs. Rivkin and Grossman practice appellate and constitutional law with Baker & Hostetler in Washington.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-kind-of-a-judge-is-neil-gorsuch-1485912681

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

Pulling the Plug on Obama’s Power Plan

President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is dead and will not be resurrected. The cause of death was hubris. As a result, the plan’s intended victims—including the national coal industry, the rule of law and state sovereignty—will live to fight another day.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court put President Obama’s signature climate initiative on hold while a lower court considers challenges brought by industry opponents and 27 states. That stay will remain in effect through the end of Mr. Obama’s presidency, until the Supreme Court has a chance to hear the case—in 2017 at the earliest. The stay sends the strongest possible signal that the court is prepared to strike down the Clean Power Plan on the merits, assuming the next president doesn’t revoke it.

Not since the court blocked President Harry Truman’s seizure of the steel industry has it so severely rebuked a president’s abuse of power.

The dubious legal premise of the Clean Power Plan was that Congress, in an all-but-forgotten 1970s-era provision of the Clean Air Act, had empowered the Environmental Protection Agency to displace the states in regulating power generation. The EPA, in turn, would use that authority to mandate a shift from fossil-fuel-fired plants to renewables. The effect would be to institute by fiat the “cap and trade” scheme for carbon emissions that the Obama administration failed to push through Congress in 2009.

The legal defects inherent in this scheme are legion. For one, in a ruling two years ago the court held that the EPA couldn’t conjure up authority to make “decisions of vast economic and political significance” absent a clear statement from Congress. Thus, the EPA may have the authority to require power plants to operate more efficiently and to install reasonable emissions-reduction technologies. But nothing authorizes the agency to pick winners (solar, wind) and losers (coal) and order generation to be shifted from one to the other, disrupting billion-dollar industries in the process.

The agency also overstepped its legal authority by using a tortured redefinition of “system of emission reduction.” That statutory term has always been taken to give authority to regulate plant-level equipment and practices. Instead the EPA contorted the term to apply to the entire power grid. That redefinition, while necessary for the EPA to mount its attack on traditional power sources, violates the rule that federal statutes must be interpreted, absent a clear indication to the contrary, to maintain the existing balance of power between the federal government and the states. Federal law has long recognized states’ primacy in regulating their electric utilities, the economic aspects of power generation and transmission, and electric reliability.

Worse, the Clean Power Plan commandeers the states and their officials to do the dirty work that the EPA can’t. The agency seeks to phase out coal-fired plants, but it lacks any ability to regulate electric reliability, control how and when plants are run, oversee the planning and construction of new generators and transmission lines, or take any other of the many steps necessary to bring the plan to fruition.

Only the states can do those things, and the plan simply assumes that they will: Because, if they refuse, and the federal government forces coal-plan retirements, the result would be catastrophic, featuring regular blackouts, threats to public health and safety and unprecedented spikes in electricity prices.

The EPA defended this approach before the Supreme Court during legal arguments leading up to Tuesday’s stay order as a “textbook exercise of cooperative federalism.” But the textbook—our Constitution as interpreted by the court in case after case—guarantees that the states can’t be dragooned into administering federal law and implementing federal policy. Their sovereignty and political accountability require that they have the power to decline any federal entreaty. The Clean Power Plan denies them that choice.

No doubt the court was swayed by evidence that the states already are laboring to accommodate the plan’s forced retirement and reduced utilization of massive amounts of generating capacity. Given the years that it takes to bring new capacity online, not even opponents of the plan could afford to wait for the conclusion of judicial review to begin carrying out the EPA’s mandate.

By all appearances, that was the Obama administration’s strategy for forcing the Clean Power Plan, legal warts and all, into effect. After the court ruled last term that the EPA’s rule regulating power plants’ hazardous air emissions was unlawful, the agency bragged that the judgment wouldn’t make a difference because the plants had already been forced to comply or retire during the years of litigation. The Clean Power Plan doubled down on that approach.

It’s one thing for a rule to be unlawful—which happens, and rarely merits a stay—but another for it to be lawless. This one was lawless. That is why the court had to act: to reassert the rule of law over an executive who believes himself above it.

Messrs. Rivkin and Grossman practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington, D.C., and are counsel in the case on behalf of plan challengers. Mr. Rivkin served in the White House Counsel’s Office and the Justice Department in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/pulling-the-plug-on-obamas-power-plan-1455148680

Time for a Rigorous National Debate About Surveillance

America is in a long war against a resilient enemy capable of striking the homeland, but U.S. intelligence capabilities are falling short of meeting the threat. The San Bernardino attackers were not flagged, despite their repeated visits to jihadist websites, alarming posts on social media, and suspicious financial transactions. The Boston Marathon bombers evaded timely detection, as did the would-be shooters in Garland, Texas, who had exchanged dozens of messages with a known terrorist overseas.

Paris and San Bernardino exemplify the two types of threats: overseas-trained terrorists, and online-radicalized lone wolves. Both exhibit distinctive behavioral and communications patterns that can be detected—but only if intelligence agencies have the right data and tools to analyze it.

Yet Washington is blunting its surveillance powers. Collection of phone metadata under the Patriot Act was banned by Congress and finally ceased at the end of November. Collection of the contents of specific targets’ communications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has been dumbed down, with onerous requirements to secure the authorizing court order. The intelligence community feels beleaguered and bereft of political support. What’s needed is a fundamental upgrade to America’s surveillance capabilities.

Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database. Legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed. That includes Presidential Policy Directive-28, which bestows privacy rights on foreigners and imposes burdensome requirements to justify data collection.

There has been much debate about whether providers of communications hardware and software in the U.S. should be obliged to give the government backdoor access. Such a mandate would do little good, since terrorists would simply switch to foreign or home-built encryption. New technologies can cloak messages in background noise, rendering them difficult to detect.

Forcing terrorists into encrypted channels, however, impedes their operational effectiveness by constraining the amount of data they can send and complicating transmission protocols, a phenomenon known in military parlance as virtual attrition. Moreover, the use of strong encryption in personal communications may itself be a red flag.

Still, the U.S. must recognize that encryption is bringing the golden age of technology-driven surveillance to a close, which necessitates robust human intelligence. Pursuing every lead on terrorist activity would require a substantial increase in FBI funding and personnel—perhaps double or triple the number of field agents capable of tracking suspects. The Paris attacks, whose perpetrators exchanged numerous unencrypted text messages, were a grim reminder that capable but overstretched security services cannot thwart every terrorist plot.

Congress and the administration should also reassure the intelligence community by reiterating their full support for current surveillance programs. Revitalizing cooperation with foreign intelligence partners, which greatly decreased in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures, is essential. This would require serious dialogue between world leaders and assurances that security has been tightened to prevent similar leaks.

Enhanced congressional oversight—a true partnership between the executive and Congress—is needed. Each month the intelligence community should provide classified briefings to the House and Senate intelligence committees on how surveillance programs are working, what actionable information has been developed, and whether mistakes or abuses have occurred. These briefings should be recorded, and lawmakers should sign an acknowledgment of their attendance. This would bolster accountability and ensure that nobody suffers a memory lapse, such as Nancy Pelosi’s failure to remember that she was extensively briefed on the CIA’s enhanced-interrogation program.

None of this can happen without a rigorous national debate about surveillance, launched by congressional hearings. A review of the post-9/11 surveillance successes and failures needs to be a prominent part of this discourse. Most disagreements on surveillance are about policy, not law: Reasonable warrantless searches are compatible with the Fourth Amendment. So are searches of data shared with third parties, such as social-media posts—a highly valuable surveillance window, since people undergoing radicalization are prone to showcase their zealotry online.

In the wake of 9/11, surveillance reforms were adopted virtually overnight, with little discussion; they did not last. Hence the importance of building enduring public support. Surveillance should feature prominently in the 2016 presidential campaign, giving the next commander in chief a mandate and sense of obligation to implement reforms. Opposition to surveillance has been bipartisan, and the strategy for overcoming it must be bipartisan too.

Assertive efforts to defeat Islamic State will diminish, but not eliminate, the threat. Quick response by law enforcement is vital to limiting casualties and neutralizing attackers but cannot entirely prevent terrorism. Even the best 21st-century surveillance system won’t have a 100% success rate. But robust surveillance, drawing on a variety of technical and human intelligence and backed up by rigorous investigation of all leads, is the best way to mitigate the threat.

Mr. Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas, sits on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Mr. Rivkin, a constitutional lawyer, dealt with intelligence oversight while serving in the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/time-for-a-rigorous-national-debate-about-surveillance-1451856106

Obama’s empty climate agreement

Paris is Copenhagen all over again — more presidential climate change grandstanding without concrete results.

By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. & ANDREW M. GROSSMAN, 10 December 2015 in USA Today

The world is watching as diplomats in Paris hammer out the final details of a new climate agreement involving over 150 countries. The goal, said President Barack Obama, is “an agreement where … each nation has the confidence that other nations are meeting their commitments.”

But the world’s attention may be misplaced. There is no reason to believe that this agreement will conclude any differently from the last three, with nations reneging on commitments to drive down greenhouse gas emissions and to provide billions of dollars in foreign aid to finance reductions in the developing world.

That’s a big problem for the president: reciprocity has always been Congress’s chief concern when it comes to climate-related measures that threaten to drive up energy prices and sap the United States’ international competitiveness. The lack of binding commitments for developing nations like China and India is a big part of what killed consideration of one previous agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, in the Senate. And that, as well as general opposition to new greenhouse emissions regulations by congressional Republicans, presages the same result in Congress this time around.

Despite the messaging coming from the White House, as a legal matter, the president actually does need Congress’s support to complete any kind of meaningful deal. That legal reality is having serious consequences in Paris, where U.S. participation in the final deal is an overriding imperative. For one, it rules out any firm financial commitments. The Constitution, after all, assigns the power of the purse to Congress, and so the president cannot, on his own, set the U.S. foreign aid budget for years into the future.

Likewise, the president cannot unilaterally commit the US to binding emission-reduction targets. The Senate and executive branch have both understood for years that any “targets and timetables” for emissions must be put to a ratification vote. When the Senate ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, it extracted a promise from the George H.W. Bush administration to that effect. And when President Bill Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, it was failure to secure Senate ratification that blocked the U.S. from becoming a party and stopped it from becoming binding under U.S. law. In foreign-affairs law, these are extraordinarily strong precedent for the proposition that any binding reductions must be put to Congress.

The Obama administration’s solution to these seemingly intractable problems is to structure the deal as what it calls a “hybrid agreement.” Under this approach, only measures dealing with emissions reporting would be binding on parties. The rest would constitute what diplomats call “political commitments” — in other words, empty promises that are not legally enforceable. In short, the agreement will contain little in the way of substance.

That is not, however, how it will be touted to the American people. The administration, having identified the Paris agreement as a key plank of the president’s “climate legacy,” has sent a gaggle of senior officials to the negotiations and launched an all-out publicity barrage. The chief focus so far has been on the agreement’s longwinded aspirational language, including the likely-to-be-declared long-term goal of “decarbonisation of the global economy over the course of this century.” But that, like the other “commitments,” will have all the legal force of a fortune cookie message.

For those participating in the Paris talks, there should be a sense of déjà vu. The negotiations over the 2009 Copenhagen Accord marked the Obama administration’s climate-diplomacy debut, and the United States played a lead role in drafting the deal. Its key provisions? Aid payments to to developing nations and “quantified economy-wide emissions targets.” President Obama called it “meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough.” Structured to avoid the need for ratification, the accord was not legally enforceable and quickly came to be viewed, on its own terms, as a complete failure.

One that the president appears determined to repeat in Paris.

David B. Rivkin, Jr., who served in Republican administrations, and Andrew M. Grossman, who previously worked at The Heritage Foundation, are attorneys at Baker & Hostetler. 

Source: http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/12/10/paris-climate-change-constitution-treaty-column/76676732/

Obama’s Illegal Guantanamo Power Play

By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. and LEE A. CASEY, in the Wall Street Journal

Dec. 2, 2015 6:51 p.m. ET

Two days after terrorists rampaged in Paris, the Obama administration announced that it had transferred five prisoners—including a former Osama bin Laden bodyguard—from the U.S. prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United Arab Emirates.

In the past several days, the White House has signaled that a more significant step is coming soon: the complete shutdown of the facility and the transfer of the remaining detainees—there are 107 at the moment—to sites on the U.S. mainland. Obama-administration surrogates say the president will effect the change by using his favorite tool, an executive order. But this would be utterly illegal, since Congress has specifically prohibited the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to U.S. soil.

Although the president’s war powers are broad and formidable, so are those of Congress. In particular, the Constitution specifically vests the legislative branch with the powers to “declare War”; to “raise and support Armies”; to “make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water”; to “make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces”; and to appropriate funds for all of these purposes. Continue reading