Tag Archives: Washington Post

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

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It’s unrealistic and unfair to make Trump use a blind trust

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

November 22, 2016, in the Washington Post

Suggestions that President-elect Donald Trump put his business holdings in a “blind trust” to avoid potential conflicts of interest are unrealistic and unfair. Such a trust would not eliminate the virtual certainty that actions Trump takes as president will affect his personal wealth, for good or ill. The step is not required by law. And presidents who have chosen to use this device held very different assets than Trump’s. He can keep his holdings and adopt a reasonable system to avoid conflicts and reassure the American people that the Trump administration is acting ethically.

To establish a blind trust of the sort used by his predecessors, Trump would not merely have to liquidate a securities portfolio and permit an independent trustee to manage those assets. He would have to sell off business holdings that he has built and managed most of his life, and with which he is personally identified in a way that few other business magnates are.

These businesses also provide employment for many thousands of people, including his children. All of it would have to go. This liquidation would by definition take place in the context of a “buyer’s market,” and so Trump would also be required to accept a vast personal loss in financial worth. Those suggesting the blind trust model must understand that their proposal is a poison pill Trump will not swallow.

Moreover, requiring Trump to liquidate his holdings would discourage other entrepreneurs from seeking the presidency, leaving the field clear for professional politicians and investors. Given that the American people have made clear their disgust with Washington’s elite, creating a disincentive for businesspeople to seek the presidency is not in the public interest.

Trump has suggested that he will let his adult children run the family businesses during his presidency, and there is nothing in the Constitution that prevents this arrangement. The emoluments clause, often invoked as the reason Trump must sell his businesses, is no bar. This constitutional provision prevents the president (and any other federal officer) from accepting gifts or compensation from foreign states. It does not limit Trump’s ability to benefit from dealings with non-state foreign entities. Whether a “state-controlled” entity falls within the emoluments clause prohibitions has traditionally been addressed on a case-by-case basis, depending principally on how independently such an entity operates from an actual government.

Likewise, neither federal law nor regulations limit the president in this area. Presidential candidates and presidents must disclose their finances, but the president is not covered by the principal financial conflict-of-interest law, and the relevant regulations specifically exclude the president. Indeed, it is doubtful that Congress could constitutionally limit the president’s personal investments or business activities consistent with separation of powers principles.

Of course, Trump’s wide holdings will likely raise real or perceived conflicts of interest during his presidency. Establishing a blind trust would have helped him address those concerns. There are, however, other measures that the president-elect can take to avoid conflicts. He can establish a firewall between himself and his adult children with respect to family business affairs. They would agree to give him no information about their business dealings, and he would pledge not to discuss those dealings with them.

In addition, his children could promise to refer any potential transactions involving foreign corporations or other entities to the White House counsel’s office or the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to analyze whether it would raise concerns under the emoluments clause. If the answer is yes, then they will avoid that transaction. The president himself would not be informed of the request or determination.

Finally, to the extent he wishes to seek advice about public policy from his children — which he appears to have done frequently before his election — the president can consult the White House counsel’s office about whether discussing a particular issue with them would create potential conflicts of interest. Most government issues do not have a direct impact on the hospitality industry and simply taking action that is good for the economy as a whole would not give rise to a conflict.

It is clear that Trump cannot satisfy all of his critics, but these measures are both reasonable and workable. They would — or should — reassure most Americans that his administration is acting with probity.

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

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/its-unrealistic-and-unfair-to-make-trump-use-a-blind-trust/2016/11/22/a71aa1d4-b0c0-11e6-8616-52b15787add0_story.html

Gun control proposals in the wake of Orlando could endanger constitutional rights

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Andrew M. Grossman in the Washington Post,  June 21, 2016

In the aftermath of horrific terrorist massacres such as the Orlando nightclub shooting, the natural impulse of the American people is to ask what the government can do to prevent such tragedies. Securing public safety is indeed the government’s most important job; keeping guns away from terrorists has obvious value. But this must be done in a way that complies with the Constitution.

This admonition has animated much of the recent debate about the rules governing National Security Agency surveillance of suspected terrorists. Regrettably, it has not been embraced in the gun control debate unfolding in the aftermath of Orlando.

Yet the Constitution’s due process protections are the vital safeguard of individual liberty and mitigate against arbitrary government action by setting the procedures the government must observe when it seeks to deprive an individual of a given substantive right.

Constitutionally “appropriate” procedure varies based on the importance of the right at issue and the risk of an erroneous deprivation of that right, and the government’s interest. For example, while government officials may commit a person who is dangerous to himself or others on an emergency basis, a judicial determination of the validity of the commitment must follow. Law enforcement officers may arrest a person they believe to be guilty of a crime, but the person who has been arrested is entitled to appear before a judge.

Our legal traditions spell out the process that is due for the categories of people currently denied the right to keep and bear arms. Those include felons and those charged with felonies, people adjudged “mentally defective” and those dishonorably discharged from the military. The unifying factor is that people subject to these bars have all received their day in court.

But that’s not the case with the new gun control proposals. One proposal is to block gun sales to those named on the terrorist watch list maintained by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center. The list, however, is entirely unsuited to that task.

According to National Counterterrorism Center guidance, agencies can add someone to the list based on a “reasonable suspicion” or “articulable evidence” that the person is a “known or suspected terrorist.” Listings can be based on anything from civilian tips and social-media postings to actual government investigations. The guidance makes clear that “irrefutable evidence or concrete facts are not necessary.”

The predictable result is a very long list, with entries of varying quality. As of July 2014, the main list contained about 800,000 names. More than 40 percent are designated as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” This kind of list may be valuable for prioritizing counterterrorism activities, supporting investigations and determining where additional scrutiny may be warranted, such as with visa applications.

However, the watch list was never intended to be used to punish listed individuals by depriving them of their constitutionally protected rights. And, legally, it is unsuitable for that task. While there is an administrative redress process to remove a name from the list, there is no judicial review, no hearing and not even notification of whether a request was granted or denied, much less the grounds of the decision.

The no-fly list, which contained about 47,000 names in 2013, is subject to the same shortcomings. Individuals are never informed why they’ve been listed and have no opportunity for a hearing before a neutral judge to clear their names. In court filings, the government has explained that the list represents officials’ “predictive judgments” about who may pose a threat. Whatever the merits of that approach as applied to the eligibility for air travel, it falls far short of the kind of concrete proof and procedure necessary to deprive a person of a constitutionally protected right.

Even narrower approaches being bandied about raise similar concerns. For example, an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) would authorize the attorney general to block a firearms sale if the attorney general determined that the buyer was engaged in conduct relating to terrorism. The amendment does provide that a frustrated buyer may bring a lawsuit in federal court to challenge a denial. But its text suggests that this is just window dressing: The attorney general may withhold the evidence underlying the denial from the plaintiff, placing the burden on the plaintiff to prove his innocence by rebutting evidence that he’s never seen.

Those agitating for firearms restrictions now should understand that the precedent they set is a dangerous one that extends far beyond the realm of the Second Amendment. If the government’s say-so is sufficient to block a gun sale — thereby abridging a right enumerated in the Constitution, with little or no ability for redress — what right wouldn’t be at risk of arbitrary deprivation, particularly among the powerless?

David B. Rivkin Jr. served in the White House counsel’s office and the Justice Department in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Andrew M. Grossman is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. They practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington.

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/gun-control-proposals-in-the-wake-of-orlando-may-endanger-constitutional-rights/2016/06/21/9c79dc88-37d8-11e6-a254-2b336e293a3c_story.html

Putin’s anti-Obama propaganda is ugly and desperate

By Paula J. Dobriansky and David B. Rivkin Jr. in the Washington Post

January 4, 2016, at 7:13 PM

Although international relations are not conducted under Marquess of Queensberry rules and political satire can be expected from one’s foes, intensely personal attacks on foreign leaders are uncommon except in wartime. While Soviet-era anti-American propaganda could be sharp, it did not employ slurs. But in recent years racist and scatological salvos against foreign leaders have become a staple of official Russian discourse.

Turkish, German and Ukrainian officials are cast as sycophantic stooges of the United States. While slamming Ankara at a December news conference for shooting down a Russian plane that violated Turkish airspace, Russian President Vladimir Putin opined that “the Turks decided to lick the Americans in a certain place.” Sergey Glaziev, a senior adviser to Putin, has called Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko “a Nazi Frankenstein,” and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin compared Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to “a rubber doll from a sex shop.”

The ugliest vilification campaign, however, has been reserved for President Obama. Anti-Obama tweets come openly from government officials. Rogozin, while commenting on Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, compared Obama to a Tuzik, Russian slang for a pathetic small dog. Irina Rodnina , a well-known Duma member, tweeted doctored images of Barack and Michelle Obama staring longingly at a banana.

Nobody in Russia gets to freelance propaganda-wise. Thus, anti-Obama rants, even when coming from prominent individuals outside government, have Putin’s imprimatur. Russian media personalities, including Dmitry Kiselyov, the host of the widely viewed “News of the Week” TV roundup, often deliver racist slurs, as compiled by Mikhail Klikushin on the Observer Web magazine. Evgeniy Satanovskiy, a Russian academic and frequent guest on Kiselyov’s program, recently also referred to Obama as a “monkey,” prompting derisive laughter and applause from the audience. Meanwhile, the famous nationalist comedian Mikhail Zadornov regularly deploys the term “schmoe” — a slang Russian prison acronym for a person who is so debased he deserves to be defecated upon — alongside Obama’s name. “Obama schmoe” has become ubiquitous enough to be scrawled on the runway of Russia’s Latakia air base in Syria.

Russia’s print and electronic media channels carry stories depicting Obama as lazy and incompetent. Shops sell bumper stickers, posters, T-shirts and cardboard cut-outs with images of Obama as an ape and a chimney sweep. One Russian city held a contest inviting children to kick Obama’s cardboard image. Obama has been burned in effigy on numerous occasions, and zoo animals have been named after him, including a black piglet at the Volgograd zoo.

This despicable onslaught is not just the random venting of a narcissistic Kremlin leader but also an indispensable component of Putin’s efforts to mobilize domestic support for his policies and enhance his standing. The fact that this propaganda campaign is working — Putin and his policies remain popular — is attributable to several factors.

First, the Kremlin controls the news and entertainment media. Journalists who have refused to toe the official line have been fired, jailed or killed. This state monopoly, particularly when combined with the palpable failure by the West to communicate effective rebuttals to Russian audiences, has enabled the regime to mold Russian perceptions on every major policy issue.

Second, these propaganda themes skillfully capitalize on nostalgia felt by the Russian people about Moscow’s imperial past, which is often perceived in a highly idealized light. The repression of the Soviet and Czarist periods has been played down, and a key related theme is that Russia has always been the victim of foreign machinations and intrigue.

But Putin’s propaganda campaign also bespeaks of certain desperation. The Russian economy is in free fall, buffeted by both falling oil prices and Western sanctions. Fuel shortages and the resulting disruption of deliveries of key commodities pose a particular challenge to the Kremlin. Corruption and mismanagement are rampant and have drawn the ire of the Russian people.

There is widespread labor unrest in cities where private-sector workers have not been paid for months at a time. There also have been months of strikes by long-distance truckers protesting extortionist road fees and corruption. Even fire and rescue first responders employed by the federal Ministry of Emergency Situations have not been paid in months. That emergency personnel in such major cities (and places where revolutions have started in Russia’s past) as St. Petersburg and Moscow, with responsibilities for handling public protests, have gone without pay underscores the precariousness of Russia’s finances and the risks it is forced to incur.

Against this backdrop, and lacking either democratic or ideological legitimacy, Putin’s government is increasingly brittle. As the Kremlin doubles down on its aggressive foreign policy and increases domestic repression, it has also intensified its global propaganda efforts. Moscow has heavily invested in its broadcasting assets, with the satellite network RT being the pivotal component, giving it an unprecedented ability to reach domestic and foreign audiences.

All Americans should be outraged by the Kremlin’s messaging campaign and support a robust U.S. response. To present such a response effectively to global audiences, Congress should promptly enact bipartisan legislation proposed by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.) and ranking Democrat Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.) to revitalize America’s public diplomacy infrastructure. Winning the global battle of ideas is an essential part of fostering a stable democratic world order. Consistent with our core values, the United States must lead in challenging Moscow’s racist propaganda and highlighting the moral narrative of democracy, tolerance, human rights and rule of law.

Paula J. Dobriansky was undersecretary of state for global affairs from 2001 to 2009 and is a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. David B. Rivkin Jr. is a constitutional lawyer who served in the Justice Department and the White House under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/putins-anti-obama-propaganda-is-ugly-and-desperate/2016/01/04/57647c48-b0c4-11e5-b820-eea4d64be2a1_story.html

A side agreement could void the Iran deal

By Mike Pompeo and David B. Rivkin Jr., September 6 2015 7:07PM in the Washington Post

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which requires the president to submit to Congress the nuclear agreement reached with Iran, represents an exceptional bipartisan congressional accommodation. Instead of submitting an agreement through the constitutionally proper mechanism — as a treaty requiring approval by a two-thirds majority in the Senate — the act enables President Obama to go forward with the deal unless Congress disapproves it by a veto-proof margin. Unfortunately, the president has not complied with the act, jeopardizing his ability to implement the agreement.

The act defines “agreement,” with exceptional precision, to include not only the agreement between Iran and six Western powers but also “any additional materials related thereto, including . . . side agreements, implementing materials, documents, and guidance, technical or other understandings, and any related agreements, whether entered into or implemented prior to the agreement or to be entered into or implemented in the future.” But the president has not given Congress a key side agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This document describes how key questions about the past military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program will be resolved, as well as the precise operational parameters of the verification regime to which Tehran will be subject.

This omission has important legal consequences. At the heart of the act is a provision, negotiated between Congress and the White House, freezing the president’s ability to “waive, suspend, reduce, provide relief from, or otherwise limit the application of statutory sanctions with respect to Iran” while Congress is reviewing the agreement.

That review period was supposed to take 60 days and is triggered the day the president submits the agreement to Congress. However, because the president failed to submit the agreement in full, as the law requires, the 60-day clock has not started, and the president remains unable lawfully to waive or lift statutory Iran-related sanctions. Indeed, since the act also provides for the transmittal of the agreement to Congress between July 10 and Sept. 7, the president’s ability to waive statutory sanctions will remain frozen in perpetuity if Congress does not receive the full agreement Monday .

Congress must now confront the grave issues of constitutional law prompted by the president’s failure to comply with his obligations under the act. This is not the first time this administration has disregarded clear statutory requirements, encroaching in the process upon Congress’s legislative and budgetary prerogatives. The fact that this has happened again in the context of a national security agreement vital to the United States and its allies makes the situation all the more serious.

For Congress to vote on the merits of the agreement without the opportunity to review all of its aspects would both effectively sanction the president’s unconstitutional conduct and be a major policy mistake. Instead, both houses should vote to register their view that the president has not complied with his obligations under the act by not providing Congress with a copy of an agreement between the IAEA and Iran, and that, as a result, the president remains unable to lift statutory sanctions against Iran. Then, if the president ignores this legal limit on his authority, Congress can and should take its case to court.

Mike Pompeo, a Republican, represents Kansas in the House and is a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. David B. Rivkin Jr., a constitutional litigator and a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, served in the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-side-agreement-could-void-the-iran-deal/2015/09/06/f35ce8aa-532d-11e5-933e-7d06c647a395_story.html

Winning civil justice for Michael Brown and Eric Garner

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Andrew Grossman

The quest for justice for Michael Brown and Eric Garner did not end with the decisions of grand juries not to indict the police officers whose actions led to those men’s deaths. Those frustrated by the grand juries’ dispositions can take comfort in knowing that victims of police violence, as well as their families, can get their day in court.

The family of Garner, who died after being placed in an apparent chokehold by a New York police officer, has already announced plans to sue the officer and the city for $75 million. Michael Brown’s family has not yet said whether they intend to bring a lawsuit against former Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson or the city, but their lawyer has indicated the possibility is being considered.

These suits may succeed where criminal charges failed. To protect against wrongful conviction, criminal charges must be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the highest standard in law. By contrast, civil plaintiffs need convince a jury only that their claims are supported by a “preponderance of the evidence” — a hair more than 50 percent.

Both families could bring claims for wrongful death, arguing that the officers failed to exercise appropriate care in the confrontations that resulted in the deaths of their family members. Such a claim by Garner’s family would be particularly strong, given that the New York Police Department long ago banned chokeholds precisely to prevent choking-related deaths. As for Brown, the circumstances of his death are less clear at this time, but a trial would provide an opportunity for all the facts to come out. If the “hands-up-don’t-shoot” narrative is correct, the Brown family should be able to prevail.

And unlike a criminal trial, civil litigation can reach beyond the boundaries of a particular case to bring about broader change. Federal law authorizes claims — which can be brought in state or federal court — for violations of constitutional rights by state officials. Such claims can target both individual officers and, where plaintiffs can show that their injuries are the result of an official policy or practice, the municipality itself.

The most obvious civil rights claim in each case would be for the use of excessive force; courts have ruled that the use of force must be “objectively reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment. Such claims are heavily fact-dependent, turning on — in the Supreme Court’s formulation — “the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” The video of Garner’s death appears to speak directly to these factors: The suspected crime was minor, his threat nonexistent and his actions reflecting frustration with police harassment more than flight or resistance. Again, the evidence concerning Brown’s death is less conclusive.

Both families could also bring claims challenging alleged racial profiling. Typically, such claims argue that a police stop was taken without the reasonable suspicion of criminality required by the Fourth Amendment and was based on race, in violation of the equal protection clause. Profiling claims can be difficult to prove, due to the light burden the law imposes on police officers to justify a brief stop. The officers involved in these cases have already offered reasons for stopping Brown and Garner — walking in the street and selling contraband cigarettes, respectively — that may be sufficient to defeat a profiling claim.

Still, such civil-rights claims could be a powerful way to force changes in policing in Ferguson and New York. Even if the cities themselves are not named as defendants, a finding of liability against an officer would put officials on notice that failure to prevent future abuses will have serious consequences.

Failure to appreciate the important remedies offered by civil law may lead some to draw the wrong lesson from the tragedies in Ferguson and Staten Island: that the protections for those accused of crimes are too strong. But safeguards such as grand juries provide, as the great Justice Joseph Story explained long ago, “security to the citizens against vindictive prosecutions, either by the government, or by political partisans, or by private enemies.” Weakening that security would only further disadvantage communities that already feel they are unfairly targeted by police and prosecutors. If anything, reform should strengthen grand juries for all those accused of crimes to restore what once was a vital check on the power of prosecutors and a protection against the enormous burden of a wrongful indictment.

The mistake on both sides is to assume that victims of crime are entitled to punishment of those they believe are responsible. It is society that is entitled to punish the provably guilty. Criminal prosecution is therefore a poor fit where evidence of guilt is ambiguous or equivocal — as is often the case involving confrontations with police.

What victims are entitled to is compensation for their injuries through civil litigation. That’s why the grand juries’ decisions are not the end of the story for determining police culpability for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

David B. Rivkin Jr. and Andrew Grossman specialize in constitutional litigation at the firm Baker Hostetler LLP.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/winning-civil-justice-for-michael-brown-and-eric-garner/2014/12/12/01ab521e-815d-11e4-9f38-95a187e4c1f7_story.html

The wrong ruling on NSA data collection

By Michael B. Mukasey, Steven G. Bradbury and David B. Rivkin Jr.

A federal judge’s ruling Monday that the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) bulk telephone metadata collection is “likely” unconstitutional is wrong on the law and the facts. It conflicts with the opinions of 15 other federal judges who have sat on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and approved the NSA’s metadata collection 35 times since 2006.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon has stayed his order to give the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit the opportunity to reach its own judgment. But in the post-Snowden, anti-NSA climate pervading Washington, there is reason for concern that this opinion will amplify the caterwaul of those seeking to dismantle vital U.S. counterterrorism capabilities.

The telephone metadata collected by the NSA consists of transactional business records revealing only which phone numbers have called which numbers, when and for how long. It includes no other subscriber information, and it doesn’t enable the government to listen to anyone’s calls. This database enables intelligence agencies to discover quickly whether any phone numbers of known foreign terrorists have been in contact with numbers in the United States, a vital input in counterterrorism investigations. It is informative even when it reveals a lack of contacts.

In Leon’s view, however, the Fourth Amendment prohibits Congress from authorizing the bulk metadata collection and the focused querying of those records, even where the president has determined its necessity and it is approved every 90 days by a federal judge. No case law remotely supports this breathtaking conclusion. Liberal use of exclamation marks is no substitute.

Leon argues that the Supreme Court’s 1979 decision in Smith v. Maryland upholding the warrantless use of pen registers — devices that record numbers dialed — has become obsolete in this age of multifunction smartphones. But district judges are not empowered to declare the death of binding Supreme Court precedent. The calling-record data collected by the NSA is almost exactly the same data the police collected in Smith: the phone numbers that Michael Lee Smith called and the dates and times of those calls.

In Smith, the high court held that telephone customers have no reasonable expectation of privacy in the numbers they dial or in the calling records that phone companies generate for business purposes. And since the court’s 1967 decision in Katz v. United States , a reasonable expectation of privacy has been the measure for what constitutes a lawful search under the Fourth Amendment. Appeals courts have consistently followed Smith and applied its holding to other developing technologies, including the collection of e-mail metadata.

Although Monday’s ruling emphasizes the “all-encompassing” and “indiscriminate” nature of the NSA’s metadata collection, that does not alter anyone’s reasonable expectations of privacy. If anything, the use of a pen register to target Smith’s personal phone line was more intrusive than the NSA’s metadata collection, given the vastness and anonymity of the data set and the minuscule chance that any particular person’s calling records will be reviewed by an NSA analyst.

Leon cited the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in United States v. Jones , but that case is not germane. In Jones, the police trespassed on a suspect’s property by installing a GPS device on his car and tracked his every move. The NSA’s bulk collection entails no physical invasion of property and does not comprehensively track individual customers’ movements and activities.

Even if phone customers did reasonably expect that the numbers they dial would remain private, Leon’s ruling makes another fundamental error when it misconstrues the “special needs” doctrine, which allows warrantless searches in special circumstances, based on a balancing of the government’s need for the information against the extent of the infringement of privacy interests.

Leon believes that the metadata program intrudes on consumers’ infatuation with their smartphones, but having stressed the lifestyle changes brought by new technology, he fails to appreciate that individual privacy is much more porous today than it was in the 1970s. Many private companies collect and analyze personal data — including the Internet companies that want the NSA to stop its surveillance efforts. Most Americans willingly accept less privacy in exchange for the conveniences the Internet makes possible. But Leon’s analysis means that U.S. intelligence agencies cannot protect Americans from foreign threats using the same analytical tools that private companies employ.

Americans know that many government agencies collect business records and information for lawful purposes and that this often includes personal data. What distinguishes the NSA is the importance of its national security mission and the extensive congressional and judicial oversight. Foreign governments, of course, collect all manner of data about Americans for their own military and commercial purposes.

Leon was not convinced that metadata collection had produced the one critical piece of intelligence needed to stop a terrorist strike just before it was carried out, but that’s an entirely unreasonable standard. Judging the value of an intelligence program demands the greatest deference to the political branches; courts are not institutionally suited to the task. NSA metadata collection is both constitutional and necessary.

 

SOURCE: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-wrong-ruling-on-nsa-data-collection/2013/12/19/494362ee-68ca-11e3-a0b9-249bbb34602c_story.html

Michael B. Mukasey was U.S. attorney general in the George W. Bush administration. Steven G. Bradbury was head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the George W. Bush administration and led the legal effort to obtain initial court approval for the NSA’s metadata collection. David B. Rivkin Jr. served in the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s office during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.