Wednesday, February 15, 2012

House Republicans Poised to Subpoena Administration Officials

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee will vote on Friday whether to subpoena administration officials in the Committee's ongoing investigation into the Solyndra loan guarantee.  We posted on this most recenty here; here's the proposed resolution.

Republicans seek testimony from five officials:

  • Kevin Carroll, Energy Branch Chief, OMB
  • Kelly Colyar, Branch Chief, OMB
  • Aditya Kumar, Deputy Assistant to the Vice President and Senior Advisor to then White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel
  • Fouad Saad, Program Examiner, OMB
  • Heather Zichal, Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change

The Committee site has other resources, including a web-cast of Friday's hearing, at 10:15 a.m. Eastern time.


February 15, 2012 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

House Republicans Seek White House Health Care Reform Memos

Republicans in the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to the White House demanding memos on White House deliberations on health care reform referenced in Ryan Lizza's piece in The New Yorker, The Obama Memos: The Making of a Post-Post-Partisan Presidency.  Republicans argued that the White House now waived any claim of executive privilege over the memos (although the White House has apparently never made such a claim).

According to the letter, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has been looking into "negotiations and agreements made between representatives from the White House Office of Health Reform (WHOHR) and various health care industry stakeholders regarding health care reform legislation" for over two years now.  Republicans on the Committee say that the White House has refused to cooperate by turning over internal memos.  But they also say that those memos made their way to Lizza, and that the White House has now waived any assertion of executive privilege:

Finally, while the White House has so far studiously avoided asserting executive privilege and has simply refused to provide the requested information, by voluntarily providing this information to a reporter the White House has waived any right to refuse production of these materials based on claims of privilege.

A footnote to this sentence reads:

In In Re Sealed Case the D.C. Court of Appeals addressed this issue when it held the White House had waived claims of privilege in regards to documents it voluntarily revealed to third parties outside the White House.

The Republicans' request is appropriately tailored to the documents they seek (and claim have been voluntarily released) under the approach to the executive privilege and the deliberative privilege In Re Sealed Case, but there's no indication that the White House voluntarily released them to Lizza--that Lizza didn't get them from some other source, or that the White House provided only selected information from them (and not the memos themselves).  Absent a voluntary release of the memos themselves, the White House almost certainly has not waived any available privilege.  And In Re Sealed Case suggests that the White House is under no obligation to assert the privilege until the Committee seeks to compel release (although In Re Sealed Case dealt with a different situation--an assertion of privilege against the OIC, not a congressional committee).


January 25, 2012 in Congressional Authority, Executive Privilege, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Speaking of United States v. Nixon . . . . More Watergate Material Just Made Available

As we just noted, before Clinton v. Jones, there was United States v. Nixon.



And now there are the Richard Nixon grand jury documents available on GPO:

In May 1975, the Watergate Special Prosecution Force (WSPF) decided that it was necessary to question former President Richard M. Nixon in connection with various investigations being conducted by the WSPF. Mr. Nixon was questioned over the period of two days, June 23 and June 24, 1975, and the testimony was taken as part of various investigations being conducted by the January 7, 1974, Grand Jury for the District of Columbia (the third Watergate Grand Jury). Chief Judge George Hart signed an order authorizing that the sworn deposition of Mr. Nixon be taken at the Coast Guard Station in San Mateo, California with two members of the grand jury present.

Included is much discussion of the 18 and a half minute gap in the tapes.


November 10, 2011 in Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, History | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Justice Stevens on Clinton v. Jones

The Court's unanimous opinion in Clinton v. Jones (1997), involving the postponement of the civil case by Paula Jones against then-President Clinton, is excerpted in most Constitutional Law casebooks, usually right after United States v. Nixon (1974), involving the subpoena duces tecum seeking Watergate material from then-President Richard Nixon.

_407332_paula_bill300The statement in the Clinton v. Jones opinion, authored by Justice Stevens, that the Jones litigation was "highly unlikely to occupy any substantial amount of petitioner’s time,"  seemed to have been proven false by subsequent events.  In his new book, Five Chiefs, Justice Stevens, defends his statement:

[T]he Court had been confronted with the question whether either the Constitution or respect for the office of the president required a federal district court to defer the trial of a damages claim against President Clinton until after the end of his term.  In a unanimous opinion that Bill [Rehnquist] assigned to me, we upheld the decisions of the lower courts denying the request for a stay of the trial.  Among the arguments that we rejected was a claim that permitting the trial to proceed would violate the doctrine of separation of powers.

While I am not aware of any significant scholarly criticism of the legal analysis in my opinion, numerous commentators have rather enthusiastically suggested that only the village idiot could have authored one statement that I made.  In my response to the argument that the burdens of the litigation would impair the president’s ability to discharge his official duties, I declare: "If the past is any indicator, it seems unlikely that a deluge of such litigation will ever engulf the Presidency.  As for the case at hand, if properly managed by the District Court, it appears to us highly unlikely to occupy any substantial amount of petitioner’s time.”  Clinton later gave deposition testimony that triggered his impeachment, which, in turn, obviously occupied a huge amount of his time.  These events, it is argued, proved my comments to have been ludicrous.

That appraisal depends on a failure to recognize both the difference between the trial proceedings and the unforeseen impeachment.  A postponement of the trial would not necessarily have justified a postponement of the president’s deposition.  Indeed, as the president’s lawyers stated at oral argument, a delay in the trial would have increased the need for depositions because of the risk that key witnesses’ memories might fade.  Given that case (Clinton v. Jones [1997]) was settled, we will never know just how much time a trial would have consumed.  We did know that our ruling did not give rise to the predicted avalanche of litigation.  And the impeachment proceedings were certainly not a part of “the case at hand” referred to in our opinion. 

Still the reaction to my words illustrates that an author is seldom the best judge of how readers will react to his work. 

 (emphasis added). 

Note however that Court did not simply uphold "the decisions of the lower courts denying the request for a stay of the trial," as Stevens states.  Instead, as Stevens' opinion for the Court stated:

we are persuaded that it was an abuse of discretion for the District Court to defer the trial until after the President leaves office. Such a lengthy and categorical stay takes no account whatever of the respondent's interest in bringing the case to trial. The complaint was filed within the statutory limitations period--albeit near the end of that period--and delaying trial would increase the danger of prejudice resulting from the loss of evidence, including the inability of witnesses to recall specific facts, or the possible death of a party.

Here's a quick overview of the case and developments from WaPo.

[image via]

November 10, 2011 in Books, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, Gender, History, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 4, 2011

White House Responds to Committee Subpoenas for Solyndra Docs

The White House responded today to subpoenas issued by the House Energy and Commerce Committee for documents related to Solyndra, saying that the subpoenas are too broad and fail to balance the interests of the executive branch with the legitimate oversight interests of the Committee.  We posted most recently here.

The Committee, on a party-line vote, approved the subpoenas on Thursday; it then delivered separate subpoenas to Bill Daley and to Bruce Reed.  The subpoenas seek identical information:

All documents referring or relating in any way to the $535 million loan guarantee issued to Solyndra, Inc., by the Department of Energy . . . .

The White House wrote back that this is just too broad a request:

[T]he Committee's extremely broad request for documents--now a subpoena--is a significant intrusion on Executive Branch interests, particularly given that you have not made any effort to tailor the request to the legitimate interests of the Committee.  As written, it encompasses all communications within the White House from the beginning of this Administration to the present that refer to or relate to Solyndra, and the subpoena purports to demand a complete response in less than a week.  Thus, any document that references Solyndra, even in passing, is arguably responsive to the Committee's request, and you reaffirmed this week that you intend for the request to be that broad.  There is no basis for such a broad request beyond a "vast fishing expedition," as Congressman Dingell noted yesterday.  Moreover, responding to such an expansive request would require the devotion of substantial resources to gather and review many documents that are of no legitimate oversight interest--which is itself an unreasonable burden on the President's ability to meet his constitutional duties.  For example, we do not understand how thousands of pages of news clips--all of which are responsive to the subpoena you issued--relate to the Committee's inquiry.

In past correspondence and again in our meeting this week, we suggested that the Committee focus first on communications between the White House and those agencies directly involved in the Solyndra loan guarantee. . . . The Committee has rejected that approach without any justification other than a general curiosity about internal White House communications.  Such curiosity is not a sufficient justification for encroaching on longstanding and important Executive Branch confidentiality interests, particularly when none of the more than 85,000 pages of documents produced to date evidence any favoritism to political supporters or wrongdoing by the White House.

The ball's now back in the Committee's court.


November 4, 2011 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

House Republicans to Subpoena White House Solyndra Docs

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is poised to seek a subpoena for White House documents related to Solyndra.  The Republican-controlled Committee will meet Thursday morning at 9:00 a.m., when it is expected to approve a resolution authorizing the subpoena to White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and VP Chief of Staff Bruce Reed.  The meeting will be webcast live here.

The last time we covered congressional subpoenas to the White House, a Democrat-controlled House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena to former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and Chief of Staff Josh Bolton in the Bush administration--and then sued to enforce them.  The district court ruled in Committee on the Judiciary v. Miers and Bolton that Miers and Bolton did not enjoy absolute immunity, but that they may assert executive privilege to specific questions, "where appropriate." 

The Committee's action on Thursday will raise some of the same issues, although there's no indication that the White House will claim a sweeping absolute privilege.  Counsel to the President Kathryn H. Ruemmler said it this way, in her first response to the Committee's request for the documents:

Your most recent request for internal White House communications from the first day of the current Administration to the present implicates longstanding and significant institutional Executive Branch confidentiality interests.  Encroaching upon these important interests is not necessary, however, because the agency documents the Committee has request, which include communications with the White House, should satisfy the Committee's stated objective--to "understand the involvement of the White House in the Review of the Solyndra loan guarnatee and the Administration's support of this guarantee."

She elaborated in her second response:

[I]t has been well established for decades that the President has a strong, constitutionally-rooted interest in preserving the confidentiality of Executive Branch deliberative communications.  This is especially true for White House communications because it has long been recognized that the President's advisors must be able to engage in candidate deliberations in advising and assisting the President in the discharge of his constitutional duties.  Republican and Democratic administrations have sought to avoid the chilling effect that disclosure of such internal communications to Congress would have on the free and open exchange of ideas within the White House by accommodating Congressional interests in a manner that minimizes these concerns.  . . .

This accommodation process, of course, requires that both branches work to accommodate each other's needs and interests.

The administration's position on executive privilege isn't nearly as strong as the absolutist position of the Bush administration in the Miers and Bolton case.  Moreover, the adminstration has already turned over scores of thousands of pages of documents, including communications with the White House.  And, indeed, Ruemmler's letters seem to suggest that the administration may be open to yet more accommodation. 


November 2, 2011 in Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

OLC Says Some Notifications in Security Appeals May Violate Separation of Powers

The Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion in early June (but released late last month) that the government's obligation to notify an employee who appeals a denial of a security clearance of evidence obtained through electronic surveillance may violate separation-of-powers principles and executive privilege.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requires the government to notify an "aggreived person," a target800px-Classified_document_on_Resolute_desk  of electronic surveillance, whenever the government intends to use information obtained through electronic surveillance against that person.  The OLC ruled that this requirement also applies to proceedings before the Access Review Committee--the tribunal that reviews employee appeals of denial of security clearances.

But the OLC also said that this requirement will sometimes (but rarely) violate separation-of-powers principles and require disclosure of information covered by executive privilege.  If so, the requirement yields to the Constitution.

The OLC said that Congress has some "authority to legislate in a manner that touches upon disclosure of classified information."  Op. at 7.  "For example, we believe Congress's authority to regulate foreign intelligence surveillance under FISA, and to regulate the terms of federal employment, does, as a general matter, permit Congress to impose the notification requirement . . . even when that requirement reaches proceedings concerning security clearance revocations."  Op. at 7-8.

But that authority ends when it runs up against "the President's ability to perform his constitutional duty."  Op. at 8 (quoting Morrison v. Olson).  "Congress may not, for example, provide Executive Branch employees with independent authority to countermand or evade the President's determinations as to when it is lawful and appropriate to disclose classified information."  Op. at 8 (citing Whistleblower Protections for Classified Disclosures, 22 Op. OLC at 100).  "And, as noted above, Congress's authority is 'subject only to whatever limitations the Executive privilege may be held to impose upon such congressional ordering.'"  Op. at 8 (quoting EPA v. Mink).  Thus the notice requirement could violate separation-of-powers or require disclosure of information protected by executive privilege; if so--and this should be rare, OLC says--the requirement gives.


[Image: Official White House photo, President Barack Obama's desk, Oct. 5, 2009, Wikimedia Commons]

August 11, 2011 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 9, 2010

"Our Constitution works"

"My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule."

So said Gerald Ford, on assuming the office of President of the United States, thirty six years ago today.  Full speech is here.


[image: Gerald Ford being sworn in by CJ Warren Burger, Betty Ford observing, 1974, via].


August 9, 2010 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, History | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Gormley on Starr and Clinton

ConLawProf (and Interim Dean) Ken Gormley (pictured right) of Duquesne University Law School has just published THE DEATH OF AMERICAN VIRTUE: Clinton vs. Starr.Gormley2

The review in the NYT notes that "unlike some other commentators, Gormley allows for the possibility that even the most rabid-seeming players might have acted out of honorable considerations."  Based on an interview with the federal district judge hearing the original sexual harassment lawsuit, Gormley also reveals that she contemplated finding Clinton in criminal contempt, which would have ended Clinton's political career in a "nanosecond."  Yet the tenor of the 800 page book, at least according to the NYT review, is that the Clinton impeachment was all so unnecessary (quoting Starr) and diversionary.

The political relevance of Gormley's book is obvious.  But it also seems an essential sequel to Clinton v. Jones, in which the Court unanimously rejected Clinton's constitutional arguments to stay the trial until after his presidency had ended.


February 26, 2010 in Books, Cases and Case Materials, Executive Privilege, History, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Scholarship, Separation of Powers, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 4, 2009

White House Agrees to Release Visitor Logs

The White House announced today that it would publicly release records of White House visitors each month.  The announcement reflects the administration's settlement agreement in four Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) cases brought by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a legal advocacy organization that promotes ethics and accountability in government. CREW's press release is here; the NYT Caucus blog reports here.

CREW brought the cases after the Bush and Obama administrations declined to turn over White House visitor records in response to CREW's FOIA requests.  The administrations claimed that the records were presidential records covered by the Presidential Records Act, not agency records covered by FOIA, and therefore remain under the legal custody and control of the White House and the Office of the Vice President.

In addition, the administrations claimed that disclosing some or all of the records could reveal information protected by the presidential communications privilege.  (See United States v. Nixon and Nixon v. Administrator of General Services.)

In settling the suits, the administration did not back off these legal claims, characterizing the reports' release as "voluntary" and "discretionary."

Both the White House and CREW touted the agreement as an historic increase in government transparency.


September 4, 2009 in Executive Privilege, Recent Cases, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Preventative Detention Model Act": Framework for Obama?

The likelihood of an Executive Order on "indefinite detention" is being widely discussed.  For example, the Washington Post reported yesterday:

Obama administration officials, fearing a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, are crafting language for an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely, according to three senior government officials with knowledge of White House deliberations.

Pow-image Glenn Greenwald at here has extensive coverage with lots of links and discussion, especially focusing on criticisms of Obama's failure to keep his campaign pledges to be different from Bush.

NPR, however, has reported on a proposal "from two experts outside of government"  that "is already being discussed in the Obama administration."  The proposal is from the Brookings Institution, heralded with this opening salvo: "A consensus is beginning to emerge in the public and political spheres concerning the non-criminal detention of terrorist suspects."  The NPR story, however, has one of the two authors of the report acknowledging that " it will be controversial."

The proposal is definitely worth a look.  Entitled "Designing Detention: A Model Law for Terrorist Incapacitation," and authored by Benjamin Wittes and Colleen A. Peppard, download here, the first 27 pages is an analysis and discussion.  For scholars and policy analysists, this discussion provides an excellent overview of the controversies.

The last 10 pages - - - the Appendix - - -  is actually a model statute (or perhaps Executive Order?).  It provides from some judicial oversight, although a suspension of the rules of evidence during those hearings, and numerous other specifics.  For those teaching this summer, whether in the US or elsewhere, this proposal would make an excellent exam question


June 28, 2009 in Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, Fundamental Rights, News, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Padilla v. Yoo - Judge denies motion to dismiss "torture memos" case

Federal Judge Jeffery White in San Francisco has substantially denied the motion to dismiss the civil complaint filed by Jose Padilla against John Yoo, formerly of the DOJ, now on leave from UC-Berkeley (Boalt Hall).

In a 42 page opinion (download here), Judge White begins rather grandly:

[War] will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.
The Federalist No. 8, at 44 (Alexander Hamilton) (E.H. Scott ed., 1898).
The issues raised by this case embody that same tension – between the requirements of war and the defense of the very freedoms that war seeks to protect.

However, the judge soon provides a detailed recitation of the allegations of the complaint and then engages in a closely reasoned opinion relying on United States Supreme Court precedent as well as numerous Ninth Circuit cases.  Judge White acknowledges the separation of powers issues in this Bivens complaint, and interestingly has this comment about Yoo's argument for absention:

Yoo also advocates that this Court should abstain from adjudication because the Court should leave review of his legal memoranda and the conduct which followed to the coordinate branches of government based on substantive areas of law raised by the memoranda. The Court notes the irony of this position: essentially, the allegations of the complaint are that Yoo drafted legal cover to shield review of the conduct of federal officials who allegedly deprived Padilla of his constitutional rights. Now, Yoo argues that the very drafting itself should be shielded from judicial review. Padilla’s allegations here are that the creation of such legal cover was itself an unconstitutional exercise of power. Thus, the question posed by the present motion is whether an alternative branch of government, under the circumstances, should be tasked with prescribing the scope of relief available to Padilla.

Order at 22. 

Padilla Judge White also denies Yoo's claim of qualified immunity,  including the claim that there is insufficient causation (linking the memos to the actions against Padilla).

 The Judge's Order denies the motion to dismiss "as to all claims with the exception of the claim for violation of Padilla’s rights under the Fifth Amendment against compelled self-incrimination."  The Judge granted Yoo's motion because "there is no allegation in the complaint before this Court that Padilla was ever made to be a witness against himself or that his statements were admitted as testimony against him in his criminal case," and thus  "he has not stated a claim for violation of the Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment." Order at 37.  Padilla has leave to amend this allegation by July 10.  Yoo has twenty days to file his responsive pleading.

This is an opinion worth reading, just as this case will be worth watching as it proceeds.


June 13, 2009 in Cases and Case Materials, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Privilege, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Separation of Powers, State Secrets, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 13, 2009

CFP: National Security and Constitutional Law

Call for Articles, Essays, and Book Reviews: National Security and Constitutional Law

Proposals due May 15, 2009

The editors of Pace Law Review invite proposals from scholars, researchers, practitioners, and professionals for contributions to a special issue on the relationship between national security and constitutional law to be published in Winter 2010.

Law01 Pace Law School is dedicated to advancing a greater understanding among scholars and the legal community concerning the role of constitutional law in national security concerns.  

This law review issue will promote an ongoing discourse on the balance between constitutional rights and effective national security.

Please submit proposals of no more than 500 words by attachment to by May 15, 2009.  All proposals should include the intended author’s name, title, institutional affiliation, contact information, and should concern issues related to the relationship between national security and constitutional law.  Book review proposals should also include (a) the title and publication date of the book proposed for review; (b) a description of the importance of the book to the general topic; and (c) any other information relevant to the book or proposed review (e.g., the reviewer’s expertise or any relationship with the author).  Authors are also welcome, but not required, to submit a CV.  We expect to make publication offers by June 1.  We encourage clear, concise, and accessible writing that will be of use to lawmakers, attorneys, and students. 

Completed manuscripts of book reviews and essays will be due July 15, 2009.  Completed manuscripts of scholarly articles will be due August 1, 2009.


April 13, 2009 in Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, Foreign Affairs, Scholarship, State Secrets, Theory, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

OLC Chief Nominee Johnsen Before the Senate Judiciary Committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing today to consider President Obama's nomination of Dawn Johnsen to serve as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel.  (The webcast is here.)

As part of the materials in support of Johnsen's appointment, the Committee considered several letters from law professors, including Johnsen, submitted to the Judiciary Committee in the Bush administration and Johnsen's testimony before the Committee on "Secret Law" in the Bush administration.  If you haven't seen (or signed) these, take a look.

The first letter (July 9, 2007) responds to the Bush administration's Statement of Administrative Policy on The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007.  The SAP raised concerns about Congress's authority to enact the law, which would have prohibited violent crimes motivated by the race, color, religion, or national origin of the victim.  The letter set out the case for why Congress had authority under Section 2 of the Thirteenth Amendment.

The second letter (January 17, 2007) made the case for Congressional authority to affect President Bush's then-planned troop surge in Iraq.  The letter:

These provisions [Article I, Sec. 8 authorities related to war] plainly set forth an extensive role for Congress that goes far beyond the initial decision to declare war and subsequent decisions regarding its funding.  This mass of war powers confers on Congress an ongoing regulatory authority with respect to the war.  Indeed, these powers are so extensive that Chief Justice John Marshall opined (with some exaggeration, when read out of context) that "[t]he whole powers of war [are], by the Constitution of the United States, vested in Congress . . . ."  As Commander in Chief, the President's role is to prosecute the war that Congress has authorized within the legitimate parameters Congress sets forth.  Congress has exercised precisely this power to define the parameters of armed conflict or war on a number of occasions, some of which concern recent military engagements.

Johnsen's testimony deals with OLC's proper role as legal adviser to the executive branch and those instances when advice should be kept secret.  Johnsen:

There are circumstances, of course, in which the executive branch should keep OLC advice secret.  In extreme cases, the release of an OLC opinion could gravely imperil national security.  Congress should respect the President's genuine needs for secrecy.  But so, too, should the President respect Congress's need to know how--even whether--the executive branch is enforcing existing law.  It is fundamental that if OLC advises the executive branch that it may disregard an applicable legal restriction--whether in the Constitution, a treaty or a statute--because a presidential prerogative trumps the law, OLC virtually always should make that legal interpretation public.

Johnsen's testimony incorporates the famous Principles to Guide the Office of Legal Counsel, authored by 19 former OLC attorneys.

This material has been around a while, and nothing in it is a particular surprise, but it makes great reading on a wide range of hot-button issues from the Bush administration. 


February 25, 2009 in Congressional Authority, Executive Privilege, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

CFP: Creative Writing on Obama

Feeling the creative urge?  Or the need to write something that is not footnoted? 

Or thinking of a creative assignment for students?

Nmwlogo2 The literary magazine New Millennium is having a writing competition for works centered on Obama - - - poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction - - - 2,500 words or less.  (Really, that's two thousand five hundred words; not twenty-five thousand).

There is an entry fee, as there tends to be in creative writing competitions.  There is also a monetary award.  Deadline is March 1, 2009.   More information here. 


February 12, 2009 in Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, Interpretation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 30, 2009

President Bush Re-Directs Rove, Miers Not to Appear Before Congress

Counsel to former President Bush Fred Fielding wrote letters last week to counsel for Karl Rove and Harriet Miers directing them not to appear before, and not to provide information to, Congress in response to Congressional subpoena in the investigation into the firing of U.S. attorneys, Michael Isikoff reports in Newsweek.  The letters are here and here

We knew, of course, that President Bush directed Rove and Miers not to appear before Congress--I posted most recently on this here--and we knew that the Bush OLC ruled that Rove and Miers enjoy absolute (yes you read that right: absolute) executive privilege.  These letters appear to be a post-presidential attempt to provide additional legal cover for Rove and Miers.  The only difference between these most recent letters and Bush's previous directions:  Bush is now out of office, thus weakening, but not destroying, Bush's and Bush officials' claims of executive privilege.  (See my previous post here.)

The letters have no legal significance.  They cannot provide cover any more than Bush's previous directions themselves or the prior Bush OLC memo.  They merely reiterate the Bush administration position on executive privilege--that the President and close advisers enjoy absolute executive privilege in respect to Congressional subpoenas--and re-direct Rove and Miers not to testify.

So the letters are interesting only because of their legal analysis (which itself is a reflection of the analysis in the Bush OLC memo).  Both letters cite the July 10, 2007, Bush OLC memo, linked above, concluding that the President and immediate advisers are absolutely immune from compelled testimony before Congress, and that the immunity cannot be outweighed by any Congressional interest.  The Bush OLC memo--and Fielding's most recent letters--in turn generously quote a September 16, 1999, Clinton OLC memo, authored by then-AG Janet Reno.  That memo concluded that "[t]he President and his immediate advises are absolutely immune from testimonial compulsion by a Congressional committee."

There are a couple differences between the recent letters and Reno's memo.  For one, the Congressional investigation that sparked Reno's memo dealt with a matter--executive clemency--that is uniquely within the constitutional authority of the President, and over which Congress can neither legislate nor appropriate.  Reno concluded that Congress lacked authority to investigate the matter, and it therefore couldn't compel testimony by presidential advisers. 

But Reno also concluded that there was a separate and independent basis for executive privilege in that case:  "Executive privilege is assertable in response to a congressional subpoena seeking testimony by the Counsel to the President concerning the performance of official duties on the basis that the Counsel serves as an immediate adviser to the President and is therefore immune from compelled congressional testimony."  Reno wrote that the privilege is absolute, but she alternatively concluded that the privilege would outweigh any Congressional interests (in examining the advice the President received with regard to clemency) under a balancing approach.

The other difference is that Fielding wrote his letters after Bush left office.  Reno wrote her memo while Clinton was still in office. 

So do the differences matter?  Start here:  The claim of absolute executive privilege is based upon separation-of-powers considerations that are very similar to those in play in U.S. v. Nixon.  The Court in that case, of course, ruled that the privilege gives way to certain other interests under a balancing approach.  The privilege was not--and is not--absolute; it is subject to a balancing test.

Under a balancing test when the privilege is asserted before Congress, a Congressional interest in a matter uniquely in the President's bailiwick is certainly weaker than a Congressional interest in a matter within its own bailiwick.  Clemency falls into the former; politicized firings at DOJ fall into the latter.

And finally the privilege is stronger for a sitting President than for a former President.

For all these reasons, Rove and Miers state a much weaker claim for executive privilege.

The Obama Justice Department will weigh in on these issues soon enough in the House's case against Miers and Bolton.  (See my post here.)  We'll stay on top of this.


January 30, 2009 in Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

John Yoo, torture, and the continuing saga

John Yoo, formerly in the Justice Department from 2001-03, and now a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley and a visiting professor at Chapman Law School, has an op-ed in Washington Post  entitled "Obama Made a Rash decision on Gitmo," and supporting the practice under  "under President George W. Bush,"  when

the CIA could hold and interrogate high-value al Qaeda leaders. On the advice of his intelligence advisers, the president could have authorized coercive interrogation methods like those used by Israel and Great Britain in their antiterrorism campaigns. (He could even authorize waterboarding, which he did three times in the years after 9/11.)


Yoo continues, contrasting President Obama, who 

ordered that al Qaeda leaders are to be protected from "outrages on personal dignity" and "humiliating and degrading treatment" in accord with the Geneva Conventions. His new order amounts to requiring -- on penalty of prosecution -- that CIA interrogators be polite. Coercive measures are unwisely banned with no exceptions, regardless of the danger confronting the country.

Eliminating the Bush system will mean that we will get no more information from captured al Qaeda terrorists. Every prisoner will have the right to a lawyer (which they will surely demand), the right to remain silent, and the right to a speedy trial.

The first thing any lawyer will do is tell his clients to shut up. The KSMs or Abu Zubaydahs of the future will respond to no verbal questioning or trickery -- which is precisely why the Bush administration felt compelled to use more coercive measures in the first place. Our soldiers and agents in the field will have to run more risks as they must secure physical evidence at the point of capture and maintain a chain of custody that will stand up to the standards of a civilian court.

Interestingly enough in light of Yoo's comments regarding layers representing clients, Obama is - - - in a way - - - representing John Yoo.  As reported and WSJ blog also noted, the lawsuit by Jose Padilla against several in the Bush Administration, including Yoo, is being defended by the Obama DOJ.  The complaint is available on the WSJ blog here with background on Yale Law School's involvement on behalf of Padilla here.


January 29, 2009 in Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, News, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

House Judiciary Committee Chair Conyers Subpeonas Karl Rove

Rep. John Conyers, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, issued a subpoena last week to Karl Rove requiring him to testify before the Committee in its investigation of the Bush administration's politicization of the Justice Department, including the firing of nine U.S. attorneys.  The subpoena is here; Politico has an excellent report here; I previously posted on last Congress's Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenas and contempt resolutions here, the House's contempt case against Bolton and Meiers for failing to testify (asserting executive privilege) here, and more generally about post-presidency claims of executive privilege here.

The difference with this new subpoena, of course, is that Bush has now left office, and Rove was an official in a prior (not current) administration.  The difference weakens any claim of executive privilege.

Executive privilege for former officials is governed by Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, the case in which former President Nixon sought to protect his presidential materials from screening by the Archivist.  The Court ruled in that case that while executive privilege outlasts a presidency--and therefore may be asserted by a former President--the screening process in that particular case had sufficient protections to ensure executive confidentiality and thus to override Nixon's claim of executive privilege. 

The Court arrived at this conclusion in part because neither President Ford nor President Carter supported the claim.  Jack Balkin, in a thoughtful and balanced post at Balkinization, argues that this puts the onus on President Obama: If Obama supports the claim, Rove is more likely to win in court; if Obama opposes it, Rove is more likely to lose.

But there's more to the Court's analysis in Nixon v. Administrator than subsequent Presidents' sanctions of the claim.  In addition to--and perhaps even more than--subsequent Presidents' views, the Court looked at processes in place to protect executive confidentiality.  The Court in Nixon v. Administrator, for example, compared the processes in place in that case to the in camera processes in United States v. Nixon and concluded that the processes in the former were as protective as those in the latter.  Moreover, they were minimally intrusive.

And the Court in Nixon v. Administrator also made much of the fact that Nixon's claim was against his own branch of government--the executive--not a coordinate branch, as in U.S. v. Nixon.

With these other considerations, any executive privilege claim against the most recent subpoena could be an interesting constitutional question.  The protections in a Congressional investigation are probably less than in an Archivist's screening (as in Nixon v. Administrator) or a federal court's in camera review (as in U.S. v. Nixon), and the subpoena is probably more intrusive.  Moreover the subpoena comes from a coordinate branch.  But on the other side, the subpoenaed material goes to support a Congressional investigation, not a criminal trial (as in U.S. v. Nixon). 

Obama's position on Rove's assertion of executive privilege will certainly matter--it may even be the tipping factor--but only along with these other considerations.  And if Obama's recent practices promoting open government are any indication, he's likely to oppose Rove's claim of executive privilege in any event.


January 28, 2009 in Congressional Authority, Executive Privilege, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama (Re)Opens Presidential Records

President Obama yesterday issued an executive order reversing the Bush administration policy of allowing former Presidents or their designates to assert executive privilege and thus to protect certain presidential documents from public disclosure.  The new EO returns to policies of the Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, and Clinton administrations under EO 12667 (signed by Reagan).  The National Coalition for History reports here.

This move is a significant signal that the Obama administration intends to be much more open than the Bush administration; it will also likely result in wider availability of former Presidents' documents than under the Bush policy. 

President Obama's order specifically revoked Bush administration Executive Order 13233, which permitted former Presidents or their designates to assert executive privilege and thus protect their presidential material from public disclosure, whether the incumbent President agreed or not.  Obama's order gives this power back to Archivist in consultation with relevant incumbent administration officials and ultimately to the incumbent President.

The Bush administration EO 13233 relied upon Nixon v. Administrator of General Services; EO 13233:

In Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, the Supreme Court set forth the constitutional basis for the President's privileges for confidential communications: "Unless [the President] can give his advisers some assurance of confidentiality, a President could not expect to receive the full and frank submissions of facts and opinions upon which effective discharge of his duties depends." 443 U.S. at 448-49.  The Court cited the precedent of the Constitutional Convention, the records of which were "sealed for more than 30 years after the Convention."  Id. at 447 n. 11.  Based on those precedents and principles, the Court ruled that constitutionally based privileges available to a President "survive[] the individual President's tenure."  Id. at 449.  The Court also held that a former President, although no longer a Government official, may assert constitutionally based privileges with respect to his Administration's Presidential records, and expressly rejected the argument that "only an incumbent President can assert the privilege of the Presidency."  Id. at 448.

But nothing in Nixon v. Administrator of General Services--stretched as it is here and elsewhere in EO 13233--authorized the unilateral assertion of executive privilege by a former President, without administrative review procedures by the incumbent administration.  In fact, the Court in that case also wrote that

[a]n incumbent President should not be dependent on happenstance or the whim of a prior President when he seeks access to records of past decisions that define or channel current governmental obligations.  Nor should the American people's ability to reconstruct and come to terms with their history be truncated by an analysis of Presidential privilege that focuses only on the needs of the present.  Congress can legitimately act to rectify the hit-or-miss approach that has characterized past attempts to protect these substantial interests by entrusting the materials to expert handling by trusted and disinterested professionals. . . .

In short, we conclude that the screening process contemplated by the Act will not constitute a more severe intrusion into Presidential confidentiality than the in camera inspection by the District Court approved in United States v. Nixon.

If anything, these cases better support Obama's EO (and Reagan's EO 12667).


January 22, 2009 in Executive Privilege, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Sunday Reader: (Obama's OLC Pick) Johnsen on the Post-Bush Constitution

Professor Dawn Johnsen (Indiana U. and President-Elect Obama's pick to head the Office of Legal Counsel) posted her characteristically excellent piece What's a President to Do? Interpreting the Constitution in the Wake of Bush Administration Abuses on ssrn; it's also in the Boston U. L. Rev.  This is a thoughtful article on how the new chief executive should respond to constitutional overreaching by the present administration.  (For a related piece, see Johnsen's American Constitution Society Issue Brief on the topic.)  Johnsen's answer is balanced, well considered, and appropriately restrained; the piece reminds us--if there were any doubt--why she's Obama's choice to lead the OLC.  This is an excellent read in its own right; it's an outright must-read considering Johnsen's role on the Obama team.

Johnsen argues that the Bush administration excesses ought not drive us to fundamentally change our understanding of executive authority--despite what may be a very strong impulse to do so.  Instead we should look to safeguards and checks both within and outside the executive branch to avoid future constitutional abuses, while nevertheless protecting the legitimate authority of the executive branch.

Johnsen starts by reviewing some of the more widely examined Bush administration excesses and reactions to those excesses in order to illustrate both problems: the administration's constitutional overreaching; and opponents' reactions that, in their (understandable) tenacity, themselves go too far and impinge upon legitimate executive authority.

She offers several examples; here's a particularly good one, if only because it seems so typical in today's debates:

The risk of such conflation can be seen, for example, in a December 2007 remark by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.  Whitehouse attacked the Bush administration for asserting the position that "[t]he President, exercising his constitutional authority under Article II, can determine whether an action is a lawful exercise of the President's authority under Article II."  Senator Whitehouse has earned commendation for his forceful and able critiques of the Bush administration abuses.  Here, too, his concern is warranted, but he seems to misplace his objections.  Presidents not only can, but they must determine whether their actions are lawful (subject of course, to appropriate judicial review).  Moreover, in many circumstances, Presidents may develop, declare, and act upon distinctive, principled constitutional views that do not track those of the Supreme Court or Congress.  The problem lies not with the fact that President Bush, with the help of his lawyers, assessed the scope of his constitutional authority before acting, but with the flawed content of his legal detemrinations and the ways in which he secretly acted upon them.  . . .

Johnsen goes on to argue that the Bush administration is itself largely responsible for such "misplaced" attacks because of its excessive secrecy.

Johnsen then explores the President's interpretive authority and nonenforcement authority and places both in historical context.  She argues that the President ought to have interpretive authority: "The better question, therefore, is not whether, but how the President should participate in the determination of constitutional meaning."  And she argues for a "strong, but not irrebutable presumption" in favor of enforcing even those statutes that the executive objects to on constitutional grounds: "I conclude that the Constitution is best interpreted as creating a strong but not irrebutable presumption in favor of enforcement of constitutionally objectionable statutes."  And if you're looking for specifics on positions of Obama's OLC pick, look here: "The Bush administration's 'unitary executive' and Commander-in-Chief theories, in my view, are clearly wrong and threaten both the constitutionally prescribed balance of powers and individual rights."  (This selection gives us more insight into Obama's positions on these issues; see my previous post here.)

Johnson wraps up by arguing for executive checks (presumably including the OLC) and extra-executive checks on Article II powers, but also for defending legitimate Article II powers.  She offers no specifics on these points outside of outlining her position in contradistinction to Bush administration practices.  But that is certainly enough for now: The new administration will have its hands full simply undoing the Bush administration abuses. 

Johnsen's article reminds me once again how thoughtful she is on executive power and the OLC's role.  Read it as good scholarship; read it as thoughtful critique; or read it as a roadmap for the OLC in the Obama administration.  Whatever your interest: Just read it.


January 11, 2009 in Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, News, Scholarship, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)