Tuesday, February 5, 2013
A Department of Justice white paper leaked to NBC gives the more detailed version of the administration's legal case for drone attacks against overseas Americans associated with al-Qa'ida. (Note that the white paper is unsigned and undated; it is not an OLC memo. It is titled simply "Department of Justice White Paper.") Michael Isikoff wrote on the white paper here. The leak is significant, because the administration has steadfastly refused to release a formal legal justification for the program. Just last month, the administration successfully defended against a FOIA claim in federal court seeking legal justification for the program.)
According to the white paper, the president has constitutional authority to order drone attacks and is not prohibited by due process. The paper says that the president has authority to respond to order strikes as part of his authority to defend the country against the imminent threat posed by al Qa'ida and associated forces, including U.S. citizens associated with al Qa'ida, under "the inherent right of the United States to national self defense under international law, Congress's authorization of the use of all necessary and appropriate military force against this enemy, and the existence of an armed conflict with al-Qa'ida under international law."
According to the paper, due process does not prohibit this:
Were the target of a lethal operation a U.S. citizen who may have rights under the Due Process Clasue and the Fourth Amendment, that individual's citizenship would not immunize him from a lethal operation. Under the traditional due process balancing analysis of Mathews v. Eldridge, we recognize that there is no private interest more weighty than a person's interest in his life. But that interest must be balanced against the United States' interest in forestalling the threat of violence and death to other Americans that arise from an individual who is a senior operational leader of al-Q'aida or an associated of al-Q'aida and who is engaged in plotting against the United States.
Instead, the white paper sets out a three-part test for targeted killing of a U.S. citizen who is outside the United States and who is "an operational leader continually planning attacks against U.S. persons and interests":
(1) where an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States;
(2) where a capture operation would be infeasible--and where those conducting the operation continue to monitor whether capture becomes infeasible; and
(3) where such an operation would be conducted consistent with applicable law of war principles.
The paper says that "[i]n these circumstances, the 'realities' of the conflict and the weight of the government's interest in protecting its citizens from an imminent atack are such that the Constitution would not require the government to provide further process to such a U.S. citizen before using lethal force."
The paper, however, goes on to define "imminent" quite broadly (and surprisingly): "the condition that an operational leader present an 'imminent' threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future." The paper also goes on at length as to why this isn't unlawful murder.
It mentions as part of the justification that "under the circumstances described in this paper, there exists no appropriate judicial forum to evaluate these constitutional considerations."
Monday, January 21, 2013
The Court granted certiorari Friday in Bond v. United States - - - again.
Recall that the first time the Court heard Carol Anne Bond's case, it held that she did indeed have standing to assert a Tenth Amendment argument against her charge for violating 18 U.S.C. § 229(a), enacted by Congress to implement the United States’ treaty obligations under an international arms-control agreement, the Chemical Weapons Convention, that prohibits nation-states from producing, stockpiling, or using chemical weapons. Bond, a biologist, used her expertise to spread injurious chemicals on the property of her former best friend, after learning that the friend was pregnant by Bond’s husband. Although Bond was prosecuted in state court, she continued her campaign against her former friend and she was eventually prosecuted in federal court.
On remand, the Third Circuit held that the Chemical Weapons Convention "falls comfortably within the Treaty Power's traditional subject matter limitation" and thus the implementing Act is "within the constitutional powers of the federal government under the Necessary and Proper Clause and the Treaty Power, unless it somehow goes beyond the Convention." While the Circuit did find the prosecution of Bond puzzling, there was also much puzzlement over the statement in Missouri v. Holland that “[i]f [a] treaty is valid there can be no dispute about the validity of the statute [implementing that treaty] under Article 1, Section 8, as a necessary and proper means to execute the powers of the Government."
It seems the Supreme Court is ready to clarify - - - or attempt to - - - Missouri v. Holland's famous statement.
[image of Methyldichloroarsine via]
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Writing about recent developments in the case of Bradley Manning (pictured), New Yorker commentator Amy Davidson considers how the charge of aiding the enemy by releasing information to the press has precedent in a Civil War prosecution - - - and how the possible sentence now is dramatically different.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Some excellent reporting and gathering of materials from C-SPAN on the Bradley Manning case, involving constitutional issues of state secrets, First Amendment, and due process, among others.
Today's daily "read" is the video from an event discussing the Manning case features a very rare appearance by Manning's attorney, David Coombs. The introduction of Coombs starts at 22:40. Coombs discusses the "unlawful pretrial punishment motion" regarding Manning's treatment during detention which he describes as "criminal" before the move to Leavenworth, the public attention to the case, whistle-blowing. He also responds to vetted questions: he lauds the military justice system, including the judges and any possible panel, as educated, open-minded, and fair; discusses his own legal career; generally discusses the relationship between the "press" and an "aiding the enemy" offense; the perils of "trying the case in the press;" and privileged communication between attorney and client. Interestingly absent is any discussion of Manning's sexuality.
This is definitey worth a listen!RR
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
In an excerpt published in Slate this morning, from his e-book, Camp Justice, journalist Mattathias Schwartz writes compellingly of covering the ongoing trial United States v. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al. We most recently discussed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the so-called "mastermind" of 9-11 and the onlgoing legal proceedings, when KSM was arraigned.
Recall that whether or not KSM would have a trial - - - and where - - - were hotly contested matters. Now, Schwartz states that although the KSM trial at Guantanamo is an “open” and “public” proceeding [his quotes], accepting the Pentagon’s “invitation” to cover the proceedings, meant signing the 13-page Media Ground Rules document:
Among other things, I agreed not to disclose any Protected Information. The definition of Protected Information makes ample use of the word includes and sets no upper limit on what Protected Information might be.
The geographical restraints also limit reportial opportunities:
For the most part, News Media Representatives are confined to a few acres of Guantánamo, an area known as Camp Justice. Cut off from the town and the detention camps, Camp Justice is carved up into a jigsaw of designated zones by every conceivable type of wall: interlocking traffic barriers, chest-high, made of orange plastic; chains hanging between yellow stanchions; retractable fabric bands stretched airport-style between flimsier black stanchions; chain-link fences veiled in black tarps and topped with spools of concertina wire; chain-link blocks wrapped in green tarps and filled with rubble; “no photography” signs; “restricted area” signs; gates that swing on hinges; gates that pop up from the ground.
And then there is the trial itself, with the imposition of a 40 second sound delay.
This first hand journalistic account provides a useful context for any constitutional analysis of a "public trial," as well as for the ongoing discussions of national security and constitutionalism.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
A three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit ruled in U.S. v. Ballaizac-Hurtado that Congress lacks authority to enact the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act. The ruling reverses four convictions of defendants who were charged under the Act for drug crimes that occurred in Panama.
The ruling could strike a blow at federal enforcement of extraterritorial drug crimes not committed on the high seas. (The court distinguished those cases, because Congress has independent authority to restrict conduct on the high seas.) While the ruling is limited to the facts of the case (i.e., outside the U.S., but not on the high seas), it's easy to see how it could apply to other, similar cases. That means for now--unless and until the government appeals and wins--federal criminal charges under the Act for drug trafficking outside the U.S., but not on the high seas, won't stand in the Eleventh Circuit.
The court held that Congress lacked authority to enact the Act as applied to the defendants under its power to "define and punish . . . Offenses against the Law of Nations." Art. I, Sec. 8, cl. 10. The problem: The Clause authorizes Congress to "define and punish" offenses that are recognized under customary international law; and drug trafficking is not one of them. The court reviewed the history (or lack of history) of the law of international drug trafficking from the founding period through today and concluded that there simply was no customary international law prohibiting drug trafficking. Instead, "unlike genocide, the international community has addressed drug trafficking at the domestic, instead of international, level." Op. at 21.
As to any treaties on drug trafficking, the court said that certain affected States simply ignore them, making their obligations "not a matter of mutual legal obligation under customary international law." The court explained:
The practice of these specially affected States evidences that drug trafficking is not yet considered a violation of customary international law. Governments corrupted by the interests of drug traffickers are not simply unable to prosecute drug traffickers, but are often unwilling to do so because their economies are dependent upon the drug trade. The persistent failure of these specially affected States to comply with their treaty obligations suggests that they view the curtailment of drug trafficking as an aspirational goal, not a matter of mutual legal obligation under customary international law.
Op. at 20. (As the court explained, "[t]reaties may constitute evidence of customary international law, but 'will only constitute sufficient proof of a norm of customary international law if an overwhelming majority of States have ratified the treat, and those States uniformly and consistently act in accordance with its principles.'" Op. at 18, quoting Flores v. S. Peru Copper Corp., 414 F.3d 233 (2d Cir. 2003).)
The court also ruled that the power to "define . . . Offenses against the Law of Nations" didn't stretch congressional authority any, because to "define" simply means to re-state, not to re-define or to create. For example, the Clause doesn't give Congress power to re-define "piracy" as including "murder" and thus expand its authority by way of mere definition. Instead, to "define" authorizes Congress only to codify existing customary international law--as it actually exists. The court looked to the text, history, and structure of the Clause to arrive at this conclusion, and, in particular, the limited power of the federal government.
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
in the unlikely event that bin Laden surrendered, Obama saw an opportunity to resurrect the idea of a criminal trial, which Attorney General Eric Holder had planned for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This time, the president tells Bowden, he was prepared to bring bin Laden back and put him on trial in a federal court. “We worked through the legal and political issues that would have been involved, and Congress and the desire to send him to Guantánamo, and to not try him, and Article III.” Obama continues: “I mean, we had worked through a whole bunch of those scenarios. But, frankly, my belief was if we had captured him, that I would be in a pretty strong position, politically, here, to argue that displaying due process and rule of law would be our best weapon against al-Qaeda, in preventing him from appearing as a martyr.”
Obama's representations, given in an interview with Bowden, present an interesting - - - and perhaps unlikely - - - counterfactual. Over at Lawfare, Wells Bennett observes that "it seems a safe bet that congressional resistance to a civilian prosecution would have been extreme, at least as heated as the resistance to the civilian prosecution of the 9/11 co-conspirators."
October 9, 2012 in Books, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, International, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, May 4, 2012
Last June, in an unanimous opinion in Bond v. United States, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Third Circuit and found that Carol Anne Bond had standing to argue that the statute exceeded Congressional power and was inconsistent with the Tenth Amendment.
In an opinion today on remand, the Third Circuit reached the merits and again ruled against Bond. Recall that Bond was convicted for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 229(a), the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act, enacted by Congress to implement the United States’ treaty obligations under an international arms-control agreement that prohibits nation-states from producing, stockpiling, or using chemical weapons. Bond, a biologist, used her expertise to spread injurious chemicals on the property of her former best friend, after learning that the friend was pregnant by Bond’s husband. Although Bond was prosecuted in state court, she continued her campaign against her former friend and she was eventually prosecuted in federal court.
Bond urged the Third Circuit to "set aside as inapplicable the landmark decision Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416 (1920), which is sometimes cited for the proposition that the Tenth Amendment has no bearing on Congress‟s ability to legislate in furtherance of the Treaty Power in Article II, § 2 of the Constitution." Bond argued that "legal trends since the Supreme Court‟s 1920 decision in Holland make it clear that the Tenth Amendment should not be treated as irrelevant when examining the validity of treaty-implementing legislation."
The Third Circuit found that the Chemical Weapons Convention "falls comfortably within the Treaty Power's traditional subject matter limitation" and thus the implementing Act is "within the constitutional powers of the federal government under the Necessary and Proper Clause and the Treaty Power, unless it somehow goes beyond the Convention." Bond did argue that the Act exceeded the Convention, but the panel found this argument without merit. However, the panel did remark that Bond's prosecution seems a questionable exercise of prosecutorial discretion," stating in footnote 20:
The decision to use the Act – a statute designed to implement a chemical weapons treaty – to deal with a jilted spouse's revenge on her rival is, to be polite, a puzzling use of the federal government's power.
Concurring, Judge Rendell also remarked on the odd "fact pattern":
No one would question a prosecution under the Act if the defendant were a deranged person who scattered potassium dichromate and 10-chloro-10H-phenoxarsine, the chemicals which Ms. Bond used, on the seats of the New York subway cars. While that defendant could be punished under state law, applying the Act there would not offend our sensibilities.
But he added, "The judgment call to prosecute Ms. Bond under a chemical weapons statute rather than allowing state authorities to process the case is one that we question. But we see that every day in drug cases. Perhaps lured by the perception of easier convictions and tougher sentences, prosecutors opt to proceed federally."
Obviously, however, this "puzzling" or pragmatic use of federal law has cost the federal government much time, money, and energy in litigating this case.
Judge Ambro, however, was not so worried about the prosecution of Bond, but wrote separately "to urge the Supreme Court to provide a clarifying explanation of its statement in Missouri v. Holland that “[i]f [a] treaty is valid there can be no dispute about the validity of the statute [implementing that treaty] under Article 1, Section 8, as a necessary and proper means to execute the powers of the Government." This "most important sentence in this most important case about the constitutional law of foreign affairs" can be read as providing a "blank check" to Congress.
[image: colored chemicals via]
Monday, March 26, 2012
The Supreme Court ruled on Monday in Zivotofsky v. Clinton that the political question doctrine does not bar judicial review of the constitutionality of a federal statute that requires the Secretary of State to designate "Israel" as the country of birth for a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem who requests such designation. We previewed the case here, and we reviewed the oral argument here.
The ruling dodges the significant underlying separation-of-powers question over which branch has authority to designate the country of birth on a U.S. passport--at least for now. The Court remanded the case for consideration of this issue; it is sure to return.
The case pits State Department regs forbidding the designation of Israel as the country of birth for a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem against a federal statute that requires such designation--in short, whether the President or Congress has authority to specify the country of birth on a U.S. passport for a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem. Here, this power also implicates U.S. foreign policy, because the designation would be seen as taking sides in the Israeli-Palistinian conflict. Complicating things, President George W. Bush issued a signing statement on the legislation, Section 214(d) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, saying that it unconstitutionally interferes with the President's foreign affairs powers. (The constitutionality of the signing statement, however, wasn't before the Court.)
The D.C. Circuit ruled that the case raised a nonjusticiable political question--the President's authority to recognize foreign sovereigns--and affirmed its dismissal.
The Supreme Court reversed. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the Court that the case merely involved the constitutionality of a federal statute--"a familiar judicial exercise"--and did not require the courts to intervene in or to set foreign policy. This didn't make the case easy, but it did make it appropriate for judicial review. The Court remanded the case to get the lower courts' best thinking on the merits before the case inevitably comes back to it.
Justice Sotomayor wrote a concurrence joined in part by Justice Breyer, and Justice Alito wrote a concurrence. Justice Breyer was the lone dissenter, arguing that the case was a political question because it may well require the Court to evaluate foreign policy considerations, because there are no strong reasons for judicial review, and because the political branches can work it out on their own.
The ruling sends the case back to the lower courts for consideration on the merits. But this important separation-of-powers case is almost certain to come back to the high Court.
March 26, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, News, Opinion Analysis, Political Question Doctrine, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
The en banc Seventh Circuit heard oral argument on Wednesday in Vance v. Rumsfeld, the case by two American military contractors against the former Secretary of Defense (among others) for authorizing their torture while in military detention in Iraq. We posted on the three-judge panel decision allowing the case to move forward here. The full Seventh Circuit vacated that decision and took up the case en banc.
The plaintiffs, Vance and Ertel, filed a Bivens claim against Rumsfeld and others, seeking monetary damages and injunctive relief. The government, on behalf of Rumsfeld, moved to dismiss, arguing that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy, namely wartime context and the military's ability to do its job without threat of litigation.
The arguments today focused around these themes--all relating to special factors counseling against Bivens except the last one:
Disincentives. Some on the bench, led by Judge Posner, were concerned that allowing a Bivens claim to move forward here would discourage talented people from considering public service. Others expressed concern that not allowing a Bivens claim here would give a green light to the military to violate whatever constitutional provisions it likes, with no judicial check.
Separation of Powers. Some, again led by Judge Posner, argued that Congress was the better branch to provide a remedy, and that the courts should take great caution in crafting a judicial remedy, or in applying Bivens beyond its narrow facts.
Contractor Status. Judge Posner pressed the plaintiffs' attorney about the plaintiffs' contractor status, suggesting that this status, equivalent in all but name to active members of the military, creates exactly the same special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy that an active-duty member's claim raises. And the courts have rejected Bivens for such a military-on-military claim.
Alternative Remedies. Several on the bench seemed concerned that the plaintiffs hadn't pursued, or hadn't at least tried to pursue, alternative compensation remedies through the Defense Department.
Judge Posner, the most vocal voice on the court against a Bivens damage remedy, was also most vocal about saying that the plaintiffs could get injunctive relief. Thus one possibility is that the en banc court would dismiss the damage action but allow injunctive relief to move forward. The problem: Plaintiffs might then face a Lyons-like standing problem.
Another possibility: The en banc court might dodge the thorny question of special factors and instead dismiss the case based on the plaintiffs' failure to pursue alternative remedies.
Oddly, nobody on the bench (or behind the podium) seemed to consider that the qualified immunity doctrine could cover for the discourage-public-service concern--and that qualified immunity might do it in a better way: Allowing the Bivens case to move forward would give the plaintiffs their day in court and only discourage plainly unconstitutional public service, not all public service.
February 8, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Oral Argument Analysis, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
There's quite a bit of confusion and argument about what exactly the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, does. (The Conference Report is here; the relevant Title, Subtitle D, Counterterrorism, begins on page H8436.) On one side, detractors claim that it expands government authority to detain aliens and even U.S. citizens. Glenn Greenwald does a nice job setting out the case at salon.com. On the other side, supporters say that it only codifies the government's authority under existing law. Benjamin Wittes and Bobby Chesney carefully make this argument in their thorough examination at lawfare.
It turns out, both sides are right. In short, the plain language of the NDAA expands detention authority beyond the plain language of the Authorization to Use Military Force, P.L. 107-40, but it only codifies the authority already claimed by President Obama and granted by the D.C. Circuit under the AUMF. Here are some of the highlights:
- Indefinite Detention. Section 1021(c)(1) says that "[t]he disposition of a person under the law of war as described in subsection (a) may include . . . [d]etention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force." (Emphasis added.) This is the definition of indefinite detention. But it's also an authority that President Obama claimed from the early days of the administration. In fact, the definition of a "covered person" in Section 1021(b)(2) almost exactly tracks the administration's proposed definition of a "detainable person" under the AUMF in its March 13, 2009, filing in a Guantanamo habeas case in the D.C. District. (More below.) So while this authority in the NDAA is significant for representing clear congressional support for indefinite detention, and while it's deeply troubling, it also merely reflects the administration's long-standing position.
- Detainable Persons. Section 1021(b)(2) says that the government can detain (indefinitely) "[a] person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces." This is new, and adds to the definition of detainable person under the AUMF (and tracked in Section 1021(b)(1)) that allows detention of "[a] person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occured on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks." Moreover, Section 1022(a) requires military detention for anyone who is "a member of, or part of, al-Qaeda or an associated force that acts in coordination with or pursuant to the direction of al-Qaeda" and anyone who "participated in the course of planning or carrying out an attack or attempted attack against the United States or its coalition partners." (Section 1022 covers a subset of detainable persons in Section 1021. U.S. citizens and resident aliens are excepted from the requirement; more below.) In short, the NDAA authorizes indefinite detention, and in some cases requires military detention, for those who not only participated in the 9/11 attacks or harbored those who did (as under the AUMF), but also for those who currently attack the United States or its partners. But again, this is an authority that the administration claimed from its early days. Thus the NDAA tracks almost exactly the adminsitration's proposed definition of a detainable person in Guantanamo habeas cases. And it seems congruent with the D.C. Circuit's "part of" test--that under the AUMF the government can detain anyone who is "part of forces associated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban." So here, too, the plain language of the NDAA seems to expand authority beyond the AUMF, but it also seems consistent with the government's long-standing position and the courts' interpretation of the government's authority under the AUMF.
- Detainability of U.S. Citizens. Section 1022(b) says that the military detention requirement in Section 1022 does not apply to U.S. citizens and lawful resident aliens for conduct within the United States. This means that the NDAA does not require the military and indefinite detention of U.S. citizens who are "covered persons" under Section 1022(a)(2) (see above), but it also seems to permit such detention of U.S. citizens. The Act is deliberately ambiguous on this point and seems to punt to the courts. But in any event, it doesn't obviously add anything to the administration's position on detention or to what the courts would permit under Hamdi.
- Guantanamo Transfers. Section 1027 unequivocally denies funds for transfers of Guantanamo detainees to the United States. This restriction means that the administration can't transfer detainees for civilian criminal trials. The administration previously objected to this restriction (among others), even threatening a veto over this and other measures in the bill, but apparently dropped its objection.
- Civilian Trials. In addition to the restrictions in Section 1027, which prevent transfers of Guantanamo detainees to the United States for civilian trials (or for any other reason), Section 1029 requires the Attorney General to consult with the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense about civilian trials for anyone held under Sections 1021 and 1022, discussed above.
These provisions in the NDAA represent significant and explicit congressional approval of government detention authority. But they also only represent the administration's long-standing positions, and they're not obviously out of line with the courts' approaches. In short, the codification of these authorities is significant--because it means that Congress is explicitly signing onto them--but they also only represent the creep of authority claimed by the administration and reflected in the courts under the AUMF.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in MBZ (Zivotofsky) v. Clinton, the case testing whether Congress or the President or both have the power to designate (or not) the place of birth on a U.S. passport. We previewed the argument here.
The separation-of-power issue in the case is obvious: When Congress enacts a law in direct opposition to the President's practice (which, in turn, is driven by the President's foreign policy), who wins? But the case may turn on a more basic question: Separation of powers about what?
The plaintiffs in the case argued that the case is merely about passports, and not foreign policy. They said that the case can be decided easily under Justice Jackson's three-part framework in the steel-seizure case, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer: When Congress acts pursuant to its own authority, as here, the President's power is at its lowest ebb. The plaintiffs translated this as a kind of congressional veto over executive power--that when Congress and the President clash, Congress wins.
But more: The plaintiffs seemed to argue that even if the passport power implicates foreign affairs, Congress has a "shared" power with the President over foreign affairs. This leaves little exclusive power to the President over foreign affairs--an approach to executive authority over foreign affairs that Justice Kennedy called "crabbed." Others on the bench also signalled difficulties with this position; for example, Justice Sotomayor showed how it would "hobbl the President with respect to situations that occur frequently [in foreign affairs]," like changes in governments and changes in sovereignty. Justice Scalia put perhaps the finest point on all this:
Mr. Lewin, you're--it seems to me you are not arguing for a co-equal congressional power, you are arguing for a superior congressional power. You are saying whatever Congress says, the President has to comply with. Now, that's quite different from saying that they both have authority in the field.
There was an even more basic problem with the plaintiff's approach, though. That is: What exactly is Congress's authority over passports, and where does it come from? The plaintiffs didn't have a great answer for that question (from Justice Kagan).
But even with these problems with the plaintiffs' approach--its all-or-nothing nature, its rigidity, and its lack of textual support--the argument was by no means one-sided. The government similarly dug in its heels on its position on executive authority in foreign affairs: The President has exclusive authority, leaving no room for Congress. But it's not obvious that such expansive authority here derives from the text--the government only has the reception clause (its power to receive ambassadors) and its historical gloss on that power. And the government's theory didn't adequately address how it squares with Congress's power of the purse, its advice-and-consent power over appointments, and its oversight authority--whether those quite clear congressional authorities could in effect override the President's execution of the foreign affairs power. (The government said that a congressional act defunding a foreign affairs policy might raise constitutional problems, but it didn't say why. This is exactly what the government faced with congressional defunding of transportation of Guantanamo detainees to the mainland for criminal trials in Article III courts. The Obama administration balked, but only a little, and basically acquiesced in that act of congressional control over a foreign affairs matter.)
Moreover, the Court was quick to recognize that the government's aggressive position on the political question doctrine--that the issue here is textually delegated to the President alone, and therefore the courts shouldn't intervene--answers the underlying merits question. That is, to decide that the Constitution gives the power to the President for the purpose of the political question doctrine is also to decide that the Constitution gives the power to the President for the purpose of actualizing the power. This didn't seem to sit well.
Some on the bench floated intermediate positions. On the merits, both Congress and the President probably have some power over place-of-birth designation on passports, but that that power might be very different. The President may have some power by way of recognition, derived from the reception clause; but Congress, too, may have power by way of appropriations, appointments, and oversight. On the political question doctrine, this case could well be a "political question" (or otherwise nonjusticiable) for that very reason--that both political branches have some power, but that their powers are different, and that the courts should let them work it out (as they do in so many issues). These intermediate positions offer a more moderate and appealing view of shared power than the extreme views of either side in the case, and they keep the Court well away from delving into the underlying foreign policy itself--something that many on the Court seemed concerned about.
November 8, 2011 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, November 6, 2011
The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Monday in MBZ (Zivotofsky) v. Clinton, a case that on its face tests whether Congress or the President has authority to name the place of birth on a U.S. passport--but it's likely about much more.
The case arose when two U.S. citizens living in Israel sought a passport for their child, born in Jerusalem, with a place of birth as "Jerusalem, Israel." Embassy officials agreed to designate the place of birth "Jerusalem," but refused to designate "Israel." The officials' refusal was based on long-standing U.S. policy not to recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel and U.S. State Department regulations that prohibit the designation of "Israel" as the country of birth for any U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem.
The parents sued. They pointed to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003, that requires the Secretary of State to designate "Israel" as the country of birth for any U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem who so requests. But President Bush issued a signing statement on the Act that claimed that this provision was unconstitutional and said that the executive branch would decline to enforce it.
The case thus pits the President against Congress on the question of which branch has authority over the birthplace on the passport.
The lower courts dismissed the case, holding that it raised a nonjusticiable political question. The Zivotofskys appeal that ruling. But the Supreme Court also directed the parties to argue the merits: whether the Act unconstitutionally infringes upon the President's authority in foreign affairs.
The Zivotofskys argue that the case involves a run-of-the-mine issue relating to passports--the mere designation of a place of birth, which serves identification objectives, not foreign policy objectives. Thus in their view the case does not involve a political question, and requiring the designation of "Israel" as a country of birth for a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem is within congressional authority.
Secretary of State Clinton argues that the President's Article II power to receive Ambassadors includes the power to recognize (or not) foreign sovereigns and the power to designate them (or not) on U.S. passports. She also argues that this is a political question because of the sensitive foreign policy issues behind the State Department regulation--the kind of issues that are delegated to the President alone under the Constitution.
The fact that the Court directed the parties to brief the merits suggests that it'll say at least something about the merits. If it does, it seems likely that it'll say something very narrow--dealing only with the extent of the President's authority to receive Ambassadors as against any congressional authority over passports. But even that narrow ruling could say something broader about the respective roles of the political branches over foreign policy--a much broader question. This seems to be a narrow, even small, case on the surface, but there are potentially very big issues beneath.
As to presidential signing statements: it seems unlikely that the Court will say anything at all about them: this issue is not squarely before the Court; the parties did not brief it thoroughly; and the Court doesn't have to deal with it to decide the case.
November 6, 2011 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Political Question Doctrine, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Judge Reggie B. Walton (D.D.C.) ruled today in Kucinich v. Obama that ten members of the United States House of Representatives lack standing to sue President Obama for violating the War Powers Clause of the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution for the President's commitment of U.S. forces to Libya without explicit congressional consent. We previously posted on the issue here (OLC memo concluding that the President has authority without congressional consent); here, here, and here (congressional responses to the administration's campaign in Libya); here (administration's answers on claims that it lacks authority without congressional consent); and here (Kucinich's case).
Judge Walton wrote that the group lacked both legislative standing and taxpayer standing. Legislative standing is foreclosed by Kucinich v. Bush, a similar case from the same court in 2002 by the very same lead plaintiff--a fact not overlooked by Judge Walton, who wrote with some frustration that this case was a waste of the court's time. Taxpayer standing is foreclosed by basic taxpayer standing principles and the fact that the plaintiffs can't shoehorn it into the narrow exception in Flast v. Cohen. Judge Walton didn't even get to the administration's argument that this also a nonjusticiable political question.
The ruling is hardly a surprise. But, as Judge Walton noted, it obviously doesn't mean that Congress lacks a check on the President. It can still use its power of the purse, its oversight power, the Senate's advice-and-consent power to hold up appointments (a power it's demonstrated some competence wielding), and, ultimately though unlikely, its impeachment power.
October 20, 2011 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Foreign Affairs, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, October 10, 2011
The Office of Legal Counsel opined last month that a provision in an appropriations act that purported to prevent the Office of Science and Technology Policy from using appropriated funds to collaborate with the Chinese was unconstitutional.
Recall that President Obama issued a signing statement on the bill (taking issue with the restrictions on transfer of Guantanamo detainees and restrictions on appointment of presidential advisers), but he wrote nothing about the restrictions on collaborating with the Chinese. Nothing requires the President to preserve a constitutional objection in a signing statement; and failure to do so certainly doesn't constitute acquiescence to its constitutionality. Still, the OLC analysis came a little late. It seems that if Presidents are going to object to the constitutionality of a bill that they nevertheless sign, the better practice is to object early and publicly, in the signing statement, and not only later, through a comparatively less public OLC opinion.
The provision, Section 1340(a) of the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011, says that
None of the funds made available by this division may be used for . . . [the OSTP] to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement, or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company unless such activities are specifically authorized by a law enacted after the date of enactment of this division.
The OLC wrote that this interferes with the President's exclusive authority to "conduct . . . negotiations with foreign governments." The memo said that Congress "possess significant Article I powers in the areas of foreign affairs," but that in foreign negotiations "it is imperative that the United States speak with one voice" and that "[t]he Constitution provides that that one voice is the President's." Op. at 4.
The OLC also wrote that Congress could use its power of the purse to defund OSTP. But once having appropriated funds, it can't "impair the President's conduct of foreign affairs by imposing restrictions on expenditures that serve diplomatic purposes." Op. at 6. The memo said, however, that some restrictions--those on activities "that are neither diplomatic in character nor otherwise within the exclusive constitutional authority of the President"--did not run into the President's Article II powers.
Monday, October 3, 2011
Philip Alston (NYU) recently posted his now-even-more-timely article The CIA and Targeted Killings Beyond Borders late last month on SSRN. In it, Alston argues that there's no effective check on CIA targeted killings, and that this undermines the international rule of law. From the abstract:
The CIA's internal control mechanisms, including its Inspector-General, have had no discernible impact; executive control mechanisms have either not been activated at all or have ignored the issue; congressional oversight has given a "free pass" to the CIA in this area; judicial review has been effectively precluded; and external oversight has been reduced to media coverage which is all too often dependent on information leaked by the CIA itself. As a result, there is no meaningful domestic accountability for a burgeoning program of international killing. This in turn means that the United States cannot possibly satisfy its obligations under international law to ensure accountability for its use of lethal force, either under IHRL or IHL. The result is the steady undermining of the international rule of law, and the setting of legal precedents which will inevitably come back to haunt the United States before long when invoked by other states with highly problematic agendas.
Monday, September 26, 2011
A sharply divided 3-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit ruled last week in a pair of cases that a group of Iraqi citizens could not sue U.S. military contractors in tort for torture in Abu Ghraib prison and other locations throughout Iraq.
The court ruled in Al Shimari v. CACI Int'l and Al Quraishi v. L-3 Services, Inc. that federal interests preempted the plaintiffs' claims and dismissed the cases. But there was no preempting federal statute; instead the court relied on federal "interests" in interrogating detainees on a battlefield. Judge Niemeyer explained in an opinion joined by Judge Shedd:
[W]e too conclude that this case implicates important and uniquely federal interests. The potential liability under state law of military contractors for actions taken in connection with U.S. military operations overseas would similarly affect the availability and costs of using contract workers in conjunction with military operations. In this case, that uniquely federal interest was especially important in view of the recognized shortage of military personnel and the need for assistance in interrogating detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. Not only would potential tort liability against such contractors affect military costs and efficiencies and contractors' availability, it would also present the possibility that military commanders could be hauled into civilian courts for the purpose of evaluating and differentiating between military and contractor decisions. That effort could become extensive if contractor employees and the military worked side by side in questioning detainees under military control, as the complaint alleges in this case. Moreover, such interference with uniquely federal interests would be aggravated by the prison's location within the war zone. Finally, potential liability under state tort law would undermine the flexibility that military necessity requires in determining the methods for gathering intelligence.
. . .
In addition to the specific adverse impacts on the uniquely federal interests of interrogating detainees in foreign battlefields, a broader and perhaps more significant conflict with federal interests would arise from allowing tort law generally to apply to foreign battlefields.
Al Shimari at 8-10. In ruling the plaintiffs' claims preempted, the court followed the lead of the D.C. Circuit in Saleh v. Titan Corp., a 2009 case holding that where a civilian contractor is integrated into combat activities over which the military maintains authority, tort claims against the contractor are preempted.
Judge Neimeyer wrote separately to say that he would have dismissed the case under the political question doctrine and derivative absolute immunity, too.
Judge King wrote a lengthy dissent. Judge King said that the court lacked jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal, a position he explains in his dissenting opinion in Al Quraishi, and that, if the court had jurisdiction, preemption didn't apply to bar the plaintiffs' claims.
In Al Quraishi, a case with similar facts, the divided panel (Judge King, dissenting) ruled that the court had jurisdiction over the contractor's interlocutory appeal of the district court's denial of its motion to dismiss.
September 26, 2011 in Cases and Case Materials, Foreign Affairs, International, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
A three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit ruled Tuesday that a conviction against an Airborne infantryman under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act did not violate separation of powers. The conviction stands.
The case, U.S. v. Green, arises out of a gruesome and horrific multiple rape and multiple murder of Iraqi civilians committed by Green and two colleagues in Iraq. The Army charged Green's colleagues under the UCMJ, but the Army discharged Green (for a personality disorder). The government then charged and convicted him using the MEJA, a law that permits the government to prosecute former members of the military in Article III courts for crimes committed overseas while they were in the military. (The MEJA thus closes a loophole for former military who commit crimes overseas: They can't be charged under the UCMJ, but they can't be charged under U.S. criminal law, either; MEJA allows the government to prosecute. You might ask why the Iraqi authorities couldn't charge Green: Because Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 17 says that coalition forces "shall be immune from the Iraqi legal process.")
Green argued that his conviction was unconstitutional, because MEJA violated the separation of powers and the nondelegation doctrine (among other things). The Sixth Circuit disagreed. It said that MEJA certainly expanded executive branch power, but not at the expense of any other branch. MEJA is no different than, say, any new criminal law that Congress might enact.
The ruling is utterly unremarkable and unsurprising. But the government's position contrasts starkly with its position in the Seventh Circuit's recent decision in Vance v. Rumsfeld. In Vance, the Seventh Circuit ruled that a Bivens claim for overseas torture by U.S. citizens against Donald Rumsfeld can move forward, despite the government's vigorous arguments that separation-of-powers considerations prohibit a Bivens remedy, because courts have no business poking their noses around issues of national security, foreign policy, war-making, and the like. As the Seventh Circuit noted, the government's extreme position in that case would also mean that someone like Green couldn't be on the receiving end of a Bivens claim (even if his victims were U.S. citizens).
The separation-of-powers concern in Vance, of course, was different than in Green. The government argued in Vance that the courts' involvement in such matters intruded upon executive authority. The government had no such concern in Green, apparently: It ran to the courts, using MEJA, to prosecute Green, not at all worried that such a prosecution would inappropriately mire the courts in national security concerns (as in Vance). A double standard? You decide. But it does seem that the government would have a hard time squaring its prosecution of Green with its position in Vance.
[Image: Francisco de Goya, Desastre de la Guerra, Wikimedia Commons]
August 17, 2011 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, International, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Judge James S. Gwin (D.D.C.) ruled this week in Doe v. Rumsfeld that a U.S. citizen's Bivens suit against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld can move forward beyond the pleadings. In so ruling, Judge Gwin also flatly rejected some of the kinds of claims we've grown accustomed to by the government in cases arising out of its anti-terrorism programs--most especially a separation-of-powers claim that the courts have no business poking their noses in foreign affairs and national security.
The ruling comes on Rumsfeld's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint. The plaintiff, a U.S. citizen and civilian employee once deployed with a Marine intelligence unit in Iraq, alleged that Rumsfeld authorized his torture at overseas prisons operated by the United States and denied him fair process to challenge his designation and detention. He brought a Bivens claim for violations of substantive due process, procedural due process, and access to the courts and sought monetary damages.
Rumsfeld argued that the plaintiff's claim amounted to an unwarranted expansion of Bivens--that Bivens did not contemplate this kind of monetary damages claim, and that special factors counseled against recognizing the plaintiff's Bivens claim here--in particular, the separation-of-powers argument that this case raised foreign affairs, national security, and war-time issues uniquely within the bailiwick of the political branches, and that the courts have no expertise in these areas.
The court disagreed. Judge Gwin cited the Supreme Court's relatively recent and not-so-recent forays into foreign affairs, national security, and war-time issues--cases in which the government made arguments very similar to those Rumsfeld made here--and ruled that courts do, in fact, sometimes get involved in these issues. Moreover, Judge Gwin noted that the plaintiff was detained on his way out of Iraq, after he left the field of battle, when he could no longer offer low-level aid to insurgents (as the government alleged). Judge Gwin also rejected Rusmfeld's related "real world consequences" of allowing a Bivens remedy here, that the threat of liability would impede military decisionmaking; that proceeding with the case would involve sensitive information, distracting discovery, and testimony by soldiers that would disrupt the military's efforts; and that the action would "embroil the judiciary in war-related decisions" that are complicated to litigate.
Judge Gwin also rejected Rumsfeld's qualified immunity defense. Judge Gwin wrote that the plaintiff pleaded sufficient facts to show that Rumsfeld approved of policies that led to his torture, in violation of substantive due process. (He was careful to write that this was not a respondeat superior claim in violation of Ashcroft v. Iqbal. Instead, it was a direct claim for authorizing torture.) But Judge Gwin wrote that the plaintiff did not plead sufficient facts to show that Rumsfeld directed his shoddy process in violation of procedural due process and the right of access to the judiciary. He thus dismissed these two claims.
The ruling means that the plaintiff jumped one of his most significant hurdles--getting past the pleadings on his torture claim against Rumsfeld--especially after the Supreme Court clarified the high pleading standard in Iqbal and especially given a very recent ruling by the D.C. Circuit in a very similar case. Just over a month ago, the D.C. Circuit dismissed a Bivens claim against Rumsfeld for torture by an alien detained overseas. Key to the D.C. Circuit's ruling in Arkan v. Rumsfeld was that it wasn't clearly established at the time that the Fifth and Eighth Amendments applied to aliens detained abroad (not our case). But maybe just as key--and more relevant to Doe--the court ruled that prudential considerations--that cases like this against military officials would disrupt the war effort, just like Rumsfeld's argument in Doe--counselled against extending a Bivens remedy.
If the D.C. Circuit applies this same prudential considerations analysis to Doe, this case won't go far.
August 3, 2011 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, Foreign Affairs, Fundamental Rights, International, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh on Tuesday gave the administration's case for why U.S. operations in Libya are not "hostilities" under the War Powers Resolution, and therefore why the administration is not violating the WPR in not either gaining congressional authorization or withdrawing U.S. forces after the WPR's 60-day deadline passed. Koh testified along with Louis Fisher and Prof. Peter Spiro (Temple) before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Koh relied on the administration's understanding at the time of enactment of the WPR and subsequent practice to make his case:
In this case, leaders of the current Congress have stressed this very concern in indicating that they do not believe that U.S. military operations in Libya amount to the kind of "hostilities" envisioned by the War Powers Resolution's 60-day pullout provision. The historical practice supports this view. In 1975, Congress expressly invited the Executive Branch to provide its best understanding of the term "hostilities." My predecessor Monroe Leigh and Defense Department General Counsel Martin Hoffmann responded that, as a general matter, the Executive Branch understands the term "to mean a situation in which units of the U.S. armed forces are actively engaged in exchanges of fire with opposing units of hostile forces." . . . In the third-six years since Leigh and Hoffmann provided their analysis, the Executive Branch has repeatedly articulated and applied these foundational understandings.
Testimony, at 6-7. Koh went on to argue that the mission is limited, the exposure of U.S. armed forces is limited, the risk of escalation is limited, and military means are limited. Together, these mean that the operations are not "hostilities" under the WPR, and the President isn't violating the pull-out provision by failing to gain congressional approval and yet continuing the engagement.
Koh urged the Senate to adopt Senate Joint Resolution 20, the Kerry-McCain bill authorizing limited use of U.S. forces in Libya, but only so that the U.S. Government could show a united front--and not because it's constitutionally necessary.
Fisher responded point-by-point to the administration's claims (or "doubletalk") throughout the Libyan debates, including the OLC's conclusion that the operations are not a "war" under the Declaration of War Clause and the administration's conclusion that the operations are not "hostilities" under the WPR.
Spiro found a middle ground, focusing less on the constitutionality of the pull-out provision and ultimately on the political and pragmatics of it:
Does this mean that section 5(b) is unconstitutional? That question may better be left to the court of history. Although presidents may not declare the Act unconstitution, from the Reagan Administration onward they have been careful not to concede the point. They have good cause to avoid the distraction of constitutional confrontation where a more minimalist argument will serve the same end.
On the other hand, Congress has no real need of the provision, lack of respect for which reflects poorly on the institution. Congress has ample tools with which to control presidential deployments of U.S. armed forces. . . . In coming years we may well witness a trend towards greater congressional participation in decisions relating to the use of U.S. armed forces.
In any event, devising a position of the Congress with respect to the operatiosn in Libya should be the primary task at hand. Disputes relating to the War Powers Resolution are likely to distract from that undertaking. I believe we would be having the same sort of discussion today even if the War Powers Resolution had not been enacted. The persistent cloud over the Act underlines the perception of some that Congress is ill-equipped in this realm. Congress would be better served by focusing on other institutional tools for participating in the full spectrum of use-of-force decisions.
Spiro Testimony, at 5.
For some, even many, however, the issue now is less whether the administration has a plausible claim that U.S. operations in Libya are not WPR "hostilities," and more why the President seemed to cherry-pick advice from his legal advisors. There's nothing unconstitutional about this kind of cherry-picking, but it smacks of the kind of decision-making that led to opinions in the Bush administration relating to, among other things, torture.