Tuesday, February 3, 2015
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled last week that the Saskatchewan Public Service Essential Services Act (PSESA), which limited the ability of public sector employees who perform essential services to strike, violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. At the same time, the court upheld an act that increased the level of required written support, and reduced the time period for receiving support, to certify a union.
In striking the PSESA, the court held that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 2(d), free association, protects a fundamental right to strike, and that the PSESA wasn't saved by Section 1, the "reasonable limits" provision. The court wrote that the right to strike is "an indispensable component of" the right to bargain collectively, and "essential to realizing" the values of "human dignity, equality, liberty, and respect for the autonomy of the person and the enhancement of democracy." The court also noted that "international obligations also mandate protecting the right to strike . . . ."
The court said that the breach of Section 2(d) wasn't justified by Section 1, which "guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in [the Charter] subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society." The court wrote that the maintenance of essential public services is obviously "pressing and substantial," but that the PSESA wasn't sufficiently tailored. In particular, the court said that the PSESA allows too much given in defining "essential services" and the employees who perform them.
Two justices dissented, arguing that the political branches should have the flexibility to determine the scope of workers' ability to strike.
Friday, December 12, 2014
With the publication of the more than 500 page "Executive Summary" of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program (searchable document here), the subject of torture is dominating many public discussions.
A few items worth a look (or second look):
In French, Justice Scalia's interview with Le Journal du matin de la RTS (videos and report) published today. One need only be marginally fluent in French to understand the headline: "La torture pas anticonstitutionnelle", dit le doyen de la Cour suprême US. (h/t Prof Darren Rosenblum).
The French report will not surprise anyone familiar with Justice Scalia's discussion of torture from the 2008 "60 Minutes" interview discussed and excerpted here.
And while Justice Scalia contended that defining torture is going to be a "nice trick," LawProf David Luban's 2014 book Torture, Power, and Law offers very explicit definitions, even as it argues that these definitions can erode as torture becomes "normalized," seemingly giving credence to Scalia's point.
December 12, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, International, Interpretation, News, Scholarship, Sexuality, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
With the denial of certiorari in James Risen's case by the United States Supreme Court in June 2014, from the Fourth Circuit's divided opinion in United States v. Sterling, the situation of James Risen is in limbo. In large part, it was Risen's book, State of War that led to his current difficulties because he will not reveal a source.
Now Risen has a new book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, just reviewed in the NYT. As part of the book promotion - - - but also quite relevant to the case against Risen - - - Risen has made several media appearances of note, with the twist on the book title being that it's James Risen who is prepared to "pay any price" to protect his journalistic integrity (and by implication resist governmental power).
Perhaps the most populist of Risen's appearances is in an extended segment of the television show "60 minutes" including not only James Risen but others. The segment explains and situates the controversy, including its current status under President Obama. It also includes statements by General Mike Hayden that he is at least "conflicted" about whether Risen should be pursued for not divulging his source(s), even as Hayden expresses his view that NSA surveillance is "warantless but not unwarranted."
The entire segment is definitely worth watching:
Springboarding to some extent from General Hayden's remarks is Risen's extensive interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now (full video and the helpful transcript is here), in which Risen talks about his arguments in the book and a bit about his own predictament, concluding by saying:
AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re covering the very people who could put you in jail.
JAMES RISEN: Yeah, sometimes, yes. As I said earlier, that’s the only way to deal with this, is to keep going and to keep—the only thing that the government respects is staying aggressive and continuing to investigate what the government is doing. And that’s the only way that we in the journalism industry can kind of force—you know, push the government back against the—to maintain press freedom in the United States.
A third noteworthy appearance by Risen is his interview by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air (audio and transcript available here). One of the most interesting portions is near the end, with the discussion of the contrast to the celebrated Watergate investigation of Woodward and Bernstein and Risen's solution of a federal shield law for reporters.
For ConLawProfs teaching First Amendment, these "sources" could be well-used.
October 15, 2014 in Books, Cases and Case Materials, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, First Amendment, International, Privacy, Recent Cases, Speech, State Secrets, Theory, War Powers, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
With the release of "Citizen Four," the film by Laura Poitras on Friday, two videos are worth a watch.
First, here is a Q&A session with Laura Poitras at the 52nd New York Film Festival on October 10 after a premier of the film.
Second, here is a "virtual interview" with Edward Snowden from the New Yorker Festival - - - including in the first minute or so the official trailer of the film (also here) and an extended discussion with Snowden:
October 14, 2014 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Authority, Film, First Amendment, Foreign Affairs, International, News, Speech, Theory, War Powers, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Villanova Law Review Symposium to Honor Professor Penelope J. Pether
October 24, 2014
- Christopher Tomlins, Professor of Law, University of California-Berkeley School of Law: "A Fierce and Critical Faith: A Remembrance of Penny Pether"
- Marianne Constable, Professor, University of California-Berkeley: "Be True to What You Said on Paper: Pether on U.S. Publication Practices, Precedent, and the Positivism of Law and Language"
- Nan Seuffert, Professor of Law, Wollongong University School of Law: "A Seat at the National Table: Pether's Culinary Jurisprudence"
- Joseph Pugliese, Professor, Macquarie University: "The Open in the Case: Guantanamo's Regime of Indefinite Detention and the Disintegration of Adnan Latif's Corporeal Hexis Through Administrative Practices of Torture"
- Kunal Parker, Professor of Law and Dean's Distinguished Scholar, University of Miami School of Law: "Representing Interdisciplinarity"
- Mark Sanders, Professor of Comparative Literature, New York University: "Consequences of Reform: Penny Pether on Rape Law in Illinois and Australia"
- Peter Goodrich, Professor of Law, Cardozo School of Law: "On Foreign Ground: Friendship and the Force of Law"
More information here
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Judge James E. Boasberg (D.D.C.) ruled earlier this week in Sikhs for Justice v. Singh that while Manmohan Singh enjoyed head-of-state immunity from suit in U.S. federal court for acts committed while he was Prime Minister of India, that immunity did not extend to acts he took earlier, when he was Finance Minister. They ruling means that the plaintiff's case against Singh for acts he took while Finance Minister can move forward, but that Singh is immune from suit for acts he took while Prime Minister.
Plaintiffs Sikhs for Justice alleged that Singh tortured and killed Indian Sikhs during his time as Prime Minister and before, when he was Finance Minister. The group filed suit in the D.C. District while Singh was Prime Minister, but Singh then left office (or, rather, got voted out). The government filed a Suggestion of Immunity, arguing that Singh enjoyed head-of-state immunity for acts he committed as Prime Minister. But it didn't state a position on immunity for acts before Singh became Prime Minister, when he was Finance Minister.
Judge Boasberg ruled that Singh wasn't immune for those acts. In a case of apparent first impression, Judge Boasberg said that "[w]hile Singh's alleged acts as Finance Minister are not 'private' per se, they did not occur in the course of his official duties as head of state; accordingly they are not encompassed within the purview of head-of-state immunity."
Judge Boasberg, however, adopted the government's position and granted immunity for acts taken while Singh was Prime Minister. Judge Boasberg also ruled that Singh enjoyed risidual immunity for those acts after he left office.
The upshot is that the plaintiff's case can proceed against Singh for acts he took as Finance Minister, but not for acts he took as Prime Minister, even after he left office.
Monday, June 2, 2014
On her second trip to the United States Supreme Court, Carol Anne Bond prevailed again.
Recall that Carol Anne Bond was convicted of a crime in violation of the Chemical Weapons Implementation Act, 18 U.S.C. § 229(a), passed to implement a treaty , the Chemical Weapons Convention. But the fact that she is not a "terrorist," but rather a "vengeful" participant in a "love triangle" has caused much consternation. While the international arms-control agreement 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.
Recall that in 2011, the Court unanimously held that Bond could raise a Tenth Amendment claim in her prosecution, reversing the Third Circuit. On remand, the Third Circuit rejected Bond's argument 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."
Today's opinion in Bond v. United States again reverses the Third Circuit. The focus in oral argument was on the Treaty power and whether a treaty can alter constitutional structures, namely federalism. And while today's decision is unanimous, there are multiple concurring opinions.
The opinion for the Court, authored by Chief Justice Roberts, and joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, is a relatively brief 21 pages and notes that the Bond's case is "unusual" and thus the "analysis is appropriately limited." For the Court,
the global need to prevent chemical warfare does not require the Federal Government to reach into the kitchen cupboard, or to treat a local assault with a chemical irritant as the deployment of a chemical weapon. There is no reason to suppose that Congress—in implementing the Convention on Chemical Weapons—thought otherwise.
Essentially, the Court practices constitutional avoidance by construing the statute narrowly; there is no need to confront Holland v. Missouri's holding regarding the constitutional parameters of Congress's treaty power.
Indeed, the Court only mentions Holland in its discussion of the Third Circuit's holding and Bond's arguments; it notes that notwithstanding that "debate" there is a "well-established principle" of constitutional avoidance and includes a citation to Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U. S. 288, 347 (1936) (Brandeis, J., concurring). Because "Bond argues that section 229 does not cover her conduct" it considers "that argument first," and finds it decides the issue.
In a nutshell, the Court concludes that the federal prosecutors exceeded the power the statute gave them - - - and thus there is no need to decide whether Congress exceeded the power the Constitution's treaty and necessary and proper powers gave it.
Justice Scalia, concurring and joined by Thomas, would conclude that the statute clearly covers Bond's Act and therefore is unconstitutional. Justice Thomas writes a separate concurrence, joined by Scalia and in part by Alito, writes separately to "suggest that the Treaty Power is itself a limited federal power." And in a very brief opinion, Alito argues that the "insofar as the Convention may be read to obligate the United States to enact domestic legislation criminalizing conduct of the sort at issue in this case, which typically is the sort of conduct regulated by the States, the Convention exceeds the scope of the treaty power" and thus the statute "lies outside Congress’ reach unless supported by some other power enumerated in the Constitution."
So, while the opinion is "unanimous," the three Justices considered to be the most conservative and perhaps most hostile to international law, would have limited Congress' power to implement treaties made pursuant to Article II §2 allowing the executive to "make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur."
And for ConLawProfs, it demonstrates the relevance of the "Ashwander doctrine" as a part of constitutional law courses.
June 2, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Criminal Procedure, Executive Authority, Federalism, International, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to change Japan's pacifist constitution--not by amending it, but by reinterpreting it.
Abe is expected to announce a plan to amend several laws that would allow the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to engage in collective self-defense, that is, military defense of allied countries even when Japan is not directly threatened. This will mark a shift in the role of Japan's military overseas, which is currently limited to non-combat peacekeeping duties under Article 9 of the Constitution. Article 9 reads:
Renunciation of War. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
Abe's plan is designed to sidestep the more cumbersome constitutional amendment process. But it has drawn critics: a high-profile group of scholars and writers have denounced the plan, and there's a campaign afoot to get Article 9 (the traditional, pacifist version) on the Nobel Committee's radar screen for the Peace Prize as a way to push back against Abe's reinterpretation.
If successful, Abe's plan would change 60 of practice under Article 9--without a constitutional amendment.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Drew Cohen recently published A Constitution at a Crossroads: A Conversation with the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa in the Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights. The interview covers transformative constitutionalism (including judicial transformation and the role of judges) and current constitutional issues in South Africa, with some background and context for the uninitiated. It's a terrific piece on the current and future state of South African constitutionalism; it has some gems on comparative constitutionalism, as well.
Here's a clip of the Chief Justice's response to Cohen's question whether South African judges should be "umpires":
Given our background and our Constitution, judges do not have the luxury to sit back and pretend that we do not have serious challenges, which can be addressed through a passive justice system. I do not think we can afford to be the type of umpires Chief Justice Roberts had in mind.
Whatever we, as judges, do must facilitate nation-building so far as the case makes it possible by actively addressing the socioeconomic challenges that still confront certain sectors of the community as well as addressing the position of women in every sector of our society. Whereas that may not be feasible for judges in the U.S., it must [be the case] in South Africa. We have a different set of challenges that require judges to be somewhat proactive in the manner in which they approach their judicial responsibilities.
On the use of foreign law:
Once our jurisprudence gets settled, once it gets to the point that everyone can say that it is fairly well developed, there will be very little reason to rely as much as we used to on the jurisprudence of other countries. With that said, obviously, we will still need to have some regard to the latest developments in comparable jurisdictions. This is particularly true with regards to the area of socioeconomic rights and property law.
On closing the gap between reality and an aspirational Constitution:
What the Court can do, however, is interpret the Constitution in a manner so as to ensure that every official who has a constitutional responsibility to close that gap . . . are held accountable.
I think that the Court, however, has done fairly well in its efforts to close that gap. Look at our judgments dealing with socioeconomic rights[,] . . . health issues[,] . . . housing[,] . . . natural resources . . . .
On the next big issues:
The next major court battles will involve the agricultural sector. If you look at the agricultural sector then you will realize that a very large percentage of commercial farmers are still those from the previously advantaged group . . . . For the few [previously disadvantaged] that have received land through the government's redistribution system, it does not look like enough was done to empower them to be able to use the land productively. So, I think a lot needs to be done in the area of land redistribution but this must occur in a very, very slow and careful process.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Northwestern University Law School just wrapped up its 2013-2014 colloquium series on Constitutional Design in the Muslim World--an outstanding series of presentations convened by Profs. Erin Delaney and Kristen Stilt. The program's web-site contains a list of presenters with links to their papers, videos of presentations, links, and a blog. Check it out.
Monday, April 7, 2014
Recall that in November 2013 we posted "UK Supreme Court Confronts Clash Between Freedom of Religion and Gay Equality: Is the Issue Coming to The US Supreme Court Soon?"
The answer is "no," at least if "soon" means the case discussed in that post, Elane Photography v. Willock, a decision from the New Mexico Supreme Court in favor of a same-sex couple against a wedding photographer. The petition concentrated on the First Amendment speech rights of the photographer rather than religious rights; the Court denied certiorari today.
Meanwhile, Lady Brenda Hale, a Justice on the UK Supreme Court, appeared at a Comparative and Administrative Law Conference last month at Yale and spoke on the topic of "Religion and Sexual Orientation: The clash of equality rights," posting her written remarks on the UK Supreme Court site. Justice Hall considered the Bull case which we discussed as well as cases from Canada and the EU, all presenting the same basic issue: should religious persons be exempt from anti-discrimination laws? Justice Lady Hale offers some interesting observations: "it is fascinating that a country with an established church can be less respectful of religious feelings than one without." She also discusses direct and indirect discrimination and reiterates a point she made in the Bull case itself:
Both homosexuals and Christians were subject to the same laws requiring them not to discriminate in the running of their businesses. So if homosexual hotel keepers had refused a room to an opposite sex or Christian couple, they too would have been acting unlawfully.
This leads her to proclaim:
If you go into the market place you cannot pick and choose which laws you will obey and which you will not.
This may be an indication of how Lady Brenda Hale would rule in Hobby Lobby so recently argued before the United States Supreme Court, assuming the English Parliament would enact a statute similar to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Another difference: The arguments before the UK Supreme Court are televised live.
April 7, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Current Affairs, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, International, Religion, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, March 27, 2014
In a review in this week's New Yorker, John Cassidy makes the case that the new book by Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, is one that "nobody interested in a defining issue of our era can afford to ignore."
This defining issue is economic inequality. Piketty's book, translated from the French and published by Harvard University Press, is an examination of the phenomenon as well as a proposal for remediation.
The proposal is a "wealth tax." Perhaps that's a "political nonstarter" as Cassidy suggests and as Piketty seemingly acknowledges. But perhaps it's not.
Friday, March 14, 2014
Uganda's controversial law, The Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014, long-linked to United States Evangelicals, has been challenged as unconstitutional by a petition filed in the Constitutional Court of Uganda.
The vast majority of the claims of unconstitutionality focus on the rights provisions in the Uganda Constitution, including explicit rights of equality, privacy, dignity, civic participation, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, expression, for persons with disabilities, and fair hearing. The claims also rely on the principles in the "National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy" which are part of the Constitution.
Here are a few examples of the ultimate legal arguments in the petition:
THAT sections 1, 2 and 4 of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014, in defining and criminalising consensual same sex/gender sexual activity among adults in private, are in contravention of the right to equality before the law without any discrimination and the right to privacy guaranteed under Articles 2(1) & (2), 21(1), (2) & (4) and 27 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda respectively;
THAT section 2(1)(c) of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014, in criminalising touching by persons of the same sex, creates an offence that is overly broad and is in contravention of the principle of legality under article Articles 2(1) & (2), 28(1), (3b), (12), 42 and 44(c) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda;
THAT Sections 7 and 13(1) & (2) of Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014, in criminalising aiding, abetting, counselling, procuring and promotion of homosexuality, create offences that are overly broad, penalise legitimate debate, professional counsel, HIV related service provision and access to health services, in contravention of the principle of legality, the freedoms of expression, thought, assembly and association, and the right to civic participation guaranteed under principle XIV of the National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, Articles 2(1) & (2), 8A, 28(1), (3b), & (12), 29(1), 36, 38(2), 42 and 44(c) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995.
There are certainly many who hope the Uganda Constitutional Court will look to the prestigious Constitutional Court of South Africa for guidance in deciding these issues, although unlike the South African Constitution, the Uganda Constitution does not have an explicit provision protection sexual orientation.
[H/T Tony Tate]
[Image of Uganda Coat of Arms via]
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
The World Justice Project released its Rule of Law Index 2014, a report that "measures how the rule of law is experienced in everyday life in 99 countries around the globe, based on over 100,000 household and 2,400 expert surveys worldwide."
Adherence to the rule of law is assessed using 47 indicators organized around eight themes: constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice, and criminal justice.
The report ranks the U.S. 19th out of 99 countries worldwide, and 13th out of 24 in the Americas. We got our worst scores for "accessibility and affordability" in the civil justice system, and "no discrimination" in the criminal justice system. High points included absence of corruption (across the board, except that "no corruption in the legislature" got a relatively low score), absence of civil conflict, and absence of crime.
Monday, January 27, 2014
Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly yesterday approved a new constitution, one of the most progressive in the region, three years after the overthrow of the long-time ruler Zine el-Abidne Ben Ali. Al Jazeera reports here; BBC here; the Guardian here; Reuters here.
According to reports, the new document says that Islam is the nation's religion (and forbids "attacks on the sacred"), but it does not require religious law, and it guarantees freedom of religion. Moreover, it guarantees equality between men and women and protects women's rights.
The new constitution divides executive authority between a prime minister and president. Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa announced earlier that a caretaker cabinet would govern until the country holds elections.
Friday, January 17, 2014
In a highly anticipated event today, President Obama delivered his remarks accompanied by a directive, Presidential Policy Directive/PPD-28, on "Signals Intelligence Activities," regarding NSA Surveillance. Recall that late last year a presidential advisory committee issued a report with specific recommendations, that one program has been subject to differing judicial interepretations - - - in Klayman v. Obama, Judge Richard Leon granted a preliminary injunction against NSA surveillance of telephone metadata, while in American Civil Liberties Union v. Clapper, Judge William J. Pauley granted a motion to dismiss in favor of the government, finding the same program constitutional - - - and that the national discussion on this issue is largely attributable to Edward Snowden.
While the judicial opinions did not specifically feature in Obama's remarks, Snowden did:
Given the fact of an open investigation, I’m not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden’s actions or motivations. I will say that our nation’s defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets. If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will never be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy. Moreover, the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come.
But the details, as usual, can be a bit more perplexing. For example, consider this qualification to "competitive advantage" :
Certain economic purposes, such as identifying trade or sanctions violations or government influence or direction, shall not constitute competitive advantage.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation released a "scorecard" before Obama's remarks and directive. Afterwards, it tweeted the results of its assessment of Obama's performance:
January 17, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, International, State Secrets, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, November 18, 2013
In its routine order list today, the Court's list of "MANDAMUS DENIED" included "13-58 - IN RE ELECTRONIC PRIVACY INFORMATION CENTER."
The petition for writ of mandamus and prohibition or writ of certiorari was filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and essentially sought review of an Order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The order redacts the names of the parties from whom the "tangible things" are sought, but the petition describes the order as compelling "Verizon Business Network Services to produce to the National Security Agency, on an ongoing basis, all of the call detail records of Verizon customers."
As one of its Questions Presented, the petition stated:
Whether the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court exceeded its narrow statutory authority to authorize foreign intelligence surveillance, under 50 U.S.C. § 1861, when it ordered Verizon to disclose records to the National Security Agency for all telephone communications “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”
The import of the Supreme Court's denial is both trivial and momentous. On the one hand, there is little if anything to be read into the Court's refusal to exercise its highly discretionary power to grant a petition for a writ as it does in 1% of cases. On the other hand, there is something to be inferred about the Court's interest in and willingness to supervise the unusual FISA given constitutional rights.
But the Court's failure to accept the case certainly does not mean the underlying issues will be so easily dispatched.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Who to blame for the lapse of appropriations, also known as the government "shutdown"?
Over at Washington Post, Dylan Matthews argues
it's James Madison's fault. This week's shutdown is only the latest symptom of an underlying disease in our democracy whose origins lie in the Constitution and some supremely misguided ideas that made their way into it in 1787, and found their fullest exposition in Madison's Federalist no. 51. And that disease is rapidly getting worse.
Matthews contrasts the situation with Great Britain:
while it is clear in the U.K. who is to blame for poor economic performance, it's far more difficult for American voters to sort out who's responsible. So they just hold to account whoever they get to vote on first. That leads to more or less random shifts in sentiment, with divided government and ensuing deadlock and crises, which makes assigning blame and holding members to account even more difficult.
Matthews isn't the only one over at WAPo holding up the UK as exemplar. Max Fisher explains that "Australia had a government shutdown once. In the end, the queen fired everyone in Parliament." He ends with this arch interrogatory: "Maybe, if we ask nicely, Britain will take us back?"
Sunday, September 29, 2013
It's worth comparing two views of the National Security Administration (NSA) and its searches.
First, take a look at the views of Amy Zegart, the co-director of Stanford University's "Center for International Security and Cooperation." Zegart and other scholars participated in a "rare briefing" at NSA to consider "cybersecurity, the plummeting public trust in the agency, its relationship with Congress and how to rebuild the agency’s reputation and rethink its program operations." Zegart's interview is mostly sympathetic to NSA concerns, but she does say this:
They definitely wanted us to believe that what they are doing is lawful and effective. I believe the lawful part; I’m not so sure about the effective part. I think they haven’t looked hard enough about what effective means. Do they know it when they see it? And who’s to judge?
Nevertheless, it's a rather sharp contrast with a NYT article, co-authored by James Risen (recall his lititgation asserting a reporter's First Amendment right to protect sources) and Laura Poitras (recall her involvement in the Snowden revelations) that discusses wide ranging collection of data and metadata. They often rely on anonymous sources discussing classified information. Perhaps most startling is this passage in the article's last paragraph, quoting from a 2011 memo, that said even
after a court ruling narrowed the scope of the agency’s collection, the data in question was “being buffered for possible ingest” later.
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Joanna Chiu writes at The Atlantic that Chinese President Xi Jinping's recent comments in support of legal reform have reignited a debate over constitutionalism and constitutional reform in the country. ("Reignited," because the government put a stop to those discussions when it imprisoned Liu Xiaobo and interrogated others in response to a manifest, "Charter 08," by a group of intellectuals calling for constitutionalism and restrained Party power.) Still, she says, any push for constitutionalism or constitutional reform still gets heavy push-back from the government. And an internal Party memo she cites calls for the eradication of "seven subversive currents" in Chinese society; those include "Western constitutional democracy," universal human rights values, media independence, and civic participation.
Chiu quotes a Shanghai lawyer to summarize the problem:
[The constitution] looks beautiful on paper, but in practice Chinese courts do not generally take the Chinese constitution into consideration to decide cases. Ordinary citizens cannot use the constitution to defend their rights or redress their grievances.
As for the government's reaction to talk about constitutionalism and reform, this anecdote is telling:
Nevertheless, calls for China to adhere to the 1982 constitution remain. In December, Beijing University professor Zhang Qianfan published "A Proposal for Consensus Reform," co-signed by 72 intellectuals including He Weifang, demanding that the government abide by the charter. The proposal suggested setting up a review committee within the National People's Congress as a first step to give the constitution real power. But the article, which was posted on Zhang's personal blog and the Beijing University Law School website, was soon deleted without explanation.