Tuesday, January 14, 2014
The Senate voted yesterday 55 to 43 to confirm Robert L. Wilkins to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. WaPo reports here. The confirmation marks the third time since the Senate abolished the filibuster for executive and lower-court nominees that the body voted by a bare majority to confirm one of President Obama's nominees to this court. We last posted on the issue here.
Monday, January 13, 2014
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in NLRB v. Noel Canning, the case testing whether the President may make recess appointments to positions already vacant during an intra-session recess of the Senate. Our argument preview is here.
The Court today was especially sensitive to the many thorny doctrinal, practical, and political issues in the case, and seemed to be looking for a simple solution that would dodge them. The ordinary appointments process (with advice and consent of the Senate), as suggested by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Ginsburg (see below), may well be that solution. If so, the Court might read the Recess Appointments Clause more restrictively in this case, limiting the President's recess-appointments authority, and giving more power to the Senate to hold up executive appointments by declining to recess.
The case presents three questions about the Recess Appointments Clause:
1. Does "the Recess of the Senate" include intra-session breaks, or recesses?
2. Do "Vacancies that may happen during the Recess" include vacancies that already existed?
3. Can the President exercise the recess-appoitnment power when the Senate convenes only every three days in pro forma sessions?
The arguments included the predictable points on text and history--interpretations of "the Recess," the clause "may happen," and historical practices and understandings. (If anything, these arguments only revealed how indeterminate and contestable these sources can be. See, e.g., the discussion on the OED's definitions of "happen" starting at about page 60 or so of the transcript, and the points over practices running throughout the arguments.) The particular concern with the words "may happen" suggest one possible outcome: the Court could rule that while "the Recess" includes intra-session recesses, "may happen" extends only to vacancies that occur (not already exist) during a recess.
But the more interesting--and probably more important--points were on balance-of-powers principles and practical implications--against the obvious backdrop of partisan politics.
Indeed, what started in the briefing as a debate principally about the meaning and practice of the Recess Appointment Clause turned quickly today into a debate about executive power and whether the Senate encroached on executive recess-appointment power by meeting in pro forma sessions and thus denying the President a recess in which to make recess appointments. General Verrilli pushed the argument on executive authority beyond a mere point on when the Senate is in "recess," claiming broadly that the President should get to fill all vacancies. Justice Alito put a fine point on it:
But you are making a very, very aggressive argument in favor of executive power now and it has nothing whatsoever to do with whether the Senate is in session or not. You're just saying when the Senate acts, in your view, irresponsibly and refuses to confirm nominations, then the President must be able to fill those--fill those positions. That's what you're arguing. I don't see what that has to do with whether the Senate is in session.
But Noel Canning and the Senate Minority Leader both took aggressive positions the other way, saying that the Senate gets to decide when it's on recess--even saying that it's never on recess--thus severely limiting the President's recess appoitment power. Respondents argued that the President has come to use the recess appointment power to deal with Senate intransigence, not emergencies--an argument that seemed to resonate with the Court.
Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kagan both seemed concerned that such an important balance-of-powers issue could turn on magic language in a Senate resolution, for example, as here, that says "No business shall be conducted." Chief Justice Roberts said that this maybe made the point not so important. Justice Kagan said that focusing on the phrasing of a Senate resolution could just land the case back at the Court, and that focusing on this kind of formalism suggests that it really is the Senate's responsibility to determine when it's in session or not. But General Verrilli responded that the recess appointment power is an executive authority, "[a]nd the President has got to make a determination of when there's a recess"--that the Senate's use of pro forma sessions to stay in session (and not on recess) is an encroachment on Article II Recess Appointment power.
The Court was also concerned about how to balance text against practice. Justice Scalia posed this question:
What do you do when there is a practice that--that flatly contradicts a clear text of the Constitution? Which--which of the two prevails?
General Verrilli responded:
The answer is I think, given this--a practice going back to the founding of the Republic, the practice should be--the practice should govern, but we don't have that here. This provision has been subject to contention as to its meaning since the first days of the Republic.
Justices Alito and Kagan asked the same question to Noel Canning, and got the exact opposite answer.
The Court was also concerned about a related problem: If the government gets its way, it appears that the Senate violated the 20th Amendment and the Adjournment Clause. Justices Breyer and Alito both suggested that the Court would rather avoid that conclusion.
These more theoretical issues are serious, to be sure, but they may not be necessary to resolve the case. The Court was equally, or more, concerned about the practical implications of the case--in particular, how a ruling could affect already-made decisions by the NLRB, other government agencies, and even the courts (because of recess-appointed judges). Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg asked about this; Justice Scalia suggested a way out of this problem, the de facto officer doctrine; still General Verrilli said that "it certainly casts a serious cloud over the legitimacy of all those actions."
Also focusing on the practical aspects of the case, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Ginsburg both wondered why the President couldn't just use the ordinary appointment process (and why the Senate couldn't decline to confirm)--in other words, why the government says that the pro forma sessions and lack of intra-session recess appointment power is a problem. Justice Scalia pointed out that the President can convene Congress (under Article II, Section 3, "He may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both houses"), and that Congress can get back within a day or so to deal with appointments.
Finally, Justice Breyer and Justice Kagan both asked about the politics--the shifting positions of the parties, depending on who is in the White House, and the President's use of the recess appointment power to deal with congressional intrasingence, not emergencies. General Verrilli responded that the Senate's advice-and-consent role is much larger today than the framers anticipated, and that today it encroaches on the President's appointment power--trying to take the case out of ordinary politics and place it back in larger balance-of-powers issues.
January 13, 2014 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Oral Argument Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
As we explained, there really is no exemption. Instead, it's an OPM attempt to put members and staffers of Congress more-or-less in the position they were prior to Obamacare--just like any other employees of large corporations with employer-subsidized health insurance. In other words, Obamacare treated members and staffers differently (worse) than other similarly situated employees (by requiring them to enter an exchange instead of continue their employer-subsidized health insurance), and the OPM simply acted to continue an employer subsidy for them.
Still, there's the question whether OPM had authority to do this. That's what Johnson's suit is about (from the complaint):
The legal problem is that the OPM Rule violates the ACA and the federal statutes that apply to the [Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan]. The health plans offered through the exchanges are not OPM-negotiated large group health insurance plans. Only OPM-negotiated and contracted-for plans can be offered to federal employees through the FEHBP. Furthermore, the designated Exchange plans do not meet the statutory requirements for FEHBP plans administered by the OPM. In addition, the federal government does not meet the definition of a small business and, as a result, is not eligible to participate in a SHOP exchange. Neither the ACA nor any other applicable statute or rule permits the OPM to provide group health insurance to government employees who do not participate in the FEHBP. Finally, the OPM Rule violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution in that it treats Members of Congress and their staffs differently than other similarly-situated employees who obtain insurance coverage pursuant to the terms of the ACA. No other employees of large employers are able to purchase insurance through small business exchanges with tax free subsidies from their employers.
What Johnson doesn't say in the complaint is that those employees of large corporations get employer-subsidized insurance, like members and staffers used to get under the FEHBP.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty brought the case. Paul Clement, a consultant on the suit, joined Senator Johnson at a news conference yesterday:
Sunday, January 5, 2014
Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis) writes in the Wall Street Journal that he'll file suit today to stop the congressional "exemption" from Obamacare. Senator Johnson writes that the OPM rule allowing members of Congress and staffers to use the exchange and also get an employer subsidy violates the Affordable Care Act and exceeds executive authority.
The dispute over the congressional "exemption" goes way back. But it turns out, there's no such exemption at all. The ACA contained a provision that required members of Congress and their staffers to get health insurance on an exchange. But that was unusual, because members and staffers already had employer-subsidized coverage under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan. (Exchanges are for the uninsured or employees of small corporations, not for employees of large corporations who already have coverage. Congress, which previously provided subsidized health insurance to members and staffers, nevertheless inserted a provision in the ACA that required members and staffers to use an exchange.) As a result, members and staffers would have lost their subsidy. So OPM stepped in and ruled this fall that members and staffers would qualify for an employer subsidy on the exchange if they purchased insurance in a Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP.
As PolitiFact, Factcheck.org, and WaPo's Fact Checker all explain, this treatment is different and unusual, but it's hardly an exemption. Instead, the employer subsidy simply attempts to put members and staffers back in the position they would have been in if they were treated as employees with employer-subdized health insurance in any large corporation. In other words, the ACA treated members and staffers differently (worse) than similarly situated employees in large corporations; OPM merely tried to return them to their previous situation--so that they would be treated like everybody else.
Still, there's the question whether OPM had authority to authorize subsidies for member and staffer insurance purchases on an exchange, or whether that required a congressional fix to the ACA. Senator Johnson says OPM exceeded its authority--that this was a job (were it to be done at all) only for Congress.
Thursday, January 2, 2014
Chief Justice Roberts again highlighted the lack of resources for the judicial branch in his 2013 year-end report, emphasizing the effects of the sequestration in particular. At the same time, he emphasized the courts' cost-cutting measures.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the lack of resources is causing problems across the board:
Sequestration cuts have affected court operations across the spectrum. There are fewer court clerks to process new civil and bankruptcy cases, slowing the intake procedure and propagating delays throughout the litigation process. There are fewer probation and pretrial services officers to protect the public from defendants awaiting trail and from offenders following their incarceration and release into the community. There are fewer public defenders available to vindicate the Constitution's guarantee of counsel to indigent criminal defendants, which leads to postponed trials and delayed justice for the innocent and guilty alike. There is less funding for security guards at federal courthouses, placing judges, court personnel, and the public at greater risk of harm.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote that our judiciary is a "model for justice throughout the world." Still, he wrote, foreign jurists "do raise an eyebrow when I also point out the vital role of the Legislative Branch of government."
The report warned that foregoing requested funding (of $5.05 billion) for a "hard freeze" at the sequester level would have dire consequences:
The future would be bleak: The deep cuts to Judiciary programs would remain in place. In addition, faced with inflation-driven increases in the "must-pay" components of this account, the Judicial Conference would need to cut allocations to the courts nationwide by an additional three percent below fiscal year 2013 levels. Those cuts would lead to the loss of an estimated additional 1,000 court staff. The first consequence would be greater delays in resolving criminal cases. In the civil and bankruptcy venues, further consequences would include commercial activity, lost opportunities, and unvindicated rights. In the criminal venues, those consequences pose a genuine threat to public safety.
The report also warns of dangers to public defender services.
Still, there's a hopeful conclusion:
Both A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life have happy endings. We are encouraged that the story of funding for the Federal Judiciary--though perhaps not as gripping a tale--will too.
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Robert J. Spitzer (SUNY Cortland) recently posted perhaps the most recent comparison of assertions of executive power in the Bush and Obama presidencies coming out of the political science world: Comparing the Constitutional Presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama: War Powers, Signing Statements, Vetoes. As the title suggests, Spitzer compares the presidencies just in three dimensions. But his piece also briefly summarizes the political science literature comparing other dimensions. Here's Spitzer . . .
On war powers:
Nevertheless, in constitutional terms, Bush had the congressional authorization he needed [for the Iraq war]; Obama did not [for Libya]. Ironically, the grotesque scale of, and web of deception surrounding, the Iraqi war suggest that its precedential value for future presidents may be limited, whereas the presidential consequences of Obama's actions--another instance of an intervention without congressional approval, and the first instance of violation of the 60 day limit [in the War Powers Act]--are more likely to encourage future presidents tempted to engage in unilateral military actions.
On signing statements:
Presidents surely have interpretive latitude, especially when legislative language is vague or ambiguous, and therefore open to interpretation. This is nothing new. . . . What presidents may not do, Bush's unitary executive theory notwithstanding, is to rewrite legislation at the point at which a bill is presented for signature through signing statement in what some have called a de facto item veto. As James Pfiffner concluded, "Bush's systematic and expansive use of signing statements constitutes a direct threat to the separation of powers system in the United States." Obama has, to date, skirted, if not walked away from, this ambition, especially after the criticism of his 2009 signing statement of P.L 111-8 [directing that legislation that calls for congressional committee approval of spending decisions by federal agencies is to be treated as "advisory" and "not . . . dependent" on committee approval]. Contrary to the claim of some that Obama has assumed the mantle of a unitary president, his signing statement use to date has been comparable to, or less than that of any predecessor from Reagan on. And Bush II's signing statement use continues to keep him in a class by himself.
On protective return pocket vetoes:
Unlike the other powers discussed in this paper, the Bush and Obama protective returns were nearly identical in form, and both appeared to arise from the bowels of the "deep structure" of the executive bureaucracy rather than from top political aides seeking to expand executive authority. Here is one of the most important, if underappreciated, aspects of executive power accretion: secular bureaucratic power incrementalism. A day may come where a constitutional challenge or political flare-up may drag the protective return pocket veto into the intense lights of the legal or political stage, and where a full airing, and final disposition, of this arcane executive power grab may be vetted and resolved. Absent such a moment, however, the executive's "deep structure" will continue to advance the protective return for every subsequent chief executive.
Monday, December 16, 2013
In his opinion in Klayman v. Obama, federal district judge (DDC) Richard Leon has granted a preliminary injunction against NSA surveillance of telephone metadata. Judge Leon stayed the injunction "in light of the signficant national security interests at stake and the novelty of the constitutional issues." And the preliminary injunction is limited to Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, barring the federal government from "collecting, as part of the NSA's Bulk Telephony Metadata Program, any telephony metadata associated with their personal Verizon accounts" and requiring the government to destroy any previously collected metadata.
The "background" section of Judge Leon's opinion starts by specifically mentioning the "leaks" (his quotations) of classified material from Edward Snowden revealing the government's Verizon surveillance. He then has an excellent discussion of the facts, statutory frameworks, and judicial review by the FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) [which others have called the FISA Court].
Judge Leon concluded that he did not have jurisdiction under the APA (Administrative Procedure Act), but that the plaintiffs did have standing to raise a constitutional claim under the Fourth Amendment. On the substantial likelihood to prevail on the merits necessary for success on the preliminary injunction, Judge Leon ruled - - - importantly - - - that the collection of metadata did constitute a search. Judge Leon also concluded that the collection of the metadata did violate a reasonable exepectation of privacy. Judge Leon noted that technological changes have made the rationales of Supreme Court precedent difficult to apply, so that cases decided before the rise of cell phones cannot operate as a precedential "North Star" to "navigate these uncharted Fourth Amendment waters."
Having found there was a search that invaded a reasonable expectation of privacy, Judge Leon then concluded that the search was unreasonable. Important to this finding was the efficacy prong of the analysis - - - or in this case, the inefficacy prong. Judge Leon noted that the "Government does not cite a single instance in which the analysis of the NSA's bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the Government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature." (emphasis in original).
Judge Leon acknowledged that some other judges have disagreed with his conclusions, and that the matter is far from clear, but he stated:
I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary invasion' that this systemtaic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying it and anlyzing it without prior judicial approval.
As the above makes clear, it is not only the Fourth Amendment that Judge Leon feels has been violated, but the role of Article III courts in the constitutional separation of powers scheme.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
The Obama administration late Monday released a trove of documents related to NSA surveillance, including key FISA court rulings and other materials going back to the Bush administration. The NYT reports here. Lawfare is covering the release and analyzing particular documents here.
The materials include documents on government e-mail and domestic phone surveillance, including the Bush administration's 2006 application for initial approval by the FISA court to collect bulk logs of domestic phone calls and a FISA court ruling approving a program to track e-mails during the Bush administration.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Neil H. Buchanan (GW) argues at the Jurist.org that the President should just pay the nation's bills if Congress fails to increase the debt ceiling.
Buchanan summarizes an argument that he and Michael Dorf made over three articles last year in the Columbia Law Review--one, two, and three--that the President should do the least constitutional damage if ever faced with a trilemma involving taxing, spending, and a debt ceiling that don't add up.
Buchanan and Dorf argue that Congress would create this trilemma if it failed to increase the debt limit: Congress would have authorized a particular level of taxation; Congress would have authorized a higher level of spending; and Congress would have capped the debt limit at a level lower than authorized spending. All three are congressional acts that the President must enforce, but if the President enforces any two, he necessarily violates the third.
So: what to do?
Buchanan and Dorf argue that the constitution requires the President to take the action (1) that exercises as little legislative power as possible and (2) in a way that allows Congress to later enact legislation that can undo his actions, if it so desires.
Those two criteria mean that the President should, even must, violate the debt limit. That's because violating the debt limit (but complying with the taxing and spending measures passed by Congress) is the choice that's least legislative in nature, and the one that Congress can later undo (by enacting taxing and spending measures that add up).
Buchanan explains why this solution is novel--but also why it's right:
Bizarrely, the shared assumption among Republicans and Democrats alike has been that the president must simply default on the government's spending obligations, if he is ever faced with a trilemma. . . .
The reason that is so bizarre is that it simply presumes that duly-enacted spending laws can be ignored by the president. They cannot. We are not taking about choosing to increase or decrease future levels of spending, after all. We are, instead, contemplating having the president refuse to honor legal claims for payment from the federal government, choosing not to pay the government's legal obligations, in full, on the date that they are due.
Monday, November 4, 2013
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons filed suit last week to stop the government from enforcing the universal coverage provision (the individual mandate) in the Affordable Care Act. The group argues that the court should issue an order prohibiting the enforcement of the individual mandate, because President Obama lacked authority to delay enforcement of the employer mandate.
Recall that President Obama this past summer unilaterally delayed enforcement of the employer mandate--the ACA's requirement that employers with over 50 employees provide health insurance for their employees. The authority for this move, however, wasn't at all obvious. That's because the ACA says in pretty clear language that the employer mandate "shall apply to months beginning after December 31, 2013."
We commented at the time that the question of authority might not matter, because it wasn't clear that anyone would have standing to challenge the delay.
Enter the AAPS. The group argues that President Obama's delay of the employer mandate violates the separation of powers--that President Obama can't unilaterally delay enforcement of a statutory requirement. Still, it's not obvious why this group should have standing. Here's what the complaint says:
13. Defendant's shifting of the mandate for health insurance premiums from employers to only individuals causes the elimination of many cash-paying patients from the medical practices of [plaintiff McQueeney, an AAPS member] and other AAPS members. Defendant's shifting of the ACA insurance burden entirely onto individuals diverts their discretionary health care dollars towards insurance premiums, away from direct payments to physicians. This significantly reduces the customer base for AAPS members who have "cash practices" accepting direct payments from patients.
That may not sound like the strongest theory of standing.
But if standing's a weakness, there's more. The complaint alleges that "Defendant changes legislation passed by Congress in violation of the separation of powers in the Constitution, and the Tenth Amendment." (Emphasis added.) The Tenth Amendment? That seems surprising in this context, and unnecessary given the stronger arguments one might make about a President's inability to unilaterally delay the implementation of a mandate.
But if the invocation of the Tenth Amendment seems odd, there's yet even more. The complaint argues that President Obama lacked authority to delay the employer mandate, but asks for a court order stopping the enforcement of the individual mandate.
Between standing issues, a novel use of the Tenth Amendment, and redressability issues, this complaint has its problems.
The attorney who filed it, Andrew Schlafly, is a conservative activist, son of Phyllis Schlafly, and founder of Conservapedia, a conservative web-site that grew out of one of Schlafly's home-school courses.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) dismissed a separation-of-powers challenge to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an independent agency created by Dodd-Frank that's tasked with the responsibility for "ensuring that all consumers have access to markets for consumer financial products and services and that markets for consumer financial products and services are fair, transparent, and competitive." (This case challenges the CFPB on separation-of-powers grounds. We most recently posted on the other challenge to the recess-appointed head of the CFPB here. The recess appointment question is heading to the Supreme Court in Noel Canning.)
But the order dismissing the case in the D.C. District didn't touch the merits, and the plaintiffs in the D.C. case will undoubtedly raise the same constitutional claims in the underlying enforcement action against them in the Central District of California.
The case, Morgan Drexen, Inc. v. CFPB, arose after the CFPB filed an enforcement action against Morgan Drexen in the Central District of California. Morgan Drexen and its "attorney-client" then filed for injunctive and declaratory relief in the D.C. District, seeking to halt the enforcement action in the Central District of California, arguing that the CFPB violates constitutional separation-of-powers principles. The result: two parallel cases in two different courts, one enforcement action and one facial challenge, challenging the CFPB on constitutional grounds.
Update: Morgan Drexen filed in the D.C. court before the CFPB filed its case in California.
But Judge Kollar-Kotelly didn't bite. Instead, the court ruled that injunctive and declaratory relief in the D.C. District would be inappropriate with the case pending in California--and that Morgan Drexen could obtain complete relief on its claim there. (The court said that ruling on the matter would frustrate both the final judgment rule (because Morgan Drexen could immediately appeal a D.C. District ruling on the merits, but not a ruling from the Central District of California denying a motion to dismiss on constitutional grounds) and the principle of constitutional avoidance (because the Central District of California could dodge the constitutional issues and rule on other grounds, but the D.C. District case would force the court to address the constitutional claims). The court also ruled that declaratory relief was inappropriate.
The court held that Morgan Drexen's "attorney-client" lacked standing, becuase she couldn't point to specific or generalized interference with the attorney-client privilege, or any other harm in the CFPB's investigation or enforcement action against Morgan Drexen.
The case ends this collateral piece of the litigation, but it doesn't end the enforcement action, still pending in the Central District of California. Morgan Drexen raises the same constitutional claims, and other statutory claims, as defenses in that case.
October 23, 2013 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Jeffrey Toobin writes in the Daily Comment at The New Yorker that the Noel Canning case on recess appointments, now before the Supreme Court, could lead to an entirely new level of dysfunction in Washington--putting the current crisis to shame. That is, if the Court strikes President Obama's recess appointments to the NLRB. (Our latest post on Noel Canning, with links to earlier posts and lower court rulings, is here.) Toobin explains:
If the ruling by the D.C. Circuit [striking President Obama's recess appointments to the NLRB] is upheld, the result will be a massive shift of power from Presidents to Senate minorities. Forty senators will have the power to stop an agency from functioning. Given the general political inclinations of the contemporary G.O.P., this would be a tremendous victory. They don't want an N.L.R.B. at all, and they don't care for most other regulatory agencies, either. The D.C. Circuit decision is more than a gift of a minority veto on individual members of a commission; it's a minority veto on the very existence of vunerable federal agencies.
The Canning case brings together several themes of recent political life: fierce congressional obstruction of President Obama, aggressive use of the courts by conservative activists, precedent-shattering rulings by conservative judges to undo the work of the democratically elected branches of government. As with so many of these struggles during the Obama era, the outcome is far from certain.
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Presiding Judge Reggie Walton wrote to Senators Leahy and Grassley this week that "24.4% of matters submitted [to the FISA court] ultimately involved substantive changes to the information provided by the government or to the authorities granted as a result of Court inquiry or action." Judge Walton wrote that "[t]his does not include, for example, mere typographical corrections." The figure comes from a three-month study of FISA court matters, between July 1, 2013, and September 20, 2013, but Judge Walton wrote that "we have every reason to believe that this three month period is typical . . . ."
The letter is a follow up to a letter that Judge Walton sent to the Judiciary Committee on July 29, 2013 (included after the most recent letter). It doesn't say how many matters the FISA court dealt with during the three-month period or give any other details. It does say, however, that the FISA court will continue to collect statistics.
The two letters come amid continued scrutiny of the FISA court, following criticism this summer after the Snowden release. The Senate Judiciary Committee held an oversight hearing on the FISA earlier this month. In his opening remarks, Senatory Leahy described features of his bill, S. 1215, the FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act of 2013:
Our legislation would end Section 215 bulk collection. It also would ensure that the FISA pen register statute and National Security Letters (NSLs) could not be used to authorize bulk collection. . . .
In addition to stopping bulk collection, our legislation would improve judicial review by the FISA Court and enhance public reporting on the use of a range of surveillance activities. The bill would also require Inspector General reviews of the implementation of these authorities . . . .
Senator Leahy's bill doesn't include the new privacy advocate that has gotten so much attention. That office, dubbed the Office of the Constitutional Advocate, is in Senator Wyden's S. 1551.
Monday, September 30, 2013
Judge Amy Berman Jackson (D.D.C.) today denied AG Eric Holder's motion to dismiss a case brought against him by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee seeking to enforce its subpoena for documents related to DOJ's infamous February 4, 2011, letter denying that gun-walking in the "fast and furious" program had taken place. (The subpoena wasn't over the "fast and furious" program itself; instead, it was for any documents related to the government's February 4 denial.) Our latest post on the case, with background and links to earlier posts, is here.
Judge Jackson ruled in Committee on Oversight v. Holder that the case is justiciable, and that there's no good reason for the courts to decline to hear it. The ruling doesn't touch the merits.
The ruling means that the case will move forward on the merits question--whether executive privilege protects the subpoenaed documents--unless the parties settle.
Judge Jackson wrote that the case was a straightforward application of Committee on the Judiciary v. Miers:
And five years ago, another court in this District carefully considered and rejected the same arguments being advanced by the Attorney General here. In a case involving a different Congress and a different President, [Miers], the court concluded in a persuasive opinion that it had jurisdiction to resolve a similar clash between the branches.
Op. at 4.
September 30, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Privilege, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, September 6, 2013
Garrett Epps writes over at The Atlantic that the Senate's Syria Resolution contains a huge give-away to the President: congressional recognition of inherent executive authority to use the military to defend the national security interests of the United States--independent of any AUMF.
The give-away comes in the last "Whereas" of the Senate's Syria Resolution. It reads:
Whereas the President has authority under the Constitution to use force in order to defend the national security interests of the United States . . . .
The only problem is it's not true, and it represents a two-century high-water mark in claims of executive power. Having been consulted by the president, Congress is poised to respond by throwing back at him not only the current decision but sweeping new powers he didn't have before.
Friday, August 9, 2013
President Obama said that he directed his national security team "to review where our counterterrorism efforts and our values come into tension," and "to be more transparent and to pursue reforms of our laws and practices." He said he'd work with Congress to reform Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the statutory authority for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to order the release of telephone records (and which came under fire with Snowden's release of the FISC order doing just that), and to reform the FISC, in particular, by appointing a civil liberties advocate at the court. He also said he'd work to be more transparent about surveillance and appoint an independent group "to step back and review our capabilities, particularly our surveillance technologies, and . . . how we can maintain the trust of the people . . . ."
As to the legal authority, the administration gave a broad read to the term "relevant" in Section 215--the issue that EPIC pressed in its recent suit challenging the program. That is, the administration takes the position that Section 215's requirement that FISC production orders be supported by "reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation" gives very broad sweep to the FISC's authority. The administration also focused on controls over abuse of the authority under Section 215.
The document argues that the program violates neither the Fourth Amendment nor the First Amendment. As to the Fourth, the document claims that surveillance of telephony metadata doesn't even qualify as a "search" under Smith v. Maryland (1979), and, even if it did, the "search would satisfy the reasonableness standard that the Supreme Court has established in its cases authorizing the Government to conduct large-scale, but minimally intrusive, suspicionless searches" under Maryland v. King (2013).
As to the First Amendment, the document argues that the program authorizes the collection of only metadata, not content. Moreover, it says that as a lawful investigative activity, can't violate the First Amendment, and that there's no chilling of protected speech.
August 9, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, News, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
The super-size soda ban, a program advocated by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is not constitutional according to the unanimous opinion from a state appellate court in New York Statewide Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce v. NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The court affirmed a state trial court's decision that the NYC regulation prohibiting sugary drinks in restaurants, movie theaters and arenas that exceed 16 ounces was an unconstitutional exercise of power by a city agency, as well as arbitrary and capricious. A good discussion of the trial court's decision is here.
Essentially, the issue is whether NYC Health Code §81.53, known as the "portion cap rule" is within the power of the Department of Health. The short answer by the judicial branch: no.
In today's opinion, the court held that the NYC
Board of Health overstepped the boundaries of its lawfully delegated authority when it promulgated the Portion Cap Rule to curtail the consumption of soda drinks. It therefore violated the state principle of separation of powers. In light of the above, we need not reach petitioners' argument that the subject regulation was arbitrary and capricious. Before concluding, we must emphasize that nothing in this decision is intended to circumscribe DOHMH's legitimate powers. Nor is this decision intended to express an opinion on the wisdom of the soda consumption restrictions, provided that they are enacted by the government body with the authority to do so. Within the limits described above, health authorities may make rules and regulations for the protection of the public health and have great latitude and discretion in performing their duty to safeguard the public health.
Doctrinally, the decision is most pertinent to New York state constitutional law and administrative law scholars and practitioners. It has broader interest, however, to those interested in the powers of governments to enact regulations that (arguably) promote health.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
The D.C. Circuit struck a congressional act that required the State Department to include "Israel" on the passport of any U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem. The court in Zivotofsky v. Secretary of State ruled that the law interfered with the President's exclusive power to recognize foreign countries.
The case will likely go (back) to the Supreme Court, this time on the merits. This is a significant separation-of-powers case, with important implications, and even if the Court ultimately agrees with the D.C. Circuit, it'll almost certainly want to put its own stamp on the substantive questions.
The problem was that long-standing State Department policy and practice did not recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel. The Foreign Affairs Manual, the State Department regs, reflected this, saying that passports issued to U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem should use just "Jerusalem" as the place of birth, not "Jerusalem, Israel," or "Israel."
Congress moved to direct the State Department to use "Israel," however, as part of its broader effort in 2002 to change U.S. foreign policy and identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Bush signed the larger bill, but issued a signing statement on those portions of the bill, including the portion that required the use of "Israel" on passports of U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem, saying that those portions interfered with the President's foreign affairs powers.
Zivotofsky was born in Jerusalem to U.S. citizens. His parents sought to designate his place of birth as "Jerusalem, Israel," on his passport, but the State Department refused. The Zivotofskys sued, and after going up and back to the Supreme Court, the case landed again in the D.C. Circuit.
The D.C. Circuit started with the so-called recognition power--the power to recognize foreign countries. The court reviewed the original intent, early and later practices, and Supreme Court rulings on the recognition power and found that it belonged to the President alone. (It found original intent inconclusive, however.)
It said that Congress's attempt to require the use of "Israel" interfered with that power and thus struck the provision.
The court rejected Zivotofsky's argument that Congress has a "passport power" that it properly exercised here. The court said that, whatever the extent of its passport power, Congress was quite obviously trying to do more than just regulate the contents of passports here: it was trying to set U.S. foreign policy. The court said that this interfered with the President's power to recognize foreign countries.
The court also rejected Zivotofsky's argument that the use of "Israel" didn't affect foreign affairs or recognition, because the State Department used the country-of-birth simply to identify the passport holder. The court said that the State Department said that this would affect foreign affairs, and that it's not the court's place to second-guess the executive branch on this.
(The court also said that President Bush's signing statement was irrelevant to its analysis, and that Zivotofsky's argument that the State Department policy discriminates against supporters of Israel was waived.)
Judge Tatel, concurring, came to the same conclusion, but started with the passport power. Judge Tatel argued that the passport power, whatever it is, can't interfere with the President's recognition power.
July 23, 2013 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 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Judge Rosemary M. Collyer (D.D.C.) earlier this week rejected hunger-striking Guantanamo detainees' suit for an injunction against the government to stop it from force-feeding them. The ruling in Aamer v. Obama is the second recent case coming out of the federal courts rejecting an anti-force-feeding claim. Here's our post on the first.
Judge Collyer, like Judge Kessler in the earlier case, ruled that the court lacked jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2241(e)(2), which deprives courts of jurisdiction to hear an action related to "any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement" of an alien detainee at Guantanamo.
Judge Collyer went on to address the merits, too. She wrote that the government is "responsible for taking reasonable steps to guarantee the safety of inmates in their charge," that there is no right to suicide or assisted suicide, and that the government has a legitimate penological interest in preventing suicide. Moreover, she wrote that the government has put controls in place so that the procedure really isn't so bad, and that the government made adjustments to the force-feeding schedule for the Ramadan fast.
July 18, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Fundamental Rights, Habeas Corpus, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)