Friday, September 27, 2019
The subpoena is significant because the committees twice previously requested the exact same information citing the commitees' oversight authority. The administration ignored those requests. The new impeachment subpoena takes away the administration's arguments for stonewalling congressional inquiries under its oversight authority and may test whether Congress has more power when it engages in an impeachment than when it engages in regular oversight.
The subpoena, issued by the chairs of the House Foreign Affairs, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform, is directed at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It seeks information related to President Trump's efforts to urge Ukraine to interfere with the 2020 election.
The subpoena letter begins, "Pursuant to the House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry . . . ."
The administration has now made a habit of ignoring congressional oversight requests, arguing that they (1) lack a legitimate legislative purpose, (2) violate its new and sweeping version of executive privilege, and (3) constitute law enforcement (not lawmaking) in violation of the separation of powers.
But by invoking the House's impeachment authority, the committee undermine those arguments (to the extent that they had any force in the first place). In an impeachment, there is no legislative purpose. Impeachment, as a significant constitutional check on the President, weighs stronger against a President's claim of executive privilege. And Congress is engaged in an impeachment inquiry, not law enforcement.
The administration will undoubtedly come up with constitutional arguments to ignore this latest subpoena, too. But the impeachment power seems to take away these three.
So: Does Congress have more authority when seeking information under its impeachment power? We don't know for sure. But Molly Reynolds and Margaret Taylor survey the arguments in this May 2019 piece over at Lawfare.
Wednesday, September 25, 2019
With the news that the House of Representatives has launched an impeachment inquiry, many of us could use some explainers or refreshers on the rarely-used constitutional process of impeachment.
First, the Constitutional text. The United States Constitution provides for impeachment and removal of office for the President and other Executive officers in Article II §4:
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
The Constitution divides the power to impeach and the power to adjudicate impeachment between the chambers of Congress, with the House of Representatives having the power to impeach and the Senate having the power to adjudicate the impeachment and effect removal from office.
Article I §2 provides:
The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.
Article I §3 provides:
The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.
The Constitution does not further detail the processes, but there is the precedent of previous impeachment processes, including those against Presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and William Clinton which were resolved at various stages and none of which led to conviction and removal. There is also the more frequent experience with judicial impeachments.
The Congressional Research Service has two excellent explainers on impeachment. First and of immediate interest is the report entitled The Impeachment Process in the House of Representatives. It was updated August 2019, and although it is only 15 pages, it is an excellent and substantive discussion of the process and requirements. A somewhat longer report from 2015 entitled Impeachment and Removal provides an overview including grounds for impeachment and trial in the Senate. As this report also notes, the question of impeachment has been held to be a nonjusticiable political question by the United States Supreme Court in Nixon v. United States, 506 U.S. 224 (1993), a case involving the impeachment of federal Judge Walter Nixon (not President Nixon, who resigned in 1974).
There have also been several good explainers in the media; here are a few:
Jennifer Haberkorn, Impeachment 101: How could Congress remove President Trump from office?, Los Angeles Times (May 30, 2019);
Ed Kilgore, The Impeachment Process Explained: What Happens to Trump Now?, New York Magazine (September 25, 2019);
Amber Phillips, What you need to know about the impeachment inquiry into Trump, Washington Post (September 25, 2019);
Charlie Savage, How the Impeachment Process Works, New York Times (September 24, 2019).
Tuesday, September 24, 2019
In its opinion and judgment in R. (on behalf of Miller) v. The Prime Minister and Cherry and others v. Advocate General for Scotland, the U.K. Supreme Court considered whether "the advice given by the Prime Minister to Her Majesty the Queen on 27th or 28th August 2019 that Parliament should be prorogued from a date between 9th and 12th September until 14th October was lawful." The Court's eleven Justices unanimously held it was not.
The prorogation or suspension of Parliament, as we discussed here and which the opinion discusses is the situation in which the Crown suspends Parliament, having both immediate and wider constitutional effects. After the Court's discussion of the events leading up to the prorogation, the Court articulated the issues:
1) Is the question of whether the Prime Minister’s advice to the Queen was lawful justiciable in a court of law?
(2) If it is, by what standard is its lawfulness to be judged?
(3) By that standard, was it lawful?
(4) If it was not, what remedy should the court grant?
The Court first held that the matter was justiciable: "although the courts cannot decide political questions, the fact that a legal dispute concerns the conduct of politicians, or arises from a matter of political controversy, has never been sufficient reason for the courts to refuse to consider it." However, the Court reasoned that to resolve justiciability, the court must "determine whether the present case requires it to determine where a legal limit lies in relation to the power to prorogue Parliament, and whether the Prime Minister’s advice trespassed beyond that limit, or whether the present case concerns the lawfulness of a particular exercise of the power within its legal limits." This question is "closely related to the identification of the standard by reference to which the lawfulness of the Prime Minister’s advice is to be judged."
Turning to the standard, the Court discussed the U.K.'s "unwritten Constitution;"
Although the United Kingdom does not have a single document entitled “The Constitution”, it nevertheless possesses a Constitution, established over the course of our history by common law, statutes, conventions and practice. Since it has not been codified,it has developed pragmatically, and remains sufficiently flexible to be capable of further development. Nevertheless, it includes numerous principles of law, which are enforceable by the courts in the same way as other legal principles. In giving them effect, the courts have the responsibility of upholding the values and principles of our constitution and making them effective. It is their particular responsibility to determine the legal limits of the powers conferred on each branch of government, and to decide whether any exercise of power has transgressed those limits. The courts cannot shirk that responsibility merely on the ground that the question raised is political in tone or context.
The standard — the relevant limit upon the power to prorogue — was expressed by the Court as:
that a decision to prorogue Parliament (or to advise the monarch to prorogue Parliament) will be unlawful if the prorogation has the effect of frustrating or preventing, without reasonable justification, the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions as a legislature and as the body responsible for the supervision of the executive. In such a situation, the court will intervene if the effect is sufficiently serious to justify such an exceptional course.
Under that standard, it was clear that "the Prime Minister’s action had the effect of frustrating or preventing the constitutional role of Parliament in holding the Government to account," and this "was not a normal prorogation in the run-up to a Queen’s Speech." While the Court stated it would not inquire into the Prime Minister's motive, there must be a reason for his actions:
It is impossible for us to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us, that there was any reason - let alone a good reason - to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, from 9th or 12th September until 14th October. We cannot speculate, in the absence of further evidence, upon what such reasons might have been. It follows that the decision was unlawful.
As for remedy, the unlawfulness of the prorogation means that "Parliament has not been prorogued," so that "the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker can take immediate steps to enable each House to meet as soon as possible to decide upon a way forward."
The Court's opinion is a mere 25 pages, written in an accessible style despite its details and discussions of Seventeenth Century practices. ("The 17th century was a period of turmoil over the relationship between the Stuart kings and Parliament, which culminated in civil war. That political controversy did not deter the courts from holding, in the Case of Proclamations (1611) 12 Co Rep 74, that an attempt to alter the law of the land by the use of the Crown’s prerogative powers was unlawful." ).
There is also a four page judgment summary.
New York DA Cyrus Vance, Jr., yesterday filed a motion to dismiss President Trump's federal lawsuit that seeks to shut down the state grand jury proceeding.
Recall that the state grand jury issued a subpoena to Mazurs USA for financial and tax records of a number of New York entities and individuals, including President Trump. President Trump then sued in federal court to halt the state process, arguing that he is absolutely immune from any criminal process. (His argument wasn't limited to just state criminal process or any criminal prosecution; instead, he argued that he is absolutely immune from any criminal process.)
Vance argues that 28 U.S.C. sec. 2283 and Younger abstention compel the federal court to dismiss the case. Section 2283 provides that "[a] court of the United States may not grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a State court except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments." Similarly, Younger abstention requires a federal court to abstain from interfering in certain state-court proceedings.
Vance argues that the federal court should abstain from ruling on President Trump's constitutional claims until the state courts have a chance to do so. He says that there's no "special circumstances suggesting bad faith, harassment or irreparable injury that is both serious and immediate" that would justify an exception to the general abstention principle.
Moreover, Vance argues that President Trump failed to show irreparable harm and is wrong on the merits. As to harm, Vance says that subpoenaed records would be destroyed if the courts later rule the Mazurs subpoena invalid, and that the President's claims that he'd be distracted by the state criminal process is belied by the President's handling of other criminal processes. As to the merits--the President's sweeping claim of absolute immunity from any criminal process--Vance writes, "As the President's own papers make plain, no authority exists to support such a sweeping claim of immunity, which makes a showing of likelihood of success on the merits impossible."
Monday, September 23, 2019
In her Order in Galicia v. Trump, Judge Doris Gonzalez has ordered that President Trump appear for a videotaped deposition prior to trial to provide testimony for use at trial in this tort case.
The plaintiffs brought an action against Donald Trump, Donald Trump for President, the Trump Organization, and Keith Schiller for events in September 2015 when plaintiffs were protesting Trump's views as he was beginning his campaign for President. Plaintiffs allege that "several of Defendant Trump's bodyguards, including his confidant and chief security officer Keith Schiller, stormed Plaintiffs, pushed some of them down the sidewalk, using excessive force grabbed the signs from Plaintiffs and converted them to their own use." The case is proceeding to trial on claims of assault and battery, and against Donald Trump on a theory of respondeat superior. In 2016, a state judge granted a protective order against a motion to compel Trump's deposition before trial. When the case became ready for trial, plaintiffs issued a subpoena ad testificandum to compel Trump's testimony; Trump moved to quash, arguing that under Clinton v. Jones (1997), a president can only be deposed before trial and at the White House.
Judge Gonzalez began her discussion with a resort to the framers and Marbury v. Madison:
More than 200 years ago our founders sought to escape an oppressive, tyrannical governance in which absolute power vested with a monarch. A fear of the recurrence of tyranny birthed our three-branch government adorned with checks and balances. Chief Justice John Marshall famously stated, [t]he government of the United States has been emphatically termed a government of laws, and not of men. It will certainly cease to be deserve this high appellation, if the laws furnish no remedy for the violation of a vested legal right.” Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137 (1803). Put more plainly, no government official, including the Executive, is above the law.
Yet as Judge Gonzalez notes, the Court resolved the question of whether the President is absolved from legal responsibility for unofficial conduct in Clinton v. Jones. Further, the New York courts resolved the issue of whether the state courts could exercise jurisdiction over the President in Zervos v. Trump.
However, President Trump argued that his testimony could not be compelled for trial, but only at pretrial as some dicta in Clinton v. Jones indicated, and that in any event, the plaintiffs had waived the President's testimony by not appealing the earlier order finding a motion to compel premature. Further, Judge Gonzalez distinguished a Second Circuit case relied upon by Trump that depositions of "high-ranking officials" should only occur in exceptional circumstances by noting that this was the rule in litigation involving official action rather than the unofficial pre-Presidential action at issue in this case.
Judge Gonzalez ruled that "questions of fact exist" regarding Trump's "exercise of dominion and control over his employee defendants" and ordered President Trump to "appear for a videotaped deposition prior to the trial of this matter and provide testimony for the use at trial."
Friday, September 20, 2019
President Trump filed suit yesterday to halt the Manhattan D.A.'s criminal investigation into the President's hush-money payments in the run-up to the 2016 election. The President argues that he's absolutely immune from any criminal process, including criminal investigation.
Here's why (quoting the 1973 OLC memo):
"To wound [the President] by a criminal proceeding is to hamstring the operation of the whole governmental apparatus, both in foreign and domestic affairs." The President thus cannot be subject to criminal process, for any conduct of any kind, while he is serving as President.
The President also makes a federalism claim--that it would violate federal supremacy to permit the Manhattan D.A. to saddle the President with a criminal investigation.
The President's argument extends the view of the OLC that the President is immune to criminal prosecution while in office. (Here's the 1973 OLC memo drawing that conclusion; here's the 2000 OLC memo, same.) At the same time, it leaves open the possibility that a President could be subject to criminal investigation (and prosecution) after leaving office. (For that reason, it argues that it's not claiming that "the President is above the law.)
Thursday, September 19, 2019
The Trump Administration urged the Court this week to take up a case that challenges the political independence of the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If the Court takes the case, it would likely deal one more significant blow to agency independence--or to abolish agency independence altogether.
Congress created the CFPB as part of the Dodd-Frank Act to regulate consumer financial products and services. Under the Act, the head of the CFPB is appointed by the President, with Senate confirmation, for a five-year term and removable by the President only for "inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office." The removal provision is designed to ensure that the CFPB head isn't subject to the political whims of the White House.
In a brief in support of Court review this week, the administration argues that it violates the separation of powers. In particular, the administration claims that the termination provision encroaches too far into the President's authority to supervise the executive branch. It distinguishes Humphrey's Executor by arguing that, unlike the CFPB, the independent agency in that case, the FTC, involved a multi-member board with staggered appointment terms, and with quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial authority. It distinguishes Morrison v. Olson by arguing that, unlike the head of the CFPB, the independent office in that case, the Independent Counsel, was an inferior officer. By distinguishing these cases, the administration tries to thread the needle and strike CFPB independence while keeping multi-member agency and inferior officer independence on the books.
But if the Court can't see its way to navigate these waters, the administration has another suggestion: overrule Humphrey's Executor and Morrison v. Olson. Footnote 2 of the brief reads:
If this Court were to conclude that Humphrey's Executor or Morrison requires upholding the removal restriction, it should consider whether those cases should be overruled in part or in whole. That issue is fairly encompassed in the question presented.
If so, the whole idea of agency independence could go away.
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Arizona Supreme Court Finds Religious Exemption for Same-Sex Wedding Invitations Despite Nondiscrimination Ordinance
In lengthy and sharply divided opinion in Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix, the Arizona Supreme Court has held that a custom wedding invitation company and its proprietors have a right to refuse to express to make invitations for same-sex weddings under article 2, section 6 of the Arizona Constitution, providing that "Every person may freely speak, write, and publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right," as well as Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act (“FERA”), A.R.S. § 41-1493.01. This right prevailed over the City of Phoenix’s Ordinance, as amended in 2013, which prohibits public accommodations from discriminating against persons based on their status in a “protected” group, which includes a person’s sexual orientation. Phx., Ariz., City Code (“PCC”) § 18-4(B). As the majority made clear, however, its holding was " limited to Plaintiffs’ creation of custom wedding invitations that are materially similar to those contained in the record," and did not "recognize a blanket exemption from the Ordinance for all of Plaintiffs’ business operations," or reach the question of other wedding services. The court appended illustrative samples in the appendix (and see below).
The opinion rests on the independent ground of the state constitution and is thus insulated from federal review (given that no other constitutional right is at issue). The majority notes that the free expression provision of the state constitution "by its terms" "provides broader protections for free speech than the First Amendment."
Nevertheless, the majority extensively relies upon United States Supreme Court cases. The citations include the Court's 2018 opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, although in Masterpiece there was a conclusion that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, enforcing its state nondiscrimination statute, expressed hostility on the basis of religion in its adjudication of the case - an issue that is not raised by the multiple opinions in Brush & Nib. The majority traces some of the rationales in the Masterpiece arguments: finding that the same-sex wedding invitations with their art and calligraphy (like the cake-baking) is "art" and speech, and finding that nondiscrimination ordinance seeks to compel their speech in support of beliefs they do not hold, such as same-sex marriage. The majority thus applies strict scrutiny, holding that a nondiscrimination public accommodations law is not a compelling governmental interest, and that such laws target conduct rather than speech and it is therefore not narrowly tailored.
Three of the seven Justices of the Arizona Supreme Court dissented. The dissenting opinion that all three Justices joined found that there was a tension between "our fundamental values of liberty and equality," but because "the interest in preventing discrimination is compelling, equality prevails when we are dealing with public accommodations such as businesses serving the public." The dissenters also argued that "the majority implausibly characterizes a commercially prepared wedding invitation as “pure speech” on the part of the business selling the product and discounts the compelling public interest in preventing discrimination against disfavored customers."
And while this case is not suitable for certiorari to the Supreme Court, this issue will most likely recur in Arizona given the majority's attempt to limit the decision and the sharp divisions on the court; just as it will be recurring elsewhere.
Friday, September 13, 2019
The Second Circuit ruled today in CREW v. Trump that a case alleging that the President violated the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses can move forward. The ruling rejects the President's arguments that the plaintiffs lack standing and that they fall outside the zones of interests of the Emoluments Clauses. It also rejects the district court's holdings that the case isn't ripe, and that it raises a nonjusticiable political question.
The ruling means that the case can go forward. It says nothing on the merits--whether President Trump actually violated the Emoluments Clauses. Still, it's a significant victory for the plaintiffs. It also splits with the Fourth Circuit, which dismissed an emoluments case in July for lack of standing.
The plaintiffs in the case, Eric Goode, a restauranteur and hotelier, and the Restaurant Opportunities Center United ("ROC"), a non-partisan, member-based organization of restaurants and restaurant workers, alleged that President Trump's properties siphon off business from the plaintiffs' operations when foreign and domestic government entities choose the President's properties over the plaintiffs' in order to enrich the President and gain his favor--all in violation of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses. In particular, the plaintiffs allege (1) that they compete with the President's properties, (2) that the President implicitly solicits the patronage of government officials and acknowledged that, in making decisions, he favors governments that patronize his businesses, and (3) that governments have taken note of this, and been influenced by it, in deciding which properties to patronize.
The district court dismissed the case, holding that the plaintiffs lacked standing, that they fall outside the zone of interests of the Emoluments Clauses, that their claims aren't ripe, and that the case raises nonjusticiable political questions.
The Second Circuit reversed. As to standing, the court ruled that the plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded injury, causation, and redressability under competitor-standing theory: "[t]he complaint, supported by expert declarations, alleges that . . . unlawful market conduct skew has caused Plaintiffs economic harm in the form of lost patronage from government entities, and that such harm will continue in the future"; "[t]he complaint adequately pleads a competitive injury of lost patronage directly traceable to the fact that the President's allegedly illegal conduct induces government patrons of the hospitality industry . . . to patronize Trump establishments in favor to Plaintiffs' establishments"; and "[b]ecause Plaintiffs have successfully alleged a plausible likelihood that President Trump's conduct caused their injuries, and the injury is ongoing, it logically follows that [injunctive relief] would redress their injury--at least to some extent, which is all that Article III requires."
As to the zone of interests, the court first held that the Supreme Court recently ruled that zone of interests is not a test of Article III standing. But the court said that in any event, the plaintiffs fell within it: "Without exception, the Court has held that a plaintiff who sues to enforce a law that limits the activity of a competitor satisfies the zone of interests test even though the limiting law was not motivated by an intention to protect entities such as plaintiffs from competition."
As to the political question issue (which the President did not argue at the Second Circuit), the court said that the district court erred in holding that under the Emoluments Clauses "Congress is the appropriate body to determine whether, and to what extent, [the President's] conduct unlawfully infringes on that power." Instead, the court held that under the plain language of the Emoluments Clauses, if Congress doesn't consent to an emolument, it's a violation. And it's the role of the courts to judge just such violations.
As to ripeness (which the President also did not argue), the court said that the district court erred in relying on the prospect of future congressional action and on the reasoning of Justice Powell's concurrence in Goldwater v. Carter. The court held that this case is distinguishable: Goldwater involved an inter-branch dispute over inter-branch powers; but this case simply involves an allegation that the President's private conduct is illegal. "There is no claim on the part of the Congress, or any of its members, that the President's private conduct of his business affairs usurps power allocated to Congress by the Constitution."
Judge Walker dissented, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing, consistent with the Fourth Circuit's approach.
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
The Ninth Circuit ruled today in Victory Processing v. Fox that Montana's ban on political robocalls violates the First Amendment. The ruling strikes the ban.
Montana's robocall statute reads as follows:
A person may not use an automated telephone system, device, or facsimile machine for the selection and dialing of telephone numbers and playing of recorded messages if a message is completed to the dialed number for the purpose of . . . promoting a political campaign or any use related to a political campaign.
A robocall company sued, arguing that the provision violated free speech. The Ninth Circuit agreed.
The court ruled that the provision is a content-based restriction on speech, and that it fails strict scrutiny. The court said that while the state had a compelling interest for enacting the provision--the protection of personal privacy--the ban wasn't narrowly tailored to achieve that end. In particular, the court said that the ban was underinclusive with respect to protecting personal privacy, because it singles out only political robocalls and four other topics for robocalling, but "leaves consumers open to an 'unlimited proliferation' of robocalls on other topics. The court also said the ban was also overinclusive, in that it regulates only "categories of robocalling that have not been shown to pose a threat . . . ."
The ruling aligns with Cahaly v. Larosa, 796 F.3d 399, a 2015 Fourth Circuit case also striking a ban on political robocalling.
Wednesday, September 4, 2019
In a well-considered opinion in Karem v. Trump, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia, Rudolph Contreras, issued a preliminary injunction requiring the defendants President Trump and White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham to restore the "hard pass" press credential to plaintiff Brian Karem.
As Judge Contreras explained, the "hard pass" is a long term press pass that the White House has made available for "decades and across many presidential administrations" to "any Washington-based journalist who regularly covers the President and can clear a Secret Service background check." In 1977, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals held that reporters have a First Amendment liberty interest in possessing a long-term so-called “hard pass”—an interest that, under the Fifth Amendment, may not be deprived without due process, Sherrill v. Knight, 569 F.2d 124 (D.C. Cir. 1977).
The defendants admitted that the revocation of Karem's hard pass was punitive. The revocation of Karem's hard pass came three weeks after an incident in the Rose Garden which Judge Contreras describes in detail, noting that the incident was captured on video and shared widely on the internet.
Judge Contreras noted repeatedly that the court did not reach Karem's First Amendment challenge, but resolved the issue on Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause grounds. One aspect of the due process challenge was procedural due process, as in Sherrill v. Knight, which the court found applicable despite the defendants' argument that Sherrill should be limited to its precise facts, situations in which the Secret Service denied a hard pass application for security reasons. Another aspect of the due process challenge was vagueness, which surfaces in Sherrill but is more directly addressed by the United States Supreme Court's opinion in FCC v. Fox (2012), in which the Court found that the FCC fleeting expletives and nudity regulations were unconstitutional.
Here, Judge Contreras found that the White House guidelines were not constitutionally adequate, even when considering the so-called "Acosta Letter" issued by the White House to the press corps in November 2018, although Grisham did not reference or seemingly rely on that letter when issuing her revocation of Karem's hard pass.
On the balance of equities and public interest regarding the preliminary injunction, Judge Contreras noted the three week lag from the event to the discipline and also stated:
The Court understands the White House’s desire to maintain a degree of control over access and decorum, and at first glance, some might think the temporary suspension of a single reporter’s press pass to be a relatively modest exercise of such control. But as Sherrill makes clear, the conferral of White House hard passes is no mere triviality. And the need for regulatory guidance is at its highest where constitutional rights are implicated.
The White House could react by appealing to the DC Circuit — or by attempting to issue regulatory guidance that might or might not apply to Karem's actions.