Friday, November 16, 2018
Tom Goldstein, frequent Supreme Court litigator and publisher of SCOTUSblog, asked the Supreme Court today to rule on the legality of President Trump's designation of Matthew Whitaker as Acting AG. The issue came up in Goldstein's motion to substitute Rod Rosenstein (and not Matthew Whitaker) in a case against the AG.
The case pits the AG Succession Act (which specifies an automatic line of succession for the office) against the Vacancies Reform Act (which applies more broadly and gives the President more flexibility in naming an acting officer). It also asks whether the President's designation violated the Appointments Clause, because the AG is an "officer" that requires Senate confirmation.
The government's position is set out here, in the OLC memo concluding that President Trump had authority to designate Whitaker. Walter Dellinger and Marty Lederman have an outstanding "initial reactions" here, at Just Security.
Monday, October 29, 2018
The reported announcement that the United States is sending "5,200 troops, military helicopters and giant spools of razor wire to the Mexican border in the coming days to brace for the arrival of Central American migrants President Trump is calling 'an invasion," raises the question of Presidential authority under the Constitution.
Professor Rudesill (pictured) asks "What is the constitutional textual basis for key statutes that constrain the national security apparatus and condition the President’s ability to direct it – statutes that are neither spending limitations, nor war declarations or authorizations for the use of military force (AUMFs), nor militia laws?"
He notes that there are a series of such statutory frameworks, including the Posse Comitatus Act and its relatives which generally operates as a default ban on active duty federal armed forces engaging in law enforcement. He argues that the best textual footing for such statutes is Article I, Section 8, Clause 14 of the Constitution. This clause gives Congress the power “To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.”
The statutory frameworks at the heart of the national security legal regime that find textual grounding in the Forces Clause are important to the republic at any moment. There are constant and enduring operational pressures and political incentives for the Executive Branch to disregard the law and its liberty/security balancing work. These statutory frameworks are of special importance, however, in a time of chronic national insecurity: war without end against transnational terrorist networks and within cyberspace, and the alarm and constant engagement of the military and intelligence apparatus they engender. These statutory frameworks safeguard liberty in the atmosphere of uncertainty and fear that national insecurity, together with dysfunctional government and volatile politics, produces. Such anxiety was not, of course, unknown to the Framers . . . .
He contends that Courts could take up the issues, but also Congress has an important role:
Congress’s authority to govern and regulate the land and naval forces and control their Commander in Chief is contingent. The Forces Clause does not stipulate a one-way ratchet toward greater liberty protections. Congress could choose not to use the Forces Clause’s authority – it could acquiesce to harsh presidential discipline of the military, authoritarian employment of it against the people, or reckless use of it abroad. Congress could use the Clause’s authority to weaken FISA, the Posse Comitatus Act, and other liberty-protecting laws. Or, Congress could choose to use the Clause’s authority actively – and more explicitly and consistently – to balance liberty and security considerations in a manner that protects both. The Clause’s potential, like the republic’s fate, ultimately resides with Congress and the love of liberty among the people the Article I branch represents, governs, and protects.
An interesting read as the composition of Congress is at issue in the midterm election.
Wednesday, October 3, 2018
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in Gundy v. United States, the case testing whether the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act delegated too much authority to the Attorney General to determine the Act's application to pre-Act offenders. Our preview is here.
If the arguments any any predictor, the Non-Delegation Doctrine challenge to the Act faces an uphill battle. Indeed, there was only one Justice, Justice Gorsuch, who seriously went to bat against the Act. And his problems with the Act sounded more in due process (void-for-vagueness), and not in the separation of powers or non-delegation.
The question for the Court was whether SORNA's delegation to the AG to determine the applicability of the Act to pre-Act offenders provided an "intelligible principle" to guide the AG's decision. If so, there's no delegation problem; if not, there's a violation of the Non-Delegation Doctrine. (That Doctrine seeks to preserve the separation of powers by preventing Congress from delegating too much law-making authority to the Executive Branch.)
The Court's approach will likely turn on two considerations. First, can the Court look to the Act in its entirety in determining whether Congress legislated with an "intelligible principle," or is it restricted to the particular provision that delegates authority to the AG to determine its application to pre-Act offenders? (Related: Should the Court seek to interpret the Act to avoid a delegation problem?) Court precedent and most of the Justice who spoke seemed to favor the former approach; only Justice Gorsuch spoke out forcefully in favor of the latter approach (and, again, his objections really sounded in due process, not the separation of powers). Next, does the Non-Delegation Doctrine apply differently to legislation that provides more serious enforcement than to legislation that provides less serious enforcement? In particular, is the Doctrine more rigorous when the delegation goes to the AG (as chief federal prosecutor of federal crimes, as opposed to an ordinary regulatory agency), because a vague delegation would put both the power to interpret the law and the power to prosecute the criminal law in the hands of one executive officer? Again, precedent and questions seemed to say no, and, again, only Justice Gorsuch seriously pushed back.
As far as the separation of powers goes, it's worth noting that if the Court rules that SORNA violates the Non-Delegation Doctrine, this is a net gain for the judicial branch: it means that the courts can play a more aggressive role than they have played in determining the authority of executive agencies in interpreting and executing the law. To that extent, we might consider this case alongside other challenges to the administrative state (challenges to the Chevron doctrine, challenges to Morrison v. Olson and independent agencies, etc.).
It's certainly possible that the Court might do some refining around the edges of the Non-Delegation Doctrine. (Maybe that's why the Court granted cert. Otherwise, the grant seems a mystery.) But it seems quite unlikely that the Court will hold the SORNA's delegation to the AG unconstitutional.
Monday, October 1, 2018
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Gundy v. United States, the case testing whether Congress violated the separation of powers by delegating too much authority to the Attorney General to determine whether the Sex Offender and Registration and Notification Act applies to pre-Act offenders. Here's my preview for the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases (with permission):
The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act
In 2006, Congress enacted SORNA to “establish a comprehensive national system for the registration” of sex offenders. Before SORNA, every state had its own registration system, and the federal government required states to adopt certain unifying measures or lose certain federal funds. SORNA strengthened these baselines, but it also did more.
In particular, SORNA created—and required states to create, as a condition of receiving certain federal funds—criminal penalties for individuals who fail to comply with its registration requirements. SORNA created a federal three-tier system for classifying sex offenders based on the significance of their offense, and made it a federal crime to fail to register for a specified number of years (depending on the tier of the crime). (This was different than the classification system that many states previously used, which set requirements based on individualized risk assessments of the offenders.) The Act states that a person who (1) “is required to register under” SORNA; (2) “travels in interstate or foreign commerce”; and (3) “knowingly fails to register or update a registration as required by” SORNA is guilty of a federal crime punishable to up to ten years in prison. 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a). It also requires states (again, as a condition of receiving certain federal funds) to “provide a criminal penalty that includes a maximum term that is greater than 1 year for the failure of a sex offender to comply with” SORNA’s registration requirements.
But Congress didn’t specify whether these new criminal provisions would apply to pre-Act offenders. (The question was important: legislators estimated that there were more than 500,000 pre-Act offenders when Congress passed the law.) Instead, Congress left it to the Attorney General. SORNA says: “The Attorney General shall have the authority to specify the applicability of the requirements of this subchapter to sex offenders convicted before the enactment of this chapter . . . and to prescribe rules for the registration of any such sex offenders . . . .” 34 U.S.C. § 20913(d).
This gives the Attorney General quite a bit of discretion. It allows the Attorney General to apply SORNA to pre-Act offenders immediately, or later, or not at all. It also allows the Attorney General to make a decision at one time, but to change course later, or under any new President, with regard to whether and how SORNA’s registration requirements would apply to pre-Act offenders.
In fact, the Attorney General exercised this discretion, at least to some extent. Attorney General Alberto G. Gonzales issued an interim rule about six months after Congress passed SORNA stating that SORNA would apply to pre-Act offenders. Since then, different Attorneys General issued different guidelines as to how it would apply, particularly with regard to offenders who had been released from prison for longer than SORNA’s maximum registration periods (for example, a person who was released more than 25 years before Congress enacted SORNA, but who would be subject to a maximum 25-year registration period under SORNA). As relevant to this case, Attorney General Eric Holder issued guidance in 2010 that SORNA credit pre-Act offenders with their entire prior period in the community, regardless of what a local jurisdiction might decide.
In 2005, Herman Avery Gundy pled guilty in Maryland to sexual assault of a minor. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, with ten years suspended and five years of probation.
In November 2010, Gundy completed his state sentence and was transferred to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to serve a related federal sentence. The Bureau of Prisons transferred Gundy from Maryland to a prison in Pennsylvania. In July 2012, it transferred him from Pennsylvania to a halfway house in New York to complete his sentence. Gundy was released on August 27, 2012. He remained in New York.
In October 2012, Gundy was arrested in New York and charged with violating SORNA’s federal criminal provision. The indictment alleged that Gundy (1) was “an individual required to register” under SORNA based on his 2005 Maryland sex offense, (2) traveled in interstate commerce, and (3) “thereafter resided in New York without registering” as required by SORNA.
Gundy moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing, among other things, that SORNA could not constitutionally apply to him, because Congress delegated too much authority to the Attorney General to make a fundamentally legislative decision about whether SORNA applied to pre-Act offenders. The district court initially dismissed the indictment, but later, on remand from the Second Circuit, rejected Gundy’s constitutional argument. The Second Circuit affirmed, and remanded the case for trial. Gundy was convicted, and the district court sentenced him to time served and five years of supervised release. Gundy appealed, again arguing that SORNA could not constitutionally apply to him. The Second Circuit again rejected this argument. This appeal followed.
In order to protect Congress’s lawmaking authority within our separation-of-powers system—and to ensure that Congress does not cede this authority to the Executive Branch—the Court has set a standard for congressional delegations: it requires Congress to provide “intelligible principles” whenever it delegates authority to enforce the law to agencies within the Executive Branch. This is called the “Nondelegation Doctrine.”
Historically speaking, the Nondelegation Doctrine has been loose and quite permissive, giving Congress wide berth. Thus, the Court has said that a congressional delegation satisfies the Nondelegation Doctrine “if Congress clearly delineates the general policy, the public agency which is to apply it, and the boundaries of th[e] delegated authority.” American Power & Light Co. v. SEC, 329 U.S. 90 (1946). To date, the Court has found only two statutory delegations that violated the Doctrine, and both of those provided almost no guidance to the Executive.
Still, Gundy contends that SORNA’s delegation to the Attorney General to determine the Act’s application to pre-Act offenders violates the Doctrine. Gundy argues first that SORNA provides no intelligible principles to the Attorney General, because it doesn’t say “whether he should make any pre-Act offenders register; which offenders should be required to register; or even what he must (or must not) consider in deciding these questions.” He says that even the government concedes that SORNA allows the Attorney General to take no action at all, to wait years before taking action, and to reverse course at any time. Gundy claims this unbridled authority “can only be characterized as ‘legislative’ power” in violation of the separation of powers.
Gundy argues next that the Court should apply a heightened nondelegation standard in this context, and that SORNA violates the heightened standard, too. In particular, Gundy claims that SORNA delegates “significant power” to the Attorney General “to make policy decisions that bear directly on an individual’s liberty . . . ; disturb settled expectations of law . . . ; and infringe states’ sovereign interests (by regulating purely intrastate conduct and dictating to states, as a condition of federal funding, how they must regulate and criminalize conduct within their own borders).” Gundy contends that these features of SORNA require a heightened nondelegation standard, and that SORNA fails, because “the statute gives the Attorney General no meaningful guidance as to how to exercise these vast powers.”
The government counters that SORNA satisfies the traditional Nondelegation Doctrine. The government says that the Act identifies the official to whom it delegates authority (the Attorney General), and that SORNA’s text and history sufficiently provide a “general policy” that the Attorney General should pursue in making the determination. The government claims that SORNA thus easily satisfies the deferential traditional nondelegation standard.
To illustrate its point, the government contends that SORNA provides the Attorney General the exact same discretion as a hypothetical (and valid) statute that required all pre-Act offenders to register but authorized the Attorney General to grant waivers. Under this hypothetical (and, again, valid) statute, “the scope of [the Attorney General’s] authority . . . would be the same.” The government says that if Congress can enact this hypothetical statute (which it can), then it can also enact SORNA.
The government argues next that the Court need not address Gundy’s argument about a heightened nondelegation standard. The government contends that SORNA does not raise especial concerns that would justify a heightened standard, that the Court has already rejected a heightened standard, and that SORNA would satisfy any standard, anyway.
This case addresses a key question left open the last time the Court took on SORNA, in Reynolds v. United States. 565 U.S. 432 (2012). In that case, the Court ruled that pre-Act offenders do not have to register under SORNA until the Attorney General validly specified that the Act’s registration provisions applied to them. In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, noted that SORNA potentially raised a nondelegation problem:
it is not entirely clear to me that Congress can constitutionally leave it to the Attorney General to decide—with no statutory standard whatever governing his discretion—whether a criminal statute will or will not apply to certain individuals. That seems to me sailing close to the wind with regard to the principle that legislative powers are nondelegable.
This case picks up that cue. That’s notable, because the Nondelegation Doctrine has been all but dormant since 1935. In that year, the Court ruled in Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan, 293 U.S. 388 (1935), and Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495 (1935), that two different statutes were unconstitutional. Since then, the Court has not ruled a single act of Congress unconstitutional under the Doctrine. This case could resurrect this long-dormant doctrine.
This could be especially significant in the broader context of a Court that seems increasingly skeptical, even hostile, to aggressive agency rule-making—what some describe as impermissible “lawmaking”—within the Executive Branch. This hostility comes out in the increasingly common arguments from some quarters against judicial deference toward agency rule-making under so-called “Chevron deference.” Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. 467 U.S. 837 (1984). Chevron deference says that the courts should defer to an agency’s interpretation of a statute, so long as the interpretation is reasonable. Opponents of Chevron deference call for greater judicial scrutiny of agency interpretations, in order to rein them in. (As this piece goes to print, Judge Brett Kavanaugh is fielding questions on this precise topic from Senators on the Judiciary Committee.) Arguments against Chevron deference share this feature with arguments against the deferential Nondelegation Doctrine: They both seek to control an Executive bureaucracy that some see as an unaccountable, lawmaking “fourth branch” of government.
Within this context, the Court’s ruling could contribute to a more general move by the Court to rein-in Executive agency actions. Such a move could shift power away from Executive agencies to Congress.
But on that point, it’s important to remember that in our separation-of-powers system there’s a third independent branch of government, the judiciary. And if the Court exercises its prerogative to shift power in this way—by tightening up the Nondelegation Doctrine, by doing away with Chevron deference, or by otherwise reining in agencies’ actions—it looks more like the Court is the branch that gets a boost in power.
Friday, September 28, 2018
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan (D.D.C.) ruled today in Blumenthal v. Trump that members of Congress have standing to sue President Trump for violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause. At the same time, Judge Sullivan declined to rule on the President's other three arguments for dismissal--that the plaintiffs lack a cause of action, that they've failed to state a claim (because the President's business interests aren't "emoluments" under the Clause), and that injunctive relief sought is unconstitutional. Thus, the ruling is a set-back for the President, but Judge Sullivan may yet end up dismissing the case on other grounds.
We posted here on the earlier district court ruling that another Emoluments case, brought by Maryland and D.C., can move forward.
The Congressmembers' case alleges that President Trump's overseas business holdings and properties generate income and benefits for the President, without the consent of Congress, in violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause. That Clause says:
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.
The 201 plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief. They claimed that they were harmed (for standing purposes) because the President, by failing to seek congressional consent, denied each of them a "vote on the record about whether to approve his acceptance of a prohibited foreign emolument."
The court agreed:
[E]ach time the President allegedly accepts a foreign emolument without seeking congressional consent, plaintiffs suffer a concrete and particularized injury--the deprivation of the right to vote on whether to consent to the President's acceptance of the prohibited foreign emolument--before he accepts it. And although the injury is an institutional one, the injury is personal to legislators entitled to cast the vote that was nullified.
The court went on to say that standing didn't violate the separation of powers. The court held that the plaintiffs lacked an alternative legislative remedy, and that the case was appropriate for judicial review.
September 28, 2018 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Senator Jeff Merkley today sued President Trump, Senate colleagues, and others in federal court (D.D.C.) to halt the confirmation process of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Senator Merkley argues that the defendants' actions violate the separation of powers and the Senate's constitutional role in providing advice and consent on Judge Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court.
The lawsuit relates to the defendants' failure to produce documents, not the more recent sexual assault and misconduct allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. The government will surely file a motion to dismiss based on the political question doctrine (itself a separation-of-powers matter), among others. The outcome of the case (and the confirmation process more generally) will set the standards for document release and Senate advice-and-consent for future judicial nominations, by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Here's the gist:
This case arises from the direct and substantial interference by President Trump and other agents of the executive branch in the ability of the Senate to examine the record and evaluate the fitness of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the President's nominee for a lifetime appointment as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. President Trump and agents of the executive branch interfered in the ability of Senator Merkley and the Senate to provide advice and consent by, inter alia, imposing a broad and unprecedented blockade on the Senate's and public's access to reams of key documents that directly bear on Judge Kavanaugh's views, experience, and character. This improper process regarding the production of relevant documents prevents Senator Merkley and his colleagues from properly exercising their constitutional obligation to provide advice and consent on the qualifications of the nominee and deprives them of the ability to fully assess the nominee's fitness to assume the position of an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
The President and officers of the executive branch have interfered in the Senate's advice and consent responsibility in three critical ways: encouraging the Senate Majority to not request documents related to Kavanaugh's time while serving as Staff Secretary to George W. Bush; blocking access to an extensive set of documents related to the nominee's views and actions while serving in President George W. Bush's Office of White House Counsel; and blocking full access by all Senators and the public to documents delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee but marked "Committee Confidential."
Senator Merkley asks the court to order that
(a) Defendant Trump withdraw his excessive invocation of executive privilege and produce a privilege log for documents truly subject to executive privilege;
(b) Defendants McConnell, Grassley, Adams, and Stenger not hold or permit a vote on the nominee's confirmation, or otherwise act to advance the confirmation process, until the National Archives releases his records, including the records requested by Senator Grassley regarding the nominee's work at the Office of White House Counsel, and there is sufficient time for the U.S. Senate to review the documents and conduct a careful review of the newly released documents;
(c) National Archives expedite the production of the documents to the earliest date practical;
(d) Defendant Burck cease and desist from usurping the traditional role of the neutral professionals at the National Archives.
Sunday, August 26, 2018
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson (D.D.C.) ruled yesterday in American Federation of Government Employees v. Trump that President Trump's executive orders sharply curtailing federal employees' collective bargaining and labor rights violate federal labor law. The ruling means that most of the EOs' limitations are invalid.
Together, the EOs set a timeframe for completion of collective bargaining negotiations; removed certain matters from the bargaining table completely; set certain procedures for negotiations; limited the extent to which federal employees could engage in union work during business hours; limited the government resources that union members could use for union activities; made it easier for the government to dismiss federal employees for unsatisfactory performance.
The court recognized that the EOs are subject to restrictions in statutory law, but that "the President could always theoretically claim that he possesses the inherent constitutional authority to take a given action, regardless of any conflict with a congressional statute and his resulting lack of statutory authority." "But Defendants have made no such assertion in the instant case; instead, they have 'expressly recognized statutory limitations on the President's authority to act in this area.'" The court, therefore, didn't rule on the constitutional question.
The government's omission of a constitutional argument might seem surprising, given the President's recent constitutional extrapolation from the Court's ruling in Lucia in an EO designed to rein in control over executive branch ALJs. That move seemed like an attack, under cover of Lucia and claimed plenary Article II authority over the executive branch, on civil service laws that in any way restrict the President's claimed authority to hire and fire whomever he wants. That attack would seem to apply equally here. But the government didn't press it.
On the statutory questions, Judge Jackson summarized:
[T]he Order provisions concerning matters such as the reduction of the availability of and support for official time activities [to engage in union-related work], and the specific prohibitions against bargaining over [certain matters], or hte unilateral narrowing of any negotiated grievance procedures, dramatically decrease the scope of the right to bargain collectively, because, in the [Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Act], Congress clearly intended for agencies and unions to engage in a broad and meaningful negotiation over nearly every "condition of employment." Likewise, the Orders' requirements, such as the directive that agencies should "ordinarily" seek to conclude collective bargaining negotiations within five to seven months, or should limit the applicability of grievance procedures "[w]henever reasonable[,]" effectively instruct federal agencies and executive departments to approach collective bargaining in a manner that clearly runs counter to the FSLMRS's expectation of good-faith conduct on the part of negotiating parties. . . .
[T]he only challenged provisions of [the EOs] that can stand are those that neither contribute to a reduction in the scope of the collective bargaining that Congress has envisioned nor impede the ability of agencies and executive departments to engage in the kind of good-faith bargaining over conditions of federal employment that Congress has required.
Thursday, August 23, 2018
The letters take on a new significance this week, as events draw even more attention to Judge Kavanaugh's views--and how those views might translate if any issue arising out of the Mueller investigation were to reach the Court.
In one letter, former OLCers write on Judge Kavanaugh's critical remarks on United States v. Nixon; in the other, they write on the proliferation of presidential signing statements when Judge Kavanaugh served as staff secretary to President Bush.
From the first (which also captures the gist of the second):
[W]e are troubled by Judge Brett Kavanaugh's apparent commitment to a version of the unitary executive theory of presidential power that holds that the President has total control of actions and decisions of any executive branch official, and that in many cases this control cannot be reviewed by a court of law nor regulated by Acts of Congress.
Thursday, August 16, 2018
Senate Resolution 607 , introduced by Senators Brian Schatz and Chuck Schumer, and affirmed unanimously, provides:
Whereas the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States protects the press from government control and suppression;
(1) has been recognized as integral to the democratic foundations of the United States since the beginning of the United States; and
(2) has endured and been reaffirmed repeatedly throughout the history of the United States;
Whereas Benjamin Franklin in 1722 wrote, ‘‘Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of a Nation, must begin by subduing the Freeness of Speech.’’;
Whereas Thomas Jefferson in 1786 wrote, ‘‘Our liberty de- pends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.’’;
Whereas James Madison in 1789 introduced the freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States;
Whereas James Madison based the freedom of the press on the Declaration of Rights of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which in 1776 declared, ‘‘The freedom of the Press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic Governments.’’;
Whereas President Ronald Reagan proclaimed August 4, 1985, as Freedom of the Press Day, stating that ‘‘Freedom of the press is one of our most important freedoms and also one of our oldest.’’;
Whereas President Reagan also said, ‘‘Today, our tradition of a free press as a vital part of our democracy is as important as ever. The news media are now using modern techniques to bring our citizens information not only on a daily basis but instantaneously as important events occur. This flow of information helps make possible an informed electorate and so contributes to our national system of self-government.’’;
Whereas Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in International Soc. for Krishna Consciousness, Inc. v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672 (1992), ‘‘The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.’’;
Whereas the United States Supreme Court also affirmed the history and intent of the freedom of the press in New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971), stating, ‘‘In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.’’;
Whereas tyrannical and authoritarian governments and leaders throughout history have sought to undermine, censor, suppress, and control the press to advance their undemocratic goals and actions; and
Whereas the United States, including the long-held commitment to and constitutional protection of the free press in the United States, has stood as a shining example of democracy, self-government, and freedom for the world to emulate: Now, therefore, be it
(1) the Senate—
(A) affirms that the press is not the enemy of the people;
(B) reaffirms the vital and indispensable role that the free press serves to inform the electorate, uncover the truth, act as a check on the inherent power of the government, further national discourse and debate, and otherwise advance the most basic and cherished democratic norms and freedoms of the United States; and
(C) condemns the attacks on the institution of the free press and views efforts to systematically undermine the credibility of the press as an attack on the democratic institutions of the United States; and
(2) it is the sense of the Senate that it is the sworn responsibility of all who serve the United States by taking the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States to uphold, cherish, and protect the entire Constitution, including the freedom of the press.
This Resolution can be seen as a rebuke to presidential statements describing the press as an "enemy of the people."
The Fake News hates me saying that they are the Enemy of the People only because they know it’s TRUE. I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People. They purposely cause great division & distrust. They can also cause War! They are very dangerous & sick!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2018
Additionally, about 350 media outlets have also published pieces today affirming the importance of a free press and rejecting the "enemy of the people" appellation.
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
President Trump late yesterday issued a breathtaking constitutional signing statement on the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019. The President called out dozens of provisions for impinging on the commander-in-chief authority, the foreign affairs authority, the appointments authority, executive privilege, and the President's authority to recommend legislation.
Perhaps most alarming, the President identified 18 separate sections that require public disclosure or reports to Congress on various topics as categorically "protected by executive privilege."
My Administration will treat these provisions consistent with the President's constitutional authority to withhold information, the disclosure of which could impair national security, foreign relations, law enforcement, or the performance of the President's constitutional duties.
The move pits the President's inherent Article II powers against Congress's powers to appropriate funds, its war powers and powers over the military, its foreign-relations powers, and its oversight authority (to say nothing of any interest or right that the people have in knowing what their government is up to). But unless Congress is willing to push back (for example, by issuing and enforcing subpoenas for reports required by the Act, but over which the President has claimed a categorical "executive privilege"), or unless a person or group has standing to challenge any of the President's rejection of funding restrictions or requirements or appointments matters, these claims will never see the inside of a courtroom.
If not, then the President will have effectively line-item vetoed a whopping 50 or more provisions of a single Act of Congress, with no check.
In its opinion in Askins v. United States Department of Homeland Security, a panel of the Ninth Circuit vacated a district judge's dismissal of a complaint alleging the confiscation and destruction of photographs by United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) violated the First Amendment
One issue on appeal was whether the district judge incorrectly applied the "law of the case" doctrine to the amended complaint. The Ninth Circuit held the trial judge was wrong and should have evaluated the amended complaint on its own merits.
The First Amendment issue was whether the complaint stated a claim that the CBP's policies prohibiting photography even in public places was a First Amendment violation. Writing for the court, Judge Jay Bybee noted that the trial judge assumed that the areas adjacent to the ports of entry at these specific southern borders — Calexico West and San Ysidiro — were public fora and the CBP's restrictions were content based. The trial judge found that the CBP policies survived strict scrutiny because of the compelling interest of border security and in a "conclusory fashion" determined that the policies were the least restrictive means of serving the interests. The Ninth Circuit's opinion disagreed:
These conclusions are too thin to justify judgment for the government on a motion to dismiss. * * * * Without question, protecting our territorial integrity is a compelling interest that could justify reasonable restrictions on speech activities at ports of entry. * * * * But the devil lies in the details: “Even at the border, we have rejected an ‘anything goes’ approach.” United States v. Cotterman, 709 F.3d 952, 957 (9th Cir. 2013) (en banc). It is the government’s burden to prove that these specific restrictions are the least restrictive means available to further its compelling interest. They cannot do so through general assertions of national security, particularly where plaintiffs have alleged that CBP is restricting First Amendment activities in traditional public fora such as streets and sidewalks.
The Ninth Circuit did, however, stress that it was not deciding that the places at issue were in fact public fora. This should be a fact-based analysis. Yet the court in a footnote also noted that it was unclear why the CBP applied its guidelines for the press to these plaintiffs:
We are puzzled as to how these guidelines apply to members of the public, whether media or not, who take photographs outside of port of entry facilities from streets and sidewalks accessible to the general public, whether those streets and sidewalks are on or off the port of entry. On their face, the policies would not appear to apply to plaintiffs at all, much less sanction the detention of plaintiffs and the destruction of their photographs under the circumstances alleged.
As the case returns to the district judge, questions of specific geography regarding public places near border entries is sure to figure prominently.
Monday, August 13, 2018
Judge Dabney L. Friedrich (D.D.C.) today rejected challenges to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office and authority by a defendant in the criminal case against thirteen Russian individuals and three corporations. The ruling in U.S. v. Concord Management says that the special counsel office is constitutional and that Special Counsel Mueller was acting within his authority in bringing this case. The ruling allows the case to go on.
The court first ruled that the special counsel is an "inferior" office under the Appointments Clause and was validly appointed by the Acting AG. The court said that different features of the office pointed in both the "principal officer" and "inferior officer" direction under Edmond, but ultimately the revocability of DOJ's special counsel regulations mean that the office is "inferior":
The regulations' revocability is "[t]he crucial difference" between the Special Counsel regulations and a statute that seeks to bind the executive branch from without, and it is this different that ensures the Special Counsel is an inferior officer. That is, to the extent that the regulations threaten to impair the Acting Attorney General's ability to direct and supervise the Special Counsel, the Department of Justice may simply rescind or revise the regulations at any time. This ability to rescind or revise the regulations as needed means that the Special Counsel is subject to the Acting Attorney General's plenary supervision. It also makes the Special Counsel effectively removable at will: if the for-cause provision stands in the way, the Acting Attorney General need only rescind or revise the regulation in order to remove the Special Counsel.
The court also ruled that the special counsel was an "inferior office" under Morrison v. Olson.
The court went on to say that the office didn't violate the separation of powers. In particular, the court ruled that even if the special counsel regulations are nonbinding on the special counsel (as Concord argued), then "the Special Counsel would be subject to the Acting Attorney General's plenary control by statute. Because executive power would remain wholly within the executive branch, no separation-of-powers problem would arise." Moreover, the court said that the AG had plenty of statutory authority to issue the special counsel regs.
Finally, the court said that Special Counsel Mueller wasn't acting outside of his appointment authority in bringing this particular case.
Thursday, August 9, 2018
In a terse written Order in Grace v. Sessions, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia, Emmet Sullivan reiterated his oral order "requiring the Defendants to return “Carmen” and her daughter to the United States FORTHWITH" (emphasis in original). Judge Sullivan's Order recounted that at the emergency hearing on August 8, "Defendants stated that they would not consent to staying the removal past 11:59 pm Thursday August 9, 2018, but specifically represented to the Court that “Carmen” and her daughter would not be removed prior to that time." The judge therefore set a hearing for 1:00pm on Thursday, during which it was learned that Carmen and her daughter were being removed from the country by plane. The Judge's Order concluded:
HEREBY ORDERED that the Defendants shall return “Carmen” and her daughter to the United States FORTHWITH; and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that in the event that the Defendants do not fully comply with this Order, Defendants Attorney General Jefferson Sessions, III; Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service Director Lee Francis Cissna; and Executive Office of Immigration Review Director James McHenry, preferably accompanied by their attorneys, shall be ORDERED to appear in Court to SHOW CAUSE why they should not be held in CONTEMPT OF COURT; and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that the Defendants shall file a status report on the docket in this case by no later than 5:00 pm August 10, 2018, informing the Court of the Defendants’ compliance with this Order.
[emphasis in original].
The complaint in the case challenges expanded "expedited removal" for asylum seekers whose claims are based on gang violence or domestic violence, with statutory claims for relief augmented by separation of powers arguments and a constitutional claim of violation of due process.
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
The D.C. Circuit yesterday rejected a habeas claim by a long-time (17 years) Guantanamo detainee who argued that the basis for his detention has "unraveled" and that the conflict that originally authorized his detention has ended. In so ruling, the court affirmed that the 2001 AUMF, along with the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, remain in force, strong as ever, and continue to authorize his detention.
The claimant, a Yemeni who, according to the government, trained with and fought alongside the Taliban, filed an earlier habeas petition in 2005. The courts rejected that petition, concluding that "the Government's account of Al-Alwi'd Taliban-related activities was supported by a preponderance of the evidence, thereby making Al-Alwi an enemy combatant who could lawfully be detained."
This time, however, he claimed that even if his earlier detention was authorized, the authority for his ongoing detention is stale. The court rejected that argument.
The court ruled first that the "[a]uthority to detain has not unraveled." It said that the AUMF retains its original force so long as "hostilities between the United States and the Taliban and al Qaeda continue." "Both [the AUMF and the National Defense Authorization Act] authorize detention until the end of hostilities. Although hostilities have been ongoing for a considerable amount of time, they have not ended."
The court ruled next that "[a]uthority to detain has not expired." The court said that "termination" is "a political act," and that it hasn't yet occurred. "The Executive Branch represents that armed hostilities between the United States forces and those entities persist."
The ruling underscores that the AUMF will remain in full force until the political branches say that hostilities have ended.
Monday, August 6, 2018
United States District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelley has reaffirmed the injunction of the ban on transgender individuals in the military, first announced on Twitter by the President in Doe v. Trump in two opinions. Recall that in October, the judge issued a lengthy opinion and a preliminary injunction against the ban as likely to violate equal protection.
The case returned to Judge Kollar-Kotelley after an unsuccessful appeal and attempt to stay the preliminary injunction. The government moved to dismiss, essentially rearguing its contentions regarding standing.
In a 34 page opinion, the judge again rejected these arguments. But the government newly argued for dismissal and dissolution of the preliminary injunction because the 2018 "Mattis Implementation Plan" represents a “new policy” divorced and distinct from the President’s 2017 policy directives that were previously enjoined by this Court, and that the Mattis Implementation Plan does not harm the Plaintiffs in this case. However, the judge held that "whatever legal relevance the Mattis
Implementation Plan might have, it has not fundamentally changed the circumstances of this lawsuit such that Plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, or that the need for the Court’s preliminary injunction has dissipated." In evaluating the Mattis Implementation Plan, the judge stated:
the Mattis Implementation Plan in fact prohibits transgender military service—just as President Trump’s 2017 directives ordered. It is true that the plan takes a slightly less direct approach to accomplishing this goal than the President’s 2017 tweet and memorandum. Instead of expressly banning all “transgender individuals” from military service, the Mattis Implementation Plan works by absolutely disqualifying individuals who require or have undergone gender transition, generally disqualifying individuals with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and, to the extent that there are any individuals who identify as “transgender” but do not fall under the first two categories, only allowing them to serve “in their biological sex” (which means that openly transgender persons are generally not allowed to serve in conformance with their identity).
[emphasis in original]. In short, she concluded that "whatever legal relevance the Mattis Implementation Plan and associated documents might have, they are not sufficiently divorced from, or different than, the President’s 2017 directive."
However, in a separate and relatively brief opinion, she did grant the government's motion to dismiss Donald Trump as a defendant. The government moved to dismiss the president as a defendant and for a protective order regarding discovery. Judge Kollar-Kotelly concluded that
Through this lawsuit, Plaintiffs ask this Court to enjoin a policy that represents an official, non-ministerial act of the President, and declare that policy unlawful. Sound separation-of-power principles counsel the Court against granting these forms of relief against the President directly.
She noted that confrontation between the judicial and executive branch should be avoided whenever possible, but such confrontation
can be easily avoided here, because dismissing the President will have little or no substantive effect on this litigation. Plaintiffs argue that the acts of the President himself are central to this case, and the Court agrees. But dismissing the President as a Defendant does not mean that those acts will not be subject to judicial review. The Court can still review those acts and, if Plaintiffs are successful in proving that they are unconstitutional, Plaintiffs can still obtain all of the relief that they seek from the other Defendants.
Given that the President is no longer a defendant, the judge ruled the motion for a protective order regarding discovery was moot, but
the Court reiterates that dismissing the President as a party to this case does not mean that Plaintiffs are prevented from pursuing discovery related to the President. The Court understands that the parties dispute whether discovery related to the President which has been sought by Plaintiffs is precluded by the deliberative process or presidential communication privileges, and the Court makes no ruling on those disputes at this point.
While the plaintiffs had argued that dismissing the president was not warranted, Judge Kollar-Kotelly's dismissal has little bearing on the ultimate resolution of the case, a conclusion she reiterated several times. It also has little effect on the present status of the case; the accompanying order emphasized that "The injunction remains in force as it applies to all other Defendants" (italics in original).
Saturday, August 4, 2018
In his opinion in NAACP v. Trump, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia John Bates reaffirmed his earlier decision that the Presidential Order rescinding the DACA program was unlawful. Recall that Judge Bates' decision in April rested on an application of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) finding that the decision by DHS to rescind DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, covering 800,000 people in the United States who are not citizens but who have been residents since childhood, was "arbitrary and capricious" because the Department failed adequately to explain its conclusion that the program was unlawful. Judge Bates stated that "neither the meager legal reasoning nor the assessment of litigation risk provided by DHS to support its rescission decision is sufficient to sustain termination of the DACA program."
Judge Bates stayed the ruling, providing the United States Government 90 days to remedy the inadequacies of its rescission decision. The Government relied on a new Memorandum from Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen, but Judge Bates found that while the “Nielsen Memo”
purports to offer further explanation for DHS’s decision to rescind DACA, it fails to elaborate meaningfully on the agency’s primary rationale for its decision: the judgment that the policy was unlawful and unconstitutional. And while the memo offers several additional “policy” grounds for DACA’s rescission, most of these simply repackage legal arguments previously made, and hence are “insufficiently independent from the agency’s evaluation of DACA’s legality” to preclude judicial review or to support the agency’s decision. Finally, the memo does offer what appears to be one bona fide (albeit logically dubious) policy reason for DACA’s rescission, but this reason was articulated nowhere in DHS’s prior explanation for its decision, and therefore cannot support that decision now.
The "bona fide" but "logically dubious" rationale is a sentence in Secretary Nielsen's Memo that expresses a
judgment that DACA’s benefits—whatever they may be—are outweighed by the fact that, in Secretary Nielsen’s view, the policy encourages noncitizen children and their parents to enter the United States illegally. Of course, this rationale is not without its logical difficulties: after all, DACA is available only to those individuals who have lived in the United States since 2007, so the “tens of thousands of minor aliens” who Secretary Nielsen asserts have illegally entered the United States “in recent years” would not even be eligible under the program.
Yet for Judge Bates, this is improperly post-hoc and cannot rescue the DACA rescission from being arbitrary and capricious under the APA.
While other judges have reached the constitutional issues ( Recall that in February Judge Nicholas Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York granted a preliminary injunction against the rescission of DACA and also recall that Judge Alsup of the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction in January which the government is appealing), Judge Bates explicitly does not, stating that the decision does not hold "that DHS lacks the statutory or constitutional authority to rescind the DACA program," but only if it does so, it must provide a "rational explanation for its decision" under the APA rather than a "conclusory assertion that a prior policy is illegal, accompanied by a hodgepodge of illogical or post hoc policy assertions."
In an interesting footnote, Judge Bates notes there is an ongoing debates regarding "the propriety of so-called nationwide injunctions," but then states that this "debate is not implicated here" because the court "is vacating an agency action pursuant to the APA, as opposed to enjoining it as a violation of the Constitution or other applicable law. " Judge Bates did continue the stay of the injunction, however, for an additional 20 days to allow the government to appeal.
Friday, August 3, 2018
A group of cities and a couple individuals filed suit yesterday against the Trump Administration, arguing that the Administration's efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act violate the Administrative Procedure Act and the Take Care Clause.
The complaint takes aim at the "2019 Rule," a final rule promulgated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that "roll[s] back protections that the Act guarantees, make[s] it more difficult to enroll in ACA-compliant plans, and drive[s] up the cost of ACA-compliant plans." The plaintiffs argue the Rule violates the APA, because Administration officials "have failed to provide adequate reasons, and failed to adequately respond to comments, for many provisions of the 2019 Rule, such that they are 'arbitrary' and 'capricious.' In addition, as detailed above, many provisions of the 2019 Rule violate the [ACA], and therefore are not 'in accordance with law.'"
The plaintiffs also challenge various other well publicized Administrative efforts to undermine, sabotage, and eviscerate the Act, and argue that these violate the President's duty to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."
The plaintiffs argue that they have standing, because the Administration's actions have increased insurance rates caused cities to pay more for uncompensated care.
Check it Out: Tillman and Blackman on Why the Special Counsel may be an Employee (but still invalidly appointed)
For yet a different take on Mueller's constitutionality, check out Seth Barrett Tillman and Josh Blackman's piece on Lawfare, Is Robert Mueller an "Officer of the United States" or an "Employee of the United States?"
They argue that under Lucia, the special counsel is really an "employee," not subject to the Appointments Clause:
The Supreme Court's recent decision in Lucia v. SEC explains that if a federal position is only "temporary," then such a position is likely not an "office of the United States." . . . Therefore, [the special counsel] may not be an "officer of the United States" under the rule in Lucia.
As an employee, they argue, the special counsel is subject to the ordinary appointment requirements for any (non-officer) civil servant.
Still, they argue that there are four reasons to question Mueller's appointment, including that he wasn't appointed pursuant to civil-servant rules, that he may exercises outsized power for an employee, and that his for-cause termination protection runs into Justice Scalia's dissent in Morrison. (On that last point, they say: Lucia may afford a potentially soon-to-be-more-conservative Supreme Court the opportunity to do what Judge Brett Kavanaugh speculated about in 2016: make Justice Scalia's Morrison dissent into a majority opinion.")
Thursday, August 2, 2018
Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell (D.D.C.) rejected a challenge to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's appointment under the Appointments Clause. The ruling, which came in response to a witness's challenge to a grand jury subpoena issued by Mueller, means that the witness--identified by several sources as Andrew Miller, a former associate of Roger Stone--will have to comply with the subpoena.
The ruling aligns with other district court rulings that upheld Mueller's appointment.
Miller challenged a grand jury subpoena issued by Mueller, arguing that Mueller was invalidly appointed under the Appointments Clause. Judge Howell rejected that claim. The court, relying on the factors in Morrison v. Olson, ruled that Mueller was an "inferior officer" and was validly appointed, pursuant to federal statute, by the head of a department. As to Miller's claim that DAG Rod Rosenstein wasn't the "Head of Department" for purposes of the Appointments Clause (because he was the DAG, not the AG), the court said that federal law authorizes the DAG to serve as Acting AG when the AG is recused, and that a different statutory provision allows the AG to delegate to the DAG authority to appoint the Special Counsel.
Wednesday, August 1, 2018
The Ninth Circuit struck another blow today against the administration's anti-sanctuary cities policy, ruling in San Francisco v. Trump that the President can't unilaterally withhold federal grants from sanctuary jurisdictions without Congress's say-so.
The ruling is just the latest in a line of similar rulings, and aligns broadly with the Seventh Circuit's ruling in the spring. This ruling is just a little bit different, however, in that it focuses principally on President Trump's original and sweeping Executive Order (and not AG Sessions's interpretive memo). The court rejects the government's attempt to narrow the test of the EO by focusing instead on AG Sessions's memo as the actual government policy. It said that the memo doesn't align with the EO (and is therefore itself ultra vires), and that in any event it's only a post-hoc justification to get the EO to pass muster in the courts.
While the ruling is an outright win for San Francisco and Santa Clara County, the court threw a bone to the administration by vacating the district court's nationwide injunction and remanding the case for reconsideration and further findings on that issue.
The facts--or at least their general outline--is all too familiar by now: In an effort to clamp down on sanctuary jurisdictions, the President ordered that sanctuary jurisdictions come into line with 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373, which prohibits state and local jurisdictions from restricting their officers from communicating with federal immigration officials. (Other cases have also involved the "notice" and "access" conditions that AG Sessions purported to put on receipt of a certain federal grant in his memo. Those conditions required jurisdictions to provide notice to federal immigration enforcement officials of any detention, and access to state and local facilities for federal immigration enforcement. This ruling didn't deal with those, because it focused on the EO itself.)
The court simply held that under the separation of powers and Congress's Article I, Section 8, power of the purse, it's for Congress, not the Executive, to put conditions on federal spending. The court said that "because Congress has the exclusive power to spend and has not delegated authority to the Executive to condition new grants on compliance with Section 1373, the President's 'power is at its lowest ebb,'" under Justice Jackson's Youngstown framework. And at the lowest ebb, "[b]ecause the Executive Order directs Executive Branch administrative agencies to withhold funding that Congress has not tied to compliance with Section 1373, there is no reasonable argument that the President has not exceeded his authority." In sum:
Absent congressional authorization, the Administration may not redistribute or withhold properly appropriated funds in order to effectuate its own policy goals. Because Congress did not authorize withholding of funds, the Executive Order violates the constitutional principle of the Separation of Powers.
The court flatly rejected the administration's (pretty incredible) argument that its move to condition funds "is all bluster and no bite, representing a perfectly legitimate use of the presidential 'bully pulpit,' without any real meaning . . . .":
[E]ven if we ignore the statements made by and on behalf of the Administration outside the context of this litigation, the Administration's interpretation of the Executive Order strains credulity. And consideration of those statements suggests that the Administration's current litigation position is grounded not in the text of the Executive Order but in a desire to avoid legal consequences.
(Interestingly, the court said nothing about the constitutionality of Section 1373 itself. That provision is now questionable, in light of Murphy v. NCAA, as a possible "commandeering" of state governments in violation of the anti-commandeering principle. Judge Fernandez, in dissent, distinguished Murphy in a footnote by saying that the Court's articulated "principles behind the anticommnadeering rule" don't apply to Section 1373. But it's not clear how the plain ruling itself doesn't apply to Section 1373. More to come on this, I'm sure.)
The court then vacated the district court's nationwide injunction, because "the present record does not support a nationwide injunction." The court remanded "for a more searching inquiry into whether this case justifies the breadth of the injunction imposed."
(Along the way, the court also ruled that the plaintiffs had standing and that the case was ripe for judicial review.)
Judge Fernandez dissented, arguing that the case wasn't ripe and, in any event, that the EO was constitutional, because, by its plain terms, it only applies "to the fullest extent of the law."