Sunday, May 27, 2018

Two New Collections of Documents about the Central Event in American History

Sandy Levinson

The last month has seen the publication of two remarkable collections of documents relating to the run-up to the conflagration of 1861-1865 and the government of the ostensible Confederate States of America.  Dwight T. Pitcaithley has published, with the University Press of Kansas, The U.S. Constitution and Secession:  A Documentary Anthology of  Slavery and White Supremacy.  I should note that it includes an extremely enthusiastic foreword by yours truly, for I am indeed extremely enthusiastic about the book.  It focuses on speeches and other interventions particularly between Lincoln's election in November 1800 and his Inauguration on March 4, 1861.  At that point, it was clear that the future of the Union was at stake, and it is extremely illuminating to see what kinds of bargains were on offer (and rejected).  The time for sheer posturing was coming to an end; it was now necessary to figure out what one was truly committed to and what one might compromise about.  The book makes it clearer than ever that the basis of Southern demands was protection of a virulently racist form of chattel slavery, nothing more, nothing less.  There is little evidence that Southerners were truly demanding the "nationalization" of slavery, pace Lincoln.  But they clearly wanted not only protection for extension of slavery into the territories (and guarantees that slaveowners would be allowed to "sojourn" in so-called "free states" while in transit to slave states, but also, one suspects, acceptance of the probability of further American expansion into Cuba or Mexico and accepting slaver as altogether proper there as well.  But one of the reasons I am so enthusiastic about the collection is that it should force us to consider more deeply our own general attitudes toward "compromise."  If we admire Lincoln for not making compromises that would have saved the Union, then why, for example, do we admire the Framers in 1787 who made shameful compromise with slavery in order to establish the Constitution in the first place?  Was Garrison wrong in describing the Constitution as "a Covenant with Death an Agreement with Hell"?  I think not, so why do we admire those who signed the covenant (or made compromises, as in 1820 and 1850, that strengthened slavery.  And why does Joseph Story, the author of the shameful decision in Prigg v. Pennsylvania, escape the obloquy directed at Roger Brooke Taney for Dred Scott, which I find at least as defensible as Prigg?  In any event, the Pitcaithley reader is a magnificent contribution to the literature on the War and on the constitutional conflicts that underlay it.  HIs sixty-page introduction to the book is the best short introduction to the constitutional issues posed by slavery that I am familiar with.

Mark Graber and Howard Gillman have just published, with the Oxford University Press, Volume Five of their Complete American Constitutionalism:  Part I:  The Constitution of the Confederate States.  It brings together a wide variety of essential, and largely unknown, documents relating to the constitutional system established by the seceding states in their effort to create a Confederate States of America.  A short preface and loner introduction are both enormously illuminating.  If the U.S. Constitution is thought (rightly or not) to be the first example of "liberal constitutionalism," i.e., devoted, overall, to a vision of individual liberty and rights as outlined in the Preamble, the CSA constitution is useful as an example of an explicitly "illiberal constitution" designed to preserve white supremacy and to make explicit that blacks had no rights granted by the Constitution.  What may be surprising is the extent to which the CSA Constitution tracked the 1787 predecessor save for the latter's making crystal clear its racist foundations.  As Alison LaCroix has argued, the Confederates esteemed the 1787 Constitution, believing, however, that it had been significantly misinterpreted.  In their own way, they were restorationists, if not "originalists" avant la letter.  This means, among other things, that institutionally the Confederacy was significantly similar to the U.S.A.  Given that the CSA, like its predecessor, was a federal system, a number of similar controversies arose with regard to the allocation of national versus state power.  And guess what, the CSA can scarcely be described as wholeheartedly committed to "states rights," especially when winning a war was at stake.

As with the Pitcaithley collection, I am personally embarrassed by the sheer freshness of the material and the importance of integrating it into any attempt to understand American constitutional development.  I am sure that I am not the only person who will have this response.  It would be a shame if only academics like myself (or their students) study these books.  Neither requires an academic background.  Anyone who actually is interested in the kinds of debates available on Balkanization should be able to profit from these books.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Putting Rights to a Vote: Reflections on the Irish Referendum

Sandy Levinson

One of the justifiable lead stories across the world today is the remarkable landslide vote in Ireland to repeal the existing 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution, which banned abortion.  The NYTimes quote the Prime Minister, Leo Vardakar (who happens to be gay), "This has been a great exercise in democracy, and the people have spoken and the people have said:  We want a modern constitution for a modern country, and that we trust women and that we respect them to make the right decisions and rights [sic] choices about their own health care."  I am personally delighted with this outcome, though it's worth noting that it is a non-sequitur to express confidence that women (or anyone else) will necessarily make "the right decisions" in any given situation.  As Ronald Dworkin argued, to "take rights seriously" means to accord people the right to make what can legitimately be regarded as a wrong decision that is nonetheless protected because of one's respect for individual autonomy.

But I want to place the Irish vote within the context of an argument often heard in this country, i.e., that fundamental rights are not subject to democratic decision making.  It is, many people would argue, correctly, beside the point if, say, a majority in a given jurisdiction wish to continue discriminating on grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.  Such policy should not be subject to a vote.  It is, many would say, the purpose of a constitution to take certain issues out of the realm of ordinary politics, including referenda.

The obvious question is how one decides which issues are subject to democratic decision making, including referenda, which, unlike many of my colleagues, I tend to think are valuable complements to representative government.  Would it be "better," if, say, the Irish Supreme Court or the European Court of Human Rights had come to a conclusion that Amendment Eight were "unconstitutional" because a violation of the transcendent right of reproductive choice?  A decision of the Irish Court would, of course, have to adopt the extremely interesting notion of "unconstitutional constitutional amendments," a doctrine that is present in a variety of legal systems across the world, as articulated in Yaniv Roznai's recent fascinating book on the subject.  (Ask yourself if the United States could reinstitute slavery by adding a new amendment proposed and ratified in accordance with the procedures set out in Article V.)

Still, the obvious question is whether such determinations are better made by ostensible "experts," whether in law, philosophy, or whatever, or by "we the people" engaging in what Publics might have called 'reflection and choice" about an issue of fundamental importance, which abortion certainly is.  It appears, for example, that the Irish debate was serious and deep.  Whatever one might think of referenda in, say, California, many other countries, including Switzerland most notably, often recur to referenda.  To be sure, some of the decisions strike me as terrible.  But is that enough to discredit the very notion of "putting rights to a vote" and believing that the result ought to be respected at least as a legal matter even if one's response is to start organizing for a new referenda?  (Think incidentally, of Brexit in this context.)

[UPDATE[  On the offhand possibility that some of you don't read through the comments, I want to offer some observations about my colleague Joseph  Fishkin's common below.  This is not meant to denigrate the other comments, which are quite thoughtful and civil.

But I don't think it's necessarily true that it's a "non-sequitur" what expectations one has about the likely choices people will make with their rights, when deciding what the scheme of rights ought to be. It's true that if you are Dworkin, or perhaps more to the point, Judith Jarvis Thompson, then those expectations are entirely irrelevant. I'm sure many Irish voters agree. But there's also a mushy middle bunch of Irish voters for whom it matters a lot what is actually going to happen when you extend this right. Whether or not I agree with them, those people's views don't seem to me particularly illegitimate, and I don't think you can easily avoid including such views in the decision calculus, whether you leave questions of right up to courts or decide them in referenda.

I think that this raises a deep point.  Would we in fact support any given right if we didn't feel that, overall, people would use their assigned rights well, which would inevitably involve at least something of a utilitarian calculus that the world benefits from the choices made.  If we thought that freedom of speech, overall, harmed society, would we really be so avid in the support that most of us give to it?  One reason for the cleavage on the Second Amendment, I suspect, is that millions of Americans believe that guns constitute an overall contribution to society, even if all but the most foolish would admit that the right can be misused, while millions of other Americans believe there is nothing resembling a net benefit to the right to bear arms and that those who assert an individual right to do so are in the same category as those who assert their Firat Amendment right to burn crosse.  With regard to abortion, what supporters must believe, I suspect, is that, overall, most women who get abortions (and data suggests that roughly 1/3 of all American women will have an abortion over the course of their lifetimes) will do so for what outside observers would call "good reasons."  Some opponents of reproductive rights rely exclusively on the premise that the fetus is a human being with an absolute right to live (unless, presumably, she threatens the life of the mother).  But I suspect that many believe that most choices to abort are casual or truly self-indulgent, which almost no supporters of abortion rights believes.  

I most certainly would have voted to repeal Amendment 8 partly because of an abstract commitment to individual rights, but, at least as much, because I do trust most women to behave responsibly in making such choices.  Those who don't deserve protection for the same reason that the Ku Klux Klan march I defended as an ACLU lawyer do:  I simply don't trust the state to make the determination as to who is behaving responsibly.  But if most speakers were Klansmen, I might well reconsider.  

Friday, May 25, 2018

American Evil: A Response to Kleinfeld on Punishment

Andrew Koppelman

I've just published, in the Arizona State Law Journal, a response to recent work by my brilliant colleague Joshua Kleinfeld.  It is available on ssrn, here.  Here is the abstract:

Joshua Kleinfeld argues that American moral understandings are reflected in its system of criminal justice. Far more than Europeans, Americans regard those who have committed crimes as irretrievably defective people whom it is appropriate to lock away for many years. American law regards even minor and first-time criminals as having an unchangeable disposition of hostility or depraved indifference toward all that is good. This paper argues that under either of these understandings of the term, the American criminal justice system itself is evil.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Supreme Court as running dog of the capitalist empire: Reflections on the Arbitration Act cases

Sandy Levinson

A sensationalist title, to be sure.  But it is important to recognize that the deepest ideological commitment of the current majority reveals itself not necessarily in constitutional law cases, where Anthony Kennedy, and even on occasion some of the other conservative justices, reveals a willingness to go off on what many of us would regard as "progressive" directions, just as some of the liberal justices, especially Breyer, can be found joining with his conservative colleagues in certain criminal procedure cases.  But it should now be clear that the conservative majority has fully imbibed the notorious memo from Lewis Powell in the earlier '70s arguing that business interests had to devote themselves to capturing control of the legal culture in order to protect themselves from dangerously leftist ideas (including, for Powell, the notion that labor unions really had rights worthy of respect).  The Court has made the Arbitration Act of 1925 into far, far more of a "constitutionalized" statute than it's now willing to do, say, with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, eviscerated in Shelby County by the usual five suspects.  But the Arbitration Act is now given precedence over the later National Labor Relations Act, and it is clear that the majority is totally indifferent to the consequences for ordinary individuals of being effectively unable to seek meaningful legal redress.

During an earlier era, there were many denunciations of the Court as a tool of big business, largely because of its proclivity (which may have been overestimated) to strike down progressive legislation in the name of what was called "substantive due process."  The canonical example include Lochner, but Coppice v. Kansas is another fine example, not least because the Court's opinion in that case, about the (in)ability of Kansas to protect the right of labor to organize, is unabashedly ideological and fully embraces the need for harsh inequality in order to make capitalism work.  And, of course, there was the crabbed reading of Congress's power under the Commerce Clause that doomed the Child Labor Act of 1918 (by one vote), not to mention the spate of decisions by the Five Old Men designed to stave off the New Deal.  Almost no one on the left viewed the Court as a friendly forum.  Its major decisions from the beginning had by and large legitimized the ability of "the interests" to capture state and national government for their purposes; one can, if one wishes, read McCulloch in this manner.  And, of course, it had been a resolute defender of the slavocracy in such decisions as Prigg and Dred Scott (though I'm also willing to argue that these decisions were based on a plausible reading of a Garrisonian Constitution that was indeed a "covenant with death and agreement with Hell").  The so-called Bill of Rights had no effective legal presence prior to the 1940s, and Justice Holmes, I believe in Buck v. Bell, referred to the Equal Protection Clause as the last refuge of a lawyer who had no real legal argument.  Segregation was firmly affixed as the law of the land, save for a few cases that were of little demonstrable import.  And, of course, the Court had proved a hollow hope to the Japanese Americans who objected to exile and detention, see Korematsu.  One could go on and on.

All of this changed, so far as the perception of the Court was concerned, with Brown, together with the creation of the contemporary willingness to take the Bill of Rights seriously.  Earl Warren was the first Chief Justice in American history to be a hero of political liberals.  And then there was Roe (written, of course, by Harry Blackmun, Richard Nixon's appointee).  All of this reinforced the belief that "we" had friends at the Court who would legitimately interpret the law in a progressive direction (with great consequence for the wider society).  Political scientists raised questions both about the validity of the assumptions that judges would necessarily be liberal and about the ability of the judiciary really to transform a society that might be resistant. (This is the importance, in particular, of Gerald Rosenberg's The Hollow Hope.)

The Arbitration Act Cases, though, are wonderful examples, first, of the importance of "high" politics (i.e., business=good, unions=bad) and, contrary to Rosenberg, the ability to use the judiciary indeed to gain one's fondest hopes.  Texas is one of those states that defines liberty in terms of "access to courts" to be able to set out one's claims.  The conservative majority at the Supreme Court, however, is actively hostile to access to courts, which might include access to dreaded jury trials, which are increasingly disappearing in the U.S.  (One could analyze the spate of "standing" decisions, particularly with regard to examining US misconduct in the Iraq war and elsewhere, in these terms.)

In any event, Lewis Powell may be the most important justice of the last half-century,  not because of his "constitutional decisions," which are all over the place--see, e.g., Rodriguez, McCleskey v. Kemp, and, notably, Bakke--but, rather, because of his stunning success in helping to achieve a Supreme Court majority that is truly hostile to the interests of ordinary Americans and willing to lend its formidable hand to almost all efforts to protect the interests of big business against having to be accountable of their behavior to customers or employees.  Evangelicals are thrilled because Gorsuch will protect them against secularists; big business, which I suspect couldn't care less about wedding cakes, is even more thrilled because Gorsuch is a solid vote for unimpeded business power.  "Running dogs of the capitalist empire" is perhaps a bit hyperbolic, but it certainly is more accurate than "neutral umpires simply calling balls and strikes."

Monday, May 21, 2018

"The Rule of Law"

Joseph Fishkin

The rule of law is one of those broad concepts, like human dignity or equal opportunity, that we all can agree we support in part because we don’t entirely agree on what it means.  Two especially unusual conceptions of the rule of law offered by politicians on the right, in this country and elsewhere, recently underscored this point.

The first came from Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, under heavy fire from the European Union for undermining the rule of law (by, among many other things, limiting the power of his country’s Constitutional Court and manipulating the judicial retirement age to pack the courts).  Orban says it is actually the EU that is undermining “the rule of law” in his country.  “The rule of law means people do not rule other people,” he argued in a speech in March.  It means law without “political bias,” and law that “does not make distinctions between countries” large and small.  Thus, he argues, when the EU singles out Hungary, treating it unfairly and exhibiting “political bias” by attacking the actions of Orban and his party, it is the elites of the EU who are undermining the rule of law.  Call this the protecting-democracy-against-elites conception of the rule of law.  On this view, Orban is the democratically elected (asterisks omitted) leader of the nation; if elite bodies such as the EU that were not similarly elected by the Hungarian people act to constrain Orban’s power or his party’s power, they are exhibiting “political bias” and in that way vitiating “the rule of law.”

The second came from Mike Pence.  This month he called former Sheriff (and now U.S. Senate primary candidate) Joe Arpaio “a tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law.”  This statement implies a different but equally unorthodox conception of the rule of law.  I would think almost any defensible conception of the rule of law would be thick enough to include some principle that law enforcement must conduct itself without racial bias.  (For a powerful statement of this connection, consider Margaret Marshall’s description of the “lawless” government of her native South Africa under apartheid.)  But some might favor a thinner conception of the rule of law, independent of such substantive questions of equality and justice.  However, even the thinnest conception of the rule of law would almost inevitably require a principle that law enforcement has a particularly strong obligation, defeasible only in extreme circumstances, to obey the orders of legitimately constituted courts of appropriate jurisdiction.  Otherwise, how can law enforcement plausibly be regulated by law?  Joe Arpaio, as Sheriff, not only racially profiled Latinos, stopping them pretextually and arresting and detaining them even where there was no plausible criminal charge, but also was convicted of contempt of court for willfully refusing to obey a court order to stop doing this.  (President Trump subsequently pardoned him of this offense; Pence later declared him a “champion” of “the rule of law.”)  If we take Pence’s comment seriously, it seems to rest pretty squarely on a conception of the rule of law that renders that concept more or less the equivalent of what other politicians of like mind have long called “law and order.”

What brought these two unusual conceptions of the rule of law to my mind today was President Trump’s outraged insistence that the Department of Justice inspect both itself and the FBI to determine whether there was any improper politically motivated surveillance of the Trump campaign in 2016.  I doubt that Trump himself has any firm conception of “the rule of law.”  But he has embraced “law and order” as a rhetorical and political trope like no President since Nixon.  He would almost certainly find congenial his vice president’s dangerous conflation of the rule of law with law and order.  And yet, in both rhetoric and action, Trump seems to identify at least as closely with the core premises of the protecting-democracy-against-elites conception of the rule of law offered by Viktor Orban.  I suspect that one is actually the more dangerous of the two, as I’ll explain below.

Read more »

Friday, May 18, 2018

What We Learned (or not) About the Corker-Kaine AUMF

Deborah Pearlstein

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing this Wednesday on the proposed 2018 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), co-sponsored by Senators Bob Corker (R.-Tenn.) and Tim Kaine (D-VA), was in many ways a model of how democracy should work.  The witnesses were expert and prepared, the Senators’ questions were thoughtful and informed, and everyone who participated was sober and respectful.  Would that we approached more of our national decision-making this way.  At the same time, it became apparent that senators’ views about whether this bill would be more or less effective than the existing 2001 AUMF in constraining presidential power to use force are based on misapprehensions about where we are under current law.  (Recall the current AUMF, passed just after the attacks of 9/11, has since been invoked as the law authorizing everything from the invasion of Afghanistan and the detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay; to drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Syria; to the military detention of U.S. citizens (including one currently held in U.S. military custody in Iraq) accused of membership in one of the terrorist groups the law covers.)  Herewith, some assertions (several of them from both sides of the aisle) made Wednesday that could use some important qualifications, constitutional qualifications included.

The 2001 AUMF has been interpreted so broadly, presidents have been able to rely on it to justify essentially any use of force they want.   While there is little doubt more than one president has offered implausibly sweeping interpretations of the 2001, the existing law functions to constrain presidents in several demonstrable ways.  Most immediately, there is ample evidence from public accounts of both the Bush Administration (contemplating the invasion of Iraq) and the Obama Administration (contemplating, for example, the targetability of Al Shabaab in Somalia for a period of years) in which the administrations concluded the 2001 AUMF was insufficient authorization for initiatives at the edge of relevance to the attacks of 9/11.  Identifying instances in which presidents have used force under the 2001 AUMF is not enough to make the argument that it has not constrained; on the question of constraint, understanding when and whether presidents haven’t used force is at least as important.   Further, the meaning and scope of the 2001 AUMF has long since been informed by a set of judicial decisions that have already – and appear poised to increasingly – guarantee additional limits are imposed on presidential authority.  Most prominently at the moment, the 2001 AUMF requirement (absent in the new bill) that detainees held under the statute be part of groups in some respect related to the attacks of 9/11 is the subject of very active litigation in federal courts in Washington, in which the administration’s authority to detain ISIS members under the law is substantially in question.  Similarly, the Supreme Court’s 2004 ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, requiring that the “necessary and appropriate force” authorized by the AUMF be informed by the Geneva Conventions and the international law of war has required (and will continue to require) courts to consider when detention authority under the law expires (a question even the D.C. Circuit now understands must be resolved as a matter of statutory interpretation by the courts).  (That the Corker-Kaine bill fails by its terms to reaffirm the requirement that it be interpreted with reference to the law of war is one of several ways in which Corker-Kaine may be read as troublingly broader than the current AUMF.) Because Corker-Kaine would repeal the 2001 AUMF, judicial decisions interpreting that law would no longer have certain relevance.

The Corker-Kaine bill’s requirement that the president report to Congress every 4 years on the use of military force under the law, following which report Congress has 60 days to consider modifying the authorization to use force under expedited legislative procedures, will ensure that future Congresses debate the necessity of ongoing war far more frequently than the does the 2001 AUMF (which contains no such reporting requirement).  As the witnesses Wednesday noted, the President is already required to report new uses of force under current law, and there is nothing at all in the law that has prevented Congress from reconsidering and modifying the 2001 AUMF at any time.  The notion that Corker-Kaine will make it more likely that Congress will regularly debate the state of the war is thus based solely on the expectation that the availability of expedited procedures (by which, for example, the Committee on Foreign Relations can only consider acting for so long before the matter is referred to the full Senate) gives members an incentive to engage in deliberation on the state of the war they have not otherwise had.  History – most notably the inclusion of analogous “Congressional Priority Procedures” in the 1973 War Powers Resolution – should provide ample reason for doubting that such procedural mechanisms much alter the incentives of members of Congress otherwise not disposed to expressing their views on the state of a war.  Indeed, by authorizing the President to add groups to the list of enemies against whom force may be used without first returning to Congress (as the Corker-Kaine bill does), the bill removes perhaps the most powerful incentive there is for Congress to engage on a question of war – namely, the existence of an identified, pressing national security threat that the President asks Congress urgently to address.  In this respect, if Congress were most interested in maximizing incentives for legislative engagement, it would seem more effective to include the reporting and expedited procedure provisions while eliminating the delegation of power to the President to add more groups to the list of enemies whenever he deems it necessary. 

Ordinary constitutional concerns about excessive or unconstrained delegations of power by the Congress to the President do not arise on questions of war power, as to which the President has significant constitutional authority of his own.  The Supreme Court has long recognized as among first constitutional principles the idea that one branch of government could not simply give away all of its authority to another without doing fatal harm to the Constitution’s separation of power.  At its height, that non-delegation rule never prohibited Congress from delegating the Executive Branch power to perform certain functions; but it did require that Congress provide some “intelligible principle” by which the Executive could act while still constrained by Congress’ will.  And while it is true the Court has not declared an Act of Congress wholly unconstitutional on non-delegation grounds for decades, the Court today regularly cites non-delegation concerns as grounds for reading especially sweeping grants of power to the executive narrowly.  In this respect alone, Corker-Kaine proponents should be concerned about a variety of new litigation risks this bill creates. 

Critically, and contrary to the suggestion at the hearing, there is no certainty at all that the Court will find such concerns less salient just because the President has relevant constitutional authority of his own in this realm.  The idea that the Court is untroubled by broad delegations of power to the President in foreign affairs is most commonly traced to the Court’s 1936 decision United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., a non-wartime case in which the (pre-New Deal) Court upheld a statutory delegation of power to the President to place an embargo on arms sales to certain countries.  Curtiss-Wright’s once-often-cited broad language about presidential power in foreign affairs has been thoroughly repudiated by the Court’s words and actions in the years since 1936, and that case (and the tiny handful of other cases sometimes cited with it) involved delegations of power that pale in comparison to the Corker-Kaine bill today.  Like the 2001 AUMF, the Corker-Kaine bill contains no geographic restrictions, limits on duration, or on the amount or kind of force to be used (from drone strikes to ground invasion).  Well beyond the 2001 AUMF, Corker-Kaine also delegates to the President the power to add more enemies to the list of those with which we are at war.  And unlike the 2001 AUMF, which authorized force “in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States,” and the separate 2002 AUMF, which authorized the President to use force in Iraq “in order to,” among other things, “enforce all relevant UN Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq,” the Corker-Kaine bill contains no “in order to” clause of any kind.  Indeed, unlike existing law, this bill authorizes the President to use force not only against current members of our enemies’ forces, but also against any person that “the President determines … has been a part” of any enemy force.  That is to say, even if Al Qaeda, ISIS, and any others later designated were to cease to exist as organized groups – even if they were militarily defeated in any ordinary sense of the word, even if “war” in any constitutional sense is over – the President could still use force.  Such a delegation of power has no historical analogue, dwarfs the statutes considered in case law of old -- and especially relevant for what non-delegation advantage a president may claim in this realm, stretches far beyond any conception of independent Article II “war” power any President might constitutionally claim.

After 17 years of war, Congress should be commended for at long last moving to reassert its constitutional duty to decide when the United States will use force.  But as the hearing Wednesday made apparent, the Corker-Kaine bill risks being the moment when Congress asserts its authority only to create a far bigger constitutional problem than already exists.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Jeffrey Sutton, 51 Imperfect Solutions: States and the Making of American Constitutional Law

Sandy Levinson

The Oxford University Press has just published an interesting new book, 51 Imperfect Solutions:  States and the Making of American Constitutional Law, by Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton.  He is an extremely thoughtful conservative judge; among other things, his opinion upholding the Affordable Care Act is by far the best of the judicial opinions that wrestled with the constitutional issues purportedly surrounding its passage.  It is a measure of the degree of ideological polarization that this opinion almost certainly accounts for his being left off the lists compiled by the Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society of desirable Supreme Court appointees. (And, of course, political liberals are presumably unhappy with his well-written opinion upholding Ohio’s law barring same-sex marriage, based on judicial restraint arguments, which was overturned in Obergefell.)  

Sutton had been Ohio’s solicitor general prior to his appointment to the Sixth Circuit.  He has long been a serious devotee of federalism, and his book is a superb overview of the various ways that the 50 states have often served, for good as well as for ill, as “laboratories of experimentation” with regard a number of important areas involving especially civil liberties. At a time when political liberals are busy rediscovering the benefits of federalism, the book is especially timely and interesting.  (If I have a criticism of the book, it is only that, like most inquiries into contemporary constitutional law in the US, it focuses almost exclusively on rights and doesn’t go into the structural aspects of constitutional design where state constitutions are pervasively and importantly different.  Consider, for examples, that we simply wouldn’t be having the sterile conversations about Robert Mueller and the “unitary executive” were we discussing the 95% of American states where the state’s attorney general is in no sense under the domain of the governor.)  But Sutton offers consistently interesting discussions of the material that he has chosen to write about.  

It is not surprising that the back cover includes enthusiastic blurbs from across the political spectrum.  Part of this is a tribute to Jeffrey Sutton himself, whom I know personally to be an unusually thoughtful and trustworthy person.  But, as suggested above, it is also attributable to the fact that contemporary debates about the US Constitution feature a fair amount of what Jack Balkin calls “ideological drift.”  It is, after all, contemporary liberals who are inclined to condemn the “commandeering” of state officials to enforce Draconian national anti-immigrant laws, while many conservatives who otherwise pretend to valorize local autonomy seem to believe that ICE should reign supreme.  And there are a number of areas in which state supreme courts have been considerably more innovative than the contemporary Supreme Court.  See, for example, his chapter on school finance litigation, where one realizes that Rodriguez was in no serious sense the "last word" on the constitutional legitimacy of school financing systems--it's simply that we now know the relevant constitutions are state constitutions and not the national counterpart.

In any event, this would be an excellent book to include among gifts to graduating seniors (and others) who are interested in the American constitutional order.  Sutton writes extremely well; his book is accessible to one and all.  I agree with Laurence Tribe, who writes that “It’s one of those books that lawyers and non-lawyers alike will benefit from.” One doesn’t have to buy into the metaphysics of “state sovereignty” or extravagant views of the Tenth Amendment in order to realize that American states (and their constitutions) are both interesting and important and deserve far more attention than they receive particularly from elite legal academics.  This book could make a real difference in generating new and valuable conversations. 

Revisionist History--Season 3

Gerard N. Magliocca

I'm a fan of Malcolm Gladwell's podcast, and the first episode of this season is about the punctuation of the Constitution. More specifically, the episode discusses a paper by Michael Stokes Paulsen and Vasan Kesavan, which argues that the Texas Legislature has the power to subdivide the state into up to four new states because Congress gave its consent to that action when Texas was admitted to the Union in 1845. (Talk about the potential for partisan gerrymandering!)

There are several other fascinating points in the podcast. One is that Gladwell spends a lot of time talking about the punctuation in the Constitution without considering the possibility that the rules of grammar were different in the eighteenth century. I don't know if they were in a meaningful way, but the assumption in the episode is that we should understand the use of commas, semicolons, etc. as they are used now. Why is that?

Another Easter Egg is that Gladwell points out that the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, which was ratified in 1971 (when punctuation rules were presumably similar to our own) read literally says that anyone 18 or older is a citizen of the United States. Here is the Section One of that amendment:

"The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of age.

Read gramatically, the clause "who are 18 years of age or older" is defining "citizens of the United States." The text should read "The right of United States citizens who are 18 years of age or older" or "The right of citizens of the United States who are 18 years of age or older"  In other word, there should be no commas around the relevant clause. Of course, this is just the zillionth example of why we don't read legal texts literally because the drafters are often sloppy even when the meaning is clear from the background context. (The 26th Amendment was not trying to redefine citizenship.)

The podcast is definitely worth your time, if for no other reason than that Gladwell praises law review articles.


Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Bomber Harris and the Haspel Nomination

Guest Blogger

John Fabian Witt

Gina Haspel, who testifies today before the Senate seeking confirmation as Director of Intelligence, is not the first American official to confront a past in black ops, torture, and humanitarian law violations.  To the contrary, she stands as the latest in a long line of Americans.  How we deal with such people speaks volumes not just about them, but about us.

The basic conundrum goes back to the very beginnings of the republic.  The frontier world of empire and Indian fighting regularly produced sharp controversies over war tactics.  No one was more controversial than George Washington, who as a young British officer was implicated in a possible massacre of captured French soldiers in the Seven Years War.  Washington himself, perhaps inadvertently, seemed to admit that something untoward had happened; the killings, he admitted, had been “assassinations.”  Soon Washington was a notorious figure, condemned by the Governor of New France.  “There is nothing more unworthy and lower, and even blacker,” wrote the Governor, “than the sentiments and the way of thinking of this Washington.”

Washington was hardly the only prominent American to be tied to an ugly past.  When Andrew Jackson was up for the presidency in the 1820s, he was dogged by claims that he had unlawfully executed two British nationals on his unauthorized raid into Florida.  Colonel John Chivington, commander of a regiment of Colorado Volunteers, killed hundreds of Cheyenne women and children in the infamous Sand Creek Massacre.  Chivington tried to reenter politics despite an Army judge’s conclusion that he had engaged in a “cowardly and cold-blooded slaughter.” 

Perhaps the closest analogy to Haspel is another less prominent figure in history, someone who like Haspel operated mostly in the shadows.  A hundred and twenty years ago, an Army lawyer named Colonel Edwin Glenn operated a secret torture team, not far from the black site in Thailand whose secrets now shape Haspel’s fate.  During the insurgency in the Philippines that followed fast on the Spanish-American War, U.S. forces employed a close cousin of waterboarding to obtain information about the location of insurgents in the hills.  Colonel Glenn organized the effort.  He was convicted at a court martial of illegal torture, but his sentence was a slap on the wrist: suspension from his command for a month and a $50 fine.  And like Haspel (who faced no prosecution at all for her role in the CIA interrogation program), Glenn, too, resumed a career in the military.

Americans have been willing (perhaps all too willing) to welcome back men despite ugly pasts.  But the usual pattern requires renewed commitment to the very standards they violated.  To overcome his early missteps, a more mature Washington held himself out in the War of Independence as complying with the highest ethical standards.  Qualifying as an independent state would mean that the laws of war applied.  And so, along with the upstart republic he served, Washington committed to close compliance with the Enlightenment laws of war.

Read more »

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Normalcy and the Presidential Subpoena

Deborah Pearlstein

While predicting what is likely to come next in the unfolding legal drama surrounding the President seems something of a fool’s errand, the prospect that Special Counsel Robert Mueller might subpoena the President to compel him to testify before a federal grand jury now seems at least plausible enough to have prompted more than a little commentary on the constitutionality of such a move.  Most views cluster around the conclusion I tend to share: the question whether the President can be compelled to testify was formally left open by United States v. Nixon, but the considerations that led the Nixon Court to conclude that President could be compelled to turn over audio tapes relevant to a federal criminal prosecution tend to favor the conclusion (as do subsequent cases like Clinton v. Jones) that Trump could, modulo particular claims of executive privilege about particular lines of inquiry, be compelled to testify here.

Princeton historian Keith Whittington, however, suggests courts might well (and, I take him to argue, should) take a different view.  Whittington emphasizes “two considerations that should weigh on the minds of the justices and that might give them pause before extending the logic of United States v. Nixon and Clinton v. Jones.” In brief, Whittington argues: (1) that commanding a President to appear before a court and provide testimony “intrudes on the core functioning of a coordinate branch” in a way that commanding the President to turn over documents or even recordings does not; and (2) the courts should be reluctant to play (borrowing Mark Tushnet’s phrase) “constitutional hardball” against the political branches in general, and most especially here, where they face a President who has given them every reason to take seriously “the possibility that Trump might choose to take the extraordinary step of ignoring a judicial order, especially one that threatened his core personal interests.”

Although Whittington is surely right to underscore the high stakes – personal and constitutional – attending any actual fight over presidential testimony, neither of these reasons strikes me as adequate grounds for any contemporary court to shy away from enforcing an appropriately limited subpoena.
Read more »

Interview on Facebook and Data Capitalism


Yale Insights asks me three questions about Facebook, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and information fiduciaries.

Monday, May 07, 2018

The Art of the Rescission

David Super

     On May 8, President Trump reportedly will send Congress a request to rescind $15 billion in funds appropriated for a variety of non-defense programs.  Some sources both in the White House and in Congress suggest that this may be the first of several such requests that the President will make over the coming months.  These requests are made under the Impoundment Control Act, on which even many budget process experts find themselves a bit rusty.  Not surprisingly, media coverage of the possibility of rescissions has been confusing and sometimes contradictory.  This post examines the procedural, substantive, and political dimensions of these proposals.

     Congress enacted the Impoundment Control Act in 1974 with Title X of Pub. L. No. 93–344 in response to President Nixon’s repeated refusals to spend appropriated funds on programs he disliked.  The Act represents a truce between congressional and executive interests, albeit one enacted at a time when the President was severely weakened.  In lieu of the chaotic political and legal conflict that resulted from the President’s ad hoc impoundments, the Act established a formal procedure for resolving presidents’ desires not to spend appropriated funds and prohibited impoundments outside those procedures. 

     Under the Act, the President may submit a request to Congress to rescind any funds that have been appropriated but not yet obligated.  Special fast-track procedures, somewhat similar to those used to pass budget resolutions and budget reconciliation laws, then assure these proposals of receiving congressional consideration.  Most importantly, this legislation makes rescission legislation difficult to kill in committee and impossible to filibuster in the Senate, allowing rescissions to pass with simple majority votes in both chambers. 

     If Congress enacts rescission legislation within roughly 45 days, the President prevails.  (Long recesses toll the statutory 45-day clock.)  If not, the general requirement that the President spend appropriated funds reasserts itself and the President is prohibited from submitting a subsequent rescission request relating to the same funds. 

     This procedure has important limitations, which go a long way toward explaining why the process has been so rarely used (and why the Act is so widely considered an important victory for Congress).  In particular, 2 U.S.C. § 681(4) prohibits the President from invoking the Act to seek rescission of money that is already legally obligated.  This means that mandatory programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and school lunches are not subject to rescission because their authorizing statutes obligate those funds in accordance with their benefit eligibility formulas.  This also means that programs that provide grants in aid to state or local governments under a statutory formula, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and many elementary and secondary education programs, are exempt from rescission.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has confirmed this in opinions at least as early as 1982 and as recently as December. 

     Although the complete list of proposed rescissions is not public at this writing, news accounts suggest that some will attack both programs with mandatory funding, such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and programs making formula grants to state and local governments.  If legislation to implement the President’s proposals includes these improper rescissions, it would be vulnerable to a point of order depriving it of the special fast-track procedures.  Without immunity from a filibuster, such legislation would have little chance of passing.

     The substantive explanations offered for this rescission proposal are both strange and contradictory.  House Republicans and the White House argue that these rescissions are needed to reduce budget deficits.  These arguments come from the same quarters that were waiving away deficit concerns just a few months ago when passing a tax bill whose ten-year cost is 100 times the amount these rescissions claim to save. 

     In addition, the White House is, on the one hand, touting large savings from these rescissions while on the other hand insisting that they will do no harm because the money would not have been spent anyway.  If the money would not have been spent, there are no savings.  Deficit figures, whether from the Administration or the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), work from money actually spent.  Any rescission of money that would not be spent by definition cannot reduce the deficit. 

     A lot of this seems to be doubling down on short-sightedness.  Some of the amounts involved apparently are contingency funds set aside to continue anti-poverty programs during economic downturns.  The White House argues that, because the economy seems strong, these funds likely will not be needed.  If that is true, the rescission saves no money and is pure theater.  If, however, an economic downturn comes, why would we not want to help the newly impoverished as much as the chronic poor?  Legislation providing in advance for unpleasant contingencies is already too rare; if appropriators see that these funds will constantly be rescinded, they likely will stop trying. 

     The truth is that some programs likely do have more money than they need.  The list of such programs surely includes Defense as well as Non-Defense programs, unlike the President’s reported roster of proposed rescissions.  But after years of deep cuts to discretionary spending, many other programs, such as the Census Bureau and low-income housing, have much less than they need.  The country certainly could benefit from a thoughtful rescission proposal that sought to reallocate funds to where they could do the most good.  This, however, is not that bill.

     The politics of rescission proposals are complex.  Reportedly the White House and the House Republican leadership promised that the President would submit a rescission package in exchange for the votes of some House Republicans for this spring’s omnibus appropriations bill.  This revelation led to a chorus of criticism that Republicans were negotiating in bad faith, already committing themselves to breaking the budget agreement while demanding that Democrats make painful policy concessions in exchange for the funding it provided.  The White House has responded by insisting that its rescissions are not inconsistent with the budget deal and reportedly including only money appropriated in prior legislation.  That is a distinction without a difference:  appropriators determine how much new money a program needs in part with reference to how much carryover it has from prior years.  Whether the rescission nominally covers new money or old, the program will have less funding than was agreed upon in the omnibus appropriations bill.

     House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who underwhelmed far-right Republicans last time he ran for speaker, is clearly using his enthusiastic support for rescissions to buttress his effort to replace Paul Ryan.  Those hoping to outflank him on the right are trying to raise the stakes further.   

     Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, has been openly hostile to moving any contentious fiscal measures this year.  Although a vote on a rescission package could be uncomfortable for red-state Democratic senators up for re-election this fall, the success of such legislation would make it much more difficult to bring Democrats to the bargaining table in September.  Having substantial Democratic support for appropriations bills in recent years has allowed some vulnerable Republicans to vote “no” to appease their bases.  Senator McConnell may doubt whether he can muster a majority entirely from their own ranks to keep the government open after October 1.  And any appropriations bill that can command 218 Republican votes in the House may be so extreme that it weighs down House and Senate Republicans seeking to run as moderates.  Sorting this out with the election just weeks away, and with Members demanding to go home to campaign, would not put their party in the best light.  

Friday, May 04, 2018

The First Amendment in the Second Gilded Age - The 2018 Mitchell Lecture


Here is the video of my April 13, 2018 Mitchell Lecture at Buffalo Law School, entitled "The First Amendment in the Second Gilded Age."

This lecture describes the political economy of free expression in our Second Gilded Age. It explains how we pay for the public sphere in the digital age. I argue that the recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal typifies the central problem of securing freedom of expression in the Second Gilded Age.

First, the key players who set the basic rules of free expression are not nation states but powerful private actors like Facebook who effectively act as the governors of digital spaces.

Second, free speech is not really free at all. Freedom of speech depends on an infrastructure of free expression, and that infrastructure must be paid for in one way or another.  In the early 21st century, people pay for free speech through a grand bargain only vaguely understood by most people: In return for the ability to speak to anyone at anytime, people agree to increasingly effective and powerful surveillance of their online lives. In short, in the Second Gilded Age, the infrastructure of digital free expression is also the infrastructure of digital surveillance. The two are one and the same.

Near the end of the lecture I discuss possible reforms, including my idea of treating some kinds of digital companies as information fiduciaries.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

A Liar, A Bigot, A Criminal, A Sexual Predator and a Probable Traitor

Mark Graber

The President of the United States is a liar, a bigot, a criminal, a sexual predator and a probable traitor.  That is how I began my talk at the New England Political Science Association’s Annual Meeting on the paper Sandy Levinson and I wrote that was just published by the Chapman Law Review: “The Constitutional Powers of Anti-Publian Presidents: Constitutional Interpretation in a Broken Constitutional Order.”  Let that sink in a bit.  The President of the United States is a liar, a bigot, a criminal, a sexual predator and a probable traitor.  We do not need fancy psychiatric terms to describe Donald Trump or experts to make a diagnosis.  In layman’s terms, he is a liar, a bigot, a criminal, a sexual predator and a probable traitor.

Other politicians tell lies and break laws.  We can have partisan debates over whether Mitt Romney told more lies and more important lies than Barack Obama or whether John Yoo and friends broke more laws and more important laws than Hillary Clinton.  We can have more serious debates over whether constitutional democracy in the United States can survive what has become the “normal” amount of lying and law-breaking by prominent politicians.  Donald Trump is nevertheless different.  He is dimensionally a bigger and more frequent liar than any prominent politician in the United States.  He is the most racist president since Woodrow Wilson, who at least had the excuse of being no more racist than a high percentage of the population at the time.  Trump has violated more laws and a greater variety of laws than any president in American history or any prominent contemporary politician.  Trump’s sexual predation and philandering make John Kennedy appear a choir boy.  He is the only prominent politician after the Civil War who can be seriously accused of being a traitor, making deals with foreign enemies for personal advantage.

“The Constitutional Powers of Anti-Publian Presidents” suggests that constitutional thinking in the United States must take into account that the president is a liar, a bigot, a criminal, a sexual predator and a probable traitor.  Sandy and I reject the “don’t tell the children” approach in 2018 to executive power, that pretends that Donald Trump is no different than Abraham Lincoln or even Chester Arthur, and is entitled to the same deference as presidents who are not liars, bigots, criminals, sexual predators, and probably traitors.  More important, we want to open a conversation about the constitutional significance of a president who is a liar, a bigot, a criminal, a sexual predator, and a probable traitor, as well as a party that is increasingly supportive of that liar, bigot, criminal, sexual predator and probable traitor (while for the most part not denying they are supporting a liar, bigot, criminal, sexual predator and probable traitor).  Part of that conversation concerns whether when a bigot on the campaign trail speaks of a “Muslim ban,” lawyers for the Justice Department may successfully insist that the resulting plan is not really a Muslim ban and other related questions of executive power in the Trump Age.  The more fundamental constitutional issue is whether a constitutional order in which an increasingly number of people are pledging allegiance to a liar, a bigot, a criminal, a sexual predator and a probable traitor can be repaired and what such repairs might look like.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

The Vice President and the Rule of Law

Richard Primus

There are at least two ways to understand Vice President Pence’s statement that Joe Arpaio is a champion of the rule of law.  One is obvious and the other is subtle.  It’s not entirely clear which reading better captures Pence's intentions.  They’re both bad, but the subtle one is considerably worse.

To lay a piece of groundwork: Joe Arpaio is not, in fact, a champion of the rule of law.  He is a persistent lawbreaker who systematically violated the Constitution and was held in criminal contempt for court for refusing to mend his ways.  So on the obvious reading of Pence’s statement, the Vice President was saying something that’s obviously untrue, presumably with the intention of reaping some political advantage.  He was engaged in political gaslighting.

But there’s also another possibility—a more subtle and more threatening one.  Maybe Pence wasn’t dissembling one bit when he described Arpaio as a champion of the rule of law.  Maybe the Vice President believes what he said.

Like many appraisive terms in law and politics, “the rule of law” sometimes means different things to different people.  It’s a cluster concept with several components, and there is legitimate contestation as to exactly what it entails.  Most of the time, we hope, enough of the participants in the discourse share enough of a sense of what “the rule of law” means that the term is useful when we discuss law or government.  But one of the things that happens in political conflict is that different people attach different meanings to appraisive terms.  The different uses of the terms then reflect the underlying substantive disagreements.

I would like to think that the Vice President of the United States would not regard a persistent and adjudged violator of the Constitution as a champion of the rule of law.  But in the year 2018, and given Pence’s statement about Arpaio, I can’t assume that to be true.  In fact, interpretive charity toward the Vice President—that is, the willingness to think that he might not be lying—requires one to take seriously the possibility that Pence actually believes Arpaio to be what he says Arpaio is: a champion of the rule of law.

And it’s conceivable that he thinks that.  In particular, it’s conceivable that Pence (and not only Pence) has a conception of “the rule of law” that is less about the idea that officials must comply with the Constitution—or, more generally, that governmental power is to be exercised within limits set by law—than it is about the idea that people who break the law, or more precisely that people who break certain kinds of laws, are to be punished aggressively.  On the latter view, the real offense to the rule of law (as relevant to Arpaio’s story) comes from people who enter the country illegally and from people who commit various offenses against the peace and order of Arizona.  Arpaio is a champion of the rule of law because he dealt with such people firmly (or, perhaps, because he represents the idea of dealing with such people firmly).  Yes, Arpaio also did lots of bad things even to people who broke no laws.  But that might be less important on Pence’s conception of the rule of law than the need to uphold the legal regime that he sees Arpaio as standing for.  Like "law and order," "the rule of law" might mean, to some audiences, more or less what "tough on crime" means.

I have a different view of the rule of law—one on which governmental authority resides in offices rather than persons and must be exercised within the limits of what law permits.  That’s not the only thing that the rule of law requires, but it’s fundamental.  It’s now open to question, however, whether the Vice President (and not only the Vice President) shares that view.  If we take him at his word, he well might not.

Older Posts