Guest Post

  • February 22, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece originally appeared on The Hill

    by Sen. Patrick Leahy

    The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist once described the independent judiciary as “one of the crown jewels of our system of government.” That is because the judiciary, insulated by life tenure from elections, can provide a necessary check on the other two branches of government and uphold the constitutional rights of all Americans.

    Now the independent federal judiciary is under attack by a president who seems intent on precipitating a constitutional crisis. President Trump’s attacks on a sitting federal judge reveal the misguided notion that judges owe some allegiance to the president who appointed them or to a political party. Yet these attacks also underscore exactly why the independent judiciary is such a crucial part of our system of government.

    Judges do not consider tweets, they consider the facts and the law. And based on the facts in front of them, federal judges have found President Trump’s immigration order is very likely discriminatory and unconstitutional. As even members of the judiciary have noted, there is nothing wrong with criticizing the rulings of any court, including the Supreme Court. But it is another thing entirely to attack a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed judge’s legitimacy, or to attack another based on his heritage. Such attacks reveal a profound disregard for constitutional checks and balances, which preserve the rights of all Americans.

    Now the Senate is asked to consider the very first judicial nominee appointed by President Trump, who in his first few weeks showed an outright hostility toward the judiciary. I had hoped that President Trump would work in a bipartisan way to pick a mainstream nominee like Merrick Garland and bring the country together. Instead, he promised to pick a nominee who would overturn Roe v. Wade and deprive women of the right to make their own health care choices and then outsourced his selection process to far-right interest groups. These groups receive significant funding from the Koch brothers and other conservative donors. Americans deserve a justice who will apply the law, not the ideology of a few wealthy mega-donors.

  • February 21, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Amy Myrick, Staff Attorney for Judicial Strategy, Center for Reproductive Rights

    A few weeks into the Trump presidency, the role of the courts is front and center. The first headliner dispute is over President Trump’s executive order on immigration – centrally, what degree of deference or scrutiny courts owe to an action that the president claims is within his plenary power. These questions will define legal proceedings of many types over the next months as President Trump seeks to detonate policy across the board, asserting that he has vast power to make America purportedly safer, healthier, richer and of course greater – and any person or judge, who suggests otherwise is fraudulent.   

    How -will courts react?  They might consider a model that the Supreme Court put forth in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case it decided last June. The opinion focused on how judges should properly apply a legal standard that lower courts were wielding in a range of ways, some of which deferred sharply to lawmakers, and some of which required meaningful judicial review. In clarifying the standard, the Court in Whole Woman’s Health developed a set of three principles for judges to follow in constitutional disputes. Those principles undercut singularly damaging features of President Trump’s policy approach – his disregard for whether laws address a real problem or else just burden people, and his outright rejection of credible evidence. Although Whole Woman’s Health was about abortion restrictions, its model is useful in other areas, now more than ever.     

  • February 21, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Ryan Cohen and Shane Hebel, Harvard Law & Policy Review, Volume 11 Editors-in-Chief

    During this time, when our nation appears so divided, there is one thing that we all share, whether we are Democratic or Republican, teacher or coal miner, voter or U.S. President, from the coasts or from Appalachia. Debt. We may be a nation of red, white, and blue, but mostly, we are just in the red.

    Our students are in debt (as graduate students, we can attest to that from personal experience). Our households are in debt. Our cities are in debt. Our nation is debt. Even our new president is in debt—billions of dollars of it. Collectively, Americans are $12.35 trillion in the hole. And that is not even including our $19 trillion national debt. In the past decade, U.S. household debt has risen 11 percent. Today, the average household with any debt at all is $132,529 in debt, including mortgages. Meanwhile, student loan debt has increased 186 percent.

    Debt is so pervasive and central in American society that The Week published an article late last year entitled How the Politics of Debt Explains Everything that described the “underlying political economy” as “a creditor/debtor stand-off where the creditors have the whip hand” and attributed Donald Trump’s ascendency to his “riding debtor anger against creditor strength.”

    While strategies to address debt divide us along partisan lines, there is bipartisan recognition that debt--in some form or another--is a problem. Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) has said: “Would I like to see [the budget] balance? Certainly. Absolutely. I’ve got 13 grandchildren, and I don’t want to see them buried under $30 trillion of debt.” Focusing on individual debt, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has said: “College students today are drowning in debt, and it is hurting them and hurting our economy. We must find a way to help families pay for college without condemning them to a lifetime of indebtedness.”

  • February 15, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece originally appeared in The Des Moines Register. Read the entire post here.

    by Mark Kende, James Madison Chair in Constitutional Law, Director of the Drake University Constitutional Law Center

    Few people know that Fred Korematsu, one of the named plaintiffs in perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court’s most troubling racist wartime decision, actually lived long enough to defend some Muslims who were deprived of due process under President George W. Bush. Perhaps there is a lesson here for President Donald Trump and the U.S. Supreme Court.  Let me explain.

    President Trump issued an executive order that precluded citizens from seven mainly Muslim nations to travel here, as well as invalidated many of their visas. He also banned admission of refugees who go through years of security screening.  However, he provided a special exemption for persecuted Christians in these nations. Our country, founded in part on freedom of religion and on the promise of being a sanctuary, became the opposite. Trump enshrined Christianity as our preferred state religion in probable violation of several parts of the U.S. Constitution.

    He justified the order on national security grounds and on the danger of “radical Islamic terrorism,” even though the vetting process for these individuals is thorough. Many of those affected sought to avoid being killed in the Syrian civil war or in other devastated places. Trump omitted from his ban the Muslim nations whose citizens were largely responsible for 9/11.

    Coincidentally, Feb. 19 marks the 75th anniversary of another controversial presidential directive that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1944 decision, Korematsu v. United States. There, the court upheld the military incarceration of 112,000 American residents of Japanese descent, mostly citizens. They were interned in desolate camps. They had done nothing wrong. Nonetheless, the military enforced President Franklin Roosevelt’s broad executive order.

  • February 15, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Carolyn Shapiro, Associate Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Institute on the Supreme Court of the United States, IIT Chicago Kent College of Law

    There have now been approximately 25 cases filed around the country challenging President Trump’s executive order (“EO”) imposing a travel ban on refugees and on individuals from seven majority-Muslim countries, and TROs of various scopes have issued. (The University of Michigan Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse is gathering filings in these cases.) Most famous, of course, is the nationwide TRO issued by the district court in Seattle in Washington v. Trump, the case brought by Washington and Minnesota, and the refusal of the Ninth Circuit – which treated the TRO as a preliminary injunction – to stay that order pending appeal. (The Ninth Circuit, at the request of at least one active judge, is now considering whether to rehear that decision en banc.) But other cases continue apace. Just yesterday, in a case called Aziz v. Trump, Judge Leonie Brinkema of the Eastern District of Virginia issued a preliminary injunction precluding enforcement of the portion of the Executive Order prohibiting entry into the United States by people from seven specific majority-Muslim countries. (This injunction applies only to Virginia residents as well as to students and employees of Virginia educational institutions.)

    The Trump Administration’s litigation strategy in these cases reveals, if there were any doubt, that no evidence of any security risk prompted the EO and that it engaged in no internal process to evaluate such a risk. Its primary argument on the merits is that the courts can have no role in reviewing the president’s immigration decisions, particularly when they implicate national security. The courts in the travel ban cases have resoundingly rejected this argument, even as they have acknowledged that the president is entitled to substantial deference. The Ninth Circuit spent more than four pages of its opinion and cited reams of Supreme Court opinions explaining the role of the courts in reviewing immigration and national security related decisions of the political branches. And as Judge Brinkema said in her opinion, “Maximum power is not absolute power.”