Guest Post

  • September 29, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Chris Edelson, an assistant professor of government in American University's School of Public Affairs. He is the author of Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror, published in 2013 by the University of Wisconsin Press.

    Watching Congress utterly fail to discharge its duty as President Obama boldly exceeds the limits of his power by unilaterally authorizing military action against ISIS reminds me of the old philosophical question: if a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, does it makes a sound?  In this case, the question is: if the President violates the Constitution and Congress does nothing, are there any consequences for the constitutional violation?

    The answer is almost certain to be “no”. The Constitution is not self-enforcing.  It only works when each branch of government resists and rejects overreach by the others—and, when it comes to checking executive overreach in the context of national security, the key actor is Congress. As Justice Robert H. Jackson observed in the 1952 Youngstown Sheet decision, “I have no illusion that any decision by this Court can keep power in the hands of Congress if it is not wise and timely in meeting its problems. A crisis that challenges the President equally, or perhaps primarily, challenges Congress…We may say that power to legislate for emergencies belongs in the hands of Congress, but only Congress itself can prevent power from slipping through its fingers.”

    What we’re seeing right now is Congress letting power slip right through its fingers and become more concentrated in the hands of the President.  Congress has gone into recess without weighing in on the President’s decision to authorize military action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria (the vote to arm Syrian rebels addressed a separate matter).  President Obama has claimed he has authority to order military action based on the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.  But that legislation cannot plausibly provide authority to act against ISIS, a rival of Al Qaeda’s that did not even exist when the 2001 AUMF was enacted.  As Harvard Law professor Jack Goldsmith put it, President Obama’s decision to order military action against ISIS in Syria “is, at bottom, presidential unilateralism masquerading as implausible statutory interpretation.”

  • September 29, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Judy Appelbaum, Visiting Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center; Acting Assistant Attorney General and Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs, 2009-2013.

    When Eric Holder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January 2009 on his nomination to serve as Attorney General, he pledged to faithfully execute his duties by adhering to the precepts and principles of the Constitution, and to do so in a fair, just and independent manner. He also promised to reinvigorate the traditional missions of the Department of Justice and emphasized that one of his top priorities would be to safeguard what he called our precious civil rights.  He has lived up to those commitments, and he will leave office with an extraordinary record of accomplishment. 

    I was privileged to have a close-up view of Attorney General Holder’s stewardship of the Department when I helped lead DOJ’s office of legislative affairs for the first four years of his tenure. Right at the beginning, I saw the determination and energy he put into passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which gave the Department new tools to address violent hate crimes and for the first time enabled DOJ to protect LGBT victims.  After the bill became law, he made sure that the Department aggressively investigated and pursued such crimes wherever warranted by the facts and the law. 

    Demonstrating his commitment to fairness in the criminal justice system, early in his term Attorney General Holder also pressed Congress to pass the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce crack-powder sentencing disparities that disproportionately penalized African American offenders.  He didn’t rest on that legislative success, either. He then launched the Smart on Crime Initiative, which led to a series of path-breaking reforms. These include a change in the Department’s charging policies to avoid triggering excessive mandatory minimum penalties for low-level, non-violent drug offenders, and measures to reduce barriers faced by ex-offenders as they re-enter society. Under Holder’s innovative Access to Justice Initiative, the Department has found ways to help ensure that indigent criminal defendants receive adequate legal representation. 

  • September 26, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Neil J. Kinkopf, Professor of Law, Georgia State University College of Law

    A growing chorus of legal scholars has argued that President Obama’s move against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) lacks legal authority. Professor Noah Feldman has most recently added his voice. He first made the claim on Tuesday in a blog post and repeated it Thursday on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Feldman assures his readers that “We can dispense quickly the justifications that the administration has proffered ….”   True to his word, Feldman dispenses with the arguments quickly – too quickly, leaving his analysis facile and utterly unpersuasive. 

    In fact, at least three sources firmly establish the President’s authority to proceed against ISIL. 

    1.  Days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress specifically empowered the President to respond.  Under the 2001 Authorization of Use of Military Force, “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons ….”   Prof. Feldman argues that this law does not support the President’s action against ISIL.  Here’s the full argument:

    The 2001 authorization is less applicable still. In it, Congress told the president he could make war on anyone he determines to have “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the Sept. 11 attacks. The George W. Bush and Obama demonstrations [sic] have vastly expanded this language to cover al-Qaeda affiliates and spinoffs that didn't exist in 2001. But even these extensions don't cover Islamic State, which is not only unaffiliated with al-Qaeda but also at war with its affiliate in Syria, known as the Nusra Front.

  • September 25, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Brandon L. Garrett, Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law. Since the 2011 publication of Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, Professor Garrett has written widely on issues of criminal procedure, scientific evidence, corporate crime, and the law. This fall, Harvard University Press will publish his new book, Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations.

    Can the State execute a person who is insane to the point of delusional? In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Ford v. Wainwright that the Eighth Amendment forbids the execution of the mentally ill, questioning “the retributive value of executing a person who has no comprehension of why he has been singled out and stripped of his fundamental right to life.” However, the Court left the standards for defining the required “comprehension” unclear in some respects. And despite strong insistence from the Court that medical expert opinion be heeded, the State of Texas and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals have been nothing if not determined to push the outer bounds of the Eighth Amendment to permit execution of the insane.  When the Court reviews petitions for certiorari next week, it will consider the case of Scott Panetti, a case that will hopefully put this important question to the test for the second time in a decade.

    The insanity defense was the only one Panetti raised at his trial in 1992. It seemed like a textbook case. Panetti, a schizophrenic had been institutionalized repeatedly before the murder of his in-laws in Fredericksburg, Texas.  He had brutally shot his in-laws with a hunting rifle, right in front of his estranged wife and his daughter.  He told police that a character named “Sarge,” one of his four or five personalities, who he would regularly hallucinate about, made him do it. At a separate initial trial on the issue whether he was competent, he was medicated with massive doses of antipsychotic drugs.  The first jury hung; after a surprise change of venue a second jury found him competent to be criminally tried. At his death penalty trial, he represented himself, without taking his antipsychotic medication, wearing a purple cowboy suit, and requesting the opportunity to examine witnesses such as John F. Kennedy, Pope John Paul II, and Jesus Christ. His standby lawyer called his trial performance “bizarre,” “scary,” and “trance-like.” 

  • September 24, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Carlos Sandoval, Esq. and Catherine Tambini. Their award-winning film, The State of Arizona, will be screened by the ACS’ New York Chapter on Tuesday, October 7 at the offices of Baker Hostetler.

    Who has a right to be an American citizen? Most agree the 14th Amendment's "birthright citizenship" clause, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, settles one aspect of the matter. If you’re born on US soil, you’re a citizen, with minor exceptions.

    In 2011, a group of state legislators concerned about the flow of unauthorized migrants sought to redefine the exceptions. Undocumented parents, they argued, were not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and therefore their children could not be US citizens “simply by virtue of their GPS location.”

    As we transition from Constitution Week to Hispanic Heritage Month, we’d like to invite you to watch an emotionally packed scene that reveals the potency of the Constitution as a living document. It’s also a scene that reverberates with the centuries old question of identity among Latinos in America.

    For reasons of storytelling and time, we had to drop the footage from the final cut of our film, The State of Arizona. The scene takes place on the grounds of the Arizona State Legislature and inside its Senate Chamber.  Though we filmed in 2011, the arguments haunt us today in the absence of national immigration reform.

     

    A Birthright Citizenship Battle from caminobluff on Vimeo.