National security and civil liberties

  • February 14, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece originally appeared on Just Security.

    by Ryan Goodman, Co-Editor-In-Chief of Just Security and Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law at New York University School of Law and Steve Vladeck, Co-Editor-In-Chief of Just Security and Professor at The University of Texas School of Law

    The news from overnight that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has resigned over his inappropriate pre-Inauguration dealings with Russia has also reinvigorated the debate over whether he can and should be prosecuted for violating the Logan Act, 18 U.S.C. § 953. Although Steve has previously suggested that the Logan Act could not be used to prosecute members of the presidential transition team (if it could be used at all, given that it has been moribund for over 200 years and is, in any event, a content-based restriction on speech), an exchange over e-mail between us about Steve’s prior post led to this Q&A that more fully fleshes out those arguments:

    Ryan to Steve: You wrote that the spirit of the Logan Act, if not its letter, would not apply to members of an incoming presidential transition team. But the White House appears to be saying that Flynn was going rogue on those phone calls, that he never cleared it with them to speak about the sanctions, and that he lied to them about the content of the calls afterwards. If that is true, would it not throw out the window an analysis that says a person acting in their capacity as a presidential transition team member does not come under the Logan Act? Flynn would have been acting not only “without authority of the United States,” but also without authority of the presidential transition team.

    Steve to Ryan: It might. But the absence of any Logan Act prosecutions means that there has been no judicial analysis of what it means to act “without the authority of the United States” in this context. For example, it is not clear to me that a serving Cabinet officer—who we all agree would ordinarily exercise the “authority of the United States”—would violate § 953 if he engaged in unauthorized communication with a foreign government with the “intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States.” The question is whether “authority of the United States” in this case literally requires the president’s (express or tacit) approval of the content of the communication (which, contra another post of mine, would likely mean that members of Congress would often act without such authority), or whether it just means under color of U.S. authority. I think the better reading of the Act’s text is the latter—but that is especially true if the former reading would potentially raise some of the constitutional concerns to which I have previously alluded.

  • September 13, 2016
    On Friday the Supreme Court refused to revive a Michigan law that barred straight-ticket voting, reports Adam Liptak of The New York Times.
    Sen. Bob Casey posted an editorial to Medium in which he calls for an end to the senatorial obstruction leaving judicial vacancies unattended on federal courts.
    Constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar is featured on an episode of the Diane Rehm Show during which he describes how to interpret the pressing issues Americans face today through the lens of the constitution.
    University of Texas at Austin Law Professor Stephen Vladek stresses the importance of trusting existing institutions. In an op-ed for Star-Telegram, Vladek asserts that civilian courts, not expensive military commissions, are the best places to bring justice to enemies of the United States.
  • November 19, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Chris Edelson, assistant professor of government, American University’s School of Public Affairs. He is author of Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror (University of Wisconsin Press, 2013). His second book, Power Without Constraint: The Post 9/11 Presidency and National Security will be published in spring 2016 by the University of Wisconsin Press.

    The terrorist attacks in Paris leave us all horrified – as do the attacks in Lebanon last week that have received less public attention worldwide. Terrorism is meant to make people afraid, and it does its job. Part of what we must do in responding to these attacks is to manage our fear and prevent it from ruling us or pushing us (or our elected officials) to make bad decisions.

    No one (except the terrorists themselves) wants to see another attack against civilians. Some elected officials and candidates for office, however, have made counterproductive statements following the Paris attacks. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) declares the U.S. should only accept Syrian refugees who are Christian, arguing that “[t]here is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” Jeb Bush similarly suggested that the U.S. should focus “on the Christians who have no place in Syria any more.” Bush also described the Paris attacks as “an organized attempt to destroy Western civilization.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) similarly described what is happening as “a clash of civilizations.” Republican presidential candidates criticized Hillary Clinton and other Democratic presidential candidates for declining to use the words “radical Islam” when discussing the fight against ISIS. Donald Trump suggested (not for the first time) that it may be necessary to consider closing some mosques in the United States (though he said he is not personally considering this – yet).

    These candidates surely want to find a way to take meaningful action to keep Americans and others safe from ISIS. (Though Sen. Cruz leveled the very troubling and baseless charge that President Obama “does not wish to defend this country.”) But many are making a serious mistake by speaking about ISIS and terrorism in ways that draw religious lines between Christians and Muslims. This is not a matter of “political correctness,” it is a matter of logic, fact and reason. Of course ISIS is Islamic. But ISIS practices a form of Islam that the vast majority of Muslims reject. In fact, ISIS has terrorized and killed many Muslims it sees as apostates. It may well serve ISIS’s purposes to describe its terrorist acts as part of a religious war: After the Paris attacks, ISIS referred to France as “the carrier of the banner of the Cross in Europe” and a leader of “the convoy of the Crusader campaign [i.e. the military campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria].”

  • May 8, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Jennifer Daskal, Assistant Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law. Follow her on Twitter @jendaskal. [Cross-posted at Just Security]

    Yesterday the Second Circuit declared the NSA’s bulk telephone metadata program unlawful.  Specifically, it ruled that it was unauthorized by section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act (and thus did not reach the constitutional law questions).  At the same time, however, it declined to grant an injunction that would have halted the program and instead sent the case back to the district court to reconsider the issues. As the Second Circuit recognized, many of the issues many of which could may be mooted by congressional action (or inaction) between now and June 1, when this key statutory provision is set to expire.

    The program’s continuing operation, at least for the next few weeks, has prompted commentators such as Orin Kerr to describe the ruling as “merely symbolic.”  I disagree.  To be sure, the telephony metadata program has long been given outsized attention relative to its impact and importance. But the ruling has significant import nonetheless not just for what it means for the continued operation of the program, but for the range of interconnected areas that the opinion addresses.  Below are four key, and substantive, implications of the ruling.

    1.      Collection Matters

    The Second Circuit resoundingly rejected the government’s argument that there is no cognizable injury until data is actually analyzed and reviewed.  According to the government,  appellants had no standing because they could not establish that the metadata associated with their telephone calls (i.e. the numbers called, received, and duration of the call) had actually been analyzed, rather than merely collected; absent subsequent review, the suffered no injury in fact.  The government makes analogous arguments with respect to other forms of bulk collection: Don’t worry we have robust limitations as to who can access the data and why.

    The Second Circuit was not persuaded, and rightly so.  As the Second Circuit concluded, collection is properly analyzed as a government seizure. If the collection is unlawful, then “appellants have suffered a concrete and particularized injury,” even without a subsequent review by human actors.  In other words, collection matters, even if the subsequent use restrictions are robust and strictly followed. That’s because we have a separate privacy interest not just in how the government uses our data, but in the government’s collection of our data in the first place.

  • May 7, 2015

    by Devon Ombres

    Today, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its unanimous opinion in American Civil Liberties Union v. Clapper, giving privacy advocates a victory they have long been seeking in holding that Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act does not authorize the bulk collection of telephone metadata.  Because the Second Circuit found that bulk telephone metadata collection is not permitted by the statute, the court did not reach the constitutional question of whether it would comport with the Fourth Amendment.  Additionally, despite vacating and remanding the lower court’s judgment, the Second Circuit did not enjoin the government from continuing the collection of metadata under Section 215, reasoning that the statute is set to expire on June 1, 2015 and there is significant legislative activity on the horizon that could impact the legal issues in play.

    As an initial matter, Judge Gerald Lynch’s opinion held that the ACLU and its affiliates were not precluded from bringing an action seeking an injunction against the government’s collection program.  Although the government argued that no private cause of action was permitted, the court held that the government’s reliance on “bits and shards of inapplicable statutes, inconclusive legislative history, and inferences from silence in an effort to find an implied revocation of the [Administrative Procedure Act’s] authorization of challenges to government action” was not sufficient to overcome the strong presumption against the preclusion of judicial review.

    As to the program’s validity under Section 215, the court reviewed whether the statute authorized the creation of a “historical repository of information” where the “sheer volume of information sought is staggering.”  The court did not accept the government’s argument that data collection under Section 215 is analogous to the permissiveness provided to prosecution requests for grand jury subpoenas, which cannot be denied unless a court determines “that there is no reasonable possibility that the category of materials the government seeks will produce information relevant to the general subject matter of the investigation.”  The court distinguished those subpoenas as bound by the facts of a particular investigation and a finite timeframe, while the Section 215 metadata collection program had no limitations on subject matter, individuals, or time, and there was no requirement of relevance to any particular set of facts.