President Obama

  • December 4, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Neil Kinkopf, Professor of Law, Georgia State University. He also serves on the Georgia Lawyer Chapter Board of Advisors.

    The predictable calls for impeachment went up after President Obama announced his actions on immigration last week. To the surprise of no one, the calls issued exclusively from the president’s Republican detractors. Such partisan calls for impeachment are easily dismissed. In a recent New York Times op-ed, however, Professor Peter Schuck of the Yale Law School lent credibility to the legal basis for these claims, arguing that the president’s action satisfies the constitutional predicate for impeachment (though he advocates that Congress exercise its discretion to decline impeachment).  His argument is worthy of attention, though it fails utterly. 

    The Constitution sets forth the grounds for impeachment:  “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”  Nowhere in the document, however, is the phrase “other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” defined. This absence of a legal definition has led some to conclude that the House of Representatives may impeach for any reason at all. Then-Congressman Gerald Ford gave this idea its most famous articulation:  “an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history ….”  Professor Schuck falls squarely in this camp, declaring “it is pretty much up to Congress to define and apply ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’” 

    This Nietzschean view (Law is dead, therefore all is permitted) is deeply flawed. Most significantly, it is at odds with the original understanding of the impeachment power. The framers adopted the language “high crimes and misdemeanors” precisely to avoid leaving it “pretty much up to Congress” to decide for itself what constitutes an impeachable offense. During the drafting convention, George Mason suggested that the president be impeachable for “maladministration.” James Madison objected to this formulation on the grounds that it would undermine the independence of the president: “[s]o vague a term will be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate.” The constitutional convention then settled on the familiar “high crimes and misdemeanors” language as a way of making sure the standard for impeachment would not be infinitely malleable. 

  • November 21, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Erwin Chemerinsky and Samuel Kleiner. Chemerinsky is Dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law; Kleiner is a fellow at the Yale Law Information Society Project.

    In the face of an ongoing humanitarian crisis as families are broken up by deportations, President Obama’s bold executive action is legally permissible and morally necessary. The angry Republican rhetoric is misguided both as a matter of constitutional law and as a matter of desirable social policy.

    In terms of the Constitution, President Obama drew a careful distinction based on what he can and can't do without congressional action. The President cannot bestow citizenship on individuals except as authorized by law. President Obama’s executive order does not attempt to do this. 

    But what a president may do is set enforcement priorities, choosing who to prosecute or who to deport. No government brings prosecutions against all who violate the law. Resources make that impossible and there are laws on the books that should not be enforced. Nor has any administration, Democratic or Republican, sought to deport every person who is illegally in the United States.   For humanitarian reasons or because of foreign policy considerations or for lack of resources, the government often chooses to focus deportations along certain criteria.

    In fact, as recently as two years ago, the Supreme Court in United States v. Arizona recognized that an inherent part of executive control over foreign policy is the ability of the President to choose whether or not to bring deportation proceedings. On numerous other occasions, the Supreme Court and lower federal courts have recognized prosecutorial discretion to decide when to bring criminal prosecutions or immigration enforcement actions.

    The overblown Republican rhetoric fails to recognize that what President Obama announced was enforcement priorities. He has instructed the executive branch, which is under his control, to prioritize deportation proceedings against felons and those who pose a public danger, but not to deport parents of young children who are United States citizens and who present no threat.   Such discretion is clearly and unquestionably part of the president’s power.     

    Nor is there any realistic chance that any court will find otherwise. No one is likely to have standing to challenge President Obama’s policy. And even if a court were to address the issue, the law is well established that presidents have discretion to decide whether to prosecute or bring deportation actions. Contrary to the Republican rhetoric, President Obama is violating no law and is acting within his constitutional authority.

  • November 20, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Adam Cox, Professor of Law, New York University School of Law, and Cristina Rodriguez, the Leighton Homer Surbeck Professor of Law, Yale Law School

    *Professors Cox and Rodriguez have commenced a symposium at Balkinization, which we're cross-posting.
     
    Tonight, President Obama announced sweeping administrative reform of immigration law. His efforts raise important questions about the legal basis for his actions and its implications for the future of immigration law and the separation of powers.
     
    Over the next several days, we will convene an online symposium here, on Balkinization, to discuss and debate these issues with a group of leading immigration law and constitutional law scholars and litigators.  While much ink has been spilled in recent months over the legality of administrative immigration relief, much of that writing has been necessarily speculative.  Now we know the basic facts.  The President’s administration will exercise prosecutorial discretion to defer the removal of many parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, making them eligible for work authorization for up to three years at a time.  This action is estimated to encompass 3.3 million unauthorized immigrants.  When combined with the last round of administrative relief—the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Initiative—roughly 5 million persons, or 40 percent of the unauthorized population, may be affected.
     
    As the President’s announcement made clear, however, there will be limits to his exercise of discretion.  The parents of DACA recipients will not be included.  This is an extremely important fact—not just as a political matter, but also, potentially, as a legal one.  Over the course of recent debate, writers on all sides of the issue have struggled mightily to avoid a central question about the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in immigration law: how far is too far?  Opponents have argued that the president has crossed the line into unconstitutionality; defenders have contended that he has not. But almost no one has been willing to say where that line is located.  Tonight that changed.  An opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, made public by the administration, lays out the legal basis for the President’s actions and provides scholars with new theories of executive power and prosecutorial discretion to explore.  Importantly, that opinion concludes that, while the President has authority to grant relief to the parents of US citizens and LPRs, the President lacks legal authority to grant such relief to the parents of DACA recipients.
     
    We are among those who believe the basic parameters of executive discretion in immigration law permit the President to take the steps he has.[1] But the OLC opinion raises important questions about the limits of discretion, as well as a new gloss on the legal issues—the legal claim that the President’s actions are consistent with congressional priorities as reflected in the Immigration and Nationality Act.  
     
    The combination of the President’s sweeping action with an official government defense of the program’s legality—something that did not accompany DACA—makes now a crucial moment to discuss two fundamental questions that have long been embedded in the debate over administrative relief.  First, the question of scope: of how the size and composition of the group offered administrative relief bears on relief’s legality.  Second, the question of how the form of relief—that is, the precise benefits that are conferred through administrative action—affect its legality?
     
    These and other questions will be ones that we and the other symposium participants will engage and debate in the coming days.

     

     
  • November 7, 2014

    by Caroline Fredrickson, President, American Constitution Society for Law and Policy. Follow her on Twitter @crfredrickson. This piece originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

    Many may despair -- believing the next two years in Washington will be a long slog of tiresome partisan fights with no positive action to improve the lives of Americans. But moping is the last thing progressives should be about.

    Let's talk judicial nominations. Federal courts are vital -- they decide pressing matters every day, whether they are challenges to employment discrimination, corporate malfeasance, or immigration appeals. Do we just throw our hands up on judicial nominations, buying into a lazy argument that nothing much can be done now with a Senate controlled by Republicans? There likely are many important policy matters that will be shelved. But it doesn't have to be that way with judicial nominations. On this front there's work to be done and it can be achieved with an energetic attitude -- not apathy.

    There are 64 vacancies on the federal bench and if we give up on the federal courts that number will spike and we'll have judges with outlandish caseloads and Americans with a sluggish, inefficient court system. Part of the Senate's job is to confirm judges to ensure our country has a well-running judicial system. We know all too well that for much of Obama's presidency, Senate Republicans have obstructed the process, slow-walked the president's nominations while arguing everything was just fine. Republican leaders who will take control of the Senate in the New Year are talking about cooperation and working with President Obama, but let's be ready to hold them to their words.

    Some of the current vacancies can and should be filled during the lame-duck session. Democrats in the Senate need to get over the outcome of the midterm elections in quick manner and fill 25 vacancies, which can be done -- with the right attitude. There are 16 judicial nominees who have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and are ready for up-or-down votes on the Senate floor. There's no excuse for letting those nominees languish. There are also nine nominees, who have had hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Committee should move those nominations to the Senate floor as soon as possible. This is doable in the lame duck.

    And then the next two years -- again no time for dwelling on what could have been. The Senate Republicans may turn back to their obstructionist ways -- let's hope not. Maybe they'll surprise us on the judicial nominations front and realize this is an area for cooperation. But if not, progressives must be ready to push back and keep up the pressure, reminding as many Americans as possible of the great importance our judicial system is to a well-functioning democracy.

  • November 6, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Timothy M. Phelps writes in the Los Angeles Times on President Barack Obama’s fading opportunity to influence the ideology of the judiciary.

    At the Harvard Law & Policy Review, Matthew Skurnik considers the worth of a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.

    Jess Bravin reports for The Wall Street Journal on Chief Justice John Roberts’ remarks at a celebration for the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

    In The New York Times, Adam Liptak reviews the oral arguments for Yates v. United States, which has the Supreme Court considering whether a fisherman can be convicted of violating a federal law aimed at white-collar crime for throwing back undersized fish into the Gulf of Mexico.

    Richard Re at Re’s Judicata lists the top ten moments during oral arguments, which proved to be “hilarious, insightful, and sometimes surreal.”