President Obama

  • July 17, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Margaret Love, former U.S. Pardon Attorney (1990-1997); and author of the ACS Issue Brief, “Reinvigorating the Federal Pardon Process: What the President Can Learn From the States.”

    *This post first appeared on The Crime Report

    On Monday, President Obama announced in a video address that he had commuted the sentences of 46 people sentenced to long prison terms for drug offenses.  His counsel, Neil Eggleston, stated that, “While I expect the President will issue additional commutations and pardons before the end of his term, it is important to recognize that clemency alone will not fix decades of overly punitive sentencing policies.“

    Mr. Eggleston added that “the President is committed to using all the tools at his disposal to remedy unfairness in our criminal justice system.” However, judging from the President's speech to the NAACP the next day, clemency is the only one of those tools that is calculated to result in any more prison releases.

    The President has now issued 89 commutations, the most since Lyndon Johnson. But even if the President ends up granting triple that number or more, it will hardly make a dent in the number of those in prison potentially eligible for relief under the announced standards of the Administration’s clemency initiative.  As Douglas Berman observed recently in his Sentencing Law and Policy blog, if the President one week were to commute as many as 80 federal drug prisoners, “this would still not be as substantively consequential for the federal prison population as the 400-plus drug defendants who will be sentenced to lengthy federal prison terms the very same week!”

    Meanwhile, the system for administering the clemency initiative is reportedly having difficulty gaining traction.  On July 4, The New York Times reported in a front page story that more than 30,000 federal prisoners have filed applications for commutation of sentence with Clemency Project 2014, the consortium of private organizations formed last year to assist the Justice Department in identifying worthy cases, but that a “cumbersome review process” has allowed only “a small fraction” of them to reach the President’s desk.

    A press release issued by Clemency Project 2014 shortly after the grants were announced conceded that only four of the 46 cases had been submitted under its auspices, and a review of the recipients of clemency reveals that several did not satisfy the Justice Department’s declared eligibility requirement of ten years already spent in prison.  Some prisoners have now expressed concern that perhaps the blessing of this Project was not the “fast track” to relief they had imagined.

    There is a growing sense of urgency among those who are responsible for organizing the clemency effort, in the Department of Justice and in the private bar.  In a recent training of volunteer counsel representing clemency applicants, Pardon Attorney Deborah Leff urged them not to delay in getting their clients’ petitions filed.

    "If there is one message I want you to take away today, it's this: Sooner is better," Leff said.

    Some federal public defender offices have been urged by Clemency Project 2014 to identify worthy applicants from among their client base and submit petitions for them prior to January 20, 2017, since it may take as much as a year for the Administration to review them.

    But even with the extraordinary resources that have been devoted to identifying prisoners who meet the Justice Department’s eligibility criteria, it seems unlikely that this task can be given more than a lick and a promise before the clock runs out on President Obama’s term.

  • January 2, 2015

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Liberals lost an inspiring orator, personality and tactician in politics with the death of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. Many of the flood of eulogies, statements and tales of the long-serving governor reference his commitment to liberalism, especially when Ronald Reagan was pushing the limited-government agenda of the Right.

    ACS was fortunate to have had Cuomo serve on its Board of Advisors and was saddened by news of his death.

    Writing for The New York Times, Adam Nagourney noted Cuomo’s unwavering commitment to liberalism, which would lead to the New York governor becoming an “eloquent spokesman for liberal politics.” Cuomo took on Reagan’s “shinning city on a hill,” using high-profile opportunities to remind voters of inequalities in the nation that have continued to fester to this day.

    President Obama issued a statement that described Cuomo as “a determined champion of progressive values, and unflinching voice for tolerance, inclusiveness, fairness, dignity, and opportunity.”

    Some more thoughtful pieces on Cuomo’s life and work:

    Observations from The Atlantic’s James Fallows, with links to some of the governor’s speeches

    A piece for The Guardian by Walter Shapiro

    Blake Zeff’s personal look for Salon

    Los Angeles Times’ reporters Elaine Woo and Matt Pearce write that Cuomo “became one of the Democratic Party’s most forceful voices on the need to address economic inequality.”

  • 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.