President Obama

  • October 5, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Victor Williams, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law, Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America

    On the first Monday in October, the Supreme Court returned from its long summer recess. Thus, the 2014 NLRB v. Noel Canning ruling -- which revoked President Barack Obama’s 2012 NLRB recess appointments – has well passed it first anniversary.

    The high court’s conjuring of an absolutist 3-day Senate recess minimum conjoined with a vague and unworkable “presumptive 10-day” Senate recess rule (with an added “unusual occurrence” complexity) continues to be analyzed.  Some in the academy acclaim Steven Breyer’s majority opinion as reflecting a new “pragmatic formalism” while most others praise it for at-least being opposite Antonin Scalia’s dissenting-concurrence which restated the D.C. Circuit’s uber- textualist ruling.  I continue to think it was a mistake for the judiciary to have involved itself in the political branch appointments battles.

    No reporter, academic, or commentator, however, has yet revealed that Noel Canning also revoked President Lyndon Johnson’s  January 1964 judicial recess appointments of civil-rights legends Leon Higginbotham, Spottswood Robinson, and David Rabinovtiz. In a just-published article in the Houston Law Review’s online edition, I expose the unconsidered Noel Canning consequence of the judgeship revocations.  As the recess commission were signed by Lyndon Johnson during an eight day intersession recess of the 88th Senate,  Noel Canning judged the recess 48 hours too short and the judgeships illegal.  The recess appointments  were “rendered illegitimate” for failing the “presumptive 10-day” recess test.  The eight day break was 48 hours too short.

    Six weeks after John F. Kennedy’s murder, LBJ forced the racial and religious integration of three federal courthouses. The new president signaled his administration’s commitment to civil rights and directly challenged racist and reactionary forces in both the Senate and the federal judiciary. The LBJ White House tapes tell the story for Higginbotham, Robinson, (expect a slight delay) and  Rabinovitz,  and as Johnson made sure he secured the most political capital for signing each commission in the coming battle for the Civil Rights Act.

  • 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.