President Obama

  • February 14, 2014

    by Rebekah DeHaven

    On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing for three judicial nominees. They were:

    • Robin Rosenbaum, Eleventh Circuit,
    • Bruce Hendricks, District of South Carolina, and
    • Mark Mastroianni, to be United States District Judge for the District of Massachusetts.

    On Wednesday, Sen. Pryor (D-Ark.) requested that Majority Leader Reid  (D-Nev.) ask unanimous consent to consider the nomination of James Moody to the Eastern District of Arkansas. Sen. Pryor stressed the importance of moving Moody’s nomination because of uncertainty regarding Judge Moody’s current Pulaski County Circuit judgeship election.

    Sen. Reid asked the Senate for unanimous consent to consider Moody’s nomination, along with the nomination of Jeffrey Meyer to the District of Connecticut, James Donato to the Northern District of California and Beth Freeman to the Northern District of California. Sen. Cornyn (R-Tex.) objected, and Sen. Reid filed cloture on all four nominees. The first cloture vote will occur at 5:30pm on Monday, Feb. 24 when the Senate returns from recess.

  • February 7, 2014
     
    On February 5, President Obama announced five judicial nominees. They were:
    Cheryl Ann Krause to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit,
     
    Judy Beth Bloom to the Southern District of Florida,
     
    Paul G. Byron to the Middle District of Florida,
     
    Darrin P. Gayles to the Southern District of Florida, and
     
    Carlos Eduardo Mendoza to the Middle District of Florida.
     
    If confirmed, Darrin Gayles would be the first openly gay African American man to serve as a federal judge. The White House released a new report, “This is the First Time Our Judicial Pool Has Been This Diverse,” highlighting the administration’s work to diversify the federal bench.
     
    Despite the push to highlight the administration’s diverse judicial nominees, senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Wednesday to discuss ongoing concerns over the lack of diverse nominees for Georgia courts. Earlier in the week, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced his agreement with the CBC’s concerns.
     
    On February 6, three judicial nominees were voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and reported to the full Senate after being held over the week before. They join 29 other nominees for a total of 32 judicial nominees waiting for action on the Senate floor. The nominees reported out of Committee were:
    Indira Talwani, District of Massachusetts,
     
    James D. Peterson, Western District of Wisconsin, and
     
    Nancy J. Rosenstengel, Southern District of Illinois.
     
  • January 16, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Margaret Colgate Love, former U.S. Pardon Attorney (1990-1997)
     
    * Ms. Love now represents applicants for executive clemency. Her client Clarence Aaron was one of those commuted by President Obama on December 19.
     
    On December 19, President Obama commuted the prison sentences of eight people convicted of trafficking in crack cocaine and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.  Each person had spent at least 15 years behind bars, and all but two were serving a mandatory life term.  The President was generally commended for his acts of mercy, the only reservation being that he had not done more to provide relief to thousands of similarly situated individuals still imprisoned under laws he himself characterized as “unjust.”
     
    One of those whose sentence the President commuted was Clarence Aaron, a college student with no prior record who was sentenced in 1993 to three life terms based on his limited role in two drug transactions for which he was paid $1500.  Another was Stephanie George, described by the sentencing judge as the “bag holder and money holder” for her crack-dealing boyfriend, whose life sentence was based on two prior convictions for selling a total of $160 worth of crack.
     
    Clarence Aaron is now on his way home, as are Stephanie George and the other members of the December 19 Eight, most of whom thought they would never see home again.  So it is time to consider what happens now for the hundreds of similarly situated individuals still behind bars.
     
    The President himself acknowledged, in a statement accompanying the grants, that while he had taken “an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness,” that step “must not be the last.”  He urged Congress to act on “reform measures already working their way through Congress” to provide relief from “a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust.” The specific “reform measure” the President was referring to is the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would make the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) fully retroactive.  The impression left by his statement was that passage of this bill, along with policy changes announced by the Attorney General in August 2013, would be sufficient to restore fairness to the legal system, and that the job of doing justice had now passed to Congress.
     
  • October 7, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Former Attorney General Edwin Meese III is frequently credited with helping to pack the federal bench with judges that adhere to strict construction or orignalism, a method of trying to interpret today’s legal controversies through the lens of the Constitution’s framers.

    The Federalist Society notes Meese via his work at the right-wing Heritage Foundation, “counseled White House staffers, Justice Department officials and Senate Judiciary Committee members about the importance of filling judicial vacancies with people committed to interpreting the Constitution according to its original meanings.”

    Meese a member of the Federalist Society’s Board of Directors, has also been instrumental in the shutdown of the federal government over the 2010 landmark health care law, the Affordable Care Act. In an extensive piece for The New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Mike Mcintire note that he helped launch a “loose-knit coalition of conservative activists” early in Obama’s second term to craft a new push to “repeal” the Affordable Care Act.

    “It articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative strategy that has long percolated in conservative circles: that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservative lawmakers were willing to push fellow Republicans – including their cautious leaders – into cutting off financing for the entire federal government.”

    The Meese coalition created a defunding “tool kit” with talking points saying it “simply is calling to fund the entire government except for the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare.”

    Meese, as the newspaper notes, also helped launch a group, the Conservative Action Project (CAP) to peddle the defunding plan. Its “welcome friends!” message says President Obama “is trying to remake our government and economy into the image of today’s European social welfare state.”  

    Groups like the Heritage Foundation, where Meese is the Ronald Reagan Chair in Public Policy, and the billionaire Koch brothers have also been involved in pushing the defunding campaign, which has led to the shutdown.

    As noted here, scholars and prominent commentators have blasted the strategy as undermining and endangering democratic processes. The Affordable Care Act became law after extensive debate in Congress, survived a constitutional challenge by lawmakers, and the House’s outlandish number of votes to repeal the law have been for naught. And yes, as The Dish’s Andrew Sullivan noted, the American electorate spoke clearly in 2012 when Obama won a second term in strong fashion.

  • September 6, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Chris Edelson, assistant professor of government in American University's School of Public Affairs. He teaches classes on the Constitution and presidential power. Edelson is author of the forthcoming book, Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror, which will be published by the University of Wisconsin Press in November 2013.

    It was an encouraging development for the rule of law when President Obama decided to ask Congress for legislative authorization to take military action in Syria. When Obama took office in 2009, it was reasonable to expect that his administration would move away from the Bush-Cheney-Yoo unitary executive model, which was essentially an argument for unchecked presidential power. However, while the Obama administration has certainly not embraced the outlandish unitary executive theory, it has, at times, found ways to skirt limits on presidential power.  The most prominent examples are probably the targeted killing, without judicial hearing, of U.S. citizens believed to be terrorist leaders and the administration’s decision to order military action in Libya in 2011. As I have argued elsewhere, in each case, executive branch lawyers in the Obama administration found ways to justify unilateral presidential action unchecked by the other branches of government. 

    Obama’s decision to involve Congress in the debate over the use of military force in Syria suggests a meaningful acknowledgment that presidential power is accountable to checks and balances.  As I have written for the Los Angeles Times, Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval was required by the Constitution since the United States has not been attacked by Syria. However, it was far from clear that Obama would turn to Congress. Advocates of  presidential power point out that past practice -- including Obama’s own action in Libya -- supports the conclusion that presidents can more broadly use military force when it is in the national interest, and not only when the U.S. is attacked. The fact that Obama did not act on his own is a positive sign and may help prevent future presidents from unilaterally using military force (picture a hypothetical President Ted Cruz deciding the national interest justified an attack against Canada).

    There is reason to contain one’s optimism, though, when it comes to setting new limits on the use of presidential power. Obama has stated that he reserves the right to use military force even if Congress declines to pass authorizing legislation. That is disconcerting, and simply does not make a great deal of sense. What is the point of Congress making a decision if it is merely an advisory opinion?  If Congress decides not to authorize the use of military force in Libya, Obama should respect that decision and should not act on his own. Unilateral action under these circumstances would be a dangerous decision for the Constitution, and could also be a bad political move.  Some Republican members of Congress have made clear that they are eager to find a reason, any reason, to impeach President Obama and remove him from office.  To date, there is no legitimate reason to support such an idea.  However, if Obama ordered military action in defiance of Congress, that could provide his political opponents with a legitimate argument for impeachment.