Separation of Powers and Federalism

  • September 29, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Chris Edelson, an assistant professor of government in American University's School of Public Affairs. He is the author of Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror, published in 2013 by the University of Wisconsin Press.

    Watching Congress utterly fail to discharge its duty as President Obama boldly exceeds the limits of his power by unilaterally authorizing military action against ISIS reminds me of the old philosophical question: if a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, does it makes a sound?  In this case, the question is: if the President violates the Constitution and Congress does nothing, are there any consequences for the constitutional violation?

    The answer is almost certain to be “no”. The Constitution is not self-enforcing.  It only works when each branch of government resists and rejects overreach by the others—and, when it comes to checking executive overreach in the context of national security, the key actor is Congress. As Justice Robert H. Jackson observed in the 1952 Youngstown Sheet decision, “I have no illusion that any decision by this Court can keep power in the hands of Congress if it is not wise and timely in meeting its problems. A crisis that challenges the President equally, or perhaps primarily, challenges Congress…We may say that power to legislate for emergencies belongs in the hands of Congress, but only Congress itself can prevent power from slipping through its fingers.”

    What we’re seeing right now is Congress letting power slip right through its fingers and become more concentrated in the hands of the President.  Congress has gone into recess without weighing in on the President’s decision to authorize military action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria (the vote to arm Syrian rebels addressed a separate matter).  President Obama has claimed he has authority to order military action based on the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.  But that legislation cannot plausibly provide authority to act against ISIS, a rival of Al Qaeda’s that did not even exist when the 2001 AUMF was enacted.  As Harvard Law professor Jack Goldsmith put it, President Obama’s decision to order military action against ISIS in Syria “is, at bottom, presidential unilateralism masquerading as implausible statutory interpretation.”

  • September 26, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Neil J. Kinkopf, Professor of Law, Georgia State University College of Law

    A growing chorus of legal scholars has argued that President Obama’s move against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) lacks legal authority. Professor Noah Feldman has most recently added his voice. He first made the claim on Tuesday in a blog post and repeated it Thursday on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Feldman assures his readers that “We can dispense quickly the justifications that the administration has proffered ….”   True to his word, Feldman dispenses with the arguments quickly – too quickly, leaving his analysis facile and utterly unpersuasive. 

    In fact, at least three sources firmly establish the President’s authority to proceed against ISIL. 

    1.  Days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress specifically empowered the President to respond.  Under the 2001 Authorization of Use of Military Force, “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons ….”   Prof. Feldman argues that this law does not support the President’s action against ISIL.  Here’s the full argument:

    The 2001 authorization is less applicable still. In it, Congress told the president he could make war on anyone he determines to have “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the Sept. 11 attacks. The George W. Bush and Obama demonstrations [sic] have vastly expanded this language to cover al-Qaeda affiliates and spinoffs that didn't exist in 2001. But even these extensions don't cover Islamic State, which is not only unaffiliated with al-Qaeda but also at war with its affiliate in Syria, known as the Nusra Front.

  • April 14, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Peter M. Shane, Jacob E. Davis and Jacob E. Davis II Chair in Law, Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University
     
    * Author's Note: I had the privilege on April 4 of delivering the following remarks as part of a panel on "Creating the Politics of Privacy," a session of the capstone conference for Ohio State's 2013-14 series of campus-wide programs on the distinction between public and private.
     
    ** This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.
     
    America's cultural turn in recent decades toward a glorification of the private and a denigration of the public has coexisted with what quite obviously is a deterioration in privacy. As individuals, we have dramatically less capacity than in earlier decades to control information about even the most personal aspects of our lives. This is not just historical coincidence. The cultural turn to the "private" has actually hurt privacy.
     
    What I mean by a cultural turn is that, for the last 35-ish years, U.S. law and politics have moved away from the public-regarding orientation of the New Deal and its programmatic outgrowths and toward the individualist orientation of Reaganite small-government conservatism. We can see these moves in a variety of ways that implicate the private/public distinction. For example, we know that public institutions, such as schools, simultaneously create both public value and private value. They help both to benefit society through an educated citizenry and to prepare individuals for economic self-sufficiency. Yet our public policy toward schools has increasingly emphasized only their private value as providing persuasive reasons for their support.
     
    Likewise, private action simultaneously has both private and public impacts. What I do as an individual both serves my personal needs and gratifications and imposes externalities on others. Not all externalities are positive. Yet courts and politicians have increasingly resisted treating negative externalities as a sufficient justification for regulation. Supreme Court decisions limiting Congress' powers to keep guns away from schools or to provide federal remedies for domestic violence are perfect examples. The court's 2012 decision that Congress lacked power under the Commerce Clause to compel the private purchase of health insurance was based on legal arguments that earlier courts would have rejected out of hand.
     
  • April 10, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Christopher Wolf, Director, Privacy and Information Management Practice Group, Hogan Lovells LLP; Founder and Co-Chair, Future of Privacy Forum
     
    The Snowden revelations about NSA activities have brought government access to online data into the public eye over the past year. Allegations that surveillance programs may have impacted American citizens have led to public outrage. In response, the president has promised to reform the U.S. government surveillance apparatus to “provide greater transparency to our surveillance activities and fortify the safeguards that protect the privacy of U.S. persons.”  
     
    Long before the Snowden revelations, enhancing the privacy of U.S. persons was the focus of less-visible efforts to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a law enacted well before the Internet era that allows law enforcement access to a panoply of electronic information held by third-party information service providers without first obtaining a warrant.
     
    In December 2013, more than 100,000 Americans signed an online petition calling on the Obama administration to support ECPA reform. Although a warm spring finally is emerging in Washington, D.C., the White House has remained silent as reform bills (e.g., S. 607 and H.R. 1847) remain frozen in Congress. 
     
  • March 28, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Professor of Law and an ACS Faculty Advisor at the University of Chicago Law School; former Chair, ACS Board of Directors
     
    This post originally appeared at The Daily Beast.
     
    President Obama announced this morning that he will propose legislation calling for significant changes in the NSA’s telephone metadata program. This is good news, indeed.
     
    The enactment of these proposals would strike a much better balance between the interests of liberty and security. They would preserve the value of the NSA’s program in terms of protecting the national security, while at the same time providing much greater, and much needed, protection to individual privacy and civil liberties.
     
    The proposals are based on recommendations made by the president’s five-member Review Group, of which I was a member. To understand why we came up with these suggestions, it is necessary first to understand how the program operates.
     
    Under the telephone metadata program, which was created in 2006, telephone service companies like Sprint, Verizon and AT&T are required to turn over to the NSA, on an ongoing daily basis, huge quantities of telephone metadata involving the phone records of millions of Americans, none of whom are themselves suspected of anything.
     
    Even though the program to-date has functioned properly, history teaches that there is always the risk of another J. Edgar Hoover or Richard Nixon.