Separation of Powers and Federalism

  • March 22, 2012
    BookTalk
    The Revolutionary Constitution
    By: 
    David J. Bodenhamer

    By David J. Bodenhamer, executive director of The Polis Center and a professor of history at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.


    When addressing the Harvard Law School Association in 1913, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. worried that “that fear was translated into doctrines that had no proper place in the Constitution or the common law.”  His corrective was simple: “It seems to be at this time that we need education in the obvious more than the investigation of the obscure.” Although Holmes was speaking about socialism and judges he deemed “naïf and simple-minded,” his admonition seems equally appropriate for our own constitutionally contentious era. Of course, bitter disputes over the meaning of the Constitution are nothing new; they have been a hallmark of public discourse since the 39 signing delegates left Philadelphia. So other than a reminder that controversy and division are common to our history, what “education in the obvious” do we require today?

    We too often forget that the Constitution is a revolutionary document. It embodied a fundamental re-scripting of assumptions about government. Chief among them was the invention of popular sovereignty, a conception of the people as both rulers and ruled, or as John Jay noted, “sovereigns without subjects” who “had none to govern but themselves.” This concept was necessary to accommodate another innovation, federalism, which James Madison acknowledged was “unprecedented … It stands by itself.” But it was the only way to resolve the inconsistency of imperium in imperio, a sovereignty within a sovereignty. Over two centuries, these solutions, radical for their time (and for ours), have been instrumental in the development of a more democratic and egalitarian nation because once marginalized and excluded groups demanded to be counted among the people who ruled themselves. And they usually succeeded first in the states, Brandeis’s famed “laboratories of democracy,” before the nation-at-large accepted their claims. But as often happens with revolutionary legacies, there is a counter-narrative to this progressive story. The inventions of popular sovereignty and federalism also have produced great mischief: they have offered a veneer of legitimacy to a variety of “isms”— racism, nativism, separatism, and the like — that acted to deny liberty rather than advance it.

  • March 5, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The federal judge in Montana who sent a ridiculous, highly offensive e-mail degrading President Obama to a few of his “buddies” using his work email, should not be let off the hook so easily, regardless of his apology or self-initiation of an ethics review, writes Maryland law professor Sherrilyn Ifill for The Root.

    Appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull drew plenty of media attention last week when he shot off an e-mail filled with racially charged invective. TPM’s Ryan J. Reilly said the e-mail implied that Obama “might have been the product of a sexual encounter between his mother and a dog." The e-mail contained more garbage, which can be read about from Reilly’s reporting.

    Ifill writes that our president should not feel compelled to accept Cebull’s apology.

    The decision, Ifill writes, by “Cebull, the chief judge of the federal district court in Montana, to send the email to several of his ‘buddies,’ using his federal email account, bespeaks a certain recklessness reflected among those who have lost all sense of respect and decorum in their opposition to our president.”

    Noting other high-profile politicos' disgraceful actions toward Obama, think Ariz. Gov. Jan Brewer’s shrill, disrespectful greeting of the president on a tarmac near Phoenix, Ifill says this “alarming rash of intemperate, racially driven expressions of incivility by prominent white leaders is dangerous because it gives license to others to regard open disrespect of the president as sanctioned and approved. Their actions not only endanger Obama but also endanger future presidents by diminishing the respect due to the office of the presidency, whoever sits in the Oval Office.”

  • March 1, 2012
    BookTalk
    Cheating Justice
    How Bush And Cheney Attacked The Rule Of Law, Plotted To Avoid Prosecution, And What We Can Do About It
    By: 
    Cynthia L. Cooper and Elizabeth Holtzman

    By Cynthia L. Cooper, an award-winning journalist and lawyer, and Elizabeth Holtzman, a lawyer, former prosecutor and former member of Congress who served on the House committee that investigated Watergate.


    When President George W. Bush and his team left office, mounds of misdeeds were left to fester. Some of their transgressions in office were so shocking – lying to Congress in order to embroil the nation in war and occupation, illegally wiretapping Americans without warrants, authorizing torture that had been outlawed by U.S. and international law – that he and Vice President Cheney probably should have been impeached and removed from office.

    Instead, they completed their terms and sped away. Even though Bush publicly announced in his 2010 memoir that he had personally authorized waterboarding, a recognized form of torture  -- “Damn right,” he is quoted as saying – hardly a peep was heard about seeking accountability. But how can that be? Key to preserving our democracy is the concept that no person is above the law.

    In order to ignite a national conversation on the topic, we set out to show how and why the president and vice president should be held accountable – especially, how they can be prosecuted. That meant looking at the available evidence, investigating precisely what laws are implicated and determining, as best as possible, whether a prima facie case could be made. We found enough to make a courageous prosecutor sit up and take notice, although the statute of limitations is ticking in some areas. We found clear problems under laws related to the conspiracy to deceive Congress, foreign intelligence surveillance and U.S. anti-torture laws – each of which needs prosecutorial attention.

    Along the way, we found something else disturbing, too: a repeated pattern by which Bush and Cheney took extraordinary efforts to protect themselves from the sting of the law. In Cheating Justice: How Bush and Cheney Attacked the Rule of Law, Plotted to Avoid Prosecution – And What We Can Do About It, we look at both: how the ex-president and vice-president can be held personally accountable, but, also, how they tried to manipulate the system from inside to keep themselves from being held to account.

    Perhaps the most startling example of their extraordinary actions was the gutting of the War Crimes Act of 1996. 

  • February 17, 2012

    by Nicole Flatow

    With the election year underway and 103 current and future vacancies plaguing the federal courts, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is making headway in an aggressive push to force votes on long-pending judicial nominees.

    On Wednesday, he successfully pushed through the nomination of Adalberto Jose Jordán to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, even as Sen. Rand Paul forced the 30 hours of debate to elapse before the final vote to confirm Jordán 94-5.

    And on Thursday night, Reid was successful in securing confirmation of another nominee, Jesse Furman, to the Southern District of New York. Reid filed a motion to invoke cloture on his nomination Wednesday, but the Senate opted not to vote on the cloture motion, and to simply hold an up-or-down vote.

    Both Jordán and Furman are consensus nominees -- both were approved by the Judiciary Committee with absolutely no opposition, and both have been ripe for an immediate vote since before the Senate left for the winter recess.

    They are just two examples of the many highly qualified consensus nominees who have been pending for months on the Senate calendar.

  • February 16, 2012
    BookTalk
    No Undocumented Child Left Behind
    Plyler v. Doe and the Education of Undocumented Schoolchildren
    By: 
    Michael A. Olivas

    By Michael A. Olivas, William B. Bates Distinguished Chair of Law at the University of Houston Law Center, and director of the school’s Institute of Higher Education Law & Governance.


    Immigration has always been a complex transaction and dangerous sojourn, and local forces have attempted to control the process, especially as the country was forming and borders were not yet fully established. Throughout United States history, state and local politicians have introduced and enacted thousands of anti-alien bills. Some legislation has even been so mean-spirited as to advocate a repeal of 1982’s  Plyler v. Doe, the watershed Supreme Court decision that required Texas to give undocumented children free access to public schools. In difficult economic times, elected officials find scapegoating aliens is an easy way to reach low-hanging fruit, as if these workers were the source of the sputtering economy. For example, Alabama enacted HB 56 (the “Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act”) in 2011, regarded as the most-draconian anti-immigrant legislation to date. The statute even required schools to conduct a census of undocumented children in schools, until it was enjoined by the trial and Circuit judges.

    Such arguments and legislation, mixed in a cauldron amidst shrill warnings about the rights of “real Americans,” lead inevitably to a sense of divisiveness, racial superiority, and undifferentiated prejudice. Such imprecise, undifferentiated, and broad-brush swipes at “illegals” and “anchor babies” generally tar all the groups. Free-floating racialized animus often leads to a generalized resentment against all people of color, or “others,” especially those constructed as “foreigners.”  If there were a group that holds promise to become productive, undocumented K-12 and college students would surely be that group. With the generally dismal schooling available to these students, that even a small percentage could meet the admission standards of colleges and universities is extraordinary. Given their status and struggle, each successful student represents a story of substantial accomplishment. Most of these students have parents who struggled to bring them to this country and exercised considerable risk to enable their achievements. That they succeed under extraordinary circumstances is remarkable to virtually all who observe them. These students’ success partially explains why so many educators and legislators have accepted Plyler and worked to assist them in navigating the complexities of school and college. Despite the success of anti-immigrant rhetoric in shaping a discourse and of restrictionists in fashioning resentments, reasonable legislators of both parties have attempted to address the issues these students face.