President Bush

  • April 15, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Russ Wheeler, Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he studies the selection of U.S. judges and how courts function with other branches of government and the press, among other judicial topics. Wheeler is a former deputy director of the Federal Judicial Center, research and education agency for the federal court system. 

    The buzz about likely nominees for Justice John Paul Stevens' Supreme Court seat is crowding out attention to the slow pace of nominations and confirmations of federal circuit and district judges. The fight over the Supreme Court vacancy will likely slow that pace even more.

    The Obama administration lags behind the W. Bush administration's number of nominees and confirmations at the same point, leading to grousing from law professors and others. Hopes are fading fast among liberal federal court watchers that Obama's strong electoral victory will mean a major change -- at least in his current term -- in the mix of Democratic- and Republican-appointed federal judges, especially on the courts of appeals.

    Here's a rundown of the pace of nominations and confirmations, and after that a look at some differences among Obama and Bush nominees at this point. More details are available here.

    Nominations and confirmations as of April 14 2002/2010 Obama has made fewer nominations: 38 district and 18 circuit nominations, versus 69 and 28 for Bush (not including a Fourth Circuit judge whom Clinton recess appointed and Bush renominated). Obama inherited 54 vacancies, but now there are more than 100, and over 20 publicly announced future vacancies.

  • April 5, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Amanda Frost, associate professor of law, American University Washington College of Law

    Plaintiffs have won a rare victory against the government in a case involving the state secrets privilege. On April 1, 2010, Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in favor of Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Inc., a now-defunct Islamic charity that had sued the government for intercepting its employees' international telephone conversations without obtaining a warrant. Al-Haramain claimed the government's warrantless wiretap violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a federal law that limits the government's ability to eavesdrop on its citizens. The case is one of several challenging the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program. The government has responded to all such lawsuits by arguing because its surveillance activities concern national security, the state secrets privilege requires dismissal of claims that it violated FISA.

    Yet FISA was enacted for the very purpose of preventing the government from eavesdropping without a warrant, and it provides a mechanism by which individuals or groups who believe they have been victims of an unlawful government wiretap can seek redress in the courts even when the claim relies on classified evidence. Under FISA, if a plaintiff establishes a "colorable basis" for believing that it has been subject to unlawful surveillance, the Court can then examine classified evidence in camera to determine whether the surveillance occurred, and if so whether it was lawful.

  • April 1, 2010

    U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker rejected arguments initially offered by both the Bush and Obama administrations, ruling that the National Security Administration's (NSA) warrantless wiretapping broke federal law. Walker determined that the program violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which requires warrants that the NSA failed to obtain.

    Rather than mounting a legal defense of the NSA's program, the Obama administration only argued that the state-secrets privilege required the court to block the suit. Judge Walker bucked the administrations' invocations of the privilege, which he characterized as amounting to "unfettered executive-branch discretion" bearing "obvious potential for governmental abuse and overreaching." Walker's 45-page opinion made no mention of the Bush administration's argument that the NSA acted within the president's war time powers to override FISA.

    Writing at Wired's "Threat Level" blog, David Kravets called the ruling "a landmark decision."

    "It's the first ruling addressing how Bush's once-secret spy program was carried out against American citizens," Kravets reports. "Other cases considered the program's overall constitutionality, absent any evidence of specific eavesdropping."

  • February 25, 2010
    Rising Road
    A True Tale of Love, Race and Religion in America
    Sharon Davies

    By Sharon Davies, John C. Elam/Vorys Sater Designated Professor of Law, Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University

    Rising Road is one of those books that happened by accident; a chance occurrence on the way to somewhere else.

    After the outcome of the election in 2004, when the country was abuzz with reports of how the question of gay marriage drove President George W. Bush's supporters from their homes to the voting booths, I began to think about law and marriage, and the way of constitutional change.

    It was a topic of great personal importance to me, law and marriage. Had my parents been swayed by the marriage laws that were still in place in various states at the time of my birth, I would never have been born. Neither would any of my five brothers or sisters. It was the era of the anti-miscegenation laws. The simple act of having us was a crime, a number of states declared, and they backed the ban up with the criminal sanction. Defiant mixed race couples could be jailed.

    I was nearly seven-years-old by the time the U.S. Supreme Court finally got around to striking those laws down. Seems my siblings and I weren't crimes after all. It was the law that was wrong, the Court announced in Loving v. Virginia in 1967. The decision was unanimous. Even Justice Hugo Black agreed, though a son of the South, the region of the country most steadfastly devoted to the anti-miscegenation regime.

    After the election in 2004, I wondered how constitutional change like that came about-how acts of intimacy, and marriage, and the wee beings that can result from them, could one day be outlawed, and another day not. I will write an article about that, I thought to myself, and set to work.

    When doing the researching for that intended article, however, the unexpected happened. I tripped over a reference to a 1921 trial in Birmingham, Alabama. A murder trial, where the marriage of the daughter of a Methodist minister to a Catholic migrant from Puerto Rico, led the minister to kill the Catholic priest who took their vows. How horrible, I thought. I'll use it as an example in my article.

  • January 25, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Thomas O. McGarity, Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowed Chair in Administrative Law, University of Texas at Austin & Member Scholar, Center for Progressive Reform

    The citizens of Minot, North Dakota suffered a grave injustice on January 18, 2002 when a train derailment bathed much of that small town in a toxic cloud of poisonous gas that killed one person and injured almost 1,500 others. A detailed investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the derailment was most likely caused by fractures in temporary joints that the railroad had installed to repair the track.

    When the victims sued the railroad for damages caused by its negligent maintenance, they found the courthouse doors locked. A federal district court held that their claims were preempted by the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) of 1970, which contained a "preemption" clause that Congress enacted to prevent states and localities from enacting regulations that were inconsistent with the regulations issued by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the federal agency that Congress created to protect citizens from irresponsible railroads.

    The court held that because Congress empowered the FRA to regulate railroad safety, injured citizens could not sue the railroads when they operated their trains unsafely -- whether or not they complied with FRA requirements. Other courts have issued similar decisions in cases involving train collisions, derailments and grade-crossing accidents.

    During the Bush Administration, the FRA aggressively asserted its newfound power to protect railroads by preempting state common law. A new white paper issued by the Center for Progressive Reform (which I co-authored) explores the injustice inherent in this interpretation of the statute.

    Proponents of preemption argue that the FRA is fully capable of protecting U.S. citizens without the help of juries applying vague common law standards to reach potentially inconsistent results in 50 different jurisdictions. The citizens of Minot know that's not true.