ACSBlog

  • April 12, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece is part of the ACSblog symposium: "The Future of the U.S. Constitution

    by Shirin Sinnar, Associate Professor of Law, Stanford Law School

    The Trump presidency has put into sharp relief fundamental constitutional questions about national security and the role of courts. In the travel ban cases, for instance, courts question the degree of deference they owe the executive’s national security assertions where there is unprecedented evidence of discriminatory animus. Significant as such questions are, the current political moment also invites us to reflect on a deeper question: how we conceptualize the very notion of “national security” in the face of official policies and rhetoric that subject certain communities within the nation to radical insecurity. 

    In and out of court, “national security” is invoked prolifically with the assumption that its scope is self-evident and its importance unparalleled. “It is ‘obvious and unarguable’ that no governmental interest is more compelling than the security of the nation,” the Supreme Court proclaimed in Haig v. Agee in 1981. In the last Supreme Court argument of the Obama presidency, the Justice Department asked the Court to preclude a damages remedy for constitutional violations by federal officials arising at the intersection of immigration and national security policy. In so doing, administration officials again postulated the coherence of the “national security” category and the appropriateness of insulating certain constitutional violations within it from judicial review.

    The term “national security” seems to invoke some set of implicit associations: perhaps the idea that state sovereignty or the preservation of governmental institutions is threatened; perhaps the notion that a threat implicates foreign relations; perhaps the idea that an issue involves especially high stakes, even of an existential nature. In political and legal speech, the connection between any particular issue and these ideas is often implied but rarely defended.

  • April 11, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Chris Edelson, Assistant Professor of Government, American University’s School of Public Affairs and Author of Power Without Constraint: The Post 9/11 Presidency and National Security

    Last week, without congressional approval, Donald Trump ordered missile strikes against Syria. The argument for the strikes is, at first blush, compelling. We all saw the nightmarish pictures of murdered Syrian children. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad cannot be allowed to launch chemical weapons attacks against Syrian civilians with impunity. But additional questions present themselves. Is there legal authority for Trump’s decision? If Congress fails to act, what message will it send to the Trump administration, and what could this mean for future military action both in Syria and elsewhere?

    It is clear there is no authority under U.S. law for the strike (nor under international law), and that if Congress continues to passively defer to Trump’s unilateral decision it will be sending Trump a dangerous message: that decisions about when, where and against whom to use military force are for the president alone to make. That is the view John Yoo notoriously endorsed when describing the scope of presidential authority after the 9/11 attacks, and it is a description of presidential power that is incompatible with constitutional democracy.

    The simplest and also the most persuasive reading of the Constitution is that it assigns Congress authority over the decision to go to war, unless the United States faces an emergency situation requiring the president to repel a sudden attack without time to seek congressional authorization.  As Charlie Savage noted last week, most scholars agree that this is what the framers had in mind when they created a new document for a national government that would for the first time contain an executive branch. As Louis Fisher and others have explained, the framers decisively broke with the then-existing British model by granting the national legislature this power. The president is not a king, and the Constitution assigned powers previously belonging to the British king either to Congress or to the president and Congress jointly.

  • April 11, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece is part of the ACSblog symposium: "The Future of the U.S. Constitution

    by Pamela S. Karlan, ACS Board Member and Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law, Co-Director of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, Stanford Law School

    “Always it is by bridges that we live,” the poet Philip Larkin wrote. One of the problems with the way we have tried to build a more just constitutional law is our failure to draw lessons across constitutional subfields – to build constitutional bridges.

    Several years ago, I published an article in the Indiana Law Journal called “Taking Politics Religiously: How Free Exercise and Establishment Clause Cases Illuminate the Law of Democracy.” It is an example of what I mean by building constitutional bridges: I used themes developed in the religion clause cases – like the “radical” idea that “[f]ree people are entitled to free and diverse thoughts, which government ought neither to constrain nor to direct,” that the Constitution should combat the creation of an outsider class and that it should prevent capture and exploitation of the machinery of government – to suggest how we ought to think about political party regulation, redistricting and campaign finance.

    Now, I want to begin a conversation about two areas of law that might seem rather disconnected from one another: voting rights and reproductive justice. I often joke about that connection: politics, like reproduction, combines lofty goals, deep passions about identity and instincts for self-preservation, increasing reliance on technology and often a need – as the Supreme Court put it in a redistricting case – to “pull” and “haul” rather indelicately at the very end. And of course, it often involves somebody getting screwed.

  • April 11, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece is part of the ACSblog symposium: "The Future of the U.S. Constitution

    by Walter Dellinger, ACS Board of Advisors Member, Douglas B. Maggs Professor Emeritus of Law, Duke University School of Law and Dawn Johnsen, ACS Board of Advisors Member and Walter W. Foskett Professor of Law, Indiana University Maurer School of Law

    America’s increasing economic inequality threatens our liberal democracy. Economic inequality translates into political inequality and corrodes our democratic institutions and the viability of our Constitution. Ganesh Sitaraman describes these threats in his excellent new book, The Crisis of the Middle Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic. We need urgently to find innovative tools to counter the erosion of our foundational, shared belief in opportunity and fairness, the American Dream.

    It is time to begin a serious national debate about the wisdom and constitutionality of a federal tax on wealth – an annual tax of a small percentage of an individual taxpayer’s net worth in excess of some large minimum. Just for example:  a 1 percent annual tax on wealth in excess of 10 million dollars, which would affect less than 1 percent of Americans. We leave the details to those skilled in economic and tax policy. Nor do we have in mind the short-term political viability of such a tax in the current Congress – though we will note that in 1999 Donald Trump suggested a one-time 14.25 percent tax on net worth in excess of 10 million dollars.

  • April 11, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece is part of the ACSblog symposium: "The Future of the U.S. Constitution"

    by Kate Andrias, ACS Board of Academic Advisers Member and Assistant Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School

    Ours is an economy and a political system from which many ordinary Americans feel excluded; they feel forgotten by those in power; and they worry that their opportunities are declining. Their perceptions are based in reality. Today, income inequality in the United States is at its highest level since the period leading up to the New Deal. The top 1 percent of earners in the United States take home nearly a quarter of our national income. Workers’ real wages have barely grown during recent decades, even as productivity and educational attainment have increased. The situation is most dire for people of color, particularly African Americans, but white men have also fallen behind, suffering mounting health problems and diminishing opportunities. Political inequality has soared as well. Numerous studies demonstrate the outsized influence of economic elites, both individuals and corporations, at every level of the legislative and administrative process. 

    Trump came to power in part because of these problems of economic and political inequality. His election, like others around the globe, reflected voters’—and nonvoters’—widespread dissatisfaction with political elites. Unfortunately, every indication is that the problems in the political economy that contributed to Trump’s victory will only grow worse under his watch.

    The inequality that helped produce Trump’s election represents a failure of American politics. It also represents a failure of U.S. constitutional law—or more precisely, judge-made constitutional doctrine. Constitutional doctrine contributes to, even facilitates, political and economic inequality in numerous ways. Campaign finance doctrine is the most notorious example. But paltry constitutional protections for workers’ rights to organize and strike are also to blame. Some scholars estimate that the decline in unionization in the United States is responsible for up to one-third of the climb in income inequality in recent decades. So too, the Supreme Court’s doctrine on poverty and education is at fault, having allowed, despite sound constitutional arguments to the contrary, a system of vast inequity in schooling to persist. Many other examples exist.  Here, too, things are likely to get worse under the Trump administration rather than better.