an unanticipated consequence of
Jack M. Balkin
Jack Balkin: jackbalkin at yahoo.com
Bruce Ackerman bruce.ackerman at yale.edu
Ian Ayres ian.ayres at yale.edu
Mary Dudziak mary.l.dudziak at emory.edu
Joey Fishkin joey.fishkin at gmail.com
Heather Gerken heather.gerken at yale.edu
Abbe Gluck abbe.gluck at yale.edu
Mark Graber mgraber at law.umaryland.edu
Stephen Griffin sgriffin at tulane.edu
Bernard Harcourt harcourt at uchicago.edu
Scott Horton shorto at law.columbia.edu
Andrew Koppelman akoppelman at law.northwestern.edu
Marty Lederman msl46 at law.georgetown.edu
Sanford Levinson slevinson at law.utexas.edu
David Luban david.luban at gmail.com
Gerard Magliocca gmaglioc at iupui.edu
Jason Mazzone mazzonej at illinois.edu
Linda McClain lmcclain at bu.edu
John Mikhail mikhail at law.georgetown.edu
Frank Pasquale pasquale.frank at gmail.com
Nate Persily npersily at gmail.com
Michael Stokes Paulsen michaelstokespaulsen at gmail.com
Deborah Pearlstein dpearlst at princeton.edu
Rick Pildes rick.pildes at nyu.edu
Richard Primus raprimus at umich.edu
K. Sabeel Rahmansabeel.rahman at brooklaw.edu
Alice Ristroph alice.ristroph at shu.edu
Neil Siegel siegel at law.duke.edu
Brian Tamanaha btamanaha at wulaw.wustl.edu
Mark Tushnet mtushnet at law.harvard.edu
Adam Winkler winkler at ucla.edu
Law's Abnegation is written with style and verve. It is a bit repetitive at
times, as if Vermeuele hopes to convince us of the correctness of his positions
by asserting them over and over again. But the work as a whole is truly a marvelous
introduction to the philosophy of administrative law. I would recommend it to
any student who wants to look beyond the caselaw to understand the subject.
The title is
misleading in one respect. It is simply not true, nor does Vermeuele argue,
that *law* has abnegated its role or that it has been displaced by the
rules and regulations are a kind of law.If anything, law *proliferates* in the administrative state-- that is
one reason why the critics of the administrative state don't like it.Rather, Vermeuele's point is that certain
professional groups we associate with law-- judges and lawyers-- become
increasingly less important in the administrative state. So the book should
properly be called "Judges' abnegation" or "Lawyers'
abnegation." But those are far less engaging titles.
celebrates the rise of law-promulgating and law-enforcing agencies dominated by
experts other than lawyers. He argues that Article III judges have
self-consciously chosen to play only a marginal role and that lawyers
generally-- both within and without the agencies-- will play an increasingly
smaller and smaller role.Once again,
however, this is not a claim about law-- it is a claim about the increasing
separation of law from lawyers and judges.
conceit is that separation of law from lawyers and judges is an example of the
law "working itself pure." Vermeule repeatedly invokes Ronald
Dworkin's notion of a coherentist account of law that combines fit with
justification-- and he argues that the law has been moving toward greater
coherence as it increasingly separates law from the domination of lawyers and
It is hard
to know how seriously to take the use of Dworkin in this book.Dworkin, after all, symbolizes the very judicial
imperialism that Vermeule targets in his book. Indeed, Vermeule seems to take
great delight in turning some aspects of Dworkin against Dworkin himself, and
to employ Dworkinian phrases like "fit and justification" or
"the law working itself pure" in ways that undermine the Dworkinian
model of principled decisionmaking.
not really making an argument that the law has become more principled over
time. Quite the contrary, Dworkin distinguished (unconvincingly, to my mind)
between arguments from principle and arguments from policy. Vermuele's central
claim-- which he asserts over and over again in this book-- is that lawyers and
judges have performed a cost-benefit analysis on their own professional
contributions to the administrative state. They have asked themselves what
their contribution at the margins is. And, over time, they have concluded that
the best balance of costs and benefits is for them to recede into the
background, and to abnegate their traditional roles.
This is not
an argument from principle. It is a hard-headed argument from costs and
benefits, the very sort of argument that Dworkin might have classified as an
argument from policy, and therefore *not* an example of the law working itself
pure. It is not an example of Dworkinianism, that is, unless the real master
principle is that all legal arrangements should be subjected to cost-benefit
analysis. At that point, however, the Dworkinian distinction between principle
and policy implodes.
insists at various points that he is offering a purely internalist account of
law, but if you have read any of his other books or articles, you have to take
this with a very large grain of salt. Near the end of the book he admits that
his internalist account tracks externalist accounts of the growth and
development of the administrative state that he has offered elsewhere.His basic temperament is externalist and realist,
and admirably so; when he claims to be talking purely internally, one has to
treat him as an unreliable narrator.
Vermeuele who has written on civil liberties and executive power, or on
decision theory and constitutional law, might well regard the very phrase
"the law works itself pure," as a pious fraud, and then proceed to
explode it elegantly. That Vermeuele does not show up in this book, although
one suspects he is in the background, chuckling mischievously.
Federalism has various functions in our constitutional system. But the picture of which functions matter most changes during periods of intense political polarization, intense federal government dysfunction, or both (and our current political era, both pre- and post-Trump, is a cocktail with a whole lot of both).
For example: Heather Gerken hasargued that one central function of federalism, and indeed sub-federalism potentially “all the way down,” is to allow people who are in the minority in national policy disagreements to have some jurisdictions where they actually decide—govern—rather than merely voicing their dissent. This particular function of federalism takes on greater significance at times of intense polarization, even as that same polarization tends to tax the willingness of those in power at the national level to countenance dissent from the states below.
I’ve blogged here before about another, less laudable item in the list of functions of federalism (and especially of “cooperative federalism”): to obscure the role of the federal government in major national policy measures, disguising federal policy as state policy and federal dollars as state dollars. This is one of the reasons why you so often see polling results that show, for example, that state insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (such as KYNECT, the Kentucky-branded exchange), as well as the state-administered Medicaid programs the ACA dramatically expanded, are far more popular than the ACA itself. To be sure, even the ACA itself—the unambiguously national brand—is more popular than Beltway Republicans think. But its state-branded components are often considerably more popular. As is often the case, states get undue credit for the good stuff. The individual mandate—collected by the IRS via your 1040—looks like the federal policy it is, while KYNECT looks like the state of Kentucky. Here as elsewhere, citizens have every reason not to understand that the bulk of the money for many popular state programs comes from the federal government. We have deliberately fuzzed it up.
The current debacle unfolding in Congress and the Executive Branch, as Republicans flounder to formulate a plan to “replace” the ACA, amid radical disagreement within their own ranks over exactly what the goals and scope of any such replacement ought to be, has me thinking about a third and much simpler function of federalism. Federalism can be a way to punt. Sometimes, the federal government simply has reason to decide not to decide an issue. Maybe the tradeoffs are too hard. Maybe there is no solution that can garner a majority in Congress. So, the federal government punts, leaving it to the states.
There is plenty of overlap among the functions of federalism I’ve just mentioned (and others I have not). For instance, sometimes people advocate what sounds like a punt to the states of a hard issue, but really what they have in mind is more Gerkenian: One side is nationally in the minority, and they argue that something should be “left to the states” precisely because that way they’ll win somewhere rather than losing everywhere; and perhaps by winning somewhere, they’ll advance their overall argument in the national public sphere in the long run. This is why “leave [same-sex] marriage to the states” was at one time, briefly, the liberal position (when liberals were nationally in the minority on the issue) and then later became the conservative position (when conservatives found themselves in the minority).
So that brings us to our current political moment. Republicans have a problem. Their general problem is that now they have to govern. Their specific problem is that they have pledged to “repeal and replace” the ACA and they have no idea how to translate this into national policy that can (a) garner 60 votes in the Senate and a majority in the House, (b) not mangle the national health insurance system so badly that it creates political blowback on an epic scale (I am deliberately setting the bar very low), and (c) satisfy their core supporters that they have followed through on their promise to slay their white whale, Obamacare. Indeed it would be a challenge to satisfy any two of these! And they do need all three.
Many but not all Republicans would set the bar higher, with a stronger version of (b) that we could call the “nonretrogression” principle in health insurance: The millions of people who now have coverage through either expanded-Medicaid or the exchanges should not be made substantially, visibly worse off (such as by losing health insurance outright, or seeing their current insurance replaced with something that is obviously flimsy in comparison). President Trump, for his part, has repeatedly and forcefully endorsed this stronger version of (b).
The result is a moment of serious peril for the new Republican governing majority, and I’m not sure they yet appreciate the scope of the peril. Any major, high-profile changes to Obamacare will begin to trigger the Pottery Barn rule: the chaos and broken mess of the health insurance system will begin to be blamed on Republicans. Even without such major, high-profile changes, after a while people will tend to blame the President for national policies that are going badly.
So, what to do? The answer is Obamacare federalism.
progressives committed to strong administrative government, it’s been a tough
couple of months.President-elect Trump
has assembled a cabinet full of nominees committed to dramatically retracting
and even abolishing the agencies they will lead.There’s Scott
Pruitt, nominated to head EPA, a dedicated foe of federal environmental
regulation who filed a nonstop barrage of lawsuits challenging the EPA’s
actions during the Obama Administration.Betsey
DeVos, named to lead Department of Education, reknown for her unflagging
commitment for steering public funds to private schools and in some instances
abolishing public school systems altogether.Andrew
Puzner, the nominee for Secretary of Labor, is an outspoken critic of labor
laws and worker protections, exactly the measures his department is charged
Perry has stated he would abolish the Energy Department he has been charged
to lead.The list goes on.Add to that a House and Senate controlled by
a Republican Party whose platform
reads like an anti-administrative screed, not to mention substantial Republican
support for legislation
that could stop regulation in its tracks, and it’s not hard to come the
conclusion that the future prospects for the national administrative state are
according to Adrian Vermeule in his new book, Law’s Abnegation.Vermeule’s central message is that the modern
administrative state is a voluntary and inevitable creation to which Congress
and the courts will only grant more power over time.Do not get fooled by seeming backsliding
along the way, he advises.Those are
just temporary deviations from the overall path towards greater administration.In his opening words, “the long arc of the
law has bent towards deference—a freely chosen deference to the administrative
state.” (p. 1).Vermeule’s focus is on
judicial review and his book thus does not address the possibility of the
administrative state imploding from within.But I would expect his position to be that the agencies’ ability to
dramatically change course is itself proof of the power of the administrative
state.Politics and policies may change,
but the administrative structure of government endures.
Abnegation is a highly beneficial tonic, with its insistence that scholars not
get so caught up in partisan fights of the day that they lose sight of broader
institutional dynamics.It is equally helpful
for its powerful analytic and empirical contributions to reigning
administrative law debates, all delivered in an eminently readable form. Of particular note is Vermeule’s defense of
judicial deference to agency interpretations of their own rules, which several
justices have targeted as unconstitutional agency self-delegation of power.Yet, as Vermeule points out, these critiques
miss their mark; such deference does not change the scope of statutory
authority that agencies enjoy, all it does is allow agencies to time their
exercises of delegated authority, opting for more general rulemaking now and
more specific interpretation and application later. (pp. 80-81).One of his strongest and more surprising claims
is that so-called judicial “hard look review” of agency decisionmaking is a
mirage.(Chs. 4 & 5). According to
Vermeule, the more accurate descriptor is “thin rationality review,” with the
Supreme Court overwhelmingly deferring broadly to agencies on the rationality
of their policy choices.Moreover, says
Vermeule, that is how it should be, because in the conditions of uncertainty in
which agencies must often act, reasons run out and an arbitrary choice may well
I am a fan
of this book.Still, there are two
features of Vermeule’s analysis that give me pause.One concerns his identification of law with external
judicial review, thereby putting internal executive branch constraints outside
the realm of law.The other relates to
the notable absence of politics.Both
these features reflect Vermeule’s focus on analyzing the logic of administrative
law doctrine, yet serve to disconnect his account from the lived reality of
One of the dilemmas facing constitutional analysts is trying to figure out exactly what type of threat to our constitutional order Donald Trump constitutes. Consider (at least) four different possibilities:
1) He is "merely" incredibly ignorant about issues of public policy, without a scintilla of experience in any truly complex organization--a family business business of his type really doesn't count--let alone experience in governance and the skill sets required of those who would govern in a reasonably "democratic" (or, for that matter, "republican") form. 2) In addition, he is "merely" an extreme narcissist, requiring constant reinforcement of his wonderfulness and absolutely unaccepting of any possibility of imperfection. 3) In addition to 1 and 2, he is also "merely" an authoritarian in personality structure, brooking no opposition; 4) in addition to 1, 2, and 3, he is also a fascist.
blurb for Law’s Abnegation attests to
my admiration of its argument. Before editing by the press, it read: “The
administrative state does not fit neatly into any conception of constitutional
legal order. For that reason, there are calls from time to time to rid our
legal orders of the ‘lawless’ administrative state so that we can return
to some pristine era, ruled by the rule of law with judges as its guardians. In
this simply and powerfully argued book, Adrian Vermeule suggests that this
pristine era probably never existed. But more important is that he shows that
the administrative state developed in accordance with an internal legal logic
of the US constitutional order. Legislatures and judges cooperated in
‘working the law pure’ to bring about a legal order in which judges
appropriately relegated themselves to the margins of legal order. Both
critics and supporters of the administrative state will learn much from his
careful, imaginative and non-polemical analysis.”
Here, I proceed from praise to (I hope) constructive criticism
focused on two points crucial to the overall argument of the book: first, the
conception of ‘law’ in Vermeule’s account; second, the claim that anything
produced in conformity with constitutionally mandated principles is for that
reason constitutionally legitimate. If, as I will try to show, Vermeule is
vulnerable to criticism on these two points, it is because his main analytical
tool is law rather than legality, and moreover a conception of
law that at times seems little different from that of his foils who argue that
the administrative state is unconstitutional and lawless.
The problem starts with Vermeule’s title: Law’s Abnegation: From Law’s Empire to the
Administrative State. To abnegate is to deny, renounce or reject and the
thought is that the denial is a self-denial: American public law contained an
irresistible internal dynamic that led to the transition from an empire over
which law as interpreted by judges ruled to an administrative state in which
something quite different is afoot. But when it comes to the question of what is
afoot Vermeule is rather ambivalent. Throughout he seems tempted by the
implications of a literal understanding of law’s abnegation—that the
administrative state is in fact lawless--a realm of arbitrary power, but one
that is still constitutionally legitimate because it is the result of
‘principled, properly differentiated decisions reached at the higher level of
statutory enactment and delegation’ . If that were right, it would be hard
to see what exactly distinguishes his view from the resoundingly affirmative
answer to the question posed in the title of a recent book, Philip Hamburger’s Is Administrative Law Unlawful? (2014),
despite the devastating review Vermeule wrote of it, and that one of his
chapters repeats the essentials of his review. (I should mention that at this
point my claim about the ‘non-polemical’ tone of Vermeule’s argument must be
taken with a pinch of salt. See, for example, note 51, at 225.)If anything, the distinction would seem to be
about whether the result of a properly authorized procedure is for that reason constitutional,
as Vermeule suggests, or whether illegality may be the result of a scrupulously
lawful process. (See Hamburger’s brief rejoinder along these lines in “Vermeule
Unbound” (2016) 94 Texas Law Review 205,
Law’s Abnegation is an intellectual
force to be reckoned with. This is especially so if, like me, you think
administrative law should place more emphasis on law than it currently does. Vermeule contends that today law is
like a lion crouching beneath the throne of the administrative state, and that
is how it should be. Even further, he averts that law’s supine position is in
some deeper sense inevitable. These provocative arguments from doctrine,
decision theory, and jurisprudence offer a coherent, unified vision of
administrative law. One may not ultimately be convinced, but the book’s
argument and example demand a response in kind.
book’s central claim is that the New Deal’s doctrinal consensus on
administrative law has collapsed and that all the pieces have fallen toward
deference to administrative agencies. Chief Justice Hughes in the 1932 case Crowell v. Bensonenvisioned a compromise in which courts
would review questions of law de novo while deferring to agencies on other most
other matters. But in area after area, Vermeule argues, law’s empire has ceded
ground to the administrative state, checking agencies only when they veer into
patent unreasonableness. Accordingly, an administrative law that legitimizes
active agencies while reserving “lawyers’ questions” for the courts is
untenable. Even less plausible, a
fortiori, are more radical critiques of the administrative state based on
constitutional originalism or
theories. Vermeule argues that the courts did not lose their territory because
some Golden Horde of bespectacled bureaucrats stormed law’s citadel. Rather,
lawyers opened up the gates for good, lawyerly reasons. To return to the book’s
Dworkinian metaphor, the law worked itself pure, but in doing so dissolved into
a shell of its former self. Or so the argument goes.
my more legalist orientation, I find substantial portions of the book’s claims
persuasive. For example, Vermeule offers a compelling argument that courts
should not demand pristine rationality and exhaustive explanations when
agencies make policy at the frontiers of knowledge. Of course, adherents to the
Crowell compromise can readily accede
to this critique: if policy is for agencies and law is for courts, any appropriately
deferential review of agency policymaking should incorporate sound insights about
reasoning under epistemic uncertainty.
Vermeule argues that the Crowell
compromise is untenable as a matter of theory: the arc of history must either
bend toward legal abnegation or judicial supremacy, but not an internal
separation of powers. Though his argumentation is formidable, here I am less
convinced. Claims about the inevitable instability of Crowell rest on a controversial—and in my view, mistaken—premise
about the radical inseparability of law and policy, one which Vermeule does not
defend at length, though perhaps he feels he need not given its pervasiveness
in the legal academy. That said, the presence of jurists like Judge Brett
Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit, who has criticized
judicial intrusion on agency policymaking while
also expressing discomfort
about Chevron deference to agency
legal interpretations, could indicate that the Crowell fusion has a longer half-life than Vermeule thinks. Nor am
I convinced that judicial abnegation on interpreting statutes
heartland of law’s proverbial empire here—is as pronounced as Vermeule
We now know that conventions/norms about Supreme Court nominations are fluid (perhaps -- I hope to write something about this later this semester -- this occurs in times of regime instability/transition). We also know that politicians need to justify departures from existing norms by invoking some general principle ("no nominations in the final year of a second-term president"). So, here's a principle for Senate Democrats, at no charge: For more than 125 years, the Senate has not confirmed a Supreme Court nominee chosen by a president who lost the popular vote.
(George W. Bush didn't nominate anyone during the term resulting from his popular vote loss; the last time such a nomination occurred was in 1893 -- by Benjamin Harrison, who was already on his way out of the Presidency [Howell Jackson -- remember him? -- was nominated on February 2, 1893 and took his seat on February 18; Grover Cleveland took office for the second time on March 4, 1893]. And, though Harrison was a Republican, he nominated Jackson, who had been a Democrat when he served in the House of Representatives.)
What are the conditions for taking this "principle" seriously?
Is democracy in the United States at risk? This question has been posed by many sober and careful commentators, including Steven Levitsky, Dani Rodrik, and Masha Gessen. In a new article called entitled “How to Lose a Constitutional Democracy,” we draw on recent comparative law and politics to develop a taxonomy of different threats of democratic backsliding, the mechanisms whereby they unfold, and the comparative risk of different sorts of threat given the substance of our constitutional rules. Our aim is to provide a general framework for evaluating various risks to democratic stability, and for identifying how constitutional rules can either hinder or facilitate those risks materializing.
With Jack’s gracious permission, we use this blog post to set out some basic findings. We should warn readers, though, not to expect a specific analysis of President Trump, as our ambition is not to evaluate him, but to provide a framework for thinking about problems of democratic backsliding in the United States. Rather, we hope in the article (and to a lesser extent in this blog post) to sketch out one core claim in the paper about the precise nature of the threat to democracies today.
Questions about backsliding focus on the possibility of movement away from a status quo. But what counts as “democracy”? This is an important question that must be addressed by any theory of backsliding at its very inception.
Political scientists tend to favor equating democracy with elections, pure and simple. But elections depend on other things, such as freedoms to campaign and form parties, neutral civil servants to count ballots, and courts to adjudicate disputes.We thus favor a slightly more robust definition of democracy as requiring, roughly, (1) free and fair elections; (2) liberal rights to speech and association; and (3) the stability, predictability, and integrity of legal institutions—i.e., the rule of law—necessary to allow democratic engagement without fear or coercion.
This definition, while looking for more than just elections (however rigged), is still quite thin. It can accommodate federalism or centralized government, presidential or parliamentary rule, and liberal or illiberal policy outcomes across many domains. It also does not look to the economic and social capabilities of citizens before signing off on the democratic credentials of a regime.
At the same time, it doesn’t require perfection. Some degree of institutional calcification, partisan entrenchment and manipulation, and exclusionary management of the public-sphere are likely discernable in most democracies. But it is a mistake to reason that just because some slippage from an (unrealizable) ideal of democratic governance under the rule of law is inevitable, that any amount of slippage is normatively untroubling.
So defined, “democracy” describes many extant regimes, including the U.S. with all its democratic imperfections. But not all. The number of democracies is diminishing each year. Scholars of democracy have of late expressed concern about an “absence of democratic progress”, “recession” or “minor decline” in democracy’s march since the third wave of democratizations of the 1990s. To some, democracy seems in full-blown “retreat.”
We think that comparative experience demonstrates that there are two distinct forms of backsliding, each with its own mechanisms and modal end-states. We call these authoritarian reversion and constitutional retrogression. The basic difference between reversion and retrogression as we use the terms is how fast and how far backsliding goes. Authoritarian reversion is a wholesale, rapid collapse into authoritarianism. Such a wholesale movement away from democracy most often occurs through the mechanism of a military coup d’état or via the use of emergency powers
Retrogression, on the other hand, is a more subtle and insidious process.It involves a more incremental, but still ultimately substantial, decay in the three basic predicates of democracy, namely competitive elections, liberal rights to speech and association, and the rule of law necessary for democratic choice to thrive.
One of our core claims is that scholars have largely focused on the possibility of swift autocratic reversions such as a coup d’etat (as in Thailand, Mali, and Mauritania) or via the use of emergency powers (most famously, in Weimar Germany). But we think that threat of constitutional retrogression—a more insidious form of institutional erosion—is more substantial.
A tale of two inaugurals: on populism and democracy
K. Sabeel Rahman
Donald Trump has been sworn in, and is now the President of the United States. His inauguration speech was notably and stridently populist. While we have come to view populism as a newly-revived force of recent years, listening to Trump speech, I am reminded of the ways in which Obama himself also evoked the value of populism in his own first inaugural eight years ago, albeit in a radically different form. As we look ahead to the politics of a Trump administration, it is worth remembering the power--and limits--of Obama's version of this same vision of restoring power to "the people".
This is an exceptional book that certainly deserves a wide
readership within the community of academic lawyers and legal theorists.I really don’t have very much to say about it
of a critical nature, in part because I am most certainly not an expert in administrative
law, the central topic of the book.But
I assume that I am part of the target audience, inasmuch as I’m interested not
only in constitutional law, but also the broad contours of American
constitutional and legal development, and the book offers an extremely
interesting and challenging take on those topics.
both begins and ends with reference to Ronald Dworkin; indeed, the title itself
is both a play on and critique of one of Dworkin’s major books, about “law’s
empire” and the crucial role that courts play as “fora of principle.”Vermeule, on the other hand, is arguing that
the modern state is primarily an administrative
state, where most public policy is in fact made, albeit under often very
broad delegation from Congress, by administrative agencies.More to the point is the fact that these
agencies have been accorded more and more discretion by the judiciary.What is so fascinating about Vermeule’s
thesis—and sure to spark some vigorous debate (though not by me)—is that “law’s
abnegation” is not the product of “external” political or social forces that
seized control away from formerly powerful courts. Instead, as he puts it, it is a product of a basically common-law process of doctrinal analysis and development. The “chastened and
self-effacing version of law [Vermeule is describing] is itself a product of
law’s processes, working themselves pure.” That is, it is judges themselves who have
recognized, over the past seventy-five years or so since the seminal case of
Crowell v. Benson that begins the book, that it simply makes good sense, in
terms of accepted legal principles, to defer to administrative agencies except
under unusual circumstances.
argues that the extent of law’s abnegation is insufficiently recognized, not
least because academics who teach (and edit casebooks on) administrative law
tend to overemphasize (or misinterpret) a relatively few outlier cases in which
the judiciary seems to discipline agencies instead of recognizing the
overwhelming array of cases, both within the Supreme Court and “inferior”
federal courts, that submit to decisions made by the agencies.What is especially interesting, relative to
the Dworkinian program of emphasizing “right answers” to all legal questions,
is that such deference, almost by definition, requires judges to accept as
perfectly acceptable answers that they themselves disagree with in terms of
first-order validity.Instead, they
accept what by stipulation are “wrong answers” because administrative agencies
are entitled to deference with regard to choosing answers.Vermeule notes that Dworkin never once
wrestled with the problem of administrative law or the administrative
state.He preferred to discuss a
relatively few cases, almost none of them truly exemplary of the realities of
modern statecraft and the ever-diminishing role of courts and judges.Vermeule therefore offers a very powerful
critique of the remarkably limited range of Dworkin’s actual reference to
contemporary law even as he claims, presumably sincerely, to be working
within the Dworkinian categories of looking for the “best fit” of decided
caselaw and then the most attractive justification for what the fit
way, he also delivers quite devastating critiques of three prominent defenders
of what might be termed the “old order” of critics of the administrative state,
Jeremy Waldron, PhilipHamburger, and Gary
Lawson.The principal thrust of
Vermeule’s argument is precisely that the developments they deplore are in fact
“internal” to the operation of the separation of powers systems they claim to
privilege and to the disciplined legal analysis of the judges whose roles they
want to re-invigorate.
Barack Obama's failed attempt to overthrow the Reagan Regime
Over at Vox, I have a new piece expanding on my earlier assessment of Obama's presidency.
It's very hard to strike the right balance in such a piece.
On the one hand, I firmly believe that Obama is one of the most successful presidents in my lifetime. On the other hand, Obama set out to be something far more significant than that-- a truly transformational president (or, in Stephen Skowronek's terms, a reconstructive president). On that score, Obama failed, for reasons I describe in the piece. We are still living in the Reagan regime.
Obama's failure at the latter goal, however, should not detract from what was, all things considered, a very successful presidency. Not every president-- even the most successful--is destined to be a Lincoln or an FDR. And, over time, I predict, Obama's reputation will only grow, especially among the people who were his political opponents today.
Near the end of the piece I point out how much turns on whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump succeeded Obama. And I note that even though Clinton lost a very close election, which could easily have gone the other way, that fact won't do Obama very much good.
Nevertheless, I close by pointing out that Obama probably created a space for the next Democratic president to be a truly transformational figure, if he or she can rise to the challenge:
[I]f Hillary Clinton had succeeded Obama, his
prospects as a reconstructive leader would look far brighter. It is hard
for a party to win the presidency three times running; achieving this
usually signifies a political party’s dominance. Conversely, there are
no cases of reconstructive presidencies (Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln,
FDR, Reagan) in which the other party regained the White House after two
Clinton lost several key states by the closest of
margins, and if only a few things had been different, the result could
easily have gone the other way. But in constructing a president’s
legacy, close doesn’t count. Because the Republicans eked out a victory,
Obama won’t get the benefit of a Democratic successor to protect his
accomplishments. Instead, Republicans will control the White House and
both houses of Congress; they will have four years to push their
programs, issue new regulations, and appoint scores of life-tenured
federal judges. For better or worse, Donald Trump’s excruciatingly
narrow win means that we still live in a Republican-dominated political
All is not lost for Democrats, however. Obama may not
have dismantled the Republican fortress, but he put serious cracks in
it. History suggests that Donald Trump, for all his bluster, heads a
seriously weakened coalition and a deeply fractious party. All the signs point to Trump being a disjunctive leader like Hoover or Carter
— arriving at the tail end of the Reagan regime. When such presidents
fail, the opposition party is poised to begin a new era of politics.
Obama took the Democrats to the edge of the Promised Land; the next
Democratic president may be able to bring them across the river Jordan.
The Supreme Court and President Trump Off to a Not-So-Great Start
Gerard N. Magliocca
After Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, Chief Justice John Roberts invited the President-elect to pay a courtesy call on the Court prior to his inauguration. The President-elect and Joe Biden accepted his invitation and met with eight of the nine Justices (Justice Alito was the only no-show).
As far as I can tell, no similar invitation was issued by the Chief Justice to President-elect Trump, or else the President-elect declined the invitation. I'd love to hear an explanation for this.
UPDATE: There is a story this evening that says the Chief Justice did invite Trump to visit the Court, but they could not work out a convenient time.
You may have seen those commercials for Allstate that feature a character called "Mr. Mayhem," that's what I had in mind. Following up, we can usefully define the notion of the "Trump premium." The premium is the difference between how Trump will operate as president and the other "regular Republican" candidates in the mix a year ago. Some of the policies being announced, particularly by members of Congress, would be largely the same were we about to experience the Cruz administration, the Rubio administration and so on. After all, the Republican Congress made a number of practice runs, proposing legislation that they knew President Obama would veto. But there are some differences as well.
Before providing my top two contenders, I will observe that there are indeed some pretty clear similarities between the anxiety about Trump and the anxieties some "experienced Washington hands" had about Ronald Reagan. Of course, Reagan had experience as a governor, I certainly don't want to ignore that. But many worried about Reagan's ability to handle the 4 a.m. call and so forth. And in truth, Reagan did not function like many prior presidents, believing in "Cabinet government" (like a CEO), delegating many responsibilities and showing little interest in policy details. But Reagan did have clear policy priorities and a sense of the moment.
First, endorsing originalism, they maintain that “the scope of any
constitutional provision is determined by the original public meaning of the
Constitution’s text. Here that text,
understood through historical evidence, establishes that foreign governments’
business at a Trump International Hotel or similar enterprises is not a
‘present, Emolument, Office, or Title.’”
As Michael Ramsey notes, this embrace of originalism as the only suitable and definitive mode of constitutional analysis is a surprising and perhaps
ill-advised posture for Trump's lawyers to adopt in these circumstances. It is
probably best understood as ideological in the sense Professor Ramsey identifies.
Second, Trump's lawyers assert that “an emolument was widely understood at the framing of
the Constitution to mean any compensation or privilege associated with an office—then, as today, an ‘emolument’ in
legal usage was a payment or other benefit received as a consequence of
discharging the duties of an office”
(original emphasis). Drawing out the
implications of this assertion, the authors write: “Emoluments did not encompass all
payments of any kind from any source, and would not have included revenues from
providing standard hotel services to guests, as these services do not amount to
the performance of an office, and therefore do not occur as a consequence of
discharging the duties of an office.”
and relatedly, the authors contend that the original meaning of “emolument”
did not include ordinary "fair-market-value transactions," such as buying or receiving interest payments on government bonds.
I've just read the manuscript of Bo Burt's forthcoming posthumous book, "Justice and Empathy." The book restates themes from his earlier work. Given my background, I was especially taken with his use of psychoanalytic theory to describe the psychological dimensions of domination and subordination. I recommend the book, particularly because Burt's sensibility is under-represented in contemporary scholarship. (Mike Seidman's work on "unsettlement" has a family resemblance to Burt's approach.)
Were I to write a longer review of the book, I'd raise several questions. (1) Much of Burt's discussion involves how those in positions of domination can come to have empathy for those they are subordinating. But, it seems to me, it's an implication of his approach that those being subjugated should have empathy for their oppressors. (The literature on the psychodynamics of sado-msochism -- on both sides -- and that on Hegel's account of master-slave relations seems relevant here.) And then the normative implications of empathy come into pretty sharp relief. One such implication might be that gay rights supporters should understand that carefully crafted religious accommodations to gay rights legislation might be desirable (though a lot is concealed in "carefully crafted" -- for example, can such accommodations be crafted in ways that don't normatively validate the claims to justified subjugation implicit or explicit in the religious beliefs being accommodated?).
(2) As in his earlier work, Burt emphasizes that well-designed remedial schemes are often desirable because they allow contending parties -- and in particular the previously dominant group -- to work out "for themselves" but under judicial pressure (not compulsion) how to deal with the transformed social relationships they are beginning to experience. Here I'd point to recent developments in scholarship on comparative constitutional law and its treatment of "engagement" remedies such as those developed by the South African Constitutional Court. But I'd also note that the literature on such remedies emphasizes that (in my terms) at their most effective they still impose interim costs on the previously subjugated group. It might be that a short sharp shock could reach the same end state with lower interim costs -- though of course that's an empirical question. (I can't refrain from picking at a scab here and saying that that's what I had in mind when I wrote of "taking a hard line" on religious accommodations.)
(3) Burt contrasts an authoritarian, "command" mode of judicial opinion-writing, with his preferred method of decision that clearly leaves things open to iterative development. I wonder, though, whether this under-estimates the force of classical Legal Realist arguments about the inevitable openness of precedents: According to those arguments even the most seemingly "command"-like opinion leaves so much open that it's hard for me to distinguish between the two modes Burt describes (and his case studies, though of course thinly developed -- the book was not completed when he passed away --, seem to me as consistent with my take on this matter as they are with his).
More on Hamilton, Jefferson, Burr, and the Election of 1800
post brings to mind a climactic scene
of Lin-Manual Miranda’s Hamilton, in
which Alexander Hamilton’s fellow Federalists ask him which of two
Democratic-Republican politicians—Aaron Burr or Thomas Jefferson—he would
choose to be President at the conclusion of the election of 1800.There’s a dramatic pause in the musical as the
young Republic waits with bated breath; finally, Hamilton renders
his startling endorsement:He opts for
Jefferson, his political nemesis and the very embodiment of the
Democratic-Republican party that had just routed Hamilton’s Federalists—the man
more likely than any other to vanquish virtually all the principles of
governance that Hamilton held dear:
you were to ask me who I’d promote . . .
has my vote.
have never agreed with Jefferson once;
have fought on like seventy-five different fronts.
when all is said and all is done,
has beliefs. Burr has none.
In Miranda’s telling,
Hamilton’s endorsement clinches the election:Jefferson becomes President, and Burr has to settle for Vice
President.(Then, three years later,
Vice-President Burr, understandably resentful of Hamilton’s repeated efforts to
stymie his advancement, kills Hamilton in a duel.)
Many modern viewers/listeners undoubtedly wonder what’s going on here. Once sitting President Adams, a Federalist,
had been defeated, how was it that two Democratic-Republican candidates were “tied”
in the election?Who were the
“delegates” who gathered to break the tie?Why did the loser of the delegates’ vote become Vice President?And why in the world might Hamilton’s
endorsement have been important, given that he was neither a
Democratic-Republican nor an officeholder?
Here’s a bit of an
explanation that I’m providing to my Constitutional Law class this semester.After describing how Jefferson came to be
elected, I’ll follow up with some additional remarkable passages from
Hamilton’s letters on the 1800 election—including further warnings about Burr
that are eerily resonant today.
Alexander Hamilton explains why Aaron Burr should not become president
After the 1800 election was thrown into the House of Representatives, Alexander Hamilton wrote this letter urging Representative James Bayard of Delaware to support Thomas Jefferson over Aaron Burr. Hamilton argued that Burr, whom he knew well, had qualities that would make him especially dangerous if he ever gained the powers of the presidency. In particular, Hamilton noted that Burr had no principles, constantly broke his promises, delighted in deceiving the credulous, was heavily in debt, and could easily be corrupted by foreign powers. "Disgrace abroad [and] ruin at home," Hamilton concluded, "are the probable fruits of his elevation."
From Alexander Hamilton to James A. Bayard, 27 December 1800
To James A. Bayard
New-York December. 27th. 1800.
Several letters to myself & others from the City of Washington, excite in my mind extreme alarm on the subject of the future President.
It seems nearly ascertained that Jefferson & Burr will come into the house of R[epresentative]s. with equal votes, and those letters express the probability that the Fœderal Party may prefer the latter. In my opinion a circumstance more ruinous to them, or more disastrous to the Country could not happen.
This opinion is dictated by a long & close attention to the character, with the best opportunities of knowing it; an advant[ag]e for judging which few of our friends possess, & which ought to give some weight to my opinion.
Be assured my dear Sir, that this man has no principle public or private. As a politician his sole spring of action is an inordinate ambition; as an individual he is believed by friends as well as foes to be without probity, and a voluptuary by system, with habits of expence that can be satisfied by no fair expedients. As to his talents, great management & cunning are the predominant features—he is yet to give proofs of those solid abilities which characterize the statesman.
Daring & energy must be allowed him but these qualities under the direction of the worst passions, are certainly strong objections not recommendations. He is of a temper to undertake the most hazadrous enterprizes because he is sanguine enough to think nothing impracticable, and of an ambition which will be content with nothing less than permanent power in his own hands.
The maintenance of the existing institutions will not suit him, because under them his power will be too narrow & too precarious; yet the innovations he may attempt will not offer the substitute of a system durable & safe, calculated to give lasting prosperity, & to unite liberty with strength. It will be the system of the day, sufficient to serve his own turn, & not looking beyond himself. To execute this plan[,] as the good men of the country cannot be relied upon, the worst will be used.
Let it not be imagined that the difficulties of execution will deter, or a calculation of interest restrain. The truth is that under forms of Government like ours, too much is practicable to men who will without scruple avail themselves of the bad passions of human nature. To a man of this description possessing the requisite talents, the acquisition of permanent power is not a Chimæra.
I know that Mr Burr does not view it as such, & I am sure there are no means too atrocious to be employed by him. In debt vastly beyond his means of payment, with all the habits of excessive expence, he cannot be satisfied with the regular emoluments of any office of our Government. Corrupt expedients will be to him a necessary resource. Will any prudent man offer such a president to the temptations of foreign gold?
No engagement that can be made with him can be depended upon. While making it he will laugh in his sleeve at the credulity of those with whom he makes it—and the first moment it suits his views to break it he will do so.*
Let me add that I could scarcely name a discreet man of either party in our State, who does not think Mr Burr the most unfit man in the U. S. for the office of President. Disgrace abroad ruin at home are the probable fruits of his elevation.
To contribute to the disappointment and mortification of Mr J[efferson]. would be on my part, only to retaliate for unequivocal proofs of enmity; but in a case like this it would be base to listen to personal considerations. In alluding to the situation I mean only to illustrate how strong must be the motives which induce me to promote his elevation in exclusion of another.
For Heaven’s sake my dear Sir, exert yourself to the utmost to save our country from so great a calamity. Let us not be responsible for the evils which in all probability will follow the preference. All calculations that may lead to it must prove fallacious.
Accept the assurances of my esteem,
[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]
* A recent incident will give you an idea of his views as to foreign politics. I dined with him lately. His toasts were “The French Republic.” “The commissioners who negotiated the convention.” “Buonaparte” “The Marquis La Fayette.” His doctrines that it would be the interest of this country to permit the indiscriminate sale of Prizes by the Belligerent powers & the building & equipment of vessels; a project amounting to nothing more nor less (with the semblance of equality,) than to turn all our naval resources into the channel of France, and compel G. Britain to war. Indeed Mr Burr must have war as the instrument of his Ambition & Cupidity. The peculiarity of the occasion will excuse my mentioning in confidence the occurrences of a private Table. Posted
by JB [link]
"Important Shifts in Constitutional Doctrines"
On July 10, 1939, Frank Hogan, the President of the American Bar Association, spoke at the ABA's annual meeting in San Francisco. He was disturbed by the Supreme Court's recent decisions. The phrase "shifts in constitutional doctrine," he said, was "but a phrase which describes the abolition of stare decisis; the replacing of stability by instability, the substitution of uncertainty for certainty, and of plenary power for limitations upon power."
Noting that "many of the historic dissents of Holmes and Brandeis have now been transferred from the minority to the majority side of the Court," he wondered whether "the day must come when the future chroniclers of our judicial history, in according unstinted praise to the rugged sturdiness of McReynolds and Butler, shown in their courageous efforts to preserve landmark after landmark of the law, will likewise record that their ringing dissents in this day became rules of decision in a later generation."
Is that time (nearly) upon us? I suppose it would be difficult to rehabilitate McReynolds's reputation as a person, though Justice Douglas, among others, had some nice things to say about him as a person (and he was apparently quite nice to the Court's staff, though not his personal staff). And the writing styles of Butler and, especially, McReynolds are uncongenial to modern readers in ways that Holmes's and Brandeis's dissents were not, either to readers in 1939 or to readers today. Still, what about substance?
One thing that Hogan did as ABA President was to name a Committee on the Bill of Rights, which filed an important amicus brief on behalf of the CIO in Hague v. CIO -- perhaps because the ABA's leaders saw in the petty local tyranny of Frank "I Am the Law" Hague the risks of executive excesses that they also feared -- or, as they saw it, experienced -- with Franklin Roosevelt. (Incidentally, the precise context of Hague's "I am the law" statement makes it somewhat less damning than initially appears.)
So what would it take to think about constitutional revision?
It is a commonplace among constitutional design buffs that, with some interesting exceptions, significant constitutional change usually takes place against the background of catastrophes or, at least, train wrecks. The paradigm cases for the former are Germany and Japan, though the spate of constitution drafting following the dissolution of the Soviet Union or the end of apartheid in South Africa can also be cited for the general proposition. And, indeed, one could cite the so-called Reconstruction Amendments as well, for they were clearly responses to the carnage of secession and civil war (and, of course, if one is an Ackermanian, the Fourteenth Amendment especially is hard to square with any conventional theory of Article V amendment). If, on the other hand, things seem to be going reasonably well, then why think of constitutional reform? The fact that things are going well is taken as evidence--violating the correlation is not causation dictum--that the constitution in question is really working wonderfully, or that, at least, is isn't sufficiently broken to need any fixing. So let sleeping dogs lie, etc.
So where are we right now in the US? My own view, argued over past six months, and not only since the "election" of the sociopath, is that we are in the most serious political crisis since 1860. I think that each day demonstrates more and more the psychological divide in the country at large in which we increasingly view Others as the Schmittian enemies who must be defeated at almost any cost. I am not at all immune from that, given my own views of the sociopath and the truly deplorable people who constitute a significant part of his base and, more to the point, those he is bringing into the White House itself, beginning with Steve Bannon. But that is not the point of this posting. Rather, since I continue to think that it is the Constitution itself that helps to explain our deplorable situation, I continue to want a new constitutional convention (believe it or not).
The most common response, other than that I'm crazy, is that the country is just too divided to make a convention other than a nightmare. I.e., it is precisely because we are close to/in a train wreck that we shouldn't even think of such a thing. But, of course, when I first started suggesting the desirability of a convention some years ago, the response then was that the country was in fine shape and that only an academic airhead could think that the Constitution needed any deep scrutiny and changes. These arguments are obviously in tension with one another. I find myself thinking of Tom Friedman's analysis of Israel's position vis-a-vis serious negotiations with Palestinians. Either Israel claims to be facing serious terrorist threats and can't be expected to negotiate under such pressures or things are going so well that Israel feels no pressure to negotiate. In any event, the status quo continues ad infinitum, to the detriment of both Palestinians and anyone who cares about maintaining an Israel worthy or respect and admiration. So it seems to be with the Constitution. There never is an apt time for a convention (other than the summer of 1787) either because the times are too fraught (like now) or things are going too well.
Let's start with low-hanging fruit: Why isn't there a national movement, beginning yesterday, to get rid of the indefensible electoral college? Why should this vestige of slavery, with its perverse incentives to engage in local vote suppression (amply vindicated in Wisconsin), last one more election cycle? But we might also have a debate about the necessity of repealing the 1842 act that requires single-member districts in the House, which accounts for much of the degradation of that venerable body. In theory, all that is required is a new statute, but, of course, one cannot expect the beneficiaries of the single-member district process to get rid of it. Remember Roche's dictum: Power corrupts, and the prospect of losing power corrupts absolutely. And, alas, we can't engage in California-style initiative and referendum to repeal the act and replace it with multi-member districts elected via some form of proportional representation. This means that only a convention could do it. And so on.
I agree, incidentally, that things can get worse. Perhaps we really will drift into a more genuine civil war, provoked by bloodshed attached to Trump's desire to crack down hard on any and all undocumented aliens and their families. Or perhaps some of his own base will start rioting when they realize they're going to lose their medical coverage thanks to Paul Ryan and his merry ban of Randians. Or the sociopath will blunder into war with Iran or provoke a depression by repudiating the national debt, since only suckers ever pay all their debts (certainly the sociopath did not).
The central question remains whether we as a public are capable of any kind of genuine "reflection and choice" about how we are to be governed or whether we really are condemned to be the passive objects of whatever the political winds bring us. I fear the latter is the case, not least because we don't trust one another sufficiently to risk the kind of national dialogue that a convention would require. So will our experiment in a Republican Form of Government end in a bang or a whimper?
We'll begin finding out after Friday. Posted
by Sandy Levinson [link]
Maintaining Constitutional Checks on the Cusp of a Trump Administration
On January 18, the Supreme Court will hear argument inZiglar v. Abassi(formerly Turkmen v. Ashcroft), the first of two cases this Term raising the question of civil liability for constitutional violations by federal officials. (I previously wrote here about the other case, Hernandez v. Mesa, which is scheduled for argument in February). Abassi will be heard by six members of the present eight-Justice Court (Justices Kagan and Sotomayor are recused because of their earlier participation in the case as the former Solicitor General and as a judge on the Second Circuit, respectively).
Abassi is a class action arising out the arrests and detention of more than 750 men from South Asian and Middle Eastern countries in immigration sweeps in the United States following the 9/11 attacks. The men, many of whom were arrested on nothing more than vague tips about “suspicious” Arabs, were detained for minor visa violations. None was ever connected to the 9/11 attacks or convicted of terrorism. While the suit seeks a remedy for past harms, the Court will hear it against the backdrop of an incoming administration that has raised palpable fears about executive branch overreach, placing the question of civil accountability -- and importance of deterring future constitutional misconduct -- into sharp relief.
Plaintiffs in Abassi brought claims against two sets of defendants: senior level Justice Department officials, including former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former FBI director Robert Mueller; and wardens of the federal detention center in New York where the plaintiffs were held. They assert that the defendants arrested them and subjected them to uniquely harsh and abusive conditions of confinement based solely on their race, religion, and ethnicity. Under the government’s “hold until cleared” policy, federal officials continued the men’s detention in solitary confinement in a super-maximum wing of a federal facility—without any individualized determination of criminality or a connection to terrorism—until they were formally cleared by the Justice Department, a process that took months in many cases.
In 2009, in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the Supreme Court addressed similar claims arising out of the sweeps. There, the Court held that the claims did not plausibly allege Ashcroft and Mueller’s personal involvement in the alleged policy of discriminatory treatment. Plaintiffs subsequently amended their complaint, bolstering it with nonconclusory allegations against Ashcroft and Mueller, based partly on findings of two Inspector General reports highly critical of the sweeps. They describe Ashcroft and Mueller’s role at the front and back ends: from approving arrests based solely on the men’s race, religion, ethnicity, or country of origin, to approving their continued detention in harsh and punitive conditions notwithstanding the absence of any information connecting them to the 9/11 investigation or terrorism more generally. A divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found the allegations plausible and refused to dismiss. (As to Ashcroft and Mueller, the Second Circuit limited its ruling on discriminatory animus to their respective roles in continuing plaintiffs’ exposure to harsh conditions of confinement, thus excluding potential liability for their arrest and initial detention). The Second Circuit denied rehearing en banc by a 6-6 vote, over a vigorous dissent by Judge Raggi, who had previously dissented from panel decision.
If the Court finds the allegations plausible—and every judge below recognized that plaintiffs at least stated plausible claims against one federal warden for deliberate indifference to their physical and verbal abuse—the Court will address whether the constitutional rights were sufficiently established to defeat the defendants’ assertion of qualified immunity. Here, the defendants emphasize the unique post-9/11 threat and security challenge. But despite the unprecedented nature of the terrorist attack, this assertion seems insufficient given the clarity and strength of the constitutional norm against facial classifications based on race, religion, and ethnicity. Notwithstanding the extraordinary law enforcement challenges presented by the 9/11 attacks, a reasonable official should have known that targeting individuals and detaining them in extraordinarily harsh conditions—and continuing the mistreatment for months after the attacks—solely because they were Arab or Muslim violates the Constitution.
The most significant and far-reaching issue, however, concerns the availability of a remedy under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, assuming clearly established constitutional violations occurred. In particular, the senior Justice Department defendants argue that a combination of special factors all arising in a new context—high-level decisions concerning the detention of foreign nationals following an unprecedented terrorist attack—counsel hesitation and foreclose a remedy. The Supreme Court, however, has never recognized either national security or immigration as Bivens special factors, even for high-level federal officials. As to national security, the Court in Mitchell v. Forsyth, stressed the importance of ensuring a remedy is available where federal officials rely on claims of national security since it is precisely in those cases that officials are more prone to commit constitutional abuses through overzealous action. Although the Court held that the Attorney General in Mitchell was protected by qualified immunity against claims for his approval of warrantless electronic surveillance, it never questioned the availability of a Bivens remedy merely because the case implicated national security. The Supreme Court in Carlson v. Green, along with lower courts in multiple cases, have recognized a Bivens remedy for unconstitutional treatment in detention.
Creating an exception to Bivens because a case involves high-level decisions and implicates national security—whether alone or in combination with immigration—would be inconsistent with this basic understanding and could have significant ramifications. Not only would it immunize federal officials from civil liability for racial and religious discrimination in the post-9/11 immigration sweeps, one the most notorious violations of civil liberties during that period. It would also have a dangerous signaling effect, potentially emboldening an incoming president who has openly endorsed Islamophobic policies. Whether the potential availability of a damages remedy would deter Trump (or a future president) from engaging in the type of dragnet sweeps and abuse against Muslim and Arabs (or other vulnerable groups) is uncertain. But the Court should not remove this check against revival of the discredited legacy ofKorematsu v. United States. It should instead take the opportunity Abassi offers to affirm rule of law values by maintaining the possibility of a Bivens remedy, not only against rogue federal agents, but also against the most senior government officials.
like others within digital earshot, I spent part of my holiday reading
Alexander Stille’s valuable book on the career of Italian businessman/politician
Silvio Berlusconi, The Sack of Rome. If you can’t read the entire book, I recommend
that you borrow a copy from your local library and read from page 255 to the
end. Here Stille analyzes why Italians were
willing to vote a businessman into power who was not politically experienced and
had no detailed views on policy. Stille then
develops some parallels between what went on in Italy in the 1990s and the
circumstances (circa 2006) in the US, anticipating the Trump phenomenon in a
number of respects.
similarities between Berlusconi and Trump are fairly evident. There are the offensive remarks explained
away as “jokes,” for example. Both men
operated what amounted to family businesses, while posing as experienced
corporate CEOs. We’ll see what happens
with respect to Trump’s many potential conflicts of interest, but Berlusconi
probably exceeded Trump on that score by many times, coming eventually to
dominate the entire Italian economy, at least according to Stille. Neither Berlusconi nor (probably) Trump liked
to hold press conferences or understood the role of an independent press. Stille makes the interesting comment that
Berlusconi treated government like a show or performance and did not engage
much on policy details. Berlusconi was
supported by some because he was perceived as pro-business but they “’didn’t
realize he was only pro his own business.’”
Stille’s book we can construct an explanation as to why Trump has not faced
more blowback with respect to refusing to disclose his tax returns or other aspects
of his business. Berlusconi did much the
same, but benefited from a generalized suspicion of government and the lack of
a habit, on the part of some Italians, of paying their taxes regularly. This should inspire us to ask what was the
attitude of Republican voters toward the IRS pre-Trump? I think we know the answer to that one –
perhaps their attitude was never great to begin with, but to Republicans, the
IRS was mired in a massive scandal which had to do with the heavy-handed use of
government power against conservative groups.
Why hold Trump to account when the IRS had not been put to rights?
key explanation Stille advances that is so clearly relevant to our situation in
the US today was that Berlusconi took advantage not only of a lack of trust in
government generally, but a situation in which parties of the left and right
were perceived as having failed the Italian people, both-party failure as it
were. This meant that when Berlusconi
was criticized, he could always respond by running against politicians (this should
sound familiar) and politics as usual.
The ultimate consequence as Stille describes it was rule by plebiscite
rather than the rule of law, something that should sound familiar to scholars who
have analyzed Nixon’s presidency.
Media reports say that the President-elect will name his son-in-law to a senior staff position in the White House. This will lead to claims that the appointment is invalid because federal law bars the President from hiring a relative to a federal position. (Arguably the remedy for violating this statute is that Trump's son-in-law just cannot receive a salary, but leave that aside for now).
I have previously expressed doubts about whether this statute (5 U.S.C. Sec. 3110) is constitutional as applied to the President's appointment of his White House staff. Even if it is constitutional, though, I cannot see how anyone would have standing to challenge the appointment. How would the presence of Trump's son-in-law in the White House inflict a concrete harm on any particular person?
The Senate has now been in session a week, and the filibuster remains untouched. Why? One possibility is that Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, is a man of integrity who actually believes in the importance of safeguarding minority rights. I reject the plausibility of any such explanation: There is no evidence that McConnell has any integrity at all; he is a Republican apparatchnik whose sole and exclusive concern is the success of the Republican Party. He correctly believed that it would not help the Republican Party to be seen as collaborating with President Obama, so he devoted the last eight years to making sure that Obama would be able to claim no accomplishments that required any cooperation from the Republican Party. He guessed wrong on the 2012 election, but we ought to recognize that it was in fact a close call. And it appears that the Republicans might have guessed right on what they could do, propagandistically, with regard to discarding Obamacare and riding it to victory in 2016.
And McConnell evidenced his full-scale partisanship by refusing to give Merrick Garland even the courtesy of a hearing. (Does anyone seriously believe, incidentally, that he would have allowed Hillary Clinton, had she won without carrying the Senate, to name anyone to the Supreme Court? I NOTE FOR THE RECOFD THAT NONE OF THE DISCUSSANTS HAS SUGGESTED THAT MCDONNELL WOULD IN FACT HAVE DONE SO. INSTEAD, ONE CAN BE CONFIDENT HE WOULD HAVE SUBMITTED TO TED CRUZ AND OTHER MAD-DOG REPUBLICANS WHO WOULD HAVE ARGUED THAT CLINTON WAS AN ILLEGITIMATE PRESIDENT AND DID NOT EARN THE RIGHT TO NAME ANYONE TO THE SUPREME COURT.)
Unlike some, I don't think that he violated the Constitution in doing so, not do I think it would violate the Constitution to leave the Scalia seat vacant for four more years. I strongly hope that the Democrats filibuster anyone nominated by Trump and, at the least, force the Republicans to eliminate the filibuster for the Supreme Court. If one wants to be generous to McConnell, one might concede that he genuinely believes that the country would be better off with a conservative Supreme Court, so it's not the same kind of partisanship as the abject refusal to cooperate with a sitting Democratic President for fear that he will profit electorally from any success.
So return to the question, why do we still have the filibuster? Once one rejects any "principled" behavior by McConnell, as I think we must, then there are two other possibilities. The first is that, as Washington told Hamilton, "you don't have the votes." I.e., there were at least three Republicans who, for whatever reason, were unwilling to do in the filibuster, even if, by definition, it will make it more difficult for the Republicans to pass their alleged agenda for the nation. The presupposes, incidentally, that every Democrat would vote to retain the filibuster, so that there must be at least 51 Republicans to outvote the Democrats plus Joe Biden, who remains President of the Senate until January 20. Perhaps that is the best explanation. If McConnell were confident he had the votes, then why not use them?
But let me suggest another one. McConnell doesn't want to eliminate the filibuster precisely because it would force the Republican Party to take full responsibility for governing. He realizes that it would be insane, for example, simply to repeal Obamacare without a genuine replacement, which the Republicans simply don't have. So it is far better to be able to blame recalcitrant Democrats for defeats of the Republican program (and allow unscrupulous Republicans to vote for idiotic legislation secure in the belief that it will not in fact get through the Senate) than to take genuine responsibility for the legislative program. If one adopts this perspective, which I obviously think has something to be said for it, then it is the Democrats who should in effect be criticized for their insistence on maintaining the filibuster. They are helping to keep providing the rope by which the GOP hopes to hang Democrats in the 2018 mid-terms and then the 2020 general election. And, of course, if the filibuster is maintained, and if the Democrats win in 2020, as one might well predict they will, then it would in fact be impossible for the Democrats to succeed in passing their own programs, even assuming a miracle recapture of both the House and the Senate, given Republican obstructionism in the Senate.
To be sure, an added amount of truly dreadful legislation would be passed in the absence of the filibuster, and the Republicans could pack the Supreme Courtt (as they can do with the "inferior" federal judiciary, given the absence of a filibuster there) should anything happen to Ginsburg, Breyer, or Kennedy. No doubt most Democrats think it important to be able to block the worst GOP excesses. I join in that hope, but what I really want is for some honorable Republicans--and I continue to believe that there are some such in the Senate--to be forced to join with Democrats in saying no to the craziness of the Trump-Ryan Administration. If there are no longer any honorable Republicans, then we need to think about even more serious responses, including secession.
In any event, as Heather Gerken so well put it, we are in the eye of a hurricane. The US is in a struggle for survival as a nation worth cherishing, and we must think and behave accordingly. Democrats must be far more calculating than is our/their wont. The refusal of McConnell to call for eliminating the filibuster is in fact a poisoned chalice and should be recognized as such. The Democratic Party should become a full-scale Party of Opposition (taking its lessons from McConnell over the past eight years) and doing whatever it can to make it obvious to one and all, especially the pathetically deluded Trumpistas who believe that he or the GOP really care one whit about the fate of the working class, that the GOP is in control and should be assessed on what it does with its power.
Perhaps I am wrong in my analysis. But I will be intrigued by the reasons that any discussants give for the Republican failure to eliminate the filibuster.
[UPDATE: ANY REMAINING ILLUSIONS ABOUT THE INTEGRITY OF MITCH MCDONNELL SHOULD BE DISPELLED BY HIS INSISTENCE THAT THE SENATE RUSH TO CONFIRM ALL OF TRUMP'S NOMINEES TO THE CABINET EVEN IN THE ABSENCE OF TRADITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT POTENTIAL CONFLICTS OF INTEREST, ETC. AS THE TIMES HAS NOTED, EVERY PRESIDENT SINCE GEORGE H. W. BUSH HAS HAD AT LEAST ONE NOMINEE GO DOWN BECAUSE OF INFORMATION DISCOVERED IN THE RUN-UP TO CONFIRMATION. MCCONNELL IN 2009 INSISTED ON SCRUPULOUS ADHERENCE TO THE RULES. NOW, PERHAPS HAVING BEEN BOUGHT OFF BY THE NOMINATION OF HIS WIFE TO BE SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION, THOUGH ONE SUSPECTS HE WOULD BE ADHERING TO THE REPUBLICAN VERSIN OF THE FUHRER PRINZIP EVEN IF HE DIDN'T HAVE THE FAMILIAL INCENTIVE TO DO SO. IN ANY EVENT, I FAIL TO UNDERSTAND WHY ANY DISPASSIONATE ANALYST WOULD RESPECT HIM AS A PUBLIC SERVANT.]
Do the Rules of the Game Matter When You Are Playing in a Hurricane?
Heather K. Gerken
Somin for their smart replies to my posts (here
and here).I just wanted to add one addendum to Rick
Hills’ illuminating argument about why legal institutions help politics
work.It’s a point I made a few days ago
on the AALS’s
election law panel, where I questioned whether political polarization had
undermined some of the basic assumptions of the field.My
response to Rick raised essentially the question -- whether political
polarization has undermined some of the premises that have traditionally
undergirded federalism debates.Colloquially, the worry can be expressed this way:do the rules of the game matter when it’s
being played in a hurricane?
Rick writes that “the
core of our disagreement is . . . whether and how legal institutions promote
pluralist politic.”That’s a failure of exposition on my part,
because I don’t think Rick’s summary captures the core of our
disagreement.I have always believed
that institutions and legal rules shape politics – that the rules of the game
shape how the game is played.Indeed, almost
all of my work has been devoted to this idea.I also take that claim to be the fundamental premise of both of my
fields, election law and constitutional law, though Daryl
Levinson’s important Foreword may change our thinking on these questions in
the coming years.
My worry – certainly
not a new one -- is that the gale forces of polarization are putting more
pressure on our institutions than they can bear.And by “polarization,” I am referring to the
tribal dimensions of polarization – the fact that both sides view the other’s
positions with deep skepticism, even hostility.The core of my disagreement with
Rick, then, isn’t whether legal institutions promote pluralist politics
generally, but whether they are strong enough to do so at this moment in time.
sensibly and intelligently, that legal institutions generally – and federalism
in particular – shape our politics.He
further explains how federalism can promote pluralist politics.Those are completely intuitive points. As
I’ve said, the premise of most work in constitutional law and election law is
that the rules of the game determine how the game is played. Indeed, Sam Issacharoff has made the same kind
of point about political parties in his recent Frankel
lecture.There he suggests that
legal changes have systematically disabled the leadership of political parties
from exercising sway over their candidates.As a result, party leaders cannot create the necessary incentives for
moderation, and office holders are being pushed from the center.
I think it’s
possible to agree with everything Rick and Sam say and still wonder whether they
are right.As I noted in my response to
Rick, institutions that “help politics work depend on politics
to work.”At some point, politics may
become too powerful a force for institutions to play this beneficial role.
ground this, it’s probably easiest to start with Sam’s excellent paper,
which perfectly embodies what I take to be the core commitments of the field. His paper asks how we can reduce the effects of polarization through
legal/institutional change.But, as I’ve
recently written, the real question may be whether we can. It’s possible that legal changes contributed to
rising levels of polarization; but it’s also possible that the two phenomena
occurred simultaneously or, at the very least, that the latter matters a good
deal more than the former.Sam offers a
cheerful tale – give more power to the party leaders, and they’ll rein in the
extremists. That’s a story I would have
credited instantly a few years ago.But
now I fear there are at least two other possible endings to Sam’s story. The first is that even an empowered leadership
structure simply can’t exercise enough control over its members to make a
difference. The second is that it is
possible for the leadership to exercise control over its member, but that shift
will only ensure that the leadership is targeted by the same forces now pushing
candidates to the extremes. Put more
succinctly, if the DNC has more power, extremists will target the DNC, and the
results will be little different.
Sam, in short, wants to give the
party leaders a better hand to play.But
it doesn’t matter how many trump cards you hold if you are playing in a
to Rick follows roughly the same line.