Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Cultural Software: A Theory of Ideology released under a Creative Commons license


Yale University Press has graciously agreed to release an online version of my 1998 book, Cultural Software: A Theory of Ideology, under a Noncommercial Sharealike Creative Commons license.

The book was the first to show how to use the theory of memes in social and political theory. It argues that we can explain ideology as an effect of cultural evolution; instead of viewing ideologies as overarching worldviews, it argues that we can break them down into component parts and mechanisms.

Yale University Press has released the book as an experiment to see if their backlist of scholarly titles will sell more if more people could sample them for free. If the experiment works, they may consider releasing more of their backlist under a similar arrangement.

Since my book is about the spread of memes, it seemed symbolically the right way to kick off the experiment.

I've put up pdf files of the chapters here. I'm working on ways to upload a wordprocessing version with smaller file sizes and an HTML version in the future. In the meantime, the pdf's are free to download.

If you like it, let other people know. Let the memes spread!

The ABA Report and Constitutional Change

Stephen Griffin

I can’t improve on the critiques of the ABA Report made by participants on this blog, so rather than issue my own critique (promised earlier), I’ll confine myself to a few comments.

1. The dog that didn’t bark in the ABA Report is the Tenure of Office Act, a staple of every discussion of presidential refusal to enforce an unconstitutional statute. This was the act violated by President Andrew Johnson for which he was impeached. The act was widely thought to be unconstitutional, both then and now. This considered judgment was ratified in the Meyers case.

Why doesn’t the Report discuss the Tenure of Office Act? As others have already observed, the Report is framed around signing statements per se, rather than presidential interpretation of the Constitution and the very difficult problem posed by acts that are “unconstitutional,” to use the scare quotes of the Report.

It would be difficult to deny that presidents should ordinarily be expected to execute the law. Indeed, this forms the true ground for Johnson’s impeachment – not his violation of the Tenure of Office Act, but his failure to enforce laws pertaining to reconstruction. The Tenure of Office Act was different because it struck directly at presidential power over removal of executive officials.

So to be more precise, one of the most difficult unsolved problems in American constitutionalism – perhaps a constitutional “abeyance” or silence – is what a president is supposed to do with an act (presumably passed over a veto) that directly encroaches on presidential power. It’s not to the credit of the Report that it suggests the question is easy. Or that it employs a text plus intent approach to interpretation that ignores the reality that most issues of presidential power must be confronted through a study of precedent and practice.

2. As Sandy has noted, the Report is written in a legalistic spirit. The most obvious absent factor relevant to our constitutional system (rather than the Framers’) are political parties. The Report ignores the possibility that the legislative and executive branches might be controlled by parties hostile to one another and that the congressional party might seek to encroach on presidential powers. This is essentially Cheney’s vision, even if it is a hangover from the days in which the Democrats controlled Congress. But by also ignoring the present situation of joint control of both branches by one party, the Report makes itself less relevant.

3. A more theoretical comment, not directly aimed at the Report, is that we should consider the nature of the constitutional change implied by Bush’s signing statements. As cited in the Report, the statements do not advance any systematic interpretation of the Constitution. They are conclusory, mechanical and so on. The supports an intuition I’ve always had, which is that some constitutional changes (or attempted change, as you like) shouldn’t be described as matters of interpretation, the rightful subject of the “Constitution outside the courts.” While they pertain to the Constitution, they are exercises of political power in the first instance. Politics, albeit politics of a special variety, can change the Constitution without offering an interpretation. At least, Bush is trying.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Militias both home and abroad

Sandy Levinson

If there is any proposition that almost all right-minded people are committed to, it is the illegitimacy of "private militias" in Iraq and Lebanon. The sole alternative to such militias appears to be a single centralized army controlled by the national government, thus adopting Max Weber's dictum that the (centralized) state apparatus must possess a "monopoly" over the legitimate means of violence.

There is undoubtedly much to be said with regard to the desirability of disarming such private militias as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the various militias in Iraq. From my own perspective, the world would be better off with the disappearance of Hezbollah, not to mention many of the Iraqi groups who are taking the country into what appears to be an already savage civil war. But a brief look at both American history and, indeed, the American present, demonstrates why much of the discussion about such militias approaches the fatuous.

The Second Amendment is widely agreed, even by those who oppose the "individual rights" view that would protect individual ownership of arms, to protect "state militias" as a complement, or even alternative to, the standing army that was, not without controversy, authorized by the original constitution. Such state militias were scarcely insignificant, either ideologically or even, on occasion, in practice. Thus, one contributing factor to Thomas Jefferson's election in 1800, over intense Federalist opposition, was the threat by the Democratic governors of Pennsylvania and Virginia to call out their state militias to march on the new Capitol in Washington if the Federalists did not recognize the legitimacy of the 1800 election and their displacement by the radical new sensibility represented by Jeffersonian and the Jeffersonians. It is, to put it mildly, ironic that a US Government that has assidulously courted the NRA and adopted a strong reading of the Second Amendment is so devoted to centralization of the means of violence elsewhere, since that is contrary to the American political tradition. George W. Bush keeps prating about the universal desire for "freedom," yet one constitutive aspect of that "freedom," his Administration argues with regard to the US, is the "right to keep and bear arms." Is this a right to be enjoyed only by Americans--if so, why?--and not by all freedom-loving peoples' everywhere? If others are to be expected to surrender their arms to a centralized state, then why shouldn't Americans be expected to do so as well?

Just to be clear, I do not necessarily mean to be praising this aspect of the American tradition. It directly contributed to the relative ease with which secession and resistance to the central government could be contemplated--and carried out in 1861. But this doesn't lessen the fact that any serious examination of our tradition must recognize that it rejects in very dramatic ways the Weberian dictum, at least if one defines "the state" as the central government.

Nor is the controversy entirely absent today. David Broder has an interesting article in yesterday's Washington Post setting out gubernatorial opposition, from Republicans and Democrats alike, to proposals "to expand the president's authority to take over National Guard troops in case of natural disaster or homeland security threats." Republican Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, who is apparently contemplating a bid for the White House in 2008, said that such a shift of control "violates 200 years of American history" and is symptomatic of a larger federal effort to make states no more than "satellites of the national government." He was joined in his opposition by Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who has also been mentioned as a potential Democratic candidate, who called the proposal "one step away from a complete takeover of the National Guard, the end of the Guard as a dual-function force that can respond to both state and national needs."

To be sure, contemporary state militias do not present the same kinds of threats to political stability as to militias in Lebanon and Iraq. But the central point is that no one should readily expect complete centralization of the means of violence in any polity where a significant body of the citizenry, especially if it is geographically distributed, simply does not have sufficient trust in the central government to disarm and/or accept complete subordination to the center.

I have earlier referred to "private militias." But one might also consider the "permurga," the functionally independent army of the Kurds in northern Iraq. Consider the following question: Would any serious person advise the Kurds to turn their arms over to a central Iraqi government dominated by Shi'ite (and Sunni) Arabs? I trust that the question answers itself. So why, precisely, should be answer be different for "private militias" representing significant groups who, with some justice, do not yet trust the Iraqi government to be adequately protective of its interests?

Again, to be absolutely clear: I would much prefer a world in which Hezbollah devoted itself only to doing good works for Lebanese citizens and where the Mahdi militia laid down its arms and acquiesced to the sovereignty of an Iraqi government that indeed fairly represented all of the groups within Iraqi society. But this is to engage in fantasy, alas. One might at least try to understand why control over the means of violence is perhaps the central political issue in any serious design of a constitution for a divided society. This is why the Second Amendment should be front and center in any consideration of the nature of our own original constitutional system, whatever it should mean today, and how our own history might lead us to a more complex and nuanced view of what we can plausibly demand and expect to receive from the deadly serious political groups in such countries as Lebanon and Iraq. (And, I note for the record, Israel has scarcely moved to disarm right-wing settlers in the West Bank.)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Better a criminal than an overreaching incompetent?

Sandy Levinson

I begin by commending Laurence Tribe's typically incisive and bravura statement regarding the issues surrounding signing statements. I think he is exactly right in almost all respects. What strikes me about the debate, though, is precisely its "legalistic" nature. That is, opponents of President Bush seem to believe that they must, in effect, proclaim that he is acting unconstitutionally rather than, say, "merely" unwisely or even frighteningly, in his articulation of his powers under Article II. Concomitantly, supporters seem to believe they win the debate if they can demonstrate that Bush is in fact following a fairly well-established legal practice, going back at least to President Woodrow Wilson, of issuing such "signing statements." In some ways, I think this manifests part of the pathology that came to the fore at the time of Watergate and has been with us thereafter. To wit, we seem to believe that a president remains entitled to his office (and the public trust) so long as he/she isn't a "criminal," which for these purposes can be defined as someone who violates reasonbly clear constitutional duties. Unfortunately, this pathology derives from the Constitution itself.

I have in earlier posts noted some of the peculiar (and distorting) features of the debate over President Clinton's impeachment in this regard. We would, I believe, far better off if our Constitution allowed votes of "no confidence" in presidents whom we regard as overreaching incompetents, without having to demonstrate criminality. Unfortunately, to suggest such a possibility in the minds of most is to be just as defiant of constitutional norms as Bush's "signing statements" are thought to be. Almost everyone seems to agree that George Bush is precisely like a feudal lord (or pre-revolutionary official in France), who "owns" his office until Jan. 20, 2009, unless he commits an act of obvious "high" criminality or becomes sufficiently ill as to warrant replacement via the 25th Amendment (though the Amendment proved unavailing with regard to what was quite likely Ronald Reagan's known (to insiders) Alzheimer's disease in his second term). This is one of the realities behind Joseph Lieberman's ineptly-phrased statement that we had to be concerned about undercutting the president we were stuck with for three more years. Even Lieberman's bitterest enemies do not suggest that there is a way, under our current system, of bouncing Bush prior to 2009,other than the formalities of impeachment and proof of "high crimes and misdeameanors."

Thanks to our thoroughly defective Constitution, we are unable to have the kind of cogent discussion of George Bush's retention in office that would be best for the nation. If we had a procedure of "no confidence," the 2006 congressional elections could easily be run precisely on whether or not the public wanted to maintain him in office. Obviously, if the alternative were Dick Cheney, many people might answer "yes." This illustrates another constitutional pathology, the presence of a vice-president as heir-apprent who may in fact be every bit as bad as the incumbent. This was, incidentally, not the case with Clinton and Gore. Those who (defensibly) viewed Clinton as disgracing his office could have no legitimate objection to Gore's becoming President in his stead. Any process of no-confidence displacement would have to address this problem. My own solution, for what it is worth, is to allow the Congress either to call new elections or to allow the congressional caucus of the president's own party to pick his/her successor, in order to guard against an opposition-party motivated "coup" to seize the White House without having won an election.

It should be clear that the "signing statement" controversy raises fundamental questions about the nature of our political system. Some of these questions can be addressed through the skills of first-rate lawyers like Professor Tribe. But others, I fear, tend to fall through the cracks precisely because our Constitution seems to confine us to "legalistic" thrusts and counterthrusts and to delegitimize in advance a dialogue based on more "political" considerations. However important the former are, ultimately the latter are, I believe, even more important. In reviewing the late Abram Chayes's book on the Cuban Missile Crisis many years ago, I suggested that he was displaying a kind of "crackpot legalism" in his emphasis on the legality of Kennedy's blockade of Cuba while totally and completely ignoring the fact that Kennedy, according to Ted Sorenson, believed that he was running a 1/3 chance of nuclear war by challenging the Soviet Union. I imagined someone in a cave, following a nuclear exchange, proclaiming, "I'm so glad that JFK had a legal basis for doing his part to initiate World War III." (Thank God Kennedy was ultimately willing to compromise with Khrushchev by in effect offering to withdraw Jupiter missiles from Turkey, though, because of the upcoming elections, he lied to the American public with regard to whether any deal had been struck.) We have to develop a way of talking truly seriously about the central issues of our time, including the nature of our political system, without believing that it all reduces to standard-form "legal arguments."

Larry Tribe on the ABA Signing Statements Report

Guest Blogger

Laurence Tribe

1. Preface

My starting point -- and it is one I share with what I take to be the views of the ABA panel on signing statements -- is alarm at the unprecedented frequency with which the incumbent President has signed congressional enactments into law -- including enactments that seem to me entirely constitutional exercises of Congress's power to structure the executive branch; regulate that branch's military and civilian investigations, prosecutions, or detentions; or engage in one of Congress's other undoubted heads of lawmaking authority -- while brazenly signaling his position and that of his administration that giving those enactments their intended effect would cut impermissibly into his breathtakingly inflated conception of illimitable presidential power and prerogative.

Given the distress we should all feel at this proclamation of nearly monarchical executive authority, it's tempting to applaud the ABA panel's forthright attack on presidential assertions of such sweeping power through a practice that at first blush looks very much like an end run around the veto process -- a device that appears to defy the Constitution's deliberate omission of a line item veto, to avoid political accountability, and to deprive Congress of the constitutionally guaranteed opportunity to override a presidential veto by the requisite 2/3 majority in both houses whenever such supermajorities can be assembled. That temptation is reinforced by the panel's unusually distinguished composition, with a membership that includes some of my own most brilliant former students and talented colleagues and most accomplished friends, factors that add to the awkwardness and pain of challenging the panel's analysis and contesting its entire approach to the problem.

For those reasons, I would have been happy to keep my views to myself in light of the forceful and eloquent challenges to the panel's approach and its premises already to be found in print or on the internet by a distinguished former assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) Walter Dellinger, and by a group of former members of that Office.

However, in a Boston Globe article appearing this past Saturday, August 5th -- an article otherwise reflecting the always fine journalistic work of Charlie Savage, who was apparently the first to report the staggering number of laws this President has signed while in effect declared his intention to trash them -- those challenging the ABA panel's analysis are characterized as essentially executive branch loyalists. The Charlie Savage article notes that one opinion piece defending presidential signing statements was written by law professors who had worked either in OLC under former President George H.W. Bush or in the legal office of the current President's State Department, that another opinion piece critical of the ABA panel was written by Clinton administration OLC head Walter Dellinger, that yet another, appearing in blog postings on the conservative National Review's website, was also written by a refugee from OLC circa 2001-04, and that a long essay posted this past week on several prominent blogs was written by a group of former Clinton Justice Department officials. The Savage article noted that "the Clinton lawyers' objections" had not "swayed" ABA President Michael Greco, who is reportedly urging the ABA to approve the task force's recommendations.

The ordinarily very well-informed Charlie Savage understandably supposed, it seems, that the executive branch experience of the chorus of critics had colored their views. Voicing the frequently justified premise that where people stand and what they see is likely to reflect where they used to sit, panel member (and my esteemed colleague) Charles Ogletree was quoted as saying that he wasn't surprised that "people closely connected to executive branch careers would object to [the panel's] report," or that former Clintonites would want the panel "to harshly criticize Bush," which "was not [the panel's] goal."

Lest anyone suppose that only executive branch groupies, Clintonistas, or perhaps Bush loyalists would challenge the panel's analysis -- or that only Bush-bashers would identify the problem as entirely one traceable to President Bush's particular and particularly bloated conception of presidential prerogative under the Constitution -- I thought I'd best speak up, however awkward doing so would feel, in support of the challengers, in order to explain my own strong disagreement with the ABA panel's diagnosis of the disease as well as with its prescribed remedy. As someone who never worked in any administration's executive branch, had no role in the Clinton administration, and has supported the Bush administration in at least some (although of course by no means all) of its substantive legal positions (e.g., with respect to the tracing of international banking transactions and with respect to the constitutional authority to search a congressional office), I'm not one who can easily be dismissed on the basis that defenders of the ABA panel have sought to dismiss the panel's critics to date.

2. Analysis

With that preface to explain why I set aside my reluctance to enter the fray against the ABA panel's position, let me say why I'm persuaded that the ABA panel has missed the boat.

Most fundamentally, it seems to me an exercise in shooting at phantoms to focus on presidential signing statements themselves and to highlight the increasingly frequent practice of "using" such statements to "challenge laws" (to quote from Charlie Savage in Saturday's Boston Globe) as though anyone really imagines that the mere fact of a formally worded presidential reservation about a statute, contained in a signing statement rather than in a veto message, would have some operative legal effect in any way analogous to that of an item veto or would even be given weight by a court in later deciding what to make of the law in question. The analogy to the plainly unconstitutional line item veto, of the sort the Supreme Court struck down in Clinton v. New York, thus fails entirely.

What is new and distressing in the current situation isn't primarily the frequency with which President Bush, in the course of signing rather than vetoing congressional enactments, says something about his equivocal intentions, or even his defiant views, in connection with their future enforcement or non-enforcement. Rather, what is new and distressing is the bizarre, frighteningly self-serving, and constitutionally reckless character of those views -- and the suspicion that this President either intends actually to act on them with some regularity, often in a manner that won't be publicly visible at the time, or intends them as declarations of hegemony and contempt for the coordinate branches -- declarations that he hopes will gradually come to be accepted in the constitutional culture as descriptions of the legal and political landscape properly conceived and as precedents for later action either by his own or by future administrations.

Indeed, I can't see making anything significant turn on the distinction between a law the president "signs" (in the sense of not exercising his veto power) and a law that takes effect when supermajorities of the House and Senate override a veto, whether based on a president's constitutional objection or otherwise. Equally, I can't see making anything of significance turn on what the ABA task force seems to take as critical -- namely, the distinction between (a) a law signed by the very president who later decides that one of its provisions, or more likely one of its applications, is unconstitutional, and (b) a law signed long ago that a subsequent president decides his constitutional oath would prevent him from enforcing.

If instead the problem isn't a series of particular abuses taking the form of judicially remediable violations of the rights of individuals or groups by presidential disregard of duly enacted shields but is instead a set of abuses not subject to particularized correction at the behest of injured individuals -- either because no individuals are indeed injured in any conventional sense (as where the abuses take the form of pure inaction or inattention rather than naked aggression) or because the real difficulty isn't this or that particular abuse but what Charlie Savage has rightly described as a sea change in presidential practice the whole of which is more alarming than the sum of its parts -- then we have the situation of a chief executive who has assumed a posture of mocking the law rather than taking seriously his duty to enforce it. Especially in the case of a chief executive who is barred by the 22d amendment from seeking re-election, it would seem that the only proper remedy for presidential posturing of that sort, assuming it to be serious enough to demand a remedy, is impeachment and removal from office, not a set of judicial declarations that the president had better shape up and use his veto pen rather than chuckling under his breath while he insincerely signs legislation he has no intention of faithfully enforcing.

As for the remedy seemingly endorsed by the ABA panel, I can only regard it as a prescription that is neither safe nor effective as a cure to a misdiagnosed disease. The idea of legislatively endowing Congress with authority to take the President to court, and of empowering the Article III judiciary with authority to declare the presidential use of signing statements a circumvention of Article I's provision for the exercise and override of veto power or a violation of the separation of powers generally -- as section 5 of Senator Specter's new bill would purport to do -- seems to me a clear non-starter. Although Bruce Fein has been impressively insightful in many of his criticisms of the current administration's theories of executive power, I think he errs fundamentally in arguing, as does the ABA panel, that Congress as an institution is injured by a President's announcement, while signing a law, that he really has no intention of abiding by it or, in what arguably comes to the same thing once one has decoded a particular President's rhetoric, that he will abide by it only in accord with his idiosyncratic views of his powers vis-a-vis those of the other branches. That is mere insult, not genuine injury -- just as Congress might be insulted but could hardly be deemed "injured," in any sense of which a court could properly take notice, by a president's contemptuous remarks in a State of the Union Address. And when a lower federal court or the Supreme Court holds that the attempt by Congress to arm itself with the power to vindicate its honor is inconsistent with Article III, represents an exercise in posturing by the legislative branch, and is without effect in subjecting the signing statement practice to judicial oversight, the ironic and even tragic impact will be to give an abusive president one more occasion to strut about, claiming vindication for his practices and for the avoidance of political accountability that underlies them, even though the well-informed will recognize that no such claim is warranted. So the proposed corrective is overwhelmingly likely not to work. The upshot would then be not only a badly conceived and ultimately impotent solution to a badly diagnosed problem but an occasion for unjustified presidential preening.

If and when any president actually injures or imminently threatens to injure somebody in defiance of a law previously enacted to provide a shield against a particular sort of executive abuse, the constitutionally appropriate remedy is for the injured individual, or a class of individuals threatened with such injury, armed if necessary with congressional legislation conferring standing, to seek declaratory and/or injunctive and/or habeas relief and for the courts to grant such relief, assuming they find the shield to be constitutional and the presidential defiance to exceed executive authority, notwithstanding any signing statement that may have accompanied the president's decision not to veto the law when enacted.

Going beyond the ABA panel's misdiagnosis of the problem as though signing statements themselves were the culprits, and going beyond the panel's misconceived solution, a central premise of the panel's final report seems to be that there's something basically wrong with a president's decision not to enforce a law he deems unconstitutional in whole or in part. But that is an indefensibly broad premise, one that cannot in general be maintained. Nothing in the Constitution's text, design, or history shows that a president's only legitimate options are either to veto an entire bill or to sign it and then enforce it in its entirety regardless of his good faith views as to the constitutional infirmities either of some part of the bill or of some distinct set of its possible applications. Anybody predicting that chaos will ensue unless presidents take their oaths to uphold and defend the Constitution to mean automatically obeying whatever an Act of Congress that they have signed into law tells them to do unless and until the Supreme Court relieves them of that obligation would need to explain why the nation hasn't long since been plunged into chaos by the fact that presidents have never taken so wholly juricentric (or parliamentary) a view of the constitutional universe -- a view that certainly isn't implied by the power of judicial review as recognized in Marbury v. Madison.

In any event, the Supreme Court, and indeed the entire federal judiciary, can't possibly be relied upon to rule upon everything in advance. If a President conscientiously concludes that a law would be unconstitutional if enforced literally in a particular circumstance and takes his oath to abide by the Constitution as a mandate that he avoid, whenever possible, any interpretation that would offend the Constitution as he conscientiously construes it, I can't imagine saying that the President should put his oath or his copy of the document aside on the theory that the confrontation that might arise if he does what Congress seems to have had in mind might, in due course, give rise to an authoritative judicial ruling vindicating his constitutional views but that, until it does, the words Congress chose must trump those the President thinks he reads in the Constitution. And a President who, on signing a bill into law, makes clear in advance some of the circumstances in which he predicts such an obligation to obey the Constitution will trump the literal mandate of the resulting statute is not automatically indicating a scofflaw attitude but might simply be doing everybody a favor by not hiding the ball. The fact that the sea change inaugurated by President Bush goes far beyond such helpful signaling is a symptom not of some systemic problem with signing statements as an institution that cries out for legislative remedy, or even of an institutional difficulty with presidential power to follow the Constitution as the president understands it even without judicial guidance. Rather, it is a symptom of how this particular President is abusing his power and bragging of his intention to go on abusing it.

When the Supreme Court sustained the action of President Coolidge [correction: Wilson] in firing a postmaster in violation of the Tenure of Office Act that had been passed by Congress in the landmark case of Myers v. U.S. (1926), nobody on the Court proposed that the President should have felt bound by that Act (notwithstanding its intrusion into what many regarded as a genuine presidential prerogative and its delegation to the Senate of a role in the discharge of a federal official, in a self-aggrandizing exercise of power that we would today regard as a violation of Bowsher v. Synar) just because it had not yet been declared unconstitutional, or that something should turn on whether it was Coolidge or one of his predecessors who had signed the Act into law, or on whether it had become law over a presidential veto or by mere majority. If a president signs a law thinking it to be constitutional and later comes to have a clearer or better understanding of the Constitution's meaning on the point, can it be that he is estopped by his mistaken failure to wield his veto pen and must now proceed to ignore the Constitution as he has come to understand it? Surely that can't be the position; yet it seems to follow from the ABA task force's premises. If such hypotheticals seem inapposite to the nation's experience with the current president, we need to keep in mind that institutional remedies designed to fit pathological power-holders might themselves prove to be misfits in their overall impact on what should be an enduring system of checks and balances.

In his excellent New York Times op-ed piece on this issue last Monday, Walter Dellinger posited congressional legislation requiring a president to use physical force to seize a brain-dead patient and place her on artificial life support that she had made clear she would never have authorized and asked whether the ABA panel really believes the president would have to comply. It was a cleverly couched hypo in part because of the direction in which it chose to spin the Schiavo fiasco. But it would have been equally telling had it been spun the other way: Imagine an Act of Congress directing the President to cause those in the chain of executive command all the way down to the lowliest orderly in a federally run hospital to disconnect life support from any patient found by specified cost-benefit formulas to be burdening taxpayers more than the patient's expected quality of life, discounted over time, could justify. Would anybody defend the proposition that the President, including the one who in a moment of OMB-induced madness had permitted such an outrage to become law, ought to obey such a statutory directive in hopes that some court would intervene in time to save the poor victim from certain death?

One could multiply such hypothetical situations indefinitely, generating not only cases in which waiting for judicial intervention would be impractical but cases in which one would have to wait forever because the constitutionally dubious statute would issue a command -- e.g., that the President not remove a certain cabinet member for a stated time, or not exercise his veto or pardon or treaty-making power in stated circumstances, or not use his power of appointment in stated ways -- compliance with which would never yield a judicially congnizable complaint. Can it be that the Constitution contemplates executive disregard of the Constitution in such cases, either generally or by any president who fails to catch the problem by vetoing the bill when it first reaches his desk? I think not.

So I conclude that the ABA panel has painted with a hopelessly broad brush in its analysis of presidential decisions to defy statutory commands not (yet) found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, has pointed to the wrong phenomenon in identifying signing statements announcing the intent to engage in such defiance as themselves the source of some constitutional difficulty, and has suggested a remedy for that phenomenon that, far from correcting any problem, would compound the current difficulty. The panel's good intentions, and its evident wish to preserve internal consensus by skirting at all costs any direct critique of the incumbent President, are no substitute for a coherent analysis of the real problems that confront us or for a solution that offers some actual relief from those problems.

I must emphasize that, in criticizing the panel's analysis and its conclusions, I do not at all mean to be disagreeing with the proposition that President Bush has abused the practice of using signing statements as signals of presidential intentions regarding both ambiguous statutes and statutes with embedded unconstitutional provisions or distinct unconstitutional applications. But the fact that the incumbent President has used signing statements in ways that expose a certain cynicism in signing rather than vetoing measures he has no intention of applying and enforcing as Congress manifestly intended, asserting that he regards Congress as having trespassed on his constitutional prerogatives, is objectionable not by virtue of the signing statements themselves but, rather, by virtue of this President's failure to face the political music by issuing a veto and subjecting that veto to the possibility of an override in Congress, and on occasion also by virtue of the inflated view of executive prerogative the President has announced in particular cases.

On the related matter of presidential signing statements that tout the "unitary executive" theory in particular, what seems crucial to recognize is that the concept of the "unitary executive," as it is being bandied about both by President Bush in his signing statements and by many of his critics, is much too protean to represent a useful organizing principle for assessing the undoubtedly dangerous and inflated views of unilateral presidential power that have characterized much of what the Bush administration has done -- with respect to Guantanamo, the treatment of detainees in the so-called "war on terror," the NSA's once-secret program of warrantless electronic surveillance in defiance of FISA and in purported reliance on the AUMF, and much else -- and that attacking the administration for its "unitary executive" mantra, as a recurring theme in many of the signing statements to which the ABA Task Force's final report objects, is more distracting than illuminating.

Far more useful would be deflating the concept itself, demonstrating its obfuscatory character, and insisting, in some more focused form than the Task Force final report does, that the Necessary and Proper Clause of Article I empowers Congress, not the President, both to structure and to regulate the overall conduct of officials within the executive branch -- an undertaking entailing an exercise of lawmaking authority that is not part of "the executive Power" vested by Article II in the President.

Finally, insofar as President Bush has exercised his powers to engage in surreptitious electronic surveillance without court-issued warrants in violation of the FISA, on the basis of an implausibly broad construction of his inherent Article II powers and a reading of the AUMF that was rightly repudiated in a slightly different context by the Supreme Court's recent Hamdan decision, the "fix" reportedly negotiated between The White House and Senator Arlen Specter, in which the legality of the NSA program of warrantless surveillance would be submitted for adjudication on the basis of a one-sided presentation to the FISA court by the Executive Branch -- which alone would be authorized to control the evidence to be considered, the forum for its consideration, whether the proceedings would be public or secret, and whether the result would be published or kept under wraps, and which alone would be authorized to appeal an adverse ruling to an Article III court including the Supreme Court -- is as transparently phony and futile as is the suggestion of a congressionally enacted vehicle to confer standing on someone to obtain a judicial ruling on the legality of this President's signing statements. Congress has ample authority to identify various groups as likely victims of the contested warrantless wiretapping practice and to authorize such groups to sue in federal court to obtain a derfinitive ruling, subject to Supreme Court review, of the constitutional and other legal questions presented. But despite the precedent of the FISA itself for the limited purpose of authorizing particular instances of electronic surveillance, I am doubtful that Congress has constitutional authority to remit these constitutional questions to definitive resolution by a secret, one-sided
pseudo-adjudication on the basis of a non-adversary presentation fully controlled by one side.

Whatever else one might say about the sound of one hand clapping, it is most assuredly not the sound one hears when a genuine court resolves a genuine case or controversy in the way that courts have functioned for centuries, whether with or without special safeguards to protect national security from the perils of leaky courtrooms.

What do the ABA Task Force attack on the phantom of the Bush signing statements, the legislative platform for challenging those statements judicially that the attack is inspiring, and the phony Bush-Specter deal for an asymmetrical whitewash of the contested program of NSA surveillance, have in common? All three -- the first two from genuine confusion and the third from something less benign -- would compound rather than correct the distortions in the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances that the Framers had the farsightedness to design.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

More on the ABA Signing-Statements Resolutions

Marty Lederman

Charlie Savage reports today on the skepticism that has greeted the ABA Task Force Report on signing statements from certain quarters (including by a group of former Clinton-era OLC lawyers of which I'm a part). According to Savage, "the ABA's 550-member House of Delegates will vote next week on endorsing a high-profile task force's conclusion that the Constitution gives presidents two choices: veto a bill, or sign it and enforce all of it. As the vote nears, several law professors who helped draft signing statements for President Clinton have emerged as critics of the task force's recommendations."

Savage further notes that "the ABA task force's findings have also come under attack by law professors with ties to Republican administrations," including by law professors Eric Posner of the University of Chicago and Curtis Bradley of Duke University. Although Posner and Bradley "agreed with the Clinton-era lawyers that presidents have a right to issue signing statements, . . . [t]hey also argued that Bush's signing statements are no different than Clinton's -- a claim that the Clinton-era lawyers, who say Bush has abused the mechanism, dispute." (Indeed, in our view the substantive distinctions between President Clinton's constitutional views and many of those of the current Administration is vast. As one of my co-authors has put it, to suggest that Presidents Clinton and Bush had similar views of executive power because their signing statements occasionally invoke the same constitutional provisions is akin to saying that because both Thurgood Marhsall and Clarence Thomas have relied upon the Equal Protection Clause to invalidate legislation, it's fair to asusme they share the same theory of constitutional equality.)

Friday, August 04, 2006

Privileged Victims

Mark Graber

Persons interested in the future direction of American constitutional politics might take a long look at a recent Pew Foundation survey on public opinion. Researchers found that core Republican voters can be divided into three groups, Enterprisers, Social Conservatives and Pro-Government Conservatives. Voters in two other groups, Upbeats and Disaffecteds, also vote overwhelming for Republican candidates. Enterprisers differ from every other group of voter in two respects. They are much better educated and far more affluent on average. Their high socio-economic status makes Enterprisers far more likely than Social Conservatives, Pro-Government Conservatives, or any other group of voter to secure federal judiciary appointments. Second, Enterprisers are far more committed to limited government and Bush administration policies during the war against terror than any other group of voters. Substantially higher percentages of Enterprises than Conservatives or Pro-Government Conservatives favor privatizing social security, drilling for oil in the Alaska Wilderness, reducing domestic spending, increasing military spending, torturing suspected terrorists, retaining the Patriot Act, maintaining recent tax cuts, eliminating minimum wages, banning affirmative action, and foregoing national health insurance. Enterprisers, however, are no more inclined that other core Republicans to support such socially conservative policies as banning abortion. Upbeats, the other group of affluent, highly educated, Republican voters, are far more likely than other Republicans to favor legal abortion and gay marriage. A judiciary composed of affluent, highly educated Republican elites, these findings indicate, will be far more conservative economically than the average Republican, more supportive of Bush administration foreign policies than the average Republican, but no more and perhaps even less supportive of social conservatism than the average Republican. Such a judiciary can be expected to take a narrower view than the national legislature of federal power under the commerce and spending clauses, but be no more tempted than any other governing institution to overrule Roe v. Wade or Lawrence v. Texas.

What this study suggests is that American politics, always dominated by elites, is increasingly being dominated by elites with no sense of social obligation. Unlike previous Republican country-club elites (see Kennedy, O'Connor, even Souter), core Republicans feel little or no empathy with persons of color, with the poor, with the environment, or with anyone or anything else. Figuring out what is motivating them is difficult, but may I suggest that what holds the new class together is a sense of victimization. Despite being better off than most Americans, they are personally victimized by terrorists, by crime, by affirmative action (virtually all enterprisers are white), by high taxes, by environmental regulations, by the poor, etc. Thus, rather than developing a sense that one's privileges should be shared with the less fortunate, the new elite regards themselves as the primary victims of American policy and seeks to restructure policy to end their victimhood. Not an optimistic future if these political trends continue.

Why Bother with Military Commissions?

Marty Lederman

In today's Washington Post, professors Jack Goldsmith and Eric Posner propose ditching the whole idea of military trials for Al Qaeda detainees. They note that the government has been very slow to charge many of the detainees -- only ten up to this point. And there's good reasons for that, as Goldsmith and Posner correctly note: First, trials are inappropriate, because the vast majority of the detainees have not committed anything that has traditionally been thought of as war crimes: The government "can prosecute these detainees only for the vague and problematic crime of conspiracy to commit a terrorist act based on membership in and training with al-Qaeda or the Taliban." Second, trials would be infeasible, because "witnesses are scattered around the globe, and much of the evidence is in a foreign language, or classified, or hearsay -- in many cases all of these things."

So what should be done instead? Goldsmith and Posner propose that the military simply continue to detain the prisoners until the end of hostilities with Al Qaeda (a day that we may never see), just as we have traditionally detained opposing warriors in battle until the end of the war. They note that traditionally "the purpose of wartime detention is not to punish but to prevent soldiers from returning to the battlefield." This is essentially the theme sounded by Justice O'Connor in her plurality opinion in Hamdi. And thus these are the key sentences in the editorial: "A legitimate wartime detainee is dangerous, like a violent mental patient subject to civil confinement, and that is reason enough to hold him. This has been the legal justification for terrorist detentions to date, and it will almost certainly be the basis for future detentions."

This reasoning would be fairly compelling except for one thing: Under the terms announced by Goldsmith & Posner, many (perhaps even most) of the detainees at GTMO and Bagram are not "legitimate," because they were never proven to have engaged in any hostile acts against the U.S. and its coalition, let alone to have come from any "battlefield." (See the studies of Corine Hegland and Mark Denbeaux.) As Goldsmith and Posner undoubtedly know, many of the detainees were captured and sent to one of those detention centers not in order to incapacitate them from battle, but in order to interrogate them for intelligence. The Administration's vague and capacious definition of "enemy combatant" in this conflict has extended far beyond the group of people who have committed or planned terrorist acts, or fought against us on a "battlefield": It includes persons vaguely suspected of being associated with Al Qaeda in some way, no matter how tenuously -- and we detain these people in the hopes that a small number of them, we know not which, might have valuable information for us, and not because of a fear that they will return to fight against us.

To their credit, Goldmsith and Posner (like O'Connor) recognize that the wartime-incapacitation detention model is under strain here, because this conflict may be indefinite, and not have an obvious end. Thus, they propose that "Congress should require a rigorous process for determining the status of enemy combatants," with "periodic review, perhaps yearly, to determine whether the detainee remains dangerous and thus warrants continued detention."

This is a good idea as far as it goes. But what about those hundreds of detainees who were never dangerous in the first instance?

[UPDATE: In the comments section, Scott Horton asks whether the entire conflict shouldn't simply be treated within the ordinary criminal process -- as the first bombing of the World Trade Center was (not to mention Tim McVeigh). (Correction: See Scott's clarification in the comments section -- he's simply referring to the need for some trial, perhaps military, of those actually responsible for terrorist attacks. I agree with this, and I think G&P do, too. The hard question is what to do with the hundreds of other detainees.) My response was basically this: Even if Scott is right that the major terrorist acts are crimes -- and surely he is -- G&P are also correct that Congress has overwhelmingly chosen to treat this also, or primarily, as a military conflict -- a concerted set of attacks on the U.S. as such. The vote was 518-1 on this question, and that's not going to change any time soon -- it's really a non-issue, as a practical matter.

What's most interesting about the G&P editorial is that it virtually concedes that most of the detainees have not committed crimes -- not even war crimes -- but are instead more closely analogous to traditional battlefield detainees. They're certainly right as to at least some of the GTMO and Bagram detainees -- those that fought in Afghanistan, for instance. But what about the others, those that are much more peripherally connected to AQ? And what about a group in the middle -- those who have not engaged in battle or terrorism, but who might have trained at AQ training camps? The editorial does not address this middle-ground question, but I think it will become increasingly important. Which reminds me of a question I've been meaning to ask: Historically, under the laws of war, can a belligerent state detain soldiers, such as reserves, who have trained to fight for the enemy but who have not engaged in battle and who have not been captured on the battlefield? I think this question is analogous to that raised in the case of many GTMO and Bagram detainees.] [UPDATE: Professor Dave Glazier has some very valuable answers to such questions, and comments on the broader problem, down in the Comments and at Intel Dump (see the comments there, too).]

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Constitution Outside the Courts: Apotheosis or Gotterdammerung?

Stephen Griffin

In the 1970s a few scholars, Sandy Levinson among them, started calling attention to how the Constitution was interpreted and enforced outside the federal judiciary. The current administration has, depending on one’s perspective, shown that this point of view is incredibly valuable or unbelievably dangerous. The recent dispute over signing statements and the report the ABA panel prepared in response is only the latest in a long string of examples courtesy of the administration that we ignore this point of view at our peril.

At one level, the collection of views that came to be called “the Constitution outside the courts” was purely descriptive. Scholars often need education in the obvious and Levinson et al. argued that the sometimes obsessive concern with what was going on in the U.S. Supreme Court caused scholars to ignore or downplay the importance of the constitutional interpretation going on in Congress and the executive branch. It is now conventional wisdom, represented most recently in Jeffrey Rosen’s article in The New Republic, that the Bush administration, largely through the efforts of Vice President Cheney, entered office with a fully formed philosophy of executive action, the “unitary executive.” While constitutional specialists paid some attention to how this doctrine became the official legal philosophy of the Republican party in the 1980s, most of the public sphere seems to have been largely unaware of this development and its likely consequences once President Bush II took the oath of office in January 2001.

At the descriptive level then, the Bush administration has been the apotheosis of the Constitution outside the courts, proof positive beyond the wildest dreams of the scholars who thought it up that everyone concerned with the Constitution ought to pay close attention to the sincerely held constitutional views of those who run what Alexander Bickel liked to call “the political branches.”

But there was also a normative side to the Constitution outside the courts, a growing conviction that the Court had gone too far in declaring itself the sole supreme interpreter in cases such as United States v. Nixon. Did Marbury really stand for this proposition, these scholars asked? If not, where and when did the Court assume its role as the dominant re-animator of the Constitution? These questions led in various directions, but the normative push against judicial supremacy, perhaps culminating in Dean Kramer’s book extolling “popular constitutionalism,” suggested the corollary that perhaps the constitutional views of the political branches were deserving of some respect . . . or even deference?

On the normative side, the Bush administration again might be playing a key role in the future of the Constitution outside the courts, but it is one bearing all the marks of a death struggle where the former gods are replaced by a new/old order – the rule of law? That is what is suggested by the arguments of the ABA Report, among other reactions to the obvious excesses of the administration. In this light, perhaps we can cast VP Cheney as Wotan (the blind eye representing hard-won wisdom replaced by a pacemaker), the god who tries to pull the strings, to find that only a free-born hero (that’s President Siegfried) can complete the quest and vanquish the dragon of fetters earlier placed on the presidency. I don’t believe I can complete this avant-garde scenario, however (where is Brunnhilde?). I’ll stop with the thought that John Yoo might be cast as Alberich, who starts the drama by renouncing the tender mercies of human feeling in a fruitless and destructive search for absolute power.

To be a little more transparent, the Bush administration has been so extreme in its quest for unfettered executive power that it has at least temporarily discredited the normative side of the Constitution outside the courts and the attack on judicial supremacy and caused lawyers and scholars everywhere to flee to the safety of Hamdan and the “rule of law.” Bush v. Gore, I hardly knew ye! But I’ll save for a later post some comments on the flight of the ABA Report back to the welcoming arms of what it calls “an independent and impartial Supreme Court.”

What's to Become of Common Article 3? [UPDATED]

Marty Lederman

In his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, Acting Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury has testified to what previous reports had suggested -- namely, that the Administration will propose a statute specifying that the standards of the McCain Amendment should suffice to define the limits of interrogation techniques for U.S. officials. (Attorney General Gonzales's testimony this afternoon before the Senate Armed Services Committee is to like effect.)

It is not the Administration's public position that the McCain standard is more permissive than Common Article 3. To the contrary, Bradbury states that the standards "should be defined clearly by U.S. law, consistent with our international obligations," and that "the U.S. constitutional standard already adopted by Congress in the McCain Amendment [is] a reasonable interpretation of the relevant provisions of Common Article 3."

Presumably, then, in order to make sure it is consistent with Common Article 3, the McCain Amendment should be construed to prohibit all conduct also prohibited by the relevant provisions of Common Article 3.

In particular, the McCain Amendment must be understood to categorically prohibit all "cruel treatment and torture," as those terms are understood under Common Article 3 -- which is quite a bit broader than the meaning of those terms under domestic statutes.

As I've previously noted here and here, there is a good chance that the Administration is not construing the McCain Amendment to categorically prohibit certain (reported) "enhanced" techniques used by the CIA, including Cold Cell (hypothermia), Long Time Standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and possibly waterboarding. If that is the Administration's understanding, then the McCain standards would not, in fact, satisfy U.S. obligations under Common Article 3.

If it's not clear what, exactly, the McCain Amendment prohibits, and not certain that it's coterminous with Common Article 3, why should Congress amend the law to rely exclusively on McCain rather than on Common Article 3 itself?

Bradbury's explanation is that "some of the terms in Common Article 3 are inherently vague." This doesn't seem very plausible -- after all, the military has been taught to apply standards even stricter than Common Article 3 for decades. [UPDATE: In his testimony this afternoon, the Attorney General stated that "the United States military has never before been in a conflict in which it applied Common Article 3 as the governing detention standard." In some sense, this is true, because until February 2002, the military had always applied even more restictive standards! (which Gonzales concedes). At this afternoon's Armed Services Committee hearing, Senators McCain, Clinton and Dayton all pressed the Attorney General on this: If the armed services are "trained to" comply even with the higher standards of the Geneva Conventions, why would they need further legal clarification or modification of Common Article 3, which is much less restrictive? (Indeed, prompted by a question from Senator Clinton, Senator McCain instructed the Attorney General that we provided even the Viet Cong with full POW protections.) And Senator Collins asked Gonzales how he can say Common Article 3 is vague if Deputy Secretary England is now certifying that he is confident that DOD is fully in compliance! Gonzales did not have an answer -- not one he could say publicly, anyway. The real answer was finally provided by the candid Lindsey Graham: It's about the CIA, not the military. The CIA is not complying with Geneva, and, at least before Hamdan, also has not been complying with Common Article 3; and the Administration's goal is to permit the CIA to continue using techniques that, on any reasonable reading, violate Common Article 3.]

And no one has complained about its vagueness for the past nine years, although it has applied as a matter of criminal law during that time (via the War Crimes Act) to interrogators all over the world, including our own in traditional conflicts, such as Iraq. Moreover, some of the "war crimes" that the Administration itself has proposed to be statutorily enacted for purposes of military commissions -- such as conspiracy -- are just as vague and as broad and open-ended, as anything in Common Article 3.

But more importantly, even if some provisions of CA3 were vague, the substantive standard of the McCain Amendment -- the "shocks the conscience" test of the due process clause -- is undeniably vaguer, and more uncertain and case-specific. Here's how Vice President Cheney described the McCain standard: "The rule is whether or not it shocks the conscience. . . . Now, you can get into a debate about what shocks the conscience and what is cruel and inhuman. And to some extent, I suppose that's in the eye of the beholder." [UPDATE: The Attorney General testified that the McCain standard itself is "a little bit subjective."]

Once it's understood that the McCain Amendment is even vaguer and more indeterminate than Common Article 3, it appears that there's really no other reason for the Administration to seek to fall back on McCain other than to circumvent the categorical prohibitions in CA3 section 1(a) on "cruel treatment and torture."

Accordingly, the thing to watch for, as the legislative process moves forward, is some specification -- in the statute itself or in the legislative history -- of what, exactly, the McCain Amendment prohibits.

In this respect, it is noteworthy that Bradbury suggests an amendment to the War Crimes Act that presumably would replace the criminal statute's reference to Common Article 3 with "a definite and clear list of offenses serious enough to be considered 'war crimes,' punishable as violations of Common Article 3 under 18 U.S.C. § 2441."

That is not necessarily a bad idea -- if the list of offenses includes all "cruel treatment" and "torture," as those terms are understood under Common Article 3, i.e., as long as the list of offenses includes those "enhanced" techniques that the CIA has been using.

Partisan Entrenchment in the Civil Rights Division


I had wanted to mention last week's article the ideological takeover of civil service positions in the Justice Department earlier, but so many interesting issues have been coming out of the Bush Administration these days that it's hard to blog about them all. In any case, once again Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe uncovers what the Bush White House has been doing behind the scenes:
The Bush administration is quietly remaking the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, filling the permanent ranks with lawyers who have strong conservative credentials but little experience in civil rights, according to job application materials obtained by the Globe. . . .

In an acknowledgment of the department's special need to be politically neutral, hiring for career jobs in the Civil Rights Division under all recent administrations, Democratic and Republican, had been handled by civil servants -- not political appointees. But in the fall of 2002, then-attorney general John Ashcroft changed the procedures. The Civil Rights Division disbanded the hiring committees made up of veteran career lawyers. . . . Now, hiring is closely overseen by Bush administration political appointees to Justice, effectively turning hundreds of career jobs into politically appointed positions.

Why is this story important? Well, as Sandy Levinson and I have pointed out, constitutional revolutions often occur through a process we call "partisan entrenchment:" a relatively coherent political coalition stocks the courts with its ideological allies, and when you get enough like-minded judges deciding cases, constitutional doctrine tends to shift accordingly. In previous work Sandy and I explained how this process works with judicial appointments. But because constitutional law is made and enforced in many other places in government, there are actually many other opportunities for partisan entrenchment. For example, we've seen how stocking the Office of Legal Counsel with conservative legal scholars like John Yoo produced OLC opinions that promoted fairly radical theories of Executive power. In fact, because much of what the Executive branch does is never tested in the courts, there are many, many areas of law in which the Justice Department, and in particular the OLC, is the key player in interpreting and applying the Constitution. If the President stocks the OLC with ideological allies, they will, over time, push the Constitution-in-practice strongly to the right.

More generally, the Justice Department is particularly important in how it enforces (or chooses not to enforce) a wide variety of constitutional and civil rights provisions. That's because many civil rights statutes make the government the primary enforcer of civil rights. Even when that is not the case, the practical enforcement of many federal rights depends largely on how much time and attention the Justice Department devotes to them. What the Department chooses to enforce and what it chooses not to enforce can make all the difference in how people actually enjoy a wide range of federal rights. During the middle part of the 20th century the Justice Department was at the forefront of promoting worker's rights and racial desegregation; later the Justice Department was heavily involved in promoting voting rights, the rights of women and the rights of the disabled through enforcement actions and law suits that led to judicial enforcement and consent decrees. If the Justice Department, and in particular, the Civil Rights Division had not stepped up when it did, much of what we today call the Civil Rights revolution would not have happened. We would have much weaker commitments to constitutional equality than we do today.

For many years now the Justice Department's integrity has been secured in part by the work of career civil service attorneys who are non-political appointments and whose central job is to uphold federal rights. The Bush Administration wants to change all that. It seeks to make lasting changes on what the law is in practice, by flooding the Justice Department with reliable ideological allies in positions that were traditionally staffed by non-political career appointments. The Administration expects that if enough ideological allies fill these positions, they will routinely interpret and apply law in ways that conservatives like; that is, they will narrowly apply, interpret and enforce federal equality guarantees as well as federal consumer protection, environmental law and labor law guarantees. These new conservative appointees will spend less time investigating and prosecuting violations of federal rights that liberals consider important. Conversely, and equally important, they will spend more time investigating and prosecuting violation and suspected violations of federal rights that conservatives think are important, like challenging affirmative action programs, or loosening restrictions on religious activities that make use of government funds. (Charlie Savage offers a few examples of the new kinds of cases the Bush Justice Department has been focusing on and the new group of Justice Department attorneys who are bringing them here)

In the long run, control over law enforcement will have significant effects on what our civil rights are in practice. And with Justice Department attorneys at every level repeatedly pushing courts for conservative interpretations of federal laws, over time the law will more and more resemble what conservatives say it should be.

The mass media tends to pay the most attention to an administration's judicial appointments, particularly at the Supreme Court level. That is because it is easier for people to recognize that stocking the courts with the President's ideological allies affects the law. Nevertheless, people need to pay attention to other Presidential appointments that may be equally effective in giving the law a hard shove to the right. Silently and methodically, the Bush Administration is decimating a long tradition of non-partisan civil service appointments to the Justice Department, replacing an older tradition of professional loyalty with a new ethos of ideological loyalty. That policy, performed largely behind the scenes, may have an even more profound effect on our rights in practice than the Administration's conservative judicial appointments.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

BLAB + Siegel (and the Rosenberg thesis)

Stephen Griffin

I am preparing to teach my fall Fourteenth Amendment class by going through the new edition of Processes of Constitutional Decisionmaking, the constitutional law casebook by Brest, Levinson, Balkin, Amar and, in the latest edition, Reva Siegel. This is hands down my favorite casebook (although I use Sullivan-Gunther for Conlaw I). It is a constitutional epicure’s delight, the conlaw equivalent of a five course meal at a Michelin three star restaurant.

In saying this, I am obviously not setting any records for moral courage, given that several BLAB authors contribute to this blog. Indeed, perhaps this blog can be viewed as a sort of extension of the casebook.

There are many discussions one could have based on the casebook, but I was somewhat jarred by the note that follows Brown v. Board of Education on Gerry Rosenberg’s 1991 book The Hollow Hope. The Rosenberg thesis was that courts cannot by themselves cause major social change and thus Brown was not a significant causal agent in the civil rights movement. These were fighting words, both when Rosenberg published them in 1991 and now.

As I recall, Rosenberg’s argument had two parts. As recounted in the casebook, the first part argued that “real change did not come until the political branches joined the desegregation effort and Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” This part of Rosenberg’s argument was based on the fact, well-known long before the book was published, that a very low number of black children were in integrated classrooms even ten years after Brown. Second, and more controversially, Rosenberg tried to assess Brown’s indirect impact on the civil rights movement and, as the casebook notes, was quite skeptical.

I was predisposed toward accepting Rosenberg’s argument when it was published due to some research I had done on the history of the civil rights movement. This research made me question the impact of Brown. In particular, I had read David Garrow’s 1986 biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. At one point, Garrow quotes Al Raby, one of King’s allies in his 1966 effort to desegregate various institutions in Chicago:

“I don’t see that the judicial process has really helped the Negro. . . .The same process, the process of legal opinion, got us twelve years ago a decision of the United States Supreme Court that we would have integrated schools, that segregation would be done away with. And the result of that legal opinion twelve years later is largely insignificant.” (Bearing the Cross, p. 522)

It’s clear from Garrow’s work and the work of others that Brown was culturally significant to the civil rights movement. For example, its anniversary was celebrated in some way in most years following the decision. But it is also clear that Brown’s practical value was contested, even in the 1960s. I was all the more puzzled, therefore, when Garrow turned out to be one of Rosenberg’s critics.

The casebook fairly reports that Rosenberg had numerous critics. One of the main lines of criticism was the defense of Brown as “culturally significant” and “symbolic.” These criticisms have always struck me as beside the point. If it were widely agreed that the main significance of Brown was symbolic, it would hardly have been necessary for Rosenberg to write his book in the first place. Rosenberg’s book was controversial because it attacked the ideology of cause lawyering, an ideology that gives courts a practical (not just symbolic) role in major social change. This ideology was still powerful in the 1990s, as Rosenberg discovered when he went to various law schools to defend his thesis. However, no one could contest the first part of Rosenberg’s argument, Brown’s very limited direct impact. In fact, the casebook goes on to amply support this point in the next few pages following the Rosenberg note. The main battle ground was over the more difficult question of indirect impact, of influence. But if we say we are interested in the general causal factors behind the civil rights movement as a whole, there is ample evidence that Christian moral beliefs played a far greater role than the legal principles exemplified in Brown.

Being Like Other Nations

Mark Graber

In the book of Samuel, the children of Israel insist "we, too, must be like other nations with a king to rule over us and lead us in warfare." Judged by this standard, Israel's recent actions may well be defensible. Certainly, Americans have shown no more enthusiasm for protecting innocents during the war against terrorism or the Iraqi occupation than has the Israeli government. And although repeated ad nauseam by apologists, it is still the case that the Israeli government is far closer to Mother Teresa than to Hezbollah or Hamas when judged on their relative concern for innocents. The latter groups seem desperately eager to create situations in which Israelis kill innocents in order to further incite hatred and recruit more assassins.

On the other hand, this desire to "be like other nations," at least in the commentaries I read, is not considered praiseworthy. Instead, Jews and Israel are expected to be "a light unto the world." There is rather little in recent Israeli actions that is "a light unto the world" unless one believes that Israel's survival and other democratic societies, at bottom depend on killing their enemies rather than persuading persons through example of the merits of democracy. Jewish survival may depend in part on the survival of Israel, but also depends in larger part on persons being proud of Israel and their Jewish heritage. Young Jews, young liberal Jews, in particular, are less and less proud of Israel and, as a result, are less and less proud of being Jewish. Israeli behavior in Lebanon may in the long run destroy more distinctively Jewish lives than Hezbollah.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Problem Isn't Signing Statements [UPDATED]

Marty Lederman

Nor is it the President's assertion of a power to decline to enforce statutes that he thinks are unconstitutional.

No, the problem -- the principal problem, anyway -- is the substance of many of this Administration's constitutional objections to statutes, including many (e.g., the Torture Act, ISA, the UCMJ, the Habeas statute) that were enacted and signed long ago.

Walter Dellinger takes aim tomorrow in the New York Times at the misplaced focus of the recent ABA Task Force Report on signing statements and the separation of powers.

Walter is right. [UPDATE: He and I and a half-dozen of our former OLC colleagues have much more on this matter over at the Georgetown site.]

[Disclosure: I worked with Walter and others on these and related issues at the Office of Legal Counsel in the Clinton Administration.]

Just Kidding, Really, Officer Levine


Mel Gibson's next project is a mini-series on the Holocaust. Apparently, it has a surprise ending.

The Real Pro-Life Agenda


The New York Times has a story about how human beings have become larger, healthier, and longer-lived in the past century. The key seems to be whether your mother was healthy and well fed during pregnancy and whether you yourself were healthy and well taken care of during the first two years of your life. Healthy conditions and plenty of food early in life translate into longer life and fewer diseases. By contrast, trauma, illness and lack of nutrition early in life often have long-term ramifications in middle and old age, increasing the chances for chronic pain, debilitating diseases and senility.

If these studies are true, we should be devoting far more money than we now do to prenatal care, infant nutrition and social programs that benefit children and pregnant women-- particularly the poorest women and children, who are often the most vulnerable to nutritional deprivation, disease and trauma. A small amount of money spent during the earliest years of life will reap enormous rewards in human happiness, health, and productivity later on.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bush Creates Common Ground Between Liberals and Conservatives

Brian Tamanaha

Lest anyone think that only liberals are appalled at the claims and actions of the Bush Administration, consider this passage from a recent New Yorker article (July 3, 2006) by Jane Mayer detailing the dark activities of David Addington, Cheney's Chief of Staff:

Bruce Fein, a Republican legal activist, who voted for Bush in both Presidential elections, and who served as associate deputy attorney general in the Reagan Justice Department, said that Addington and other Presidential legal advisors had "staked out powers that are a universe beyond any other Administration. This President has made claims that are really quite alarming. He said there are no restraints on his ability, as he sees it, to collect intelligence, to open mail, to commit torture, and to use electronic surveillance....It's got the sense of Louis XIV: "I am the State." Richard Epstein, a prominent libertarian law professor at the University of Chicago, said, "The President doesn't have the power of a king, or even that of state governors. He's subject to the laws of Congress! The Administration's lawyers are nuts on this issue." He warned of an impending "constitutional crisis," because "their talk of the inherent power of the Presidency seems to be saying the courts can't stop them, and neither can Congress."

In an interview last week, William F. Buckley, the intellectual leader of American conservatism, made the following tart comments:

I think Mr. Bush faces a singular problem best defined, I think, as an absence of effective conservative ideology--with the result that he ended up being very extravagant in domestic spending, extremely tolerant of excesses by Congress, and in respect of foreign policy, incapable of bringing together such forces as apparently were necessary to conclude the Iraq challenge....

There will be no legacy for Mr. Bush....I think his legacy is indecipherable.

Several publications put out by the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute, two respected conservative think tanks, characterize Bush Administration economic policies in terms of gross "corporate welfare." Republican Peter Peterson's book, Running on Empty, is a frightening description of our huge deficit, and its future implications, brought on by the mindless Bush Administration policy of cutting taxes for the rich. Peterson was quoted in Nation: "I'm rather offended that fat cats like me are getting tax cuts which over the longer term will only serve to increase taxes on my own children and grandchildren at a time when our entitlement programs are underfunded."

In the period leading up to the 2004 election, a number of conservatives expressed opposition to various Bush Administration policies, but most tempered their criticism. The few isolated voices then is now a chorus headed toward a crescendo. Beside oil companies and defense contractors, the one constituency that appears to remain firmly behind Bush are religious conservatives (see stem cell veto).

When liberals criticize the Bush Administration they are often dismissed by conservatives as unbalanced Bush-haters. That doesn't cut it anymore. In an extraordinary feat, the extremism of the Bush Administration appears to be creating common ground for the left and the right.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Another Measure of How Far We Have Fallen

Brian Tamanaha

Jack's below post details the contortions involved in the Bush Administration's effort to protect U.S. officials and troops engaged in possible war crimes. A different aspect of the same article--focusing on the origin of the War Crimes Act of 1996--also bears comment:

The...legislative sponsor [of the War Crimes Act of 1996] is one of the House's most conservative members, Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.). He proposed it after a chance meeting with a retired Navy pilot who had spent six years in the notorious "Hanoi Hilton," a Vietnamese prisoner camp. The conversation left Jones angry about Washington's inability to prosecute the pilot's abusers.

Jones's legislation for the first time imposed criminal penalties in the United States for breaches of the Geneva Conventions, which protect detainees anywere. The Defense Department's deputy general counsel at the time declared at the sole hearing on it in 1996--attended by just two lawmakers--that "we fully support the purposes of the bill," and urged its expansion to cover a wider range of war crimes. The Republican-controlled House passed the bill by voice vote, and the Senate approved it by unanimous consent.

The law initially criminalized grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions but was amended without a hearing the following year to include violations of Common Article 3, the minimum standard requiring that all detainees be treated "humanely." The article bars murder, mutilation, cruel treatment, torture and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." It applies to any abuse involving U.S. military personnel or "nationals."

Jones and other advocates intended the law for use against future abusers of captured U.S. troops in countries such as Bosnia, El Salvador and Somalia, but the Pentagon supported making its provisions applicable to U.S. personnel because doing so set a high standard for others to follow....

"On second thought...never mind that last part," now says the Bush Administration.

Given the overwhelming support for the Act, it is likely that not one of the many members of the Senate and House who voted for it imagined at the time that its terms would ever apply to us in any systematic way. That was unthinkable. The U.S. simply does not do that kind of stuff to detainees.

That was before 9/11, repeats the Bush Administration again and again. The once unthinkable is now sometimes necessary. Terrorism is different, nastier business, requiring nastier treatment of detainees. Watch out bad guys (or suspected bad guys), cause we are ready and willing to make you suffer. In this new reality, setting a high standard for others to follow is no longer a priority--defending the nation from attack matters above all else. The War Crimes Act of 1996 was well meaning, but naive and incautiously worded.

When the Bush Administration submits its proposed amendments to the law, Congress can agree that it (and the Defense Department) was naive a decade ago, and that things have changed. Or it can confirm that it was right the first time, that it was and remains unthinkable that the U.S. would treat prisoners inhumanely, that under no circumstances will we systematically engage in conduct remotely resembling that of Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camps, that this country represents and aspires to high standards, that to sacrifice these ideals would mean the terrorists have scored a significant victory in their effort to bring down the United States.

We must not forget that the terrorists are not out to defeat or conquer the U.S. in any traditional sense. That is impossible. Above all else, they want to expose us as evil.

And While You're at it, We'd Like Impunity from War Crimes Too, Please


The Washington Post reports that the Bush Administration, having correctly recognized the legal ramifications of the Hamdan decision, is now requesting that Congress amend the War Crimes Statute, 18 U.S.C. 2441, to insulate American operatives and military personnel from interrogations that fall just short of outright torture. The Post rather gratuitously refers to the 1996 War Crimes Statute as an "obscure law," but it is quite well known to people working in the area of human rights and international law.

As Marty has explained, the Bush Administration would like a "shocks the conscience test" that would offer less protection than Common Article 3 and would allow various forms of prisoner abuse and mistreatment, which would be justified on the grounds that it was necessary to obtain important information. As the Post explains:

The Justice Department's top legal adviser, Steven G. Bradbury, separately testified two weeks ago that Congress must give new "definition and certainty" to captors' risk of prosecution for coercive interrogations that fall short of outright torture.

Language in the administration's draft, which Bradbury helped prepare in concert with civilian officials at the Defense Department, seeks to protect U.S. personnel by ruling out detainee lawsuits to enforce Geneva protections and by incorporating language making U.S. enforcement of the War Crimes Act subject to U.S. -- not foreign -- understandings of what the Conventions require. [Ed.-- This last statement in the Washington Post article is not quite accurate. Rather, the idea is to adopt language that offers less protection than the language of Common Article 3 provides-- or the Army Field Manual, for that matter. It is not simply imposing a particular domestic interpretation of the Treaty; this point is made clear in the next paragraph]

The aim, Justice Department lawyers say, is also to take advantage of U.S. legal precedents that limit sanctions to conduct that "shocks the conscience." This phrase allows some consideration by courts of the context in which abusive treatment occurs, such as an urgent need for information, the lawyers say -- even though the Geneva prohibitions are absolute.

The Supreme Court, in contrast, has repeatedly said that foreign interpretations of international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions should at least be considered by U.S. courts.

Some human rights groups and independent experts say they oppose undermining the reach of the War Crimes Act, arguing that it deters government misconduct. They say that any step back from the Geneva Conventions could provoke mistreatment of captured U.S. military personnel. They also contend that Bush administration anxieties about prosecutions are overblown and should not be used to gain congressional approval for rough interrogations.

"The military has lived with" the Geneva Conventions provisions "for 50 years and applied them to every conflict, even against irregular forces. Why are we suddenly afraid now about the vagueness of its terms?" asked Tom Malinowski, director of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch.

Since the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, hundreds of service members deployed to Iraq have been accused by the Army of mistreating detainees, and at least 35 detainees have died in military or CIA custody, according to a tally kept by Human Rights First. The military has asserted these were all aberrant acts by troops ignoring their orders.

Defense attorneys for many of those accused of involvement have alleged that their clients were pursuing policies of rough treatment set by officials in Washington. That claim is amplified in a 53-page Human Rights Watch report this week that quoted interrogators at three bases in Iraq as saying that abuse was part of regular, authorized procedures. But this argument has yet to gain traction in a military court, where U.S. policy requires that active-duty service members be tried for any maltreatment. The War Crimes Act, in contrast, affords access to civilian courts for abuse perpetrated by former service members and by civilians. The government has not filed any charges under the law.

This problem did not sneak up on the Bush Administration unawares. Rather, from the beginning the Administration sought to impose coercive interrogation methods that might violate Common Article 3, and was concerned that the Geneva Conventions might someday be invoked against it.
Since September 2001, however, Bush administration officials have considered the law a potential threat to U.S. personnel involved in interrogations. While serving as White House legal counsel in 2002, Gonzales helped prepare a Jan. 25 draft memo to Bush -- written in large part by David Addington, then Vice President Cheney's legal counsel and now Cheney's chief of staff -- in which he cited the threat of prosecution under the act as a reason to declare that detainees captured in Afghanistan were not eligible for Geneva Conventions protections.

"It is difficult," Gonzales said in the memo, "to predict the motives of prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to bring unwarranted charges." He also argued for the flexibility to pursue various interrogation methods and said that only a presidential order exempting detainees from Geneva protections "would provide a solid defense to any future prosecution." That month, Bush approved an order exempting those captured in Afghanistan from these protections.

Thus, the Administration is now moving in two related directions. On the one hand, it wants a "clarified" standard for what constitutes war crimes, which really means that it wants a standard far weaker than Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. After all, it's hard to argue that "shocks the conscience" is a particularly bright-line test. At the same time, the Administration has made noises that it still regards the War Crimes Act as potentially unconstitutional when applied to persons acting under orders from the Commander-in-Chief. And all the while, the Administration has continued to insist that the most egregious forms of prisoner mistreatment or abuse were not authorized or ordered by anyone higher up in the Administration, but rather was solely the result of a few bad apples or rogue elements acting completely without authorization-- that the Administration has always treated detainees humanely, and therefore has always acted within the boundaries of Common Article 3.

So the Administration position, post-Hamdan, is that Congress should excuse Americans (and Administration officials) from liability for possible war crimes, either because the act is unnecessary-- since we have always acted humanely except for a few bad apples who didn't take orders from the Administration-- or because it is necessary-- since the Administration has in fact ordered people to violate Common Article 3. Finally, if Congress does nothing, the President will continue to take the position that the War Crimes Act may be unconstitutional as applied to him and to persons acting on his orders. (That unitary executive stuff comes in real handy!)

And what about those bad apples who were acting completely on their own? Well, there's the rub, you see. If any of them is ever prosecuted under the War Crimes Act, their most likely defense will be that they weren't really bad apples after all, but were actually following orders of the Administration-- the same Administration that insists that it has always treated its detainees humanely. And if a jury were to find that they believed this defense, it would be a bit-- shall we say-- embarrassing for the Administration. So to minimize the risk of any such embarrassments, the Administration would prefer that even the bad apples don't get prosecuted under the War Crimes statute.

So there you have it. A law making it a illegal to commit war crimes is simply a luxury that we Americans can't afford. Freedom isn't free, you know. If you want to protect human rights and democracy around the world, you have to break a few testicles-- I mean, eggs.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Bush Administration Draft Hamdan Response Bill

Marty Lederman

Here's one version of the draft legislation that the Bush Administration is considering in the wake of Hamdan. I believe it's the same version that the New York Times and Washington Post have reported on in recent days. (NOTE: FWIW, I did not receive it from anyone in the Administration or those two newspapers. My sense is that it's been floating all around town today.)

I think it's fair to assume that it's a work in progress. There's also reason to believe that this is not the entirety of the proposals -- for one thing, Common Article 3 is discussed only in the Findings, not in any operative provisions. But it likely contains most of the draft proposals on military commissions -- and even, for the first time, statutory detention authority, defined to cover all "enemy belligerents."

Others will undoubtedly have more to say about the numerous proposals with respect to military commissions, some of which seem very troubling. [UPDATE: Invaluable initial thoughts from Dave Glazier over at Intel Dump.] But I'd like to focus on the definitions of who can be detained and tried, and on Common Article 3, because those issues are probably more important, yet are receiving far less attention. [UPDATE: One general matter: Section 104(a) appears to authorize the President to use his "constitutional authority" to establish other commissions, independent of those prescribed in the Act, "should circumstances so require." That seems like a huge, gaping loophole that presumably Congress will want to address if its intent is to provide a framework under which the President must act.]

As for who can be detained and tried in military court:

On first glance, the proposal does not appear to be limited to aliens (the word "alien" was repeatedly deleted), nor even to Al Qaeda and other groups and individuals covered by the September 18, 2001 AUMF -- it covers any and all "enemy combatants" against the U.S. and its allies in any conflict, anywhere and at any time. And "unlawful enemy combatant" is defined to include -- but not be limited to -- an individual or is or was "part of or supporting" Taliban or Al Qaeda forces, or associated forces engaged in hostilities against the U.S. or its coalition partners. If I'm reading this right, if you're a citizen alleged to have "supported" a hostile group "associated" with Al Qaeda, you can be (i) detained until the "cessation of hostilities" (with whom? doesn't say); and (ii) tried before a military commission.

As for Common Article 3, and interrogation techniques:

This draft does not contain any of the operative provisions relating to Common Article 3, so we can't yet tell what the Administration's proposals will be. But the draft's Section 102(9) contains two "findings" that may give us some clue of the direction in which they're heading:

-- The first is that the standards for treating detainees under the McCain Amendment "fully satisfy any obligations of the United States regarding detainee treatment under common Article 3(1)." As I've explained (See Myth No. 6), that might be true if the McCain Amendment were construed to prohibit all of the "cruel treatment and torture" proscribed by Common Article 3. But there is a good chance that the Administration is not construing the McCain Amendment to prohibit the enhanced CIA techniques, e.g., Cold Cell, Long Time Standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and possibly waterboarding -- in which case the McCain standards would not, in fact, satisfy U.S. obligations under Common Article 3. [UPDATE: Jeffrey Smith's terrific article in the WaPo tomorrow confirms this strategy: "The aim, Justice Department lawyers say, is also to take advantage of U.S. legal precedents that limit sanctions to conduct that 'shocks the conscience.' This phrase allows some consideration by courts of the context in which abusive treatment occurs, such as an urgent need for information, the lawyers say -- even though the Geneva prohibitions are absolute."]

Administration officials are already making noises that the "clarification" is necessary because of the so-called vagueness or ambiguity of Common Article 3, especially the prohibition on "humiliating" treatment. This is a red herring. The issue is the CIA, which is not so concerned with the ban on humiliation in section (a)(3) as it is with the ban on "cruel treatment and torture" in section (a)(1). Moreover, the substantive standard of the McCain Amendment (the "shocks the conscience" test) is actually much more uncertain, and vaguer, than the terms in Article 3(1)(a) itself, and arguably more subject to a case-by-case post hoc analysis rather than categorical limits. Don't take my word for it; listen to the Vice President: "The rule is whether or not it shocks the conscience. . . . Now, you can get into a debate about what shocks the conscience and what is cruel and inhuman. And to some extent, I suppose that's in the eye of the beholder."

Once you realize that the McCain Amendment is even vaguer and more indeterminate than Common Article 3, it becomes clear there's really no other reason for the Administration to seek to construe CA3 to be coterminous with McCain other than to circumvent the categorical prohibitions in CA3 section 1(a) on "cruel treatment and torture."

Accordingly, the thing to watch for, as the legislative process moves forward, is some specification -- in the statute itself or in the legislative history -- of what, exactly, the McCain Amendment prohibits.

-- The second finding is that "the Geneva Conventions are not a source of judicially enforceable individual rights." That language seems fairly sweeping. But as with the rest of this evolving debate, the devil will be in the details of the operative statutory language. It would be one thing to cut off possible causes of action by private parties directly under the Geneva Conventions. In and of itself, that would be very controversial. But it would be quite another thing entirely -- and much more alarming -- if the bill made it impossible for parties to invoke Geneva under any other cause of action, such as, e.g., a habeas petition (as in Hamdan itself), or the Alien Tort Statute or, for that matter, a criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act.

The best news I've seen on a quick glance is that the bill purports to reflect an intent to comply with the laws of war, including the customary laws of armed conflict. See sections 102(5); 104(e). Thus, presumably the Act would have to be construed, where possible, consistently with the laws of war (something that would be the ordinary, Charming Betsy default rule, in any event). In other words, there's no obvious intent -- yet -- to enact any laws that would conflict with treaty obligations and other laws of armed conflict.

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