Archive for the ‘Columns’ Category
Below is my column on the resignation of Eric Holder as United States Attorney General. For civil libertarians, Holder’s tenure as Attorney General under President Obama has been one of the most damaging periods in our history with a comprehensive attack on various constitutional rights and principles from free speech to the free press to international law. In recent polling by NBC and the Wall Street Journal, Holder was the second most unpopular government official after the positively radioactive Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
As someone who previously called for Holder’s firing after the investigation of various journalists under national security powers, I am hardly one who can offer congratulatory sentiments for such a record. However, much like President Obama, one has to wonder what could have been if Holder had chosen a more principled and less political approach to his office. Holder is resigning the same week that a federal judge ordered the release of “Fast and Furious” documents after the Justice Department was accused of a pattern of delay and obstruction. Holder was previously held in contempt by Congress for his withholding documents and conflicting accounts to an oversight committee looking into the scandal. Indeed, Holder was looking at an even more aggressive period with the possible loss of the Senate and increased GOP seats in the House.
Ironically, Holder came into office trying to distinguish himself from such disastrous predecessors as Alberto Gonzales but proved no less political or blindly loyal to his own president. Indeed, both men fought aggressively to expand the powers of the presidency and national security laws over countervailing individual rights and separation of powers principles. It will be civil liberties and not civil rights that will be the lasting, and troubling, legacy of Eric Holder. The column is below:
Below is my column today on the Perry indictment. I have previously raised my serious reservations about the factual and legal basis for a criminal charge. We obviously do not know what evidence will be presented, particularly evidence of back channel communications that might have occurred over the threatened veto. Such conversations can have a highly damaging effect on jurors as shown by the trial of Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich. They can also damage someone politically by exposing uninhibited moments or comments. I have heard from reporters in Texas that there might have been communications between Perry and Lehmberg about her resigning but I have yet to see clear accounts of such communications. However, at the moment, I cannot see the basis for these charges. Perry publicly stated his intent to use his lawful power to veto the line item for the office budget if Lehmberg did not resign. I do not see how the use of such a lawful power in this case would rise to the level of a criminal act.
At the moment, I see a compelling case for dismissal as a threshold legal question for the court. However, the degree to which the court views this matter as turning on the factual allegations as opposed to the legal questions, it could be held over for trial. That is the problem with such ambiguously written provisions is that the court may feel more constrained in dismissing the counts. The result for Perry can be damaging even if he is acquitted as was former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison two decades ago. Hutchinson was charged with using state employees to plan her Christmas vacation in Colorado and write thank-you notes. The case was so weak that it took only 30 minutes for the jury to find her not guilty on all charges. The political danger is the exposure of private communications. Few of us are as crude as Blagojevich or his wife even in private but none of us is likely to look good if our unguarded comments were played out for a national audience. Once again, only time will tell what type of evidence was heard by the grand jury. Yet, my view is that this indictment is very problematic from a constitutional standpoint and offers little to support such a major prosecution.
Here is the column:
This month, Washington seems caught in some strange time loop. The President allegedly fighting off an attempt to remove him while Members of Congress are denouncing his “Imperial Presidency” and contempt for constitutional law. It must be enough to give Bob Woodword and Carl Bernstein vertigo.
As one of the legal experts who testified during the Clinton Impeachment and lead defense counsel in the last judicial impeachment trial in the Senate, I have been struck by the replication of a number of misconceptions surrounding impeachment. That led to Sunday’s column on certain myths regarding impeachment. According to a CNN/ORC poll last week, some 33 percent of Americans think the president should be impeached. Over a majority now disapprove of his conduct in office according to other polls. However, that is not enough for impeachment. As many of you know, I am highly troubled about the actions taken by President Obama in violation of the Separation of Powers. I testified (here and here and here) and wrote a column on President Obama’s increasing circumvention of Congress in negating or suspending U.S. laws. I ran another column recently listing such incidents of executive over-reach. Some like the violations of the power of the purse in the shifting of hundreds of millions of dollars raise extremely serious challenges to our system. However, I do not believe that these violations have yet reached the point of impeachable offenses. Ideally, a federal court will review some of these violations and show that the system can work in the maintenance of the lines of separation though the Administration is clearly going to fight hard to block any review of the merits by any federal court. That is where such matters should, in my view, be heard and resolved. In the meantime, the President’s threat to continue to act unilaterally is playing a dangerous game of chicken in our system and, if he goes too far in an act defying clear congressional or judicial authority, he could cross over from interpretive disagreements into impeachable offenses. Yet, the current array of conflicts have divided lower judges on the merits. Such interpretive disagreements are not the thing that impeachments are made off. Having said that, one should not take the lack of impeachable offenses to take away from what some of us view as very serious violations by this President — a usurpation of authority that all citizens should denounce in the interests of our constitutional system. (more…)
Below is my column this morning in USA Today on the rivaling health care rulings in Washington, D.C. and Virginia. I have been struck on this and other blogs with how quickly people criticize the opinions by attacking the motives and backgrounds of the respective judges. It is a signature of our times that we no longer debate the issue and try instead to discredit those with whom we disagree. We have learned to hate like the Queen Mother counseled in Shakespeare’s Richard III: to “Think that thy babes were sweeter than they were; And he that slew them fouler than he is.” The fact is that the ACA was a deeply flawed piece of legislation that was passed with insufficient review and editing. It was pushed through on a muscle vote when it was in subpar condition. There have been hundreds of serious drafting errors found in the law. Courts have been struggling with those errors as has the White House. Yet, such good faith questions have no place in today’s politics where every issue must be personified and treated as some low-grade political stunt despite long opinions detailing rationales in the two courts. To dismiss these decisions as the result of judicial hacks ignores those extensive problems in the law. This piece looks at that response and how we have lost the ability to engage in civil or substantive discussion on such issues. From a legisprudence standpoint, the two opinions are classic difference in how courts approach statutory interpretation. I would not call either opinion as strictly “textualist” or “intentionalist” but they certainly reflect these different views of the role of the courts and agencies in the interpretation of legislative text. While I agree with the merits of the change ordered by the Administration, I am highly uncomfortable with treating language in a statute as a “typo” or some oversight. Indeed, as we recently discussed, even key players who are now calling the D.C. Circuit interpretation “nutty” previously appeared to subscribe to that interpretation. For that reason, I favor the D.C. Circuit opinion out of concern over limiting the role of the courts and reinforcing the separation of powers. Here is the column.
Below is my column today in USA Today on the Obama Administration’s decision to cut off water to legal marijuana growers. Notably, the business concern today for the rollout of legal pot sales in Washington is greater demand than supply. I previously wrote about how a little known board had effectively moved to end the debate over the Redskins name, an example of agencies increasingly intervening in social and political disputes. This move by the Bureau of Reclamation is a prime example of such intervention into political disputes and a troubling precedent for the future.