The Flint Charges and The Murky Legal Waters Facing Prosecutors

220px-Water_droplet_blue_bg05Below is my column in USA Today on the prosecution of three state and local officials in the Flint, Michigan water scandal. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has promised more (and higher ranking) defendants in the coming weeks. However, as discussed in this column, these cases are not as straightforward as the pictures of bottles of Flint water juxtaposed against clean water. While there are strong elements to some of the charges, the prosecution is not nearly as easily or obvious as has been suggested in the media, in my view.

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The Garland Nomination: The Unstoppable Force Meets The Unmovable Object

Merrick_GarlandBelow is my column in USA Today on the Garland nomination. I have said previously that I believe that the Senate should give the nominee a hearing and a vote. However, there is nothing in the Constitution that requires (or would compel) such action. Of course, if a Senate prolongs non-consideration, a president can use a recess appointment to temporarily fill the slot (assuming the Senate does not stay in pro forma session to bar such a manuever).

Here is the column:

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Voters Want A Revolution. Here’s What It Would Take.

Washington Constitutional Convention 1787Below is my Sunday column yesterday in the Washington Post on reforming our political system. We are certainly, as the Chinese curse says, “living in interesting times.” We seem to be in the midst of an American revolution where citizens have arisen in collective disgust of the establishment and the status quo. For years, citizens have objected to a political system that is dysfunctional and detached. The two parties have largely ignored these objections and many have objected to this “doupoly” on power. For many, answer of the two parties to the American people seems to be the same as Henry Ford to customers of the Model T Ford: “you can have any color so long as it is black.” In the United States, you can have any party so long as it is red or blue; Republican or Democrat. Yet, in 2016, the public has responded with a deafening rejection of the establishment. The most obvious is Donald Trump who is the perfect personification of an angry electorate. On the democratic side, a 74-year-old Democratic Socialist has rocked the Democratic party, which overtly rigged a primary system to guarantee the selection of the ultimate establishment figure: Hillary Clinton. However, we seem to go this cathartic exercise every four years rather than seek some changes to break down the insularity of government. There is another way. Instead of just choosing some personality that matches our angry politics, we can really change the system . . . for the better. The Framers gave the public the power to solve our own problems, including the ability to circumvent Congress with a constitutional convention. We have the anger. The question is whether we have the answer.

Below is the column. There are a host of other changes that can be made to improve the system, including many that can be down without a constitutional amendment. However, there is a value in focusing on a few basics that could have a transformative effect on the respective branches of government.

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The Supreme Court Vacancy: Will President Obama Seek A Grand Slam or A Sacrifice Fly Nominee

275px-Sonia_Sotomayor_on_first_day_of_confirmation_hearingsBelow is my column in USA Today on some of the possible nominees to fill the vacancy left with the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. There is a long list of potential nominees and only some are discussed in this column. One of the more interesting prospects is Jane Kelly from the Eighth Circuit who would bring badly needed trial experience to the Court and particularly a rare criminal defense background. As a threshold matter, it is worth noting that the current chaos that we are witnessing over Scalia’s replacement is the result of a long-standing flaw on the Court. As I have argued for many years, our Supreme Court is demonstrably too small and should be expanded by Congress to 19 members – roughly the size of other large nations – to avoid so much power being concentrated in so few hands. If the Court was larger, there would likely be no question that President Obama could get a nominee confirmed because there would be greater turnover on the Court and less at stake with each justice. However, as it stands, even a moderate nominee would move the center of gravity of the Court significantly to the left and would likely produce a host of sweeping changes on gun rights, abortion, affirmative action, and other areas. That is something that the Republicans have pledged to bar, at least until we know who the next president will be.
So our dysfunctionally small Court has left us in another dysfunctional standoff. However, we have some added issues due to the timing of this vacancy as discussed in the column below.

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The Cosby Charges: When Silence Speaks Loudly

ht_bill_cosby_booking_photo_float_jc_151230_16x9_608The charges against Bill Cosby are now filed and Cosby is out on bail pending his aggravated assault trial. Below is my column on the trial and what will likely be a core question for the defense: should Bill Cosby testify? It is a common question in celebrity trials and many prefer silence to the stand.

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495px-Donald_Trump_by_Gage_SkidmoreBelow is my Sunday column in the Washington Post on Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entry into the United States. Trump’s rhetoric has shocked many in his promises to unilaterally force sweeping changes regardless of Congress. Yet, Trump’s criticism of Congress and pledge to go it alone should be vaguely familiar for many. Both Obama and Trump advocate to use unilateral powers to change the immigration laws as a rejection of a “do nothing” Congress. Faced with opposition in Congress, President Obama insisted that he would order many of the very changes rejected by the legislative branch. Despite my agreement with President Obama on many of his policies, it is a dangerous and destabilizing legacy or a system based on the separation of powers. While these men may differ on their policy choices, the powers are the same. President Obama has been asserting many the powers referenced by Trump despite constitutional objections and losses in court like the Canning decision. For this reason, the objections from Obama supporters may ring a bit hollow for Trump supporters. While Trump may have coined “You’re fired” as an entertainment tag line, it was President Obama who fashioned it into a political doctrine in his rejection of Congress. This has been a role that Trump has spent years cultivating on reality shows. It is reality TV meets realpolitick. Below is the column.

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Kim Davis: Hero or Villain?

kim-davis-mugshotDefiant Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis has appealed the contempt order that has left her languishing in jail. At the same time, her lawyer has argued that marriage licenses issued without her signature are invalid — an interesting question given the state’s requirement that her signature be affixed to every such license. Below is my recent Washington Post column on Davis and how she fits within our collective social and legal iconography. Defiance is a heroic value when it is Martin Luther King violating police orders and standing unbent before biting dogs and swinging batons. It was inspiring to millions when King cited St. Augustine to declare “an unjust law is no law at all”. Such figures stood against not just our prejudice but our laws in their defiance. As Henry David Thoreau stated “Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?” Those who transgress upon unjust laws today are often heralded as heroes tomorrow from early American patriots to abolitionists to suffragists to desegregationists. Even today many praise Edward Snowdon for his criminal actions in disclosing a massive surveillance system of U.S. citizens even though those same laws are designed to protect our national security. Yet, Davis is using her public office to impose her religious values on neighbors. That contrast led to the column below.
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