Analysis and Commentary on Government

The Legal Story of the Year, and Next Year Too: Edward Snowden

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the ongoing importance of Edward Snowden, whose spectacular leaking of National Security Agency (NSA) secrets continues to have profound implications, in a set of specific ways that Dean describes. Accordingly, Dean argues that Snowden’s should be deemed the key legal story of 2013 and very likely that of 2014, too. Dean also compares what Snowden should do now, with what Daniel Ellsberg did after revealing the Pentagon Papers.

GAO Report Highlights Compelling Reasons for New Federal Privacy Law

Justia columnist and U.Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the world of big data, in which, as our data gets resold, recombined, and repurposed, we often have little idea what companies have data about us, where a given company may have initially obtained that data, and what that data will be used for in the future. Ramasastry argues that regulation in this area is sorely needed, and discusses the recent GAO report on the issue.

Who Benefits From Filibuster Reform?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf explains the politics behind filibuster reform, in the wake of the elimination of the rule requiring a supermajority vote to end debate—and thus to move to a merits vote—on presidential nominations to the lower federal courts and executive offices.

Could the President Bomb Syria Even If Congress Says No?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on President Obama’s options in Syria. Dorf notes that Secretary of State John Kerry’s position is that the President can act without Congress. But Dorf calls that position profoundly misguided, citing international law and the U.N. Charter on the use of force. Dorf also points out that Congressional approval cannot substitute for Security Council authorization. Moreover, he comments on prior presidents who faced situations in which there was a lack of Congressional authorization for the use of force.

New Accusations by a Nixon Apologist Based on Recently Discovered Information Regarding the Watergate Cover-Up Trial

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on Watergate revisionism, and, in particular, Geoff Shepard’s recent piece in The Atlantic claiming that Nixon’s top advisers did not get justice when they were convicted for conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury. Dean strongly differs with Shepard’s account, and explains precisely why. Among other points, Dean rebuts Shepard’s claim that former Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski and Judge Sirica held secret ex parte meetings which were unlawful.

The Facts, the Verdict, and the Role of the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service (CRS) in the Zimmerman Trial: A Model of Opacity

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the role of the CRS—a little-known division of the Department of Justice—in the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Hamilton starts with the facts that we do know and the many that we don't, and the perspective each side presented at trial. In addition, Hamilton questions the unclear role, here, of the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service (CRS). Hamilton notes the role the CRS usually plays, and the evidence that has—and has not—been made public regarding the role it played here.

Why the Proponents of California’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Are Unlikely to Succeed in Getting the California Supreme Court to Enforce Proposition 8: Part One in a Two-Part Series on What Should Happen to Same-Sex Marriage in California after Hollingsworth v. Perry

In Part One of a two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar explains why the Prop. 8 proponents are very unlikely to get the California Supreme Court to enforce Prop. 8 in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s related ruling, although they are trying to do so with various gambits nonetheless. Amar describes the proponents’ strategies and explains why they seem doomed to fail. (Part Two of this series will appear here on Justia on August 2.)

The Promise of May, the Betrayal of June, and the Larger Lesson of Manning and Snowden

Justia guest columnist and Northwestern law professor Joseph Margulies offers an interesting perspective on the controversies raised by the classified information leaked by Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. Margulies asks what it reveals about ourselves and our life and times that Manning and Snowden, two anonymous functionaries in the vast machinery of the American military complex, have—within three years of each other—committed both the largest and apparently most important unauthorized releases of classified material in American history?

What the Supreme Court Should Have Said in the Proposition 8 Case, and How an Important Tweak Would Have Avoided Unnecessary Damage to the Initiative Device

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram Amar comments on initiative-sponsor standing and its role in the Supreme Court’s Proposition 8 case. Amar deems the High Court’s invocation of such standing both attractive and hazardous, and explains why that is the case. He also notes that an appealing middle path was ignored here: A state should be free to authorize sponsors to defend initiatives (in a way that federal courts will accept), but the authorization has to be done carefully and in a fashion that the voters can see.

Whom Should Chris Christie Name to Frank Lautenberg’s Senate Seat? Current Law Provides No Perfect Options

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf explains the complex situation regarding the New Jersey Senate seat that was held by Frank Lautenberg, who just recently passed away. Lautenberg was a devoted Democrat, but now a Republican will name his immediate successor, who will then have the advantage of incumbency in the next election. Dorf explains how and why this somewhat odd-seeming sequence of events occurred, and explains the role that the U.S. Constitution’s Seventeenth Amendment, in conjunction with New Jersey law, played here. Dorf also contends that there are far better ways than this to fill Senate vacancies, and describes one such system.

Dealing With National Security Leaks: Obama’s “Plumbers”: Part One in a Two-Part Series of Columns

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on how certain presidents—specifically, Nixon, Bush, and Obama—have respectively chosen to deal with national security leaks. Most strikingly, Dean notes that President Obama still fully embraces an only slightly modified Bush/Cheney viewpoint on dealing with leaks of national security information. And that Obama position, Dean points out, is quite notable, since such thinking can be traced directly to Richard Nixon’s infamous “Plumbers.” In the column, Dean also tells the story of the original “Plumbers,” to illuminate the parallel. Dean will continue his series on this topic with Part Two on June 14, here on Justia’s Verdict.

Supreme Court’s Ruling in Arlington v. FCC Highlights Debate Over the Meaning and Future of Chevron Deference Doctrine in Administrative Law

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on a very recent Supreme Court administrative law opinion, Arlington v. FCC. First, Amar explains the key doctrine of Chevron deference, which was established in an earlier Court precedent, and was central here. He also comments on the Court’s rejection of an interpretation of the doctrine that would have significantly narrowed it. Finally, Amar also discusses the contrasting views of the concurring and dissenting opinions in the case.

Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief for Houses of Worship: Why the Establishment Clause Forbids this Most Recent Attempt by Religious Lobbyists to Obtain Government Support and Funding

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton argues that Hurricane Sandy disaster relief cannot constitutionally be extended to religious institutions, and notes that such relief was not extended to houses of worship in prior, similar situations. She also contends that religious institutions should go back to their days of eschewing government funding entirely. Accordingly, Hamilton opposes the Federal Disaster Assistance Non-Profit Fairness Act, and notes that the church/state entanglement issues that will arise if the government is involved in funding the rebuilding of a damaged house of worship.

The No Budget, No Pay Bill, the Twenty-Seventh Amendment and the Debt Ceiling

Justia columnist and U.C. Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on a bill that purports to withhold salary from all members of a House during the time the House has failed to produce a budget. Amar contends that such a bill violates the Constitution’s Twenty-Seventh Amendment, which states that “No law, varying the compensation for the services of Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election for Representatives shall have occurred.” The bill itself purports to comply with the Twenty-Seventh Amendment, but Amar is deeply skeptical about that claim.

Dealing With Aaron Swartz in the Nixonian Tradition: Overzealous Overcharging Leads to a Tragic Result

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the Aaron Swartz case—in which the brilliant young computer programmer was, according to many commentators, including Dean himself, overzealously prosecuted—and eventually chose suicide over the likely lengthy prison sentence that he faced, based on his downloading for free numerous journal articles that otherwise would have cost money to access, and using MIT facilities to do so. Dean recalls instances where others have proved more reasonable, such as the case of a Vietnam War demonstrator with which Dean was familiar, and deems the Swartz case an instance of blatant prosecutorial overcharging. Dean also warns that there is nothing unusual about Swartz's case, in that prosecutorial overcharging is rife.

What Can The President Do When Congress Gives Him a “Trilemma” of Unconstitutional Choices? Understanding Why the President Must Exceed the Debt Ceiling

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf and Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan argue that, faced with a trilemma of unconstitutional choices, President Obama effectively has no choice but to exceed the debt ceiling, and they explain exactly why that is. Buchanan and Dorf describe why, to honor the Constitution, a President must choose to issue debt in excess of the statutory limit, if the budget otherwise requires him to do so. They also argue that even Republicans in Congress should want the President to issue more debt, if Congress itself is unable to find a way to do its duty and increase the debt ceiling as needed. In their analysis, Buchanan and Dorf also invoke the idea that some choices are more unconstitutional than others; constitutionality, in other words, isn’t just either/or.

A Mismatch Between Tax Politics and Deficit Rhetoric: A Very Bad Tax Deal Is Passed by Politicians Who Do Not Understand the Economics of Deficits

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan sharply critiques the tax deal that was just passed. Buchanan contends that the big picture here is very different from that painted by Beltway insiders in the run-up to the deal, in important ways. To support his points, Buchanan covers the basics of the deal; points out that merely because both sides were disappointed does not mean that a good deal was struck; and questions the need for the deal in light of the fact that the long-term budget situation looks significantly better than most people think, in part because certain pessimistic assumptions about health-care costs have so far not proven true.

A Necessary Beginning To Ending Capitol Gridlock: Filibuster Reform

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean urges that filibuster reform is vitally necessary if the nation is to get Congress working again. Dean places the problem squarely on Republicans’ shoulders, and describes the Party’s filibuster abuses. He also notes the baleful effect of the Republicans’ use of the filibuster upon the judicial confirmation process, triggering an emergency situation in the judicial branch. Dean comments on what effective filibuster reform would look like; contends that there are no strong arguments against it; and explains the so-called “nuclear option” that Democrats still could invoke if they so chose.

How a Case About Decriminalization of Marijuana Has Substantial Implications for the Rights of Gay and Lesbian Persons

Justia columnist Vikram David Amar and Justia guest columnist Alan Brownstein, both U.C., Davis law professors, comment on the connection between a case about decriminalizing marijuana, and another case about gay and lesbian rights—and in particular, about sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), which are now prohibited in California where those under 18 are involved. Amar and Brownstein describe SOCE methods, and the two cases, with very different judicial results, which confronted the question whether barring SOCE violates the First Amendment, and particularly the right of doctors to communicate with their patients. They then explain the central importance of the marijuana-decriminalization precedent when it comes to the SOCE cases, which may well end up before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb tea... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Befo... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has w... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of L... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Pra... more

David S. Kemp
David S. Kemp

David S. Kemp is an attorney and managing editor at Justia. He received his B.A. in Psychology from... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record... more

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Ronald D. Rotunda
Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, at... more