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.
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.
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.
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.)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean takes strong issue with the Norquist Pledge, which Washington lobbyist Grover Norquist has asked Members of Congress to sign. The Pledge says, “I [insert name] pledge to the taxpayers of the state of [insert name], and to the American people that I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.” The Pledge has become significant in the context of raising taxes as a solution to the potential “fiscal cliff” crisis. Dean contends that the Pledge is not only a bad idea, but also one that violates the Constitution. Moreover, Dean points out that, as the pledge is not a valid contract, for it is missing key elements that contract law requires, it is also not enforceable as such.
Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton discusses the child-sex-abuse investigation in Australia and developments regarding child sex abuse here in the U.S. Hamilton argues that America’s response to evidence of child sex abuse in our institutions has been woefully deficient. While some local or state prosecutors have moved forward, Hamilton argues that what is needed, as well, is a response at the federal level. Hamilton suggests that Members of Congress are afraid to take on the relevant institutions, despite the terrible toll that child sex abuse takes on children and the monetary costs that are associated with that toll. Hamilton argues, however, that addressing child sex abuse is not only the right thing to do, but also ultimately in Members of Congress’ political interests. In particular, she urges Republicans to change their focus from “unborn children” to actual children who are suffering due to child sex abuse. Hamilton also urges Democrats in Congress and President Obama to investigate and act on this important issue, including by reforming the insurance industry's role.
Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan connects the election, Hurricane Sandy, and the well-being of our children and the children of future generations of Americans. Analyzing a Romney/Ryan ad that had expressed worry about “saddling our children with debt,” Buchanan warns that what might be truly worrisome would be, conversely, to fail to spend money in ways that will improve the lives of future generations, with infrastructure high on the list. Buchanan cites Hurricane Sandy as an example, arguing that if floodgates are indeed necessary to protect New York City, then even if taking on debt would be necessary, the floodgates should be built. Buchanan also generalizes his point to apply to other infrastructure and other inter-generational government programs.
Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on instances of usage-based insurance (UBI), and warns of the risk of using this kind of technology until and unless it is carefully regulated. UBI programs use up-to-the-minute data on drivers, and safe drivers get discounts as a result, but UBI systems may also raise privacy concerns. Ramasastry focuses especially on Progressive Insurance’s “Snapshot” program, which showed that actual driving behavior is the best predictor of all of driver risk. Ramasastry suggests that UBI programs need to be closely regulated in order to ensure that the information they glean about drivers is not put to other uses, to which drivers did not specifically and carefully consent. While Progressive itself does not use GPS, but instead depends on other driving-related information, Ramasastry notes that other companies may well require GPS tracking in the future, or may offer it in exchange for lower rates.