Gun control proposals in the wake of Orlando could endanger constitutional rights

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Andrew M. Grossman in the Washington Post,  June 21, 2016

In the aftermath of horrific terrorist massacres such as the Orlando nightclub shooting, the natural impulse of the American people is to ask what the government can do to prevent such tragedies. Securing public safety is indeed the government’s most important job; keeping guns away from terrorists has obvious value. But this must be done in a way that complies with the Constitution.

This admonition has animated much of the recent debate about the rules governing National Security Agency surveillance of suspected terrorists. Regrettably, it has not been embraced in the gun control debate unfolding in the aftermath of Orlando.

Yet the Constitution’s due process protections are the vital safeguard of individual liberty and mitigate against arbitrary government action by setting the procedures the government must observe when it seeks to deprive an individual of a given substantive right.

Constitutionally “appropriate” procedure varies based on the importance of the right at issue and the risk of an erroneous deprivation of that right, and the government’s interest. For example, while government officials may commit a person who is dangerous to himself or others on an emergency basis, a judicial determination of the validity of the commitment must follow. Law enforcement officers may arrest a person they believe to be guilty of a crime, but the person who has been arrested is entitled to appear before a judge. Read more »

Apple, the FBI and free speech

A court order that compels the iPhone-maker to write and then sign new code may violate the First Amendment.

by David B. Rivkin, Jr., and Andrew M. Grossman, in USA Today

February 19, 2016

It would be one thing if Apple could carry out a court order that it unlock an iPhone used by the San Bernardino terrorists simply by waving a magic wand. But encryption isn’t magic; the order requires Apple to write and digitally sign a security-degraded version of its iOS operating system. That raises serious First Amendment concerns because the order amounts to a government-compelled speech.

The FBI picked this fight to set a precedent. For years, it’s been locked in a “crypto war” with Silicon Valley over how to provide law enforcement access to users’ data. So far, Apple, Google, and other companies have rebuffed demands to implement government back doors that defeat encryption and other security measures, arguing that such bypasses weaken security and facilitate abuses by criminals, corporate spies and foreign governments.

Apparently unable to identify a true ticking-time-bomb scenario to bring to court, the FBI settled for the next best thing: obtaining encrypted data off the workplace phone of shooter Syed Farook. The phone’s encryption is keyed to a passcode, and Apple’s software erases data after ten incorrect passcode attempts. So the government, relying on an aggressive reading of the 1789 All Writs Act, obtained an order directing Apple to “bypass or disable the auto-erase function” and make it possible to cycle through all possible passcodes.

While the FBI has previously obtained warrants requiring Apple to extract unencrypted data from devices running older software, this appears to be the first time that it has sought to conscript a company to write new software to circumvent security features. If it prevails, such a precedent will govern future cases. Read more »

Pulling the Plug on Obama’s Power Plan

President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is dead and will not be resurrected. The cause of death was hubris. As a result, the plan’s intended victims—including the national coal industry, the rule of law and state sovereignty—will live to fight another day.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court put President Obama’s signature climate initiative on hold while a lower court considers challenges brought by industry opponents and 27 states. That stay will remain in effect through the end of Mr. Obama’s presidency, until the Supreme Court has a chance to hear the case—in 2017 at the earliest. The stay sends the strongest possible signal that the court is prepared to strike down the Clean Power Plan on the merits, assuming the next president doesn’t revoke it.

Not since the court blocked President Harry Truman’s seizure of the steel industry has it so severely rebuked a president’s abuse of power. Read more »

Obama’s Empty Climate Agreement

Paris is Copenhagen all over again — more presidential climate change grandstanding without concrete results.

By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. & ANDREW M. GROSSMAN, 10 December 2015 in USA Today

The world is watching as diplomats in Paris hammer out the final details of a new climate agreement involving over 150 countries. The goal, said President Barack Obama, is “an agreement where … each nation has the confidence that other nations are meeting their commitments.”

But the world’s attention may be misplaced. There is no reason to believe that this agreement will conclude any differently from the last three, with nations reneging on commitments to drive down greenhouse gas emissions and to provide billions of dollars in foreign aid to finance reductions in the developing world.

That’s a big problem for the president: reciprocity has always been Congress’s chief concern when it comes to climate-related measures that threaten to drive up energy prices and sap the United States’ international competitiveness. The lack of binding commitments for developing nations like China and India is a big part of what killed consideration of one previous agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, in the Senate. And that, as well as general opposition to new greenhouse emissions regulations by congressional Republicans, presages the same result in Congress this time around.

Despite the messaging coming from the White House, as a legal matter, the president actually does need Congress’s support to complete any kind of meaningful deal. That legal reality is having serious consequences in Paris, where U.S. participation in the final deal is an overriding imperative. For one, it rules out any firm financial commitments. The Constitution, after all, assigns the power of the purse to Congress, and so the president cannot, on his own, set the U.S. foreign aid budget for years into the future. Read more »

UT–Austin’s Race-Conscious Policies

The Supreme Court may soon end racial discrimination disguised as ‘diversity.’

by DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. & ANDREW GROSSMAN, December 8, 2015, in the National Review

The don’t-ask-don’t-tell era of racial preferences in college admissions may soon be at an end, as Abigail Fisher’s challenge to the University of Texas’s affirmative-action program makes its second appearance before the Supreme Court, which will hear the case this Wednesday. 

Significantly, Ms. Fisher isn’t asking the Court to ban affirmative action. Instead, her case seeks to hold schools to the general rule that the government may employ race-based measures only as a last resort. And even then, such measures must be almost perfectly calibrated to serve a compelling interest — in this instance, achieving the educational benefits of diversity.

In the admissions context, those principles have too often been honored in the breach. And for that, blame the Court. Its 2003 decision upholding the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative-action program combined the tough language typical of decisions reviewing race-conscious government policies with a loose and open-ended analysis of the way the program actually worked and the way it was justified.

University administrators took the decision as license to do what they pleased, never mind necessity or tailoring, so long as they stayed vague about the way their programs worked. Admissions at UT–Austin offer a case in point. In 2008, the year Ms. Fisher applied, the bulk of students (81 percent) were admitted under Texas’s Top Ten Percent law, which grants automatic admission to top students at Texas high schools. That alone made UT–Austin one of the most racially diverse campuses among elite public universities. Read more »

Supreme Court routs raisin racket

By David B. Rivkin, Jr., and Andrew M. Grossman — 22 June 2015 in USA Today

Constitutional law isn’t all conflict. It may seem that way as the Supreme Court barrels along to the conclusion of another term, with contentious cases concerning same-sex marriage, Obamacare, and seemingly every other issue plucked from the headlines. But the high-profile controversies obscure that, as much as the Supreme Court may be divided, the justices are able to come together on a great many important issues.

For example, raisins. Yes, those tiny wrinkled morsels. The tiny snacks are also the subject of a major challenge to government power — one that has revealed surprising agreement on the Court.

Marvin and Laura Horne have been growing raisins for 40 years on their family’s California farmland. After they decided to dry the raisins for themselves, rather than sell their grapes to a processor, they found themselves in the cross hairs of the federal government, facing fines of nearly a million dollars.

Their crime? Refusing to allow the government to seize over a million pounds​ of the raisins they had grown and processed themselves.

It is the dirty little secret of American agriculture that raisins and other crops, despite being produced by private parties, are actually under the control of the federal government, which colludes with major producers to fix prices and control the market.

These so-called “marketing programs” are a relic of the New Deal, a time when the U.S. response to the threat of Soviet five-year plans was to adopt our own, but better. The rest of the economy that was once subject to central planning has since embraced the free market. Farming is among the last holdouts.
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