Five Ways to Restore the Separation of Powers

The Constitution separates power in two ways: among the three branches of the federal government and between the federal government and states. As James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers, separation creates “a double security” for liberty because “different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.”

The Obama administration has spurned this core constitutional principle, aggrandizing executive power at the expense of Congress and states. It has rewritten laws, disregarding its constitutional duty to faithfully execute them.

ObamaCare’s implementation provides multiple examples: delaying statutory deadlines, extending tax credits to groups Congress never included, exempting unions from fees, expanding hardship waivers beyond recognition and granting “transition relief” for preferred employers. Read more »

Can Trump cut off funds for sanctuary cities? The Constitution says yes.

By David Rivkin and Elizabeth Price Foley

December 7, 2016, in the Los Angeles Times

Several cities and public universities have vowed to resist President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to deport undocumented criminals by doubling down on sanctuary policies. In response, Trump has pledged to curtail federal funding for sanctuary providers. Activists, predictably, are crying foul, and some legal scholars, such as Harvard’s Noah Feldman, have even claimed that such a response would be unconstitutional.  

But whatever one thinks about Trump’s strategy, it almost certainly would pass muster at the Supreme Court.Several cities and public universities have vowed to resist President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to deport undocumented criminals by doubling down on sanctuary policies. In response, Trump has pledged to curtail federal funding for sanctuary providers. Activists, predictably, are crying foul, and some legal scholars, such as Harvard’s Noah Feldman, have even claimed that such a response would be unconstitutional.  

Feldman and others point to New York v. United States (1992) and Printz v. United States (1997), in which the Supreme Court concluded that the federal government cannot conscript state or local officials to carry out federal law. The federal government must enforce its own laws, using federal personnel. So when state or local police arrest immigrants who are present in the country illegally, they are under no obligation to deport them, as deportation is the responsibility of the federal government alone. 

This “anti-commandeering” doctrine, however, doesn’t protect sanctuary cities or public universities — because it doesn’t apply when Congress merely requests information. For example, in Reno v. Condon (2000), the Court unanimously rejected an anti-commandeering challenge to the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, which required states under certain circumstances to disclose some personal details about license holders. The court concluded that, because the DPPA requested information and “did not require state officials to assist in the enforcement of federal statutes,” it was consistent with the New York and Printz cases.

It follows that, consistent with the anti-commandeering doctrine, Congress can require state, local or university police to tell federal agents when they arrest an immigrant present in the country illegally. Read more »

Hold On Jasta Minute!

Legal tradition says that hard cases make bad law. Few cases are harder than those having to do with the plight of the families of 9/11 victims.

This led Congress to adopt the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. Jasta, as it is known, gives federal courts the power to determine whether a foreign state has intentionally sponsored terror against American citizens. This power, however, belongs to the president and cannot be constitutionally wielded by the judiciary.

Jasta was enacted in September over President Obama’s veto. Although the law mentions no particular state, its target is clearly Saudi Arabia. The families of 9/11 victims have long sought money damages from the kingdom, based on the Saudi citizenship of most of the 9/11 attackers and planners.

The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 gives countries immunity from being sued in federal courts. Jasta strips that immunity from any country the court finds acted with a culpable level of intent in sponsoring a terrorist attack on American soil. Mere negligence is insufficient under the law. In making this determination, the courts will also inevitably be branding the relevant state as a sponsor of terrorism.

Read more »

It’s unrealistic and unfair to make Trump use a blind trust

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey

November 22, 2016, in the Washington Post

Suggestions that President-elect Donald Trump put his business holdings in a “blind trust” to avoid potential conflicts of interest are unrealistic and unfair. Such a trust would not eliminate the virtual certainty that actions Trump takes as president will affect his personal wealth, for good or ill. The step is not required by law. And presidents who have chosen to use this device held very different assets than Trump’s. He can keep his holdings and adopt a reasonable system to avoid conflicts and reassure the American people that the Trump administration is acting ethically.

To establish a blind trust of the sort used by his predecessors, Trump would not merely have to liquidate a securities portfolio and permit an independent trustee to manage those assets. He would have to sell off business holdings that he has built and managed most of his life, and with which he is personally identified in a way that few other business magnates are.

These businesses also provide employment for many thousands of people, including his children. All of it would have to go. This liquidation would by definition take place in the context of a “buyer’s market,” and so Trump would also be required to accept a vast personal loss in financial worth. Those suggesting the blind trust model must understand that their proposal is a poison pill Trump will not swallow.

Moreover, requiring Trump to liquidate his holdings would discourage other entrepreneurs from seeking the presidency, leaving the field clear for professional politicians and investors. Given that the American people have made clear their disgust with Washington’s elite, creating a disincentive for businesspeople to seek the presidency is not in the public interest. Read more »

Trump Can Ax the Clean Power Plan by Executive Order

President Obama pledged to wield a pen and phone during his second term rather than engage with Congress. The slew of executive orders, enforcement memorandums, regulations and “Dear Colleague” letters comprised an unprecedented assertion of executive authority. Equally unparalleled is the ease with which the Obama agenda can be dismantled. Among the first actions on President Trump’s chopping block should be the Clean Power Plan.

In 2009 Congress rejected a cap-and-trade scheme to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency then devised a nearly identical scheme to mandate shifting electricity generation from disfavored facilities, like those powered by coal, to those the EPA prefers, like natural gas and renewables. No statute authorized the EPA to seize regulatory control of the nation’s energy sector. The agency instead discovered, in an all-but-forgotten 1970s-era provision of the Clean Air Act, that it had that power all along.

To support its preferred policy, the agency was compelled to “interpret” the statute in a way that contradicts what it acknowledges is the “literal” reading of the text and clashes with decades of its own regulations. It also nullifies language blocking regulation for power plants because they are already regulated under an alternative program. By mangling the Clean Air Act to intrude on areas it was never meant to, the regulation violates the constitutional bar on commandeering the states to carry out federal policy.

These defects are why the Supreme Court put the EPA’s plan on hold while an appeals court in Washington, D.C., considers challenges brought by the energy industry and 27 states. These legal challenges now appear to have been overtaken by events. President Trump can immediately issue an executive order to adopt a new energy policy that respects the states’ role in regulating energy markets and that prioritizes making electricity affordable and reliable. Such an order should direct the EPA to cease all efforts to enforce and implement the Clean Power Plan. The agency would then extend all of the regulation’s deadlines, enter an administrative stay and commence regulatory proceedings to rescind the previous order. Read more »

Legislators go back to court for contempt ruling against McAuliffe

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Andrew M. Grossman

September 11, 2016, in the Richmond Times-Dispatch

This past July, the cronyist government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro threw out more than half of the signatures on a petition for a recall to remove him from office, citing “unclear handwriting.”

That is not a problem shared by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, whose autopen machine traces a perfectly legible facsimile of his signature every time. Following the autocratic example of Venezuela and other rule-of-law pariahs, McAuliffe has his autopen working overtime to transform Virginia into a banana republic, one signature at a time.

The signatures — a mere 206,000 or so of them — are the centerpiece of McAuliffe’s scheme to circumvent the Virginia Supreme Court’s July ruling striking down his executive order that suspended the Virginia Constitution’s general rule stripping felons’ voting rights. The court agreed with legislative leaders who had challenged the order that it was not a legitimate exercise of the governor’s power to grant clemency in particular cases. It was, instead, an unlawful attempt to suspend the operation of a law simply because the governor disagrees with it.

Does he ever. The same day that the decision issued, McAuliffe told the press that he “cannot accept” it. A few days later, citing the venerable maxim that “you’ve got to do what you got to do,” he vowed that “all 206,000 (felons) will have their rights back” in a matter of weeks. Read more »