Don’t bring Garland into 2016 presidential circus

by David B. Rivkin, Jr., and Lee A. Casey, USA Today, March 16th, 2016

President Obama has announced Judge Merrick Garland, of the United States Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, as his choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Although Judge Garland is certainly a credible candidate for the court, the Senate should postpone consideration of his nomination until after the new president takes office in January 2017. This has nothing to do with Judge Garland, but is the indispensable measure to protect the Supreme Court’s institutional legitimacy.

Scalia’s seat must be filled, but there is emphatically no constitutional timeline that either the president or the Senate must follow in making a new appointment. If that process is undertaken now, the nominee will for all intents and purposes become a “candidate” in this election and the Supreme Court — and by extension the federal judiciary in general — will be further politicized with concomitant damage to the legitimacy of the only unelected, and emphatically non-political, branch of the federal government.

There is little doubt that the electorate, left, right and center, already harbors deep doubts about the efficacy, legitimacy and even good will of all governmental institutions and that the Supreme Court’s own standing has been steadily undermined by relentless attacks on its decisions from all parts of the ideological spectrum. Although the court remains more popular than Congress and about as popular as the president, at the same time it is a counter-majoritarian institution and, as a result, its legitimacy is inherently far more brittle than that of the elected branches of government. Read more »

Justice Scalia kept constitutional originalism in the conversation — no small legacy

by David B. Rivkin Jr. & Lee A. Casey, in the Los Angeles Times

“I’m Scalia.” That’s how Justice Antonin Scalia began to question a nervous lawyer, who was mixing up the names of the nine Supreme Court justices during oral arguments on the controversial 2000 case Bush vs. Gore. His introduction should have been unnecessary, because if any justice dominated the contemporary Supreme Court stage, it was Scalia.

By turns combative, argumentative and thoughtful, Scalia was a stout conservative who transformed American jurisprudence in 34 years on the bench. He was also charming, witty and cordial, able to maintain a close friendship with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, perhaps his leading intellectual rival on the Supreme Court’s left wing.

Appointed to the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., by President Reagan in 1982, Scalia was elevated by Reagan to the Supreme Court in 1986. Scalia was, first and foremost, an “Originalist” — the title of a popular play about the justice that premiered last year in the capital. Scalia was not the first to argue that the Constitution must be applied based on the original meaning of its words — that is, the general, public meaning those words had when that document was drafted, rather than any assumed or secret intent of its framers. He did, however, supply much of the intellectual power behind the movement to reestablish the primacy of the Constitution’s actual text in judging.

With Scalia on the bench, academics, lawyers and jurists left, right and center were forced to confront originalist theory, which many had previously dismissed as hopelessly simplistic. Read more »

Obama’s Illegal Guantanamo Power Play

By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. and LEE A. CASEY, in the Wall Street Journal

Dec. 2, 2015 6:51 p.m. ET

Two days after terrorists rampaged in Paris, the Obama administration announced that it had transferred five prisoners—including a former Osama bin Laden bodyguard—from the U.S. prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United Arab Emirates.

In the past several days, the White House has signaled that a more significant step is coming soon: the complete shutdown of the facility and the transfer of the remaining detainees—there are 107 at the moment—to sites on the U.S. mainland. Obama-administration surrogates say the president will effect the change by using his favorite tool, an executive order. But this would be utterly illegal, since Congress has specifically prohibited the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to U.S. soil.

Although the president’s war powers are broad and formidable, so are those of Congress. In particular, the Constitution specifically vests the legislative branch with the powers to “declare War”; to “raise and support Armies”; to “make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water”; to “make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces”; and to appropriate funds for all of these purposes. Read more »

The Lawless Underpinnings of the Iran Nuclear Deal

By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. and LEE A. CASEY

The Iranian nuclear agreement announced on July 14 is unconstitutional, violates international law and features commitments that President Obama could not lawfully make. However, because of the way the deal was pushed through, the states may be able to derail it by enacting their own Iran sanctions legislation.

President Obama executed the nuclear deal as an executive agreement, not as a treaty. While presidents have used executive agreements to arrange less-important or temporary matters, significant international obligations have always been established through treaties, which require Senate consent by a two-thirds majority.

The Constitution’s division of the treaty-making power between the president and Senate ensured that all major U.S. international undertakings enjoyed broad domestic support. It also enabled the states to make their voices heard through senators when considering treaties—which are constitutionally the “supreme law of the land” and pre-empt state laws.

The Obama administration had help in its end-run around the Constitution. Instead of insisting on compliance with the Senate’s treaty-making prerogatives, Congress enacted the Iran Nuclear Agreement Act of 2015. Known as Corker-Cardin, it surrenders on the constitutional requirement that the president obtain a Senate supermajority to go forward with a major international agreement. Instead, the act effectively requires a veto-proof majority in both houses of Congress to block elements of the Iran deal related to U.S. sanctions relief. The act doesn’t require congressional approval for the agreement as a whole.

Read more »

Taking the Iran Deal Disaster Seriously

By David B. Rivkin, Jr., and Lee A. Casey; July 21, 2015, in The National Interest

The best approach to Iran in the wake of President Obama’s deal is to recognize the complex nature of the problem, and the absolute need for a well-considered and comprehensive approach. The agreement cannot and should not be simply repudiated on the next president’s first day in office, as some Republican presidential contenders have suggested. The agreement is terrible, but once concluded, the national interest requires that it be undone only with care, patience, and masterful diplomacy—an approach championed by Gov. Jeb Bush and Senator Lindsey Graham. Indeed, to suggest otherwise, is to fail to appreciate the full extent of the damage done by the deal and the difficult foreign-policy legacy President Obama is leaving for his successor.

First and foremost, simply abrogating the deal—which already has been enshrined in a Chapter VII UN Security Council Resolution binding on the United States and all members of the United Nations—would actually put the United States in violation of its international obligations and will hand tremendous strategic benefits to Tehran. This may be inevitable, since Russia and China will certainly take advantage of any American action against Iran to score diplomatic and strategic points against us. But, we do not have to make it easy for them, and we should not.

In addition, whatever action the new president takes on January 20, 2017, Iran will remain free of the vast majority of the sanctions that brought it to the bargaining table in the first place. While the next president will be able to vitiate promptly President Obama’s waivers of the existing statutory sanctions—some of which are certain to go beyond his lawful waiver authority—thereby making the existing domestic statutory sanctions available, it would still make sense to consult with Congress on whether the sanctions regime needs adjustment in light of new circumstances.

Although President Obama has ignored Congress, or affirmatively sought to curtail its constitutional prerogatives, the next President should work with Congress and must seek to build a bipartisan consensus on how to meet the Iranian challenge. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wrote in the landmark case of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952), a president acts at the height of his constitutional authority when working with, rather than against, Congress.

Read more »

To Stop Obama’s Power Grabs, Kill the Senate Filibuster