Let the President Decide on Jerusalem

Since the 1990s, Congress has maintained that Jerusalem should be recognized as Israel’s capital. Since Israel’s founding in 1948, presidents have stated that Jerusalem’s status can only be decided as part of a broader peace settlement. On Monday this dispute again reached the Supreme Court, and it offers the justices a unique opportunity to elucidate the proper way to resolve separation-of-power disputes between Congress and the executive.

Zivotofsky v. Kerry involves Menachem Zivotofsky, a 12-year-old Jerusalem-born American citizen. His parents want Israel identified as his birthplace on his passport. Section 214(d) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003, permits this choice, but the secretary of state refused to comply, listing Jerusalem alone as his place of birth. The secretary argues that the law violates established U.S. foreign policy and interferes with the president’s exclusive power to recognize foreign states and their territorial extent.

In the first round of this litigation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia concluded that this contest presented a political question that the courts could not answer. The Supreme Court reversed that decision, explaining that however “political” the circumstances, the question was a straightforward one of constitutional law suitable for judicial resolution.

The D.C. Circuit reheard the case last year and concluded that section 214(d) is unconstitutional because the president has the exclusive authority to determine the territorial boundaries of foreign states, their capitals and their governments—at least for purposes of U.S. diplomatic intercourse.

This authority is based in clear constitutional text that gives the president the power “to receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers.” Although the court found this language ambiguous (relying instead on historical practice and Supreme Court statements that the president alone has the power to recognize a foreign state as sovereign), the framers used this language precisely and to a purpose.

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Russia’s actions in Ukraine clearly violate the rules of war

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

While Russia’s aggression against Ukraine tramples the United Nations charter, Moscow gets a free ride on its other transgressions of international law. Few have focused, for instance, on how Russia’s military operations in Ukraine violate the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The failure to challenge this misconduct is profoundly wrong and damages the integrity of this whole body of law.

The Geneva Conventions are a great civilizational accomplishment, tempering how wars are waged. For years, they have been transgressed by non-state actors who fight out of uniform, target civilians, take hostages and engage in torture.  But these critical legal norms are far more threatened when such conduct is embraced (in action if not word) by a sovereign state and a party to the Conventions.

The fact that Russian troops operate in Ukraine in unmarked uniforms, or pretend to be civilians, is a significant Geneva violation. States can and do use commandos who operate with stealth and concealment, as the United States did in both Afghanistan and Iraq. There is a fundamental difference, however, between using special forces in an announced armed conflict and doing so while denying that one’s military is engaged at all, as Russia has done.

Moscow is trying to avoid political and legal responsibility for its actions — and Ukraine is not the only place it is prepared to act. Latvian analyst Janis Berzins has analyzed internal Russian military documents describing Moscow’s “new way of waging war” that includes undeclared wars, undercover destabilization, attacks on civilians to create false humanitarian crisis and psy-op operations. Moscow believes this style of waging war could be particularly effective against neighboring countries with large Russian-speaking populations.

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The Catholic Church and the Convention on Torture

By David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey

The United Nations committee that monitors compliance with the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment is being urged by several influential nongovernmental organizations to condemn the Vatican when the committee meets this week in Geneva. These groups, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and the Center for Reproductive Rights, claim that the Catholic Church’s handling of child-sexual-abuse accusations against priests and the church’s stand on birth control and abortion amount to violations of the Convention Against Torture.

If the U.N. committee were to grant the groups’ request and conclude that the Vatican has violated the Convention Against Torture, this would represent a legally insupportable and perverse interpretation of the treaty, actually weakening its effectiveness. It would also represent a blatant attack on religious freedom.

There is no doubt that for years the Catholic Church failed to deal in a timely and effective way with child sexual abuse by priests. More recently, however, the church has admitted its mistakes and instituted fundamental reforms to root out the problem, which is hardly unique to Catholics. According to the U.N.’s own World Health Organization Fact Sheet No. 150 on child maltreatment, “approximately 20% of women and 5-10% of men report being sexually abused as children.”

No one doubts the evil of child sexual abuse, but attempting to shoehorn it into the Convention Against Torture is legally incorrect. However monolithic the Catholic Church may seem, it is not a sovereign state, and the Vatican (which is) has no legal authority over the church hierarchy or the millions of Catholic believers around the world.

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The President vs. the Senate

Now the Supreme Court will weigh in on Obama’s power play to stock the National Labor Relations Board.

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

Later this month the Supreme Court will hear a case that should resolve how much latitude presidents have to make recess appointments to federal offices that otherwise require Senate confirmation. The boundary of this power has never been decided by the high court. Yet the entire scheme of the U.S. Constitution—which is based on a separation of powers, enforced through checks and balances to safeguard individual liberty—is at stake.

Noel Canning v. NLRB involves several recess appointments President Obama made to the National Labor Relations Board on Jan. 4, 2012. The federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., correctly held that these appointments were unconstitutional both because they filled vacancies when the Senate was not in a true “recess” between Congress’s annual sessions, and because the vacancies had not actually opened up during the purported recess.

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution states that “The president shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.” The federal appellate court’s decision hewed closely to the text and original meaning of this so-called recess appointments clause. Yet the ruling stunned many constitutional lawyers. That’s because the original limitations on the president’s power to make these appointments had long since been effectively discarded.

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A Facebook Deal That Needs Unfriending

Time to end class-action settlements that only reward lawyers, not plaintiffs.
By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey 

The Supreme Court will soon decide whether to hear a case that could determine the future of particularly abusive class-action settlements. Not abusive in the usual sense, where a class of injured plaintiffs is awarded an exorbitant amount. Instead, these settlements are abusive in that absolutely nothing goes to the injured plaintiffs. At issue is whether federal courts may approve such agreements rewarding lawyers and defendants, leaving plaintiffs out in the cold.

The case is Marek v. Lane, and it arose out of Facebook’s notorious 2007 “Beacon” program. Beacon gathered and published information about Facebook users’ other Internet activities as an advertising and marketing tool, invading the privacy of millions. It may also have violated a number of state and federal laws, including the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act, which includes a liquidated-damages provision of $2,500 for each offense. A class-action suit was filed in 2008 on behalf of as many as 3.6 million injured social networkers.

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The True Lesson of the IRS Scandal

There should be less federal regulation of political speech.

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

President Obama and his political allies have dismissed as “phony scandals” mounting evidence that the Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies hindered and punished conservative advocacy groups. Meanwhile, efforts are under way to impose even more regulation on core political speech.

The government’s abuses are very real, but the scandal’s lessons are not appreciated: The federal regulation of political speech has already gone further than can be justified by existing law, let alone the Constitution.

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