The Supreme Court Reclaims Its Legitimacy

By David B. Rivkin, Jr., and Jennifer L. Mascott

25 June 2022 in the Wall Street Journal

The most anxiously awaited Supreme Court decision in decades is also the least surprising. An act of institutional sabotage leaked Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization nearly eight weeks in advance. On Friday a five-justice majority definitively overruled Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), affirming states’ authority to regulate abortion. In so doing, the court reclaimed its legitimate constitutional role and signaled a willingness to re-examine precedents that strayed across the line between law and policy or misconstrued important constitutional provisions.

But the draft opinion’s leak damaged the court, which requires the justices to collaborate in confidence. The leaker’s purpose seems obvious: a last-ditch effort to mobilize public opinion and activist protesters in hope of intimidating the justices into rethinking their position.

This breach was shocking but probably shouldn’t have been surprising. In the past several decades, and particularly since President Trump began appointing justices, the court has faced mounting opposition, including pointed threats against individual justices by members of Congress. Supreme Court nominations, especially by Republican presidents, have become ideological and partisan wars, sometimes featuring ugly uncorroborated allegations of personal misconduct. Sending mobs to threaten justices and their families at home was only the latest escalation.

These attacks on the court are part of a concerted campaign to undermine the legitimacy of American institutions and norms and the Constitution itself. The court’s most vociferous critics either don’t understand its proper role or, more likely, reject it. This was evident in the national debate over the leaked draft of Justice Alito’s opinion, which focused entirely on the policy and political implications of overturning Roe rather than its legal basis.

In fact, Dobbs imposes no policy. It simply states that abortion is not among those individual rights protected by the federal Constitution. The result is that this contentious issue has been returned to the state legislatures, which had primary responsibility for setting abortion policy until the court imposed its own views on the country in 1973.

It was at that time, and not today, that the justices overstepped their boundaries and ensured that the court would become the focus of political contention for half a century. Dobbs belatedly corrects that error by recognizing that the federal judiciary’s constitutional role is merely to decide cases and controversies, based upon the established tenets of law grounded in the Constitution, federal statutes and common law. Policy decisions properly belong to the elected branches of federal and state government.

Congress’s approval ratings are abysmally low, as are President Biden’s, and some critics have claimed the justices should be concerned that the Supreme Court’s ratings are declining too. But the federal judiciary is a countermajoritarian institution. The court does its most important work when it renders decisions that are unpopular but legally correct.

It bears emphasizing that Dobbs’s detractors lob objections that don’t reflect the true nature of the opinion. They claim the justices have shown a disregard for stare decisis, the doctrine of respecting precedent. In fact, the decision relies on the precedent in Washington v. Glucksberg (1997), which concluded that there is no constitutional grounding for any claimed right that is neither enumerated in the Constitution nor deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition.

Dobbs also marks a path toward restoring the constitutionally prescribed diffusion of powers among governmental branches, undergirded by a system of checks and balances. This uniquely American structure of government is the primary safeguard of individual liberty.

In the coming years, the court will face a series of momentous opportunities to perform its constitutional responsibilities. It will be called on to continue re-examining Congress’s authority to dictate state policy by attaching strings to funding measures. And in a series of cases over the past 30 years, the justices have issued rulings restoring some of the proper balance between the federal government and the states by reaffirming that there are limits on Congress’s authority to regulate interstate and foreign commerce. Those limits may now be tested depending on whether Congress decides to refederalize abortion by legislation either requiring or limiting its availability.

The court will also face key questions involving the relationship between Congress and the executive branch, such as the permissibility of broad congressional delegations of policy-making power to regulatory agencies and statutory limitations on the president’s constitutional duty to manage federal bureaucracies.

The extent to which executive agencies can adjudicate matters involving significant private-property and liberty interests without close judicial supervision is another question that the court likely will revisit. The justices are repeatedly being asked to resolve questions about whether agencies have overstepped their statutory authority to regulate, particularly in areas involving major policy questions. In the oft-repeated words of Chief Justice John Marshall : “It is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is.” The burgeoning federal bureaucracy too often arrogates this power to itself, often overlooking statutory and constitutional constraints.

The Supreme Court’s legitimacy therefore is of utmost importance. The decision in Dobbs suggests a majority committed to the court’s proper role, which is to decide cases independent of political and popular winds.

Mr. Rivkin practices appellate and constitutional law in Washington. Ms. Mascott is an assistant professor at Antonin Scalia Law School and a former clerk for Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Justice Clarence Thomas.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/supreme-court-reclaims-legitimacy-abortion-roe-v-wade-dobbs-v-jackson-women-health-reproductive-rights-life-originalism-justice-alito-11656084197

How to Avert a 2024 Election Disaster in 2023

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

April 24, 2022, in the Wall Street Journal

Pennsylvania lawmakers in 2019 decided to allow mail-in voting for the first time. They enacted a statute providing that “a completed mail-in ballot must be received in the office of the county board of elections no later than eight o’clock P.M. on the day of the primary or election.” In 2020 the state Democratic Party went to court, arguing that in light of the Covid pandemic, the deadline “results in an as-applied infringement” of the right to vote.

The Democrat-dominated Pennsylvania Supreme Court—its members are chosen in partisan elections—sided with the party and ordered a deadline extension, even as it acknowledged the statutory language was clear and unambiguous. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal, so the 2020 election was conducted under this and other new, judge-imposed rules.

Usually there’s no reason for the high court to review a state-court decision about state law. But election law is different. The U.S. Constitution mandates that state legislatures make the laws governing federal elections for Congress and the presidency. The Pennsylvania ruling was therefore unconstitutional. But the justices in Washington, perhaps chastened by the enduring political controversy over Bush v. Gore (2000), seem reluctant to take up such cases close to an election. Fortunately, they will soon have an opportunity to address the issue and to avert the possibility of an electoral meltdown in 2024.

Pennsylvania wasn’t alone in 2020. Faced with Republican control of many state legislatures, the Democrats and their allies took advantage of the pandemic to upend that year’s voting process. Longstanding wish-list items like near-universal voting by mail, ballot “harvesting,” drop boxes, extended deadlines, and loosened identification and signature-match requirements came to pass in much of the country, often by state court order.

The pandemic disruption may be behind us, but litigation over election rules continues. One reason is the success of the Democrats’ 2020 efforts, which their current cases treat as setting a new legal baseline. Returning to ordinary pre-pandemic procedures, they claim, amounts to unlawful “voter suppression.”

But there’s another reason for the state-court litigation explosion: redistricting after the 2020 Census. If state judges are willing to second-guess voting laws, why not the maps too? New maps are often litigated, but what’s different this time is the number of cases asking courts to toss out alleged partisan gerrymanders. The U.S. Supreme Court closed the door to such claims under the federal Constitution in Rucho v. Common Cause (2019), reasoning that there was no “clear, manageable, and politically neutral” standard for courts to apply. The same objection applies to suits brought under state law, but Rucho didn’t address that question.

So they proliferated. Many states where Democrats could pick up House seats with a different map have faced lawsuits based on open-ended state constitutional provisions, such as North Carolina’s proclaiming “all elections shall be free.” Several states’ top courts have tossed out legislature-enacted maps; the North Carolina justices even authorized a lower court to hire its own mapmakers. Republicans won state-court decisions against Democratic gerrymanders in Maryland and New York state.

None of this passes constitutional muster. State courts can interpret and apply laws governing federal elections and consider challenges to them under federal law, including the Constitution. But they have no authority to strike those laws down under state constitutions, let alone a freestanding power to contrive their own voting rules and congressional maps. The U.S. Constitution often assigns powers and duties to the “states” generally, but Article I’s Elections Clause directs that the “times, places and manner” of conducting congressional elections shall “be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof,” unless overridden by Congress. The Electors Clause similarly vests the “manner” of choosing presidential electors in “the legislature.”

In McPherson v. Blacker (1892), the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that the Electors Clause “leaves it to the legislature exclusively to define the method” of choosing electors and that this power “cannot be taken from them or modified by their state constitutions.” In State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (2015), it held that “redistricting is a legislative function, to be performed in accordance with the State’s prescriptions for lawmaking.”

Still, it’s no wonder plaintiffs and state judges have felt emboldened to buck these limitations. The decision of a state supreme court can be appealed only to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has shied away from such cases. Around the same time the justices declined to hear the 2020 Pennsylvania case, they turned back a request to block North Carolina officials from altering legislatively enacted mail-in ballot deadlines. This year, they denied emergency requests to block judge-made maps in North Carolina and Pennsylvania from being used in November.

Election-law cases present unique timing considerations, given the potentially disruptive consequences of changing laws or maps with an election approaching. When courts make changes weeks before a filing deadline or Election Day, the justices’ ability to right the wrong is severely constrained. There’s rarely a serious basis to press the issue after votes have been cast. Those circumstances apply in most election-law cases.

But unlike state-court orders meddling with voting procedures, which typically apply to one election only, congressional maps remain in place until they’re altered, which usually isn’t for a decade. So there’s no timing issue to prevent the court from hearing a redistricting case.

Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented from last month’s denial of the North Carolina stay application, arguing that the case was a good vehicle to consider the power of state courts to rework federal-election laws. Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote separately to say that the court should take a case raising the issue, but this one came too close to the 2022 election. North Carolina’s House speaker has petitioned the court to take the case in its next term. If it does, a decision would likely come next summer, nearly a year and a half before the 2024 election.

The court’s failure to resolve this issue could spell catastrophe. If the 2024 presidential vote is close in decisive states, the result will be an onslaught of litigation combining all the worst features of the 2000 and 2020 election controversies. The court’s precedents in this area all point toward legislature supremacy but leave the door cracked enough for canny litigants, abetted by state judges, to shove it open and seize electoral advantage. To avoid a constitutional crisis, the justices need to articulate with clarity that state courts can’t rely on state constitutions or their own judicial power to alter either congressional redistricting maps or voting rules in federal elections.

Mr. Rivkin served at the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Mr. Grossman is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. Both practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-avert-a-2024-election-disaster-supreme-court-mail-in-ballot-drop-box-covid-election-rules-pennsylvania-new-york-north-carolina-11650820394

Why the Electoral Count Act Is Unconstitutional

By Mike Luttig and David B. Rivkin, Jr.

March 6, 2022, in the Wall Street Journal

Regarding Thomas Berry’s letter “The Electoral Count Act’s Constitutional Role” (Letters, March 1): The ECA in its present form gives Congress essentially unfettered authority to invalidate state-certified slates of presidential electors. This is profoundly unconstitutional.

As we pointed out in our op-ed “Congress Sowed the Seeds of Jan. 6 in 1887” (March 19, 2021), the Framers, after much debate, determined to give Congress no substantive authority to select the president and vice president, except in the rare instance in which no candidate gains an Electoral College majority. The Constitution’s Electors Clause gives state legislatures plenary authority in choosing how to select electors. It allows Congress to determine only the day on which the Electoral College casts its votes.

The Framers’ choice reflected separation-of-powers considerations—if Congress could select the president, this would make the executive branch a subordinate, and not a coequal, branch. This would greatly augment the power of the federal legislature, which the Framers were determined to limit. Moreover, disputes over the selection of presidential electors involve a legal, not a political, discernment, that is appropriate for a judicial body. Congress is not a court.

To the extent that disputes about presidential electors arise, they can be resolved by courts. When state legislatures determine the manner of selecting electors, they exercise power granted to them by the U.S. Constitution, making these determinations a unique species of federal law. Hence, any disputes about specific selection of presidential electors involve the application of federal law. Since the power to determine what federal law requires rests with the judiciary, the federal courts have the primary responsibility to resolve these disputes.

To facilitate timely resolution, Congress should enact a statute providing for an expeditious judicial handling of any presidential elector-related challenges, with the Supreme Court as ultimate decision maker. The only power that Congress legitimately possesses here is a purely ministerial authority to receive the letters featuring certified state electoral results, have them opened by the vice president and counted in the presence of both houses. Congress should amend the Electoral Count Act to reflect this constitutional reality. Holding itself out as able to overturn the people’s will and choose the president will add to political polarization and inspire future violence, putting Congress itself at risk.

Mr. Luttig served as a judge on the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (1991-2006). He advised Vice President Mike Pence on the 2020 vote certification. Mr. Rivkin served at the Justice Department and White House Counsel’s Office in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/congress-electoral-count-act-2020-overturn-elector-constitution-11646426616

A Look at Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Judicial Record

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

February 28, 2021, in the Wall Street Journal

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is known as a capable, diligent and collegial jurist. Hers isn’t the straightforward ascent of most Supreme Court nominees. After a clerkship with Justice Stephen Breyer, she spent a decade as what she called a “professional vagabond”—a junior litigator at a Washington firm; an associate of Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer known for administering compensation funds for victims of terrorism and other disasters; an assistant special counsel for the Sentencing Commission. She would be the first justice to have served as a public defender. One gets the reassuring sense that, like Clarence Thomas, Judge Jackson hasn’t had her sights trained on a Supreme Court nomination since law school.

The same could be said of Judge Jackson’s time on the bench. As a federal trial court judge in the District of Columbia (2013-21), she oversaw a docket consisting largely of run-of-the-mill employment disputes, contract cases, freedom-of-information actions, criminal prosecutions and the like. Her opinions are generally workmanlike, making it easy to discern the rare case that inspired her passion.

At the top of that list is her decision ordering then-President Trump’s former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify before a House committee investigating purported Russian interference with the 2016 election. Judge Jackson rejected out of hand Mr. Trump’s assertion of a kind of immunity from testimony recognized by the courts for well over a century. “Presidents are not kings,” she wrote. “This means that they do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control.”

The decision rejects—and describes as “strident”—the government’s argument that parties generally need authorization from Congress to bring suit in federal court. Congress did authorize suits over Senate subpoenas, but not House suits. What may seem an arcane procedural point speaks volumes: Much judicial mischief has involved courts appointing themselves to exercise power and impose liability in the absence of any law. Judge Jackson’s rationale, echoing those of many Warren and Burger court decisions, is that the Constitution empowers courts to vindicate “intrinsic rights.”

Also revealing is Judge Jackson’s decision blocking a Trump policy expanding eligibility for “expedited removal” to aliens who have been in the country illegally for up to two years. The statute gives the Homeland Security Department “sole and unreviewable discretion” over expedited removal, which should give the courts nothing to review. Judge Jackson asserted that although the policy itself was unreviewable, she could pass judgment on the “manner” in which the agency made it. She found it lacking based on the agency’s failure to engage in notice-and-comment rulemaking and its failure to consider adequately the “downsides of adopting a policy that, in many respects, could significantly impact people’s everyday lives in many substantial, tangible, and foreseeable ways”—which would seem to be a consideration of policy, not manner. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed this ruling.

Judge Jackson was also reversed in a case in which she sided with federal-employee unions challenging presidential directives to streamline collective-bargaining terms, limit time spent on union business during work hours, and make it easier to fire employees for misconduct or unacceptable performance. Her decision bends over backward to excuse the unions from the requirement that they bring disputes to the Federal Labor Relations Authority before going to court, and the D.C. Circuit reversed it on that basis. But her take on the merits also raises concerns. In her view, the government’s general duty to bargain and negotiate “in good faith” precludes the government from taking topics off the bargaining table (like the availability of grievance proceedings for outright employee misconduct). She acknowledged that position went well beyond the governing precedent. While that would be a boon to the unions, it would disable presidential control of the federal workforce to account for changing circumstances.

Since joining the D.C. Circuit in June 2021, Judge Jackson has handed down only two opinions on the merits, both in the past month. The first, in another federal-union case, is notable. Siding again with the union, Judge Jackson rejected an FLRA decision holding that collective bargaining is required only for workplace changes that have a “substantial impact” on conditions of employment, as opposed to the much lower “de minimis” standard that had previously prevailed. The opinion concludes that the agency failed to explain adequately its adoption of the new standard—a holding that rests on what legal scholar Jonathan Adler called an “erroneous and unduly strict” application of Supreme Court precedent imposing a light burden on agencies changing their policy positions. They need merely “display awareness” of the change and identify “good reasons for the new policy.” To this, Judge Jackson’s opinion adds the requirement, which the Supreme Court had rejected, that the agency show the new policy to be better than the old one.

After reviewing so many of Judge Jackson’s judicial opinions, we have no doubt of her capabilities. We can’t discern whether she has any cognizable judicial philosophy that would guide her approach to the sort of fraught legal questions that the Supreme Court confronts term after term. Her loudest advocates are confident that she’ll serve them well, and her record supports that view. With 50 Democratic senators, that may be enough.

Mr. Rivkin served at the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Mr. Grossman is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. Both practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/ketanji-brown-jackson-judicial-record-supreme-court-nominee-public-defender-dc-circuit-biden-11646001770

The Vaccine Mandate Case May Mark the End of the ‘Work-Around’ Era

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

Jan. 6, 2022, in the Wall Street Journal

Hours after President Biden’s Sept. 9 speech announcing a series of vaccine mandates for private-sector employees, his chief of staff, Ron Klain, retweeted an MSNBC anchor’s quip that wielding workplace-safety regulation to force vaccinations was “the ultimate work-around.” Congress has never enacted a law requiring American civilians to be vaccinated—assuming it even has the constitutional authority to do so, which is doubtful. The Supreme Court hears arguments Friday on two of the mandates, which are likely to meet the same fate as other recent attempts to circumvent Congress that the courts have rejected.

The Constitution vests the power to make laws in Congress and charges the president with the duty to execute them. That’s what many in Washington derisively call the “high school civics class” model of government. It’s slow, it’s cumbersome, it rarely approves measures that don’t enjoy widespread public support, and it forces compromise, moderation and tailoring of policies to address the circumstances of a vast and varied nation. The temptation of avoiding it via executive fiat is obvious.

All it seems to take is clever lawyering. The U.S. Code is littered with broadly worded laws, made all the more capacious by judicial deference to agencies’ interpretations of them. Rather than dutifully carry out Congress’s design, a president can set his own policy and then scour the statute books for language that can be contorted to authorize it. In a 2001 Harvard Law Review article, then- Prof. Elena Kagan called the practice “presidential administration.” President Obama put it more plainly when he faced congressional resistance to his agenda: “I’ve got a pen to take executive actions where Congress won’t.”

But it isn’t quite that easy. The Clean Power Plan, Mr. Obama’s signature climate policy, set rigid and unattainable emission limitations for fossil-fuel power plants to force them out of operation and transform the energy market. It relied on an adventuresome interpretation of an obscure provision of the Clean Air Act. In 2016 the Supreme Court blocked it from taking effect, and the Trump administration later repealed it. (We represented Oklahoma in the litigation.)

Mr. Obama’s immigration-reform measures—also taken in the face of congressional opposition—suffered a similar fate. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—which allows illegal aliens who were brought to the U.S. as children to work and avoid deportation—remains in legal limbo nearly a decade after it was established, following setbacks in the courts. Its counterpart for parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents was enjoined before it took force.

Mr. Biden has had a taste of defeat himself, in a case that prefigures the mandate challenges. After Congress declined to extend the Trump administration’s nationwide eviction moratorium, the Biden administration acted on its own, relying on a 1944 statute authorizing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to undertake clearly delineated disease-prevention measures like fumigation and pest extermination. The justices, however, found it unthinkable that Congress had intended to confer on CDC so “breathtaking” an authority: “We expect Congress to speak clearly when authorizing an agency to exercise powers of vast economic and political significance.”

In other words, loose language in old laws isn’t enough to support a presidential power grab. Yet that’s all the support the administration has been able to muster for the vaccination mandates. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandate forcibly enlists all companies with 100 or more employees to administer a vaccination-or-testing requirement that reaches nearly 85 million employees. It relies on a narrow provision addressing workplace-specific hazards that has never been used to require vaccination. The mandate for Medicare and Medicaid providers (covering 10.3 million workers) rests on general provisions authorizing regulations necessary to administer those programs—which, again, have never been used to require vaccinations. None of these statutes contain even a hint that Congress authorized any agency to administer broad-based vaccination mandates touching millions of Americans.

Although the mandates are flawed in other ways, their lack of clear congressional authorization is the most striking defect. Excessive judicial deference to agencies’ statutory interpretations is what enabled Mr. Obama’s “I’ve got a pen” agenda and its revival under Mr. Biden. The result has been to distort the entire federal lawmaking apparatus. Members of Congress now lobby the executive branch to make law through regulation rather than legislate themselves. Agencies enact major policies that have the durability of a presidential term before they’re reversed. And the president would sooner blame the courts for legal defeats than admit he lacks the power to do his allies’ bidding.

The courts share blame for this state of affairs, having lost sight of the basic separation-of-powers principles that should guide questions of agencies’ statutory authority. A decision rejecting the vaccination mandates because they weren’t clearly authorized by Congress would serve as a shot across the bow signaling that the work-around era is over.

Mr. Rivkin served at the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Mr. Grossman is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. Both practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/end-of-work-arounds-biden-executive-order-vaccine-mandate-covid-omicron-supreme-court-11641505106

Sheldon Whitehouse Is No Friend of the Courts

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

April 29, 2021, in the Wall Street Journal

The “Trump judiciary” is corrupt, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse claims, and the remedy is to scrutinize parties presenting legal arguments in friend-of-the-court, or amicus, briefs. The proposal wouldn’t make the courts any cleaner, but it would violate the First Amendment. It is also part and parcel of the broader Democrat-driven effort to politicize and intimidate the judiciary.

Amicus briefs are a fixture of litigation, particularly in appellate cases presenting broad and important legal questions. While the parties to a case present their positions in their own briefings, amici inform the courts with additional perspectives and analysis. Typical amicus briefs address the history of a constitutional provision or statute, dive deep into legal doctrine and precedent, or argue about the practical consequences of approaches the court might take. Many are filed by, or on behalf of, legal scholars. At the Supreme Court, the justices often question lawyers on points raised by amici, and they occasionally engage amicus-brief arguments in written opinions.

Where others see public-spirited legal advocacy, Mr. Whitehouse sees a plot. In a 2019 amicus brief of his own, the senator, joined by four Senate Democratic colleagues, denounced amici supporting a gun owner denied the right to transport his firearm as “marionettes controlled by a puppetmaster” as part of a “project” in partnership with the court itself to “thwart gun-safety regulations.” Amicus briefs, the senator asserted in his own, are driving a “pattern of outcomes” in which “corporate and Republican political interests prevailed.”

“The Supreme Court is not well,” the brief concluded ominously. “Perhaps the Court can heal itself before the public demands it be ‘restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics.’ ”

Mr. Whitehouse expanded on the point in a 2020 screed co-authored with Sens. Chuck Schumer and Debbie Stabenow, titled “Captured Courts.” It contends that a “network” centered on the Federalist Society—which doesn’t file amicus briefs or even take positions on cases or issues—is using such briefs “to inject its boundary-pushing theories directly into Supreme Court jurisprudence.”

The senator has introduced legislation, the Assessing Monetary Influence in the Courts of the United States Act, that would require any organization filing three or more amicus briefs a year to register with the government and disclose the identities of those who worked on the brief and of its significant donors, even those who didn’t seek to fund any particular brief. In February Mr. Whitehouse wrote a letter to the Judicial Conference Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, urging it to adopt the same approach through court rules.

Mr. Whitehouse’s claims of corruption are frivolous. It’s not as if there are hundred-dollar bills tucked between the pages of the PDFs. And how exactly are amici supposed to be influencing judges other than by making persuasive legal arguments? The common complaint from the bench is that too many amicus briefs are useless because they merely restate the parties’ arguments or make an empty show of support.

The courts, unlike politicians, decide cases under the law and have to show their work. So while an amicus’s argumentation can be persuasive, its support for one party or the other carries little weight. (Some amicus briefs don’t even take a position on which party should prevail.) If the courts were counting noses, the support of the Chamber of Commerce and a half-dozen other business groups should have swung things for Ford Motor Co. in the big personal-jurisdiction case the Supreme Court decided last month. But Ford lost unanimously. Federal judges, with life tenure, don’t have a campaign on the horizon or a constituency to please.

This isn’t the first time politicians have sought to compel disfavored organizations to disclose their associations. In NAACP v. Alabama (1958), the Supreme Court turned back the state’s demand that the civil-rights organization turn over its membership list. The justices recognized that the First Amendment protects citizens’ right to join together to advance beliefs and ideas and that “privacy in group association” can be essential to such advocacy, “particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs.” The court has since consistently subjected disclosure requirements implicating associational rights to “exacting scrutiny,” requiring that disclosure further an important governmental interest like combating fraud or corruption or preserving election integrity.

The courts already require amici to disclose whether a party to the case wrote its briefs or made any contributions intended to fund them, and those requirements further the courts’ interests in preventing parties to a case from using amicus briefs as supplements to their own briefing. By contrast, donors who make general contributions to an organization—whether the Chamber of Commerce or the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund—aren’t putting themselves before the court. Whether an argument presented by an amicus sinks or swims turns on its merit, not who contributed to its filer’s operating expenses. Perversely, Mr. Whitehouse’s proposal would cement into law the opposite presumption, with predictably corrosive consequences for the public’s view of the judiciary and the law.

That is the objective. With a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, and many originalist and textualist judges now serving on courts of appeals, Mr. Whitehouse understands that the policy-driven mode of judging that underpins so many progressive legal victories is on the wane. So he spelled out a new strategy in “Captured Courts”: attack the conservative legal movement and tar the judges who share its principles with made-up claims of corruption. Donor disclosure is the fodder for the attacks.

The damage to Americans’ freedom would be substantial. Organizations advocating on all sides of controversial issues would be forced to publicize their supporters, even ones who may disagree with those particular briefs and positions. They would be targeted for harassment, as practically anyone taking a controversial stand today is, and many would curtail their associations with groups that file amicus briefs.

The endgame, per the senator, is to dry up support for what he regards as “unpopular and self-serving positions.” The First Amendment exists precisely to protect the right to take unpopular positions.

Mr. Rivkin served at the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Mr. Grossman is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. Both practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/sheldon-whitehouse-is-no-friend-of-the-courts-11619713971