Arizona Redistricting Case Could Signal The Future Of Legislative Standing

By Elizabeth Price Foley and David Rivkin, March 3 2015, 11:57am

In Federalist No. 22, Alexander Hamilton observed, “Laws are a dead letter without the courts to expound and define their true meaning and operation.” In constitutional controversies, the judiciary’s role is even more profound. Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, a case that will signal how willing the Court is to prevent separation of powers from becoming a dead letter.

Separation of powers protects individual liberty by preventing any one branch of government from amassing too much power. It also ensures that government functions effectively, by assigning to each branch those powers that are most appropriate to its nature. For example, legislating is best accomplished by a multi-member body that engages in extended debate and deliberation. By contrast, waging war requires timeliness, and is thus best given to a unitary executive.

The Arizona case involves a turf dispute between Arizona’s legislative and executive branches, but it’s unclear if the Court is amenable to refereeing this constitutional conflict.  The case is therefore a canary in the coalmine for “legislative standing,” which means a legislature’s ability to defend, in court, its lawmaking prerogative against executive assault.  This is important not only to Arizona’s legislature, but any legislature, including the U.S. Congress.

At issue in the case is the constitutionality of Proposition 106, a referendum passed by Arizona voters that divested the legislature of drawing the state’s congressional districts and gave that power to an independent commission. When the commission redrew the districts in 2012, the Arizona legislature filed suit, asserting that the commission had violated Article I, section 4, of the U.S. Constitution, stating, “the Times, Places and Manner of holding elections for … Representatives [in the House] shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof .”

Before the meaning of this language can be resolved by the Court, it must first find that the Arizona legislature has standing to sue. In over 225 years of constitutional history, the Court hasn’t definitely articulated when legislative standing is proper. Read more »

Nevada’s Right Choice on Immigration

By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. And LEE A. CASEY, Feb. 2, 2015 7:40 p.m. ET

A very public dispute broke out last week when Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt went against Gov. Brian Sandoval’s wishes and joined a lawsuit filed by 25 other states challenging President Obama’s imposition of his immigration reform policies by executive action.

Messrs. Sandoval and Laxalt are both Republicans who agree that the current immigration system is broken and that comprehensive reform is necessary. But Mr. Sandoval opposes litigation and has suggested that new immigration reform legislation is the best way to proceed.

Yet on Jan. 26 Mr. Laxalt announced that Nevada had joined the plaintiff states in Texas v. United States of America. “As Nevada’s chief legal officer,” he explained, “I am directed by Nevada’s Constitution and laws to take legal action whenever necessary ‘to protect and secure the interest of the state.’ ”

Mr. Laxalt was right to join the suit. Mr. Sandoval’s legislative path will neither solve America’s vexing immigration problems nor rein in a president who has ignored the Constitution’s limits on executive power.

Texas v. United States of America challenges the president’s use of an executive order to suspend federal immigration laws that require, among other things, deportation of undocumented immigrants and strict limits on who may lawfully work in the U.S. The Constitution requires that the president “Take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” and provides no exemption for laws with which the president disagrees.

As the Supreme Court stated in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952), ruling against President Harry Truman’s seizure of the nation’s steel industry during the Korean War, “the President’s power to see that the laws are faithfully executed refutes the idea that he is to be a lawmaker.” Read more »

Judicial candidates face loss of free speech rights

David B. Rivkin Jr., and Andrew M. Grossman, January 18, 2015

For years, those who favor restrictions on campaign spending have insisted that their real interest lies in fighting corruption, not limiting political speech. Well, here’s a free-speech litmus test: Can a state block candidates from asking for campaign contributions that are themselves legal?

That’s the issue the Supreme Court will face Tuesday in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar. Like most states, Florida elects or retains judges by popular vote. Many of those states prohibit judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions. This restriction, supporters say, prevents corruption, bias and the appearance of bias.

It’s hard to see how. Florida’s law allows contributions of up to $1,000 to judicial campaigns, and that limit cannot be significantly lowered (much less banned) without violating the First Amendment. Florida’s law allows judicial candidates to learn who their contributors are and to ask for other kinds of campaign support, including volunteer work and service on their campaign committees.

But a judicial candidate cannot post a request for support on the campaign website, cannot appear before a local civic group to request contributions, and cannot sign a fundraising letter asking for support. In other words, a candidate can accept contributions, just cannot solicit them. But solicitation is just speech.

That last restriction is the one that bit Lanell Williams-Yulee, a public defender and first-time candidate seeking election to a county court. She made the mistake of signing a letter announcing her candidacy and asking friends to contribute whatever they could. For that, she was reprimanded and fined by the Florida Supreme Court. Read more »

Winning civil justice for Michael Brown and Eric Garner

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Andrew Grossman

The quest for justice for Michael Brown and Eric Garner did not end with the decisions of grand juries not to indict the police officers whose actions led to those men’s deaths. Those frustrated by the grand juries’ dispositions can take comfort in knowing that victims of police violence, as well as their families, can get their day in court.

The family of Garner, who died after being placed in an apparent chokehold by a New York police officer, has already announced plans to sue the officer and the city for $75 million. Michael Brown’s family has not yet said whether they intend to bring a lawsuit against former Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson or the city, but their lawyer has indicated the possibility is being considered.

These suits may succeed where criminal charges failed. To protect against wrongful conviction, criminal charges must be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the highest standard in law. By contrast, civil plaintiffs need convince a jury only that their claims are supported by a “preponderance of the evidence” — a hair more than 50 percent.

Both families could bring claims for wrongful death, arguing that the officers failed to exercise appropriate care in the confrontations that resulted in the deaths of their family members. Such a claim by Garner’s family would be particularly strong, given that the New York Police Department long ago banned chokeholds precisely to prevent choking-related deaths. As for Brown, the circumstances of his death are less clear at this time, but a trial would provide an opportunity for all the facts to come out. If the “hands-up-don’t-shoot” narrative is correct, the Brown family should be able to prevail.

Read more »

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.

Read more »

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.

Read more »