Trump doesn’t need to divest

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

December 26, 2016, in USA Today

President-elect Donald Trump is perfectly entitled to retain his business holdings, and to permit his adult children to run those businesses, as a means of avoiding conflicts-of-interest during his presidency. The Constitution does not require him to divest his holdings, nor do other federal laws.

Although many previous presidents have chosen to put their personal holdings in a “blind trust,” this was not required and in Trump’s case such a requirement would be particularly iniquitous. Trump could not simply liquidate his holdings in the public securities markets at market prices. He would have to find buyers for a vast array of real estate holdings and ongoing businesses. Each of those potential buyers would be well aware of his need to sell, and to sell quickly, and the value of his holdings would be discounted.

In addition, of course, the Trump Organization is a family business, as it has been since the time of Trump’s father. Most of his children are employed in that business. Neither law nor logic require Trump to pull the rug out from under them. A newly elected president is simply not required to make such personal sacrifices as the price of assuming an office to which he was constitutionally elected.

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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 »

Apple, the FBI and free speech

A court order that compels the iPhone-maker to write and then sign new code may violate the First Amendment.

by David B. Rivkin, Jr., and Andrew M. Grossman, in USA Today

February 19, 2016

It would be one thing if Apple could carry out a court order that it unlock an iPhone used by the San Bernardino terrorists simply by waving a magic wand. But encryption isn’t magic; the order requires Apple to write and digitally sign a security-degraded version of its iOS operating system. That raises serious First Amendment concerns because the order amounts to a government-compelled speech.

The FBI picked this fight to set a precedent. For years, it’s been locked in a “crypto war” with Silicon Valley over how to provide law enforcement access to users’ data. So far, Apple, Google, and other companies have rebuffed demands to implement government back doors that defeat encryption and other security measures, arguing that such bypasses weaken security and facilitate abuses by criminals, corporate spies and foreign governments.

Apparently unable to identify a true ticking-time-bomb scenario to bring to court, the FBI settled for the next best thing: obtaining encrypted data off the workplace phone of shooter Syed Farook. The phone’s encryption is keyed to a passcode, and Apple’s software erases data after ten incorrect passcode attempts. So the government, relying on an aggressive reading of the 1789 All Writs Act, obtained an order directing Apple to “bypass or disable the auto-erase function” and make it possible to cycle through all possible passcodes.

While the FBI has previously obtained warrants requiring Apple to extract unencrypted data from devices running older software, this appears to be the first time that it has sought to conscript a company to write new software to circumvent security features. If it prevails, such a precedent will govern future cases. Read more »

Obama’s Empty Climate Agreement

Paris is Copenhagen all over again — more presidential climate change grandstanding without concrete results.

By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. & ANDREW M. GROSSMAN, 10 December 2015 in USA Today

The world is watching as diplomats in Paris hammer out the final details of a new climate agreement involving over 150 countries. The goal, said President Barack Obama, is “an agreement where … each nation has the confidence that other nations are meeting their commitments.”

But the world’s attention may be misplaced. There is no reason to believe that this agreement will conclude any differently from the last three, with nations reneging on commitments to drive down greenhouse gas emissions and to provide billions of dollars in foreign aid to finance reductions in the developing world.

That’s a big problem for the president: reciprocity has always been Congress’s chief concern when it comes to climate-related measures that threaten to drive up energy prices and sap the United States’ international competitiveness. The lack of binding commitments for developing nations like China and India is a big part of what killed consideration of one previous agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, in the Senate. And that, as well as general opposition to new greenhouse emissions regulations by congressional Republicans, presages the same result in Congress this time around.

Despite the messaging coming from the White House, as a legal matter, the president actually does need Congress’s support to complete any kind of meaningful deal. That legal reality is having serious consequences in Paris, where U.S. participation in the final deal is an overriding imperative. For one, it rules out any firm financial commitments. The Constitution, after all, assigns the power of the purse to Congress, and so the president cannot, on his own, set the U.S. foreign aid budget for years into the future. Read more »

Supreme Court routs raisin racket

By David B. Rivkin, Jr., and Andrew M. Grossman — 22 June 2015 in USA Today

Constitutional law isn’t all conflict. It may seem that way as the Supreme Court barrels along to the conclusion of another term, with contentious cases concerning same-sex marriage, Obamacare, and seemingly every other issue plucked from the headlines. But the high-profile controversies obscure that, as much as the Supreme Court may be divided, the justices are able to come together on a great many important issues.

For example, raisins. Yes, those tiny wrinkled morsels. The tiny snacks are also the subject of a major challenge to government power — one that has revealed surprising agreement on the Court.

Marvin and Laura Horne have been growing raisins for 40 years on their family’s California farmland. After they decided to dry the raisins for themselves, rather than sell their grapes to a processor, they found themselves in the cross hairs of the federal government, facing fines of nearly a million dollars.

Their crime? Refusing to allow the government to seize over a million pounds​ of the raisins they had grown and processed themselves.

It is the dirty little secret of American agriculture that raisins and other crops, despite being produced by private parties, are actually under the control of the federal government, which colludes with major producers to fix prices and control the market.

These so-called “marketing programs” are a relic of the New Deal, a time when the U.S. response to the threat of Soviet five-year plans was to adopt our own, but better. The rest of the economy that was once subject to central planning has since embraced the free market. Farming is among the last holdouts.
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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 »