The Trump Warrant Had No Legal Basis

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

August 22, 2022, in the Wall Street Journal

Was the Federal Bureau of Investigation justified in searching Donald Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago? The judge who issued the warrant for Mar-a-Lago has signaled that he is likely to release a redacted version of the affidavit supporting it. But the warrant itself suggests the answer is likely no—the FBI had no legally valid cause for the raid.

The warrant authorized the FBI to seize “all physical documents and records constituting evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§793, 2071, or 1519” (emphasis added). These three criminal statutes all address the possession and handling of materials that contain national-security information, public records or material relevant to an investigation or other matters properly before a federal agency or the courts.

The materials to be seized included “any government and/or Presidential Records created between January 20, 2017, and January 20, 2021”—i.e., during Mr. Trump’s term of office. Virtually all the materials at Mar-a-Lago are likely to fall within this category. Federal law gives Mr. Trump a right of access to them. His possession of them is entirely consistent with that right, and therefore lawful, regardless of the statutes the FBI cites in its warrant.

Those statutes are general in their text and application. But Mr. Trump’s documents are covered by a specific statute, the Presidential Records Act of 1978. It has long been the Supreme Court position, as stated in Morton v. Mancari (1974), that “where there is no clear intention otherwise, a specific statute will not be controlled or nullified by a general one, regardless of the priority of enactment.” The former president’s rights under the PRA trump any application of the laws the FBI warrant cites.

The PRA dramatically changed the rules regarding ownership and treatment of presidential documents. Presidents from George Washington through Jimmy Carter treated their White House papers as their personal property, and neither Congress nor the courts disputed that. In Nixon v. U.S. (1992), the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that Richard Nixon had a right to compensation for his presidential papers, which the government had retained under the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act of 1974 (which applied only to him). “Custom and usage evidences the kind of mutually explicit understandings that are encompassed within the constitutional notion of ‘property’ protected by the Fifth Amendment,” the judges declared.

The PRA became effective in 1981, at the start of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. It established a unique statutory scheme, balancing the needs of the government, former presidents and history. The law declares presidential records to be public property and provides that “the Archivist of the United States shall assume responsibility for the custody, control, and preservation of, and access to, the Presidential records.”

The PRA lays out detailed requirements for how the archivist is to administer the records, handle privilege claims, make the records public, and impose restrictions on access. Notably, it doesn’t address the process by which a former president’s records are physically to be turned over to the archivist, or set any deadline, leaving this matter to be negotiated between the archivist and the former president.

The PRA explicitly guarantees a former president continuing access to his papers. Those papers must ultimately be made public, but in the meantime—unlike with all other government documents, which are available 24/7 to currently serving executive-branch officials—the PRA establishes restrictions on access to a former president’s records, including a five-year restriction on access applicable to everyone (including the sitting president, absent a showing of need), which can be extended until the records have been properly reviewed and processed. Before leaving office, a president can restrict access to certain materials for up to 12 years.

The only exceptions are for National Archives personnel working on the materials, judicial process, the incumbent president and Congress (in cases of established need) and the former president himself. PRA section 2205(3) specifically commands that “the Presidential records of a former President shall be available to such former President or the former President’s designated representative,” regardless of any of these restrictions.

Nothing in the PRA suggests that the former president’s physical custody of his records can be considered unlawful under the statutes on which the Mar-a-Lago warrant is based. Yet the statute’s text makes clear that Congress considered how certain criminal-law provisions would interact with the PRA: It provides that the archivist is not to make materials available to the former president’s designated representative “if that individual has been convicted of a crime relating to the review, retention, removal, or destruction of records of the Archives.”

Nothing is said about the former president himself, but applying these general criminal statutes to him based on his mere possession of records would vitiate the entire carefully balanced PRA statutory scheme. Thus if the Justice Department’s sole complaint is that Mr. Trump had in his possession presidential records he took with him from the White House, he should be in the clear, even if some of those records are classified.

In making a former president’s records available to him, the PRA doesn’t distinguish between materials that are and aren’t classified. That was a deliberate choice by Congress, as the existence of highly classified materials at the White House was a given long before 1978, and the statute specifically contemplates that classified materials will be present—making this a basis on which a president can impose a 12-year moratorium on public access.

The government obviously has an important interest in how classified materials are kept, whether or not they are presidential records. In this case, it appears that the FBI was initially satisfied with the installation of an additional lock on the relevant Mar-a-Lago storage room. If that was insufficient, and Mr. Trump refused to cooperate, the bureau could and should have sought a less intrusive judicial remedy than a search warrant—a restraining order allowing the materials to be moved to a location with the proper storage facilities, but also ensuring Mr. Trump continuing access. Surely that’s what the government would have done if any other former president were involved.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington. They served at the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-trump-warrant-had-no-legal-basis-mar-a-lago-affidavit-presidential-records-act-archivist-custody-classified-fbi-garland-11661170684

Trump Can’t Be ‘Disqualified’ Over Documents

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

August 10, 2022, in the Wall Street Journal

The warrant under which federal agents searched Donald Trump’s Florida home hasn’t been made public, but press leaks suggest that it was related to the former president’s suspected mishandling of official documents. That has prompted speculation that Mr. Trump could be prosecuted under a law governing the misuse of federal government documents, which includes a provision for disqualification from federal office. According to this theory, if Mr. Trump is convicted, he would be ineligible to serve a second term as president. It won’t work. The theory is deficient on both statutory and constitutional grounds.

Presidential records were traditionally considered the former president’s personal property. Congress acknowledged this in the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955, which “encouraged”—but didn’t require—ex-presidents to deposit their papers for the benefit of researchers and history.

After President Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974, he struck an agreement with the archivist of the United States to donate his papers, but he reserved the right to destroy certain materials, including some of the infamous Watergate tapes. To prevent this, Congress enacted the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act of 1974. That law, which applied only to Nixon, required these materials to be secured by the government and ultimately made public under appropriate regulations. It provided for financial compensation to the former president, a further acknowledgment of his property interest in the materials.

The Presidential Records Act of 1978 addressed the handling of later presidents’ papers. The PRA asserts government ownership and control of “presidential records,” as defined in the statute, and requires the archivist to take possession of these records when a president leaves office, to preserve them, and to ensure public access. There are important exceptions—in particular, for qualifying materials designated by a lame-duck president to be held confidential for 12 years after he leaves office. These materials include “confidential communications requesting or submitting advice, between the president and the president’s advisers, or between such advisers.”

The law also directs presidents to “assure that the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies” reflecting the execution of their office are “adequately documented.” Once created, these records must be preserved and managed, or disposed of, in accordance with the statute. The PRA defines presidential records to include “documentary materials” created or received by the president or his immediate staff in carrying out activities related to his official duties. Presidential records don’t include records of a “purely private or nonpublic character” unrelated to the execution of the office.

Significantly, while the PRA vests the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia with jurisdiction over any action brought by a former president claiming a violation of his rights or privileges under the act, it establishes no penalties, civil or criminal, for its violation. The statute also guarantees that “presidential records of a former president shall be available to such former president or the former president’s designated representative.”

Other federal statutes may permit the prosecution of people who improperly dispose of presidential records, which are now considered government property. The one of most interest to Mr. Trump’s foes appears to be 18 U.S.C. Section 2071(b), which imposes fines and up to three years’ imprisonment on anyone having custody of records deposited in a “public office” who “willfully and unlawfully” mishandles these records. It provides that on conviction, the defendant “shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States.”

But the Constitution forbids that result with respect to the presidency. Even assuming the government could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Trump deliberately mishandled government documents knowing this to be a violation of federal statute—a difficult task, since the PRA itself guarantees his access to his presidential records and former presidents are generally entitled to receive classified information—a court couldn’t disqualify him from serving as president.

The Constitution establishes the qualifications for election to the presidency: Only natural-born American citizens over 35 who have been U.S. residents for at least 14 years may serve. The Constitution also provides the only mechanism whereby an otherwise qualified person may be disqualified from becoming president: This penalty can be imposed (by a separate vote of the Senate) on someone who has been impeached and convicted for high crimes and misdemeanors. The proposed application of Section 2071(b) to the presidency would create an additional qualification—the absence of a conviction under that statute—for serving as president. Congress has no power to do that.

In Powell v. McCormack (1969) and U.S. Term Limits Inc. v. Thornton (1995), the Supreme Court decided comparable questions involving the augmentation of constitutionally established qualifications to serve in Congress. In the former case, the House refused to seat a constitutionally qualified and duly elected member, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of New York, because it concluded he had diverted House funds to his own use and falsified reports of foreign-currency expenditures. The justices ruled that Powell couldn’t be denied his seat on these grounds, as that would effectively add an extraconstitutional “qualification” for office. That, they concluded, would deprive the people of an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice, contrary to the Constitution’s structure. The court cited Federalist No. 60, in which Alexander Hamilton wrote: “The qualifications of the persons who may choose or be chosen, as has been remarked upon other occasions, are defined and fixed in the Constitution, and are unalterable by the legislature.”

The high court reaffirmed that conclusion in Thornton, which struck down an Arkansas ballot measure imposing term limits on the state’s U.S. representatives and senators. The justices articulated as their “primary thesis” that “if the qualifications for Congress are fixed in the Constitution, then a state-passed measure with the avowed purpose of imposing indirectly such an additional qualification”—in this case, not having already served a specific number of terms—“violates the Constitution.”

Using Section 2071(b) to disqualify Mr. Trump (or anyone else) from serving as president is unsupportable under Powell and Thornton. Such a claim would be far weaker than the one the House made in Powell, as the constitution authorizes each congressional chamber to judge the “qualifications of its own members” but gives Congress no authority over presidential qualifications. The only constitutional means to disqualify a president for wrongdoing is through impeachment and conviction.

If preventing Mr. Trump from running in 2024 was the purpose of the Mar-a-Lago search, the government wasted its time and the taxpayers’ resources.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington. They served at the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-cant-be-disqualified-over-documents-fbi-mar-a-lago-presidential-records-act-constitution-impeachment-conviction-supreme-court-2024-11660159610

Moore v. Harper and Marc Elias’s Curious Idea of ‘Democracy’

By David B. Rivkin, Jr., and Jason Snead

August 1st, 2022, in the Wall Street Journal

Marc Elias, the leading Democratic election lawyer, complains that “a dangerous theory will have its day in court” this fall. That’s rich—he was instrumental in bringing it there by litigating the case that raises it. But his dire warnings have attracted plenty of support. The headline of a Washington Post op-ed by a trio of legal scholars blares the threat of a “body blow to our democracy.”

Moore v. Harper is the product of a nationwide campaign, led by Mr. Elias, to mow down state election laws that make it easy to vote but hard to cheat. That effort is a large part of the reason the Supreme Court felt the need to weigh in.

After North Carolina gained a House seat in the 2020 census, the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature drew a new congressional map. Mr. Elias and his clients petitioned state courts to toss out that map as unduly partisan in violation of the state constitution—a legal theory the North Carolina Supreme Court had rejected as unworkably open-ended in 2015.

This time, citing a handful of clauses plucked seemingly at random from the North Carolina Constitution, the state supreme court invented a new, judicially enforceable prohibition on so-called partisan gerrymandering. It used this newfound power to toss out the Legislature’s map and replace it with one of its own design, along the lines Mr. Elias’s experts proposed.

Which brings us—and Mr. Elias—to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause provides that the “manner” of conducting congressional elections must be “prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.” As Justice Samuel Alito has noted, the clause “specifies a particular organ of a state government.” It doesn’t assign this authority to the state as a whole. That necessarily limits the power of state courts and executive-branch officials to override lawmakers’ handiwork.

Until about a decade ago, state legislatures were in the driver’s seat on election laws. But as Republicans took majorities in state capitals around the country, Democrats bowed out of the legislative process, turning to state officials and state courts instead. Through backroom deals, they persuaded election officials to drop ballot-integrity regulations, open up drop boxes, and loosen deadlines. When deal-making didn’t work, they asked state courts to rewrite election laws wholesale, typically based on vague language in state constitutions like the declaration in North Carolina’s constitution that “all elections shall be free.”

The pandemic accelerated this process in 2020. Through settlements and litigation, Mr. Elias and his colleagues wielded a massive budget to sustain a campaign of litigation that forced states to adopt Democratic election-law priorities against the will of the legislature. Covid became an excuse to upend the law, but the end result was widespread chaos driven by ever-shifting rules intended to benefit one side.

Harper v. Hall, as the North Carolina case was styled in state court, was the next logical step. If state courts are willing to draft their own election codes, why not their own maps too? Never mind that years of litigation had proved, as the U.S. Supreme Court observed in Rucho v. Common Cause (2019), another case from North Carolina, that there is no “clear, manageable, and politically neutral” legal standard for partisan-gerrymandering claims.

That was a federal case, so it didn’t address the limits on state judges’ power. Moore gives the justices an opportunity to do so, with respect to voting rules as well as redistricting. The idea that honoring the Constitution’s limits on state judicial power is a threat to democracy is risible. When state legislatures make laws governing federal election law, their power is subject to all the limitations of the U.S. Constitution and federal statutes, including the 15th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act, which prohibit racial discrimination.

The shrillest critics of the appeal in Moore assert that state legislatures simply can’t be trusted and have to be closely supervised by state supreme courts. They point to Donald Trump’s failed attempts to work state legislatures to swing the vote in his favor following the 2020 election, by disregarding the Election Day result and appointing pro-Trump electors. Yet no state legislature did Mr. Trump’s bidding. No state election law on the books today gives state legislatures an open-ended power to disregard the popular vote and appoint presidential electors, and there’s no indication of any serious attempt to enact such a law.

Further, it would violate federal law. Like the Elections Clause, the Electors Clause, which governs presidential elections, gives state legislatures power to set the “manner” of choosing presidential electors. But that power is tempered by Congress’s authority to set “the time of choosing the electors.” Federal law plainly states that presidential electors “shall be appointed” on Election Day. So although a state legislature has broad leeway in setting the rules for the presidential vote, it can’t change the rules, or nullify the voters’ decision, after Election Day. Moore won’t change that.

Moore’s real threat is to partisan election lawfare and the gravy train that the Elias Law Group, 70 attorneys strong, is riding. The real threat to democracy is cynical “voting rights” litigation brought to sway election outcomes and the many ways that it undermines the administration of the vote and public confidence in the electoral process. And what could be fairer or more neutral than following the Constitution, or more democratic than leaving the matter to elected lawmakers?

Mr. Rivkin practices appellate and constitutional law in Washington. He served in the White House Counsel’s Office and Justice Department under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Mr. Snead is executive director of the Honest Elections Project.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/marc-elias-curious-idea-of-democracy-moore-v-harper-court-state-judges-election-law-gerrymandering-legislature-11659380162

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

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

This Debt-Ceiling Crisis Threatens Democracy as Well as Solvency

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

7 December 2021 in the Wall Street Journal

Congress is about to begin another debt-ceiling fight, and it threatens the Constitution as well as America’s solvency.

Over the past two years, Uncle Sam has borrowed and spent trillions of dollars to address Covid-19. Coronavirus spending added nearly $3 trillion to the national debt this year alone—and that doesn’t count the recently passed infrastructure bill and the pending Build Back Better Act. The unprecedented growth in federal outlays has contributed to inflation, which has reached a 30-year high, and caused annual budget deficits to soar.

The government is about to reach its statutory federal borrowing limit of $28.4 billion. If Congress doesn’t increase the limit, Washington will run out of money to meet its legal obligations. Republicans and Democrats are at loggerheads over how much to spend and whether to enact what the Democrats call “transformational” legislation—measures that would reshape the American economy and increase government’s role in nearly all aspects of life.

The threat to the Constitution comes from one of the options lawmakers are considering: suspending rather than raising the statutory debt ceiling, thereby authorizing the executive branch to borrow an unlimited amount of money for a limited time. Suspending the debt ceiling would undermine the structure of American democracy—particularly when government spending obligations are in flux, and the future direction of key policies is being fiercely contested.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has warned Democrats that if they insist on enacting major and costly policy changes on a partisan basis, they will have to increase the debt ceiling without votes from Republicans. That could be accomplished through budget reconciliation, the means by which the Democrats intend to pass the Build Back Better Act with a simple majority. But Democrats are wary of unilaterally raising the debt ceiling, which isn’t popular.

In October, facing a debt-ceiling stalemate and a possible government shutdown, Republicans reluctantly supplied the votes necessary to increase the debt ceiling by $480 billion. That was constitutionally proper, but it bought only a little time. The increase will be exhausted this month, and Mr. McConnell and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have again started negotiations on the debt ceiling.

Congress usually raises the statutory debt ceiling to a new specific dollar amount, a core part of its constitutional power of the purse. Occasionally, however, Congress (with both parties in the majority) has “suspended” the debt ceiling. As we argued in these pages during the last debt-ceiling crisis, such delegations of power are constitutional only if, as Justice Elena Kagan put it in Gundy v. U.S. (2019), “Congress lays down by legislative act an intelligible principle to which the person or body authorized to exercise the delegated authority is directed to conform.”

The current unsettled budgetary environment makes the constitutional infirmity of suspending the debt ceiling acute. When suspensions were adopted in the past, there was at least a shared understanding between Congress and the executive about where the dollars were to go and how much spending there would be. Previous suspensions weren’t coupled with open attempts to transform the country’s economy and society—to upend the fundamental relationship of government to the governed.

Today’s spending plans are opaque and unpredictable. The estimated cost of Build Back Better alone ranges from $1.75 trillion to more than $5 trillion. That lack of clarity could also dramatically alter the terms upon which the Treasury can find willing buyers for new U.S. debt, greatly increasing debt-servicing costs. Suspending the debt ceiling in these circumstances would mean the executive branch is entirely unbound.

As another debt-ceiling cliff-hanger emerges, Democratic leaders appear committed to a suspension, which again would require Republican support. Giving bipartisan cover to another unconstitutional suspension would be disastrous. Decisions about the levels of spending, borrowing and taxation now under consideration require democratic accountability. Congress is almost evenly divided between the two major parties, a situation that counsels against transformative political and economic changes negotiated in back rooms.

If Democrats believe their programs are meritorious enough to burden the country with trillions of dollars in additional debt, they should accept the political risk of raising the debt ceiling without Republican votes. If Democrats are right, they’ll benefit and Republicans will pay the political price for intransigence. That’s how American democracy works, and why so many of the Constitution’s most fundamental provisions, such as Congress’s power of the purse, were adopted—to ensure accountability and the consent of the people.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington. They served at the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/debt-ceiling-crisis-threatens-democracy-budget-limit-build-back-better-mcconnell-schumer-11638718728