Category Archives: Constitution & Bill of Rights

LII Publishes U.S. Constitution Annotated

This edition of the Congressional Research Service’s U.S. Constitution Annotated is a hypertext interpretation of the CRS text, updated to the currently published version. It links to Supreme Court opinions, the U.S. Code, and the Code of Federal Regulations, as well as enhancing navigation through search, breadcrumbs, linked footnotes and tables of contents.

H/T beSpacific. — Joe

Suing the President for First Amendment Violations

From the abstract for Sonja West, Suing the President for First Amendment Violations, 71 Oklahoma Law Review ___ (2018):

On any given day, it seems, President Donald Trump can be found attacking, threatening, or punishing the press and other individuals whose speech he dislikes. His actions, moreover, inevitably raise the question: Do any of these individuals or organizations (or any future ones) have a viable claim against the President for violating their First Amendment rights?

One might think that the ability to sue the President for violation of the First Amendment would be relatively settled. The answer, however, is not quite that straightforward. Due to several unique qualities about the First Amendment and the presidency, it is not entirely clear if or how citizens can hold the President responsible for violating their expressive rights.

This Essay explores some of the potential obstacles facing a person or organization bringing a First Amendment lawsuit against the President such as whether the President can violate the First Amendment at all and how a plaintiff might recover for that violation. It concludes by suggesting a few possible approaches to this problem that could help clarify and secure the rights of all Americans to seek justice—even against the President—if their freedoms of speech and press are violated.

— Joe

Did The Caine Mutiny shape the original public meaning of the 25th Amendment?

The 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution deals with issues related to presidential succession and disability. It was submitted to the states on July 6, 1965, by the 89th Congress and was adopted on February 10, 1967. Did The Caine Mutiny (1954 film) shape the meaning of the 25th Amendment?

This Washington Post article explains that some of the drafters of the 25th Amendment looked to The Caine Mutiny and Captain Queeg as examples of what Section Four of the amendment should not permit because the 25th Amendment was not meant for a case where reasonable people could disagree about whether the leader was mentally ill.

Interesting. — Joe

Senate passes resolution declaring “the press is not the enemy of the people” [text]

The Senate unanimously passed a resolution Thursday declaring “the press is not the enemy of the people.” The resolution, introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), reaffirms the Senate’s commitment to the Constitution’s declaration of the freedom of the press. According to the resolution, the Senate “views efforts to systematically undermine the credibility of the press as an attack on the democratic institutions of the United States.” — Joe

Calabresi on the constitutionality of Robert Mueller’s appointment

Here’s the abstract for Steven G. Calabresi’s Opinion on the Constitutionality of Robert Mueller’s Appointment (2018):

I argue in this Legal Opinion that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s appointment of Robert Mueller is unconstitutional both under the test for officer inferiority set forth in Justice Scalia’s opinion in Edmond v. United States, which is cited as good authority in Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB and also under the test for officer inferiority set forth in Chief Justice Rehnquist’s majority opinion in Morrison v. Olson. Under both tests, Mueller is acting as a principal officer even though he has not been nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Mueller’s appointment is therefore unconstitutional.

H/T Criminal Law Prof Blog. — Joe

Constitutional law profs remind Trump’s White House counsel that the president is not above the law

Here’s the response to Trump’s White House counsel by a group of prominent ConLawProfs. Their conclusion:

The Office of the President is not a get out of jail free card for lawless behavior. Indeed, our country’s Founders made it clear in the Declaration of Independence that they did not believe that even a king had such powers; they specifically cited King George’s obstruction of justice as among the “injuries and usurpations” that justified independence. Our Founders would not have created–and did not create–a Constitution that would permit the President to use his powers to violate the laws for corrupt and self-interested reasons. In sum, both Article II and the criminal laws of this country forbid the president from engaging in corrupt and self-dealing conduct, even when exercising Article II powers to execute the laws.

H/T Constitutional Law Prof Blog. — Joe

A critical guide to the Fourteenth Amendment’s legislative history

From the abstract for Gregory E. Maggs’ A Critical Guide to Using the Legislative History of the Fourteenth Amendment to Determine the Amendment’s Original Meaning, 49 Conn. L. Rev. 1069 (2017):

Judges, lawyers, and scholars often look to the Fourteenth Amendment’s legislative history for evidence of the Amendment’s original meaning. Members of the Supreme Court, for instance, have cited floor statements, committee records, preliminary proposals, and other documents relating to the drafting and approval of the Fourteenth Amendment in many important cases. The documents containing this legislative history, however, are difficult to use. As explained in this Article, the Amendment came about through a complex process, in which Congress rejected several prior proposals for constitutional amendments before settling on a markedly different proposal that became the Fourteenth Amendment. Although the primary sources containing the legislative history are widely available online, some of them lack useful indexes and are only partially electronically searchable. In addition, statements made during the drafting and debate over the Fourteenth Amendment do not always yield clear answers to modern questions. Aggravating the situation, most lawyers, judges, law clerks, and legal scholars receive little or no instruction on how to use the documents containing the legislative history of the Fourteenth Amendment. Accordingly, they may feel unequipped either to use the legislative history to make claims about the Amendment’s original meaning or to evaluate the claims of others. Even the Supreme Court appears to have difficulty with the details. This Article seeks to improve the situation by providing a critical guide to the Amendment’s legislative history.

— Joe

Randy Kozel’s Settled Versus Right: A Theory of Precedent

From the blurb for Randy Kozel’s Settled Versus Right: A Theory of Precedent (Cambridge UP, 2017):

In this timely book, Randy J. Kozel develops a theory of precedent designed to enhance the stability and impersonality of constitutional law. Kozel contends that the prevailing approach to precedent in American law is undermined by principled disagreements among judges over the proper means and ends of constitutional interpretation. The structure and composition of the doctrine all but guarantee that conclusions about the durability of precedent will track individual views about whether decisions are right or wrong, and whether mistakes are harmful or benign. This is a serious challenge, but it also reveals a path toward maintaining legal continuity even as judges come and go. Kozel’s account of precedent should be read by anyone interested in the nature of the judicial role and the trajectory of constitutional law.

— Joe

How ’emolument’ is defined in English language and common law dictionaries, 1523-1806

From the abstract of John Mikhail’s The Definition of ‘Emolument’ in English Language and Legal Dictionaries, 1523-1806:

In its motion to dismiss in CREW et al. v. Trump, the Department of Justice (DOJ) defines the word “emolument” as “profit arising from office or employ.” DOJ claims that this “original understanding” of “emolument” is both grounded in “contemporaneous dictionary definitions” and justifies an “office-and-employment-specific construction” of that term. On this basis, it argues that the Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution “do not prohibit any company in which the President has any financial interest from doing business with any foreign, federal, or state instrumentality.”

Unfortunately, DOJ’s historical definition of “emolument” is inaccurate, unrepresentative, and misleading. Particularly because the government may seek to utilize its flawed definition in subsequent court filings, this Article seeks to correct the historical record. It does so based on a comprehensive study of how “emolument” is defined in English language dictionaries published from 1604 to 1806, as well as in common law dictionaries published between 1523 and 1792.

— Joe

Illinois is the 37th state to ratify the ERA, what does that mean?

On Constitutional Law Prof Blog, Steven Schwinn wrote

The State of Illinois yesterday [May 30, 2018] became the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, 45 years after Congress proposed it. This leave the ERA just one state short of the 38 (three-fourths of the states) required for amendment.

But Illinois’s vote comes well after the (already extended) congressional deadline of June 30, 1982. So does it count toward validation as an amendment? Given the deadline and putative ratification rescissions by five states, can the ERA come into force under any circumstances? Or does it need to be re-proposed, and re-ratified?

He then calls attention to this CRS report, The Proposed Equal Rights Amendment: Contemporary Ratification Issues (R42979, May 9, 2013), because it addresses the questions he posed. — Joe

‘Take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed:’ Fiduciary constitutionalism and ‘faithful execution:’

Ethan J. Leib and Jed Handelsman Shugerman’s Fiduciary Constitutionalism and ‘Faithful Execution’: Two Legal Conclusions, Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy, Forthcoming, “explores the Constitution’s requirement that the President “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” and the requirement that he take an oath to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States.” The idea that public servants hold their offices in trust for subject-beneficiaries and that a sovereign’s exercise of its political power must be constrained by fiduciary standards – like the duties of loyalty and care – is not new. But we are collecting more and more evidence that the framers of the U.S. Constitution rather self-consciously sought to design a “the fiduciary law of public power” in which the government’s “conduct would mimic that of the private-law fiduciary.” Here we show how the distinctive fiduciary language that appears in Article II reinforces a strain of work in fiduciary constitutionalism by Robert Natelson, Gary Lawson, and Guy Seidman.

“After developing some historical links between private fiduciary instruments and state and federal constitutions, we opine on what the fact of the fiduciary constitution may mean for modern issues in constitutional law. First, we argue that fiduciary constraint has implications for the legal validity of presidential pardons that are not efforts to pursue the public interest. Because the core duty of all fiduciaries is to be loyal to beneficiaries and not to pursue their own self-interest, pardons in derogation of a president’s fiduciary obligation are invalid. Second, we suggest that when properly conceived as a trust instrument, we can both appreciate where the non-delegation doctrine came from and why it is consistent with the original meaning of the Constitution to have a much relaxed rule about delegation today. By way of conclusion, we meditate on how to convert legal conclusions that flow from the fact of our fiduciary constitution into remedies that make sense for the potentially sui generis fiduciary law that is constitutional law.”

Tracing the First Amendment’s Assembly Clause back to its roots in colonial taverns

Here’s the abstract for Baylen J. Linnekin’s ‘Tavern Talk’ & the Origins of the Assembly Clause: Tracing the First Amendment’s Assembly Clause Back to Its Roots in Colonial Taverns (2011):

The First Amendment to the Constitution is “a cluster of distinct but related rights.” The freedom of assembly protected therein is one right that Americans exercise every day. With perhaps the exception of speech, assembly is the most widely and commonly practiced action that is enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

This freedom is also one of our least understood and least considered rights. Sometimes ignored and other times grouped with other freedoms, the right of those in America to come together peaceably deserves to be studied, respected, and celebrated.

To better understand the freedom of assembly in America, one must explore and understand its origins. Tracing the evolution of the freedom of assembly requires placing this freedom “within the context of culture.” Exploring the origins of the freedom of assembly in the context of culture requires tracing the right – as practiced – back to its fundamental situs, a term that can be used to ground rights in their proper place or places.

The proper situs of the Assembly Clause, research reveals, is in its birthplace: colonial America’s taverns. Colonial taverns served not just as establishments for drinking alcohol but as vital centers where colonists of reputations great and small gathered to read printed tracts, speak with one another on important issues of the day, debate the news, organize boycotts, draft treatises and demands, plot the expulsion of their British overlords, and establish a new nation.

In Part II I trace the early history of taverns in colonial America. In Part III I discuss the role that colonists assembling in taverns played both in fostering the freedom of assembly and in combating growing British attacks on the rights of American colonists. In Part IV I analyze the brief but informative legislative history of the Assembly Clause. In Part V I describe how tavern talk places the situs of the freedom of assembly squarely in taverns. In Part VI I conclude that in taverns and tavern talk are the origins of the Assembly Clause.

Interesting. — Joe

The foreign emoluments clause and national security

Deborah Sills’ The Foreign Emoluments Clause: Protecting Our National Security Interests, 26 Brooklyn Journal of Law and Policy ___ (2018) “focuses on the significance of the Emoluments Clause to the protection of the American public and security of our country. Part I provides a historical overview of the Emoluments Clause. Part II discusses the parameters of the Emoluments Clause and considers the varying interpretations of the provision. Part III examines how the clause protects our national security interests by: (1) requiring that federal officials remain free from corrupt influences to prevent harm to our country; (2) mandating transparency and accountability concerning possible influences of foreign states; and (3) fostering trust of federal officials. These national security considerations should be central to the interpretation of the scope of this constitutional provision. Extraordinary care must be taken to comply with the Emoluments Clause to ensure that the interests of the American people and the United States—not the self-interests of government officials or foreign powers—determine the way in which our country is governed.” — Joe

Constitutional construction in the early Republic

In his essay, An Evaluation of Historical Evidence for Constitutional Construction From the First Congress’ Debate Over the Constitutionality of the First Bank of the United States, 14 University of St. Thomas Law Journal 193 (2018), Lee J. Strang reviews “a modest selection of important evidence from the early Republic, the debate over the constitutionality of the First Bank of the United States in the First Congress, to evaluate whether, to what extent, and how Americans utilized constitutional construction in the early Republic. This Essay derives a number of tentative conclusions from this evidence. First, the participants in this early debate appeared to believe that a necessary precondition for constitutional construction — underdeterminacy — existed. Second, the participants also argued as if, after the application of a number of interpretative rules, the Constitution provided a determinate answer to the constitutional question. Third, the participants seemed ultimately to conclude that the Constitution’s meaning provided a determinate answer to the question under debate (though they continued to disagree about what that answer was).”

Recess appointments and the framers’ understanding of advice and consent

Here’s the abstract for Nicole Schwartzberg’s What Is A ‘Recess’? : Recess Appointments and the Framers’ Understanding of Advice and Consent, 28 Journal of Law and Politics 231 (2013):

Article II, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution (commonly referred to as the “Recess Appointments Clause”) confers upon the President the “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.” President Obama’s January 2012 recess appointments, made while the Senate attempted to block the President from making any recess appointments over the holiday break by holding “pro forma” sessions, raised new questions about the scope of the President’s power to avoid Senate confirmation. Can the Senate successfully prevent the President from making a recess appointment by convening every three days for sessions, even when no business is actually conducted?

Although a growing literature has sought to address this question, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the Framers’ intent when they incorporated the Recess Appointments Clause into our Constitution, in part due to the absence of legislative history accompanying the provision. This Article argues that while there is little direct evidence of the Framers’ intent concerning the Recess Appointments Clause, attending to adjacent provisions of the Constitution that require the Senate’s advice and consent, such as the Appointments Clause and the Treaty Clause, sheds light on the scope of unilateral power the Framers intended the clause to confer on the Executive Branch.

Examining the history of the Appointments Clause reveals that the Framers modeled the Senate’s role after the practice of advice and consent that existed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts under British rule prior to the federal Constitutional Convention. That model prized an active role for the Senate in restraining the Executive Branch, and interpreted the Senate’s failure to act on Executive proposals as a valid rejection of those measures. Similarly, the Treaty Clause contemplated that the Senate would serve as a firm check on the President’s power to sign multilateral agreements. The history of these adjacent constitutional provisions, this Article argues, provides compelling evidence that the recent use of “pro forma” sessions is a constitutional method in the contemporary separation of powers arsenal for the Senate to preserve its right to reject a president’s nominees.

Court rules President cannot block his Twitter account [text]

From the US District Court for the Southern District of New York’s holding in Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump, 17-Civ-5205, May 23, 2018:

Turning to the merits of plaintiffs’ First Amendment claim, we hold that the speech in which they seek to engage is protected by the First Amendment and that the President and Scavino exert governmental control over certain aspects of the @realDonaldTrump account, including the interactive space of the tweets sent from the account. That interactive space is susceptible to analysis under the Supreme Court’s forum doctrines, and is properly characterized as a designated public forum. The viewpoint-based exclusion of the individual plaintiffs from that designated public forum is proscribed by the First Amendment and cannot be justified by the President’s personal First Amendment interests.

— Joe