Ted Olson

Unit 8200 Refuseniks Make Visible for Israel What Remains Invisible in the US

Last week, 43 reserve members of Israel’s equivalent to the NSA, Unit 8200, released a letter announcing they would refuse to take actions against Palestinians because the spying done on them amounts to persecution of innocent people. The IDF has responded the same way government agencies here would — scolding the whistleblowers for not raising concerns in official channels. But the letter has elicited rare public discussion about the ethics and morality of spying.

One of the allegations made by the refuseniks highlighted in the English press is that Israel used SIGINT to recruit collaborators, which in turn divides the Palestinian community.

The Palestinian population under military rule is completely exposed to espionage and surveillance by Israeli intelligence. While there are severe limitations on the surveillance of Israeli citizens, the Palestinians are not afforded this protection. There’s no distinction between Palestinians who are, and are not, involved in violence. Information that is collected and stored harms innocent people. It is used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators and driving parts of Palestinian society against itself. In many cases, intelligence prevents defendants from receiving a fair trial in military courts, as the evidence against them is not revealed. Intelligence allows for the continued control over millions of people through thorough and intrusive supervision and invasion of most areas of life. This does not allow for people to lead normal lives, and fuels more violence further distancing us from the end of the conflict. [my emphasis]

These refuseniks, apparently, have access both to the intelligence they collect and how it is used. That means they’re in a position to talk about the effects of Unit 8200′s spying. And press coverage has made it sound like something that would uniquely happen to occupied Palestinians.

It’s not.

We know of one way that the NSA’s dragnet is definitely being used to recruit informants (aka collaborators), and another whether it it permissible to use.

The first way is via the phone dragnet. As I have noted, the government has twice told the FISA Court — once in 2006 and once in 2009 — that FBI uses dragnet derived information to identify people who might cooperate (aka inform or collaborate) in investigations. Once people come up on a 2-degree search, they are dumped into the corporate store indefinitely, data mined with sufficient information to find embarrassing and illegal things. Apparently, FBI uses such data to coerce cooperation, though we have no details on the process.

All the revealing things metadata shows? The government uses that information to obtain informants.

One way the government probably does this is by using the connections identified by metadata analysis (remember, this is not just phone and Internet data, but also includes financial and travel data, at a minimum) to put people on the No Fly list, regardless of whether they are a real threat to this country. Then, No Fly listees have alleged, FBI promises help getting them off that life-altering status if they inform on their community.

More troubling still is FBI’s uncounted use of warrantless back door searches of US person content when conducting assessments. As I noted, in addition to doing assessments in response to “tips,” the FBI will use them to profile communities or identify potential informants.

As the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide describes, assessments are used for “prompt and extremely limited checking out of initial leads.” No factual predicate (that is, no real evidence of wrong-doing) is required before the FBI starts an assessment. While FBI cannot use First Amendment activities as the sole reason for assessments, they can be considered. In addition to looking into leads about individual people, FBI uses assessments as part of the process for Domain Assessments (what FBI calls their profiling of Muslim communities) and the selection of informants to try to recruit. In some cases, an Agent doesn’t need prior approval to open an assessment; in others, they may get oral approval (though for several kinds, an Agent must get a formal memo approved before opening an assessment). And while Agents are supposed to record all assessments, for some assessments, they’re very cursory reports — basically complaint forms. That is, for certain types of assessments, FBI is not generating its most formal paperwork to track the process.

So while I can’t point to a DOJ claim to FISC that these back door searches are useful because they help find informants, it appears to be possible. Plus, as early as 2002, Ted Olson said they would use evidence of rape collected using traditional FISA to talk someone into cooperating (aka inform or collaborate); that was the reason he gave for blowing the wall between intelligence and criminal investigations to smithereens.

Indeed, knowing the way the government uses phone dragnet information as an index to collected content, the government may well use phone dragnet metadata to pick which Americans to subject to warrantless back door searches.

It sounds really awful when we hear about Israel using SIGINT — including information we provide without minimizing it — to spy on Palestinians.

But we have a good deal of reason to believe the US intelligence community — in collaboration — does similar things, spying on Muslim communities and using SIGINT to recruit collaborators that end up sowing paranoia and distrust in the communities.

Not only don’t we have a group of refuseniks who, among themselves, can explain how all of this works. But how the FBI uses all this data is precisely what the government intends to keep secret under the so-called “transparency” provisions of USA Freedom Act. While I will provide more detail in a follow-up post, remember that the FBI refuses to count its back door searches, which means it would be almost impossible for anyone to get a real sense of how these warrantless back door searches on US persons are used. It also has asserted it does not need to disclose evidence derived from Section 215 to criminal defendants, which is another way the evidence against defendants gets hidden.

It’s awful that Israel is doing it. But it’s even worse that we’re almost certainly doing the same, but that we can only find hints of how it is being done.

Center for Democracy and Technology’s James Dempsey on “the Wall,” Then and Now

Remember “the wall” that used to separate intelligence from criminal investigations and was used as an excuse for intelligence agencies not sharing intelligence they were permitted to share before 9/11?

It was demolished in 2001 — when the PATRIOT Act explicitly permitted what had been permitted before, sharing of intelligence information with the FBI – and 2002 — when the FISA Court of Review overruled presiding FISA Judge Royce Lamberth’s efforts to sustain some Fourth Amendment protections in criminal investigations using minimization procedures.

Nevertheless, the specter of a wall that didn’t prevent the Intelligence Committee from discovering 9/11 rising again is one of the things lying behind PCLOB’s weak recommendations on back door searches in its report on Section 702.

Of particular note, that’s what the Center for Democracy and Technology’s James Dempsey cites in his squishy middle ground recommendation on back door searches.

It is imperative not to re-erect the wall limiting discovery and use of information vital to the national security, and nothing in the Board’s recommendations would do so. The constitutionality of the Section 702 program is based on the premise that there are limits on the retention, use and dissemination of the communications of U.S. persons collected under the program. The proper mix of limitations that would keep the program within constitutional bounds and acceptable to the American public may vary from agency to agency and under different circumstances. The discussion of queries and uses at the FBI in this Report is based on our understanding of current practices associated with the FBI’s receipt and use of Section 702 data. The evolution of those practices may merit a different balancing. For now, the use or dissemination of Section 702 data by the FBI for non-national security matters is apparently largely, if not entirely, hypothetical. The possibility, however, should be addressed before the question arises in a moment of perceived urgency. Any number of possible structures would provide heightened protection of U.S. persons consistent with the imperative to discover and use critical national security information already in the hands of the government.546 

546 See Presidential Policy Directive — Signals Intelligence Activities, Policy Directive 28, 2014 WL 187435, § 2, (Jan. 17, 2014) (limiting the use of signals intelligence collected in bulk to certain enumerated purposes), available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/01/17/presidential-policy-directive-signals-intelligence-activities.  [my emphasis]

Dempsey situates his comments in the context of the “wall.” He then suggests there are two possible uses of back door searches: “national security matters,” and non-national security matters, with the latter being entirely hypothetical, according to what the FBI self-reported to PCLOB.

Thus, he’s mostly thinking in terms of “possible structures [that] would provide heightened protection of US. persons,” to stave off future problems. He points to President Obama’s PPD-28 as one possibility as a model.

But PPD-28 is laughably inapt! Not only does the passage in question address “bulk collection,” which according to the definition Obama uses and PCLOB has adopted has nothing to do with Section 702. “[T]he Board does not regard Section 702 as a ‘bulk’ collection program,” PCLOB wrote at multiple points in its report.

More troubling, the passage in PPD-28 Dempsey cites permits bulk collection for the following uses:

(1) espionage and other threats and activities directed by foreign powers or their intelligence services against the United States and its interests;

(2) threats to the United States and its interests from terrorism;

(3) threats to the United States and its interests from the development, possession, proliferation, or use of weapons of mass destruction;

(4) cybersecurity threats;

(5) threats to U.S. or allied Armed Forces or other U.S or allied personnel;

(6) transnational criminal threats, including illicit finance and sanctions evasion related to the other purposes named in this section;

Ultimately, this represents — or should — an expansion of permissible use of Section 702 data, because its discussion of  terrorism and cybersecurity do not distinguish between those with an international nexus and those without. And the discussion of transnational crime might subject any petty drug dealer selling dope from Mexico to foreign intelligence treatment.

That this is what passes for the mushy middle on PCLOB is especially curious given that Dempsey was one of the first PCLOB member to express concern about back door searches. He did so in November’s Section 215 hearing, and even suggested limiting back door searches to foreign intelligence purposes (which is not the standard for FBI, in any case) was inadequate. Nevertheless, in last week’s report, he backed only very weak protections for back door searches, and did so within the context of national security versus non-national security, and not intelligence versus crime.

Now, I don’t mean to pick on Dempsey exclusively — I’ll have a few more posts on this issue. And to be clear, Dempsey does not represent CDT at PCLOB; he’s there in his private capacity.

But I raised his affiliation with CDT because in that capacity, Dempsey was part of an amicus brief, along with representatives from ACLU, Center for National Security Studies, EPIC, and EFF, submitted in the In Re Sealed Case in 2002, in which the FISA Court of Review reversed Lamberth and permitted prosecutor involvement in FISA warrants. That brief strongly rebuts the kind of argument he adopted in last week’s PCLOB report.

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Imagine the Informants You Can Coerce When You Can Spy on Every Single American

Please consider supporting my fundraiser so I can continue to do this kind of work. 

Two years ago, I noted a chilling exchange from a 2002 FISA suit argued by Ted Olson. Laurence Silberman was trying to come up with a scenario in which some criminal information might not have any relevance to terrorism. When he suggested rape, Olson suggested we might use evidence of a rape to get someone to inform for us.

JUDGE SILBERMAN: Try rape. That’s unlikely to have a foreign intelligence component.

SOLICITOR GENERAL OLSON: It’s unlikely, but you could go to that individual and say we’ve got this information and we’re prosecuting and you might be able to help us.

It’s chilling not just because it suggests rapists have gone free in exchange for trumping up terrorist cases for the government, but because it makes clear the kinds of dirt the government sought using — in this case — traditional FISA wiretaps.

Now consider this passage from the government’s 2009 case that it should be able to sustain the Section 215 dragnet.

Specifically, using contact chaining [redacted] NSA may be able to discover previously unknown terrorist operatives, to identify hubs or common contacts between targets of interest who were previously thought to be unconnected, and potentially to discover individuals willing to become U.S. Government assets.

Remember, while the government downplayed this fact, until Barack Obama won the 2008 election, the government permitted analysts to contact chain off of 27,090 identifiers, going deeper than 3 hops in. That very easily encompasses every single American.

The ability to track the relationships of every single American, and they were using it to find informants.

In the 7 years since this program (now allegedly scaled back significantly, but still very very broad) has existed, the dragnet has only helped, however indirectly, to capture 12 terrorists in the US (and by terrorist, they also include people sending money to protect their country against US-backed invasion).

Which means the real utility of this program has been about something else.

The ability to track the relationships of every single American. And they were using it to find informants.

Even while the number of terrorists this program discovered has been minimal, the number of FBI informants has ballooned, to 15,000. And those informants are trumping up increasingly ridiculous plots in the name of fighting terrorism.

The ability to track the relationships of every single American (or now, a huge subset of Americans, focusing largely on Muslims and those with international ties). And they were (and presumably still are) using it to find informants.

Update: Note how in Keith Alexander’s description of the alert list, the standard to be on it is “the identifier is likely to produce information of foreign intelligence value” that are “associated with” one of the BR targets (Alexander 33). This is very similar to the language Olson used to justify getting data that didn’t directly relate to terrorism.

Also note this language (Alexander 34):

In particular, Section 1.7(c) of Executive Order 12333 specifically authorizes NSA to “Collect (including through clandestine means), process, analyze, produce, and disseminate signals intelligence information for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes to support national and departmental missions.” However, when executing its SIGINT mission, NSA is only authorized to collect, retain or disseminate information concerning United States persons in accordance with procedures approved by the Attorney General.

Again, this emphasizes a foreign intelligence and CI purpose for collection that by law is limited to terrorism. Which could mean they think they can collect info to coerce people to turn informant.

The AG guidelines on informants are, not surprisingly, redacted.

US Justice: A Rotting Tree of Poisonous Fruit?

Saturday, the NYT reported that other agencies within government struggle to get NSA to share its intelligence with them.

Agencies working to curb drug trafficking, cyberattacks, money laundering, counterfeiting and even copyright infringement complain that their attempts to exploit the security agency’s vast resources have often been turned down because their own investigations are not considered a high enough priority, current and former government officials say.

Of the 1,410 words in the article, 313 words are explicitly attributed to Tim Edgar, who used to work for ACLU but starting in 2006 worked first in the Office of Director of National Intelligence and then in the White House. Another 27 are attributed to “a former senior White House intelligence official,” the same description used to introduce Edgar in the article.

The article ends with Edgar expressing relief that NSA succeeded in withholding material (earlier he made a distinction between sharing raw data and intelligence reports) from agencies executing key foreign policy initiatives in the age of cyberwar and Transnational Criminal Organizations, and in so doing avoid a “nightmare scenario.”

As furious as the public criticism of the security agency’s programs has been in the two months since Mr. Snowden’s disclosures, “it could have been much, much worse, if we had let these other agencies loose and we had real abuses,” Mr. Edgar said. “That was the nightmare scenario we were worried about, and that hasn’t happened.”

Today, San Francisco Chronicle reminds that NSA does hand over evidence of serious criminal activities if it finds it while conducting foreign intelligence surveillance, and prosecutors often hide the source of that original intelligence.

Current and former federal officials say the NSA limits non-terrorism referrals to serious criminal activity inadvertently detected during domestic and foreign surveillance. The NSA referrals apparently have included cases of suspected human trafficking, sexual abuse and overseas bribery by U.S.-based corporations or foreign corporate rivals that violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

[snip]

“If the intelligence agency uncovers evidence of any crime ranging from sexual abuse to FCPA, they tend to turn that information over to the Department of Justice,” Litt told an audience at the Brookings Institution recently. “But the Department of Justice cannot task the intelligence community to do that.”

[snip]

“The problem you have is that in many, if not most cases, the NSA doesn’t tell DOJ prosecutors where or how they got the information, and won’t respond to any discovery requests,” said Haddon, the defense attorney. “It’s a rare day when you get to find out what the genesis of the ultimate investigation is.”

The former Justice Department official agreed: “A defense lawyer can try to follow the bouncing ball to see where the tip came from — but a prosecutor is not going to acknowledge that it came from intelligence.”

And (as bmaz already noted) Reuters reminds that the DEA has long had its own electronic surveillance capability, and it often hides the source of intelligence as well.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.

As bmaz also noted, none of this was very secret or new. The FISA sharing is clearly permitted by the minimization procedures. Litigation on it 11 years ago suggested it may be even more abusive than laid out under the law. And bmaz has personally been bitching about the DEA stuff as long as I’ve known him.

These articles suggesting there may be more sharing than the NYT made out on Saturday, then, are primarily reminders that when the fruits of this intelligence get shared, the source of the intelligence often remains hidden from those it is used against.

Which brings me to this WSJ op-ed Edgar published last week. Continue reading

The Marriage Equality Decisions

Picture-1The moment of truth has finally come on the long and tortured path through the Supreme Court for the marriage equality movement. Without further adieu, the Defense Of Marriage Act has been struck down as unconstitutional under Equal Protection grounds in a 5-4 opinion authored by Anthony Kennedy. A lack of standing has been found by the court in the California Hollingsworth v. Perry Prop 8 case, thus meaning the case will revert to the Ninth Circuit decision.

Frankly, everybody in the universe is going to have instantaneous analysis and opinion on the nature and import of these two decisions. I will likely be along with the same on particular aspects later, but for now I want to get the decisions and opinions up here so that one and all can read and discuss them. Below I will give the links to the opinions and the critical language blurbs from each.

United States v. Windsor (DOMA): Here is the opinion. As stated above, it is a 5-4 split authored by Justice Kennedy, joined by the liberal bloc of Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. Chief Justice Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito dissent in separate dissents written by Roberts and Scalia.

The opinion is very broad in range and focuses on Section 3 of DOMA, which will effectively obliterate the law. The key holding comes at the end of Kennedy’s majority opinion:

DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA in- structs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the mar- riages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

Hollingsworth v. Perry (Prop 8): Here is the opinion. As stated above, the court found a lack of standing by the appellants Hollingsworth (Prop 8 Proponents). ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which SCALIA, GINSBURG, BREYER, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which THOMAS, ALITO, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. So, just to be clear here: The liberals are the reason the court could not issue a decision granting ALL Americans the right to marriage equality that citizens in California, and the other few states who have state law marriage equality, will enjoy.

Anthony Kennedy, by his crystal clear decision and language he penned in the Windsor DOMA decision, and his willingness to find standing and rule on the merits in the Prop 8 case, was ready to make it happen. And all the liberal justices, save for Sonia Sotomayor, prevented it.

The court has remanded Hollingsworth back to the 9th Circuit with instructions to enter a similar ruling based on lack of standing/jurisdiction. That means that the broad and sweeping decision entered by Vaughn Walker in the district court trial will become law in California.

Now, to again be clear, I expect there will be litigation attempts by the Equality Haters to try to restrict Walker’s decision to the two plaintiff couples and/or the two respective counties at issue in the original Perry complaint. I do not believe that will bear any fruit and fully expect full marriage equality to exist across all of California, but it may not be as immediate as it should. We shall see.

In closing, a very good day for marriage equality and LGBT rights. The DOMA decision is broad and provides for heightened scrutiny in evaluating marriage and sexual identity issues; that portends well for future rights litigation. And, of course, DOMA is dead. Also heartwarming that all of California’s citizens will have their rights protected; it is, however, sad that this will not extend to all Americans.

[As always on these Prop 8 posts, the absolutely incredible graphic, perfect for the significance and emotion of the Perry Prop 8 case, and the decision to grant marriage equality to all citizens without bias or discrimination, is by Mirko Ilić. Please visit Mirko and check out his stock of work.]

The Prop 8 Oral Arguments Before the Supreme Court

Picture-1A momentous morning in the Supreme Court. All the work, analysis, speculation, briefing and lobbying culminated in an oral argument in Hollingsworth v. Perry lasting nearly an hour and a half – half an hour over the scheduled time. There are a lot of reports and opinions floating around about what transpired.

Here is Tom Goldstein

Here is Reuters led by Lawrence Hurley and David Ingram

Here is Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSBlog

Here is USA Today

Here is Huffington Post’s Mike Sacks with a video report

Here is Ryan Reilly and Mike Sacks with a written report at HuffPost

Suffice it to say, we do not know a heck of a lot after oral arguments than we did right before them. The full range of decision is on the table. However, there were certainly some hints given. Scalia and Alito are very hostile, and Thomas is almost certainly with them in that regard although he once again stood mute. Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor seemed receptive to the Ted Olson’s arguments. Breyer oddly quiet and hard to read. As is so often the case, that left Anthony Kennedy in effective control of the balance.

If Kennedy’s tenor at argument is any guide, and it isn’t necessarily, he is unlikely to sign on to a broad ruling. In fact he may be struggling with standing, but that is very hard to read. Several commenters I have seen interpreted Kennedy’s questions as having a real problem with standing and signaling a possibility of punting the case on that basis. From what I have read so far, I wouldn’t say that…and neither does Adam Serwer, who was present at argument.

So, in short, I would summarize thusly: Standing is a bigger issue than I had hoped, and there is more resistance to a broad ruling than I had hoped. But the game is still on. Remember when Jeff Toobin’s train wreck/plane wreck take after the ACA oral arguments; you just don’t know and cannot tell.

I will likely be back later after analysis of the pertinent material. For now, let me leave you with that material and media so you too can hear and see the groundbreaking day in the Supreme Court:

Here is the full transcript of the oral arguments

Here is the audio of the proceedings

Enjoy, and I look forward to discussing this! And, again, there will be updates to this post throughout the day, so keep checking for them.

[As always on these Prop 8 posts, the absolutely incredible graphic, perfect for the significance and emotion of the Perry Prop 8 case, and the decision to grant marriage equality to all citizens without bias or discrimination, is by Mirko Ilić. Please visit Mirko and check out his stock of work.]

The Case Against Marriage Equality Backlash

LadyJusticeScalesOne of the relentless memes that keeps cropping up in the marriage equality battle is that, were the Supreme Court to grant full broad based and constitutionally protected marriage equality in the Hollingsworth v. Perry Prop 8 case, there would be a destructive backlash consuming the country on the issue.

A good example of the argument was propounded by Professor Eric Segall at the ACSBlog in a piece entitled “Same-Sex Marriage, Political Backlash and the Case for Going Slow”:

There may be a better way. The Court could strike down DOMA under heightened scrutiny making it clear that government classifications based on sexual orientation receive heightened scrutiny. The Court could dismiss the Proposition 8 case on standing grounds (there are substantial standing arguments which the Court asked the parties to brief). This combination would leave all state laws (except perhaps California’s) intact but subject to likely successful challenges. Obviously, this would be a slower and more expensive route to marriage equality, but it might make the right more secure over time while decreasing the chances of serious backlash.

I know that it is easy for a straight male like me to suggest that the Court should refrain from quickly and forcefully resolving the same sex marriage issue on a national basis. But issues that some gays care deeply about are not limited to marriage equality, just like feminists face many challenges other than abortion such as equal pay, equality in the military, and glass ceiling barriers. Where gender equality would be without Roe is unknowable but even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has observed that the right to choose today might be more secure if the Court hadn’t decided it “in one fell swoop.” I don’t know what will happen if the Court announces a national rule on same-sex marriage but history strongly suggests that a more incremental approach might better serve the long term interests of people who identify themselves as liberals and progressives, including gays and lesbians.

I like and respect Eric quite a lot, but I cannot agree with him, nor other advocates of this position (for further discussion of the “Roe backlash” theory, see Adam Liptak in the New York Times). I have long strongly advocated for a full, broad based, ruling for equality for all, in all states, most recently here. But the issue of “backlash” has not previously been specifically addressed in said discussions that I recall.

Fortunately, there are already superb voices who have addressed this issue. The first is from Harvard Law Professor Michael Klarman in the LA Times:

What sort of political backlash might such a decision ignite?

Constitutionalizing gay marriage would have no analogous impact on the lives of opponents. Expanding marriage to include same-sex couples may alter the institution’s meaning for religious conservatives who believe that God created marriage to propagate the species. But that effect is abstract and
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A Path To Civil Rights History For the Supreme Court, Obama and Verrilli

Supreme Court CoolJust about a month ago, in urging the Obama Administration to file a brief in favor of marriage equality in the Hollingsworth v. Perry Prop 8 case before the Supreme Court, I described the stakes:

And here we are on the cusp on the next defining moment in the quest for equality for all in the US. It is not for origin, not for skin color, not for gender, but for something every bit as root fundamental, sexual identity and preference. Marriage equality, yes, but more than that, equality for all as human beings before the law and governmental function.

For all the talk of the DOMA cases, the real linchpin for the last measure of equality remains the broad mandate achievable only through Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Proposition 8 case.

It was true then, it is true now. To the everlasting credit of of President Obama, Solicitor General Verrilli and the Administration, they did indeed file a brief in support. It was a surprisingly strong brief with a clarion call for full equality based upon heightened scrutiny; yet is was conflicted with a final ask only for a restricted ruling limited in application to either just California or, at most, a handful of somewhat similarly situated states. In short, the ask in the Administration’s brief was not for equality for all, in all the states; just in some.

On the eve of one one of the seminal moments of Supreme Court history – it is easily arguable this is far more of a defining moment than the ACA Healthcare scuffle was – it is again incumbent on the Administration to give the justices the headroom to make a broad decision granting equality for all.

Even in the short time since the Obama Administration filed their brief, between February 28 and now, the mounting tide of public opinion and desire for full equality has grown substantially in multiple ways. Colorado, a state where the thought was once beyond contentious, passed full civil union equality and Governor Hickenlooper signed it into law. And a new comprehensive Washington Post/ABC News public poll has found that a full 58% of Americans now support the legality of gay nuptials, and a whopping 81% of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 so support.

The writing is on the wall, and the trend overwhelming. And it simply does not make sense for the Obama Administration to buck this tidal wave and argue only for equality in a handful of states, with equality for some, but far from for all. Barack Obama and Donald Verrilli laid every bit the foundation needed to argue for broad based full equality – in all states – in their brief.

It is time for Mr. Obama and Mr. Verrilli to step up and forcefully tell the Supreme Court that full equality is the right way to rule. The Court granted Solicitor General Verrilli time to express the Administration’s position in the oral argument Tuesday; he should use it in the name and cause of full broad based equality. It is a time for leadership; this is a moment for Mr. Obama and his attorney to display it.

By the same token, it is also time for the Supreme Court to do the same. So often it has been argued the “Court should not get out in front of popular opinion”. Bollocks, the Court should refuse to put themselves behind public opinion, and an ever strengthening one at that, by shamefully ducking the perfect opportunity to stand for that which the Constitution purports to stand, equal protection for all.

There are a myriad of legal arguments and discussions, and just about every commenter and expert in the field has been offering them up over the last week. I will leave that to another day, after the court has heard the oral arguments, we have our first inclination of what the justices are focused on, and the case is under advisement for decision.

For now, here are a couple of warms ups for Tuesday’s oral argument in Hollingsworth v. Perry/Prop 8 and Wednesday’s oral argument in United States v. Windsor/DOMA. First a nice little video “Viewer’s Guide to Gay Marriage Oral Arguments” with Supreme Court barrister extraordinaire, and SCOTUSBlog founder, Tom Goldstein. Here is a handy flow chart of all the different possibilities, and the why for each, of how the court may rule on both cases. It is really pretty neat and useful tool.

The briefing is long done now and the Justices understand the issues. But if the ACA/Healthcare cases taught us anything, it is that Justice Roberts is concerned about the legacy and esteem of the court. And Justice Kennedy has already shown how committed he is to fairness in social justice issues and willing to even go out on limbs ahead of controversial public opinion with his written opinions.

At this point, the most effective leverage is not repeated discussion of the minutiae of law, but rather the demonstration of the righteousness of full equality. History will prove fools of those who sanction continued bigotry against marital equality, and anything less than a broad based heightened scrutiny finding, for equality for all people, in all states, is a continuation of such unacceptable bigotry.

UPDATE: Professor Adam Winkler of UCLA has a piece out today that embodies my point in the post perfectly. Discussing the disastrous and ugly 1986 decision of the Supreme Court in Bowers v. Hardwick to uphold sodomy laws when times and opinion had already changed, and the profound regret felt by Anthony Kennedy’s predecessor, Lewis Powell, Professor Winkler writes:

Kennedy is clearly a justice who considers how his legacy will be shaped by his votes. In 1992, when the Supreme Court was asked to overturn Roe in a case called Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Justice Kennedy originally sided with the conservatives to reverse the controversial privacy decision. Like Justice Powell in Bowers, Justice Kennedy then changed his vote. He went to see Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of Roe, and explained that he was concerned about how history would judge Kennedy’s decision to end constitutional protections for women’s right to choose.

Like many people, Justice Kennedy may believe that the public tide against marriage discrimination is growing and that gay marriage is inevitable. History is not likely to be kind to those justices who vote to continue relegating LGBT people to second-class citizenship. As the swing justice ponders how to rule in the gay-marriage cases, Justice Powell’s well-known regret over Bowers, and the widespread recognition that Bowers was wrongly decided, will almost certainly weigh on his mind.

Adam’s article is worth a full read. And I agree with it completely.

Further Reflections on the Obama Amicus Brief in Prop 8

Supreme Court CoolAfter the flurry of fast analysis on the fly, getting a post up for discussion and the crucible of discussion here and on Twitter – and a bit of sleep – I have some further thoughts on the amicus brief filed late yesterday by the Obama Administration in Hollingsworth v. Perry.

My ultimate conclusions on what the Obama amicus means and portends has not changed much, but there are several things that should be said both to explain my criticism and give a little more credit to the Administration where due. First an analogy explaining my criticism of the Obama brief.

Imagine if, when Brown v. Board of Education was being considered, the Eisenhower Administration had instructed it’s Assistant Attorney General and OLC chief, J. Lee Rankin, to amicus brief that only Kansas and a handful of other similarly situated states, but not the rest of the country where the bigotry of segregation was at its most prevalent worst, should be granted desegregation. How would history have held Mr. Eisenhower and Mr. Rankin? That is, of course, not what happened in Brown; the Eisenhower Administration filed an amicus brief demanding equality and desegregation for all citizens, in all states.

Messrs. Obama, Holder and Verrilli, however, fell short of such a demand for equality for all in the civil rights moment, the Brown v. Board, of their time. Let the record reflect they did have the courage to join the game, which is in and of itself a commendable thing, just that they did not muster the full courage to play to win for all Americans, regardless of their particular state of domicile – and especially not for those in the states with the most sexual orientation bigotry and discrimination.

In this regard, I think our friend at Daily Kos, Adam Bonin, summarized the duality of the Obama amicus quite well:

To be sure, the brief argues all the right things about why laws targeting gays should be subject to heightened scrutiny, and that none of the proffered justifications for treating their relationships differently have merit (“Reference to tradition, no matter how long established, cannot by itself justify Continue reading

The Obama DOJ Files a Timid Brief in Perry/Prop 8!

Picture-1The news was broken, right around 2:00 pm EST by NBC’s Pete Williams, that the Obama Administration would indeed file a brief in support of marriage equality in Hollingsworth v. Perry. Here was the original tweet by NBC’s Williams:

Obama Justice Dept to file Supreme Court amicus brief today opposing Prop 8 in Calif and expressing support for same-sex marriage to resume.

Here was Williams’ followup story at NBCNews.com. The inherent problem with the original report was that it tended to indicate the Obama Administration was briefing only on the restricted Romer v. Evans posture heinously crafted by Judge Stephen Reinhardt in the 9th Circuit.

So, we were left hanging wondering exactly how the Obama Administration really briefed the issue, was it a limited Romer brief, or one for full marriage equality and heightened scrutiny under the equal protection and due process clauses that would give all citizens, nationwide, equality as I argued for earlier this week?

We now have the answer, and the brief, and here it is the brief in all its not quite glory:

The Obama Administration has, shockingly (okay, I do not mean that in the least), tried to nuance its way and split babies. Typical cowardly bunk by Mr. Obama. Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog depicted it thusly:

The historic document, though, could give the Court a way to advance gay marriage rights, without going the full step — now being advocated by two California couples who have been challenging Proposition 8 since 2009 — of declaring that marriage should be open to all same-sex couples as a constitutional requirement.

Administration sources said that President Obama was involved directly in the government’s choice of whether to enter the case at all, and then in fashioning the argument that it should make. Having previously endorsed the general idea that same-sex individuals should be allowed to marry the person they love, the President was said to have felt an obligation to have his government take part in the fundamental test of marital rights that is posed by the Proposition 8 case. The President could take the opportunity to speak to the nation on the marriage question soon.

In essence, the position of the federal government would simultaneously give some support to marriage equality while showing some respect for the rights of states to regulate that institution. What the brief endorsed is what has been called the “eight-state solution” — that is, if a state already recognizes for same-sex couples all the privileges and benefits that married couples have (as in the eight states that do so through “civil unions”) those states must go the final step and allow those couples to get married. The argument is that it violates the Constitution’s guarantee of legal equality when both same-sex and opposite-sex couples are entitled to the same marital benefits, but only the opposite-sex couples can get married.

Honestly, I think Mr. Denniston is being kind. President Obama’s position bears the mark of a full throated coward. Clearly, when Mr. Obama said this to ABC News, he was blowing smoke up the posterior of the American public:

…obviously, my personal view, which is that I think that same-sex couples should have the same rights and be treated like everybody else. And that’s something I feel very strongly about and my administration is acting on wherever we can.

That statement would say that Obama actually supports full equal protection for ALL Americans. But the position staked out today in the Administration’s brief filed by his Solicitor General puts the lie to Obama’s rhetoric.

Mr. Obama has consistently lied about his dedication to civil liberties, privacy and the Fourth Amendment, I guess it should not be shocking that he would lie about his dedication to civil rights for all, across all the states, in the form of marriage equality. And that is exactly what he has done. And as Denniston’s article makes clear, this decision bore the active participation and decision making of Obama personally. The cowardice is his to bear personally. Thanks for the fish Mr. Obama.

That is the biggest of the Hollingsworth v. Perry briefing news today, but certainly not the entirety of it. Also filed today, among others, was a brief by a group of 14 states led by Massachusetts and New York and an interesting brief by NFL players Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo. The brief by the 14 states is helpful in the way it portrays marriage in the states, both straight and gay, and in that it, on page four, adopts the position of Olson, Boies and the Prop 8 Plaintiffs that the Supreme Court must find for full heightened scrutiny protection for sexual orientation under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses. The Kluwe and Ayanbadejo brief, frankly, is not particularly helpful in that regard as it only discussed the limited Romer based finding that would leave marriage equality up to the states.

The same group of American businesses who weighed in on the DOMA cases also filed a brief today in Hollingsworth v. Perry. In a more negative development, former Solicitor Walter Dellinger also filed an amicus brief today that is literally loathsome and dangerous in it’s argument against even giving standing for appeal to the Supreme Court. Dellinger embarrassed himself, but so too did Barack Obama. Must be something in the water of centrist Democratic thought.

So, there you have it. It was a rather important, if not quite as fulfilling as should have been, day in the life of the Hollingsworth v. Perry litigation. I guess credit should be given to Mr. Obama even for weighing in at all, and undoubtedly most media and pundits will slather him with praise for just that. Somehow, I cannot. The full measure of greatness was there for the taking, and Barack Obama, Eric Holder and Donald Verrilli, Jr. whiffed at the full mark of greatness. They will be remembered for their support, and their failure to truly step up will likely dissipate with time; but let it be said here and now.

In spite of the cowardly and restrictive actions by the “liberal President Obama” the cause of true heightened scrutiny protection for ALL Americans endures and lives on. Just not with the support of the President of the United States of America. that “leader” took the cheap “states rights” cowardly way out. Let us hope Anthony M. Kennedy and the majority of the Supreme Court have higher morals and muster as men.

[As always on these Prop 8 posts, the absolutely incredible graphic, perfect for the significance and emotion of the Perry Prop 8 case, and the decision to grant marriage equality to all citizens without bias or discrimination, is by Mirko Ilić. Please visit Mirko and check out his stock of work.]

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