ACA at SCOTUS: Some Thoughts On The Mandate

As you likely know by now, we stand on the cusp of historic oral arguments this week in the Supreme Court on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise popularly known as “Obamacare”. The arguments will occur over three days, for a total of six hours, Monday through Wednesday. Yes, they really are that historic, as Lyle Denniston explains in SCOTUSBlog. The schedule is as follows: Monday: 90 minutes on whether the Anti Injunction Act (AIJA) prevents consideration of a challenge to the individual mandate until it takes effect in 2014; Tuesday: Two hours on the Constitutionality of the individual mandate; and Wednesday: 90 minutes on severability of the main law from the mandate and 60 minutes on state sovereignty concerns of Medicaid reform.

There are two areas of particular interest for me and which really are the meat on the bone of the overall consideration. The first is Monday’s technical argument on the AIJA, which I actually think may be much more in play than most commentators believe, because the Supremes may want to punt the politically sticky part of the case down the road until after the 2012 elections, and the AIJA argument is a ready made vehicle to do just that. Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s dissent in Seven Sky v. Holder explains how that would go should the Supreme beings decide to punt. This is by no means likely, but do not be shocked if it occurs; can kicking down the road is certainly not unknown at SCOTUS on politically sensitive cases.

By far, however, the biggest, and most contentious, kahuna of the healthcare debate is the individual mandate, and that is where I want to focus. The two sides, pro (predominantly liberal left) and con (predominantly conservative right), have been selling their respective wares since before the law was passed and signed by the President. As we truly head into the arguments, however, the pro left have crystallized around a matched pair of articles by Dahlia Lithwick and Linda Greenhouse, and the con right around response pieces by James Taranto and Ed Whelan.

Now this hardly seems like a fair fight, as Taranto has no degree, nor legal training, whatsoever; that said he and Whelan actually lay out the contra to Dahlia and Linda pretty well. Each side effectively accuses the other of being vapid and hollow in argument construct. I will leave aside any vapidity discussion because I think both sides genuinely believe in their positions; as to the hollowness, though, I think both sides are pretty much guilty. Which is understandable, there is simply not a lot of law directly on point with such a sweeping political question as presented by the mandate. “Unprecedented” may be overused in this discussion, but it is not necessarily wrong (no, sorry, Raich v. Gonzales is not that close; it just isn’t).

In short, I think both sides are guilty of puffery as to the quality of legal support for their respective arguments, and I believe both are guilty of trying to pass off effective political posturing as solid legal argument. Certainty is just not there for either side. This is a real controversy, and the Supreme Court has proved it by allotting the, well, almost “unprecedented” amount of time it Read more

David Gregory & NBC Give John McCain Blowjob; Screw Americans

Saturday evening, the New York Times put up an important editorial, The Banks Win Again, on its website regarding the financial crisis, an editorial piece that would be key in their Sunday Morning Edition Opinion Section:

Last week was a big one for the banks. On Monday, the foreclosure settlement between the big banks and federal and state officials was filed in federal court, and it is now awaiting a judge’s all-but-certain approval. On Tuesday, the Federal Reserve announced the much-anticipated results of the latest round of bank stress tests.

How did the banks do on both? Pretty well, thank you — and better than homeowners and American taxpayers.

That is not only unfair, given banks’ huge culpability in the mortgage bubble and financial meltdown. It also means that homeowners and the economy still need more relief, and that the banks, without more meaningful punishment, will not be deterred from the next round of misbehavior.

The nation is on the cusp on having the government, both federal and states, sign off on arguably the biggest financial fraud on the American public in history, and doing so in a way that massively rewards the offending financial institutions and refuses serious investigation, much less prosecution, of any participants perpetrating the conduct. This pattern of craven conduct cratered not just the US economy, but most of the world economy.

In the face of all this, David Gregory and MTP had on the Sunday morning show one of the most senior Senators in the United States Senate, John McCain, who serves as a key member of both the Governmental Affairs and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committees, both of which Read more

The Full Text of the Schuelke Report on DOJ Misconduct

Earlier this morning, we posted A Primer On Why Schuelke Report Of DOJ Misconduct Is Important that laid out all the legal and procedural background underlying the Schuelke Report into prosecutorial misconduct in the Ted Stevens criminal case.

The full 500 page report has now been released, and is titled:

Report to Hon. Emmet G. Sullivan of Investigation Conducted Pursuant to the Court’s Order, dated April 7, 2009

I wanted to get the post framework and document link up so everybody could read along and digest the report together. Consider this a working thread to put thoughts, key quotes – whatever – into as we chew on the report. Then after having been through it, Marcy and I will; later do smaller stories on specific angles raised.

We know the irreducible minimum found:

The investigation and prosecution of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens were permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated Senator Stevens’s defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government’s key witness

You would think the involved attorneys would be ducking and apologizing for their ethical lapses that terminated the career of the powerful chairman of the Appropriations Committee on the US Senate. You would, of course, be wrong.

The mouthpiece for Brenda Morris, Chuck Rosenburg, is already clucking:

Brenda is a woman of tremendous integrity and an exceptionally talented prosecutor—she was fully honest with the investigators and always hoped that one day this report would be made public so that the facts of her individual role would be known.

Um, no, Ms. Morris does not smell like a rose here Chuck. Edward Sullivan, one of the AUSAs had this statement by his lawyer already this morning:

Mr. Sullivan is a diligent attorney, with strong character and integrity, whose conduct comports with the Department’s highest ethical standards. Mr. Sullivan was rightfully exonerated by Mr. Schuelke and the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, and his vindication is evidenced by the fact that he continues to prosecute cases in the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section

Well, yeah, sure, you betcha Ed Sullivan. I guess that is why as late as yesterday you were personally in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals trying to have the whole matter both stayed and sealed and were arguing you would be harmed if it wasn’t. Today, Edward Sullivan is suddenly a spring flower of purity.

So, yes, all these spring flowers in bloom must be operating off some pretty fertilizer, and the manure is indeed rather deep. So, let us dive in and see what we find. Put your thought, comments and opinions in comment as we work. See you there!

The Emptywheel Primary Trash Talk

It’s here!! Yep the fateful Emptywheel Primary day! Why is it the Emptywheel Primary you ask? Well silly, because today is the Super Tuesday of GOP primaries in both Michigan and Arizona. My Mormons versus Marcy’s Hutaree. Gonna throw down baby.

I want to tell you how thrilling the excitement of the Republican primary has been for us here in Arizona. Except, well, I can’t. Because it hasn’t. It is now 5:00 pm here on the day of the primary, and I have not seen one single campaign ad on television. Other than a flurry of coverage on the day of the debate here, Nada. Zero. Zilch. As for campaign signs, which are always up everywhere in my busy area that sits at the intersection of Arcadia, Paradise Valley and Scottsdale. There are major roads leading to a lot of voters – many of them affluent – and this is a quite Republican district (it elected Ben Quayle handily just as an indicator). The pitiful tiny little Santorum sign in the picture above is the only sign I have seen within a two mile radius. That’s it.

As for Michigan, Marcy reports the same there. CNN and MSNBC says the GOP candidates have been traipsing around Michigan, but Marcy has not seen much in the way of advertising or excitement either. Charlie Pierce gives a rundown on the wonderful candidates in Michigan. Here is what Marcy reported on Twitter yesterday about the level of excitement:

Honestly though, it just seems like a non-event to me. I have yet to see an ad–not TV, direct mail, robo, signs. Nothing!

So, two decent sized primaries in pretty interesting states, for differing reasons, and…..bupkis.

It looks like Romney has Arizona solid unless there is a major upset, which is not shocking with the large contingent of Mormons here. But Michigan has been shockingly tight given Romney’s roots there, and that could really be interesting depending on how a few key counties go. And Ron Paul has better strength than you think in Michigan. So this is a thread for election chatter, and anything else in the world you got (hint FOOTBALL and other sports, etc!).

On piece of pretty interesting news today, Olympia Snowe has announced she is retiring after this term and will not run, so there is a scramble underway up in Maine. The big Dem names floated so far to replace Snowe are current Representatives Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, as well as former Representative Tom Allen. Of those, it is hard not to think Pingree has the edge, and she is already thinking about it hard. This could be a great pickup opportunity for the Dems in the Senate, and would sure help the effort to keep the majority control of the Senate. DDay has more.

So, with that, let’s hoop and yak it up for The Emptywheel Primary! Music by Bo Diddley and Roadrunner, which he first released in 1960.

Honorable Military Whistleblower: Why Daniel Davis Is and Bradley Manning Is Not

One of the hottest, and most important, stories of the last week has been that broken by Scott Shane in the New York Times, on February 5th, of Army Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis’ stunning report on the unmitigated duplicity and disaster that characterizes the American war in Afghanistan. It painted the story of a man, Davis, committed to his country, to his service and to the truth but internally tortured by the futility and waste he saw in Afghanistan, and the deception of the American public and their Congressional representatives by the Pentagon and White House.

And then, late last month, Colonel Davis, 48, began an unusual one-man campaign of military truth-telling. He wrote two reports, one unclassified and the other classified, summarizing his observations on the candor gap with respect to Afghanistan. He briefed four members of Congress and a dozen staff members, spoke with a reporter for The New York Times, sent his reports to the Defense Department’s inspector general — and only then informed his chain of command that he had done so.

Concurrent with Shane’s NYT article, Davis himself published an essay overview of what he knew and saw in the Armed Forces Journal.

The one thing that was not released with either Shane or Davis’ article was the actual Davis report itself, at least the unclassified version thereof. The unclassified Davis report has now been published, in its entire original form, by Michael Hastings in Rolling Stone in The Afghanistan Report the Pentagon Doesn’t Want You to Read.

The report is every bit as detailed, factually supported and damning as the articles by Shane and Davis portrayed. It is a must, but disturbing, read. If the American people care about economic waste and efficacy and morality of their foreign military projection, both the Obama Administration and the Pentagon will be browbeat with the picture and moment of sunlight Daniel Davis has provided. Jim White has penned an excellent discussion of the details of the Davis report.

My instant point here, however, is how Davis conducted himself in bringing his sunlight, and blowing the whistle, on wrongful US governmental and military conduct. Davis appears to have attempted to carefully marshal his evidence, separated the classified from the unclassified, released only unclassified reportage himself and to the press, taken the classified reportage to appropriate members of Congress and the DOD Inspector General, and notified his chain of command. Davis insured that, while the classified information and facts were protected from inappropriate and reckless release, they could not be buried by leveraging his unclassified press publication. In short, Daniel Davis is the epitome of a true military whistleblower, both in fact, and Read more

The OLC Opinion on Obama’s Recess Appointments

Out of the blue this morning, the Obama Administration has released the OLC opinion it relied on in making last weeks recess appointments of Richard Cordray to the CFPB and others to the NLRB. Several legal analysts and pundits have lobbied publicly and privately for the memo, which almost certainly existed, to be released, maybe the most cogent of the public pleas being made by Jack Goldsmith at Lawfare. Honestly, I agreed fully with Jack, but since the White House was reticent to admit it even existed, and since (as Josh Gerstein pointed out) a 2nd Circuit opinion from 2005 likely meant it was not subject to FOIA, I was not sure how soon it would meet public eyes.

Well, here it is in all its glory.

While some had suggested the reason the White House would not discuss whether there even was an opinion, much less release it, was that the OLC did not support the President’s ability to so recess appoint. I never particularly gave this much credit, even though Obama clearly is not above acting contrary to OLC advice, he did exactly that regarding the Libya war action. And, indeed, here the OLC did support his action in their 23 page opinion.

Although the Senate will have held pro forma sessions regularly from January 3 through January 23, in our judgment, those sessions do not interrupt the intrasession recess in a manner that would preclude the President from determining that the Senate remains unavailable throughout to “‘receive communications from the President or participate as a body in making appointments.’” Intrasession Recess Appointments, 13 Op. O.L.C. 271, 272 (1989) (quoting Executive Power—Recess Appointments, 33 Op. Att’y Gen. 20, 24 (1921) (“Daugherty Opinion”)). Thus, the President has the authority under the Recess Appointments Clause to make appointments during this period. The Senate could remove the basis for the President’s exercise of his recess appointment authority by remaining continuously in session and being available to receive and act on nominations, but it cannot do so by providing for pro forma sessions at which no business is to be conducted.

As I previously have noted, the entire “block” of the President’s recess appointment power is predicated upon the Article I, Section 5 provision in the Constitution that “[n]either House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days”. And, so upon what exactly does the OLC hang their hat on that the three day periods do not prevent a “recess” within the meaning of a President’s Article II, Section 2, Clause 3 recess appointment power? Mostly some reasonably thin quotes from GOP Senators that were not Read more

The Challenge To Richard Cordray Not Being Discussed

The internets are alive with the sound of excitement over the appointment today by President Obama of Richard Cordray to be Director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB). And, as Brian Buetler correctly points out, by doing it today, the first day of the new legislative session, Obama (assuming he gets re-elected) has provided Cordray with the longest term possible to serve as a recess appointee:

By acting today, with session two of this Congress technically under way, Obama has given Cordray the rest of this session and the full next session of the Senate to run the bureau. Cordray could potentially serve through the end of 2013.

The Congressional Research Service outlined this in a recent report (PDF) — and the White House and Senate leaders of both parties confirm the analysis.

If Obama loses in 2012, that could shorten Cordray’s tenure — and of course Cordray can leave early if he wants to. But this move makes it much more likely that the CFPB will truly take root.

Most of the banter so far has been on the viability of Obama’s move to recess appoint in this manner. I have looked at this issue for years, going back to early in the Dawn Johnsen imbroglio, and find no reason to believe this was not a proper exercise of Presidential power and prerogative.

The long and short of it is, there is no restriction on timing of recess appointments by a President pursuant to Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution. Both the “10 day rule”, which got narrowed to the “3 day rule” were practices and, at best were based on non-binding dicta from an early 90s DOJ memo; they are not now, nor have they ever been, binding law or rule. Legally, they are vapor. The issue was actually litigated in the 2004 11th Circuit case of Evans v. Stephens.

And when the President is acting under the color of express authority of the United States Constitution, we start with a presumption that his acts are constitutional.2 See United States v. Allocco, 305 F.2d 704, 713 (2d Cir. 1962) (Recess Appointments Clause case); see also U.S. v. Nixon, 94 S.Ct. 3090, 3105 (1974) (observing “In the performance of assigned constitutional duties each branch of the Government must initially interpret the Constitution, and the interpretation of its powers by any branch is due great respect from the others.”).
…….
The Constitution, on its face, does not establish a minimum time that an authorized break in the Senate must last to give legal force to the President’s appointment power under the Recess Appointments Clause. And we do not set the limit today.

And there you have it. There is no minimum time. Also, somewhat significant, is that Evans was decided by the full 11th Circuit, not a three judge panel, and SCOTUS considered a full cert application, and denied it, leaving the 11th Circuit decision standing as good law and citable precedent.

Oh, and if you wonder if SCOTUS has a real hard on for Presidential recess appointments, the answer would appear to be no. During the oral argument in New Process Steel v. NLRB last year, Chief Justice Roberts scoldingly asked Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal “And the recess appointment power doesn’t work why?” I am not sure the blustering Republicans like McConnell and Boehner will find quite as receptive an ear from the Roberts Court as they think.

Well, as Beutler notes, things should be all rosy and good to go for Cordray and CFPB, right? Not so fast, there is another issue not receiving any attention by the chattering classes.

The CFPB was promulgated by a pretty bizarre act – The Dodd Frank Act – bizarre, specifically, in how it structures and empowers the CFPB in its various duties. Notably, several of the key powers flow not necessarily through the agency, but through the “confirmed director” of CFPB. If there is no director, the bureau is run in the interim by the Treasury Secretary. Yep, good ‘ole Turbo Tax Timmeh Geithner. Specifically, Section 1066 provides:

The Secretary is authorized to perform the functions of the Bureau under this subtitle until the Director of the Bureau is confirmed by the Senate in accordance with section 1011. (emphasis added)

So, in all this meantime, and despite the White House trying to put the patina on that Liz Warren was running the CFPB, it has actually been Geithner. And the problem with this has been (remember I said the enabling language was bizarre??) that not all of the full powers of the CFPB vest, nor can they be exercised, until there is a director.

A director “confirmed by the Senate” according to the literal wording of the Dodd Frank Act.

If I were speculating on legal challenges to Cordray, rather than focusing solely on Obama’s ability to so appoint him (which, again, I think stands up), I might be more concerned about the issue of whether Cordray has full powers to lead and operate CFPB because he is not “confirmed by the Senate”. That should be a stupid argument you would think, but the words “confirmed by the Senate” in the enabling act make it at least a very cognizable question.

Normally a confirmed appointee and a recess appointee have the same legal authority and powers but, to my knowledge, there is no other situation in which substantive power for an agency flows only through its specific “confirmed” director. If I were going to attack Cordray, I would certainly not restrict it to the propriety of Obama’s recess appointment, I would also attack his scope of authority since he was not “confirmed”. I would like to think such a challenge fails, but Congress sure left a potential hidden boobytrap here.

Update On The Signing Of The NDAA

Many people have been wondering what happened regarding the signing of the 2012 NDAA containing the critical, and much criticized, detention provisions. The House of Representatives passed the conference report of the bill on December 14th, with the Senate approving it by a 86 to 13 margin the following day, December 15th. Interest then turned to whether the President would veto it (he won’t) and when he will sign the legislation.

Most seemed to think that meant the bill must be signed by yesterday, which would have been the tenth day, excluding Sundays, after passage pursuant to Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution, which provides:

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.

Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.

But Obama has not yet signed the NDAA, so what gives? Presentment. A bill coming out of Congress must be formally presented to the President for signature. Sometimes, if the subject matter is deemed urgent, the presentment process is accelerated remarkably and happens on an emergency basis quite quickly. But, normally, it is a time honored deliberate process also governed by statute. 1 USC 106 and 107 require an enrolled bill passed by both chambers of Congress be printed on parchment or paper “of suitable quality” and “sent” to the President; this is the “presentment” process. 1 USC 106 does allow for alternate accelerated means for a bill emanating during the last six days of a session, and the OLC, in a little known opinion from May 2011, has decreed that electronic transmission is even acceptable (basically, the thing can be emailed).

In the case of the critical 2012 NDAA, however, Congress (one would assume with the blessing of the White House) apparently made no attempt to accelerate the schedule as often occurs for end of session matters, and the NDAA was not formally presented to President Obama until December 21st. So, excluding intervening Sundays, the tenth day is, in fact, Monday January 2, 2012.

Why, then, is the White House and President stringing out the signing of the NDAA? Well, we know AG Eric Holder has indicated Obama would be attaching a signing statement to the executed NDAA. Although unconfirmed officially, the word I am hearing from DOJ, who was working with the White House on the signing statement, was that they were done late last week.

So, it is not clear why Obama has still not yet signed the NDAA. Maybe he and the White House optics shop realized what a sour pill it would be to sign such a perceived toxic hit on civil liberties right before Christmas? The better question might be whether they are planning on slipping this little gem in the end of the week pre New Years trash dump.

All Sides Agree There Is Excessive Secrecy Surrounding Targeting Of US Citizens

The targeted execution of Anwar al-Awlaki struck different people along the political spectrum in the United States in many different ways, but it has been heartening most all have recognized it as a seminal moment worthy of dissection and contemplation. Despite all the discussion afforded the execution of Awlaki in the last few days, it cannot be emphasized enough how impossible it is to have a completely meaningful discussion on the topic due to the relentless blanket of secrecy imposed by the United States government. Before I get into the substantive policy and legal issues surrounding the targeting and assassination of American citizens, which I will come back to in a separate post, a few words about said secrecy are in order.

The first to note, and complain of, the strange secrecy surrounding not just the kill listing of Awlaki, but the entire drone assassination program, was Marcy right here in Emptywheel. Within a couple of hours of the news of the Awlaki strike, she called for the release of the evidence and information serving as the Administration’s foundation for the extrajudicial execution of an American citizen and within a couple of hours of that, noted the ironic inanity of the pattern and practice of the one hand of the Obama Administration, through such officials as Bob Gates, James Clapper and Panetta trotting out “state secrets” to claim drone actions cannot even be mentioned while the other hand, through mouthpieces such as John Brennan are out blabbing all kinds of details in order to buck up Administration policy.

Now, you would expect us here at Emptywheel to vociferously complain about the rampant secrecy and hypocritical application of it by the Executive Branch, what has been refreshing, however, is how broad the spectrum of commentators voicing the same concerns has been. Glenn Greenwald was, as expected, on the cause from the start, but so too have voices on the other side of the traditional spectrum such as the Brookings Institute’s Benjamin Wittes, to former Gang of Eight member and noted hawk Jane Harman, and current Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin and Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First.

But if there were any doubt that it was just left leaning voices calling for release of targeting and legal foundation information, or only sources such as Emptywheel or the New York Times pointing out the hypocrisy and duplicity with which the Administration handles their precious “state secret”, then take a gander at what former Bush OLC chief Jack Goldsmith had to say Monday, after a weekend of contemplation of the issues surrounding the take out of Awlaki:

I agree that the administration should release a redacted version of the opinion, or should extract the legal analysis and place it in another document that can be released consistent with restrictions on classified information.

I have no doubt that Obama administration lawyers did a thorough and careful job of analyzing the legal issues surrounding the al-Aulaqi killing. The case for disclosing the analysis is easy. The killing of a U.S. citizen in this context is unusual and in some quarters controversial. A thorough public explanation of the legal basis for the killing (and for targeted killings generally) would allow experts in the press, the academy, and Congress to scrutinize and criticize it, and would, as Harman says, permit a much more informed public debate. Such public scrutiny is especially appropriate since, as Judge Bates’s ruling last year shows, courts are unlikely to review executive action in this context. In a real sense, legal accountability for the practice of targeted killings depends on a thorough public legal explanation by the administration.

Jack has hit the nail precisely on the head here, the courts to date have found no avenue of interjection, and even should they in the future, the matter is almost surely to be one of political nature. And accountability of our politicians depends on the public havin sufficient knowledge and information with which to make at least the basic fundamental decisions on propriety and scope. But Mr. Goldsmith, admirably, did not stop there and continued on to note the very hypocrisy and duplicity Marcy did last Friday:

We know the government can provide a public legal analysis of this sort because presidential counterterrorism advisor John Brennan and State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh have given such legal explanations in speeches, albeit in limited and conclusory terms. These speeches show that there is no bar in principle to a public disclosure of a more robust legal analysis of targeted killings like al-Aulaqi’s. So too do the administration’s many leaks of legal conclusions (and operational details) about the al-Aulaqi killing.

A full legal analysis, as opposed to conclusory explanations in government speeches and leaks, would permit a robust debate about targeted killings – especially of U.S. citizens – that is troubling to many people. Such an analysis could explain, for example, whether the government believed that al-Aulaqi possessed constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth or other amendments, and (assuming the government concluded that he possessed some such rights) why the rights were not implicated by the strike. It could also describe the limits of presidential power in this context.

The Obama administration frequently trumpets its commitment to transparency and the rule of law. The President and many of his subordinates were critical of what they deemed to be unnecessarily secretive Bush administration legal opinions, and they disclosed an unprecedented number of them, including many classified ones. Now is the time for the administration to apply to itself a principle that it applied to its predecessor.

Again, exactly right. From Marcy Wheeler, to Gang of Eight members, to Jack Goldsmith, the voice is both clear and consistent: The Obama Administration needs to come clean with as much of the legal and factual underpinnings as humanly possible short of compromising “means and methods” that truly are still secret. That would be, by almost any account, a lot of information and law with which the American public, indeed the world, could not only know and understand, but use to gauge their votes and opinions on. Doing so would make the United States, and its actions, stronger and more sound.

In the second part of this series, which I should have done by tomorrow morning sometime, I will discuss what we know, and what we don’t know, about the legal and factual underpinnings for targeted killing of US citizens, and sort through possible protocols that may be appropriate for placement of a citizen target and subsequent killing.

UPDATE: As MadDog noted in comments, Jack Goldsmith has penned a followup piece at Lawfare expounding on the need for release of the foundational underpinnings of how an American citizen such as Alawki came to be so targeted. Once again, it is spot on:

First, it is wrong, as Ben notes, for the government to maintain technical covertness but then engage in continuous leaks, attributed to government officials, of many (self-serving) details about the covert operations and their legal justifications. It is wrong because it is illegal. It is wrong because it damages (though perhaps not destroys) the diplomatic and related goals of covertness. And it is wrong because the Executive branch seems to be trying to have its cake (not talking about the program openly in order to serve diplomatic interests and perhaps deflect scrutiny) and eat it too (leaking promiscuously to get credit for the operation and to portray it as lawful). I do not know if the leaks are authorized in some sense or not, or where in the executive branch they come from, or what if anything the government might be doing to try to stop them. But of course the president is ultimately responsible for the leaks. One might think – I am not there yet, but I understand why someone might be – that the double standard on discussing covert actions disqualifies the government from invoking technical covertness to avoid scrutiny.

Second, there is no bar grounded in technical covertness, or in concerns about revealing means and methods of intelligence gathering, to revealing (either in a redacted opinion or in a separate document) the legal reasoning supporting a deadly strike on a U.S. citizen. John Brennan and Harold Koh have already talked about the legality of strikes outside Afghanistan in abstract terms, mostly focusing on international law. I don’t think much more detail on the international law basis is necessary; nor do I think that more disclosure on international law would do much to change the minds of critics who believe the strikes violate international law. But there has been practically nothing said officially (as opposed through leaks and gestures and what is revealed in between the lines in briefs) about the executive branch processes that lie behind a strike on a U.S. citizen, or about what constitutional rights the U.S. citizen target possesses, or about the limitations and conditions on the president’s power to target and kill a U.S. citizen. This information would, I think, matter to American audiences that generally support the president on the al-Aulaqi strike but want to be assured that it was done lawfully and with care. The government could easily reveal this more detailed legal basis for a strike on a U.S. citizen without reference to particular operations, or targets, or means of fire, or countries.

Listen, we may not always agree with Jack here, and both Marcy and I have laid into him plenty over the years where appropriate; but credit should be given where and when due. It is here. And, while I am at it, I would like to recommend people read the Lawfare blog. All three principals there, Ben Wittes, Goldsmith and Bobby Chesney write intelligent and thoughtful pieces on national security and law of war issues. No, you will not always agree with them, nor they with you necessarily; that is okay, it is still informative and educational. If nothing else, you always want to know what the smart people on the other side are saying.

[Incredibly awesome graphic by the one and only Darkblack. If you are not familiar with his work, or have not seen it lately, please go peruse the masterpieces at his homebase. Seriously good artwork and incredible music there.]

Obama & Holder Push AZ USAtty Burke Out Over ATF GunRunner Cock-Up

Coming across the wire this morning was this stunning announcement by the Department of Justice:

Statement of Attorney General Eric Holder on the Resignation of U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Dennis Burke 08/30/2011 01:01 PM EDT

“United States Attorney Dennis Burke has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s office, first as a line prosecutor over a decade ago and more recently as United States Attorney,” said Attorney General Holder.

Say what? Maybe I am not as plugged in as i used to be, but holy moly this came out of the blue. What is behind the sudden and “immediate” resignation of Dennis Burke, an extremely decent man who has also been a great manager of the Arizona US Attorney’s Office through some of the most perilous times imaginable? The USA who has piloted the office in dealing with such high grade problems such as those stemming from SB1070, to traditional immigration issues, to the Giffords/Loughner shooting tragedy, the corruption and malfeasance of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to voting rights and redistricting controversies brought on by the ever crazy Arizona Legislature, has now resigned in the blink of an eye? Really?

Why?

The GunWalker mess. Also known as “Project GunRunner” and “Operation Fast and Furious” (yes, the idiots at ATF actually did call it that). From the Arizona Republic:

Burke’s resignation, effective immediately, is one of several personnel moves made in the wake of a federal gun-trafficking investigation that put hundreds of rifles and handguns from Arizona into the hands of criminals in Mexico. Burke’s office provided legal guidance to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on the flawed initiative called Operation Fast and Furious.

The news comes on the same day as a new acting director was named to oversee the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives following congressional hearings into Fast and Furious, an operation that was aimed at major gun-trafficking networks in the Southwest.

Irrespective of the name attached to the program – I have always known it as the GunWalker operation, so i will stick with that – is has been a first rate clusterfuck from the outset. And, unlike so many things bollixing up the government, it cannot be traced back to the Bush/Cheney Read more

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