July 5, 2022 / by 

 

Judge Bolton Enjoins Arizona Immigration Law

I am at the downtown court complex in Phoenix this morning for other matters but have obtained a copy of Judge Bolton’s decision in United States of America v. State of Arizona, the most significant of the multiple litigations against the controversial Arizona Immigration law, known as SB 1070. In a nutshell, the most critical and important parts of the law have all been enjoined – i.e. have been stayed pending further litigation.

The full written decision is here.

The summary, as written by Judge Bolton, is:

Applying the proper legal standards based upon well-established precedent, the Court finds that the United States is likely to succeed on the merits in showing that the following Sections of S.B. 1070 are preempted by federal law:

Portion of Section 2 of S.B. 1070 – A.R.S. § 11-1051(B): requiring that an officer make a reasonable attempt to determine the immigration status of a person stopped, detained or arrested if there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is unlawfully present in the United States, and requiring verification of the immigration status of any person arrested prior to releasing that person

Section 3 of S.B. 1070 – A.R.S. § 13-1509: creating a crime for the failure to apply for or carry alien registration papers

Portion of Section 5 of S.B. 1070 – A.R.S. § 13-2928(C): creating a crime for an unauthorized alien to solicit, apply for, or perform work

Section 6 of S.B. 1070 – A.R.S. § 13-3883(A)(5): authorizing the warrantless arrest of a person where there is probable cause to believe the person has committed a public offense that makes the person removable from the United States

The Court also finds that the United States is likely to suffer irreparable harm if the Court does not preliminarily enjoin enforcement of these Sections of S.B. 1070 and that the balance of equities tips in the United States’ favor considering the public interest. The Court therefore issues a preliminary injunction enjoining the enforcement of the portion of Section 2 creating A.R.S. § 11-1051(B), Section 3 creating A.R.S. § 13-1509, the portion of Section 5 creating A.R.S. § 13-2928(C), and Section 6 creating A.R.S. § 13-3883(A)(5).

The decision is very well taken and written. It should be noted that this is not a final decision on the merits, but only a ruling on questions of preliminary injunction on enforcement of the law. While Bolton has not enjoined the entire law, what she has done effectively guts any ability of the State of Arizona and its law enforcement agents to utilize the statute for the purpose intended.

I will also note that I have known and had experience with Judge Bolton for the better part of two decades going back to her term as a Maricopa County Superior Court judge; she is bright and not a wild card in the least; reserved although not conservative. She writes sound decisions and is not prone to being overruled. For these reasons, and from a quick reading of her analysis here, I think she is on very solid ground and this decision bodes well for the future, both in the 9th Circuit and Supreme Court. Again, however, although this is a very good read as to where Judge Bolton will go in her final decision, there is still formal litigation on the merits to follow prior to reaching the appellate levels.

All in all a good day here at the Sandra Day O’Connor Federal Courthouse in Phoenix Arizona.


Final Jeopardy Answer: Something That Doesn’t Obstruct or Impede Justice

Alex, I’m going with – “What is getting a prosecutor fired for not complying with your political agenda?”

The investigation (not of the U. S. Attorney firings despite misleading headlines) into the Iglesias firing is done. bmaz is ready to change his name to Carnac and Holder’s Department of Justice has shot off a letter-ary masterpiece to  the House Judiciary Committee (HJC).  As per Carnac’s bmaz’s predictions, no charges.

What bmaz could not have predicted, but did link to in his post, is the actual content of the letter sent to Conyers.  I don’t think anyone would have predicted the cavalier way in which Holder’s DOJ reaches its seemingly predetermined decision, while providing a roadmap to other legislators who’d also like to get a prosecutor fired for political convenience. Dannehy and Holder explain to Members of Congress – if a Federal prosecutor isn’t filing or refraining from filing the cases you want, feel free to covertly conspire to get him fired. As long as you don’t make any misguided attempt to “influence” him before you get him fired, you’re good to go. Oh, and btw, phone calls to him at home to fume over his handling – not to worry, those doesn’t count as an attempt to influence.

Stripped and shorn, Holder and Dannehy have said –

1. We aren’t gonna investigate anything but Iglesias and we aren’t saying why:  “The investigative team also determined that the evidence did not warrant expanding the scope of the investigation beyond the removal of Iglesias.”

WHAT EVIDENCE? They freakin didn’t expand the scope of the investigation to see what evidence there was, then they decide, oh well, we don’t have any of the evidence we didn’t look for so we shouldn’t look for it since we don’t have it … whatever.

2. Hey, yeah, Domenici DID make a contact to smack on Iglesias about the handling of a matter currently in front of the USA’s office but:   “The evidence about the call developed in the course of Ms. Dannehy’s investigation, however, was insufficient to establish an attempt to pressure Mr. Iglesias to accelerate his charging decisions.”

So similar to the lack of intent to torture – I mean, if Domenici in good faith thought he was just gathering intel on the status of political prosecutions … um, let’s move on.

3. Instead of trying influence Iglesias, Holder and Dannehy think that Domenici *just* got Iglesias fired for not pursuing political bias in his prosecutions. “The weight of the evidence established not an attempt to influence but rather an attempt to remove David Iglesias from office, in other words, to eliminate the possibility of any future action or inaction by him.”

4. This, they say, is fine. Seriously. They say there’s nothing DOJ can do about it. It’s no problem for politicians to get DOJ lawyers fired for not being political lapdogs. But to be fair, they then finish up by saying both, “In closing, it is important to emphasize that Attorney General Holder is committed to ensuring that partisan political considerations play no role in the law enforcement decisions of the Department” and (bc that wasn’t really the closing after all) “The Attorney General remains deeply dismayed by the OIG/OPR findings related to politicization of the Department’s actions, and has taken steps to ensure those mistakes will not be repeated.”

HUH? They’ve just said it is perfectly legal for politicians to get USAs who won’t do their political bidding fired by covert contacts with the WH, but Holder is  “committed” to ensuring partisan political considerations play no role at DOJ? WTH?  I guess if you put those two concepts together and held them in your mind for long, you’d end up committed too.

5. Anyway, they pull all of this off by giving a Bybee-esque review of “18 U.S.C. § 1503 [that] punishes anyone [at least, anyone the DOJ selectively decides to prosecute] who ‘corruptly . . . influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice.” It’s a simple thing – according to Holder and Dannehy,  Domenici didn’t try to “influence” Iglesias, he just had Iglesias fired.   Which obviously isn’t an attempt to obstruct or impede.  I mean, there’s nothing that *doesn’t impede* a case like getting the prosecutor handling it fired.

They also explain to us that they can’t go after Domenici for trying to get, then getting, Iglesias fired – at least, not under 18 USC 1503, because that section “penalizes only forward-looking conduct.” So Domenici would have to be doing something that would involve forward-looking conduct. And after all, as they just said (see 3 above) Domenici wasn’t trying “in other words, to eliminate the possibility of any future action or inaction by [Iglesias].” Oh, except for, you know, they actually say in the letter that’s exactly what Domenici WAS doing. Trying to affect future action or inaction – in a forward-looking way with his forward-looking conduct.

This clarifies so many things.  Who knew, until now, that the only person who got things right during the Saturday Night Massacre was Robert Bork?

Nixon wrote the first act in DOJ’s current play (which is only fair, since he also wrote their anthem that it’s not illegal if the President does it) when he arranged for the firing of prosecutors who were bugging him, but in response to a livid Congressional response, using words like impeachment and obstruction, said:

“…[I]n all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice. And I think, too, that I can say that in my years of public life that I’ve welcomed this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their President’s a crook. Well, I’m not a crook!”

And now Dannehy and Holder have made that chapter and verse – nothing wrong with firing some prosecutors if they aren’t playing politics.  Poor Karl Rove – so much trouble could have been avoided if he had just known that a Democratic administration’s DOJ would take the position that it would be perfectly ok for him to get Bush to fire Fitzgerald (something that apparently made even Buscho lawyers Gonzales and Miers flinch) – no obstruction, no impeding – as long as Rove never tried to “influence” the prosecutor first.

And now DOJ prosecutors now know exactly how things work. It’s been spelled out. No one will try to influence them. It’s just that if they aren’t making Obama’s favorite politicians and fundraisers happy, well – their career may have a little accident.

With AGeewhiz’s like Holder,  we can rest easy.  Gonzales may have been afraid to come out and state DOJ’s policy plainly. He never quite coughed out the admission that it is DOJ policy that Republican Senators who conspire with the Republican WH to get prosecutors fired for not carrying out the Republican Senator’s political agenda are acting well within their rights. Holder is not nearly so timid.  He’s spelled it out. Prosecutors are fair game for Congresspersons, at least those with the right WH ties.

I guess we should be grateful he hasn’t handed out paintball guns to Democratic legislators and encouraged them to mark the weak links in his legal herd – the ones that haven’t been compliant enough to keep their jobs.

At least, not yet.

And besides, haven’t we already learned what Holder just told Conyers in that letter?

Firing the Republicans in 2006 and 2008 didn’t impede or obstruct the attacks on the rule of law one little bit.

Update: On the good news front – Happy Day fatster!


Shocking Result In Dannehy US Attorney Purgegate Scandal!

As several folks have noticed in comments, the results are in from the Nick and Nora Dannehy DOJ investigation into the US Attorney firings by the Bush/Cheney Administration. And, shockingly, the Obama/Holder Department of Justice just cannot find any conduct, not one single instance, worthy of criminal prosecution.

From the official six page letter from DOJ Main’s AAG, Ronald Welch, making the belated and pitiful report to Judiciary Chairman John Conyers,

This supplements our earlier response to your letter of October 2, 2008, which requested information about the appointment of Assistant United States Attorney Nora R. Dannehy of the District of Connecticut to detennine if criminal charges are warranted based on certain findings in the public report of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) (collectively OIG/OPR) entitled “An Investigation into the Removal of Nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006” (Report). We are sending identical responses to the other Members who joined in your letter to us. As more fully explained below, Ms. Dannehy has detennined that no criminal charges are warranted with respect to this matter.

…..

In closing, it is important to emphasize that Attorney General Holder is committed to ensuring that partisan political considerations play no role in the law enforcement decisions of the Department. In this instance, Ms. Dannehy, a long time career prosecutor, was asked only to assess the possible criminality of the actions described in the OIG/OPR report, to conduct such additional investigation as necessary to make that assessment, and to determine whether anyone made prosecutable false statements to Congress or OIG/OPR. The Attorney General appreciates the work of Ms. Dannehy and her investigative team and has accepted her recommendation that criminal prosecution is not warranted.

The Attorney General remains deeply dismayed by the OIG/OPR findings related to politicization of the Department’s actions, and has taken steps to ensure those mistakes will not be repeated. The Attorney General also appreciates the work of the Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility on this matter.

We hope that this information is helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact this office if we can provide additional assistance regarding this or any other matter.

The whole letter is here and speaks for itself if you care to read it.

This is entirely what anybody with a lick of sense should have expected from the forward looking modus operandi of the Obama Administration. The one note I would make is that Dannehy’s “investigation” was never a full fledged inquiry into the entire matter; the focus was set at, and remained, on David Iglesias’ complaint, which was not phrased all that compellingly by Iglesias to start with, and was further muddled by the antics of Scott Bloch. Little but lip service was given to the remainder of the sordid picture of Purgegate. You might remember Scott Bloch, the “professional” Iglesias was so sure would do the right thing and get to the bottom of the abuse engendered upon Iglesias.

In other news, the Obama/Holder DOJ recently announced they have no problem with Scott Bloch getting off with probation on his criminal plea of guilt.

The Obama White House loves tidy little packages, and they have clearly wrapped one up here. Any more questions about how the big John Durham “preliminary review” will come out?

Coming late in the day (h/t Fatster) is the somewhat weak and ineffectual response from Judiciary Chairman John Conyers. Acceptance and resignation continue to rule the day. Every day.


Another Obama Recess Appointment For Someone Not Named Johnsen

President Obama has announced yet another recess appointment; the courtesy and propriety that he would not give to Dawn Johnsen:

President Barack Obama, frustrated by Republican obstruction of key administration staffing appointments, will use his power to appoint his pick to run Medicare and Medicaid while the U.S. Congress is in recess, the White House said on Tuesday.

Obama will make the appointment on Wednesday of Dr. Donald Berwick, a healthcare expert he nominated in April to run the vast federal medical programs for poor and elderly Americans, according to White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer.

Obama has found the inner spine to recess appoint NLRB member Craig Becker along with 14 other people to a variety of positions from the DOJ to Treasury Department, has stated he will do so for militarized spook James Clapper (who neither side seems to like), and now Donald Berwick.

Obama seems to consider Berwick critical:

Berwick’s appointment as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) place him at the heart of Obama’s historic healthcare reform, and the role was too vital to leave unfilled, Pfeiffer said.

“CMS has been without a permanent administrator since 2006, and even many Republicans have called on the Administration to move to quickly to name a permanent head,” he said.

Dan Pfeiffer and the White House are full of dung. If “many Republicans” were clamoring for his nominee, even a couple in the Senate, he would not need to recess appoint. What is truly stunning though is that Obama considers this position critical, but not the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, the body that is supposed to be the legal conscience of an administration. Equally galling is the fact the White House trots out the excuse that “CMS has been without a permanent administrator since 2006”. Four years is too long for CMS, but six years is no problem for the critical Office of Legal Counsel? Really?

As I have repeatedly explained and demonstrated with facts and evidence, Barack Obama had 60 votes for confirmation of Dawn Johnsen to head OLC for the entire second half of last year and sat on her nomination, refusing to even call a vote. The fact that Obama flat out refused to even consider a recess nomination for Dawn Johnsen to an office dying for real leadership, and that he will use the recess appointment power anywhere and everywhere else, ought to be proof to any doubters that the sole reason Dawn Johnsen is not leading the OLC is because Barack Obama did not want her there.

For a President intent on granting retroactive FISA immunity to criminally complicit telecoms, asserting endless claims of “state secrecy” to cover up crimes of the Bush/Cheney Administration, suppressing torture photos, tapes and evidence, ordering the indefinite detentions without trial or due process and ordering the extra-judicial assassination of remote targets (including American citizens), well I guess a person of Dawn Johnsen’s morals and ethics indeed might not be convenient. Even given that, why did the White House engage in such crass duplicity with the country and hang Dawn Johnsen out to dry for so long? Why won’t anybody ask that question of them and demand a legitimate answer?


Are DOJ and DOI Making A Competent Legal Effort On Gulf Moratorium?

Exactly one week ago, in a post entitled Judicial Ethics in the Gulf: Judge Feldman’s Conflicts and DOJ Malpractice, I related the patently obvious, and disqualifying, statutory ethical conflicts on the part of the Federal judge in the Eastern District of Louisiana, Martin Feldman, who made the curious and shocking decision to stay enforcement of the Obama Administration’s six month deepwater moratorium. As I pointed out, it legally was somewhat astounding the government did not raise Feldman’s conflict at any opportunity:

With this knowledge in the public sphere at least substantially by the night after Feldman’s decision, the government nevertheless did not even mention it as a ground in their attempt to stay Feldman’s ruling at the district court level when they filed their motion to stay at the district court level late the following day. That motion was in front of Feldman himself, so maybe you could rationalize the government not raising it at that point (although I would have posed the motion to stay to the chief judge for the district and included the conflict as grounds for relief were it me).

Having predictably received no relief in their lame request for stay from Feldman, the judge who had just hammered them (not surprising), the government put their tails between their legs and made preparations to seek a stay from the 5th Circuit. Surely the government would forcefully argue the glaringly obvious egregious appearance of both conflict and lack of impartiality once they were free of Feldman and in the Fifth Circuit, right? No, no they didn’t.

When the government filed their motion for stay in the 5th Circuit mid to late day Friday June 25, a full three days after getting hammered by oiled up Judge Feldman, and after Feldman’s most recent 2009 financial disclosure had even started being released to the general public (as evidenced by the literally damning piece on it Rachel Maddow did Friday night), the government STILL did not avail themselves of the glaringly obvious argument of conflict by Feldman. Nary a peep from the fine lawyers at the DOJ on one of the most stunningly obvious arguments of judicial bias in recent memory.

Another week later, and there STILL is no peep from the government on an issue that would be critical to reinstating their moratorium if they really wanted to. But while the government lawyers refuse to zealously litigate the position they claim to support, intervenors represented a by law school clinic professor and two lawyers for environmental groups have done the work the government should have done. On Friday June 2, Defendant-Intervenors filed a Motion to Disqualify Feldman in the district trial court and properly noticed the record at the 5th Circuit.

From the D-I Motion to Disqualify:

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455, Defendant-Intervenors Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Florida Wildlife Federation, Center for Biological Diversity, and Natural Resources Defense Council (collectively “Defenders”) respectfully move this Court to disqualify itself from proceedings in this case.

As detailed more fully in Defenders’ memorandum in support of this motion, the Court must recuse itself for two distinct and independent reasons. First, the Court’s financial holdings in various companies involved in oil and gas drilling raise in an objective mind a reasonable question concerning the Court’s impartiality in these proceedings, triggering the obligation under 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) for the court to disqualify itself. This obligation is not mitigated by the Court’s sale of some of this stock prior to the issuance of the preliminary injunction on June 22, 2010 since, prior to that time the Court must have formed substantive opinions about the case from both the briefs filed by the parties and the hearing on June 21. The Court owns and/or recently has owned an interest in several companies that comprise part of the network that supports the Gulf’s oil and gas industry. To rule that the moratorium would injure irreparably a network in which the Court was financially invested creates an impermissible appearance of partiality in the mind of a reasonable observer, which is enough to trigger the duty to recuse under § 455(a).

So, hats off to attorney Catherine Wannamaker and her clients the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife, David Guest of Earthjustice for Florida Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club and Professor Adam Babich of Tulane Law School’s Environmental Law Center also for the Sierra Club. These intrepid intervenors are doing the job the government lawyers should be doing, but curiously refuse to do.

But this is not the only instance of highly suspect lawyering by the DOJ and DOI attorneys handling the Hornbeck litigation on the six month moratorium. There is also the government’s failure to meaningfully address the critical case Feldman used to craft his contorted ruling. As I said a week ago:

Furthermore, the legal eagles at the DOJ and DOI failed to effectively address and contradict Judge Feldman’s reliance on the case of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association V. State Farm Insurance, 463 U. S. 29 (1983), which Feldman contorted and misapplied to wrongfully reach his result.

Here is Feldman’s opinion/order staying the Administration’s six month moratorium. Here is the decision in Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association v. State Farm that Feldman used to contort the playing field in the direction he wanted. A reading of Feldman’s decision coupled with a close reading of State Farm reveals the clear distinction and contrast between the two situations and why the State Farm decision does not operate in the fashion Feldman claims.

State Farm is remarkably ill applied by Feldman. First off, and most obviously, State Farm reaffirms the proper standard of review, namely that any competent evidence in the agency record mandates upholding the agency determination (in this case the moratorium). Feldman, of course, did a complete end run of this standard. The government, in their respective motions for stay at the district and 5th Circuit, did at least make a halfhearted argument on Feldman violating the standard of review, although they completely fail to use his own linchpin State Farm case against him as would have been appropriate under the circumstances.

Beyond that though, and much more significantly, State Farm delves into a situation where the agency in question there (NHTSA) completely rescinded a rule deemed by the court to be in the interest of protecting the public, and did so without an arguable basis for completely removing the protection to the public. Put more plainly, the government agency in the State Farm situation was harming the public with no viable explanation for the action.

The Court in State Farm found such action – harming the public sector the agency was tasked with protecting instead of helping it – to be directly contrary to the mission and task of the that agency. That logic and framing certainly does NOT apply in the least to the Interior Department’s action in the instant case to impose a six month moratorium where it is crystal clear that the regulatory structure and practices of the oil and gas extraction industry are incapable of protecting the public and environmental welfare. Not to mention that the Department has asserted that their entire array of resources is being consumed entirely by the BP Macondo leak and it is an emergency scenario they are operating under.

In the instant case, Interior was acting exactly within their mission and task to protect the public in relation to mineral exploration and removal, and was not rescinding a rule to protect the public, it enacting a rule – a temporary delay – in order to immediately protect the environment and public, and determine how to better protect the public in the future. There is simply no way to read State Farm as being consistent with the way Feldman applied it to the instant case; in fact a proper scrutiny of State Farm demonstrates that it quite arguable actually supports the government’s agency decision on the moratorium.

But if you review the subsequent motions by the government by and through their attorneys at the DOJ and DOI linked above (and here and here for convenience), they barely address the State Farm decision Feldman used to leverage his entire decision. It is almost beyond belief that a competent lawyer truly zealously and appropriately fighting to restore the moratorium would fail to attack Feldman’s use and abuse of State Farm.

So, if the Obama Administration and Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar truly believe in the propriety of their six month moratorium, and are dedicated to fighting through appeal for it, why are their lawyers not acting like it? Are they really not trying because they really don’t care, or are they just sloppy and incompetent? It is one or the other.

Oh, and the 5th Circuit is moving things right along. The 5th Circuit told the Hornbeck and related moratorium challengers to file briefs on the stay issue by Friday July 2. Hornbeck filed a brief, as did, quite astoundingly, Senator Mary Landrieu against the government and in favor of oil companies. The government must reply by July 6, if it wishes. The Court set a one-hour hearing for the afternoon of July 8, in New Orleans and said no delays will be granted.


Obama Administration Follows Bush/Cheney On Politicization Of DOJ

Remember the plaintive cries of Democrats and progressives about the wrongful politicization of the Department of Justice by the Bush/Cheney Administration? Remember the stunning chart Sheldon Whitehouse whipped out at a Senate judiciary hearing on Alberto Gonzales’ tenure as AG showing how politicized the hallowed independent prosecutorial discretion of the DOJ had become under Bush, Cheney and Gonzales? The one that Pat Leahy called “the most astounding thing I have seen in 32 years”?

That was in late April of 2007, little more than three years ago. Despite the most fervent hope of a Democratic and progressive base that they were voting to change the wholesale invasion of the prosecutorial discretion by the White House political shop (along with so, so many other things), it appears little has changed. In fact, the invasion of province appears to be being writ larger and more profound. From Jerry Markon in the Washington Post:

Now, the decision on where to hold the high-profile trials of Mohammed and four others accused of being Sept. 11 conspirators has been put on hold and probably will not be made until after November’s midterm elections, according to law enforcement, administration and congressional sources. In an unusual twist, the matter has been taken out of the hands of the Justice Department officials who usually make prosecutorial decisions and rests entirely with the White House, the sources said.

“It’s a White House call,” said one law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “We’re all in the dark.”

The delays are tied to the administration’s broader difficulties in closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — where Mohammed and the other detainees are held — and are unlikely to affect the outcome of a trial that officials vow will be held at some point. But people on all sides of the debate over whether Mohammed should be tried in federal court or before a military commission expressed frustration that nearly nine years after Sept. 11, justice for the attacks seems so elusive.

“It’s important that these trials actually take place, and soon,” said Jameel Jaffer, director of the national security project at the American Civil Liberties Union, which has long pushed for the trials to be held in federal court. “It’s not just that people held for long periods of time in government custody deserve to contest the evidence against them. It’s also that these trials are important to the country.”

For all the hope and change, nothing has changed. Toying with the root charging and prosecutorial functions and discretion of the Department of Justice as a way to respond to the prevailing political winds is a craven path for the Obama Administration to take. And hanging Attorney General Eric Holder and his Department out to dry in those winds is despicable political and executive cowardice.

So, on this fine Fourth of July, as we celebrate America’s independence and reflect on our founding principles, it would be wise to remember, and refresh the recollection of the Obama Administration, that this is a nation of law, not men. Both the government and court system of the United States are open and operating unfettered by either war, hostility or rebellion. There is no justification, legal or moral, for indefinite detention, failure to charge and try criminals openly and fairly, without tortured evidence, and the other string of hideous denials of due process being occasioned in our name.

It is instructive to reflect back on the wisdom of ancestors past, also confronted with novel legal challenges, and at a time (unlike today) when the literal existence of the United States had been in question from the Civil War, as expressed by the Supreme Court in Ex Parte Milligan:

Time has proven the discernment of our ancestors, for even these provisions, expressed in such plain English words that it would seem the ingenuity of man could not evade them, are now, after the lapse of more than seventy years, sought to be avoided. Those great and good men foresaw that troublous times would arise when rulers and people would become restive under restraint, and seek by sharp and decisive measures to accomplish ends deemed just and proper, and that the principles of constitutional liberty would be in peril unless established by irrepealable law. The history of the world had taught them that what was done in the past might be attempted in the future. The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times and under all circumstances. No doctrine involving more pernicious consequences was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government. Such a doctrine leads directly to anarchy or despotism, but the theory of necessity on which it is based is false, for the government, within the Constitution, has all the powers granted to it which are necessary to preserve its existence, as has been happily proved by the result of the great effort to throw off its just authority.

……

All other persons, citizens of states where the courts are open, if charged with crime, are guaranteed the inestimable privilege of trial by jury. This privilege is a vital principle, underlying the whole administration of criminal justice; it is not held by sufferance, and cannot be frittered away on any plea of state or political necessity. When peace prevails, and the authority of the government is undisputed, there is no difficulty of preserving the safeguards of liberty, for the ordinary modes of trial are never neglected, and no one wishes it otherwise; but if society is disturbed by civil commotion — if the passions of men are aroused and the restraints of law weakened, if not disregarded — these safeguards need, and should receive, the watchful care of those intrusted with the guardianship of the Constitution and laws. In no other way can we transmit to posterity unimpaired the blessings of liberty, consecrated by the sacrifices of the Revolution.

The courts and government of the United States of America are open and unfettered. It is time for the Obama Administration to quit frittering away the American foundation of law to the whims and winds of personal electoral desire and perceived political necessity. There can be no greater show of strength and character than to demonstrate to the world that we live and die with the principles we were founded with. Put the September 11th defendants on trial where they belong, as criminals in the Article III Federal court of jurisdiction.


Judicial Ethics in the Gulf: Judge Feldman’s Conflicts and DOJ Malpractice

Last week Federal district court judge Matin Feldman of the Eastern District of Louisiana (EDLA), in what has become a controversial decision, overturned the six month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling imposed by the Department of the Interior. It was a legally curious decision to start with as it, on its face, appeared to be contrary to the well established standard of review.

Almost immediately from the time Judge Feldman’s decision hit the public conscience, information on Feldman’s undisclosed (at least on the case record at issue) financial ties to the oil and gas exploration industry started coming out of the woodwork. From Saturday’s Washington Post:

The federal judge who presided over a challenge to the Obama administration’s six-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling simultaneously owned stock in an oil company affected by the ban, according to a financial disclosure statement released Friday.

U.S. District Judge Martin L.C. Feldman sold the stock in Exxon Mobil 14 days after the case was filed in New Orleans by a group of oil service firms — and less than five hours before he struck down the moratorium.

Feldman said in a statement elaborating on the disclosure that he was unaware of his holdings in Exxon Mobil and a smaller oil company until 9:45 p.m. Monday, the day before he issued his ruling.

“Because he remembered that Exxon, who was not a party litigant in the moratorium case, nevertheless had one of the 33 rigs in the Gulf, the judge instructed his broker to sell Exxon and XTO [Energy Inc.] as soon as the market opened the next morning,” according to a statement released by his chambers and reported by Bloomberg News.

Even before this latest disclosure, Feldman was criticized by environmental groups and others for not recusing himself from the case. The groups pointed to his 2008 disclosure form, which showed that he had invested in companies involved in offshore oil and gas exploration.

So Judge Feldman not only held numerous oil and gas interest stocks, but was trading them up to and including the morning of his fateful decision, and doing so out of an admitted realization that he had an appearance of ethical conflict. Feldman owned and was trading Exxon stock, a company whose Gulf of Mexico rigs were losing money at the rate of a half million dollars a day due to the moratorium, during the entire time he was assigned the case. Yet, failing to disclose his appearance of conflict on the record or recuse, Feldman nevertheless proceeded to issue a questionable decision clearly benefitting the oil and exploration industry he is so invested in.

Lest there be any confusion that perhaps Judge Feldman somehow put himself in the clear by suddenly selling off his holdings in Exxon on the morning of June 22 just hours before issuing his surprising opinion contrary to normal standards of review for such issues, keep in mind the subject case of Hornbeck Offshore Services et. al v. Salazar had been assigned to Feldman for two weeks and, significantly, the adversarial hearing the opinion resulted from actually occurred the day prior, June 21, while Feldman obviously still held the stock even he considered an ethical issue.

Even more distressing is the fact that it has now been revealed from Judge Feldman’s 2009 financial disclosure, literally just filed and only released this week after demand resulting from his questionable ruling, that Feldman is very heavily invested in Blackrock Financial products. Blackrock is, of course, the single biggest shareholder in BP. As the New York Times put it:

No single institution has more money riding on BP than BlackRock, the money management firm that is BP’s largest shareholder.

Well that certainly sounds like reason to pause, eh? There are two sources of guidance for federal judges such as Feldman in instances like this, the statutory guidance of 28 USC 455 and the Code of Conduct for United States Judges contained within the Guide to Judiciary Policy of the US Courts. Both sets of provisions yield the same guidance, so I will focus on the statutory provision as it is more specific and would appear to take precedence; 28 USC 455 provides inter alia:

(a) Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.
(b) He shall also disqualify himself in the following circumstances:

(1) Where he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding;
(2) Where in private practice he served as lawyer in the matter in controversy, or a lawyer with whom he previously practiced law served during such association as a lawyer concerning the matter, or the judge or such lawyer has been a material witness concerning it;
(3) Where he has served in governmental employment and in such capacity participated as counsel, adviser or material witness concerning the proceeding or expressed an opinion concerning the merits of the particular case in controversy;
(4) He knows that he, individually or as a fiduciary, or his spouse or minor child residing in his household, has a financial interest in the subject matter in controversy or in a party to the proceeding, or any other interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding;
(5) He or his spouse, or a person within the third degree of relationship to either of them, or the spouse of such a person:

(i) Is a party to the proceeding, or an officer, director, or trustee of a party;
(ii) Is acting as a lawyer in the proceeding;
(iii) Is known by the judge to have an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding;
(iv) Is to the judge’s knowledge likely to be a material witness in the proceeding.
(c) A judge should inform himself about his personal and fiduciary financial interests, and make a reasonable effort to inform himself about the personal financial interests of his spouse and minor children residing in his household.
(d) For the purposes of this section the following words or phrases shall have the meaning indicated:
(1) “proceeding” includes pretrial, trial, appellate review, or other stages of litigation;
(2) the degree of relationship is calculated according to the civil law system;
(3) “fiduciary” includes such relationships as executor, administrator, trustee, and guardian;
(4) “financial interest” means ownership of a legal or equitable interest, however small, or a relationship as director, adviser, or other active participant in the affairs of a party, except that:
(i) Ownership in a mutual or common investment fund that holds securities is not a “financial interest” in such securities unless the judge participates in the management of the fund;
(ii) An office in an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization is not a “financial interest” in securities held by the organization;
(iii) The proprietary interest of a policyholder in a mutual insurance company, of a depositor in a mutual savings association, or a similar proprietary interest, is a “financial interest” in the organization only if the outcome of the proceeding could substantially affect the value of the interest;
(iv) Ownership of government securities is a “financial interest” in the issuer only if the outcome of the proceeding could substantially affect the value of the securities.
(Emphasis added).

A comparison of the strictures of 28 USC 455, especially those I have highlighted, with the conduct of Judge Martin Feldman cannot lead to any conclusion other than Judge Feldman has acted in violation of his ethical obligations. The standard under 28 USC 455 is recusal if there is even a question regarding the appearance of impartiality. Common practice in Federal courts dictates that, even where there are underlying facts that may mitigate a judge’s duty to recuse, there is an affirmative duty imposed on the judge to disclose and explain on the record.

The evidence to date is that Judge Feldman neither recused nor disclosed and, in fact, was surreptitiously scurrying around selling interests after two weeks of having the case, and a day after presiding over the crucial hearing in the matter, in some kind of attempt to cleanse himself prior to the formality of making his decision public.

Even if Feldman did not learn about his stock holding in Exxon until the last minute, which appears to be his claim, the proper course would have been to recuse or delay until full disclosure could be made and waiver by the parties obtained if they were so willing. Instead, Feldman rushed to secretly sell his stock and then slammed out his decision favoring oil interests over the judgment of the responsible administration agency and the health of the environment for the Gulf of Mexico and the planet earth. This is an atrocious and unsavory set of facts on the part of Judge Martin Feldman and goes far beyond the “appearance of impropriety or conflict”. It is hard to see how a reviewing court, in this case the 5th Circuit, could let this stand.

Which brings us to the second part of the title caption, the conduct of the government lawyers, notably the ever present DOJ. As I intimated in my initial post last Tuesday immediately after Judge Feldman’s opinion was released to the public, the public protestations to the contrary, you have to wonder whether the Obama Administration’s heart is really in defending their six month moratorium. First off, the Perry Masons at the DOJ appear to have violated one of the prime directives of trial lawyers, know your judge. If the DOJ researched Judge Feldman and knew his personal holdings in Gulf oil stocks and dependent interests, they sure did not evidence it or act accordingly. If they did not so research and know and understand Feldman’s conflicts and prejudices, they are incompetent. Either way, there is a serious cloud of questions over the government’s lawyering effort in Hornbeck Offshore Services et. al v. Salazar.

The cloud of questions was already present as of a couple of hours after Feldman issued his ruling. In addition to the aforementioned failure to know and address their judge by the DOJ, there was the issue of how the responsible lawyers for the government permitted briefing to be submitted in Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s name misrepresenting the nature of the concurrence of the panel of seven experts that Feldman used to excoriate the government. As I explained in the earlier post linked above, that should not have been used as the basis Feldman creatively and manipulatively used it for; nevertheless it was flat out bad, if not incompetent, lawyering by the DOJ to not clean that up before arguing as their centerpiece in defending against Plaintiff Hornbeck et. al’s attack.

But from almost the second Fedman’s decision was issued, the issue of his conflicts was percolating as described above, and getting stronger and more egregious by the day. With this knowledge in the public sphere at least substantially by the night after Feldman’s decision, the government nevertheless did not even mention it as a ground in their attempt to stay Feldman’s ruling at the district court level when they filed their motion to stay at the district court level late the following day. That motion was in front of Feldman himself, so maybe you could rationalize the government not raising it at that point (although I would have posed the motion to stay to the chief judge for the district and included the conflict as grounds for relief were it me).

Having predictably received no relief in their lame request for stay from Feldman, the judge who had just hammered them (not surprising), the government put their tails between their legs and made preparations to seek a stay from the 5th Circuit. Surely the government would forcefully argue the glaringly obvious egregious appearance of both conflict and lack of impartiality once they were free of Feldman and in the Fifth Circuit, right? No, no they didn’t.

When the government filed their motion for stay in the 5th Circuit mid to late day Friday June 25, a full three days after getting hammered by oiled up Judge Feldman, and after Feldman’s most recent 2009 financial disclosure had even started being released to the general public (as evidenced by the literally damning piece on it Rachel Maddow did Friday night), the government STILL did not avail themselves of the glaringly obvious argument of conflict by Feldman. Nary a peep from the fine lawyers at the DOJ on one of the most stunningly obvious arguments of judicial bias in recent memory. Furthermore, the legal eagles at the DOJ and DOI failed to effectively address and contradict Judge Feldman’s reliance on the case of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association V. State Farm Insurance, 463 U. S. 29 (1983), which Feldman contorted and misapplied to wrongfully reach his result (I will likely come back to the absurdity and contorted error in Judge Feldman’s decision in this regard at a later date).

Feldman was required by both statutory and ethical considerations to recuse himself; at a absolute base minimum to disclose his appearances of conflict on the record; but he did neither. Any competent standard of lawyering would mandate the government to raise the issue if they are going to competently fight Feldman’s ruling; but they have not, and they have engaged in other consistently questionable lawyering on this case as well.

The public ought to be asking what in the world is going on here. On all fronts.


Obama Monty Hall To Give Lovely Parting Gifts To BP Death Victims

The title pretty much tells the tale. It was just stated on The Ed Schultz Show on MSNBC that:

Family of 11 victims of the Deep Horizon explosion to visit White House next week.

Well, that is just swell.

On the day a forlorn paucity of the media belatedly report on the deceptive collusion that the US Government and BP have been sitting on physical evidence, and factual conclusions drawn therefrom, contained in the full set of video feeds they both have been viewing from the outset of the BP Macondo/Deepwater Horizon blow out, we learn the White House is suddenly going to submit to external pressure and grant the victims of the BP/Deepwater Horizon homicides a walkby meet and greet ceremonial dog and pony show. After nearly two weeks of the victims screaming they have been forgotten, the audience has been approved from on high.

How refreshing. I hope the bereaved at least get an official White House coffee cup and Presidential keychain for their participation.

This is just wrong. It is not wrong for Obama to meet with the relatives and next of kin to the wrongfully deceased of an American natural disaster. It is wrong they had to beg for it, wrong it is being sold like a new product release, and wrong it is used as a convenient image makeover for an Obama Administration recalcitrant to treat mass scale criminal, and wholesale recklessly wanton environmental behavior as what it really is.

Think this is an exaggeration? Just wait and watch. Let me know when there is individual criminal liability where it belongs, as opposed to an inbred with the corporate culture, wink and nod plea and fine scheme in collusion with BP, Transocean, Halliburton and/or their powerful lobbyists. You know, criminal prosecution of the truly criminally negligent actors and authorities. The ones making the imminently foreseeable, cold, craven and disastrous decisions precipitating the needless death of eleven souls and the biggest environmental disaster in the history of the United States. Not the kind of cozy package deal the US government is known for giving BP when they have wreaked wholesale death and environmental destruction.

I do not presume to speak for the Deepwater deceased and their survivors; but I find it hard to believe they would not rather the President and American government show they will no longer accept the absent regulatory effort, coddling of profit before morals corporate greed, and “looking forward” blind ignorance of accountability for dereliction and destruction of the ethos we should, and claim to, stand for. The dead and their relatives are entitled to better than is given the latest basketball team to win a championship.

Mr. Obama, show the victims of the negligent homicide at Deepwater Horizon you have something more than meager food for souls forgot.

[Graphic from Rachel Maddow Show via Jalopnik]


UN Special Rapporteur Condemns America’s Killer Drones

One of last Friday’s big stories somewhat lost in the hustle and focus on the BP Gulf oil disaster and the holiday weekend concerned the continuing outrage of the US drone targeted assassination program. Specifically, Charlie Savage’s report at the New York Times that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston, was expected to issue a report calling on the United States to stop Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes thus “complicating the Obama administration’s growing reliance on that tactic in Pakistan”.

Today, the report is out, and Charlie Savage again brings the details in the Times:

A senior United Nations official said on Wednesday that the growing use of armed drones by the United States to kill terrorism suspects is undermining global constraints on the use of military force. He warned that the American example will lead to a chaotic world as the new weapons technology inevitably spreads.

In a 29-page report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the official, Philip Alston,the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, called on the United States to exercise greater restraint in its use of drones in places like Pakistan and Yemen, outside the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. The report — the most extensive effort by the United Nations to grapple with the legal implications of armed drones — also proposed a summit of “key military powers” to clarify legal limits on such killings.

In an interview, Mr. Alston, said the United States appears to think that it is “facing a unique threat from transnational terrorist networks” that justifies its effort to put forward legal justifications that would make the rules “as flexible as possible.”

Here is Alson’s official report.

Interestingly, Alston’s report comes hot on the heels of the news the biggest get yet for the Obama drone assassination program, Al-Qaida Number Three (or at least the latest Number Three) Mustafa Abu al-Yazid. But Alston, although indicating that al-Yazid migh could be distinguished because of the direct al-Qaida status, nevertheless expressed reservations even is such situations.

For example, it criticized the United States for targeting drug lords in Afghanistan suspected of giving money to the Taliban, a policy it said was contrary to the traditional understanding of the laws of war. Similarly, it said, terrorism financiers, propagandists and other non-fighters should face criminal prosecution, not summary killing.

It also said that a targeted killing outside of an armed conflict “is almost never likely to be legal.” In particular, it rejected “pre-emptive self-defense” as a justification for killing terrorism suspects far from combat zones.

“This expansive and open-ended interpretation of the right to self-defense goes a long way towards destroying the prohibition on the use of armed force contained in the U.N. Charter,” Mr. Alston said. “If invoked by other states, in pursuit of those they deem to be terrorists and to have attacked them, it would cause chaos.”

Alston’s concerns are especially troubling considering Charlie Savage’s first NY Times report in last Friday’s print edition on the quiet efforts of the Obama Administration to insure its drone operators can never be prosecuted for the extrajudicial murders they commit. Describing surreptitious efforts to amend the Military Commissions Manual:

The Pentagon delayed issuing a 281-page manual laying out commission rules until the eve of the hearing. The reason, officials say, is that government lawyers had been scrambling to rewrite a section about murder because it has implications for the C.I.A. drone program.

An earlier version of the manual, issued in 2007 by the Bush administration, defined the charge of “murder in violation of the laws of war” as a killing by someone who did not meet “the requirements for lawful combatancy” — like being part of a regular army or otherwise wearing a uniform. Similar language was incorporated into a draft of the new manual.

But as the Khadr hearing approached, Harold Koh, the State Department legal adviser, pointed out that such a definition could be construed as a concession by the United States that C.I.A. drone operators were war criminals. Jeh Johnson, the Defense Department general counsel, and his staff ultimately agreed with that concern. They redrafted the manual so that murder by an unprivileged combatant would instead be treated like espionage — an offense under domestic law not considered a war crime.

All of which is not just distressing, but telling as to who the United States have become as a country. Made all the more sickening by the fact the extrajudicial assassination program has exacerbated geometrically under the short, but deadly, tenure of the supposedly enlightened Constitutional law authority Barack Obama.

The new rules have transformed the program from a narrow effort aimed at killing top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders into a large-scale campaign of airstrikes in which few militants are off-limits, as long as they are deemed to pose a threat to the U.S., the officials said.

Instead of just a few dozen attacks per year, CIA-operated unmanned aircraft now carry out multiple missile strikes each week against safe houses, training camps and other hiding places used by militants in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

The original NY Times article by Savage last Friday is an excellent piece on the drone program worthy of a read if you did not catch it at the start of the holiday weekend when it first was published.

Getting back to Philip Altson’s UN Special Rapporteur report, the wrath of the world against the US is growing not just from the existence of the program to start with, but by the indiscriminate “collateral damage the US wreaks with callous impunity. Overshadowed by the glee of the Obama Administration and the blinkered stenographic major media over the remote hit on al-Qaida Number Three al-Yazid was a concurrent report lost in the shuffle of that even US Military investigators have determined completely innocent Afghan citizens were being murdered by the Obama Killer Drones along with a pattern of deception trying to cover it up. From the AP via the Arizona Republic:

U.S. military investigators found that “inaccurate and unprofessional” reporting by U.S. operators of a Predator drone was responsible for a missile strike that killed 23 Afghan civilians in February, according to a report released Saturday.

Release of the scathing report is part of a U.S. effort to counter rising public anger over civilian deaths, which threatens to undermine the campaign against the Taliban at a critical juncture in the nearly nine-year war. Twelve other civilians including a woman and three children were wounded in the missile strike, the report said.

Four American officers – two described as senior – received career-damaging reprimands, the U.S. command said in a statement. The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, called on the Air Force to investigate the actions of the Predator crew.

Isn’t that special? Grossly wanton and willful work by American remote video gameboys leave a swath of death 23 innocent civilian souls wide and they have received some demerits on their record. The “operators’ of the drones, back in Nevada, where the video gameboys are shacked up, just somehow had never noticed any Afghani women and children in the cars, despite watching them for 3 1/2 hours. Not only had they not noticed women and children themselves, they didn’t notice warnings intelligence analysts sent to them that children were present and visible.

It is not a mistake, it is murder. But don’t try to tell that to US governmental officials:

That comment drew a response from a U.S. official: “Those who think we strike at terrorists over the objections of the Pakistani government are mistaken. This is a common fight against those who menace both our countries. That fact alone renders absurd the notion that U.S. officials might be tried in a Pakistani court for counterterrorism operations.

Yeah, just totally absurd. You give the CIA a huge budget, the whole world as a killing field, carte blanche to terminate human souls with prejudice, no duty to get individual Presidential authorization for each kill, put the President directly in the authorization to murder chain, remove all substantive accountability and then give them killer drones operated by jacked up video gameboys. What could possibly go wrong?

[Notice of erratum: Due to author error on my part, I incorrectly originally attributed two later block quotes in this post to the LA Times when they, in fact, came from Charlie Savage and the New York Times. The post has been corrected to reflect the same with my sincere apologies to Charlie.]


BP’s LMRP: Claws, Craws, Saws and Jaws

As you undoubtedly know by now, BP has failed miserably at every “fix” they have attempted so far. There is growing evidence of what a total sham exists in the craven use by BP of any number of subsidiaries to insulate itself from criminal and civil liability.

But right now the focus is on the ongoing LMRP attempt that BP now is warning could drag on from four days to a week. Many of you have been keeping up the monitoring of this back on the previous Top Hat and Tails: BP Has Yet Another “Solution” thread from Sunday. Please continue that discussion and reporting here.

One other thing I would like to point out; despite making a big dog and pony show of its commitment to speak with a single voice, Thad Allen, and quit making a media show of parading a series of Cabinet Officers down to the Gulf in a vain attempt to look like they are on top of things, the Obama Administration is …. wait for it …. making a media show of sending Attorney General Eric Holder down to the Gulf to make it look like they are on top of things. From Reuters:

Attorney General Eric Holder will survey the damage from the Gulf Coast oil spill on Tuesday and meet with federal prosecutors and state attorneys general, the Justice Department said on Monday.
…..
After a tour and briefing by the U.S. Coast Guard, Holder will meet with the state attorneys general from Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi as well as U.S. attorneys from those states. Holder is also scheduled to speak to reporters in New Orleans.

The Justice Department has already demanded that the companies involved in the spill, including BP Plc, Transocean Ltd and Halliburton Co to preserve paperwork related to the accident that could become part of an investigation.

Experts have said the Justice Department was likely eyeing potential violations of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Refuse Act.

Notice what is missing from that last paragraph? There is no mention of prosecution under the negligent and/or reckless provisions of the Federal manslaughter law for the eleven deaths occurring on Deepwater Horizon as a result of BP’s willful and wanton conduct. The article mentions the deaths, but the Obama Administration and Holder DOJ never does. When it comes to talk of potential accountability, it is like the eleven deaths never happened to the Obama Administration. But hey, there are business interests and military fuel contracts they must protect and, clearly, that takes precedence for this Administration.

[Graphic – BP: Broken Promises. Logo design by Foye 2010 submitted as part of the Art For Change BP Logo Redesign Contest and used with permission]

Copyright © 2022 emptywheel. All rights reserved.
Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/department-of-justice/page/23/