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Profile: Jack Balkin

Jack Balkin was a participant or observer in the following events:

In a second day of testimony (see January 17, 2007), Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that the president has always had the inherent authority to bypass or ignore statutory law if he is acting in the interest of national security. Gonzales is referring to a recent Bush administration decision to use a sympathetic FISC judge to sign off on the warrantless wiretapping program (see January 17, 2007). “We commenced down this road five years ago because of a belief that we could not do what we felt was necessary to protect this country under FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act],” Gonzales testifies. “That is why the president relied upon his inherent authority under the Constitution. My own judgment is, the president has shown maturity and wisdom here in this particular decision. He recognizes that there is an inherent reservoir of inherent power that belongs to every president. You use it only when you have to. In this case, we don’t have to [anymore].” Yale law professor Jack Balkin strenuously disagrees. He points to a “remarkable similarity between the administration’s behavior in the Padilla case (see October 9, 2005 and December 21, 2005) and its behavior here.… Once again, the goal is to prevent a court from stating clearly that the president acted illegally and that his theories of executive power are self-serving hokum.” Instead of going to Congress for the authority to conduct a warrantless wiretapping program, Balkin writes that the administration used FISA’s supposed deficiencies “as an excuse to disregard the law, so that it could make claims of unbridled presidential authority to ignore FISA.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 207-208; Jack Balkin, 1/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Senate Judiciary Committee, Jack Balkin, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), officially repudiates an OLC memo from seven years earlier claiming that the president has the unilateral authority to order military strikes or raids within the US (see October 23, 2001). “[C]aution should be exercised before relying in any respect” on the memo, Bradbury writes, and it “should not be treated as authoritative for any purpose.” The 2001 contention that the Fourth Amendment is, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant in the face of presidential authority “does not reflect the current views of this Office,” Bradbury writes. Another portion of that 2001 memo, the contention that the president can set aside First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of the press (see October 23, 2001), are no longer operative, Bradbury writes. Much of Bradbury’s memo is an attempt to explain and justify the 2001 memo by recalling the period of anxiety and disarray after the 9/11 attacks. [US Department of Justice, 10/6/2008 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] Yale law professor Jack Balkin will later note that the memo does not repudiate “any of the Bush administration’s specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation.” [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Steven Bradbury, Jack Balkin

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Steven Bradbury, the outgoing head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a legal opinion finding certain earlier opinions from the OLC invalid. Bradbury is referring to several memos issued by former OLC lawyers John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and others after the 9/11 attacks (see March 2, 2009).
'Doubtful Nature' - Bradbury writes that these opinions had not been relied upon since 2003, and notes that it is important to acknowledge in writing “the doubtful nature of these propositions.” The opinions “do not currently reflect, and have not for some years reflected, the views of the” OLC, Bradbury writes, “and on several occasions we have already acknowledged the doubtful nature of these propositions.”
President's Position - One portion of Bradbury’s memo says it is “not sustainable” to argue that the president’s power as commander in chief “precludes Congress from enacting any legislation concerning the detention, interrogation, prosecution, and transfer of enemy combatants.” Bradbury is referring to a 2002 memo that claimed President Bush could order the “rendition” of detainees to other countries without regard to Congressional legislation (see March 13, 2002).
'Novel and Complex Questions' - In repudiating the memos, Bradbury writes that they were the product of Yoo and others confronting what he calls “novel and complex questions in a time of great danger and under extraordinary time pressure.” [US Department of Justice, 1/15/2009 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009]
Response - Yale law professor Jack Balkin later notes that the memo does not repudiate “any of the Bush administration’s specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation.” [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009] In 2004, the Justice Department repudiated the so-called “golden shield” memo, written by Yoo and the then-chief counsel for Vice President Cheney, David Addington, which gave US personnel almost unlimited authority to torture prisoners (see August 1, 2002). The New York Times writes that Bradbury’s last-minute memo “appears to have been the Bush lawyers’ last effort to reconcile their views with the wide rejection by legal scholars and some Supreme Court opinions of the sweeping assertions of presidential authority made earlier by the Justice Department.” Walter Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, says that Bradbury’s memo “disclaiming the opinions of earlier Bush lawyers sets out in blunt detail how irresponsible those earlier opinions were.” Dellinger says it is important to note that the Bush administration’s assertions “that Congress had absolutely no role in these national security issues was contrary to constitutional text, historical practice, and judicial precedent.” [New York Times, 3/2/2009] Bradbury, who like Yoo and Bybee may face disbarment, is careful to note that while the legal opinions are invalid, he is not suggesting that the authors did not “satisfy” professional standards. [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Steven Bradbury, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), New York Times, Walter Dellinger, Jay S. Bybee, Jack Balkin, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Marty Lederman.Marty Lederman. [Source: Georgetown Law School]Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman, familiar to legal scholars and progressive bloggers for his work on the legal blog “Balkinization,” joins the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) as assistant attorney general. Lederman has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s policies on warrantless wiretapping and torture. Lederman’s boss, OLC chief Dawn Johnsen, has been a frequent “guest blogger” on Balkinization, as well as a contributor to Slate’s legal blog “Convictions.” Lederman’s colleague Jack Balkin writes: “Needless to say, I am very pleased for the country by Marty’s new job. I do not exaggerate when I say that Marty is one of the finest lawyers I know, and there is perhaps no better time to put his remarkable talents to use in helping to reform a Justice Department that so badly needs reform.” Lederman is taking the position formerly held by lawyer John Yoo during the first few years of the Bush administration. [Think Progress, 1/20/2009; Balkinization, 1/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Martin (“Marty”) Lederman, Balkinization, Jack Balkin, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Dawn Johnsen, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Legal experts and civil libertarians are “stunned” by the recently released memos from the Bush-era Justice Department which assert sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009 and March 3, 2009). Yale law professor Jack Balkin calls the memos a demonstration of the Bush “theory of presidential dictatorship.” Balkin continues: “They say the battlefield is everywhere. And the president can do anything he wants, so long as it involves the military and the enemy.… These views are outrageous and inconsistent with basic principles of the Constitution as well as with two centuries of legal precedents. Yet they were the basic assumptions of key players in the Bush administration in the days following 9/11.” George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr agrees. “I agree with the left on this one,” he says. The approach in the memos “was simply not a plausible reading of the case law. The Bush [Office of Legal Counsel, or OLC] eventually rejected [the] memos because they were wrong on the law—and they were right to do so” (see January 15, 2009). Balkin says the time period of most of the memos—the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks—merely provided a convenient excuse for the administration’s subversion of the Constitution. “This was a period of panic, and panic creates an opportunity for patriotic politicians to abuse their power,” he says. [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009; Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009] Civil litigator and columnist Glenn Greenwald writes that the memos helped provide the foundation for what he calls “the regime of secret laws under which we were ruled for the last eight years… the grotesque blueprint for what the US government became.” [Salon, 3/3/2009] Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger says that, contrary to the memos’ assertion of blanket presidential powers in wartime, Congress has considerable powers during such a time. Congress has, according to the Constitution, “all legislative powers,” including the power “to declare war… and make rules concerning captures on land and water” as well as “regulation of the land and naval forces.” Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, continues: “You can never get over how bad these opinions were. The assertion that Congress has no role to play with respect to the detention of prisoners was contrary to the Constitution’s text, to judicial precedent, and to historical practice. For people who supposedly follow the text [of the Constitution], what don’t they understand about the phrase ‘make rules concerning captures on land and water’?” [Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Orin S. Kerr, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jack Balkin, Walter Dellinger, Glenn Greenwald, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito listens to President Obama’s State of the Union address.Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito listens to President Obama’s State of the Union address. [Source: Renovo Media]President Obama sharply criticizes the recent Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, giving corporations and unions the right to give unlimited and anonymous donations to organizations supporting or opposing political candidates (see January 21, 2010), during the annual State of the Union address. Obama gives the address to a joint session of Congress, with three Supreme Court members in attendance. “With all due deference to the separation of powers,” Obama says, “last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.” Democrats in the chamber applaud Obama’s remarks, while Republicans do not. In his response, Justice Samuel Alito, one of the five conservatives on the Court who joined in the majority decision, shakes his head and mouths, “Not true, not true” (some lip readers will later claim that Alito says, “That’s not true”). It is highly unusual for a president to so directly criticize a Supreme Court ruling, especially in a State of the Union address. The next day, Vice President Joe Biden defends Obama’s remarks in an appearance on Good Morning America. Biden says: “The president didn’t question the integrity of the court. He questioned the judgment of it. I think [the ruling] was dead wrong and we have to correct it.” Supreme Court expert Lucas A. Powe says, “I can’t ever recall a president taking a swipe at the Supreme Court like that.” Experts say that the closest precedent they can find is President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1937 criticism of the Court in his address to Congress. Yale law professor Jack Balkin says, “The important thing to me is that the president thinks the Citizens United decision is important enough that he would include it.” Reactions are split along ideological lines. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) calls Obama “rude” to criticize the Court’s verdict. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) calls Alito’s reaction “inappropriate.” Legal expert Barbara A. Perry of Sweet Briar College says both Obama and Alito were in the wrong, calling the interaction “an unfortunate display for both branches.” White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton says: “One of the great things about our democracy is that powerful members of the government at high levels can disagree in public and in private. This is one of those cases.” Alito refuses to comment. Alito and Obama have a contentious history. As a senator, Obama was one of the most outspoken voices against Alito’s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006), saying then of Alito, “[W]hen you look at his record—when it comes to his understanding of the Constitution, I have found that in almost every case, he consistently sides on behalf of the powerful against the powerless; on behalf of a strong government or corporation against upholding American’s individual rights.” For his part, Alito snubbed the formal visit paid by Obama and Biden to the Court. [New York Daily News, 1/28/2010; Washington Post, 1/28/2010] Months later, Obama’s warning will be proven to be correct, as a media investigation will show the US Chamber of Commerce using foreign monies to fund attack ads and other political activities under the cloak of the Citizens United decision (see October 2010).

Entity Tags: Jack Balkin, Barbara A. Perry, Barack Obama, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, US Congress, US Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, Orrin Hatch, Lucas A. (“Scot”) Powe, Joseph Biden, US Chamber of Commerce, Russell D. Feingold, Bill Burton

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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