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US Civil Liberties

Legal Changes

Project: US Civil Liberties
Open-Content project managed by Paul, KJF, mtuck, paxvector

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After the failure of the US federal government under the Articles of Confederation, the men working to shape the new American government—later termed the “Founders”—determine that the new government must have a president with power equal to that of Congress and the Supreme Court. The federal government itself has far more power under the new Constitution than it had under the Articles, but many Founders worry that the government will have, or take upon itself, the power to constrain or even destroy individual rights and freedoms. The government, therefore, will have strict limitations on its functions, and will be divided into three co-equal branches. Debate over whether the new government should have a single president or an executive council rages, but eventually the Founders decide that a single president could best act decisively in times of crisis. However, Congress has the strength to curtail presidential power via legislation and oversight. One of the Founders’ most crucial decisions is to give Congress, not the president, the power to declare war and commit military troops to battle. Congress must also authorize any military actions that fall short of actual war, the creation and maintenance of armies, and exercise control over how the president can call on the armed forces in emergencies. Finally, the Founders, all too aware that until the English Revolution of 1688, the King of England could use his “prerogative powers” to dispense with a law that he felt unnecessary, move to ensure that the US president cannot use a similar usurpation of power to override Congressional legislation, writing in the Constitution that the president must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” In 2007, reporter Charlie Savage, drawing on James Madison’s Federalist Papers, will write: “Knowing that it was inevitable that from time to time foolish, corrupt, or shortsighted individuals would win positions of responsibility in the government, the Founders came up with a system that would limit anyone’s ability to become a tyrant or to otherwise wreck the country. And over the next century and a half, the system worked as the Founders had designed it to work.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 14-16]

Entity Tags: James Madison, Charlie Savage

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

James Madison, one of the founders of the American system of constitutional government (see 1787), writes of the importance of Congress, not the president, retaining the power to send the nation to war. “Those who are to conduct a war cannot, in the nature of things, be proper or safe judges,” he writes, “whether a war ought to be commenced, continued, or concluded. They are barred from the latter functions by a great principle in free government, analagous to that which separates the sword from the purse, or the power from executing from the power of enacting laws.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 19]

Entity Tags: James Madison

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

During the Mexican-American War, Army General Winfield Scott forms a military commission to try 42 Irish-born deserters from the US military who had joined their fellow Roman Catholics in the Mexican army. All 42 are convicted. Twenty-seven are executed, 14 are flogged and branded, and one is pardoned. [USA Today, 11/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Winfield Scott

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes

The US Supreme Court rules in Dred Scott v. Sandford that African-Americans are not citizens regardless of their status as free or slave, and therefore cannot sue for redress in federal courts. The Court also rules that Congress has no power to ban slavery in US territories, and that the rights of slaveowners are protected by the Fifth Amendment because slaves are categorized as property. The origins of the case date to 1833 when Army surgeon Dr. John Emerson purchased Dred Scott, a slave, and moved him to a military base in Wisconsin. Slavery was banned in territories made free by the Missouri Compromise, and Wisconsin was one of these territories. However, Scott did not assert his freedom at that time. Instead, he lived in Wisconsin for four years, sometimes hiring himself out for work. In 1840, Scott moved with his family to Louisiana and then to St. Louis, Missouri, with Emerson. After Emerson died, Scott attempted to buy his family’s freedom from Emerson’s wife Eliza Irene Sanford, but was refused. (Sanford’s name was misspelled ‘Sandford’ in court documents.) Scott then sued Sanford in a state court, arguing that he and his family were free because they lived in a territory where slavery was illegal, and that he was owed back wages. A state court found in Scott’s favor in 1850, but Sanford’s brother John appealed the decision. The Missouri Supreme Court overturned the original decision. Scott, alleging physical abuse, then sued John Sanford for damages in a federal court, but a jury disallowed Scott’s right to file a case in federal court. Scott appealed this decision to the Supreme Court. In a majority opinion written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Court finds that it lacks jurisdiction to take the case because Scott is not a US citizen. Taney writes that Scott is “a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country and sold as slaves,” and, therefore, he is not a “member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution.” Taney also dismisses Scott’s assertion that his residence in a free state automatically grants him freedom and status as a US citizen, reasoning that states may choose to recognize the rights of freed slaves as citizens, but the federal government is under no obligation to do so. Lastly, the Court finds that, because slaves are property, Congress’s ban on slavery in the territories violates the Fifth Amendment’s protection of property rights. Justice Benjamin Curtis issues a powerful dissent to the Taney opinion. The Court’s decision will exacerbate tensions between Northern and Southern states, being widely seen as validating the South’s view of national power. It will also embolden pro-slavery Southerners and others to try to extend slavery into other areas of the nation, and will infuriate abolitionists, who will become powerful voices within the newly formed Republican Party. The three “Reconstruction Amendments”—the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth (see February 26, 1869)—will render the Scott decision invalid. In modern times, all people born or naturalized in the US will be considered citizens who have the right to bring suit in federal court. [PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: Republican Party, Benjamin Curtis, Dred Scott, Eliza Irene Sanford, John Emerson, US Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney, Missouri Supreme Court, John Sanford

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

President Abraham Lincoln, responding to a Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina, does not wait for Congress to begin its next session to make his response. Instead, Lincoln, wielding powers that the Constitution does not grant him and without a formal declaration of war, drastically enlarges the Union’s army and navy, blockades Southern ports, spends money not appropriated by Congress, and arrests Northern citizens suspected of being Confederate sympathizers. All of these steps exceed his authority under the Constitution and under federal law. Lincoln addresses Congress as soon as it reconvenes, admitting that he has exceeded his authority (see 1787 and 1793), and refusing to argue that his actions are lawful based on any “prerogative of power” inherent to the presidency. Instead, he explains that he felt he had to respond immediately to the sudden crisis, and asks Congress to retroactively authorize his emergency actions. He says, “These measures, whether strictly legal or not, were ventured upon under what appeared to be a popular demand and a public necessity, trusting then, as now, that Congress would readily ratify them.” Congress gives Lincoln the retroactive authorization he seeks. [Savage, 2007, pp. 16-17]

Entity Tags: Abraham Lincoln

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

During the Civil War, some 13,000 soldiers and civilians are tried before 5,000 military commissions. Among them are eight civilians with ties to the Confederacy. President Andrew Johnson, President Lincoln’s successor, signs the order for the commissions based on the recommendation of Attorney General James Speed, who argues that Lincoln’s assassination was an act of war against the US’s commander in chief. Historian Edward Steers will later argue that Johnson wants a military trial to avoid a jury of potential Confederate sympathizers drawn from the Washington, DC, populace. A panel of seven generals and two colonels finds all eight of the civilians with Confederate ties guilty of conspiring to assassinate Lincoln. Four are executed and four are jailed for lengthy prison terms. The proceedings are swift; the hangings take place less than three months after Lincoln’s assassination. Historian James Hall will later say of the commissions: “That’s the beauty of the thing… from the government’s perspective. Things move quickly, and from a legal standpoint it’s all self-contained.” [USA Today, 11/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Andrew Johnson, James Speed, James Hall, Edward Steers

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes

In the case of Ex parte Milligan, the Supreme Court strikes down a military tribunal used by former President Lincoln to prosecute Northern civilians, ruling that the Constitution limits a president’s power even during times of emergency. “The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people,” the Court writes, “equally in war and 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.” The defendants, the Court rules, must be tried in civilian courts. [Coleman, 2005 pdf file; PBS, 12/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 17]

Entity Tags: Abraham Lincoln

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Court Procedures and Verdicts

The Fourteenth Amendment, one of the so-called “Reconstruction Amendments,” is ratified. This amendment makes all persons born or naturalized in the US citizens. It also overturns the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, which denied African-Americans, slave or free, the right to citizenship (see March 6, 1857). The amendment also places restrictions on state laws: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It grants the US Congress the power to enforce, through legislation, the provisions of the amendment. Beginning in the 1920s, the Supreme Court will begin applying the Fourteenth Amendment to enforce the provisions of the Bill of Rights in states as well as in matters concerning the federal government. [PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: US Congress, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

The US Supreme Court uses the “Slaughterhouse Cases” to narrowly interpret the Fourteenth Amendment (see July 9, 1868). The combined cases have nothing to do with the rights of freed African-Americans, but center on disputes brought to court by white businessmen. The Court rules 5-4 that distinctions exist between federal and state citizenship rights, and that states have no obligation to provide their citizens with the same “privileges and immunities” they enjoy as national citizens. [PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

The US Supreme Court strikes down the provision of an 1875 civil rights law that prohibited racial discrimination by owners of hotels, theaters, and other forms of public accommodation. The Court consolidates a number of cases from four states into the “Civil Rights Cases,” and rules that the Fourteenth Amendment (see July 9, 1868) does not give the federal government the power to ban private discrimination. Further, the court rules that the denial of public accommodation does not constitute a “badge of slavery” and is therefore not prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery in the US. [PBS, 12/2006; U.S. Supreme Court, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms

In Elk v. Wilkins, the US Supreme Court restricts Native American voting rights by denying Native American John Elk the right to vote. According to the Court, Elk cannot vote in his home state of Nebraska because his intention to become a citizen requires approval from the government. Additionally, the Court finds that Elk is not a citizen because he does not “owe allegiance to the United States,” and thusly the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869) does not apply to him. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, John Elk

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

Justice Henry Brown.Justice Henry Brown. [Source: Wikimedia]The US Supreme Court rules 7-1 in Plessy v. Ferguson that a Louisiana law requiring “equal but separate accomodations for the white and colored races” is constitutional. Homer Plessy, a light-skinned black man who sometimes “passed” as white, took part in a plan by a small number of black professionals seeking to have a court overturn the Louisiana Separate Car Act of 1890. Plessy boarded a whites-only railroad car and was arrested, as per arrangement, by a private detective. The group intended to use Plessy’s light skin tone to demonstrate how arbitrary and unconstitutional the law was. Plessy’s lawyers argued that Louisiana’s segregation law violated both the Thirteenth Amendment, which bars slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees all Americans equal protection under the law (see July 9, 1868). Louisiana courts consistently found against Plessy, and the case moved all the way to the Supreme Court. Writing for the Court’s majority, Justice Henry Brown rules that the law does not “discriminate” among legal rights by race, but merely recognizes a “distinction” between races “which must always exist so long as white men are distinguished from the other race by color.” He adds: “Legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish distinctions based on physical differences, and the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating the differences of the present situation. If the civil and political rights of both races be equal, one cannot be inferior to the other civilly or politically. If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them on the same plane.” The ruling establishes the “separate but equal” doctrine that informs many states’ decision to segregate public facilities—schools, railcars, even drinking fountains. Justice John Marshall Harlan, a former slave owner and a pro-slavery politician, writes a fiery dissent that refutes Brown’s assertion that the Louisiana law discriminates equally among whites and blacks. Harlan writes, “Everyone knows that the statute in question had its origin in the purpose, not so much to exclude white persons from railroad cars occupied by blacks, as to exclude colored people from coaches occupied by or assigned to white persons.” He disagrees with the majority opinion’s finding that segregation on railcars does not violate African-Americans’ constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. But Harlan does not advocate social equality among the races. Instead, he argues that legally imposed segregation denies political equality. Harlan writes: “The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is, in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth, and in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time, if it remains true to its great heritage, and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty. But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.” Harlan’s dissent becomes the underpinning of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision (see May 17, 1954). [PBS, 12/2006; PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: Homer Plessy, Henry Billings Brown, US Supreme Court, Louisiana Separate Car Act of 1890, John Marshall Harlan

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The US Supreme Court upholds a Mississippi law requiring citizens to pass a literacy test before being allowed to vote. The Williams v. Mississippi decision holds that such tests do not violate the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869) as long as they are applied equally to all prospective voters. The literacy test stemmed from a state “Constitutional convention” that codified a “compromise” between white slaveowners and those who opposed their iron control of the Mississippi state government. The compromise would declare all illiterate Mississippi citizens as ineligible to vote, but the real purpose of the convention—to disenfranchise blacks—was well known. James Kimble Vardaman, who would later become governor, said of the convention: “There is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter. Mississippi’s constitutional convention was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the n_gger from politics; not the ignorant—but the n_gger.” White Republican Marsh Cook challenged the Democrats for a seat to the convention and was murdered in response. The only African-American delegate to the convention, Isaiah Montgomery, was invited because of his willingness to support disenfranchisement. The convention established the literacy test, establishing as a proper test the reading of any selected section of the Mississippi Constitution, or giving a valid explanation of it once it was read to the voter. Registrars would interpret the success or failure of the voters’ attempts to pass the test. Since all Mississippi registrars are white, the likelihood that even a literate African-American would pass the test was slim at best. However, the Court ignores the intent of the law to disenfranchise blacks, writing: “[T]he operation of the constitution and laws is not limited by their language or effects to one race. They reach weak and vicious white men as well as weak and vicious black men, and whatever is sinister in their intention, if anything, can be prevented by both races by the exertion of that duty which voluntarily pays taxes and refrains from crime.” Other states, mainly Southern, will quickly adopt their own version of literacy tests. [PBS, 2002; PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: James Kimble Vardaman, Marsh Cook, US Supreme Court, Isaiah Montgomery

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

President Theodore Roosevelt, wielding what will become known as the theory of inherent power, declares that the presidency has a “residuum of powers” to do anything not specifically forbidden by the Constitution. Without asking Congress for its approval, Roosevelt launches the project to build the Panama Canal, sends the US Navy around the world, and sends US troops to the Dominican Republic. In 2009, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write, “Roosevelt’s views… contained the seeds of the imperial presidency that would arise during the first decades of the Cold War.” Roosevelt’s successor, future Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft, will disagree, and Taft’s presidency will restore some of the limits on presidential power removed by Roosevelt. [Savage, 2007, pp. 17-18]

Entity Tags: William Howard Taft, Charlie Savage, Theodore Roosevelt

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

The US Supreme Court overrules Oklahoma’s “grandfather clause” law in the case of Guinn v. United States, finding the law unconstitutional. The Oklahoma law is similar to laws passed in Louisiana and other states (see 1896) in order to ensure that African-Americans cannot legally vote regardless of the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869). Illiterate males can vote only if they can prove their grandfathers had the right to vote. Since almost all African-Americans were slaves during that time, it is impossible for almost all African-Americans to prove their grandfathers had the right to vote. Illiterate white men, however, can often prove their grandfathers could vote. [PBS, 12/2006; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

1921: Supreme Court Weakens Campaign Finance Laws

In US v. Newberry, the Supreme Court finds some amendments to campaign finance laws (see 1911) unconstitutional, weakening the body of campaign finance law even further. The campaign finance laws in force (see 1907 and June 25, 1910) were already ineffective and rarely enforced by state attorneys general. And corporations and other special interests find it quite simple to circumvent the laws via loopholes. The case involves a Northern Republican primary race for the US Senate. Popular and powerful businessman Henry Ford (R-MI) lost the race due to enormous campaign expenditures and advertising by his opponent, and asked the US attorney general to intervene. The case stemming from Ford’s request results in the Court decision. The Court finds that the amendments are invalid because neither political parties nor election primaries are mentioned in the Constitution. The Founders had not considered having a two- or three-party system in place, and had envisioned the US as being governed by a single party that represented all interests. A two-party system did not emerge in American politics on a national scale until 1828. The Court, by maintaining a strict constitutional interpretation, sorely weakens campaign finance regulation. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Henry Ford

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

The US Supreme Court, ruling in the case of Takao Ozawa v. United States, finds that persons of Japanese ancestry are prohibited from becoming naturalized citizens under a law limiting eligibility to “free white persons and to aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent.” According to the Court, Takao Ozawa is “a graduate of the Berkeley, California, High School, had been nearly three years a student in the University of California, had educated his children in American schools, his family had attended American churches, and he had maintained the use of the English language in his home. That he was well qualified by character and education for citizenship is conceded.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Takao Ozawa, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The US Supreme Court rules that “high caste Hindus” from India are not eligible to become US citizens because, under naturalization law, persons of Hindu ancestry are not “white.” Bhagat Singh Thind came to the United States in 1913, served in the US Army, and was granted permission to become a citizen by an Oregon official. However, a naturalization examiner objected and took the case to court. In Bhagat Singh Thind v. United States, the Court finds that Thind may not be naturalized because of his Hindu ancestry. Thind presented evidence that South Asians such as himself are scientifically classified as Aryans or Caucasians, and thusly should be classified as “white.” The Court rules that scientific evidence is secondary to the public perception of who is white and who is not. “It may be true that the blond Scandinavian and the brown Hindu have a common ancestor in the dim reaches of antiquity,” the Court finds, “but the average man knows perfectly well that there are unmistakable and profound differences between them today.” In essence, the Court contradicts its findings from a ruling three months ago, where it accepted scientific proof that a Japanese man applying for American citizenship could not be classified as “white.” In 2003, documentarians for California Newsreel will write: “The justices never said what whiteness was, only what it wasn’t. Their implied logic was a circular one: Whiteness was what the common white man said it was.” Many South Asians who had been naturalized will be stripped of their citizenship and property as a result of the ruling. One, successful businessman Vaishno das Bagai, kills himself. He leaves a suicide note for his family and another one for the public that reads in part: “But now they come and say to me I am no longer an American citizen. What have I made of myself and my children? We cannot exercise our rights, we cannot leave this country. Humility and insults… blockades this way, and bridges burned behind.” The Court will later reverse itself and rule in Thind’s favor. [California Newsreel, 2003; United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind - 261 US 204, 2011; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: California Newsreel, Bhagat Singh Thind, US Supreme Court, Vaishno das Bagai

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts

President Calvin Coolidge stands with four Osage Indians after he signs the Indian Citizenship Act into law.President Calvin Coolidge stands with four Osage Indians after he signs the Indian Citizenship Act into law. [Source: Library of Congress]Congress passes the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which makes all non-citizen Native Americans born within the US citizens, thus granting them the right to vote. It will be signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge. Before the act takes effect, Native Americans had an unusual status under the law. Some had acquired citizenship by marrying white males, others received citizenship through military service, allotments, or through special treaties or statutes (see May 26, 1920). The act was less of a response to Native Americans petitioning for citizenship than an effort by the federal government to “absorb” Native Americans into mainstream America, a policy known by some historians as “assimilation.” Before the act is passed, Dr. Joseph K. Dixon, a proponent of “assimilation,” wrote: “The Indian, though a man without a country, the Indian who has suffered a thousand wrongs considered the white man’s burden and from mountains, plains, and divides, the Indian threw himself into the struggle to help throttle the unthinkable tyranny of the Hun. The Indian helped to free Belgium, helped to free all the small nations, helped to give victory to the Stars and Stripes. The Indian went to France to help avenge the ravages of autocracy. [Dixon is referencing many Native Americans’ service in the US military during World War I.] Now, shall we not redeem ourselves by redeeming all the tribes?” However, many states will ignore the act and use their statutes to deny Native Americans the vote. Many Native Americans will not be allowed to vote until 1948. [Nebraska Studies, 2001; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, Calvin Coolidge, US Congress, Joseph K. Dixon

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts

The US Supreme Court reverses the conviction of the “Scottsboro Boys,” nine black men from Scottsboro, Alabama, who had been convicted of raping a group of white women and sentenced to death. In the case of Powell v. Alabama, the Court finds that the men had been granted inadequate representation—they had been given a court-appointed lawyer only on the morning of their trial, and thusly that lawyer had no time to prepare an adequate defense. The case is sent back to the Alabama state court, where despite testimony from one of the alleged victims that no rape had taken place, all are convicted again. The Supreme Court will again overturn their convictions, this time because no blacks were on the jury. The nine are tried for a third time: four are convicted, one pleads guilty, and four have charges against them dropped. [PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts

Franklin D. Roosevelt ushers in a massive expansion and reorganization of the federal government under his “New Deal,” in an attempt to counter the lasting effects of the Great Depression that began in 1929. Passed by Congress, the New Deal legislation greatly expands the federal bureaucracy (see September 8, 1939), and gives sweeping new powers over domestic issues to agencies contained within the executive branch and not always subject to Congressional oversight. The Supreme Court rules that many of these actions are unconstitutional, but when Roosevelt threatens to “pack” the Court by expanding its size and then appointing sympathizers to vote his way, the Court capitulates and upholds the New Deal legislation. In 2009, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write that the Court’s decision “enabl[ed] the rise of the modern administrative state inside the executive branch.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 18]

Entity Tags: Charlie Savage, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

The Supreme Court rules in United States v. Curtiss-Wright, a case revolving around Curtiss-Wright’s illicit sale of machine guns to Bolivia in violation of a joint resolution passed by Congress. The Court finds that Congress did not cede undue powers to the president in the resolution, and that the president has a wide array of powers in the area of foreign policy making that he does not have in the domestic arena. Justice George Sutherland, who writes the majority opinion, notes the distinctions between foreign and internal affairs, arguing that because “the president alone has the power to speak or listen as a representative of the nation,” Congress may provide the president with a special degree of discretion in external matters which would not be afforded domestically. In an aside to the decision, Sutherland notes what he calls the “plenary and exclusive power of the president as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations,” a power which, if correctly cited, gives the executive branch sole authority to conduct foreign relations in everything from treaties and trade agreements to launching and conducting wars. However, Sutherland’s statement is written as an adjunct to the majority opinion, or dicta, and therefore has no legal stature. In later examinations of Sutherland’s work, many legal scholars will determine that Sutherland is misquoting his original source, the Supreme Court’s first Chief Justice, John Marshall, who as a House member argued that the president has the duty to carry out the nation’s treaty obligations and is the exclusive channel for diplomatic communications. Marshall did not argue that the legislative or judicial branches had no authority over foreign policy, and never espoused that argument once ascending to the high court. Many advocates of the so-called “unitary executive theory” of presidential power will cite Sutherland’s erroneous dicta in making their own arguments for untrammeled presidential power. [Savage, 2007, pp. 141; Oyez (.org), 6/2007]

Entity Tags: George Sutherland, Curtiss-Wright, John Marshall, Roosevelt administration, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power

The US Supreme Court, ruling in Breedlove v. Settles, finds a poll tax implemented in Georgia law to be constitutional. The Court decision effectively abrogates the right of most African-Americans in Georgia to vote, as most of them cannot pay the poll tax. The Court ruling serves to disenfranchise many African-Americans for decades. Some Southern states will employ poll taxes well into the 1960s. [PBS, 12/2006; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

President Franklin D. Roosevelt asks that Congress amend the Neutrality Acts to allow the US to send military aid to European countries locked in battle against Nazi Germany. Roosevelt tells Congress that America’s neutrality laws might actually be giving passive “aid to an aggressor” while denying help to friendly nations victimized by the Nazis. Roosevelt has already overseen the shipment of arms and other materiel in violation of the Neutrality Acts, but, unlike some of his successors, he does not claim he has an inherent right as commander in chief to violate or ignore laws. In November, Congress will agree to Roosevelt’s request. [Savage, 2007, pp. 18; History (.com), 2008]

Entity Tags: Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

President Roosevelt signs the US declaration of war with Japan.President Roosevelt signs the US declaration of war with Japan. [Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum]President Roosevelt, recognizing that Congress has the Constitutional authority to declare war (see 1787 and 1793), asks the legislature for a declaration of war against Japan in retaliation for the Japanese air attack against US naval forces at Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt calls the date of the Pearl Harbor attack, December 7, 1941, “a day which will live in infamy.” He says, “I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.” With a single exception—Representative Jeannette Rankin (R-MT)—every member of the House and Senate votes to authorize war against Japan. The next day, the US will declare war against Germany and Italy as well. [Savage, 2007, pp. 18; Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, 2/10/2008]

Entity Tags: Jeannette Rankin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

President Roosevelt, using what he calls his inherent power as commander in chief, creates a military commission to try eight Nazi saboteurs captured inside the US in the case of Ex parte Quirin. The eight are quickly found guilty and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court later backs Roosevelt’s authority to have them tried by a commission. The Court’s decision is unusually hasty, and several of the justices who voted in Roosevelt’s favor later express regret for their approval. Roosevelt himself is unsure of the procedure’s legality, the Court’s decision and his own powers as president notwithstanding. When more Nazi saboteurs are captured later in the war, they are tried in criminal courts. [Savage, 2007, pp. 136]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power

The US Supreme Court upholds by a 6-3 vote the legitimacy of Executive Order 9066 issued by President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942 that mandated all Americans of Japanese heritage to report to internment camps during World War II. Writing for the Court in the case of Korematsu v. United States, Justice Hugo Black finds that an executive order based on race is “suspect,” but says that the “emergency circumstances” of wartime make the order necessary and constitutional. Forty-four years later, in 1988, Congress will formally apologize and issue monetary reparations to Japanese-American families who had been forced into the camps. [PBS, 12/2006; Los Angeles Times, 5/24/2011] In 2011, acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal will state that his predecessor during the case, Charles Fahy, deliberately hid evidence from the Court that concluded Japanese-Americans posed no security or military threat. The report from the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) found that no evidence of Japanese-American disloyalty existed, and that no Japanese-Americans had acted as spies or had signaled enemy submarines, as some at the time believed. Katyal will say that he has a “duty of absolute candor in our representations to the Court.” Katyal will say that two government lawyers informed Fahy he was engaging in “suppression of evidence,” but Fahy refused to give the report to the Court. Instead, Fahy told the Court that the forced internment of Japanese-Americans was a “military necessity.” Fahy’s arguments swayed the Court’s opinion, Katyal will state. “It seemed obvious to me we had made a mistake. The duty of candor wasn’t met,” Katyal will say. [Los Angeles Times, 5/24/2011]

Entity Tags: Neal Katyal, Office of Naval Intelligence, US Supreme Court, Charles Fahy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Hugo Black

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Detainments in US

A federal court rules in King v. Chapman that whites-only primary elections in Georgia are unconstitutional. The court rules, “The exclusions of voters made by the party by the primary rules become exclusions enforced by the state and when these exclusions are prohibited by the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869) based on race or color, the persons making them effective violate under color of state law a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States within the meaning of the statute.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

A federal court invalidates South Carolina’s effort to save its whites-only primary elections (see April 1, 1946). South Carolina attempted to remove federal court jurisdiction from its primaries, and save its discriminatory primary system, by repealing all of its primary laws. However, the court ruling in Elmore v. Rice invalidates the whites-only system. George Elmore, one of the plaintiffs in the case, is an African-American elector forbidden by South Carolina law from voting in the Democratic primary election. NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall is one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs. [ELMORE v. RICE, 2010; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012] Elmore and his family are persecuted by members of the Ku Klux Klan after the ruling. [South Carolina African American History Calendar, 2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Thurgood Marshall, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, George Elmore, Ku Klux Klan

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

A B-29 bomber similar to the one that crashed in Georgia.A B-29 bomber similar to the one that crashed in Georgia. [Source: Global Security (.org)]A test flight for the Air Force’s Project Banshee, located at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, is set for 8:30 a.m. Banshee is an attempt begun in 1946 to develop and deploy a long-range missile ahead of both the Soviet Union and rival US military branches. The airplane used in the test flight crashes less than an hour into its flight, killing 9 of the 13 aboard.
Maintenance Problems - The plane assigned for the flight is a B-29 Stratofortress, a bomber made famous by its delivery of the atomic bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. B-29s are notoriously difficult to fly and maintain: their four wing-mounted engines almost routinely overheat and catch fire, causing engine shutdowns, sudden drops in altitude, and, often, crashes. The engines’ eighteen cylinders lack sufficient airflow to keep them cool, and the overheating often causes the crankcases, made of light but highly flammable magnesium, to burst into flames. Like so many of its brethren, the plane has suffered its share of maintenance issues, and is flying without numerous recommended maintenance and repair tasks being performed. Just five days before, it had been designated “red cross”—grounded and unfit for service. It was allowed to fly through an “exceptional release” signed by the squadron commander.
Crew Difficulties - The flight is moved back to the afternoon after some crew members fail to show up on time, and to allow last-minute repairs to be made. By takeoff, the flight crew is assembled: Captain Ralph Erwin; co-pilot Herbert W. Moore; flight engineer Earl Murrhee; First Lieutenant Lawrence Pence, Jr, the navigator; Sergeant Walter Peny, the left scanner; Sergeant Jack York, the right scanner; Sergeant Melvin Walker, the radio operator; and Sergeant Derwood Irvin, manning the bombsight and autopilot. The crew is joined by civilian engineers assigned to Banshee: Al Palya and Robert Reynolds from RCA, William Brauner and Eugene Mechler from the Franklin Institute, and Richard Cox from the Air Force’s Air Materiel Command. In violation of standard procedure, none of the crew or the civilians are briefed on emergency procedures, though Murrhee will later say that the crew were all familiar with the procedures; he is not so sure about the civilians, though he knows Palya and Reynolds have flown numerous test flights before. In another violation of Air Force regulations, none of the flight crew have worked together before. As author Barry Siegel will note in 2008, “The pilot, copilot, and engineer had never shared the same cockpit before.”
Engine Fire and Crash - Less than an hour into the flight, one engine catches fire and two others lose power, due to a combination of maintenance failures and pilot errors. The civilians have some difficulty getting into their parachutes as Erwin and Moore attempt to regain control of the aircraft. Four of the crew and civilians manage to parachute from the plane, but most remain on board as the airplane spirals into the ground on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, near Waycross, Georgia. Crew members Moore, Murrhee, and Peny survive, as does a single civilian, Mechler. Four others either jump at too low an altitude or die when their chutes foul the airplane; the other five never manage to leave the plane and die on impact.
Widows File Suit - Several of the civilians’ widows will file suit against the US Air Force, asserting that their husbands died because of Air Force negligence (see June 21, 1949). Their lawsuit will eventually become US v. Reynolds, a landmark Supreme Court case and the underpinning for the government’s claims of state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 3, 14-17, 33-49]

Entity Tags: Derwood Irvin, Barry Siegel, US Department of the Air Force, Walter Peny, William Brauner, Air Materiel Command, Richard Cox, Ralph Erwin, Robert Reynolds, Al Palya, Radio Corporation of America, Eugene Mechler, Earl Murrhee, Franklin Institute, Project Banshee, Melvin Walker, Lawrence Pence, Jr, Herbert W. Moore, Jr, Jack York

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

Initial Associated Press reports of a crash in Georgia of a B-29 that had been on a test flight for the Air Force’s secret Project Banshee (see October 6, 1948) acknowledge that “the plane had been on a mission testing secret electronic equipment which RCA developed and built under an Air Force contract… Full details of the plane’s mission were not disclosed.… The Air Force would say only that the bomber was engaged in ‘electronic research on different types of radar…’” Local papers have a bit more detail, with survivor accounts hinting at confusion and some contradictions between their versions of events and that being given out by official Air Force spokesmen. Later reports from the Air Force will downplay the B-29’s involvement in Project Banshee. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 56-58]

Entity Tags: Associated Press, US Department of the Air Force, Radio Corporation of America, Project Banshee

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

The Army Air Force’s Air Materiel Command receives the initial report on an investigation of a B-29 crash in Georgia (see October 6, 1948). Perceptions of the crash are colored by the fact that the bomber was carrying equipment from Project Banshee, a secret Air Force missile development initiative. The initial report is meticulously factual, providing an almost minute-by-minute account of the events preceding the crash as told by the four survivors and intensive examination of the debris. The report concludes that it would benefit future B-29 pilots to have more training on flying the plane when it has lost both engines on one wing, and a general recommendation that the pilot and crew should give civilian passengers better instruction in emergency procedures. Though the report is circumspect in the extreme in finding fault with the pilot and military personnel for the crash, and gives only vague and generalized recommendations to help prevent future crashes, the Air Force will heatedly deny that the pilots or crew could have been in any way responsible for the crash. In 2008, reporter Barry Siegel will write, “Years later, this particular claim, in fact Air Materiel Command’s entire position, would cause various veteran aviators to hoot.” Pilot error causing the crash is obvious, they will conclude. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 62-65]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Air Force, Barry Siegel, Air Materiel Command, Project Banshee

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

Frank Folsom, the executive vice president of the Radio Corporation of America’s RCA Victor Division, writes a letter to General Hoyt Vandenberg, the commander of the US Air Force. Folsom is inquiring about the deaths of two RCA employees in a recent B-29 crash in Georgia (see October 6, 1948). The plane had been on a secret test mission for the Air Force’s Project Banshee, a missile development project in which RCA is heavily involved. Folsom believes that the Air Force is downplaying the likelihood that pilot error caused the crash (see October 18, 1948), and tells Vandenberg that “certain steps will [need to be taken] if we are to participate in the future in Air Force flight test programs.” Folsom wants more pay and compensation for RCA employees participating in Air Force test programs, as well as newer and safer airplanes to be used in the test flights and a higher caliber of test pilots and crew members. Perhaps the portion of the letter that causes the most consternation among Air Force officials is Folsom’s request to read over the official accident reports. “When a crash has occurred, a copy of the official report… must be made available promptly to us,” he writes. “Needless to say, the report will not be disclosed except to those who are directly concerned.” Folsom’s letter will spark a new round of Air Force investigations into the crash, in hopes of mollifying Folsom. However, the report from this investigation will be classified at the highest level of security and not provided to RCA. Additionally, though the second investigation will find a strong likelihood of pilot error causing the crash, the Air Force will not admit any such findings to RCA. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 65-80] These accident reports will play a key role in the lawsuit filed against the US government by three widows of killed crew members (see June 21, 1949 and August 7-8, 1950).

Entity Tags: Hoyt Vandenberg, Frank Folsom, Project Banshee, Radio Corporation of America, US Department of the Air Force

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

Phyllis Brauner and Elizabeth Palya, who both lost their husbands in the “Project Banshee” B-29 crash (see October 6, 1948), file a civil action lawsuit against the US government in regards to the crash. The lawsuit claims that the US Air Force, in the person of the pilot and military crew members of the B-29, caused the deaths of their civilian husbands by “the negligence and wrongful acts and omissions of the officers and employees” of the US. The widows’ lawyer, Charles Biddle, asks the government for $300,000 per family. A third widow, Patricia Reynolds, will join the lawsuit in September 1949. One of the biggest issues surrounding the case is the lawsuit’s request that Biddle and his lawyers be given access to the official accident reports, which the government will claim cannot be revealed because they may contain classified information (see October 18, 1948 and August 7-8, 1950). Biddle’s promise that no one else will see the reports makes no impression on the government’s lawyers. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 100-101]

Entity Tags: Elizabeth Palya, Charles Biddle, Patricia Reynolds, Phyllis Brauner, US Department of the Air Force, Project Banshee

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

President Harry Truman, without the approval of Congress, sends US troops to fight in the Korean War. Unlike his predecessor (see December 8, 1941), Truman asserts that he has the inherent right to do so as the commander in chief (see 1787 and 1793). Truman bases his decision in part on a UN Security Council resolution passed three days before—at the US’s behest—approving military aid to South Korea, which was invaded by North Korean troops on June 25. In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write: “But the permission of foreign states was irrelevant to the domestic legal issue of who got to decide whether the United States would go to war. No president had ever before launched anything on the scale of the Korean War without prior permission from Congress, as the Constitution requires.” Savage will explain why Congress allows Truman to usurp its prerogatives: “[M]embers of Congress, eager to appear tough against Communism and to support a war effort, did nothing to block Truman.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 19; Truman Library, 3/2008]

Entity Tags: Harry S. Truman, United Nations Security Council, Charlie Savage

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

A federal judge orders the Air Force to turn over copies of its classified accident reports about a B-29 crash (see October 6, 1948) as part of a lawsuit filed by three of the widows of crew members killed in the crash (see June 21, 1949). Claiming that the reports may contain classified information about a secret missile development project, Project Banshee, the Air Force not only refuses to turn over the accident reports to the widows’ lawyer, it refuses to allow even the attorney general to view the documents (see August 7-8, 1950). The lawyer for the widows, Charles Biddle, will continue to press for the release of the accident reports. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 120-123]

Entity Tags: Charles Biddle, Project Banshee, US Department of the Air Force

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

The Air Force refuses to meet the court-imposed deadline to turn over accident reports of a 1948 B-29 crash in Georgia (see October 6, 1948) to the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the government (see July 26, 1950). Instead, the Justice Department argues before the court that because the accident reports might contain “state secrets” that might imperil “national security” if made available to anyone outside the Air Force, the reports cannot be made available. “[T]he aircraft in question, together with the personnel on board, were engaged in a highly secret mission of the Air Force,” the government lawyers argue. “The airplane likewise carried confidential equipment on board and any disclosure of its mission or information concerning its operation or performance would be prejudicial to this department and would not be in the public interest.” Such a claim—that the production of the reports would “seriously hamper national security”—renders the reports “beyond judicial authority,” the Justice Department lawyers claim. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 124-126]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Air Force, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

Weeks after the Justice Department refused to make accident reports of a 1948 B-29 crash (see October 6, 1948) available to the plaintiffs in an ongoing wrongful death lawsuit against the government (see July 26, 1950) because the reports are so highly classified that their disclosure might “seriously hamper national security” (see July 26, 1950 and August 7-8, 1950), the Air Force, in a routine review, drastically lowers the classification of the accident reports from top-level “Secret” to third-level “Restricted.” Whereas “Secret” documents supposedly contain information that “might endanger national security” if revealed, “Restricted” documents are “for official use only” and should not be disclosed “for reasons of administrative privacy.” The Air Force apparently no longer considers the documents a threat to national security. However, neither the plaintiffs’ lawyers, the judge hearing the lawsuit, or even the Justice Department lawyers are aware of the reports’ reduction in status. They continue to argue the merits of releasing the reports as if they are still highly classified. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 133]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Air Force, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

Federal judge William H. Kirkpatrick rules that the US government must turn over the disputed, and supposedly highly classified (see September 14, 1950), accident reports from a 1948 B-29 crash (see October 6, 1948)—not to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit over the crash (see July 26, 1950), but to Kirkpatrick himself. He wishes to review the reports to determine if they contain any information that might threaten national security, and, before turning the documents over to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, will personally remove that information. In mid-October, when the government again refuses to turn over the documents, Kirkpatrick will find in favor of the plaintiffs (see October 12, 1950). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 133-134]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, William H. Kirkpatrick

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

Federal judge William H. Kirkpatrick rules in favor of the plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit against the US government (see October 6, 1948, June 21, 1949, and July 26, 1950), after the government refuses to turn over classified accident reports that have a direct bearing on the plaintiffs’ case (see September 21, 1950). Judge Kirkpatrick orders the government to pay the plaintiffs, three widows who lost their husbands in a 1948 plane crash, a total of $225,000. The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Charles Biddle, expects the government to balk at paying out the money, and to instead continue to challenge the court’s attempt to compel it to turn over the accident reports (see October 19, 1951). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 134-139]

Entity Tags: Charles Biddle, William H. Kirkpatrick

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

The government, represented by a team of Justice Department lawyers, appeals the recent ruling against it in the ‘Banshee’ B-29 plane crash lawsuit (see June 21, 1949). In the Third US Circuit Appeals Court, the government argues that the lower court had no business demanding that the Air Force turn over classified accident reports about the crash, because the reports may contain information that would potentially compromise national security (see October 12-18, 1948 and September 14, 1950). The government had twice defied court orders to produce the documents, and as a result had lost the lawsuit (see October 12, 1950). The Justice Department’s arguments come down to the assertion that the judiciary has no constitutional right to compel the executive branch to turn over documents it considers privileged. In 2008, author Barry Siegel will write, “For the first time in the B-29 litigation, the government directly argued that the judiciary could not review [the government’s] claim of privilege.” The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Charles Biddle, counters that the executive branch has no such sweeping claim of privilege, and that a judge should be allowed to review documents in dispute to determine both their bearing on a case and the possibility that releasing those documents could jeopardize national security (see September 21, 1950). Three weeks later, the appeals court will rule unanimously against the government (see December 11, 1951). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 149-153]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Charles Biddle, Barry Siegel

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

A three-judge federal appeals court unanimously rejects the government’s claim of unfettered executive privilege and secrecy in regards to classified documents (see October 19, 1951). In an opinion written by Judge Albert Maris, the court finds that the government’s claim that the judiciary can never compel the executive branch to turn over classified documents to be without legal merit. The plaintiffs in the case, three widows who lost their husbands in the crash of a B-29 bomber carrying classified materials (see June 21, 1949), had a compelling need for the documents in question, the downed B-29 accident reports, to further their case, Maris writes (see October 12, 1950).
No Legal Basis for Claim of Privilege - Maris goes further than the parameters of the single lawsuit, writing: “[W]e regard the recognition of such a sweeping privilege… as contrary to a sound public policy. The present cases themselves indicate the breadth of the claim of immunity from disclosure which one government department head has already made. It is but a small step to assert a privilege against any disclosure of records merely because they might prove embarrassing to government officials. Indeed, it requires no great flight of imagination to realize that if the government’s contentions in these cases were affirmed, the privilege against disclosure might gradually be enlarged… until as is the case in some nations today, it embraced the whole range of government activities.… We need to recall in this connection the words of [Revolution-era jurist] Edward Livingston: ‘No nation ever yet found any inconvenience from too close an inspection into the conduct of its officers, but many have been brought to ruin, and reduced to slavery, by suffering gradual imposition and abuses, which were imperceptible, only because the means of publicity had not been secured.’” He also quotes Revolutionary War figure Patrick Henry, who said, “[T]o cover with the veil of secrecy the common routine of business is an abomination in the eyes of every intelligent man and every friend to his country.”
Rejecting Claim of 'State Secrets' - Maris is even less respectful of the government’s claim of a “state secrets” privilege. He notes that the government did not make that claim until well into the lawsuit proceedings (see October 19, 1951), indicating that it was a “fallback” argument used after the original government arguments had failed. Maris is also troubled, as author Barry Siegel later writes, in the government’s “assertion of unilateral executive power, free from judicial review, to decide what qualified as secret.” The lower court judge’s ruling that he alone should be given the documents for review adequately protected the government’s security interests, Maris writes: “[But] the government contends that it is within the sole province of the secretary of the Air Force to determine whether any privileged material is contained in the documents and that his determination of this question must be accepted by the district court without any independent consideration.… We cannot accede to this proposition. On the contrary, we are satisfied that a claim of privilege against disclosing evidence… involves a justiciable question, traditionally within the competence of the courts.… To hold that the head of an executive department of the government in a [law]suit to which the United States is a party may conclusively determine the government’s claim of privilege is to abdicate the judicial function to infringe the independent province of the judiciary as laid down by the Constitution.”
Fundamental Principle of Checks and Balances - Maris continues: “The government of the United States is one of checks and balances. One of the principal checks is furnished by the independent judiciary which the Constitution established. Neither the executive nor the legislative branch of the government may constitutionally encroach upon the field which the Constitution has reserved for the judiciary.… Nor is there any danger to the public interest in submitting the question of privilege to the decision of the courts. The judges of the United States are public officers whose responsibilities under the Constitution is just as great as that of the heads of the executive departments.”
Government Appeal - The Justice Department will appeal the ruling to the US Supreme Court (see March 1952 and March 9, 1953). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 153-156]

Entity Tags: Albert Maris, US Department of Justice, Barry Siegel, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

The Justice Department appeals the ruling of the US Appeals Court in the B-29 “Banshee” case (see December 11, 1951). The appellate judges found that the executive branch of government could not unilaterally refuse to hand over classified documents requested during the course of a trial, and justify its decision merely by its own say-so (see October 12, 1950). Solicitor General Philip Perlman argues that the appellate ruling erroneously interprets the law “so as to permit encroachments by the judiciary on an area committed by the Constitution to executive discretion.” The claim of “state secrets,” “executive privilege,” and, ultimately, “national security” must trump judicial concerns, Perlman argues, and he goes on to say that the judiciary should not be allowed to “substitute its judgment for the judgment of the executive.” The case will be labeled United States of America v. Patricia Reynolds, Phyllis Brauner, and Elizabeth Palya, and will usually be shortened to the more colloquial US v. Reynolds.
The Vinson Court - In 2008, author Barry Siegel, in his book Claim of Privilege, will note that the recent ascension of Fred Vinson as the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice does not bode well for the plaintiffs in the case. President Truman placed Vinson, whom Siegel calls Truman’s “poker and drinking buddy,” as Chief Justice to try to achieve consensus between the two contentious blocs of justices on the Court. Siegel notes that Vinson is widely considered an intellectual and legal lightweight, with a tendency to take the side of the government on issues in which he lacks a full understanding. Siegel will write that in many instances, Vinson functions “as part of the executive branch.”
'Dennis' Case Preview of Court's Tendency to Favor Executive Branch - Vinson had written the opinion in a 1951 ruling, Dennis et al v. United States, where the Court had upheld a lower court ruling that twelve acknowledged American Communists were sent to jail under the Smith Act—not for breaking the law, but for “teaching and advocating,” in the words of the original indictment. Siegel will call that ruling “the nadir of the Vinson Court.” According to Siegel, the Dennis ruling showed the Court’s predisposition to give the government, and particularly the executive branch, plenty of leeway in its findings in subsequent cases such as Reynolds. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 157-162]

Entity Tags: Fred Vinson, Elizabeth Palya, US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice, Barry Siegel, Harry S. Truman, Phyllis Brauner, Philip Perlman, Patricia Reynolds

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

The McCarran-Walter Act repeals the racial restrictions of the 1790 Naturalization Law and grants first-generation Japanese-Americans the right to become citizens. Senator Pat McCarran (D-NV) is one of the strongest anti-Communist voices in the US Congress, and led investigations of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. Along with Representative Francis Walter (D-PA), another outspoken anti-Communist, McCarran introduced the legislation bearing their names. Aside from granting Japanese-Americans citizenship, the law stiffens restrictions on “entry quotas” for immigrants into the US, and broadens the federal government’s power to admit, exclude, and deport “dangerous aliens” as defined by the Internal Security Act of 1950, another signature McCarran legislative success. [John Simkin, 2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Francis Walter, 1790 Naturalization Law, Internal Security Act of 1950, McCarran-Walter Act, Pat McCarran

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights, Other Legal Changes

The US Supreme Court rules that the federal government cannot seize the nation’s steel mills. In April, President Truman, fearing a nationwide strike that could impact the US war effort in Korea, ordered the seizure of all US steel mills; the lawsuit that resulted, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, quickly made its way to the Supreme Court.
Rejection of 'Inherent Powers' Claim - During oral arguments, the justices grilled Acting Attorney General Philip Perlman, demanding to know what statutes he had relied on for his arguments and asserting that the president had limitations both on his emergency wartime powers and on his ability to claim that he is the “sole judge” of the existence of, and remedies for, an emergency. The justices are not convinced by the government’s arguments for the president’s “inherent powers.” They are also troubled by repeated refusals of the government to provide facts and documentary backing for its legal arguments, and its reliance instead on claims of “national security.” The attorney for the steel industry, John Davis, quoted Thomas Jefferson in his argument: “In questions of power, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” Justice William O. Douglas noted that if the government’s claims were valid, there would be “no more need for Congress.”
Court Rejects Argument - In a 6-3 vote, the Court rules that the president has no inherent power to seize the steel mills. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black states: “In the framework of our Constitution, the president’s power to see that the laws are faithfully executed refutes the idea that he is to be a lawmaker.… The founders of this nation entrusted the lawmaking power to the Congress alone in both good and bad times.… This is a job for the nation’s lawmakers.” In a concurring opinion, Justice Robert Jackson writes, “No penance would ever expiate the sin against free government of holding that a president can escape control of executive powers by law through assuming his military role.” In his dissent, Chief Justice Fred Vinson (see March 1952) argues that “the gravity of the emergency” overrides the Constitutional arguments accepted by the majority of the Court. “Those who suggest that this is a case involving extraordinary powers should be mindful that these are extraordinary times. A world not yet recovered from the devastation of World War II has been forced to face the threat of another and more terrifying global conflict.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 123; Siegel, 2008, pp. 163-164] In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will observe that the Youngstown decision “turned out to be only a pause in the movement toward an increasingly authoritarian presidency.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 19]

Entity Tags: William O. Douglas, John Davis, Hugo Black, Charlie Savage, Fred Vinson, Harry S. Truman, Philip Perlman, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Lawyers make their opening arguments before the Supreme Court in the case of US v Reynolds, the lawsuit that finds the government had no overarching right to unilaterally refuse to deliver classified documents in the course of a wrongful death lawsuit against the government (see December 11, 1951). The government has appealed the appellate court ruling to the Supreme Court (see March 1952). Because four of the nine justices had voted not to hear the case—in essence to let the appellate court ruling stand—the defense is cautiously optimistic about the Court’s decision.
Judiciary Has No Right to Interfere with Powers of the Executive, Government Argues - Acting Solicitor General Robert Stern tells the Court that the appellate judges’ decision, written by Judge Albert Maris, “is an unwarranted interference with the powers of the executive,” and that the decision forced the government to choose “whether to disclose public documents contrary to the public interest [or] to suffer the public treasury to be penalized” (a reference to the decision to award the plaintiffs monetary damages—see October 12, 1950). The judiciary “lack[s] power to compel disclosure by means of a direct demand [as well as] by the indirect method of an order against the United States, resulting in judgment when compliance is not forthcoming.”
Executive Has No Right to Unilaterally Withhold Information, Defense Counters - Stern’s arguments are countered by those of the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Charles Biddle, who writes, “We could rest our case with confidence on the clear opinion of Judge Maris,” but continues by arguing that if the government asserts a claim of executive privilege on the basis of national security, it must make the documents available to the Court for adjudication, or at least provide enough information for the Court to judge whether the documents present in fact a threat to national security if disclosed. This is particularly true, Biddle argues, “where there is no showing that the documents in question contain any military secret” (Biddle is unaware that the documents’ classification status had been reduced two years before—see September 14, 1950). “The basic question here is whether those in charge of the various departments of the government may refuse to produce documents properly demanded… in a case where the government is a party (see June 21, 1949), simply because the officials themselves think it would be better to keep them secret, and this without the Courts having any power to question the propriety of such decision.… In other words, say the officials, we will tell you only what we think it is in the public interest that you should know. And furthermore, we may withhold information not only about military or diplomatic secrets, but we may also suppress documents which concern merely the operation of the particular department if we believe it would be best, for purposes of efficiency or morale, that no one outside of the department, not even the Court, should see them.”
No Basis for Claims of Military Secrets - Biddle argues that because of responses he has received to his demands over the course of this lawsuit, he is relatively sure there are no military secrets contained within them. “[T]he proof is to the contrary,” he says, and goes on to say that had the Air Force disclosed from the outset that the plane crash, the fatal accident that sparked the original lawsuit (see October 6, 1948), was probably caused by pilot error and not by random chance, the plaintiffs may have never needed to ask for the disclosure of the documents in question, the accident reports on the crash (see October 18, 1948). “The secretary [of the Air Force]‘s formal claim of privilege said that the plane at the time was engaged in a secret mission and that it carried confidential equipment,” Biddle says, “but nowhere was it asserted that either had anything to do with the accident. The whole purpose of the demand by the respondents was for the purpose of finding out what caused the accident.… They were not in the least interested in the secret mission or equipment.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 165-170]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Albert Maris, Robert Stern, US Department of the Air Force, Charles Biddle

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

In their regular Saturday conference, the nine Supreme Court justices discuss the issues and arguments surrounding US v Reynolds (see October 21, 1952). According to the notes from the discussion, Chief Justice Fred Vinson, a strong advocate for expansive executive powers (see March 1952), says the case “boils down to Executive Branch determine privilege.” Other notes by Justice William O. Douglas suggest that Vinson isn’t convinced that the US must “be forced to pay for exercising its privilege” (see October 12, 1950). A straw vote taken at the end of the discussion shows five justices in favor of the government’s position to unilaterally withhold classified documents—overturning the appellate court decision (see December 11, 1951), and four in favor of allowing the decision to stand. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 171]

Entity Tags: Fred Vinson, US Supreme Court, William O. Douglas

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

Chief Justice Fred Vinson.Chief Justice Fred Vinson. [Source: Kansas State Historical Society]The US Supreme Court upholds the power of the federal government’s executive branch to withhold documents from a civil suit on the basis of executive privilege and national security (see October 25, 1952). The case, US v Reynolds, overturns an appellate court decision that found against the government (see December 11, 1951). Originally split 5-4 on the decision, the Court goes to 6-3 when Justice William O. Douglas joins the majority. The three dissenters, Justices Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, and Robert Jackson, refuse to write a dissenting opinion, instead adopting the decision of the appellate court as their dissent.
'State Secrets' a Valid Reason for Keeping Documents out of Judicial, Public Eye - Chief Justice Fred Vinson writes the majority opinion. Vinson refuses to grant the executive branch the near-unlimited power to withhold documents from judicial review, as the government’s arguments before the court implied (see October 21, 1952), but instead finds what he calls a “narrower ground for defense” in the Tort Claims Act, which compels the production of documents before a court only if they are designated “not privileged.” The government’s claim of privilege in the Reynolds case was valid, Vinson writes. But the ruling goes farther; Vinson upholds the claim of “state secrets” as a reason for withholding documents from judicial review or public scrutiny. In 2008, author Barry Siegel will write: “In truth, only now was the Supreme Court formally recognizing the privilege, giving the government the precedent it sought, a precedent binding on all courts throughout the nation. Most important, the Court was also—for the first time—spelling out how the privilege should be applied.” Siegel will call the Reynolds ruling “an effort to weigh competing legitimate interests,” but the ruling does not allow judges to see the documents in order to make a decision about their applicability in a court case: “By instructing judges not to insist upon examining documents if the government can satisfy that ‘a reasonable danger’ to national security exists, Vinson was asking jurists to fly blind.” Siegel will mark the decision as “an act of faith. We must believe the government,” he will write, “when it claims [the accident] would reveal state secrets. We must trust that the government is telling the truth.”
Time of Heightened Tensions Drives Need for Secrecy - Vinson goes on to note, “[W]e cannot escape judicial notice that this is a time of vigorous preparation for the national defense.” Locked in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and fighting a war in Korea, the US is, Vinson writes, in a time of crisis, and one where military secrets must be kept and even encouraged. [U. S. v. Reynolds, 3/9/1953; Siegel, 2008, pp. 171-176]
Future Ramifications - Reflecting on the decision in 2008, Siegel will write that while the case will not become as well known as many other Court decisions, it will wield significant influence. The ruling “formally recognized and established the framework for the government’s ‘state secrets’ privilege—a privilege that for decades had enabled federal agencies to conceal conduct, withhold documents, and block civil litigation, all in the name of national secrecy.… By encouraging judicial deference when the government claimed national security secrets, Reynolds had empowered the Executive Branch in myriad ways. Among other things, it had provided a fundamental legal argument for much of the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Enemy combatants such as Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001) and Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002), for many months confined without access to lawyers, had felt the breath of Reynolds. So had the accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui when federal prosecutors defied a court order allowing him access to other accused terrorists (see March 22, 2005). So had the Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar (see September 26, 2002), like dozens of others the subject of a CIA extraordinary rendition to a secret foreign prison (see After September 11, 2001). So had hundreds of detainees at the US Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, held without charges or judicial review (see September 27, 2001). So had millions of American citizens, when President Bush, without judicial knowledge or approval, authorized domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency (see Early 2002). US v. Reynolds made all this possible. The bedrock of national security law, it had provided a way for the Executive Branch to formalize an unprecedented power and immunity, to pull a veil of secrecy over its actions.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. ix-x]

Entity Tags: William O. Douglas, Zacarias Moussaoui, US Supreme Court, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Robert Jackson, Jose Padilla, Felix Frankfurter, Bush administration (43), Fred Vinson, Barry Siegel, George W. Bush, Hugo Black, Maher Arar

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power, State Secrets, Government Classification

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, attempting to protect government files from Senator Joe McCarthy (R-WI)‘s anti-Communist “witch hunts” and to prevent government officials from being forced to testify at the Army’s hearings on McCarthy, cites a never-before-used phrase, “executive privilege,” to resist giving over information or allowing aides to testify. While presidents have withheld information from Congress before in narrow and defined circumstances—in 1792, George Washington refused to allow Congress and the courts to obtain information about a disastrous military expedition against Native Americans along the Ohio River, for example—Eisenhower is the first to assert that the executive branch has the right to withhold any internal documents or block officials from giving testimony to other branches or agencies of the government. In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write that Eisenhower’s actions “creat[ed] a potentially boundless new category of government information a president could deny to Congress.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 20; National Public Radio, 6/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Joseph McCarthy, Dwight Eisenhower, Charlie Savage

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

One of the first schools to implement desegregation is Barnard Elementary in Washington, DC. This photo shows black and white children in the same classroom.One of the first schools to implement desegregation is Barnard Elementary in Washington, DC. This photo shows black and white children in the same classroom. [Source: Library of Congress]The landmark US Supreme Court case Oliver Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, rules that racial segregation in public schools violates the Fourteenth Amendment. The unanimous decision overturns the doctrine of “separate but equal” education codified in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling (see 1896). The case was argued by the Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the legal arm of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The organizations filed the suit as a challenge to the “separate but equal” doctrine, and combined five separate cases under the one Brown v. Board of Education rubric. The Supreme Court heard arguments on the case three different times in three years. In a unanimous decision, the Court finds that the “separate but equal” doctrine violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, and orders desegregation “with all deliberate speed.” Chief Justice Earl Warren wants to send a powerful signal to the nation in the ruling, and works to craft a unanimous decision with no dissents or even concurrences. He writes the Court’s opinion himself, but seeks the input of the other justices in two draft opinions that he tailors into his final opinion. One of the compromises he is forced to make is to put off the question of actually implementing desegregation until a later time, inadvertently allowing many states to keep segregationist practices in place for decades. Warren says the opinion should be “short, readable by the lay public, non-rhetorical, unemotional, and, above all, non-accusatory.” Justice William O. Douglas is delighted by Warren’s opinion, and in a note to Warren, writes: “I do not think I would change a single word in the memoranda you gave me this morning. The two draft opinions meet my idea exactly. You have done a beautiful job.” Justice Harold H. Burton writes a memo to Warren reading in part: “Today I believe has been a great day for America and the Court.… I cherish the privilege of sharing in this.… To you goes the credit for the character of the opinions which produced the all important unanimity. Congratulations.” In an internal memo, Justice Felix Frankfurter writes of the practice of segregation: “That it is such has been candidly acknowledged by numerous accounts & adjudications in those states where segregation is enforced. Only self conscious superiority or inability to slip into the other fellow’s skin can fail to appreciate that.” Frankfurter says the ruling makes for “a day of glory.” Some right-wing and segregationist organizations condemn the ruling; Warren is forwarded a letter from an official of the Sons of the American Revolution claiming the ruling is attributable to “the worldwide Communist conspiracy” and that the NAACP is financed by “a Communist front.” President Eisenhower will take strong action to reduce segregation in America, but refuses to endorse the Court’s ruling. In 1967, one of the NAACP’s lead attorneys in the case, Thurgood Marshall, will go on to serve on the Supreme Court. [Library of Congress, 1994; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Earl Warren, Dwight Eisenhower, Felix Frankfurter, Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Thurgood Marshall, Harold H. Burton, William O. Douglas, US Supreme Court, Sons of the American Revolution

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts

In the case of United States v. Auto Workers, the Supreme Court reverses a lower court’s dismissal of an indictment against a labor union accused of violating federal laws prohibiting corporations and labor unions from making contributions or expenditures in federal elections (see June 23, 1947). Justice Felix Frankfurter writes the majority opinion; Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justices William O. Douglas and Hugo Black dissent. In a 5-3 decision, the Court finds the International Union United Automobile, Aircraft, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America liable for its practice of using union dues to sponsor television commercials relating to the 1954 Congressional elections. [UNITED STATES v. AUTO. WORKERS, 2011; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Law professor Allison R. Hayward will later write that in her opinion the Court finding created “a fable of campaign finance reform… dictated by political opportunism. Politicians used reform to exploit public sentiment and reduce rivals’ access to financial resources.… [J]udges should closely examine campaign finance regulation and look for the improper use of legislation for political gain instead of simply deferring to Congress. Undue deference to the Auto Workers fable of reform could lead to punishment for the exercise of political rights. Correcting the history is thus essential to restoring proper checks on campaign finance legislation.” Hayward will argue that Frankfurter used a timeline of Congressional efforts to curb and reform campaign finance practices as an excuse to allow powerful political interests to exert restrictions on political opponents with less access to large election finance contributions. The case is used uncritically, and sometimes unfairly, to influence later campaign reform efforts, Hayward will argue. [Hayward, 6/17/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Earl Warren, Allison R. Hayward, Felix Frankfurter, International Union United Automobile, Aircraft, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, William O. Douglas, Hugo Black

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

The US Supreme Court rules in Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections that literacy tests for voting in North Carolina are constitutional. The case was brought by an African-American voter who argued that his right to vote was being unconstitutionally constrained. The Court rules that because the literacy test applies to all voters, it is legal (see April 25, 1898). The American Civil Liberties Union will call the ruling “a major setback to voting rights.” [PBS, 12/2006; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

In a landmark ruling, the US Supreme Court, in the case of Baker v. Carr, finds that courts can order state legislatures to redraw district boundaries to ensure citizens’ political rights. The case pertains directly to Tennessee, which still uses 60-year-old district boundaries that give minorities less representation than would be the case if districts were redrawn to more equally represent populations. Hence, Tennessee has an outsized white majority in its state legislature. The Court rules that courts can order such districts to be redrawn. The ruling is a major advancement for minority voting rights. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

The US Supreme Court, in the case of Gray v. Sanders, rules that Georgia’s “county unit” system of voting is unconstitutional, and codifies the concept of “one person, one vote.” Georgia’s “county unit” voting system is unfairly weighed to maximize votes from largely white rural areas and to dilute votes from urban districts with larger minority populations. Georgia voter James Sanders brought a suit challenging the system; his suit named James H. Gray, the chairman of the State Executive Committee of the Democratic Party, as one of the defendants. The Court agreed to hear this case though it had refused to hear previous challenges to the “county unit” system in the past. The Court rules 8-1 that the system violates the Fourteenth Amendment, which grants equal protection under the law. In the majority opinion, Justice William O. Douglas writes, “The conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Amendments can mean only one thing—one person, one vote.” The lone dissenter, Justice John Marshall Harlan II, says the case should be sent back to lower courts for retrial. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: William O. Douglas, James H. Gray, James Sanders, US Supreme Court, John Marshall Harlan II

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

The US Supreme Court applies the concept of “one person, one vote” (see March 18, 1963) to legislative bodies. The Court, ruling in Reynolds v. Sims, forces Alabama to redraw legislative boundaries that had remained unchanged since 1900 (see March 26, 1962). The Court rules that “the right to exercise the franchise in a free and unimpaired manner is preservative of other basic civil and political rights,” finding that Alabama’s legislative boundaries unfairly underrepresented minority voters. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

Deputy Cecil Price and Sheriff Lawrence Rainey lounge in the courtroom during a hearing on charges brought against them in the murders of three civil rights workers. Rainey is chewing tobacco.Deputy Cecil Price and Sheriff Lawrence Rainey lounge in the courtroom during a hearing on charges brought against them in the murders of three civil rights workers. Rainey is chewing tobacco. [Source: University of Missouri-Kansas City]A federal grand jury in Jackson, Mississippi, indicts 19 Ku Klux Klan members and others for the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers, James E. Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. The indictments mark the first time in Mississippi history that white men have faced serious charges for committing race-related crimes. Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price will be sentenced to six years in jail. KKK leader Sam Bowers and KKK member Wayne Roberts will receive 10 years apiece. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012] Investigators conclude that Bowers, the Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi, instigated the murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner. Klan members had attempted to kidnap Schwerner on June 16, 1964, but when they were unable to find him, instead set fire to a black church and systematically beat a group of black churchgoers. Schwerner, along with Chaney and Goodman, were in Ohio at the time and returned to Mississippi after hearing of the incident. Both Price and his superior, Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey, are members of the KKK, and have a reputation for being “tough” on blacks, and officials of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the organization that sponsors the three civil rights workers, were worried about their safety. On June 21, while asking about the fire and the beatings, the three workers were notified that a group of white men was looking for them. They were arrested by Price while driving to the CORE offices in Meridian, allegedly on suspicion of being involved in the church arson, and taken to the Neshoba County jail. Price met with KKK recruiter (kleagle) Edgar Ray Killen to discuss what to do with the three. Price and the other police officers pretended to release the three, and let them drive away, but Price followed them in his police cruiser. Price pulled the car carrying the three over, placed them in his police cruiser, and drove them down a lonely dirt road, followed by at least a dozen Klan members. The three were beaten by the various Klan members, then shot to death by Klan member Wayne Roberts. The bodies were taken to a dam site at a nearby farm and buried under tons of dirt by earthmoving equipment. It is almost certain that Price informed Rainey of the murders and the burials upon returning to his office. Justice Department and FBI agents began investigating the disappearance of the three workers (giving the case the name “Mississippi Burning,” or MIBURN), and soon found the burned-out hulk of the station wagon driven by Chaney during the three’s final moments. Federal agents found it difficult to find witnesses willing to talk, but FBI agent John Proctor found that children were often knowledgeable and willing to speak in return for candy. A $30,000 reward offering led agents to the buried bodies. Informants from within the Klan itself finally broke open the case, particularly John Jordan, a Meridian speakeasy owner who cooperated with agents rather than face a long prison term. In December 1964, 19 men, including Price, Bowers, Roberts, and Killen, were arrested and charged under Mississippi law. Initially, a US commissioner threw out all of the charges against the 19, claiming that no evidence linked them to the crimes, but the 19 will be charged under federal laws instead. Segregationist Judge William Harold Cox will again dismiss the charges against all but Rainey and Price, but the US Supreme Court will reinstate the charges in February 1966. Cox will impose the extraordinarily lenient sentences, and will later say, “They killed one n_gger, one Jew, and a white man—I gave them all what I thought they deserved.” Price will only serve four years of his sentence before rejoining his family in Philadelphia, Mississippi. In 1999, Mississippi will reopen the investigation, and in 2005 will reindict Killen, who escaped conviction in the first trial because of the jury’s refusal to “convict a preacher.” Killen will be sentenced to 60 years in jail on three counts of manslaughter. [Douglas O. Linder, 2005]

Entity Tags: Sam Bowers, US Department of Justice, William Harold Cox, Wayne Roberts, US Supreme Court, Michael Schwerner, Ku Klux Klan, John Proctor, Lawrence Rainey, Congress of Racial Equality, Andrew Goodman, Edgar Ray Killen, James E. Chaney, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Jordan, Cecil Price

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Detainments in US

President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act (VRA) into law. Based on the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869), the VRA is a potent set of statutes that permanently bars direct barriers to political participation by racial and ethnic minorities. It bans any election practice that denies the right to vote due to race, and requires areas with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval of changes in their election laws before they can take effect. The VRA forbids literacy tests (see 1896, April 25, 1898, and June 8, 1959) and other barriers to registration that have worked to stop minority voters from exercising their rights (see 1888, June 21, 1915, and February 4, 1964). Sections 2 and 5 of the VRA work together to prohibit states from establishing voting qualifications or standards that interfere with a citizen’s right to vote on a racial basis. Section 5 requires states with a history of racial discrimination to obtain “preclearance” from the Justice Department before altering any laws pertaining to voting—this includes changing electoral districts, voter qualification rules, and even changes in government structure such as making a formerly elective office appointive. If the changes can be seen as possibly “diluting” minority voting strength, they can be disallowed. States wishing to challenge the VRA restrictions have the opportunity to have their cases heard in federal court. Section 2 has similar, if less restrictive, provisions that apply nationally. Section 10 of the VRA takes direct aim at the Breedlove ruling from the Supreme Court (see December 6, 1937), which had legitimized poll taxes used to disenfranchise minority voters. That portion of the VRA finds that poll taxes “impose… unreasonable financial hardship” and “precludes persons of limited means from voting.” The VRA also forbids the use of literacy tests, good character tests, and other such tests used in the past to suppress minority voting. The law urges the attorney general to urge the Court to overrule Breedlove; minutes after Johnson signs the bill into law, he directs the attorney general “to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the poll tax.” The Court will find poll taxes unconstitutional in its Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections ruling (see March 24, 1966). The US Department of Justice and the federal courts now have the power to monitor problem jurisdictions and assist private citizens in seeking redress through the courts if their voting rights are infringed. Months later, the Supreme Court will uphold the constitutionality of the VRA. [eNotes, 2004; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; Yale Law School, 2/8/2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

The US Supreme Court, in the case of Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, finds Virginia’s law upholding “poll taxes” to be unconstitutional. The 7-2 decision finds that poll taxes—fees demanded of voters, which have been used for over a century to disenfranchise minority voters (see February 4, 1964 and December 6, 1937)—violate the Constitution by imposing discriminatory restrictions on voting. Justice William O. Douglas writes the majority opinion, with Justice Hugo Black and John Marshall Harlan II dissenting. Douglas cites the landmark Brown v. Board decision (see May 17, 1954) and the recently passed Voting Rights Act (see August 6, 1965) in his ruling. [Legal Information Institute, 2011]

Entity Tags: Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, US Supreme Court, John Marshall Harlan II

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

The California Supreme Court, ruling in the case of Otsuka v. Hite, provides a strict interpretation of the phrase “infamous crimes” in the state Constitution. That phrase has been used to strip citizens convicted of “infamous crimes” of the right to vote (see 1802-1857). The California high court rules that only those “deemed to constitute a threat to the integrity of the elective process” should be disenfranchised. [Otsuka v. Hite, 5/24/1966 pdf file; ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: California Supreme Court

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

A federal appeals court rules in Green v. Board of Elections of New York that New York State’s criminal disenfranchisement statutes (see 1802-1857) are legal under the state Constitution. The ruling finds that “a man who breaks the laws he has authorized his agent to make for his own governance could fairly have been thought to have abandoned the right to participate in further administering the compact.… It can scarcely be deemed unreasonable for a state to decide that perpetrators of serious crimes shall not take part in electing the legislators who make the laws.” The New York Supreme Court will uphold the verdict. [Green v. Board of Elections of New York, 6/13/1967 pdf file; ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: New York Supreme Court

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

Abe Fortas.Abe Fortas. [Source: US Senate]Abe Fortas resigns from the Supreme Court under pressure. Fortas, a liberal Democrat and political crony of outgoing president Lyndon Johnson, was originally chosen by Johnson to replace retiring Chief Justice Earl Warren, but conservatives in the Senate blocked Fortas’s confirmation (see June 23, 1969). President Nixon intended to fill the Court with as many of his choices as possible, and he, along with conservative Republicans and Democrats who do not agree with Fortas’s liberal stance on civil rights, targeted Fortas for a smear campaign designed to force him off the bench. Nixon used what White House counsel John Dean will later call “an ugly bluff” against Fortas: He has Attorney General John Mitchell inform Fortas that he intends to open a special probe into Fortas’s dealings—while on the bench—with a financier already under investigation. Mitchell insinuates that he will put Fortas’s wife, herself an attorney and partner at Fortas’s former law firm, and other former partners of Fortas’s on the witness stand. Whether Fortas actually had any direct illegal dealings with this financier is unclear—certainly his dealings had such an appearance—but the bluff worked; Fortas agreed to retire early, thus clearing a position on the Court for Nixon to fill. Nixon will find it difficult to replace Fortas with one of the Southern conservatives he wants on the Court; Senate Democrats will lead successful efforts to block the nomination of two of Nixon’s nominees, the respected, moderately conservative Clement Haynsworth, and the virulently racist G. Harrold Carswell, himself recommended by Mitchell’s assistant, William Rehnquist. (Carswell’s failed nomination will produce a memorable statement from Senator Roman Hruska (R-NE), who, in defense of Carswell, tells the Senate: “Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?”) Nixon will use the defeats to make political hay in the South by claiming that Senate Democrats do not want a Southerner on the bench. [Dean, 2007, pp. 127-129]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, US Supreme Court, William Rehnquist, Roman Hruska, Lyndon B. Johnson, John Mitchell, G. Harrold Carswell, John Dean, Clement Haynsworth, Earl Warren, Abe Fortas

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes

June 23, 1969: Burger Becomes Chief Justice

Warren Burger.Warren Burger. [Source: US Government]Former appellate judge Warren Burger begins his term as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Burger was named months before by newly elected president Richard Nixon after two earlier candidates, former Eisenhower attorney general Herbert Brownell and former GOP presidential candidate Thomas Dewey, turned down the job. Supreme Court Associate Justice Abe Fortas was to be Chief Justice as one of then-president Lyndon Johnson’s last acts, but Senate Republicans, supported by conservative Senate Democrats who oppose Fortas’s civil rights rulings, successfully filibustered Fortas’s nomination and actually forced Fortas’s premature resignation (see May 14, 1969). The blocking of Fortas has an additional element: in June 1968, Chief Justice Earl Warren announced that he would step down, giving Johnson ample time to place Fortas in the position. However, Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon wanted to name the Chief Justice himself, if he won the national election. To that end, Nixon sent word to Congressional Republicans to block Johnson’s naming of a replacement for Warren. Senate Republicans launched the filibuster after being given information that intimated Fortas had received an inordinately large honorarium for teaching a course at American University, a sum said to have been raised by one of his former law partners. [Dean, 2007, pp. 127-128]

Entity Tags: Herbert Brownell, Earl Warren, Thomas Dewey, Warren Burger, Abe Fortas, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes

The Nixon administration revamps the Bureau of the Budget into the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In 2007, author Charlie Savage will describe the first OMB as “a brain trust of political loyalists who helped the president to manage the sprawling federal bureaucracy so that he would bend its work to his agenda.” By President Nixon’s second term, his top officials are dissatisfied with the results, and decide to take stronger steps. According to administration memos, the new strategy is, as Savage will write, “to politicize the bureaucracy by purging it and then restocking it with ‘Nixon loyalists’ who would ‘retake the departments.’ Agency heads were to send regular reports to Nixon’s chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, about their progress in ‘gaining control of the bureaucracy.’” The efforts will bear little fruit after the Watergate scandal derails the idea. [Savage, 2007, pp. 304] The Reagan administration will revive the scheme (see February 1981 and After).

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, Charlie Savage, Office of Management and Budget, H.R. Haldeman, Richard M. Nixon

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

President Nixon approves the “Huston Plan” for greatly expanding domestic intelligence-gathering by the FBI, CIA and other agencies. Four days later he rescinds his approval. [Washington Post, 2008] Nixon aide Tom Charles Huston comes up with the plan, which involves authorizing the CIA, FBI, NSA, and military intelligence agencies to escalate their electronic surveillance of “domestic security threats” in the face of supposed threats from Communist-led youth agitators and antiwar groups (see June 5, 1970). The plan would also authorize the surreptitious reading of private mail, lift restrictions against surreptitious entries or break-ins to gather information, plant informants on college campuses, and create a new, White House-based “Interagency Group on Domestic Intelligence and Internal Security.” Huston’s Top Secret memo warns that parts of the plan are “clearly illegal.” Nixon approves the plan, but rejects one element—that he personally authorize any break-ins. Nixon orders that all information and operations to be undertaken under the new plan be channeled through his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, with Nixon deliberately being left out of the loop. The first operations to be undertaken are using the Internal Revenue Service to harass left-wing think tanks and charitable organizations such as the Brookings Institution and the Ford Foundation. Huston writes that “[m]aking sensitive political inquiries at the IRS is about as safe a procedure as trusting a whore,” since the administration has no “reliable political friends at IRS.” He adds, “We won’t be in control of the government and in a position of effective leverage until such time as we have complete and total control of the top three slots of the IRS.” Huston suggests breaking into the Brookings Institute to find “the classified material which they have stashed over there,” adding: “There are a number of ways we could handle this. There are risks in all of them, of course; but there are also risks in allowing a government-in-exile to grow increasingly arrogant and powerful as each day goes by.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 235-236] In 2007, author James Reston Jr. will call the Huston plan “arguably the most anti-democratic document in American history… a blueprint to undermine the fundamental right of dissent and free speech in America.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 102]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, National Security Agency, Richard M. Nixon, Brookings Institution, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ford Foundation, Internal Revenue Service, Tom Charles Huston, James Reston, Jr

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Category Tags: Freedom of Speech / Religion, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Other Surveillance

The federal government enacts the Revenue Act as a companion, and precursor, to the omnibus Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972). The Revenue Act creates a public campaign fund for eligible presidential candidates, beginning with the 1976 presidential election, through the provision of a voluntary one-dollar checkoff box on federal income tax returns. (This provision was actually introduced into law by the 1968 Long Act.) The law also allows for a $50 tax deduction for individual filers for contributions to local, state, or federal candidates, a provision that will be eliminated in 1978. It provides a $12.50 tax credit for the same purpose, a provision that will be raised to $50 in 1978 and eliminated in 1986. [Federal Elections Commission, 1998; Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, Revenue Act of 1971

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, 'Tenther' Initiative

At the behest of President Nixon (see June 15, 1971), the Justice Department files a motion with the US District Court in New York requesting a temporary restraining order and an injunction against the New York Times to prevent further publication of articles stemming from the “Pentagon Papers” (see June 13, 1971). The landmark case of New York Times Company v. United States begins. The government’s argument is based on the assertion that the publication of the documents jeopardizes national security, makes it more difficult to prosecute the Vietnam War, and endangers US intelligence assets. The Times will base its defense on the principles embodied in the First Amendment, as well as the argument that just because the government claims that some materials are legitimately classified as top secret, this does not mean they have to be kept out of the public eye; the Times will argue that the government does not want to keep the papers secret to protect national security, but instead to protect itself from embarrassment and possible criminal charges. The court grants the temporary restraining order request, forcing the Times to temporarily stop publishing excerpts from the documents. [Herda, 1994; Moran, 2007]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Richard M. Nixon, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Government Classification

The Supreme Court rules 6-3 not to permanently enjoin the New York Times and other press organs from publishing articles derived from the Pentagon Papers (see June 26, 1971). Three justices, William O. Douglas, Hugo Black, and Thurgood Marshall, insist that the government can never suppress the publication of information no matter what the threat to national security; the other three in the majority, Potter Stewart, Byron White, and William Brennan, use a more moderate “common sense” standard that says, though the government can suppress publication of sensitive information under circumstances of war or national emergency, this case did not meet the criteria for such suppression. Chief Justice Warren Burger is joined by Harry Blackmun and John Harlan in dissenting; they believe that the president has the unrestrained authority to prevent confidential materials affecting foreign policy from being published. The Times’s lawyer says that the ruling will help ensure that a federal court will not issue a restraining order against a news outlet simply because the government is unhappy with the publication of a particular article. [Herda, 1994]

Entity Tags: Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, Byron White, Hugo Black, John Harlan, New York Times, Potter Stewart, William O. Douglas, Warren Burger, William Brennan, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Government Classification

The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) becomes law. The act is designed to regulate the operation of advisory committees, and includes an open meeting requirement. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 10] The idea behind the law is to curtail the back-room decision-making that has become a hallmark of recent presidencies. [US Congress, 1994; Federal Interagency Databases Online, 2008]

Entity Tags: Federal Advisory Committee Act

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret

Deputy Attorney General William Rehnquist is sworn in as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, replacing the retiring John Harlan. Rehnquist was active in the Arizona Republican Party, and became well-known in the state as a conservative activist who, among other things, opposed school integration. Rehnquist befriended fellow Phoenix attorney Richard Kleindienst, who, after becoming attorney general under Richard Nixon, brought Rehnquist into the Justice Department. Rehnquist faced little difficulty in his confirmation hearings in the Democratically-led Senate Judiciary Hearings. [Oyez (.org), 9/3/2005] Rehnquist may have perjured himself during those hearings. He was confronted with charges that, as a Republican Party attorney and poll watcher, he had harassed and challenged minority voters in Arizona during the 1962, 1964, and 1966 elections. Rehnquist swore in an affidavit that the charges were false, even though the evidence available to the Senate showed Rehnquist did take part in such activities, which were legal in Arizona at the time. (Rehnquist will again deny the charges in 1986, when he is nominated for chief justice—see September 26, 1986). Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will observe: “After reading and rereading his testimony, it appears to me that what he was really saying to the Senate [in 1971] was that he was not quite sure himself of his behavior, but he could not bring himself to tell the truth. Thus, his blanket 1971 denial forced him to remain consistent to that denial in 1986, and since his blanket denial was a lie, he had to continue lying. His false statement to Congress in 1971 was a crime, but the statute of limitations had passed. His false statement to Congress in 1986, however, was pure perjury.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 129-137]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, John Dean, Richard Kleindienst, William Rehnquist, John Harlan, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The US Supreme Court overturns Tennessee’s “Duration Residency” law that prohibits some residents from voting. In the case of Dunn v. Blumstein, Tennessee’s law requiring voters to live in the state for a year before voting, and in a given county for 90 days before voting, is challenged. Tennessee law requires voters to register 30 days before an election in order to vote in that election, but has more stringent residency requirements. A lower court held the law unconstitutional because it interfered with a citizen’s right to vote and created what the court called a “suspect” classification of citizens, resulting in some Tennessee residents being unfairly penalized. Tennessee’s position is that the requirements are needed to ensure the integrity of voting, and to ensure that voters are knowledgeable about what they are voting on. The Supreme Court finds that the “durational residency” requirements violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; US Supreme Court Center, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

The US Supreme Court, in what becomes informally known as the “Keith case,” upholds, 8-0, an appellate court ruling that strikes down warrantless surveillance of domestic groups for national security purposes. The Department of Justice had wiretapped, without court warrants, several defendants charged with destruction of government property; those wiretaps provided key evidence against the defendants. Attorney General John Mitchell refused to disclose the source of the evidence pursuant to the “national security” exception to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The courts disagreed, and the government appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which upheld the lower courts’ rulings against the government in a unanimous verdict. The Court held that the wiretaps were an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment, establishing the judicial precedent that warrants must be obtained before the government can wiretap a US citizen. [US Supreme Court, 6/19/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 258-259] Critics of the Nixon administration have long argued that its so-called “Mitchell Doctrine” of warrantlessly wiretapping “subversives” has been misused to spy on anyone whom Nixon officials believe may be political enemies. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 258-259] As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, Congress passes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. [John Conyers, 5/14/2003]
Opinion of Justice Powell - Writing for the Court, Justice Lewis Powell observes: “History abundantly documents the tendency of Government—however benevolent and benign its motives—to view with suspicion those who most fervently dispute its policies. Fourth Amendment protections become the more necessary when the targets of official surveillance may be those suspected of unorthodoxy in their political beliefs. The danger to political dissent is acute where the government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect ‘domestic security.’ Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent.” [US Supreme Court, 6/19/1972]
Justice Department Wiretapped Reporters, Government Officials - In February 1973, the media will report that, under the policy, the Justice Department had wiretapped both reporters and Nixon officials themselves who were suspected of leaking information to the press (see May 1969 and July 26-27, 1970), and that some of the information gleaned from those wiretaps was given to “Plumbers” E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy for their own political espionage operations. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 258-259]
Conyers Hails Decision 30 Years Later - In 2003, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) will say on the floor of the House: “Prior to 1970, every modern president had claimed ‘inherent Executive power’ to conduct electronic surveillance in ‘national security’ cases without the judicial warrant required in criminal cases by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Then Attorney General John Mitchell, on behalf of President Richard Nixon sought to wiretap several alleged ‘domestic’ terrorists without warrants, on the ground that it was a national security matter. Judge [Damon] Keith rejected this claim of the Sovereign’s inherent power to avoid the safeguard of the Fourth Amendment. He ordered the government to produce the wiretap transcripts. When the Attorney General appealed to the US Supreme Court, the Court unanimously affirmed Judge Keith. The Keith decision not only marked a watershed in civil liberties protection for Americans. It also led directly to the current statutory restriction on the government’s electronic snooping in national security cases.” [John Conyers, 5/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Lewis Powell, US Supreme Court, John Mitchell, E. Howard Hunt, US Department of Justice, G. Gordon Liddy, ’Plumbers’, Damon Keith, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Other Surveillance, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

In the case of Pipefitters Local Union No. 562 et al v. US, the Supreme Court overturns a criminal conviction of the Pipefitters Union for violating the Smith-Connally Act (see June 25, 1943) and the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA—see 1925). That law bans labor unions from contributing to political campaigns, and Pipefitters Union officials had administered a political action committee (see 1944). The Court, citing the newly passed Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972), overturns the conviction, ruling that FECA “plainly permits union officials to establish, administer, and solicit contributions for a political fund.” The decision is later codified by the amendments to the law (see 1974). [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999; US Supreme Court Center, 2012]

Entity Tags: Pipefitters Union, US Supreme Court, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

Headline from the New York Times regarding the ‘Roe’ decision.Headline from the New York Times regarding the ‘Roe’ decision. [Source: RubeReality (.com)]The US Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, legalizes abortion on a federal level in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade. The majority opinion is written by Justice Harry Blackmun; he is joined by Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices William O. Douglas, William Brennan, Potter Stewart, Thurgood Marshall, and Lewis Powell. Justices Byron “Whizzer” White and William Rehnquist dissent from the opinion. Blackmun’s majority opinion finds that the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of personal liberty and previous decisions protecting privacy in family matters include a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy. White’s dissent argues that the Court has “fashion[ed] and announce[d] a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers and, with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invest[ed] that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes.” The decision does not make abortion freely available to women in any stage of pregnancy. It places the following constraints:
bullet No restrictions on availability are made during the first trimester (three months) of a woman’s pregnancy.
bullet Because of increased risks to a woman’s health during the second trimester, the state may regulate the abortion procedure only “in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.”
bullet In the third and final trimester, since the rate of viability (live birth) is markedly greater than in the first two trimesters, the state can restrict or even prohibit abortions as it chooses, “except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.”
Originally brought to challenge a Texas law prohibiting abortions, the decision disallows a host of state and federal restrictions on abortion, and sparks an enormous controversy over the moral, religious, and legal viability of abortion that continues well into the 21st century. [ROE v. WADE, 410 US 113 (1973), 1/22/1973; CNN, 1/22/2003; National Abortion Federation, 2010] In a related case, Roe v. Bolton, the Court strikes down restrictions on facilities that can be used to provide abortions. The ruling leads to the establishment of so-called “abortion clinics.” [CBS News, 4/19/2007]

Entity Tags: Potter Stewart, Byron White, Lewis Powell, Harry Blackmun, William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court, William O. Douglas, Warren Burger, William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Privacy

The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act becomes law. The act establishes the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and restricts the ability of the president to block the use of funds once they have been appropriated by Congress. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 10]

Entity Tags: Congressional Budget Office, Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes

Representatives William Moorhead (D-PA) and Frank Horton (R-NY) cosponsor a series of amendments designed to improve the effectiveness of the 1966 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The law is designed to make it easier for journalists, researchers, and citizens to see government records, but in practice the law is cumbersome: agencies have little impetus to produce documents in a timely manner, charge exorbitant fees for searching and copying documents, and too often battle FOIA requests in court. With Watergate fresh in legislators’ minds, the amendments to FOIA are welcome changes. The amendments expand the federal agencies covered, and mandate expediting of document and record requests. But as the bill nears final passage, senior officials of the Ford White House are mobilizing to challenge it. The CIA, Defense and Treasury Departments, Civil Service, and many on President Ford’s staff, including Deputy Chief of Staff Dick Cheney, all urge a veto. Most bothersome is the provision that a court can review a federal decision not to release a document requested under FOIA. Ford will veto the bill, but Congress will override the vetoes (see November 20, 1974). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 29-30]

Entity Tags: William Moorhead, US Department of the Treasury, US Civil Service, Frank Horton, Ford administration, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Defense, Freedom of Information Act, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Media Freedoms, Other Legal Changes

The US Supreme Court rules in Richardson v. Ramirez that states may deny convicted felons the right to vote. The case originated when felons who had completed their sentences sued the California secretary of state and election officials, challenging a state constitutional provision and related statutes that permanently denied them the right to vote unless their rights were restored, on an individual basis, by court order or executive pardon. The burden is generally on the state to show a “compelling state interest” in denying a citizen the right to vote. The plaintiffs argued that California had no compelling state interest in denying them their right to vote. The plaintiffs won their case in California’s Supreme Court. However, the US Supreme Court rules that a state does not have to prove that its felony disfranchisement laws serve a compelling state interest. The Court finds that the Fourteenth Amendment exempts felony disenfranchisement laws from the burden placed on states in voting rights matters. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; RICHARDSON v. RAMIREZ, 418 US 24 (1974), 2012] The Court writes: “[I]t is not for us to choose one set of values over the other. If respondents are correct, and the view which they advocate is indeed the more enlightened one, presumably the people of the State of California will ultimately come around to the view. And if they do not do so, their failure is some evidence, at least, of the fact that there are two sides to the argument.” [ProCon, 10/19/2010; RICHARDSON v. RAMIREZ, 418 US 24 (1974), 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, California Supreme Court

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

President Ford, weighing whether or not to sign into law a set of amendments strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA—see January 1974 - September 1974), is given a memo by aide Ken Cole. In it, Cole writes: “There is little question that the legislation is bad on the merits, the real question is whether opposing it is important enough to face the political consequences. Obviously, there is a significant political disadvantage to vetoing a Freedom of Information bill, especially just before an election, when your administration’s theme is one of openness and candor.” [National Security Archive, 11/23/2004] Ford will veto the bill, but Congress will override his veto (see November 20-21, 1974).

Entity Tags: Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Ken Cole

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), passed in 1966, is significantly strengthened by a series of amendments (see January 1974 - September 1974) which become law over President Ford’s veto. Ford initially wanted to sign the bill as soon as it came to his desk from Congress, but was persuaded to veto it by Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, and the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Antonin Scalia. Rumsfeld and Cheney argued that the bill would promote leaks to the media from within the administration, and Scalia wrote a brief judging that the bill was unconstitutional. But Congress, weary of opposition after almost 11 years of investigations, reports, and hearings (and out of patience with executive foot-dragging after the Watergate investigations), is ready to pass the bill. The House of Representatives votes overwhelmingly to override Ford’s veto by a 371-31 vote. The Senate votes to override the veto 65-27. As a result, government attempts to hinder FOIA requests—subjecting requesters to unusual delays, charging requesters exorbitant prices for copying and searching, subjecting requesters to bureaucratic run-arounds, mixing confidential and exempt materials with non-exempt materials and using that juxtaposition to refuse to release materials, and forcing requesters to file costly lawsuits to force compliance—will be markedly constrained. [National Security Archive, 11/23/2004; Roberts, 2008, pp. 10]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Freedom of Information Act, Antonin Scalia, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) hands down an “advisory opinion” that, according to the mandates of the newly passed amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see 1974), allows corporations to spend general funds on solicitation of donations from stockholders and employees. The case stems from an attempt by Sun Oil Corporation to solicit employees, both union and non-union, for contributions to the corporation’s PAC, SUN PAC. The FEC’s advisory opinion, which by law is binding, reads in part, “It is the opinion of the Commission that Sun Oil may spend general treasury funds for solicitation of contributions to SUN PAC from stockholders and employees of the corporation.” The FEC’s reasoning is that the money is to be segregated according to the Supreme Court’s Pipefitters decision (see June 22, 1972), businesses have for years solicited their employees for both political and non-political causes, and FECA says that contributions to a separate segregated fund may not be secured by “job discrimination” or “financial reprisals.” Neither Congress nor the unions are pleased with the ruling. If corporations had been restricted to soliciting only their stockholders, they could have solicited only twice as many individuals as the labor unions, but with the ruling in place, corporations effectively can now solicit virtually the entire workforce of the nation. It is this decision that in part sparks the “PAC boom” among corporate PACs, which sees the number and funding of corporate PACs increase dramatically. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, SUN PAC, Sun Oil Corporation, Federal Election Commission

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Other Legal Changes

Map of the Cambodian coast showing the island of Koh Tang.Map of the Cambodian coast showing the island of Koh Tang. [Source: American Merchant Marine at War]A US cargo ship, the SS Mayaguez, is seized by the Cambodian navy in the Gulf of Siam. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger urges retaliatory action to punish the Cambodians and retake the ship, arguing that the US must let the Communist forces in Southeast Asia know that, even though the US has withdrawn from South Vietnam, the US would defend itself and its interests. President Ford agrees. Without asking or even consulting Congress, Ford, calling the capture of the Mayaguez an “act of piracy,” orders US Marines to attack Cambodian warships and storm the island of Koh Tang (sometimes spelled Kaoh Tang) where the crew of the Mayaguez is believed to be held prisoner. On May 15, some 180 Marines storm the island in a helicopter assault, with light air support. [American Merchant Marine at War, 6/5/2000; Savage, 2007, pp. 31-33]
Violation of Constitution, Law - Ford briefs Congressional leaders after the fact; the leaders agree that the attack is the right decision, but sharply disagree with how Ford carried out the decision. A 1971 law prohibits the use of ground forces in Cambodia, and the 1973 War Powers Resolution requires advance consultation with Congress “in every possible instance.” Speaker of the House Carl Albert (D-OK) reminds Ford, “There are charges on the floor [of the House] that you have violated the law.” And Senate Majority Whip Robert Byrd (D-WV) asks why Ford did not inform Congressional leaders before ordering the attacks, saying, “I’m for getting the ship back, but I think you should have given them a chance to urge caution.” Ford replies: “It is my constitutional responsibility to command the forces and to protect Americans.… We have a separation of powers. The president is the commander in chief so long as he is within the law. I exercised my power under the law and I complied with the law. I would never forgive myself if the Marines had been attacked.”
'Nerve and Steel' - The Mayaguez and her crew are recovered, and Ford’s decision is hailed by media outlets such as Newsweek as a “daring show of nerve and steel,” a “classic show of gunboat diplomacy,” and “a four star political and diplomatic victory.… It was swift and tough—and it worked.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 31-33]
Facts Far Different from Initial Reporting - But subsequent information shows that the initial reports of the US military action were false. The government will claim that one Marine died and 13 were wounded in the invasion of the Cambodian island. In reality, 40 soldiers die—15 in the initial assault (13 Marines and two Air Force soldiers), 23 Marines in a helicopter crash, and three Marines who are inadvertently left behind, captured by the Cambodians, and executed. Forty-four Marines and six Air Force soldiers are wounded. The US expected maybe two dozen Cambodian soldiers on the island, but in actuality well over 200 heavily armed and entrenched Cambodian soldiers were in place. The crew of the Mayaguez had never been on the island; the Cambodians had taken them to the mainland. And the Cambodian government had already publicly announced it was releasing the vessel and the crew before the attack began—Ford had not yet received the message when he authorized the Marine assault. Marines had stormed the Mayaguez and found no one on board; the crew was at sea in a fishing boat when the Marines launched their attack. It is never completely clear why the ruling Khmer Rouge releases the crew so quickly; some speculate intervention by China or Israel. But the facts of the incident, and the unexpectedly large number of deaths and injuries, are submerged in a wave of patriotic fervor that sweeps the country. A Ford administration official will later admit to Newsweek that the operation had been “the sheerest sort of jingoism,” but, he will argue, it worked to perfection, “and nobody challenges success.” Overwhelmed by the outpouring of public support for Ford and the “rescue” of the Mayaguez, Congress quickly shelves its objections to Ford’s usurpation of Constitutional principles. In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write, “The Mayaguez incident revealed just how difficult it would be for Congress to rein in a president once troops were committed.” [American Merchant Marine at War, 6/5/2000; Savage, 2007, pp. 31-33]

Entity Tags: Charlie Savage, Carl Albert, Robert C. Byrd, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Ford administration, Henry A. Kissinger

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

Bella Abzug.Bella Abzug. [Source: Spartacus Educational]Staffers from the Church Committee (see April, 1976), slated with investigating illegal surveillance operations conducted by the US intelligence community, approach the NSA for information about Operation Shamrock (see 1945-1975). The NSA ostensibly closes Shamrock down the very same day the committee staffers ask about the program. Though the Church Committee focuses on a relatively narrow review of international cables, the Pike Committee in the House (see January 29, 1976) is much more far-ranging. The Pike Committee tries and fails to subpoena AT&T, which along with Western Union collaborated with the government in allowing the NSA to monitor international communications to and from the US. The government protects AT&T by declaring it “an agent of the United States acting under contract with the Executive Branch.” A corollary House subcommittee investigation led by Bella Abzug (D-NY)—who believes that Operation Shamrock continues under a different name—leads to further pressure on Congress to pass a legislative remedy. The Ford administration’s counterattack is given considerable assistance by a young lawyer at the Justice Department named Antonin Scalia. The head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Scalia’s arguments in favor of continued warrantless surveillance and the unrestricted rights and powers of the executive branch—opposed by, among others, Scalia’s boss, Attorney General Edward Levi—do not win out this time; Ford’s successor, Jimmy Carter, ultimately signs into law the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). But Scalia’s incisive arguments win the attention of powerful Ford officials, particularly Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld and Rumsfeld’s assistant, Dick Cheney. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 36-37] Scalia will become a Supreme Court Justice in 1986 (see September 26, 1986).

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Church Committee, Bella Abzug, Antonin Scalia, AT&T, Donald Rumsfeld, Ford administration, National Security Agency, Western Union, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Edward Levi, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Pike Committee, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Other Surveillance

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh publishes an explosive story in the New York Times, revealing that US submarines are tapping into Soviet communications cables inside the USSR’s three-mile territorial limit. Hersh notes that his inside sources gave him the information in hopes that it would modify administration policy: they believe that using submarines in this manner violates the spirit of detente and is more risky than using satellites to garner similar information. The reaction inside both the Pentagon and the White House is predictably agitated. Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld, traveling in Europe with President Ford, delegates his deputy Dick Cheney to formulate the administration’s response. Cheney goes farther than most administration officials would have predicted. He calls a meeting with Attorney General Edward Levi and White House counsel Philip Buchan to discuss options. Cheney’s first thought is to either engineer a burglary of Hersh’s home to find classified documents, or to obtain search warrants and have Hersh’s home legally ransacked. He also considers having a grand jury indict Hersh and the Times over their publication of classified information. “Will we get hit with violating the 1st amendment to the constitution[?]” Cheney writes in his notes of the discussion. Levi manages to rein in Cheney; since the leak and the story do not endanger the spying operations, the White House ultimately decides to let the matter drop rather than draw further attention to it. Interestingly, Cheney has other strings to his bow; he writes in his notes: “Can we take advantage of [the leak] to bolster our position on the Church committee investigation (see April, 1976)? To point out the need for limits on the scope of the investigation?” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 34-35]

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, US Department of Defense, Ford administration, Edward Levi, Donald Rumsfeld, Church Committee, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Philip Buchan, New York Times, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Category Tags: Media Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

Senator John V. Tunney, chairman of the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, claims Mount Weather, a secret government facility located about 50 miles west of Washington, DC (see 1952-1958), has collected and stored data on at least 100,000 US citizens. During a Congressional hearing into reports of domestic surveillance, Tunney alleges, “computers—described as ‘the best in world’—can obtain millions of pieces of information on the personal lives of American citizens.” Mount Weather maintains a state-of-the-art surveillance system as part of the facility’s Civil Crisis Management program (see 1967-1976). General Robert T. Bray, who is called to testify at the hearing, refuses to answer repeated questions regarding the data collection programs. Bray says he is “not at liberty” to disclose “the role and the mission and the capability” at Mount Weather, “or any other precise location.” Mount Weather and nearly 100 other “Federal Relocation Centers” are considered a key aspect of the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program (see 1950-1962), which is designed to ensure the survival of the federal government in times of national emergency. Bray admits to committee members that Mount Weather stores data relating to “military installations, government facilities, communications, transportation, energy and power, agriculture, manufacturing, wholesale and retail services, manpower, financial, medical and educational institutions, sanitary facilities, population, housing shelter, and stockpiles.” Senator James Abourezk says, “the whole operation has eluded the supervision of either Congress or the courts.” Senator Tunney says Mount Weather is “out of control.” [Progressive, 3/1976]

Entity Tags: Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, James Abourezk, Mount Weather, John V. Tunney, Robert T. Bray

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Expansion of Presidential Power, Continuity of Government, Government Acting in Secret, Database Programs, Other Surveillance

The Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo, filed by Senator James L. Buckley (R-NY) and former Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-WI) against the Secretary of the Senate, Francis R. Valeo, challenges the constitutionality of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972 and 1974) on free-speech grounds. The suit also named the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as a defendant. A federal appeals court validated almost all of FECA, and the plaintiffs sent the case to the Supreme Court. The Court upholds the contribution limits set by FECA because those limits help to safeguard the integrity of elections. However, the court overrules the limits set on campaign expenditures, ruling: “It is clear that a primary effect of these expenditure limitations is to restrict the quantity of campaign speech by individuals, groups, and candidates. The restrictions… limit political expression at the core of our electoral process and of First Amendment freedoms.” One of the most important aspects of the Supreme Court’s ruling is that financial contributions to political campaigns can be considered expressions of free speech, thereby allowing individuals to essentially make unrestricted donations. The Court implies that expenditure limits on publicly funded candidates are allowable under the Constitution, because presidential candidates may disregard the limits by rejecting public financing (the Court will affirm this stance in a challenge brought by the Republican National Committee in 1980).
Provisions of 'Buckley' - The Court finds the following provisions constitutional:
bullet Limitations on contributions to candidates for federal office;
bullet Disclosure and record-keeping provisions; and
bullet The public financing of presidential elections.
However, the Court finds these provisions unconstitutional:
bullet Limitations on expenditures by candidates and their committees, except for presidential candidates who accept public funding;
bullet The $1,000 limitation on independent expenditures;
bullet The limitations on expenditures by candidates from their personal funds; and
bullet The method of appointing members of the FEC, holding that as the method stands, it violates the principle of separation of powers.
In May 1976, following the Court’s ruling, the FEC will reconstitute its board with six presidential appointees after Senate confirmation. [Federal Elections Commission, 3/1997; Federal Elections Commission, 1998; Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; Casebriefs, 2012]
No Clear Authors - The opinion is labeled per curiam, a term usually reserved for brief and minor Court decisions when authorship of an opinion is less relevant. It is unclear exactly which Justices write the opinion. Most Court observers believe Justice William Brennan writes the bulk of the opinion, but Brennan’s biographers will later note that sections of the opinion are authored by Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices Potter Stewart, Lewis Powell, and William Rehnquist. The opinion is an amalgamation of multiple authors, reflecting the several compromises made in the resolution of the decision. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Criticism of 'Buckley' - Critics claim that the ruling enshrines the principle of “money equals speech.” The ruling also says that television and radio advertisements that do not expressly attack an individual candidate can be paid for with “unregulated” funds. This leads organizations to begin airing “attack ads” that masquerade as “issue ads,” ostensibly promoting or opposing a particular social or political issue and avoiding such words as “elect” or “defeat.” [National Public Radio, 2012] In 1999, law professor Burt Neuborne will write: “Buckley is like a rotten tree. Give it a good, hard push and, like a rotten tree, Buckley will keel over. The only question is in which direction.” Neuborne will write that his preference goes towards reasonable federal regulations of spending and contributions, but “any change would be welcome” in lieu of this decision, and even a completely deregulated system would be preferable to Buckley’s legal and intellectual incoherence. [New York Times, 5/3/2010] In 2011, law professor Richard Hasen will note that while the Buckley decision codifies the idea that contributions are a form of free speech, it also sets strict limitations on those contributions. Calling the decision “Solomonic,” Hasen will write that the Court “split the baby, upholding the contribution limits but striking down the independent spending limit as a violation of the First Amendment protections of free speech and association.” Hasen will reflect: “Buckley set the main parameters for judging the constitutionality of campaign finance restrictions for a generation. Contribution limits imposed only a marginal restriction on speech, because the most important thing about a contribution is the symbolic act of contributing, not the amount. Further, contribution limits could advance the government’s interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption. The Court upheld Congress’ new contribution limits. It was a different story with spending limits, which the Court said were a direct restriction on speech going to the core of the First Amendment. Finding no evidence in the record then that independent spending could corrupt candidates, the Court applied a tough ‘strict scrutiny’ standard of review and struck down the limits.” [Slate, 10/25/2011] In 2012, reporter and author Jeffrey Toobin will call it “one of the Supreme Court’s most complicated, contradictory, incomprehensible (and longest) opinions.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, Federal Election Commission, James Buckley, Jeffrey Toobin, US Supreme Court, Eugene McCarthy, Lewis Powell, Potter Stewart, Burt Neuborne, William Rehnquist, Warren Burger, Richard L. Hasen, William Brennan

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Freedom of Speech / Religion, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

President Ford issues Executive Order 11905, which limits the power of the CIA, the NSA, and military intelligence to engage in surveillance of US citizens. Perhaps its most well-known provision is a total ban on “political assassinations” by US government personnel. [Gerald R. Ford, 2/18/1976; Roberts, 2008, pp. 38] The provision is sparked by the Church Commission’s finding (see April, 1976) that assassination is “unacceptable in our society,” and a political embarassment, especially botched attempts such as the CIA’s efforts to kill Cuba’s Fidel Castro. [Grant J. Lilly, 4/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Church Commission, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes

The existence of Mount Weather, a secret underground government installation located about 50 miles west of Washington, DC (see 1950-1962), which houses a parallel executive branch that is prepared to take control of the country in the event of a national emergency, is revealed in an article published by The Progressive. According to the article, the secret government-in-waiting is part of the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is meant to keep the government functioning in times of disaster. The backup executive branch at Mount Weather attempts to duplicate the functions of the federal government on a day-to-day basis. Should a catastrophe kill or incapacitate the nation’s leaders, the parallel branch will be ready to assume power and re-establish order. The secret government-in-waiting at Mount Weather includes the departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, Agriculture, Health, Interior, Labor, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development. High-level government officials tell journalist Richard P. Pollock of The Progressive that each federal department at Mount Weather is headed by a single person. These officials form a parallel cabinet and are even referred to by subordinates as “Mr. Secretary.” These alternate cabinet members are appointed by the White House and serve indefinite terms. Many of the officials have held their positions through several administrations. There is also an Office of the Presidency at Mount Weather. According to The Progressive, the Federal Preparedness Agency (FPA) “apparently appoints a special staff to the presidential section, which regularly receives top-secret national security estimates and raw data from each of the federal departments and agencies.” The Progressive adds: “According to a source within the FPA, Mount Weather publishes its own independent reports and drafts its own evaluation of the policies and programs of the federal government. The underground installation also prints in-house reports on hundreds of national and regional topics, including the state of the nation’s economy, health, education, military preparedness, and political trends, the source said.” Pollock comments, “How can a parallel—even if dormant—government be constitutionally acceptable, if Congress has played no significant role in its formation and exercises no control over its day-to-day operations?” [Progressive, 3/1976]

Entity Tags: Federal Preparedness Agency, Mount Weather

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Continuity of Government, Government Acting in Secret

Amendments to the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972 and 1974) passed by Congress after the controversial Buckley ruling by the Supreme Court (see January 30, 1976) bring FECA into conformity with the Court’s decision. The amendments repeal expenditure limits except for presidential candidates who accept public funding, and revise the provisions governing the appointment of commissioners to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The amendments also limit the scope of PAC fundraising by corporations and labor unions. The amendments limit individual contributions to national political parties to $20,000 per year, and individual contributions to a PAC to $5,000 per year. [Federal Elections Commission, 1998; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file] However, the Constitution restricts what Congress can, or is willing, to do, and the amendments are relatively insignificant. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

Following the revelations of the Church Committee’s investigation into the excesses of the CIA (see April, 1976), and the equally revealing New York Times article documenting the CIA’s history of domestic surveillance against US citizens for political purposes (see December 21, 1974), Congress passes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In essence, FISA prohibits physical and electronic surveillance against US citizens except in certain circumstances affecting national security, under certain guidelines and restrictions, with court warrants issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), operating within the Department of Justice as well as with criminal warrants. FISA restricts any surveillance of US citizens (including US corporations and permanent foreign residents) to those suspected of having contact with “foreign powers” and terrorist organizations. FISA gives a certain amount of leeway for such surveillance operations, requiring that the administration submit its evidence for warrantless surveillance to FISC within 24 hours of its onset and keeping the procedures and decisions of FISC secret from the public. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 9/27/2001; Legal Information Institute, 11/30/2004] On September 14, 2001, Congress will pass a revision of FISA that extends the time period for warrantless surveillance to 72 hours. The revision, part of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2002, will also lower the standard for the issuance of wiretap warrants and make legal “John Doe,” or generic, warrants that can be used without naming a particular target. FISA revisions will also expand the bounds of the technologies available to the government for electronic and physical surveillance, and broaden the definitions of who can legally be monitored. [US Senate, 9/14/2001; Senator Jane Harman, 2/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, New York Times, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, US Department of Justice, Church Committee

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Other Surveillance

President Jimmy Carter.President Jimmy Carter. [Source: The Sietch.org]President Jimmy Carter issues Executive Order 12036, in effect banning domestic surveillance by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies. Carter writes, “No agency within the Intelligence Community shall engage in any electronic surveillance directed against a United States person abroad or designed to intercept a communication sent from, or intended for receipt within, the United States except as permitted by the procedures established pursuant to section 2-201.” That exception allows for the surveillance of US citizens in the case of acquiring “[i]nformation about the capabilities, intentions and activities of foreign powers, organizations, or persons and their agents…. The measures employed to acquire such information should be responsive to legitimate governmental needs and must be conducted in a manner that preserves and respects established concepts of privacy and civil liberties.” The order also flatly prohibits any assassinations by government officials, saying, “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.… No agency of the Intelligence Community shall request or otherwise encourage, directly or indirectly, any person, organization, or government agency to undertake activities forbidden by this order or by applicable law.” [White House, 1/24/1978]

Entity Tags: James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Other Surveillance

The Supreme Court, in the case of First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, rules 5-4 that corporations have the First Amendment right to make contributions in order to influence political processes. Writing for the majority, Justice Lewis Powell finds that under the recent Buckley ruling (see January 30, 1976), corporate political donations are protected speech. Powell’s opinion finds that a Massachusetts criminal statute prohibiting corporations from spending money for the purpose of “influencing or affecting” voters’ opinions is not legitimate. The split among the justices is unusual, with Powell, a conservative, being joined by two more conservatives, Chief Justice Warren Burger and Potter Stewart, and liberals Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens. The four dissenters are liberals William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, and conservatives Byron White and William Rehnquist. [FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF BOSTON v. BELLOTTI, 2012; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Rehnquist’s standalone dissent advocates for far stricter controls on corporate spending in elections than most of the other justices’ dissents, with Rehnquist writing that such spending could “pose special dangers in the political sphere.” [Reclaim Democracy, 4/26/1978; FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF BOSTON v. BELLOTTI, 2012]

Entity Tags: Lewis Powell, Byron White, John Paul Stevens, William Rehnquist, Warren Burger, Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, US Supreme Court, Potter Stewart, Thurgood Marshall

Category Tags: Freedom of Speech / Religion, Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

President Jimmy Carter issues Executive Order 12129, “Exercise of Certain Authority Respecting Electronic Surveillance,” which implements the executive branch details of the recently enacted Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) (see 1978). [Jimmy Carter, 5/23/1979] The order is issued in response to the Iranian hostage crisis (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). [Hawaii Free Press, 12/28/2005] While many conservatives will later misconstrue the order as allowing warrantless wiretapping of US citizens in light of the December 2005 revelation of George W. Bush’s secret wiretapping authorization (see Early 2002), [Think Progress, 12/20/2005] the order does not do this. Section 1-101 of the order reads, “Pursuant to Section 102(a)(1) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1802(a)), the Attorney General is authorized to approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information without a court order, but only if the Attorney General makes the certifications required by that Section.” The Attorney General must certify under the law that any such warrantless surveillance must not contain “the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party.” The order does not authorize any warrantless wiretapping of a US citizen without a court warrant. [Jimmy Carter, 5/23/1979; 50 U.S.C. 1802(a); Think Progress, 12/20/2005] The order authorizes the Attorney General to approve warrantless electronic surveillance to obtain foreign intelligence, if the Attorney General certifies that, according to FISA, the communications are exclusively between or among foreign powers, or the objective is to collect technical intelligence from property or premises under what is called the “open and exclusive” control of a foreign power. There must not be a “substantial likelihood” that such surveillance will obtain the contents of any communications involving a US citizen or business entity. [Federal Register, 2/4/2006]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr.

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Other Surveillance

The US Supreme Court guts a significant portion of the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, and 1975) by ruling that voters must prove racially discriminatory intent in order to prevail in litigation under the VRA. In the case of City of Mobile v. Bolden, the Court rules 6-3 that the previous standard of proving discriminatory results is no longer adequate. Disenfranchised voters must now prove intent, a far higher standard, before receiving redress. The case originates in Mobile, Alabama’s practice of electing city commissioners under an at-large voting scheme. No African-American had ever been elected to the commission, and a number of Mobile citizens challenged the constitutionality of the at-large scheme. The Court found that at-large schemes such as that employed by the city of Mobile only violate the Constitution if they deliberately serve to minimize or cancel out the voting potential of minorities. Justice Potter Stewart, writing for the plurality, finds that the right to equal participation in the electoral process is aimed not for the protection of any political group. Moreover, he writes that the evidence fails to show that Mobile operates a voting system with the intent to discriminate. The conservative justices largely side with Stewart. The liberals are split. Justices Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens concur with Stewart’s ruling for different reasons than those expressed by Stewart. Justices William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and Byron White dissent, with Brennan and White arguing that the burden of proof had been met, and Marshall arguing that the burden of proof should be on Mobile to show that it refused to modify its voting scheme despite the evidence of discrimination. [MOBILE v. BOLDEN, 446 US 55 (1980), 4/22/1980 pdf file; Casebriefs, 2012; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: John Paul Stevens, Byron White, Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, Potter Stewart, Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

Incoming presidential chief of staff James Baker asks a former chief of staff, Dick Cheney (see November 4, 1975 and After), for advice on handling the job. Baker takes four pages of handwritten notes covering his conversation with Cheney. Most of the notes cover mundane topics such as personnel and managing the president’s schedule. But Cheney offers at least one piece of policy advice. According to Baker’s notes: “Pres. seriously weakened in recent yrs. Restore power & auth [authority] to Exec Branch—Need strong ldr’ship. Get rid of War Powers Act—restore independent rights.” Baker notes Cheney’s emphasis of this last idea by marking it with two double lines and six asterisks, and a note in the margin, “Central theme we ought to push.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 43]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James A. Baker

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

A federal court rules that because of the government’s “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953), a civilian plaintiff suing the US Navy over a contractual agreement cannot even access “non-privileged,” or unclassified, information from the Navy because to do so might “threaten disclosure” of material that goes against “the overriding interest of the United States… preservation of its state secrets privilege precludes any further attempt to pursue litigation.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 196-197]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Navy

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

Reagan administration officials decide to revive the Nixon-era scheme to use the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to purge the federal bureaucracy of “dissidents” and replace them with loyal conservatives (see 1970 and After). As part of the plan, President Reagan issues an executive order requiring all agencies to submit proposed new policies to the OMB for review before they can be put into effect. [Savage, 2007, pp. 304-305]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Ronald Reagan, Office of Management and Budget

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

President Ronald Reagan issues Executive Order 12333, which directs the US intelligence community to provide foreign intelligence data to the White House. The order reads in part, “[A]gencies are not authorized to use such techniques as electronic surveillance, unconsented physical searches, mail surveillance, physical surveillance, or monitoring devices unless they are in accordance with procedures established by the head of the agency concerned and approved by the Attorney General.” It establishes rules of conduct for the intelligence agencies, and mandates a certain level of Congressional oversight. [Executive Order 12333 -- United States intelligence activities, 4/5/2007] It also establishes the basis for what are later called “National Security Letters.” These NSLs, originally envisioned for use to compile information in hunts for foreign criminals and suspected terrorists, will later be used by the administration of George W. Bush to order US booksellers, librarians, employers, Internet providers, and others to turn over records and information they compile on US citizens, with strict adjuncts against allowing those targeted for surveillance to know about the NSLs and with virtually no government oversight (see October 25, 2005). [Washington Post, 11/6/2005] It does not, as some have later asserted, directly prohibit the assassination of targeted foreign subjects—i.e. terrorist suspects and even foreign leaders—though it does restrict the use of assassination by US government operatives to certain very restricted circumstances centered around critical aspects of national security. [Parks, 11/2/1989 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, National Security Letters, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, National Security Letters, Other Surveillance

In the second of two rulings in the case of Halkin v Helms, the judiciary comes down squarely on the side of the US government against charges of illegal surveillance and wiretapping leveled against American anti-war protesters. The district and appellate courts uphold the federal government’s “state secrets” claim as codified in US v Reynolds (see March 9, 1953), thereby denying the plaintiffs the right to see government information that they claim would prove their case. The DC Court of Appeals writes that the federal courts do not have any constitutional role as “continuing monitors of the wisdom and soundness of Executive action,” and instead the courts “should accord utmost deference to executive assertions of privilege on grounds of military or diplomatic secrets… courts need only be satisfied that there is a reasonable danger” that military secrets might be exposed. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 196-196]

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

The Supreme Court rules in INS v. Chadha that Congress has no right to issue what it calls “legislative vetoes,” essentially provisions passed by Congress giving the executive branch specific powers but with Congress reserving the right to veto specific decisions by the executive branch if it does not approve of the decisions made by the executive. Congress had relied on such “legislative vetoes” for years to curb the expanding power of the president. The Court strikes down hundreds of these “legislative vetoes” throughout federal law. Congress quickly schedules hearings to decide how to respond to the Court’s ruling. White House attorney John Roberts (see September 29, 2005), a young, fast-rising conservative, is one of a team of lawyers assigned to review the administration’s upcoming testimony before Congress. Some of the lawyers want to push Congress to place independent agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under White House control—part of the evolving “unitary executive” theory of presidential power (see April 30, 1986). Roberts writes: “With respect to independent agencies… the time may be ripe to reconsider the existence of such entities, and take action to bring them back within the executive branch.… I agree that the time is ripe to reconsider the Constitutional anomaly of independent agencies… More timid souls may, however, desire to see this deleted as provocative.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 256-257]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission, John G. Roberts, Jr, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

Young White House attorney John Roberts (see September 29, 2005), an advocate of expanded presidential powers (see June-July 1983), is selected to respond to a letter from retired Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg. The former justice is commenting on the Reagan administration’s decision to unilaterally invade the tiny Caribbean island nation of Grenada. Goldberg wrote that President Reagan probably did violate the Constitution by sending troops to Grenada without Congressional approval, and in that sense has left himself open to impeachment. However, he added, the invasion had succeeded in establishing democracy in that nation. Therefore Reagan’s actions should be compared to those of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, because, like Lincoln, he “acted in good faith and in the belief that this served our national interest” (see April 12 - July 1861). Drafting the letter for Reagan’s signature, Roberts thanks Goldberg for his defense of Reagan but insists that the invasion was perfectly legal. The president, Roberts writes, has “inherent authority in international affairs to defend American lives and interests and, as commander in chief, to use the military when necessary in discharging these responsibilities.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 257]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, John G. Roberts, Jr, Arthur Goldberg, Ronald Reagan

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

Congress passes the Competition in Contracting Act. President Reagan signs the bill but issues a signing statement instructing the executive branch that a portion of the bill is unconstitutional, and directs agencies not to obey the law created by that section. A losing bidder who would have won a contract under that portion of the bill files a lawsuit, and a federal judge rules that the Reagan administration has no choice but to follow the entirety of the law. Attorney General Edwin Meese insists that the executive branch has the inherent power to interpret the Constitution as it sees fit, and declares the administration will not obey the judge’s ruling. An appeals court upholds the judge’s ruling and criticizes the Reagan administration for trying to seize a sort of line-item veto power without going through Congress. The House Judiciary Committee votes to cut off funding for Meese’s office unless the White House obeys the court rulings, and Meese withdraws his objections. [Savage, 2007, pp. 231-232]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, House Judiciary Committee, Edwin Meese, Reagan administration

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power

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