Obama Clemency Grants Pick Up Steam

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Federal Sentencing, Marquette Law School, President & Executive Branch, Prisoner Rights, Public, Race & Law
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Somewhat lost amidst the wall-to-wall media coverage of the Clinton and Trump campaigns, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 111 federal prisoners on August 30. This builds on what has quietly become one of Obama’s most significant end-of-term domestic policy initiatives. He has now commuted 673 sentences, more than the previous ten presidents combined. The August 30 grants, however, had special significance for me and a small group of recent Marquette Law School graduates.

Commutation (that is, a reduction in the severity of a criminal sentence) is a form of executive clemency. The Constitution expressly grants clemency powers, and presidents since George Washington have used these powers in a variety of different ways. In recent decades, though, there has been a certain whiff of disrepute surrounding clemency. Reinforcing the negative perceptions, President Bill Clinton’s pardon of financier Marc Rich and President George W. Bush’s commutation of the sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby seemed to confirm that clemency was mostly used to benefit wealthy, powerful defendants.

The Obama Administration, however, envisioned a very different way to use clemency.   Read more »

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Time is Running Out to Confirm Judge Garland

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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Merrick_Garland_speaks_at_his_Supreme_Court_nomination_with_President_ObamaThe unprecedented, and unconstitutional, obstruction of Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland is just one of many recent missteps by Republican leaders.  For example, mainstream Republican presidential candidates strategically withheld their attacks on Donald Trump during the primary season, in the hopes that he would be an easy target to topple once the field sorted out.  This was a major blunder.  More broadly, the decision of Republican leaders in Congress to make the repeal of the Affordable Care Act the centerpiece of their legislative agenda, at a time when Republicans lacked a veto-proof majority, was an empty gesture which merely fueled anger among their Party’s base and ultimately made Trump possible. Both of these decisions were political calculations that seemed clever at the time, but which turned out to have disastrous consequences for the Republican Party.   However, the unjustified refusal to hold hearings on a highly-regarded and moderate Supreme Court nominee has the potential to dwarf every other political miscalculation that Republican leaders have made over the last eight years.

First of all, it is important to recognize that Judge Merrick Garland is a laudable nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.  He is a former federal prosecutor, a highly respected Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and someone identified by Senator Orrin Hatch and other prominent Republicans (prior to his nomination) as the type of judge who would receive bi-partisan support in Congress.  Post-nomination arguments raised about Judge Garland’s supposed lack of respect for the Second Amendment are not justified by his actual opinions and, in reality, are merely a fig leaf contrived to rationalize opposition to the nomination by Republican lawmakers.

In addition, the refusal of the Senate to take up the nomination is a clear violation of the Constitution. Read more »

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Insights Offered on Working in the White House and Judicial Nomination Gridlock

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Category: Judges & Judicial Process, President & Executive Branch, Public, Sports & Law
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It was three years from the time Brett Kavanaugh was nominated by President George W. Bush to be a federal appeals court judge to the time when his nomination was approved in 2006. That certainly gave him a first-hand look at the difficulties of getting a federal judicial nominee approved by the U.S. Senate.

“It’s been a mess for decades,” Kavanaugh, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, said Wednesday during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School. Republicans have held up appointments by Democratic presidents. Democrats have help up appointments by Republican presidents.

Kavanaugh would not comment specifically on the current high-profile part of this recurring “mess,” in which President Barrack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court has met a wall of Republican opposition in the Senate.

But Kavanaugh repeated a position he has held for years, one that was in line with the policy Bush advocated when he was president: “There really should be rules of the road agreed on by both parties ahead of time to fix the process. “ Kavanaugh said Bush, during his presidency, had suggested a policy in which nominations would get a vote in the Senate within 180 days. Kavanaugh supported that idea. Read more »

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Limited Terms for Justices Worth Considering, Appeals Judge Says in Hallows Lecture 

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Category: Federal Law & Legal System, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, Speakers at Marquette, U.S. Supreme Court
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Judge Albert Diaz began his E. Harold Hallows Lecture at Marquette Law School last week by saying that he was going to offer thoughts on life tenure for federal judges ”which I’m pretty confident do not reflect the views of many, if not all, of my judicial colleagues.”

But Diaz, a judge since 2010 on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, thought the ideas he presented to be worth considering, especially at a time when concerns about the U.S. Supreme Court, including how justices are appointed, are getting so much attention.

In his Eckstein Hall lecture, Diaz outlined arguments for and against both life tenure for federal judges and election of judges. He traced the debate back to the U.S. constitutional convention in 1787 and the opposing views for and against life tenure. The former prevailed, of course.

“The act of judging is not for the faint of heart,” Diaz said. “Judging is a human endeavor” and decisions are “not always free from taint.” But it is difficult to decide what “on the front end,” i.e., in determining who will be a judge, would best minimize the chances of tainted judicial work.

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The Senate Must Consider Supreme Court Nominations in Due Course

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Category: Congress & Congressional Power, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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Ford-Potential-Nominees-to-CourtToday, the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, announced the unprecedented decision that the United States Senate will refuse to consider any nominee put forward by President Obama during the remainder of his term in office to fill the current vacancy on the United States Supreme Court.  Senator McConnell said, “My decision is that I don’t think that we should have a hearing.  We should let the next president pick the Supreme Court justice.”

The refusal of the United States Senate to consider any nominee put forth by President Obama is a clear violation of the Appointments Clause of the United States Constitution.  Under the Appointments Clause (Article II, Section 2, Clause 2):

The President . . . shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law. . .

The role of the President is to appoint nominees to the United States Supreme Court.  The role of the Senate is to provide their “advice and consent” to the President on the specific nominee.

The meaning is “advice and consent” is clear and uncontroversial.  The Framers of the Constitution recognized that absolute monarchs such as the King of England had abused the power to appoint public officials.  This abuse was due to the monarch’s absolute power to appoint anyone they chose.  In response, the Constitution divided the power to appoint superior public officials and Supreme Court Justices between the Executive (the President) and the Senate.  The Framers of the Constitution diffused the appointment power, just as they diffused several other powers among separate branches of the federal government in order to guard against abuse.

However, the separation of the power to appoint into two pieces is not split 50-50 between the President and the Senate.  Rather, the split is made between the President’s absolute power to select any nominee he or she chooses, and the Senate’s power to accept or reject the nominee.  The intent of the Appointments Clause is to give the Senate a check on the President’s choice, in order to prevent nominations that result from corruption, cronyism, or the advancement of unqualified nominees (i.e., family members).  The Appointments Clause does not give the Senate any role in deciding who or when the President will nominate.

In fact, the Senate has no pre-nomination role at all in the appointment process.  The Senate’s only role under the Constitution arises after the President makes a nomination.  In this regard, it has often been remarked that the power of initiative lies with the President under the Appointments Clause. Read more »

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Justice Scalia at Marquette Law School

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Category: Education & Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal Education, Marquette Law School, Public, Seventh Circuit, U.S. Supreme Court
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Judge Diane Sykes introduces Justice Antonin Scalia at the dedication of Eckstein Hall

Judge Sykes introduces Justice Scalia

It seems to be common ground that it will be hard to imagine the United States Supreme Court without the late Justice Antonin Scalia. He was a force also in legal education more directly. That is, he was a teacher, and he taught his theories of constitutional and statutory interpretation with intellect and energy, even outside of his writings in the U.S. Reports.

 

Justice Scalia visited us at Marquette University Law School on two occasions. The first was in 2001 to deliver our annual Hallows Lecture, where some 500 people were with him in the Weasler Auditorium, while a group of the same size watched a video feed in the Monaghan Ballroom of the Alumni Memorial Union. For me, the more memorable moment in that visit came when the Justice first arrived to campus, where an overflowing group of law students awaited him in Room 307 of Sensenbrenner Hall. The dean at the time, Howard B. Eisenberg, told the students that I would introduce him, because “Without Professor Kearney, there would be no Justice Scalia here.” Even before I could say anything, Justice Scalia brought the house down with this interjection: “I thought that, without Justice Scalia, there would be no Professor Kearney here.”

Justice Scalia returned to deliver the keynote address at the dedication of Eckstein Hall on September 8, 2010. He relaxed his strictures on recording, and the entire ceremony can be seen here, with an account of it appearing in the Marquette Law Review. I especially recall this comment of Judge Diane S. Sykes, L’84, in introducing the Justice:

“So we are fortunate, indeed, that this history-making justice has joined us here today as we make a little history of our own. When Dean Kearney unveiled the plans for this beautiful building two years ago, he famously declared that Eckstein Hall will be ‘noble, bold, harmonious, dramatic, confident, slightly willful, and, in a word, great.’ It certainly is. And with the possible exception of harmonious—Justice Scalia has been known to say that one of his charms is that he likes to tell people what they don’t want to hear—the dean’s description of this distinguished and splendid building might likewise be applied to our distinguished and splendid visitor. So, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the noble, bold, dramatic, confident, slightly willful, and, and in a word, great Justice Antonin Scalia.”

There are things to learn from the remarks of Justice Scalia and the other speakers that day, including then-Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson, whether in the recording or the law review account linked above. My own recollection of Justice Scalia has appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and can be found here.

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Is the Senate Free to Ignore President Obama’s Choice of a Replacement for Justice Scalia?

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Election Law, Federal Law & Legal System, President & Executive Branch, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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Court[The following is a guest post from Professor J. Gordon Hylton, a former member of the Marquette Law School faculty.]

Justice Scalia’s unexpected death this past weekend has raised the question of how his seat on the Supreme Court will be filled. Some Republicans have already asserted that it would be inappropriate for the president to even place someone’s name in nomination during an election year.  Others have more modestly pointed out that the Republicans in the Senate would be within their constitutional function to use their majority power to veto any potential justice that the president might put forth.  Democrats, in contrast, emphasize the president’s constitutional duty to fill the slot and reject the idea that the impending election out to somehow stay the process of replacing departed United States Supreme Court rules.

What does the history of the Supreme Court tell us about this situation? As it turns out, in the Court’s more than 225 year history, sitting justices have died or retired/resigned from the Court during an election year (or the brief stretch of the president’s term in the following year) on twenty occasions.  In 14 of the 20 cases, a new justice was appointed and confirmed before the president’s current term ended.  (In 7 of the 20 cases, the sitting president was re-elected, but in none of these cases did the nomination go into the following term.)

However, the story is a bit different when the sitting president’s political party does not control the United States Senate. Not surprisingly, in the 12 cases when the president’s party has been in control of the Senate, the open-vacancy has been filled 11 times.  The one exception came in 1968, when sitting Chief Justice Earl Warren announced in June that he planned to retire before the end of the year.

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Ted Cruz as a Natural Born Citizen

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Category: Congress & Congressional Power, Federal Law & Legal System, Political Processes & Rhetoric, President & Executive Branch, Public
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Ted Cruz[The following is a guest post from Professor J. Gordon Hylton, a former member of the Marquette Law School faculty.]

The debate continues over the eligibility of Sen. Ted Cruz for the United States presidency under the Constitution’s “natural born citizen” clause in Article II, Section 1. (Art II, §1 provides, in part, “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President, neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”)

The question is whether the Canadian-born Cruz, whose mother, but not father, was a United States citizen, qualifies as a “natural born citizen.” Unfortunately, the neither the Constitution itself nor the surviving records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 define the phrase “natural born citizen,” and the Supreme Court has never offered an authoritative interpretation of the clause.

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Remembering Antonin Scalia

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scalia [The following is a guest post from Daniel Suhr ’08, a prior guest alumni contributor to the Blog.]

Perhaps it is because I’ve been reading lots of Churchill lately, but in all events I am firmly convinced that there is concrete, substantive meaning to the label, “a great man.” That said, Antonin Scalia was a great man.

I remember that in high school, my father pulled me from class one afternoon to see Justice Scalia speak at Marquette’s Weasler Auditorium. I have an especially distinct recollection of a story the Justice told when asked about the difference between his policy views and his judicial philosophy. He said the morning after the release of the opinion in Texas v. Johnson, the case upholding a First Amendment right to flag burning, his wife hummed a particularly patriotic tune while making him breakfast. I subsequently saw Justice Scalia speak perhaps ten times — at the grand opening of Eckstein Hall, at the Pfister Hotel, at the Union League of Philadelphia, at a private dinner at the Court, and in several ballrooms of the Mayflower Hotel. In the last venue was my latest, and now final, opportunity to see him — he gave remarks on the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta (he insisted on leaving off the definitive article). His remarks were like his opinions: witty and wise, intelligent and insightful, and usually with a sharp elbow passed off as entirely innocent.

Others will recount at greater length the evidence for this proposition: that he was the most consequential justice of our lifetimes. Certainly the conservative legal movement would not exist as it does today without him, nor the Federalist Society as the embodiment of that movement. Ultimately I ascribe three key principles to him: textualism, the rule of law, and the sacredness of the Constitution itself. Read more »

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New Marquette Lawyer Spotlights the Role of Law Clerks — and Much More

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Category: Federal Law & Legal System, Marquette Law School, Public, U.S. Supreme Court, Wisconsin Supreme Court
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Marquette LawyerJudicial assistants or junior judges? That was the key question at a recent gathering at Marquette Law School of experts on the role of law clerks who work for judges in many courts, including U.S. Supreme Court justices. The Fall 2015 Marquette Lawyer magazine highlights excerpts from the presentations at that conference in a cover story that sheds light on the important but rarely spotlighted role of clerks (the full symposium is available in the Law Review).

Shedding light is also a prime goal of several other pieces in the new magazine.

Charles Franklin, professor of law and public policy and director of the Marquette Law School Poll, examines the muted level of support that Gov. Scott Walker received from Wisconsin voters during his unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Weak support from independent voters receives particular attention from Franklin in his piece, “Downtown on the Home Front.”

Joseph A. Ranney, Marquette Law School’s Adrian P. Schoone Visiting Fellow, is working on a book about the role that states have played in the evolution of American law. In several pieces posted on the Marquette Law School Faculty Blog and printed in the new magazine, Ranney sheds light on the Badger state’s legal past, describing “Wisconsin’s Legal Giants.” Read more »

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Supreme Court Roundup Part Two: King v. Burwell

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Category: Constitutional Law, Health Care, Judges & Judicial Process, Marquette Law School, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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Obama_signs_health_care-20100323On October 5, I participated in an event at the Marquette University Law School entitled “Supreme Court Roundup” with Cato Institute Scholar Ilya Shapiro.  The event was sponsored by the Law School Chapters of the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society.  A previous post contained my remarks on Obergefell v. Hodges (the “Gay Marriage case”).  What follows are my prepared remarks on King v. Burwell (the “Obamacare case”).

The issue in this case was whether the Affordable Care Act’s tax credits are available in States that have a federal health insurance exchange rather than a state exchange. In Section 36A, the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as “Obamacare”) states that tax credits “shall be allowed” for any “applicable taxpayer.” Then, in Section 36B, the Act provides that the amount of the tax credit depends in part on whether the taxpayer has enrolled in an insurance plan through “an Exchange established by the State.” (emphasis added).

In King v. Burwell, the U.S. Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, held that Section 36B allows tax credits to be used for insurance purchased on any exchange created under the Act, including insurance purchased on a federal exchange.

I want to be clear.  I make the following statement with the intent to be as objective and non-partisan as possible.  This litigation was nothing more than a post hoc attack on the Affordable Care Act, using one isolated provision of the law read out of context in order to arrive at a nonsensical meaning, which then used a manufactured theory of legislative intent – a theory without a shred of contemporaneous support in the legislative history – in a desperate attempt to prop up the nonsensical meaning.

The background of how this case arose is illuminating. Read more »

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Supreme Court Roundup Part One: Obergefell v. Hodges

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Marquette Law School, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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b599a34c0d512e42e3f5277e172bbebcd745dd98Today marks the beginning of the United States Supreme Court’s 2015-2016 Term, and coincidentally it also marked my participation in an annual event at the Marquette University Law School entitled “Supreme Court Roundup.”  Along with Cato Institute Scholar and Supreme Court expert Ilya Shapiro, I was invited by the Law School Chapters of the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society to share my perspective on three cases from the Supreme Court’s docket last year.  The cases we discussed included Obergefell v. Hodges (the “Gay Marriage case”), King v. Burwell (the “Obamacare case”) and Yates v. United States (the “fish case”).  Thanks to the law students for the invitation and a special thank you to Mr. Shapiro for his participation.  What follows are my prepared remarks on the Obergefell case.

I call this case “Thurgood Marshall’s Revenge.”

In Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court held that state laws denying marriage licenses to same sex couples violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.

Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell is notable for what it does not talk about. The majority opinion does not rely upon the theory that marriage is a fundamental right and that therefore state laws infringing upon the right to marriage must be subjected to strict scrutiny. Nor does the majority opinion rely upon the theory that homosexuals are a suspect class, thereby subjecting state laws that treat homosexuals different than heterosexuals to strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.

The methods by which the Court has traditionally determined whether to apply heightened standards of review to legislative acts – strict scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny, heightened rational review – are what are known as “heuristic devices.” These are artificial aids to problem solving. The Constitution does not use the phrases “strict scrutiny” or “suspect class,” but by creating artificial rules that group cases under these headings, the Supreme Court has developed a methodology for defining the outer boundaries of state policing over individual freedom.

Instead of using the Obergefell case as an opportunity to develop and clarify how the concepts of strict scrutiny and suspect class inform the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution, the majority opinion simply ignores these heuristic devices altogether. In doing so, the majority seems to be belatedly embracing the view of Justice Thurgood Marshall in a 1973 dissenting opinion. Read more »

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