Electoral College – Keep or Toss?

Posted by:
Category: Constitutional Law, Election Law, Political Processes & Rhetoric, President & Executive Branch, Public
2 Comments »

electoral-college-2016By Mathew O’Neill

During the Twilight craze, the country was split between Team Edward and Team Jacob.  The battle was over Bella Swan’s heart.  Edward, a 200-year old vampire, was devastatingly handsome, kind, chivalrous, and his skin sparkled in the sun.  Jacob, a teenage werewolf, was brash, muscular, impulsive and fiercely protective of his tribe and Bella.  Oh, and Edward murdered a few thousand people but felt badly about it, while Jacob only killed vampires but had a bad mullet.  I was decidedly Team Jacob.

After the 2016 election, the country is split about the Electoral College.  There are again two camps: Team Keep and Team Toss.  Before going into the merits of each, some brief background.

As of this writing, Donald Trump won 56% to 44% in the Electoral College (290 to 232), while Hillary Clinton leads in the popular vote count 62,523,844 to 61,201,031.  So, while Trump romped to an 11-point Electoral route, he actually got clobbered by 1,322,813 votes.  What gives?  I thought this was a democracy.

This anomaly is the work of the venerated Electoral College.  The College was created in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which states in part:

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.  He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and representative to which the State may be entitled in Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.

The 23rd Amendment granted at least three Electors to the District of Columbia, bringing to 538 the total number of current Electors: 435 Representatives, 100 Senators and the D.C. trio.

The Constitution does not direct how the states must “chuse” their Electors.  In colonial times, most states did not call for a popular election to select their Electors.  Instead, party bosses made those decisions.  Eventually the cigar-smoke cleared, and today all states and D.C. hold a general election for President and Vice President, and nearly every state (48 of 50) has chosen to award all of its Electors to the winner of that state’s popular votes.  Thus, because the margins in various states can differ (Clinton won California by 3.5 million votes; Trump won Florida by 20,000 votes), it is possible to win the Electoral College, and thus the keys to the White House and a cool plane, while at the same time lose the overall popular vote.

Which raises the question: is this acceptable? Read more »

Print Friendly



Obama Clemency Grants Pick Up Steam

Posted by:
Category: Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Federal Sentencing, Marquette Law School, President & Executive Branch, Prisoner Rights, Public, Race & Law
Leave a Comment »

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 »

Print Friendly



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

Posted by:
Category: Judges & Judicial Process, President & Executive Branch, Public, Sports & Law
Leave a Comment »

 

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 »

Print Friendly



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

Posted by:
Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Election Law, Federal Law & Legal System, President & Executive Branch, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
2 Comments »

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.

Read more »

Print Friendly



Ted Cruz as a Natural Born Citizen

Posted by:
Category: Congress & Congressional Power, Federal Law & Legal System, Political Processes & Rhetoric, President & Executive Branch, Public
2 Comments »

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.

Read more »

Print Friendly



Judge Brett Kavanaugh Calls for “Rules of the Road” for Separation of Powers Issues

Posted by:
Category: Congress & Congressional Power, Federal Law & Legal System, Political Processes & Rhetoric, President & Executive Branch, Public, Speakers at Marquette
Leave a Comment »

DSC_2573

Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh

So Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys leaps for a pass as the playoff game with the Green Bay Packers is about to end. He comes down with ball on the one-yard line. Or does he? Or course, you know the answer—he doesn’t, the referees rule, a call that is hotly debated nationwide (and helps the Packers to victory in the Jan. 11 NFL playoff game).

The referee’s call required making a decision on the spot under great pressure and scrutiny. But to Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit, a big reason the call was made in a way that stood up to later scrutiny was that the rules for deciding what was a legitimate catch were established ahead of time, with thought and clarity.

And that is, in substance, much of the message Kavanaugh delivered in the 2015 Hallows Lecture at Marquette University Law School on Tuesday. The lecture, titled “Separation of Powers Controversies in the Bush and Obama Administrations: A View from the Trenches,” examined five different policy areas where controversies over separation of powers at the top of the federal government have arisen in recent years. In all five areas, Kavanaugh said, it pays off when “the rules of the road” are developed before a crisis comes.  Read more »

Print Friendly



President Obama’s Executive Orders are Constitutional

Posted by:
Category: Constitutional Law, Immigration Law, President & Executive Branch, Public
5 Comments »

452px-Barack_Obama_basketball_at_Martha's_VineyardA “head fake” is a basketball move where the player holding the ball feints as if starting a jump shot, but never leaves his feet.  Done correctly, it causes the defender to jump off of their feet in anticipation of the shot, arms flailing helplessly.  Meanwhile, the shooter calmly resets and scores a basket while the defender is harmlessly suspended in the air.

Just over two weeks ago, the mid-term elections supposedly signaled the end of President Obama’s ability to drive the policy agenda in Washington.  Last Thursday night, the nation’s “Basketball Player in Chief” executed a brilliant head fake on immigration policy, disproving this conventional wisdom.  Hints that the President intended to “go big” and use his executive authority to conduct an overhaul of the Immigration and Nationality Act had generated anticipatory paroxysms of outrage by Republicans, who hit the airwaves with charges of constitutional violations and threats of impeachment.  However, the executive actions that the President actually announced last Thursday were more modest in scope than what Latino groups and reform advocates wanted, and far less provocative than congressional Republicans feared.

The executive actions on immigration fall well within the Executive Branch’s established authority to set priorities in the enforcement of Immigration Law and clearly within the constitutional power of the President.  Meanwhile, the President’s Republican critics have already committed themselves to a campaign of outrage and indignation, even though it is increasingly evident that they lack a legal basis to attack the President’s actions or a political strategy to undo them.  The President’s head fake is evident when the details of the Executive Orders are examined. Read more »

Print Friendly



Could Lincoln Have Been Defeated in 1860?

Posted by:
Category: Legacies of Lincoln, Political Processes & Rhetoric, President & Executive Branch, Public
9 Comments »

This is another in a series of posts marking the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation.

No presidential election in American history has been as pivotal as the election of 1860. Had any one of Abraham Lincoln’s three opponents been elected president in November of 1860, South Carolina would clearly not have seceded from the Union on December 20, and it and its six compatriot Deep South states would not have formed the Confederate States of America on February 8, 1861.

(Technically, Texas, one of the seven seceding states, did not join the Confederacy until the first week of March.)

Of course, one of the anomalies of that election was that Abraham Lincoln won a solid majority in the Electoral College, even though he received only 39.7% of the popular vote. The remaining 60+% was divided between the Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas of Illinois (29.5%), the Southern Democrat James Breckenridge of Kentucky (18.2%), and Tennessean John Bell (12.6%), who was the candidate of the Constitutional Union Party, essentially an effort to revive the defunct Whig Party.

While receiving only a plurality of the popular vote, Lincoln nevertheless won a substantial majority in the Electoral College, totaling 180 votes compared to 72 for Breckenridge, 39 for Bell, and only 12 for Douglas. Read more »

Print Friendly



The Emancipation Proclamation—Sesquicentennial Reflections

Posted by:
Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Legacies of Lincoln, Legal History, President & Executive Branch, Public
Leave a Comment »

January 1, 2013, marks the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s final Emancipation Proclamation, which declared the freedom of slaves in rebellious states. The decree was controversial in Lincoln’s time and seems often to be misunderstood in ours. The objective of this blog post, accordingly, is to survey the context, chronology, and consequences of the Proclamation as we observe the sesquicentennial of its issuance.

The Context—Summer 1861 through Fall 1862

Through the latter half of 1861 and well into 1862, it was not at all self-evident that the Union would win the Civil War. Particularly in the east, the most symbolic military theater, the Confederate Army secured numerous victories or military stalemates, the latter of which were essentially as advantageous for it as the former. Despite having superior financial and industrial resources, the Union Army’s deficit of aggressive battlefield leadership, lack of well-trained or seasoned troops, and comparative unfamiliarity with the terrain repeatedly hampered Union military actions.

Lincoln was painfully cognizant of these problems, especially the operational timidity of his top brass, purportedly remarking at one point that if General George B. McClellan was not going to use the Army of the Potomac, Lincoln “would like to borrow it, provided he could see how it could be made to do something.” President Lincoln also knew that popular support for the war, as casualties mounted and the prospect of national conscription loomed, could not long endure without visible Union success in the east. At the same time, the President was aware that the Confederacy was seeking the recognition and material support of European nations such as England and France, and that every Confederate victory appeared to make this objective more attainable.

It was this array of circumstances, among others, that prompted President Lincoln to take the manifestly drastic step of issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. Only against this political and military backdrop, in fact, can the Proclamation and its timing be fully comprehended. In order to explain why this is so, it is necessary to walk through the events leading up to the Proclamation and then to examine the substance and scope of the Proclamation itself. Read more »

Print Friendly



Some Thoughts on the Meaning of a Second Obama Term for Labor and Employment Law

Posted by:
Category: Labor & Employment Law, Political Processes & Rhetoric, President & Executive Branch, Public
Leave a Comment »

In light of President Obama’s resounding re-election victory last night, and other developments in political races down the ticket, here are some of my initial thoughts on what might happen in the labor and employment law area during a second Obama administration:

First, I think the verdict is still very much out on  whether there will be any significant changes regarding labor and employment legal initiatives in President Obama’s second term.  It is interesting that the President did not spend too much time during the campaign, or in his victory speech last night, discussing worker rights or unions.

On the one hand, the Congress remains bitterly divided between the two parties which means that labor law reform in the form of the Employee Free Choice Act is highly unlikely, as well as updates to the employment discrimination laws, like adding sexual orientation as a protected classification under Title VII or addressing “qualified individuals” under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  I also do not envision major changes to the FMLA or OSHA in a second term, though I suspect there will be additional attempts to amend the Equal Pay Act by trying to get the Paycheck Fairness Act passed.

On the other hand, there will be plenty of room for agency decisionmakers to work on the margins and within their own domains.   Read more »

Print Friendly



The Roots of Progressivism Lie in . . . the Republican Party?

Posted by:
Category: Legacies of Lincoln, Political Processes & Rhetoric, President & Executive Branch, Public
10 Comments »

Tonight, when President Barack Obama delivers his third State of the Union address, he is widely expected to channel the progressive rhetoric of Theodore Roosevelt. It was Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” speech in 1910 (quoted in my previous post here) that called for the federal government to play an active role in regulating the economy. When he speaks to the nation tonight, President Obama is likely to push back against the demand to shrink the federal government – a common refrain among the current crop of Republican presidential candidates — by pointing to Theodore Roosevelt’s call for an active federal government.

It is certainly true that, in his “New Nationalism” speech, Theodore Roosevelt developed the theme that elite special interests had come to dominate government at all levels, thereby turning government into a tool for their own narrow purposes. President Obama is hoping that a return to this theme will resonate with voters today. However, while the connection between President Obama and Theodore Roosevelt has been widely reported, few commentators have recognized that these same ideas actually can be traced back to an earlier Republican president . . . Abraham Lincoln. Read more »

Print Friendly



The Extrajudicial Killing of Anwar al-Awlaki

Posted by:
Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Human Rights, International Law & Diplomacy, President & Executive Branch, Public
1 Comment »

On Friday, September 30, 2011, Anwar al-Awlaki (Aulaqi), a U.S. citizen and well-known al-Qaeda figure, was targeted and killed during a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. Samir Khan, also a U.S. citizen, was killed in the same attack. Khan was the editor of Inspire, an English-Language al-Qaeda magazine that, among other things, publishes how-to articles designed to help terrorists build bombs for jihadist attacks against Americans.  Awlaki was perhaps best known in the U.S. for planning the failed underwear bombing of a commercial airliner over Detroit in 2009 (the alleged bomber’s criminal jury trial is currently underway), and for helping plan the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood.

Al-Awlaki’s assassination continues to draw heavy criticism both in the U.S. and abroad because he is believed to be the first U.S. citizen targeted and killed by the executive branch of the federal government without regard for Fifth Amendment due process.  Ron Paul published an op-ed in the New York Daily News expressing his outrage at al-Awlaki’s execution.  Paul, in response to what he calls the illegal murder of a U.S. citizen, is calling for President Obama’s impeachment. Read more »

Print Friendly