The Legality of President Trump’s National Emergency Declaration

On February 15, President Trump declared a national emergency, based on the immigration situation along our southern border.  President Trump plans to use the national emergency in order to access funds previously allocated to the Department of Defense (DoD) to build a border wall.  As most of our readers know, Congress has previously refused to allocate specific funds toward the construction of a wall; President Trump can bypass Congress and access DoD funds which have not been earmarked for another specific purpose through emergency powers. The purpose of this post is to discuss the legality of such a presidential emergency declaration – in light of immigration data itself, and under both constitutional law as well as under federal statutes.  For previous posts about this topic, see this excellent compilation on Just Security.

President Trump has claimed that the immigration situation along our southern border is one constituting a national emergency, because of high numbers of immigrants attempting to enter the United States, but also because of such immigrants’ ties to terrorism and/or the drug trade.  Immigration data does not support this claim.  Net immigration numbers have been steady, and the number of border apprehensions along our southern border is at a historically low number.  In fact, in 2000, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had apprehended roughly 1.6 million individuals along the southern border; that number is down to slightly below 400,000 in 2018, and to roughly 300,000 in 2017.  In addition, the number of undocumented aliens in the United States has been steady, at around 10.7 million.  Out of thousands of suspected terrorists who have entered or attempted to enter the United States, only a handful have done so by land.  And the vast majority of illegal drugs enter the United States through legal ports of entry, and are not carried by illegal immigrants who attempt to enter by land, through our southern border, by walking across the desert and swimming across the Rio Grande.  Thus, actual data does not support President Trump’s assessment of immigration at our southern border.

Under the United States Constitution, the President is the commander-in-chief and has inherent constitutional authority to act.  Presidential powers are not unlimited however.  In the famous Youngstown case (1952), the Supreme Court held that President Truman did not have inherent constitutional authority to seize the operation of steel mills during the Korean War, because Congress had not authorized him to do so.  Justice Jackon, in his concurring opinion, wrote that when the president acts in direct contravention of congressional wishes, his power is at its “lowest ebb.”  The Youngstown precedent may be problematic for the Trump Administration: it may be argued that Congress has specifically refused to authorize funding for the border wall, and that the President is acting against Congressional wishes, so that his power would be at its “lowest ebb.”  Under this paradigm, President Trump’s actions may not be upheld as constitutional. Some have argued, however, that the President’s actions may be validated by the current conservative majority of the Supreme Court, in light of a subsequent Supreme Court case, Dames & Moore (1981).  In Dames & Moore, the Supreme Court upheld President Carter’s and President Reagan’s presidential actions to implement the Algiers Accords, ending the Iranian hostage crisis, which consisted of lifting sanctions against some Iranian assets in the United States, suspending litigation against Iran in U.S. courts, and funding the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal.  In this case, the Supreme Court found that the President had constitutional authority to act because Congress had implicitly authorized this particular presidential action.  Thus, some have argued that the Supreme Court is likely to defer to the executive branch, following its Dames & Moore precedent, because Congress has implicitly authorized wall construction, through the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which authorized the construction of fencing along some points of our southern border.  It may be argued that the Secure Fence Act did not provide congressional acquiescence toward the construction of a lengthy wall along the entire border, but that the act instead authorized limited fencing at concrete points of our border.  Thus, it may be argued that Congress did not implicitly authorize wall construction.  Nonetheless, it is difficult to predict how the Supreme Court would rule on this issue; the Court would be likely to split along its conservative/liberal membership.

Under federal law, Presidents can declare emergencies under the National Emergencies Act of 1976.  Pursuant to this Act, a President has to inform Congress about the emergency, and has to identify which other statutes that have emergency provisions in them the President plans to rely upon.  Since the Carter era, 31 emergencies have been declared by our presidents.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, there are 123 statutes with emergency provisions embedded in them; out of these statutes, two are relevant in this situation.  Section 2808, Title X, provides that in case of a national emergency which requires the use of armed forces, the Secretary of Defense may undertake the construction of military projects necessary to support such armed forces.  Such construction projects may be undertaken using funds previously allocated to the DoD, which have not been earmarked for another specific purpose.  It is not at all clear that immigration enforcement along the southern border requires the use of armed forces.  In fact, immigration enforcement is a civilian function, accomplished through Immigration and Customs Enforcement and CBP.  Moreover, it is not clear that the construction of a wall is necessary to support armed forces.  Even if armed forces were required for immigration purposes on the border, they could be supported through technology, civilian human resources, weaponry, etc.  Thus, it is not certain that Section 2808 applies in this situation and a court, including the Supreme Court, could decide not to validate President Trump’s reliance on this law.  In addition, Section 2293, Title 33,  provides for reallocating funds for civil works during national emergencies. Similar to section 2808, this provision applies to any national emergency that “requires or may require use of the Armed Forces,” meaning it would raise the same legal issues as those described above. In addition, this provision allows the DoD to reallocate funding between already authorized projects, but not to undertake new, unauthorized ones.  And, this section only allows for projects which are “essential to the national defense.”  It is uncertain that the construction of a wall is essential to our national defense.  Moreover, even if this section were used, it is unclear how much funding President Trump could access, because section 2293 simply allows for the reprogramming and reallocation of existing funds, which may be insufficient for wall construction.  In sum, it is uncertain whether President Trump has the requisite statutory authority to implement his emergency declaration, as both of the sections discussed above can be interpreted as not authorizing the construction of a thousand-mile wall along our entire southern border.

While it is difficult to predict what will happen, it is certain that legal challenges are on the way.  Multiple groups, including state attorney generals and the ACLU have indicated that they will sue the Trump Administration.  And it is likely that the legal challenge will end up before the Supreme Court.  The fate of a border wall is uncertain for now, and the Trump Administration may be on shaky legal ground.

A Transformative Approach to Personal Laws

It’s been a busy few weeks for the Indian Supreme Court with both gains and loses. Notably, in the Sabarimala judgement, Justice Chandrachud observed that the rationale used by the Bombay High Court in Narasu Appa Mali v State of Bombay, which held that personal laws should not be subject to fundamental rights, is not sustainable. Chandrachud, however, only overrules Narasu on the point that customs are not subject to fundamental rights.

This exposition in itself is unremarkable since the Supreme Court in Sant Ram v. Labh Singh had already held that customs are subject to a fundamental rights challenge. The ratio of Narasu Appa Mali only extended to uncodified religious law which hasn’t been modified by either custom or usage. Thus, while the outcome remains unchanged, the observation by Chandrachud that the reasoning of Narasu is flawed, segues into the question of whether personal law can be counted as law and thereby lays the groundwork for a challenge to personal laws when it arises.

What are personal laws?

To set some context to the debate, it might be useful to understand what personal laws are. The idea that religious sphere is entirely distinct is of recent vintage it was through a process of construction during the British era that a separate space was carved out for certain religious laws, generally governing family matters like marriage and divorce. Thus, the first point to note is that there is nothing inherently personal about personal laws. The scriptures gained jurisdiction over certain matters because the colonial state said so, and this determination was due to sociopolitical rather than religious reasons.  It is untenable therefore to think that the body of laws referred to as “personal laws” derive their validity from religion, rather than the state. Second, personal laws were shaped by male elites of each religious community using the colonial state. For example, with regard to Hindu personal law, there was a forced homogenization and enforcement of Brahmanical law. Today, many personal laws are alleged to promote the subordination of women and other minorities. However, to have a fundamental rights review, ‘personal laws’ has to fall under the definition of ‘law’ or a ‘law in force’ in Article 13 of the Constitution.

Narasu Appa Mali v State of Bombay

The petition in Narasu challenged validity of the Bombay Prevention of Bigamous Hindu Marriages Act, 1946 which sought to render bigamous marriages void as well as criminalize the offence of bigamy. What the Court ultimately ended up deciding was the question of whether coming into force of constitution, muslim polygamy is void because it violates Art. 15. This might be explained by the dominant narrative prevailing in the country during the early 1950s. At the time the judgement was pronounced, the Hindu Code Bill was still in deliberation and the general sentiment was that only the Hindus were being ‘punished’. It might be useful to keep this context in mind while evaluating the rationale of the two judge bench.

Prior to determining whether muslim polygamy is unconstitutional, the Court had to answer the question of whether it is law in the first place. To answer this question, the Court looked at Article 13 and applied the principle of ‘Expressio Unius Exclusio Alterius’ i.e. the expression of one excludes the other, and its present application. It characterised customs & usages as deviations from personal laws and relied on Article 112 of the Government of India Act, 1915 which had discussed customs as different from personal laws, to say that personal laws cannot be laws under Article 13. The inclusion of various provisions in the Constitution that relate to state regulation of personal law, such as Article 17 (Abolition of untouchability), Article 25 (Freedom of Religion) would be redundant had the drafters wanted to include personal laws within the definition of law. It further relied on Art. 44, which asks the state to endeavour to build a Uniform Civil Code, to say that there is a presumption by the drafters that different personal laws will exist even after independence. Moreover, Article 44 and Entry V of the Concurrent List seems to suggest that the drafter’s intent was to give this power to the legislature and not the judiciary. It also referred to Article 372 of the Constitution. Pre-constitutional laws continue in force by virtue of this Article, and that they can be amended by the President. The Court reasoned that since the President had no power to modify personal laws, personal laws do not derive their validity from Article 372 of the Constitution.

Re-evaluating Narasu Appa Mali

Narasu has never been challenged in the Supreme Court. Previous decisions such as John Vallamottam v Union of India and C Masilamani Mudaliar v Idol of Sri Swaminathaswamiswaminathaswami which are commonly cited as examples of the Court subjecting personal laws to a fundamental rights review, only dealt with codified personal law.

However, there is some literature offering a contrary view. Krishnan argues that the term ‘includes’ in Article 13 is an inclusive definition. For example, Art. 13(3)(a) does not use the word “common law” and yet we subject that to Part III. There is no evidence to suggest that the drafter were referring to the Government of India Act, 1915 in drafting this section. As Bhatia argues, Article 17 could have just been incorporated by way of abundant caution. The corrosive and pervasive nature of caste discrimination could have made the framers include a specific article prohibiting untouchability as an extra measure to leave nothing to chance.  Moreover, the scope of Article 25 is way broader than personal laws.  It protects an individual’s right to practice her religion rather than protecting religious norms or rules. Article 44 is located in Part 4 of the Constitution (Directive Principles of State Policy) and therefore casts no positive obligation on the State. Many Directive Principles duplicate obligations that would arise from fundamental rights themselves.

However, the question ultimately comes down to how we understand our constitution. Should we read the Constitution textually, debating the technical points of law or should we read it as a transformative document capable of bending the moral arc of the Indian polity towards justice. In the words of Chandrachud-

“Custom, usages and personal law have a significant impact on the civil status of individuals. Those activities that are inherently connected with the civil status of individuals cannot be granted constitutional immunity merely because they may have some associational features which have a religious nature. To immunize them from constitutional scrutiny, is to deny the primacy of the Constitution.”

Not only was the Constitution transformative in the sense that it indicated a break from India’s past, but it also has a transformative potential. At the heart of transformative constitutionalism is vision of change, a redemptive potential. By subjecting personal laws to a fundamental rights challenge would mean acknowledging how some of these laws have becomes sites of hierarchy and subordination, where minorities like women and lower castes are denied equal moral membership of society. A transformative vision places the individual dignity at the forefront of its endeavours and values constitutional morality over societal morality. Here’s hoping that when the challenge to personal laws comes, it is also on these grounds.

Court Order Protects Women Refugees (For Now)

As I’ve discussed previously, President Trump Executive Order (EO), “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” had particularly grave consequences for women refugees. Under the EO, all refugees were suspended from entering the United States for 120 days, which adversely affected women in particular. The EO also suspended all citizens from seven targeted countries—Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen —from entering the United States, and it banned refugees from Syria indefinitely. Women refugees often flee sexual violence and other persecution, and without refugee protection, women are often stranded in refugee or temporary settlement camps where they face a heightened risk of sexual and physical violence.

In light of this, the nationwide injunction issued by a federal judge in Washington last week and the other day’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to uphold that injunction are good news for women refugees. Under the injunction, the provision in Trump’s EO suspending refugee admissions is on hold for now, and refugees are once again allowed to enter the United States and seek resettlement as planned. However, President Trump has threatened to fight the decision, indicating he may appeal now to the Supreme Court.

While the Ninth Circuit opinion was not a full-fledged decision on the merits (as it was merely reviewing whether or not to lift the district court’s temporary restraining order), as Jen Daskal helpfully notes on Just Security, the court drew a number of important conclusions. First, while it found that the President’s power over immigration is entitled to substantial deference, the court rejected the Trump administration’s claim that this power is unreviewable, particularly when constitutional rights are at stake.  Second, the Ninth Circuit noted due process rights cover all persons in the United States, including aliens. Third, the court indicated its concerns that the EO is intended to disfavor Muslims, potentially violating the Establishment and Equal Protection Clauses, but ultimately noted it would “reserve consideration of these claims” until the merits have been fully briefed.   Fourth, the court emphasized deep skepticism of the national security claims asserted by the government, noting that the administration has presented “no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States.” In fact, ten top national security experts from across parties and across several administrations filed a declaration with the court indicating that the Executive Order did not, in fact, achieve national security goals and may, in fact, undermine them.

Indeed, refugees scheduled to arrive in the United States have already undergone an intensive vetting process.

*This post is cross-posted at cfr.org.

Marriage Cases ruling upends tradition … on how many teach Constitutional Law

Just had a chance to read in full the Marriage Cases – that is, U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 judgment in Obergefell v. Hodges – and was struck by the degree to which it upends tradition.

No, not that tradition.

What’s striking is not so much the holding that the Constitution guarantees a right to marry that extends to couples regardless of sex. That result has seemed reside in the it’s-only-a-matter-of-time category for a while now.

What’s striking, rather, is that in reaching this result, the Court explicitly revived an interpretive method that views certain constitutional clauses as interlinked.

‘The right of same-sex couples to marry that is part of the liberty promised by the Fourteenth Amendment is derived, too, from that Amendment’s guarantee of the equal protection of the laws,’

14th Amendment 2Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for a 5-member majority. He continued:

‘The Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause are connected in a profound way, though they set forth independent principles. Rights implicit in liberty and rights secured by equal protection may rest on different precepts and are not always co-extensive, yet in some instances each may be instructive as to the meaning and reach of the other. In any particular case one Clause may be thought to capture the essence of the right in a more accurate and comprehensive way, even as the two Clauses may converge in the identification and definition of the right.’

In support of this posited “synergy,” Kennedy cited numerous twentieth-century decisions, among them  Loving v. Virginia (1967), Zablocki v. Redhail (1977), and one I find a super teaching vehicle, Skinner v. Oklahoma (1942). He chose to stick close to the family-related subject matter at hand, and so omitted other examples of this method, such as Griffin v. Illinois (1956), requiring the provision of trial transcripts to rich and poor defendants alike. Each judgment evinces more concern for doing justice than for divining a single-clause source from open-ended terms like “due process” and “equal protection.” Some of these decisions also tend not to devote much time to shoehorning facts into “levels of scrutiny” – a judge-created superstructure not found in the Constitution’s text, and not invoked in last month’s Marriage Cases.

Far from aberrational, these developments follow a trend detectable in many constitutional opinions of the last couple decades. It bears echo to other Kennedy opinions, not to mention the duty to govern impartially posited by Justice John Paul Stevens during his many years on the bench. (Kennedy’s view that the Constitution’s framers intended today’s Court to interpret their words in an evolutive manner likewise jibes with writings of Stevens and another retired Justice, David H. Souter.)

Many law schools follow a format that puts the Due Process Clause in Con Law I and the Equal Protection Clause in Con Law II. That division has made for gaps or overlaps in teaching a number of issues. LGBT rights has been one of them. There are others – such as abortion – and one imagines the list will grow with the Court’s overt resuscitation of this method and others subsumed within what Kennedy calls “reasoned judgment.”

Time for those of us in U.S. legal academia to rethink how we teach constitutional law.

(Cross-posted from Diane Marie Amann)

On the Job! Chair in Constitutional and/or Public Law with focus on gender, sexuality, and race studies, EUI (deadline 23 March)

The European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, Italy,  is looking for candidates with a distinguished record of scholarly publications and experience in postgraduate teaching and doctoral supervision, to fill a Chair in Constitutional and/or Public Law. The Department of Law would particularly welcome candidates interested in theoretical dimensions of the field (which may include dimensions of gender, sexuality and race), as well as comparative, transnational and international dimensions. The chair is open to candidates at all levels of seniority.

The successful candidate is expected to commence on 1 September 2016. The contract is for five years, renewable for a further three years. The Institute is an equal opportunity employer, and takes into account the importance of balance in gender, geographical and minority representation.

Interested applicants should consult http://www.eui.eu/vacancies for further details.

Deadline for receipt of applications: 23 March 2015

CONTACTS

Academic Service
Veerle Deckmyn, Director
Tel.: +39 055.4685.359
E-mail: applypro@eui.eu Internet: http://www.eui.eu

European University Institute Via dei Roccettini 9
I-50014 San Domenico di Fiesole ITALY

Citizens’ challenges to statutes said to strengthen French constitutional spirit

usa_french_flag_image“‘It took us more than two centuries to admit that a law could be imperfect and the people’s representatives uninspired. That a government and its majority often act too hastily, with the result that the Constitution is mistreated. That protecting the Constitution promotes liberty. Two centuries to admit that, on this point, the American Revolution has been more just than the French.'”

Thus does LeMonde quote French law professors Guy Carcassone and Olivier Duhamel. (All translations from the French original mine.)  The quote appears in “Au ‘non’ de la loi,” reporter Patrick Roger’s fascinating analysis of how a 2010 law permitting private individuals to challenge the constitutionality of statutes has transformed both the theory and practice of separation of powers in France. (IntLawGrrl Naomi Norberg described the reform in this 2009 post.)

conseilAs Roger describes and constitutional comparatists well know, post-Revolutionary France relied on the view that statutes were the expression of “volonté générale,” the “general will” advanced by 18th C. political theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Inroads into that “doctrine of the infallibility” of the Parlement français began with the establishment of a constitutional council, the Conseil constitutionnel, in France’s 1958 Constitution. In its 1st decades the Conseil hesitated to question laws; that changed in 1971, when the council determined that a law did not conform to the Constitution. In so doing, Roger reports, the Conseil referred not only to the 1958 document,

‘but also to the “fundamental principles” of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, reprised in the preamble of both the 1946 and the 1958 Constitutions. This “bloc of constitutionality” – that is, the ensemble of norms of constitutional stature – established the foundation on which the Conseil has constructed its jurisprudence.’

Added to this new foundation were statutory revisions that expanded the pool of potential plaintiffs, culminating in the 2010 reform. The result? Today the majority of statutes undergo review by the council; according to the LeMonde report, that fact has instilled in legislators a new awareness of their constitutional duties. Claims the Conseil‘s President, Jean-Louis Debré:

‘”The Constitution henceforth belongs to the citizenry.'”

(cross-posted from Diane Marie Amann)