House Democrats Support BLAG’s Standing in DOMA Case

Probably the most important part of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group’s jurisdictional brief in U.S. v. Windsor (the Supreme Court case on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act) is the first footnote (page ii), which states:

The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group articulates the institutional position of the House in all litigation matters in which it appears. The Group currently is comprised of the Honorable John A. Boehner, Speaker of the House, Eric Cantor, Majority Leader, the Honorable Kevin McCarthy, Majority Whip, the Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Leader, and the Honorable Steny H. Hoyer, Democratic Whip. While the Democratic Leader and Democratic Whip have declined to support the position taken by the Group on the merits of DOMA Section 3’s constitutionality in this and other cases, they support the Group’s Article III standing.

(emphasis added).

The fact that the House Democratic Leadership supports BLAG’s standing to defend the constitutionality of DOMA tells the Supreme Court, in no uncertain terms, how vital the House considers its right to defend the constitutionality of statutes where the executive branch refuses to do so.  If the Court is looking for an “easy out” from this case, this makes it harder. Although it is arguable that the House Democrats are only supporting BLAG’s “Article III standing,” as opposed to prudential standing requirements that the Court might decide to apply, it is even more noteworthy that they are supporting BLAG’s standing, not just the House’s. The House Democratic Leadership evidently agrees that BLAG was properly authorized to represent the House in this litigation, which is a key jurisdictional question.

Full disclosure: I am representing 10 Senators in this case on an amicus brief in support of DOMA’s constitutionality.

Tillman’s Puzzles for Amar (or Who You Callin “Atextual”?)

In this article, Professor Seth Barrett Tillman has six puzzles for Professor Akhil Amar:

Puzzle 1. Does “Officer,” as used in the Succession Clause, Encompass Legislative Officers?

Puzzle 2. Does Impeachment Extend to Former “Officers”?

Puzzle 3. Who are the “Officers of the United States”?

Puzzle 4. Is the President an “Officer of the United States”?

Puzzle 5. Is the Presidency an “Office . . . under the United States”?

Puzzle 6. Is “Officer of the United States” Coextensive with “Office under the United States”?

Tillman explains the background as follows:

The Constitution of 1787 uses a variety of language in regard to “office” and “officer.”

It makes use of several variants on “office under the United States,” and it also uses “officer of the United States,” “office under the Authority of the United States,” and, sometimes, just “officer” without any modifying terminology. Why did the Framers make these stylistic choices (if a choice it was)?

(And what was the Constitution referring to in Article VI’s obscure “public trust under the United States” language?)

From time to time commentators have suggested answers. One such view was put forward in 1995 by Professors Akhil and Vikram Amar. They opined that each of these categories were indistinguishable: each category referred to Executive Branch and Judicial Branch officers, including the President (and, apparently, the Vice President).

I contest their atextual position.

If you are interested in the “officers” dispute, or if you just want to know where the bodies are buried … this paper is for you. “Six Puzzles for Professor Akhil Amar.” Sometimes the title says all you really need to know…

Over at the Originalism Blog, Professor Michael Ramsey says he may take stab at solving these puzzles. I hope he gets them right, or Gotham City is DOOMED!

Noel Canning Timing

I hear through the grapevine that the Justice Department has decided not to seek en banc review of the Noel Canning decision, but instead will petition for cert on a non-expedited basis, meaning that the case would likely be heard by the Supreme Court next term.

Recess Appointments Issue Could Reach SCOTUS Sooner than Expected

As explained by the Blog of the Legal Times, an emergency petition has been filed with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg raising the validity of the recess appointments to the NLRB. The petition was filed by Paul Clement on behalf of a company that is resisting an NLRB effort to require it to rehire striking nursing care workers in Connecticut. Clement argues that the recess appointments issue will inevitably reach the Supreme Court following the D.C. Circuit’s decision in the Noel Canning case so (I guess) the Court might as well go ahead and consider the issue now.

Justice Alito’s sister appears as counsel on the application which means, I assume, that he would have to recuse himself from the case.

Update: after Justice Ginsberg denied the application, Clement filed the application with Justice Scalia.

Update 2: That didn’t work either.


Did the Senate Flub its Cinderella Moment?

On January 24, 2013, the Senate adopted certain rules changes that, according to published reports, will modestly restrict the use of the filibuster, but will not fundamentally alter the minority’s ability to block cloture on matters covered by Rule XXII. It accomplished these changes by adopting S. Res. 15, which provided a new standing order, and S. Res. 16, which amended the standing rules of the Senate. In addition, the Senate voted down S. Res. 5, offered by Senator Harkin, which would have made more extensive changes to the filibuster.

Professor Akhil Amar is very upset by these developments. According to Amar, “nothing has prevented the Democrats, legally speaking, from exercising their constitutional right (nicknamed the ‘nuclear option’) to insist, by a simple majority vote, that simple majorities should rule in the Senate.”

This strikes me as an oversimplification of Amar’s own position. As suggested in my last post, Amar’s position has not been that the Senate majority is entitled to insist on majority cloture as a pure act of will (or, as Professor Chafetz puts it, by the “application of brute force”). Rather he has argued that each senator has the “right and duty” to “adjudicate” whether “Rule 22 has in fact come to operate as an improper rule of decision rather than a proper rule of debate.”

The Senate may not have framed the legal issues in exactly the same way, but its debate over amending the rules certainly encompassed the questions of whether Rule XXII had been improperly used to block, rather than to facilitate, debate and whether the rules changes would better enable it to fulfill its intended purpose in the future. Professor Amar may not agree with how the Senate resolved these issues, but at least he should acknowledge that it grappled with them.

If Amar has a legitimate gripe, “legally speaking,” it is not with those who opposed the use of the “nuclear option.” Rather it is with the legal argument made by those who advocated the use of this option (which they prefer to call the “constitutional option”).

Senator Harkin, for example, asserted that “[e]ach new Congress—each time the Senate convenes after a new Congress forms—can by majority vote change its own rules.” (S254) This he contrasted with “attempting to change the rules in the middle of a Congress,” which he views as improper. See id. (“I mean, you can’t go changing rules every other week”); see also id. at S267 (Senator Udall) (“I don’t think that looking at our rules and amending them by a majority vote at the beginning of a Congress is dangerous”).

To bolster his legal position, Senator Harkin quoted from the December 12 letter (which, he took pains to note, was signed by “very prominent Republicans” Charles Fried and Michael McConnell). The December 12 letter endorses the distinction between changing the rules at the beginning of a new Congress and changing them at any other time, and Senator Harkin accurately quotes the letter in support of this proposition.

However, as we have seen, there is little constitutional merit in this proposition. Professor Amar agrees (though not for exactly the right reason). Two years ago he mocked the idea that “the Senate like Cinderella [has] the power to transform itself in only one limited moment, at the opening of a new Congress.” Amar found ridiculous the idea that there is something “magical” about “Day One” of a new Congress (a day which, he aptly noted, could be indefinitely extended by the Majority Leader in a “separate piece of magic”).

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