Tillman on the Disqualification Clause

Professor Seth Barrett Tillman has posted this draft article on the Disqualification Clause of Article I, § 3, cl. 7, which provides that “Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States.” Long story short, Professor Tillman argues that an “Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States” extends exclusively to statutory or appointed offices and excludes elected positions such as President, Vice-President, Senator and Representative. Thus, under his theory if a president, vice-president or a civil officer of the United States is impeached, removed from office and disqualified, that individual remains eligible to serve in any of the aforementioned elected positions. Tillman cites a number of pieces of evidence which he believes support this conclusion (some of which we have discussed in prior posts), and he argues that it is consistent with the “democracy canon” that, all other things being equal, the people should be entitled to vote for whomever they please to represent them.

This particular issue may be of limited practical importance, unless you are planning to work on the Porteous 2016 campaign, but it is of some interest with respect to the methodology of constitutional interpretation as well as other constitutional provisions that apply to “officers of” or “offices under” the United States. Related discussions may be found here (“May the President Accept a Foreign Title of Nobility?”), here (“Tillman’s Puzzles for Amar (or Who You Callin ‘Atextual’?)”) and here (“Six Answers for Six Puzzles”).


Two lobbyists and a congressional staffer walk into a strip club called Privilege

This is surely the start of an awesome joke. Email me when you come up with the rest.

Ok, I could have entitled this “D.C. Circuit issues mildly interesting decision on the Speech or Debate Privilege,” but then you wouldn’t be reading it, would you?

Anyway, the court just issued this decision upholding the conviction of Frasier Verrusio, the hapless former policy director for the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, who somehow managed to parlay a night of boring Washington-style debauchery into three felony counts of receiving illegal gratuities.

Basically, there were two lobbyists, Todd Boulanger and James Hirni, who were scheming to get some language inserted into the federal highway bill at the last minute on behalf of a client called United Rentals. They sought assistance from Verrusio and a Senate staffer named Trevor Blackann for this so-called “airmail strategy.” Then the client representative, Todd Ehrlich, snagged some tickets to the first game of the 2003 World Series, and the rest was history:

Hirni invited Blackann and Verrusio to the World Series game and made clear that United Rentals would cover the costs. Both men accepted the invitation. Hirni and Blackann flew to New York together and met Ehrlich there. Over drinks, Blackann described the airmail strategy that he, Verrusio, and the two lobbyists had agreed was “the best course of action.” Shortly thereafter, Verrusio joined them for dinner. According to Hirni, the four men “talked a lot about United Rentals” and “got into a conversation about concepts and ideas United Rentals had for federal legislation.” Verrusio was “the senior guy at the table,” Blackann testified, and was “leading the conversation.” Verrusio “walked them through” the airmail strategy, indicating that it had “the best chance for ultimate success.” Ehrlich paid for the dinner and drinks.

On the way to Yankee Stadium, the chauffeured car carrying the four men stopped at a convenience store, where Hirni bought several small bottles of liquor for the group. The men then went on to the game. On their way out of the stadium, Verrusio signaled to Hirni that he and Blackann wanted souvenir jerseys. Hirni paid for them with his corporate credit card.

After leaving the stadium, the group went to a strip club called Privilege. Hirni paid the cover charge and the cost of drinks, while Ehrlich paid for several lap dances. Hirni also bought Verrusio and Blackann t-shirts from the club. When the group left, they stopped for pizza before returning to their hotel. The next morning, Hirni paid the hotel expenses, and Verrusio, Blackann, and Hirni took a car to the airport and flew to Washington, D.C.

Slip op. at 5-6 (citations omitted).

None of that is particularly important, but I wanted you to know that I didn’t make up the part about the strip club.

So on to the Speech or Debate issue.

Continue reading “Two lobbyists and a congressional staffer walk into a strip club called Privilege”

SSCI’s Approach to Releasing its Classified Report Weakens the Senate’s Prerogatives

Section 8(a) of S. Res. 400 provides that SSCI “may, subject to the provisions of this section, disclose publicly any information in the possession of such committee after a determination by such committee that the public interest would be served by such disclosure.” Chairman Feinstein clearly wants to publicly release SSCI’s report on the CIA detention and interrogation program and she believes that disclosure would be in the public interest. Yet she has not asked SSCI to take a vote under Section 8(a). She has not acknowledged any obligation on SSCI’s part to make a determination under Section 8(a) and she has not explained SSCI’s failure to use its authority under Section 8(b) to release classified information. Indeed, she has acted as if Section 8 does not exist, and no one in the media has bothered to ask her why.

The effect of this approach is to make public release of the SSCI report turn entirely on whether the report is declassified, and therefore cedes decision-making power to the President and the executive branch. Thus, when Feinstein announced in April that SSCI had voted to “declassify” its report on the CIA detention and interrogation program, I pointed out that the committee doesn’t have the authority to “declassify” anything. In reality, all the committee could do was ask the executive branch to conduct a declassification review and hope for favorable results.

Shortly after my post, Professor Lederman was able to get this helpful clarification from SSCI staff: Continue reading “SSCI’s Approach to Releasing its Classified Report Weakens the Senate’s Prerogatives”

A Closer Look at the Senate’s Procedures for Releasing Classified Information under S. Res. 400

As discussed in my last post, there is (or should be) no serious controversy regarding the Senate’s authority to release classified information unilaterally pursuant to Section 8 of S. Res. 400. Yet the full Senate has apparently never taken a vote to release information under Section 8, perhaps in part because of that section’s elaborate procedural requirements.

At the outset, SSCI must make a determination, by a formal vote, “that the public interest would be served by such disclosure.” Senator Ribbicoff observed that this provision, embodied in Section 8(a), “establishes the basic rule that the committee may disclose information where disclosure is in the public interest.” CRS Legislative History of S. Res. 400 at 88.

Under Section 8(b), however, SSCI must take additional steps where the disclosure involves “any information which has been classified under established security procedures, which has been submitted to it by the Executive branch, and which the Executive branch requests be kept secret.” Such information may only be released pursuant to the process further described in Section 8(b).

The first step in this process is for SSCI to notify and consult with the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders regarding the vote to disclose classified information. The rule specifies that this consultation must take place prior to providing formal notice to the President. The purpose of this step, which was not added to Section 8 until 2004 (by S. Res. 445), is presumably to afford the Senate leadership with an opportunity to resolve the situation before formal notice to the President is given.

Once the President is notified, a five-day clock starts ticking. After five days have expired, SSCI may publicly disclose the information that was the subject of the vote, unless the President properly objects within this period. To do so, he must, “personally” and “in writing,” notify SSCI of his objection to disclosure, provide his reasons therefor, and certify “that the threat to the national interest of the United States posed by such disclosure is of such gravity that it outweighs any public interest in the disclosure.”

Continue reading “A Closer Look at the Senate’s Procedures for Releasing Classified Information under S. Res. 400”

Does the Obama Administration Challenge the Senate’s Authority to Release Classified Information under S. Res. 400?

On Friday, August 1, the executive branch returned to SSCI the redacted executive summary of the committee’s study on the CIA detention and interrogation program. Chairman Feinstein announced that there had been “significant redactions” made and that the public release of the report would be held until the committee had time to “understand the basis for these redactions and determine their justification.” Thus, she has chosen not to release the redacted version of the report although SSCI is now legally free to do so (without prejudice to its right to seek release of an unredacted or less redacted version at a later time).

Assuming that Feinstein and her colleagues decide to challenge some or all of the redactions, they have a clear mechanism for doing so in Section 8 of S. Res. 400. As we have discussed before, this provision allows SSCI to vote for public disclosure of classified material the executive branch wishes be kept secret. Unless the President objects within five days, the committee may release the information. If the President does object, the matter may be elevated to the Senate for final decision.

A blog post by Professor Marty Lederman, however, raises the surprising possibility that the Obama administration may not recognize or accept the legitimacy of this mechanism. Lederman cites two FOIA filings by the Obama Justice Department that say SSCI can only publicly release material after declassification review by the executive branch. If these statements were taken literally, they conflict (or arguably conflict) with the Senate’s authority under Section 8.

I think it unlikely, however, that these statements portend any administration challenge to the Senate’s Section 8 authority. First, as far as I know, no prior administration has questioned the Senate’s authority to release classified information under Section 8 (nor the House’s similar authority under Rule X(11)(g)). The provision in question was the subject of some controversy when S. Res. 400 was proposed and adopted in 1976, but it does not appear that the executive branch seriously questioned its constitutionality or legitimacy. This CRS legislative history of S. Res. 400, for example, reflects only that then-DCI George H.W. Bush expressed some reservations about the disclosure provision, feeling that it “might conflict with the statute requiring the DCI to ‘protect intelligence sources and methods.’” (p. 18).

During the floor debate over S. Res. 400, the only constitutional objection to Section 8 was raised by Senator Abourezk, who felt it was too deferential to the executive branch classification system. He argued that the new intelligence oversight committee “will be saddled with formal procedures for declassifying information buttressed by sanctions in contrast to the President who is free to declassify in an ad hoc manner as it suits his political needs.” (CRS-96). No senator, in contrast, questioned the Senate’s constitutional authority to release classified information without executive branch permission.

If the executive branch objected to Section 8, it could have insisted on modification or repeal of this provision (and the analogous House rule, which was adopted in 1977) as a condition of providing SSCI and HPSCI with sensitive intelligence information. Instead, in 1978 President Carter issued Executive Order 12036, which “officially recognized the existence of the two oversight committees and directed that they be kept ‘fully and currently informed’ by the departments and agencies that made up the Intelligence Community.” Britt Snyder, The Agency and the Hill 59. This principle was later enacted into law by the Intelligence Oversight Act of 1980. The executive branch evidently considered the procedures established under Section 8 as an adequate protection for classified information shared with the intelligence committees and undoubtedly preferred them to prior practice in which individual committees could decide to release classified information unilaterally. See id. 200-01 (describing how the Pike Committee in the House unilaterally released classified information that the Ford Administration believed seriously compromised US SIGINT capabilities). Subsequent administrations have continued or strengthened information-sharing practices and laws without challenging (as far as I know) the right of the intelligence committees to use Section 8 or its House counterpart to release classified information.

Furthermore, the two FOIA filings Lederman cites strike me as unlikely vehicles for an Obama administration challenge to Section 8. Both appear in a FOIA case against the CIA in which the ACLU seeks access to the Senate report. The first filing is an affidavit from the director of CIA congressional affairs, who states that “SSCI would be required to submit its Report for a declassification review before it could public release the Report.” The second is a reply brief in which the Justice Department refers to a declassification review of the report as “a necessary precursor to public release.”

Neither of these filings mentions Section 8 of S. Res. 400 or alludes to the possibility of the Senate, as opposed to SSCI, releasing the report. It therefore would seem quite a stretch to suggest that these documents implicitly announce the administration’s rejection of Section 8 as a legitimate mechanism for public disclosure. For all we know, the authors of these documents were not even aware of Section 8. Or perhaps they thought SSCI had committed, formally or informally, to submitting its report for declassification review. Or perhaps they just decided to ignore Section 8 for some other reason.

If the administration really wanted to question the constitutionality of Section 8, one would expect a pronouncement on the issue from the Office of Legal Counsel (not known for being shy about asserting executive prerogatives). I am not aware of any such pronouncement, and Lederman (who served in the OLC as a political appointee in the Obama administration and as an attorney advisor in prior administrations) cites none.

So, in short, I seriously doubt that the administration would challenge the right of SSCI and the Senate to use Section 8. Lederman, with whom I consulted before posting this, assures me that he isn’t predicting this either. Moreover, as indicated in his original post, Lederman doesn’t think there would be much to such a challenge if it were made. Neither do I.

Which begs the question of why SSCI is so skittish about invoking Section 8. A subject I will turn to in a future post.