Tag Archives: Executive Power

Constitutional Pathology, the War on Terror, and United States v. Klein

Many labels have attached to United States v. Klein, the venerable Reconstruction era Supreme Court decision that established some undefined limits on congressional control over federal law and federal courts. It has been called “opaque,” “deeply puzzling,” “disjointed,” “Delphic,” “generally difficult to follow,” “exaggerated,” and “dead wrong.” Klein is a case of substantial significance, although no one really knows how or why. Nevertheless, it has achieved a cult-like following among academics, advocates, and some judges.

In a recent article, I attached a new label to Klein – myth. In this article, I explore the Klein-derived issues in two major pieces of national security legislation enacted as part of the ongoing struggle against terrorism. The first is Section 802 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act of 2008, which granted retroactive immunity from civil liability to telecommunications providers for assisting the federal government with arguably unconstitutional warrantless domestic surveillance between late 2001 and early 2007. The second is the Military Commissions Act (MCA) of 2006, which in several provisions creates adjudicative mechanisms for dealing with terror suspects and simultaneously limits the scope and manner of judicial involvement in those cases.

In Klein, the Supreme Court struck down an 1870 law governing claims by pardoned southern property owners seeking to recover proceeds in the Court of Claims for property confiscated during the Civil War. The law prohibited any claimant who used an uncontested pardon to establish loyalty to the Union from recovering proceeds; instead, it required that courts treat the pardon as conclusive evidence that the claimant had been disloyal and thus was not entitled to recover. The legislation was intended to limit recovery by disloyal southern property owners (particularly cotton growers, such as the claimant in Klein, who had acted as sureties for Confederate officers). Congress sought not only to undo the lower-court decision in favor of the claimant in Klein (which then was pending onappeal), but also to undo the effects of the Court’s decision holding that receipt of a pardon rendered a property owner innocent in law.

The Laws of War as a Constitutional Limit on Military Jurisdiction

It is impossible to have a meaningful debate over whether a civilian court or a military commission is a more appropriate forum for trying terrorism suspects so long as serious questions remain over whether the commissions may constitutionally exercise jurisdiction over particular offenses and/or offenders. And yet, although a number of defendants have attempted to challenge the jurisdiction of the military commissions – especially under the MCA – none of their cases have managed to produce a decision on the merits from any court higher than the Court of Military Commission Review (CMCR). Instead, the federal courts have generally relied on ‘abstention’ doctrine, holding that challenges to the commissions, including to their jurisdiction, can – and should – be resolved on post-conviction appeal. … [T]he time has long since passed for a careful explication of the issues, the relevant precedents, and the most likely answers.

History Repeats Itself: The 60-Day Cyberspace Policy Review in Context

On February 9, 2009, President Obama gave his National Security and Homeland Security Advisors 60 days to conduct a Cyberspace Policy Review.1 The stated purpose of this “60-Day Review” was to provide a comprehensive assessment of U.S. policies for cybersecurity.2 According to a White House press release, the review would “develop a strategic framework to ensure that U.S. Government cyber security initiatives are appropriately integrated, resourced and coordinated with Congress and the private sector.”3

The 60-Day Review was an ambitious project and, in the end, took more than 60 days to complete.4 When the final report was issued on May 29, 2009, it offered a careful assessment of the current situation and a broad vision of what the United States must accomplish to secure our digital future. This vision, however, was not fundamentally different from previous iterations of cybersecurity strategy that the U.S. government has issued over the past 12 years.

The 60-Day Review undoubtedly represents a critical step toward addressing the many challenges the United States faces in working to secure its public and private information systems. However, it is important to place this document in proper context and understand what it accomplishes and what business it leaves unfinished. Before much progress can be made in improving cybersecurity, there are some tough policy decisions that have to be made.

The 60-Day Review does not take on many of those decisions. Rather, it provides an accurate and troubling picture of what the country is up against. It offers a glimpse of the daunting but important tasks of trying to harmonize the cybersecurity programs within government, establishing an effective partnership with the private sector, and developing strong relationships with other nations to combat cyber crime. It recommends…