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Guest Post: Gabor Rona on Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration

by Gabor Rona

[Gabor Rona is a Visiting Professor of Law and Director, Law and Armed Conflict Project at Cardozo Law School.]

Over at Lawfare Jack Goldsmith provides a somewhat more nuanced analysis of President Obama’s executive action on immigration than the inflammatory rhetoric flowing from some quarters, see here, here, and here. Jack nowhere uses the words “impeachment” (except to say that it appears to be off the table) or “emperor” in reference to the president. When Jack notes “President Obama’s transformation, in less than three weeks, from an irrelevant lame duck to an overbearing threat to our constitutional order,” I assume it’s a derisive reaction to both hyperbolic extremes. In fact he says that Obama’s move is likely constitutional, but possibly violates “sub-constitutional norms,” according to which congress and the president are supposed to work together to solve big, tough domestic issues.

Here’s why I think Jack’s comparatively mild criticism is still off base.

First, let’s acknowledge the important difference between thwarting the expressed will of congress and merely circumventing a dysfunctional congress. The studied tantrums of a few legislators should not be confused with congressional consensus. The constitution quite clearly provides the president with the power to dismiss congressional will – it’s called the veto power. (Of the last ten presidents, the five Republicans have hit the veto button twice as often as the five Democrats, says Wikipedia.) And since the founders thought it prudent to empower the president to tell congress to shove it, isn’t it a bit of an overreaction to even ask if the sky is falling because the president has used constitutional authority to fill a vacuum where congress has been absent?

Perhaps you’re thinking “What does he mean ‘congress has been absent?’” After all, the president is proposing to waive the application of existing law for certain classes of non-citizens. But if the president’s constitutional obligation to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” means he must enforce every violation of every law congress passes, we’d all be in jail! (Check this out, just for fun).

The Heritage Guide to the Constitution says this about the “take care” clause:

To be sure, the extent of the faithful-execution duty is rather unclear. Plainly, the President need not enforce every law to its fullest extent. Common sense suggests that the President may enjoy some discretion in order to gauge the costs and benefits of investigation, apprehension, and prosecution.

There are at least a couple of reasons the institution of prosecutorial discretion is well established in U.S. jurisprudence. One is that the law can be a blunt instrument, so we’ve always accepted the role of human discretion in the delivery of justice. (Yes, that same prosecutorial discretion has been applied discriminatorily, but that’s a flaw that law has rightly attempted to deal with discretely, rather than through a baby-out-with-bathwater approach).

Secondly, I don’t recall a groundswell of angst about the “sub-constitutional” order when Presidents Reagan and Bush, and for that matter, every U.S. president in the last half century granted limited relief from enforcement of immigration law to one or more groups by executive action.

Finally, let’s turn the spotlight back on congress. A responsible legislative branch recognizes that laws don’t enforce themselves. Then why is there such a huge gap between the inventory of laws and the infrastructure/resources required to enforce them? Perhaps because lawmakers expect the exercise of executive discretion. And perhaps because a lot of lawmaking is really about posturing rather than governing. (My favorite example is the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s enforcement of the Trading with the Enemy Act/Cuba travel embargo, for which alleged violators are entitled to a hearing, except that no one bothered to create a mechanism for hearings. Ask for a hearing and the case is dismissed. Have you seen the outrage at this hypocrisy? Neither have I.) So if congress is serious about deporting every illegal alien, then let it find and appropriate funds for that gargantuan task, as well as for jailing or fining every druggie, fraudster, tax cheat and every trader with the enemy in Havana. Only then should we hear complaints about how congressional will is being thwarted. Until then, the executive not only may, but must find principled ways of deciding what laws to enforce, and against whom.

There’s another element of the drama that Jack fails to address: we’re already in something of a constitutional crisis and it is of congress’s making. Never before had I heard leaders of the opposition party admit that their strategy is to make it impossible for the president to govern. And they’ve been pretty effective at it, albeit due in part to the present White House occupant’s acquiescence. That’s not merely “subverting the sub-constitutional order,” it’s more like a middle finger to the constitution and the national interest, however defined. In isolation, the president’s unilateral action on immigration could be seen as impolite and impolitic. But can we really say that these are not times that try America’s soul?

So what course of executive action is more harmful to the constitution and the republic? That which is legal but impolite and perhaps sets an uncomfortable “sub-constitutional” precedent? Or doing nothing while congress allows Rome to burn for political profit?

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, November 10, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

Your weekly selection of international law and international relations headlines from around the world:

Africa

  • A suicide bomber dressed as a student killed at least 48 people, most of them students, and injured 79 others at a school assembly in the northeastern Nigerian town of Potiskum on Monday, a hospital official said.
  • Opposition parties, civil society groups and religious leaders adopted a plan on Sunday for a transitional authority to guide Burkina Faso to elections, after a popular uprising forced longtime president Blaise Compaore from power.

Middle East and Northern Africa

Asia

Europe

Americas

Oceania

UN/World

November 19: UNWCC Event at SOAS

by Kevin Jon Heller

I want to call our London-area readers attention to a very interesting event I’ll be chairing on November 19. The event is entitled “Reinforcing International Criminal Justice: Building on the Work of the 1943-48 UN War Crimes Commission”; here is the description:

As part of Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy’s Research Programme on UN War Crimes Commission which was published in the Criminal Law Forum, CISD will be holding a Panel Discussion on recently disclosed archives from the United Nations War Crimes Commission (1943-48), uncovering a critical gap in the historical narrative of World War II and the development of international criminal law, upon which the international community can draw in view of strengthening the effectiveness of the International Criminal Court and sharpening international responses to contemporary war crimes and crimes against humanity.

And here are the participants:

Overview: Shanti Sattler (by skype)

Shanti Sattler is the assistant director of the War Crimes Project at the Center for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS, University of London.

Complementary Justice: Dr Mark Ellis

Mark Ellis is Executive Director of the International Bar Association (IBA) and leads the foremost international organisation of bar associations, law firms and individual lawyers in the world.

Torture: Dr Lutz Oette

Dr Lutz Oette is Counsel at REDRESS and a lecturer in law at the School of Law, SOAS, University of London.

Prosecution of Sexual Crimes and of Low Level Officials: Dr Dan Plesch

Dr Dan Plesch is the Director of the Centre for International Studies & Diplomacy at SOAS, University of London.

Additional information about the event, which is open to the public and does not require registration, is available here. Readers with a particular interest in the UNWCC’s underappreciated work should also check out CISD’s amazing website here.

Events and Announcements: November 9, 2014

by An Hertogen

Call for Papers

  • TDM will be publishing a Special Issue on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the European Union and Canada (CETA) and is hereby inviting contributions dealing with the Agreement and the issues raised by any of its chapters. Of particular interest in the investment chapter are clarifications brought to key substantive provisions such as fair and equitable treatment; the definition of investment, which refers to “income generating assets” in the sense used by economists; the fair and equitable standard, including manifest arbitrariness, targeted discrimination on manifestly wrongful grounds and abusive treatment of investors, and its interpretation by the contracting Parties; the definition of acts de jure imperii, and CETA’s detailed language on what constitutes indirect expropriation. Proposals or papers should be submitted directly to the co-editors – Herfried Wöss, Fabien Gélinas, Andrea Bjorklund, and John Gaffney – by January 15, 2015 – contact details on the TDM website.

Last week’s events and announcements can be found here. If you would like to post an announcement on Opinio Juris, please contact us with a one-paragraph description of your announcement along with hyperlinks to more information.

Guest Post: Initial Thoughts on the ICC Prosecutor’s Mavi Marmara Report

by Michael Kearney

[Dr Michael Kearney is Lecturer in Law at the School of Law, Politics and Sociology at the University of Sussex.]

On 6 November 2014 the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court released the report of her preliminary investigation into the Israeli army’s attack on a flotilla of ships, which, in 2010, had been sailing towards Palestine with the aim of breaking Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. As a result of this investigation the Prosecutor is of the belief that during the interception and takeover of the ship, the Mavi Maramara, in which ten people were killed, Israeli soldiers committed war crimes. The Prosecutor has decided that further action by the Court is not currently feasible on the grounds that the crimes in question are not of sufficient gravity so as to warrant a full investigation. The following thoughts will address issues arising from the Report other than the actual war crimes. (Due to the manner in which the Report is formatted, and specifically the repetition of paragraph numbers, references to excerpts from the Report’s Summary are cited as eg ‘para Z ExecSumm’).

I don’t think this is an unexpected or an unreasonable conclusion from the Office of the Prosecutor with respect the gravity aspect of a preliminary examination. What this statement should encourage however, is the immediate ratification of the Rome Statute by Palestine. The analysis demonstrates how, while distant from any possibility of alleged criminals taking to the dock in The Hague, the International Criminal Court can play a crucial role in considering Israel’s policies and practices against Palestinians through the lens of criminal justice.

(more…)

Weekend Roundup: November 1-7, 2014

by An Hertogen

This week on Opinio Juris, Peter continued his commentary on the Zivotofsky hearing and Kristen posted the transcript of the recent hearing in the Haiti Cholera case.

Jens wrote about the DOD’s plans for a Defense Clandestine Service, and welcomed the news that President Obama will seek congressional authorization for the ISIS campaign.

Kevin discussed the passage in the OTP’s Mavi Marmara decision where the OTP finds that Israel is still occupying Gaza, and explained why the Comoros’ appeal will have little effect in practice.

In guests posts, Nikolaos Ioannidis wrote on the complex legal issues surrounding activities in the Cyprus EEZ, and Giacomo Pailli analysed the Italian Constitutional Court’s decision that the ICJ decision in Germany v Italy can be given no effect in the Italian legal system.

Finally, Jessica wrapped up the news and listed events and announcements, and Kevin asked our European readers for advice on PhD applications.

Many thanks to our guest contributors and have a nice weekend!

What Happens if Comoros Appeals? (Answer: Not Much.)

by Kevin Jon Heller

According to Marlise Simons at the New York Times, Comoros intends to appeal the OTP’s decision not to open a formal investigation into Israel’s attack on the MV Mavi Marmara. That’s its right — but it’s a right without a remedy, because the judges cannot order the OTP to investigate the attack. The relevant provision in the Rome Statute is Art. 53:

1.         The Prosecutor shall, having evaluated the information made available to him or her, initiate an investigation unless he or she determines that there is no reasonable basis to proceed under this Statute. In deciding whether to initiate an investigation, the Prosecutor shall consider whether:

(a)     The information available to the Prosecutor provides a reasonable basis to believe that a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court has been or is being committed;

(b)     The case is or would be admissible under article 17; and

(c)     Taking into account the gravity of the crime and the interests of victims, there are nonetheless substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice.

If the Prosecutor determines that there is no reasonable basis to proceed and his or her determination is based solely on subparagraph (c) above, he or she shall inform the Pre-Trial Chamber.

3.         (a)     At the request of the State making a referral under article 14 or the Security Council under article 13, paragraph (b), the Pre-Trial Chamber may review a decision of the Prosecutor under paragraph 1 or 2 not to proceed and may request the Prosecutor to reconsider that decision.

(b)     In addition, the Pre-Trial Chamber may, on its own initiative, review a decision of the Prosecutor not to proceed if it is based solely on paragraph 1 (c) or 2 (c). In such a case, the decision of the Prosecutor shall be effective only if confirmed by the Pre-Trial Chamber.

The problem for Comoros is that the OTP refused to open a formal investigation because it concluded that the crimes in question are not grave enough to warrant investigation — Art. 53(1)(b). As a result, although Comoros has the right under Art. 53(3)(a) to ask the Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) to review the OTP’s decision, the PTC does not have the authority to order the OTP to investigate. All it can do is “request the Prosecutor to reconsider that decision” — to which she would no doubt reply, “thanks, but no.”

The situation would have been very different if the OTP had deemed the crimes adequately grave but refused to investigate because of the “interests of justice” — Art. 53(1)(c). In that case, the PTC would have had the right under Art. 53(3)(b) to review that decision sua sponte and the authority to refuse to confirm the OTP’s decision — which would presumably mean that the PTC could have ordered the OTP to formally investigate. It was thus a very smart move by the OTP to rely on gravity instead of the interests of justice.

No one quite knows what would happen if the PTC ever ordered the OTP to conduct a formal investigation against its will. Such a situation, of course, seems practically untenable. We’ll have to wait a while longer to find out.

Haiti Cholera Transcript

by Kristen Boon

For those following the developments in the Haiti Cholera Case, the transcript of the October 23, 2014 Oral Argument is now available.   It can be accessed here:  Oral Argument_Cholera Case 10.23. For my takeaway on this important hearing, please see my recent blog here.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the hearing garnered significant coverage in the main stream press.  At least one article suggested that Judge Oetken “wavered” on UN immunity.  In my opinion, this isn’t a correct depiction of his interventions.  He gave the plaintiffs a day in court, while giving no indication as to how he will rule.  Judge Oetken was clear that the plaintiffs have a steep hill to climb.  Nonetheless, he managed a politically sensitive case adeptly, by carefully examining the scope of the UN’s immunity under the Convention and Privileges and Immunities of the UN, and its obligation to provide appropriate modes of settlement under Article 29 of the same convention.   A decision is not expected before the new year.

Obama to Seek Congressional Authorization for ISIS Campaign

by Jens David Ohlin

Huge news coming from the White House last night and today: the President will ask Congress for specific authorization for military action against ISIS.

This is a welcome development. The White House had previously argued that military action against ISIS was already authorized under the 9/11 AUMF, the Iraq AUMF, or some combination of both. None of these arguments was particularly convincing. The 9/11 AUMF is inapplicable because ISIS was excommunicated from al-Qaeda long ago and is now a competitor to it. The Iraq AUMF is temporally and geographically problematic. The temporal problem stems from the fact that the Iraq war is over and the original authorization died with it. The geographical problem is that it is unclear why a congressional authorization to invade Iraq should give the White House authorization to fight a war in Syria. As a final matter, I’m not sure how mixing and matching the two authorizations helps matters in any meaningful way.

The White House says that Obama still believes that he has authority to engage ISIS even without a new authorization, which complicates how this incident should be viewed as precedent. If the request for authorization is indeed supererogatory, then Obama has at least preserved, for the time being, his broad interpretation of the prior statutory authorizations. Until they are repealed, this is still a relevant issue. However, his decision to go to Congress must carry some weight regardless of what he says about it being discretionary or not.

Will Congress pass an authorization? You bet. Everyone knows that ISIS is a regional threat and a growing threat to the homeland. Furthermore, I find Obama’s timing here somewhat curious. Apparently he was waiting until after the mid-term elections to announce that he was seeking congressional approval. I have no idea why (as a matter of politics). If he had sought authorization before the election and received it, this would have strengthened his image as a foreign policy president dealing with the most pressing and emerging threats. Furthermore, thinking of this as a “new” war helps his image. If it is viewed as an “old” war, he is open to criticism that the situation was caused by his failure to deal with the Iraq War appropriately. On the other hand, if Congress had denied him the authorization, he could have used that denial as a sword against the Republicans going into the mid-term elections.

The OTP Concludes Israel Is Still Occupying Gaza

by Kevin Jon Heller

As Thomas Escritt has reported for Reuters, the OTP has declined to open a formal investigation into Israel’s attack on the MV Mavi Marmara. I will have much more to say about the decision tomorrow; I agree with the OTP’s conclusion but have serious problems with much of its reasoning. But I thought I’d tease tomorrow’s post by noting that, despite the declination, Israel is going to be very angry at the OTP — because the OTP specifically concludes (as part of its decision to classify the conflict as international) that Israel is still occupying Gaza. Here are the relevant paragraphs:

26. Israel maintains that following the 2005 disengagement, it is no longer an occupying power in Gaza as it does not exercise effective control over the area.

27. However, the prevalent view within the international community is that Israel remains an occupying power in Gaza despite the 2005 disengagement. In general, this view is based on the scope and degree of control that Israel has retained over the territory of Gaza following the 2005 disengagement – including, inter alia, Israel’s exercise of control over border crossings, the territorial sea adjacent to the Gaza Strip, and the airspace of Gaza; its periodic military incursions within Gaza; its enforcement of no-go areas within Gaza near the border where Israeli settlements used to be; and its regulation of the local monetary market based on the Israeli currency and control of taxes and customs duties. The retention of such competences by Israel over the territory of Gaza even after the 2005 disengagement overall supports the conclusion that the authority retained by Israel amounts to effective control.

28. Although it no longer maintains a military presence in Gaza, Israel has not only shown the ability to conduct incursions into Gaza at will, but also expressly reserved the right to do so as required by military necessity. This consideration is potentially significant considering that there is support in international case law for the conclusion that it is not a prerequisite that a State maintain continuous presence in a territory in order to qualify as an occupying power. In particular, the ICTY has held that the law of occupation would also apply to areas where a state possesses “the capacity to send troops within a reasonable time to make the authority of the occupying power felt.” In this respect, it is also noted that the geographic proximity of the Gaza Strip to Israel potentially facilitates the ability of Israel to exercise effective control over the territory, despite the lack of a continuous military presence.

29. Overall, there is a reasonable basis upon which to conclude that Israel continues to be an occupying power in Gaza despite the 2005 disengagement. The Office has therefore proceeded on the basis that the situation in Gaza can be considered within the framework of an international armed conflict in view of the continuing military occupation by Israel.

I’m not certain I agree with this analysis, though the OTP’s conclusion is far from unreasonable. Regardless, let the fireworks begin…

A Question for My European Colleagues About PhD Applications

by Kevin Jon Heller

Here is the question: are there any norms governing how many potential supervisors a student looking to apply for a PhD can or should approach? I get a few emails expressing interest in my supervision each month, and they generally fall into three categories: (1) proposals that are clearly directed toward me, because they discuss my work and propose topics I’ve written about; (2) proposals that have nothing to do with my work or interests and seem to be little more than academic spam; and (3) proposals that seem to be directed towards me, because they discuss my work, but propose topics that are at the very outer edge of my intellectual interests. I have little trouble with the first two categories — proposals in the first tend to be strong; proposals in the second tend to be anything but. It’s the third category that I find difficult to deal with. The students are often more than qualified and the proposals are usually quite good. But I cannot escape a sneaking suspicion that even when the proposals are addressed specifically to me, I am one of many potential supervisors to whom the student has written.

To be honest, I never know what to do in that situation. Given the uncertainties of acceptance and financial support — particularly in the UK — I understand that potential PhD students need to apply to multiple universities and thus need to approach multiple potential supervisors. But I also want there to be some kind of intellectual connection between me and my PhD students; I don’t want to work with someone just because he or she knows my name and sees the “Professor” in my title.

So, European colleagues: how do you handle situations like these? How many simultaneous approaches is too many? Is it kosher to write back to a student and ask how many others they’ve written to? Can I ask for names?

Any advice would be most appreciated…

Guest Post: The Italian version of Medellin v. Texas? Or, a new hope after Kiobel?

by Giacomo Pailli

[Giacomo Pailli is a PhD in comparative law at University of Florence, Italy]

Many readers will recall the judgment of the International Court of Justice in Germany v. Italy, where the Court upheld Germany’s claim of immunity under international law vis-a-vis Italy’s exercise of jurisdiction over certain Nazi crimes that had occurred during World War II. The decision received a lot of commentary, e.g., by Ingrid Wuerth on this blog and by Paul Stephan on Lawfare. Following the decision, the Italian Corte di cassazione, which previously found that immunity could not lie when crimes of such gravity were concerned, had no choice but to bend its head (see, e.g., its decision no. 32139 of 2012, also here, and no. 4284 of 2013). The story seemed settled and closed.

On October 22, 2014, however, the Italian Corte costituzionale wrote a new and surprising chapter with its decision no. 238. Upon referral by the Tribunale di Firenze, and faced again with claims against Germany by victims of Nazi’s crimes committed during WWII, the Constitutional court found that the ICJ holding in Germany v. Italy is contrary to fundamental principles of the Italian Constitution (namely, articles 2 and 24) in that it deprives victims of crimes against humanity of the possibility, altogether, to seek justice and redress for the torts suffered. Thus, the Constitutional court found that no effect to the ICJ decision can be given in the Italian legal system; Italian jurisdiction continues to hold and the Tribunale is free to proceed with hearing the merits of the dispute.

Technically, the Constitutional court applied a long established but (to my limited knowledge) seldom used constitutional doctrine.  It declared that the two Italian laws in question, one ratifying the UN Convention on States’ Immunity of 2004 (art. 3 of the law 14 January 2013, no. 5) and the other the UN Charter (art. 1 of the law 17 August 1957, no. 848) are partially unconstitutional to the extent they would require Italy to abide by the decision of the ICJ, which would force Italy to deny its jurisdiction vis-à-vis crimes against humanity.

I should stress that, as far as the law no. 848 of 1957 is concerned, the effect of this most recent decision is expressly and surgically limited to prevent the ICJ’s holding of 3 February 2012 from having effects within the Italian legal system; otherwise, the law is left completely untouched.