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Profile: Erwin Chemerinsky
Erwin Chemerinsky was a participant or observer in the following events:
Many legal experts say Timothy McVeigh’s defense lawyers may have inadvertently helped sentence their client to death (see June 11-13, 1997). At McVeigh’s behest, the defense lawyers’ strategy was to paint McVeigh as a political idealist who believed that the government’s actions at Ruby Ridge (see August 31, 1992 and August 21-31, 1992) and the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After), constituted the first wave of a larger assault by the government against its citizenry. Instead, many analysts say, the jury may have taken account of those beliefs in deciding McVeigh deserved to die. Law professor Laurence H. Tribe says, “The more he seemed like a person who misguidedly, but deliberately, schemed a form of revenge that involved the sacrifice of innocent life, the less likely the jury was to spare his life.” Fellow law professor Erwin Chemerinsky agrees, saying: “We especially want to deter people from thinking they can commit mass murder in the name of politics. My guess is that the defense was hoping that the jury would see this as a person outraged and maybe feel more empathy with him. I certainly think that from the defense perspective it was a counterproductive instruction.” Tribe believes McVeigh himself insisted that his lawyers emphasize his political ideology, saying: “Clearly Mr. McVeigh was unwilling to portray any kind of remorse through his demeanor or what he would allow his lawyers to argue. They must have decided that their only remaining recourse was to make what he did understandable, if outrageous.” [New York Times, 6/14/1997] McVeigh’s mother blames the government and the news media for McVeigh’s conviction and death sentence (see June 13, 1997).
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington logo. [Source: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington]Joseph and Valerie Plame Wilson name new counsel for their lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and former White House official Lewis Libby (see July 13, 2006). The Wilsons have engaged the non-profit, public interest organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) as successor counsel. They have also engaged Washington attorneys Joseph Cotchett and Frank Pitre to represent them at trial. Duke University law professor Erwin Chemerinsky remains as co-counsel. [Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, 8/15/2006] Cheney also retains counsel for the lawsuit. He hires Emmet T. Flood, a Washington lawyer who helped defend former President Bill Clinton during Clinton’s impeachment trial. Though Flood defended Clinton, a Democrat, he has donated money only to Republican political candidates. [TPM Muckraker, 8/15/2006]
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stuns Senate Judiciary Committee questioners when he says that the fundamental right of habeas corpus, the right for an accused person to go to court and challenge his or her imprisonment, is not protected by the Constitution. Gonzales, in response to questions by Arlen Specter (R-PA), says: “The Constitution doesn’t say every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas.… There is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There’s a prohibition against taking it away.” Specter is incredulous, asking how the Constitution could bar the suspension of a right that didn’t exist—a right, he notes, that was first recognized in medieval England as protection against the king’s power to send subjects to royal dungeons. Gonzales does say that habeas corpus is “one of our most cherished rights,” and admits that Congress has protected that right. But Gonzales refuses to acknowledge that the Constitution itself protects the right. If the Constitution does not, then Congress would be able to limit or nullify habeas corpus rights if it so chooses. Congress has not passed such an all-encompassing law yet, but it has passed a law, the Military Commissions Act, that strips the courts of any authority to hear habeas corpus suits filed by “enemy combatants.”
Experts Fear Government Encroachment on Civil Liberties - But constitutional experts on both the left and the right say that Gonzales’s position implies a far broader power. Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor who has frequently criticized the Bush administration, says: “This is the key protection that people have if they’re held in violation of the law. If there’s no habeas corpus, and if the government wants to pick you or me off the street and hold us indefinitely, how do we get our release?” Former Reagan Justice Department official Douglas Kmiec agrees. If Gonzales’s view prevails, Kmiec says, “one of the basic protections of human liberty against the powers of the state would be embarrassingly absent from our constitutional system.” A Justice Department spokesman says that Gonzales is only noting the absence of a specific constitutional guarantee for habeas corpus, and acknowledges that the Supreme Court has declared “the Constitution protects [habeas corpus] as it existed at common law” in England. These rights, the spokesman says, do not apply to foreigners held as enemy combatants. [San Francisco Chronicle, 1/24/2007]
Habeas Protected in Constitution - The right of habeas corpus is clear in Article I, Section 9, Clause 2 of the Constitution: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” [Think Progress, 1/19/2007]
Expansion of Presidential Powers - Former Reagan Justice Department attorney Bruce Fein says that Gonzales’s stance on habeas corpus is an underpinning of the Bush administration’s attempt to advocate the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power. Gonzales’s statements contain a message: “Congress doesn’t have to let [judges] decide national security matters. It’s part of an attempt to create the idea that during conflicts, the three branches of government collapse into one, and it is the president.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 1/24/2007]
Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Military Commissions Act, George W. Bush, Patrick J. Leahy, Erwin Chemerinsky, Central Intelligence Agency, Alberto R. Gonzales, Arlen Specter, Douglas Kmiec, Bush administration (43), Bruce Fein
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
A federal appellate court bars an Islamic charity accused of assisting terrorists from using a US government document to prove that it had been illegally spied upon (see February 28, 2006). The charity, the now-defunct Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (see Late May, 2004), has been accused by the government and the UN Security Council of being affiliated with al-Qaeda; the charity’s officials deny the charges. In its finding, the three-judge panel rules in favor of the government’s argument that protecting “state secrets” (see March 9, 1953) is of overriding importance in the case. Other courts have ruled that the Bush administration can refuse to disclose information if “there is a reasonable danger” it would affect national security. Al Haramain’s lawyers argued that the document is necessary to prove that it was illegally monitored. According to the ruling, the judges accept “the need to defer to the executive on matters of foreign and national security and surely cannot legitimately find ourselves second-guessing the executive in this arena.”
Reaction Divided - Opinion is divided on the ruling. Constitutional law professor Erwin Chemerinsky of Duke University says the court’s deference to the “executive branch in situations like this [is] very troubling.” Another constitutional law professor, Douglas Kmiec of Pepperdine, says “the opinion is consistent with” an earlier ruling that struck down a challenge to the government’s surveillance program filed by the American Civil Liberties Union; Kmiec says the rulings indicate that “federal courts recognize that the essential aspects of the Terrorist Surveillance Program both remain secret and are important to preserve as such.”
Mixed Results - The appellate court does not give the government everything it asked for. It rejects the Justice Department’s argument that “the very subject matter of the litigation is a state secret.” That finding may prove important in the other surveillance cases where the government is arguing that even to consider legal challenges to warrantless wiretapping endangers national security. The appeals court sends the case back to a lower court to consider whether or not the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires approval by a special court for domestic surveillance, preempts the state secrets privilege. The court also severs the Al Haramain case from other, similar lawsuits challenging the government’s secret surveillance program. [Los Angeles Times, 11/17/2007]
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