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October 16, 2017

Opinion Analysis: California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland

By David A. Carrillo & Darien Shanske

[Cross-posted from SCOCAblog]

This is a preview of a forthcoming article, California Constitutional Law: Interpreting Restrictions on the Initiative Power (2017) 51 U.C. Davis L. Rev. Online 65, David A. Carrillo and Darien Shanske. Reprinted by permission.

Overview

On August 28, 2017 the California Supreme Court decided California Cannabis Coal. v. City of Upland, (Aug. 28, 2017, S234148) ___Cal.4th___ . Justice Cuéllar wrote the opinion, joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Werdegar, Chin, and Corrigan. Justice Kruger wrote separately to concur in part and dissent in part; Justice Liu joined that opinion.

The basic facts of the case are these.[1] A local initiative in the city of Upland proposed to require marijuana dispensaries pay a city fee. The proponents wanted the initiative to be considered by voters at a special election. The city concluded that because the fee would exceed the actual costs, it constituted a general tax. To the city, this meant that the initiative could not be voted on during a special election; instead, under California constitution Article XIII C, section 2 the measure had to be submitted to the voters at the next general election. This provision of the constitution clearly requires that all (general) tax increases imposed by a local government be submitted to the voters at a general election.[2] So if a city council (like Upland’s) proposes a tax increase, then it must follow the Proposition 218 rule and wait for the next general election. The question posed by this case was whether this rule also applies to general tax measures put on the ballot by the voters. The court decided that this provision does not restrain voter initiatives. Therefore, if the voters propose the increase of a general tax, then a vote on the tax can occur at a special election.

Analysis

Debating the definition of “government” is unproductive.

The key question confronting the court was whether the phrase “no local government may impose . . .” also served to impose a limit on the voters of a local government acting through the initiative process. The majority thought that this phrase did not include the electorate; the dissent thought that it did. Though both sides made reasonable points, we think that the arguments based on the language of the provision are so evenly balanced that the heavy lifting is done by the majority’s presumption in favor of liberally construing the initiative power. The majority candidly says as much.[3] Indeed, the majority explains that when it comes to limiting the electorate’s initiative power, it will apply a “clear statement rule.” That is, unless the voters clearly intend to limit the initiative power, the court will not find that they did.

There is a strong case for this clear statement rule.

The dissent cogently asks what the majority’s basis is for applying a clear statement rule and making it a rule for future cases.[4] After all, a judicially crafted clear statement rule hamstrings a legislative body and hands power to judges to decide what is “clear enough.” A clear statement rule is particularly troublesome to the extent the drafters of legislation did not know their work would be evaluated on that standard.

The majority’s response is that a presumption in favor of the initiative power is not new. In 1991 the court applied that principle in a case involving Article XIII A, section 3 (added by Proposition 13), which at the time provided that “any changes in State taxes enacted for the purpose of increasing revenues . . . must be imposed by an Act passed by not less than two-thirds of all members elected to each of the two houses of the Legislature . . . .”[5] The court applied the presumption and found it did not apply to the electorate.

Only five years later, Proposition 218 aimed to clarify the interpretation of another section in the same article: Article XIII A, section 4 (added by Proposition 13), which reads: “Cities, Counties and special districts, by a two-thirds vote of the qualified electors of such district, may impose special taxes on such district, except ad valorem taxes on real property or a transaction tax or sales tax on the sale of real property within such City, County or special district.” It should be unsurprising that the court again applied the presumption in favor of the initiative in interpreting Proposition 218’s clarification of Article XIII A, section 4. In this context it is especially apt to charge the proponents[6] with knowledge of the law,[7] including knowledge of this presumption.

But this argument only goes so far if a presumption in favor of the initiative power is misguided. Consider the U.S. Supreme Court’s widely-criticized federal preemption clear statement rule. That rule is a restriction on federal power, imposed on federalism grounds. If Congress does not clearly preempt a state law, then the state law stands. Yet there is a good argument that after the Fourteenth Amendment’s adoption there is no good ground for tipping the scale in favor of state versus federal power. Another criticism is that federalism values, appealing as they are, should not receive special judicial solace at the cost of protecting individual rights, as often ends up being the case.[8] The fact that the federal clear statement rule is long established and fairly applied is no response to such points.

We considered whether a deeper justification exists for a presumption in favor of broadly construing the initiative power as a matter of California constitutional law. We think there is such an argument, as follows.

An initiative constitutional amendment that purported to prevent future electorates from undoing a past act, or otherwise placed substantive limits on the future electorate’s legislative power, would be invalid as a revision. The California electorate’s initiative power is a structural part of the state’s constitutional system. California’s constitution can be changed, of course, but structural changes are labeled “revisions” and revisions cannot be accomplished by means of the ordinary voter initiative. A revision requires a supermajority of the legislature and a majority vote of the electorate.[9] Consider also the fact that the initiative was created via the revision process. How the initiative power got into the constitution is not determinative, but it is suggestive.[10] If altering the state government to add the initiative was a revision, and if the litmus test for a revision is whether it changes the nature of the state government, then reducing or removing the initiative power is also a revision. As an extreme example, if the electorate by initiative constitutional amendment attempted to assume all taxing power, or claimed to renounce any taxing power, either act would be an invalid revision.

Thus, if Proposition 218 significantly impairs the electorate’s right of initiative, then it should be invalid to that extent because the initiative can only be substantively curtailed by a revision. The court has justified this rule on the principle that, although the state constitution is binding on future legislatures and electorates alike, the electorate cannot restrict its own future initiative power through the initiative process.[11] Only the legislature plus the electorate could do that with a revision.[12]

An initiative constitutional amendment that purports to prevent future electorates from undoing a past act, or otherwise placed substantive limits on the future electorate’s legislative power, would also be invalid as a separation of powers violation. Using the example above again, if the electorate by initiative constitutional amendment attempted to assume all taxing power, or claimed to forfeit any taxing power, either act would violate the separation of powers because the initiative is a core electorate legislative power, which cannot be substantively limited or reassigned.[13] The electorate cannot self-harm, just as the legislature cannot over-delegate, reduce, or give away its core powers.[14]

How does one know if a change is structural enough to become a revision, or a material enough impairment? Key questions include: Does it change the frame of government?[15] Does it substantively reduce the electorate’s legislative power?[16] Obviously the electorate (by initiative constitutional amendment) can prescribe substantive and procedural limits on the other branches of California government.[17] But the present electorate cannot by initiative constitutional amendment reduce the amount of legislative power held by the future electorate. This does not mean that the initiative cannot be used to constrain future initiative acts at all. Proposition 13 itself is an example of setting limits on future electorates, and absent any other action the future electorate is indeed constrained by the past electorate’s action. Yet the future state electorate can always use its initiative power to undo the past electorate’s act and change the rules.

Remember that the provision in question here is a restriction placed on the local initiative power by the state electorate. The dissent argued that this fact indicates that Kennedy Wholesale was not really about protecting the initiative power because the state voters could always change the provision.[18] Leaving to one side whether this is the best reading of Kennedy Wholesale (and the majority has a potent counter), we think that this point makes the argument for applying the clear statement rule stronger in this case. As to the state electorate, their initiative power would arguably not have been overly restricted by a two-thirds rule because a majority of the electorate could change the rule. But that is not the case for the local electorate and the local initiative power. The local initiative power is also constitutionally derived.[19] Based on the argument above, it is not at all clear to us if the state electorate could constrain the use of local initiative power absent a constitutional revision. It is at least a very difficult constitutional question. Consequently, it is certainly sensible to apply a clear statement rule to avoid that question. In this context, the clear statement rule functions more like a canon of constitutional avoidance.

We should be clear that the majority opinion did not rely on the argument we just outlined in its defense of the clear statement rule, although we believe that it did gesture to it at various points in its opinion, most particularly when the court explained that: “As Ulysses once tied himself to the mast so he could resist the Sirens’ tempting song (Homer, The Odyssey, Book XII), voters too can conceivably make the clear and important choice to bind themselves by making it more difficult to enact initiatives in the future.[20] We added the italics to the “conceivably,” and we think this comment shows that the court sees that self-binding in this way poses a hard question.

The Elephant in the Room

This case is about California constitution Article XIII C, section 2(b). The celebrity of the case has to do with section 2(d), which reads: “No local government may impose, extend, or increase any special tax unless and until that tax is submitted to the electorate and approved by a two-thirds vote. A special tax shall not be deemed to have been increased if it is imposed at a rate not higher than the maximum rate so approved.”

The language concerning the election rules construed in this decision (“No local government may impose, extend, or increase any general tax unless . . .”) is identical to the language concerning the required supermajority for special tax measures (“No local government may impose, extend, or increase any special tax unless…”). This strongly suggests that the local voters can, by initiative, increase special taxes by a simple majority because the supermajority limitation does not apply to initiatives any more than the general election requirement applies to initiatives.

The majority does not comment on this implication, which is appropriate, as that issue was not before the court. Perhaps some grounds for distinction between the two provisions might be found. Indeed, there is language in the majority opinion that suggests it thinks there might be such a distinction. The court says:

That the voters explicitly imposed a procedural two-thirds vote requirement on themselves in article XIII C, section 2, subdivision (d) is evidence that they did not implicitly impose a procedural timing requirement in subdivision (b).[21]

This language can be read to suggest that there is some difference between the election timing provision and the vote threshold provision. We do not actually think that this is what this passage means. Instead, it is part of an argument in favor of the majority’s interpretation of section 2(b) and the (minor) point the majority is making is that the electorate knows how to refer to itself.[22]

Nevertheless, the implication remains and was brought up by the dissent in a footnote:

The majority opinion contains language that could be read to suggest that article XIII C, section 2(d) should be interpreted differently from section 2(b). (See maj. opn., ante, ––– Cal.Rptr.3d at ––––, ––– P.3d at –––– [noting that the enactors of Prop. 218 “explicitly imposed a procedural . . . requirement on themselves in” art. XIII C, § 2(d), which “is evidence that they did not implicitly” do so in § 2(b) ].) I see no basis for construing the two provisions differently. Sections 2(b) and 2(d) are, in all pertinent respects, indistinguishable.[23]

If we are correct that the majority did not wish to introduce a difficult-to-understand distinction in this offhand way, then why did the majority not change the language or in some other way respond to the dissent? Perhaps the majority thought its implication was clear enough and that there had to be some end to the back and forth. Perhaps the majority was not displeased with the implication the tax threshold question was arguably open for the lower courts to consider.

Implications

The public response to this decision—both pro and con—suggests that it changes the possibilities of local government finance significantly.[24] Again, the focus has been on the decision’s supposed impact on the voting threshold for special taxes. We are skeptical that the impact would be so great even if this decision does ultimately result in the supermajority rule not applying to special taxes placed on the ballot by the voters themselves.

As a matter of political economy, we do not think there is a reservoir of pent up demand for tax measures. As noted in the post previewing this case, cities and counties can already subject general taxes to a majority vote[25]—along with a non-binding advisory measure on how any revenue collected is to be spent.[26] Thus, it is not clear how important this change will be for cities and counties. School districts, for example, have already been able to fund infrastructure with a 55% voter threshold, assuming certain conditions are met.[27] So we would predict that operational school district taxes passed by majority vote will be the main source of demand for this kind of voter initiative, if it were to be possible.

Even assuming that the court’s reasoning means that the two-thirds threshold does not apply to local special tax initiatives, how this area of the law develops from here is unclear. The initiative power extends to taxation,[28] but it is also the case that the initiative power is generally interpreted to be as broad as the legislative power of the underlying local government.[29] Charter cities have the inherent power to tax and therefore, presumably, their citizens have that right as well.[30] But general law cities and counties do not have the inherent power to tax.[31] Does that mean the legislature must explicitly permit local tax initiatives in these governments?[32] School districts have no initiative power at all—at least not granted by the constitution.[33] Thus, if school districts wanted to use this ruling, must the legislature grant the school district electorates the power to impose taxes by initiative? These are hard questions.[34] We note them here not to answer them, but to indicate that many thorny legal and political questions remain whatever this decision’s applicability to the tax threshold provision.

Conclusion

The majority describes the conflict in this case as between two constitutional provisions: sections 8 and 11 of article II (the initiative power), and article XIII C (limiting local governments’ ability to impose, extend, or increase general taxes). Because the latter provision was created by the former, we think that the court found that this is not a clash of two equally-matched California constitutional doctrines. Thus, in keeping with its past practice and sound doctrinal considerations, the electorate’s initiative power prevailed.

[1] For further description of the case see: http://scocablog.com/argument-preview-california-cannabis-coalition-et-al-v-city-of-upland/.

[2] Cal. Const., art. XIIIC § 2:

(b) No local government may impose, extend, or increase any general tax unless and until that tax is submitted to the electorate and approved by a majority vote. A general tax shall not be deemed to have been increased if it is imposed at a rate not higher than the maximum rate so approved. The election required by this subdivision shall be consolidated with a regularly scheduled general election for members of the governing body of the local government, except in cases of emergency declared by a unanimous vote of the governing body.

(c) Any general tax imposed, extended, or increased, without voter approval, by any local government on or after January 1, 1995, and prior to the effective date of this article, shall continue to be imposed only if approved by a majority vote of the voters voting in an election on the issue of the imposition, which election shall be held within two years of the effective date of this article and in compliance with subdivision (b).

(d) No local government may impose, extend, or increase any special tax unless and until that tax is submitted to the electorate and approved by a two-thirds vote. A special tax shall not be deemed to have been increased if it is imposed at a rate not higher than the maximum rate so approved.

[3] California Cannabis Coal. v. City of Upland, 2017 WL 3706533 at *12: “Our analysis in those decisions consistently begins with the presumption that the initiative power is not constrained, then searches for clear evidence suggesting that electors could reasonably be understood to have imposed restrictions upon their constitutional power.”

[4] California Cannabis Coal. v. City of Upland, 2017 WL 3706533 at *18.

[5] Kennedy Wholesale, Inc. v. State Bd. of Equalization, (1991) 806 P.2d 1360.

[6] The Howard Jarvis Taxpayer’s Association sponsored both Propositions 13 and 218. https://www.hjta.org/about-hjta/the-history-of-hjta/.

[7] See, e.g., In re Harris, (Cal. 1989) 775 P.2d 1057, 1060 (“[T]he voters who enact [an initiative] may be deemed to be aware of the judicial construction of the law that served as its source.”).

[8] See, e.g., Eskridge & Frickey, Quasi-Constitutional Law: Clear Statement Rules As

Constitutional Lawmaking, (1992) 45 Vand. L. Rev. 593, 643-44.

[9] Or a constitutional convention. Cal. Const. art. XVIII, § 2.

[10] See Amador Valley Joint Union High Sch. Dist. v. State Bd. of Equalization, (Cal. 1978) 583 P.2d 1281, 1285 (“We think it significant that prior to 1962 a constitutional revision could be accomplished Only by the elaborate procedure of the convening of, and action by, a constitutional convention (art. XVIII, s 2). This fact suggests that the term ‘revision’ in section XVIII originally was intended to refer to a substantial alteration of the entire Constitution, rather than to a less extensive change in one or more of its provisions.”).

[11] Rossi v. Brown, (Cal. 1995) 889 P.2d 557, 574. (“[T]hrough exercise of the initiative power the people may bind future legislative bodies other than the people themselves”). See also Cty. of Los Angeles v. State, (Cal. 1987) 729 P.2d 202, 209 n.9 (“Whether a constitutional provision which requires a supermajority vote to enact substantive legislation, as opposed to funding the program, may be validly enacted as a Constitutional amendment rather than through revision of the Constitution is an open question.”).

[12] Cal. Const., art. XVIII, § 1, 4; 68 Hastings L. J. 731, 744.

[13] Amador Valley Joint Union High Sch. Dist., (Cal. 1978) 583 P.2d 1281, 1286 (posing as a hypothetical example of an invalid revision an initiative constitutional amendment vesting all judicial power in legislature). For an explanation of the idea that a separation of powers analysis applies to electorate legislative acts, See Carrillo, Duvernay, & Stracener, California Constitutional Law: Popular Sovereignty (2017) 68 Hastings L. J. 731.

[14] For background on the unique features of the California separation of powers doctrine, See Carrillo & Chou, California Constitutional Law: Separation of Powers (2011) 45 USF.L.Rev. 655.

[15] Professional Engineers in California Government v. Kempton, (Cal. 2007) 155 P.3d 226, 245; Amador Valley Joint Union High Sch. Dist., 583 P.2d at 1286 (does the measure “accomplish such far reaching changes in the nature of our basic governmental plan as to amount to a revision”).

[16] 68 Hastings L. J. 731, 745–46.

[17] Rossi, 889 P.2d at 574; 68 Hastings L. J. 731, 744 and 753.

[18] California Cannabis Coal. v. City of Upland, 2017 WL 3706533 at *19.

[19] Cal. Const, art. II, § 11(a): “Initiative and referendum powers may be exercised by the electors of each city or county under procedures that the Legislature shall provide. Except as provided in subdivisions (b) and (c), this section does not affect a city having a charter.”

[20] California Cannabis Coal. v. City of Upland, 2017 WL 3706533 at *1.

[21] California Cannabis Coal. v. City of Upland, 2017 WL 3706533 at *10.

[22] The opening sentence of the paragraph says as much: “Indeed, as we observed in Kennedy Wholesale, 53 Cal.3d at page 252, 279 Cal.Rptr. 325, 806 P.2d 1360, when an initiative’s intended purpose includes imposing requirements on voters, evidence of such a purpose is clear.”

[23] California Cannabis Coal. v. City of Upland, 2017 WL 3706533 at *18 n.7.

[24] See, e.g., https://calmatters.org/articles/california-taxes-two-step/ (“The ruling ‘isn’t just a small crack in the protections that voters across the state have relied on—it is a sledgehammer,’ said [Assembly Member] Baker at a press conference.”). And, in fact, Republican members of the Assembly have introduced a constitutional amendment (ACA 19) to overturn the holding of this case. http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180ACA19.

[25] Cal. Const. art. XIIIA, § 2(b).

[26] Coleman v. County of Santa Clara, (1998) 64 Cal.App.4th 662.

[27] Cal. Const. art. XIIIA, § 1(b)(3).

[28] Rossi, 889 P.2d at 563.

[29] DeVita v. Cty. of Napa, (1995) 9 Cal.4th 763, 775.

[30] California Fed. Savings & Loan Assn. v. Los Angeles, (1991) 54 Cal.3d 1.

[31] Santa Clara County Local Transportation Authority v. Guardino, (1995) 11 Cal.4th 220, 247-48.

[32] Before one assumes the answer is yes, it must be remembered that, as the majority in this case explained, “we have held that the people’s power to propose and adopt initiatives is at least as broad as the legislative power wielded by the Legislature and local governments.” California Cannabis Coal. v. City of Upland, 2017 WL 3706533 at *4 (citing cases). If the initiative power is broader, then perhaps explicit permission to place a tax measure on the ballot by initiative is not necessary.

[33] But, again, perhaps the power of initiative is so broad that this power could be found to have been reserved by the people it being explicitly granted to the electorate of a school district.

[34] Another twist. Proposition 62, approved by the voters in 1986, placed limits on local government taxing power very similar to that of Proposition 218 into California statutory law. See, e.g., Cal. Gov’t Code § 53722 (“No local government or district may impose any special tax unless and until such special tax is submitted to the electorate of the local government, or district and approved by a two-thirds vote of the voters voting in an election on the issue.”). The Legislature cannot simply repeal a statute passed by initiative. See Cal Const. art. II, § 10(c); Cal. Gov’t Code § 53729. Presumably Proposition 62 does not bar local tax initiatives any more than Proposition 218 does, but this is another issue that will need to be litigated.

September 1, 2017

With pardon, Trump shows no commitment to U.S. civil rights laws

[Cross-posted from the Davis Enterprise]

By Kevin R. Johnson

Over the weekend, a bipartisan group of political leaders - including Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain, as well as House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. - condemned President Trump's pardon late last week of Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

For more than two decades, the controversial sheriff struck fear into the hearts of immigrants and U.S. citizens of Mexican ancestry in Arizona. A respected federal court judge appointed by President George W. Bush, Murray Snow, found that Arpaio, and his sheriff's office, aggressively - and lawlessly - used racial profiling to enforce immigration laws.

Defeated for re-election in 2016, the controversial sheriff had made a name for himself in unabashedly claiming that he wanted to aggressively enforce U.S. immigration laws. But publicity stunts showed cruelty and insensitivity toward inmates under his protection.

Arpaio, for example, made inmates wear pink underwear and suffer the heat outdoors in scorching Arizona summers. Undocumented immigrants were forced to live in a segregated "tent city" that Arpaio bragged was a "concentration camp."

The nation has faced similar civil rights issues raised by Arpaio's refusal to follow the rule of law. Southern segregationists in the 1950s and 1960s expressed views not that different from those expressed by contemporary alt-right activists and white supremacists. They, too, had to be schooled on the rule of law.

In one of the most famous examples, President Eisenhower in 1957 deployed federal troops to enforce the Supreme Court's decision outlawing segregated schools in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) so that African-American children, known as the Little Rock 9, could attend Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas.

Presidential pardons at times have been controversial. President Ford's pardon of President Nixon for his role in the Watergate cover-up is a leading modern example. However, an American president never has pardoned a person who repeatedly, willfully and intentionally refused to comply with court orders aimed at ending mass violations of the civil rights of racial minorities.

Arpaio was pardoned despite a judge's ruling that found him guilty of criminal contempt. A neutral federal judge, Susan Bolton, presided over the trial on criminal contempt and, after hearing testimony from Arpaio himself, found him guilty.

In addition to the civil rights violations, Arpaio undermined the fundamentals of the legal process. For a law enforcement officer to be found liable for criminal contempt is serious business. This explains why Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly told Trump that he could not drop the charges against Arpaio. And it explains why Republicans and Democrats alike are condemning the Arpaio pardon.

Trump has founded his presidency on enforcing the U.S. immigration laws. But his pardon of Arpaio is inconsistent with the rule of law. The president justified the pardon by saying that the sheriff "was just doing his job." However,"his job" as a law enforcement officer does not include breaking the law.

First, Arpaio was found to have engaged in a pattern and practice of racial discrimination in law enforcement against Latinos. Second, Arpaio was punished for intentionally violating court orders. Both offenses are antithetical to the rule of law. The efforts to nullify a court order vindicating the civil rights of vulnerable minorities are precisely the kinds of actions of the Southern segregationists of the 1950s and 1960s.

We are living in a time of deep political division and disturbing challenges to our Constitution. The nation has seen civil unrest unfold as violent clashes, including in California this past weekend, take place between white supremacists and counter-protesters. Trump and his followers have inflamed passions by claiming that immigration laws must be enforced with impunity.

In pardoning Arpaio, however, the president does not appear to be equally committed to enforcement of civil rights laws. He has demonstrated this through his pardon of Arpaio, as well as in his response to the troubling events in Charlottesville.

Trump seems to be siding with those opposed to federal civil rights law - and against the rule of law - by his continued attacks on the independence of the judiciary. That message is not what the nation needs at this time.

 

August 17, 2017

Sorry, Donald Trump Jr. is Not a Traitor

By Professor Carlton F.W. Larson

[Cross-posted from the Washington Post]

We now know that Donald Trump Jr., a high-level adviser to his father's presidential campaign, attempted to obtain opposition research from the Kremlin. To Trump's opponents, this finally proves explicit collusion between Trump's campaign and the Russian government. Still, it was astonishing to see the defeated candidate for the vice presidency of the United States, Tim Kaine, argue that the son of the incumbent president may have committed treason. He was not the only one to make the allegation, which proliferated on social media; journalists bombarded White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders with questions about "treason."

Assume everything that is being alleged against Donald Trump Jr. is true: that is, he knowingly met with a representative of the Russian government for the purpose of obtaining information, probably illegally obtained, that was harmful to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Is this treason against the United States?

As a technical legal matter, no, and not even close. Article 3 of the United States Constitution limits the crime of treason to two specific offenses: levying war against the United States, and adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. It was deliberately crafted to exclude a wide variety of political offenses, such as criticizing the government.

None of the Trump Jr. allegations suggest conduct analogous to levying war against the United States, which generally requires some use of force in an attempt to overthrow the government. Nor does it amount to adhering to the enemy; for purposes of the Treason Clause, an enemy is a foreign nation or group with which the United States is in a state of war, either declared or actual. We are not in a state of war with Russia. In the 1950s, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for espionage, not treason, because the Soviet Union, although an implacable adversary, was not technically an enemy. We were formally at peace with the Soviet Union then, and we are formally at peace with Russia now.

So for purposes of American treason law, the details of Donald Trump Jr.'s relationship with Russia are irrelevant. He could be a paid foreign agent of Russia; he could take an oath of allegiance to Russia; he could even bug his father's White House bedroom on behalf of Russian intelligence. None of those actions would amount to treason in the narrow sense that our Constitution defines it.

Nonetheless, Trump Jr.'s alleged conduct raises serious questions under other provisions of federal law, all of which will be closely evaluated by Robert Mueller's investigative team. A determination that Trump Jr. did not commit treason is a far cry from finding his actions to be legal. It is against the law, for instance, for U.S. political campaigns to accept anything of value from foreigners.

In a broader sense, though, I understand Kaine's invocation of treason. Coordinating with a foreign government to interfere in American elections is fundamentally wrong, deeply un-American, and, as noted, almost certainly illegal under a variety of federal statutes. In many other countries, this conduct would be obviously treason, no questions asked. Although I am not familiar with the details of Russian law, I have no doubt as to how Vladimir Putin would treat a Russian citizen who coordinated with the CIA to interfere with a Russian election.

American law, however, is different. We have chosen to define treason narrowly, and the body of law dealing with treason is arcane and not always easy to understand. As the U.S. Supreme Court put it in 1945, the Treason Clause's "superficial appearance of clarity and simplicity . . . proves illusory when it is put to practical application. There are few subjects on which the temptation to utter abstract interpretive generalizations is greater or on which they are more to be distrusted. The little clause is packed with controversy and difficulty."

The upshot is a significant gap in our legal vocabulary. We do not have a good term to describe behavior that is not technically treasonous but nonetheless constitutes a betrayal of the United States. I do not have a good solution to fill this gap, but our political and legal discourse would be improved if we had one. In the meantime, even well-trained lawyers such as Kaine will instinctively reach for the label of treason in circumstances similar to those of Donald Trump Jr.

 

July 21, 2017

“What Trump Can Teach Us about Con Law”: Podcast by Professor Elizabeth Joh

Professor Elizabeth Joh is co-hosting a podcast, “What Trump Can Teach Us about Con Law,” that quickly shot to the top of the iTunes charts. Produced by Professor Joh with Roman Mars, host and creator of the independently produced podcast “99% Invisible,” the podcast aims to “take the extreme actions of the President of the United States and channel that chaos into learning our Constitution like we never have before.”

In the introductory episode, Mars said that the show was inspired by one of Professor Joh’s Twitter messages: “Teaching Constitutional Law in 2017 means glancing at twitter every five minutes before class.” 

Joh explains that Constitutional Law is an important course, but one that can be somewhat dry. As of late, the subject has taken on a sense of urgency, as the President’s actions have raised new and challenging constitutional law issues.

Mars proposed creating a podcast based on Joh’s observations, and the result has been “What Trump Can Teach Us about Con Law,” which launched June 7 and quickly rose to the top of the iTunes “Top Podcasts” list. (The podcast was No. 2 on the iTunes charts the following week.)

“I like this idea that maybe we have a president who is kind of stress-testing the Constitution, really giving us a sense of ‘What are the limits of each of the different provisions that he seems to be challenging?’” said Joh.  “That’s really important because it’s forcing us to think about things and wonder, ‘Do we have answers to some of these questions?’”

March 24, 2017

The Complexities of a “Motive” Analysis in Challenging President Trump’s Executive Order Regarding Entry to the United States

By Vikram Amar and Alan Brownstein

Cross-posted from Justia.com:

One of the vexing legal questions raised by President Trump's original and revised executive orders concerning entry into the United States by nationals of several Middle Eastern and African countries is whether and how courts ought to take into account the subjective motives behind the executive order, whether or not these motives are reflected in the text of the orders themselves. Many people think of the executive orders as "Muslim bans"-even though there is no mention of Muslim peoples in the orders themselves-because they credit rhetoric prior to the executive orders that may tend to suggest anti-Muslim sentiment has been on the president's mind as he has crafted these entry limitations. (For these purposes critics are asserting that a desire to exclude persons from one religious group would be impermissible, although in the immigration setting that proposition might be a contested question.)

Permissible (and Impermissible) Uses of Motive to Strike Down Laws

Consideration of direct evidence of impermissible subjective motive has been a confused area of constitutional law. Courts have often expressed-as the Supreme Court did in United States v. O'Brien, the case involving a famously unsuccessful free speech challenge to a federal law prohibiting destruction of draft cards-a reluctance to use extrinsic proof of invidious motive to strike down laws that would otherwise pass constitutional muster. Courts have offered a variety of reasons for their wariness to look into motive. One is that courts would be in the position of accusing co-equal branches of pretext and dishonesty (or at the very least unawareness of their own true motivation), and that can create friction between the branches. (Think of how courts have reacted to President Trump's allegations of judicial dishonesty.) Another is the idea that a president or legislature whose action is struck down because of a bad motive can simply reenact the policy for a good motive, in which case courts will have to uphold the new enactment, raising the question why it was worth the hassle to invalidate the action in the first place. (One rejoinder to that is that courts won't always be convinced that the second enactment is taint-free, and may not uphold it. Another is that if the second enactment is adopted for pure rather than invidious reasons, it is a qualitatively different enactment insofar as motive, and the way the polity understands it, is an essential part of a law: Justice Holmes once reminded that even a dog knows the difference between being kicked and being tripped over.)

Yet another reason proffered for refraining from motive analysis is that the motive of many legislative bodies is hard to discern-in Congress, there may be hundreds of motives of hundreds of legislators in enacting a particular law. For these and other reasons, even when some justices want to look at subjective evidence of motivation (as with Justice Kennedy's opinion in the Florida case involving an anti-animal-sacrifice law that was struck down for violating free exercise of religion principles), other justices decline to join them in doing so.

Notwithstanding these concerns, however, courts have been willing to accept direct proof of impermissible motive in certain doctrinal areas. Perhaps the most prominent is the equal protection norm of the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendments. When a facially neutral law that draws no problematic classifications between groups can be shown to have a disparate impact against certain classes, and when there is strong enough evidence that a desire to harm those groups was a driving factor behind the law's enactment, courts have been willing to strike those laws down. The evidentiary threshold a challenger must satisfy is high, but at least the courts are open to the evidence if a strong case is made.

A second (and perhaps similarly equality-driven) area of jurisprudence where the Court has made use of subjective evidence of improper motive is the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Unlike in the Free Exercise Clause setting mentioned above, the Court in several Establishment Clause rulings has explicitly required that government's motive be either secular, or at the very least not a desire to favor some sects over others. In Wallace v. Jaffree, the Court struck down an Alabama law mandating a moment of silence at the beginning of public school classes because the Court concluded, based in significant measure on historical evidence and legislative history, that the law was a backdoor attempt to reintroduce prayer in the schools. And in McCreary County v ACLU of Kentucky, the Court invalidated the placement of a Ten Commandments display on public property, again in part based on a conclusion of improper motives of religious favoritism. These are the cases (again, assuming they apply in the immigration setting) on which challengers to President Trump's executive orders have been relying.

In short, courts appear to weave their way through many complex factors in evaluating claims based on invidious or impermissible motives. Even in equal protection cases, where the Court has remained nominally open to claims of invidious motivation, the size of the decision-making body may be critical to whether a case can be made. As the Court explained in Hunter v. Underwood, "the difficulties in determining the actual motivations" of a governing institutional body increase substantially when a claim is brought against the U.S. Congress as opposed to a county board of commissioners.

Thus, the nature of the constitutional claim, the size of the decision-making body, and the persuasiveness of the extrinsic evidence of impermissible motive will all be considered, with different factors controlling the Court's analysis in various cases. In Hunter, for instance, the Court struck down on equal protection grounds a provision of the 1901 Alabama Constitution denying the right to vote to any person convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, because the Court found that the all-white state constitutional convention that adopted the provision did so with the intent of disenfranchising black residents in particular. The large size of the convention did not insulate it from an equal protection challenge given the strength of the historical evidence establishing the invidious motivation of the convention participants.

On the other hand, the size of the decision-making body may have been critical in some free speech cases. As noted, the Court in O'Brien downplayed the idea that an act of Congress could be struck down because of the intent of some legislators to enact it for the purpose of suppressing protected speech. Yet in cases involving much smaller decision-making bodies, such as Mt. Healthy City School District v. Doyle, the Court recognized that a teacher could assert a valid free speech claim challenging the school board's decision not to rehire him if the teacher could show the board was punishing him for protected speech in which he had engaged.

President Trump's Executive Orders Restricting Immigration

Viewed against this complicated and somewhat indeterminate background, several factors could be relevant to the challenges to President Trump's revised executive order that are based on an alleged intent to further a constitutionally impermissible purpose-religious discrimination against a particular faith community. To begin with, the authority to issue an executive order rests with one person alone, the President of the United States. Thus, struggling to determine the intent of a large body is not a problem here.

Further, the challenge to the order is based on the Establishment Clause, an area of law in which there is significant precedent accepting direct inquiry into government motive as the basis for evaluating and invalidating state action. Indeed, this dimension of the Establishment Clause, the prohibition against discrimination against minority faiths, overlaps and resonates with equal protection doctrine. As we have explained, there is probably no area of constitutional law in which direct inquiry into motive has been more accepted than equal protection jurisprudence adjudicating claims against invidious discrimination.

Finally, it should be clear that attempts to structure a law to mask improper intent do not always insulate impermissibly motivated state action from constitutional review. In Hunter, historians documented how the Alabama constitutional convention had an anti-black agenda on their minds, even though the disenfranchisement provision in question was written more broadly and more neutrally. Thus, the fact that the president might have drafted the new order to scrupulously avoid reference to religious discrimination, while relevant, is not necessarily dispositive.

Other Factors at Play

There are, however, several open legal questions that may very well support a court's decision to uphold the President's order. One large question, noted above, is whether domestic Establishment Clause norms apply with full force in the immigration setting. In Kleindienst v. Mandel, the Court wrote: "We hold that when the Executive exercises [the power to exclude an alien] on the basis of a facially legitimate and bona fide reason, the courts will n[ot] look behind the exercise of that discretion . . . ." Ultimately, succeeding with an Establishment Clause claim with require grappling with this high level of judicial deference.

Another issue is whether statements made during a campaign by a candidate for office should be considered reliable evidence as to the official's intent after he is elected and adopts policies. Statements made during the heat of a campaign are arguably different than statements made during official deliberations by elected representatives. There is certainly a plausible argument that what is said during a campaign stays in the campaign and does not carry over as an indication of intent after an official is elected.

While this contention has considerable force, there is an argument on the other side. Much of what an elected official says has a dual audience; the government actors he is trying to influence to secure adoption of a regulation and the constituency who elected him whose support will be necessary if he is to stay in office. Elected officials are always at least in part in campaign mode. It might be difficult to state a clear rule about what evidence of invidious intent will be inadmissible campaign rhetoric and what may be considered to be probative in the adjudication of constitutional claims. This is particularly the case when one recognizes that one candidate campaigning for office is often an incumbent whose campaign and "official" statements are inherently intertwined.

Two other related issues may be even more difficult to resolve. As noted earlier, one argument against invalidating a regulation based on direct inquiry into legislative motive is that the same law in most cases could have been adopted for legitimate reasons too. The adjudication of the president's executive order presents a stark example of this problem. What evidence must be presented by the government to convince a court that, even if President Trump did or does harbor some anti-Muslim sentiment, the same order would have been issued even in the absence of such intent? If any established impermissible intent ended up not being a "but for" cause of the executive order, then it should not be a basis of invalidation. But the government may have to present a fair amount of evidence of objective reasonableness to rebut the influence of invidious motives-if the courts recognize and care about such motive claims in this setting.

Finally, if an impermissible motive was a driving force behind the initial order, has it dissipated such that the revised order should be free from its taint? Time would obviously be one factor to take into account in answering such a question. But how much time? And what other factors? Changes in the contours of the policy that seek to make it more neutral? A formal acknowledgement by the president that he shouldn't take into account religious favoritism? The fact that the regulation was evaluated and supported by government officials and agencies other than those who initially endorsed it for impermissible reasons? These are complex questions that appellate courts may have to address in this setting if, and this is a significant if, they allow a motive-based Establishment Clause challenge to immigration orders to go forward.

 

February 17, 2017

Op-Eds on the Trump Administration by King Hall's Constitutional Law Faculty

King Hall faculty continue to make many media appearances and write opinion articles following the election of Donald Trump as President. Hot topics range from immigration and the environment to human rights and treason.

Here are recent op-eds by two of our Constitutional Law faculty.

"Congressional Caution Is Needed" by Alan Brownstein in U.S. News & World Report

Brownstein writes about President Trump's call to repeal the Johnson Amendment, a tax code provision prohibiting tax exempt nonprofit organizations from engaging in political campaigns for electoral candidates: ""Americans are more than political antagonists. We can see each other as people and families with far more in common with each other than the political disagreements that divide us.  To do that, we heed to have neutral spaces where we can leave partisan divisions behind us.  Charities should be places where our common humanity and the American virtues we share of generosity and service come to the fore. Houses of worship should be places where we are neither Democrats nor Republicans, but rather people joined in humanity and humility in spiritual fellowship and worship."

"Five Myths about Treason" by Carlton Larson in The Washington Post (This piece was posted online today and will appear in Sunday's print edition.)

An excerpt: "The Trump administration promised to do things differently, but the resignation of a national security adviser under a cloud of suspicion of treason was novel even by Trump standards. The political landscape is now littered with accusations of treason, not just against Trump officials but against all kinds of other political actors as well -- Hillary Clinton, Mitch McConnell, even the state of California. Treason is an ancient concept shrouded in misconceptions. Here are a few."

July 5, 2016

United States v. Texas: The Supreme Court Punts, Returns the Political Question of Immigration Reform to Congress

By Kevin R. Johnson

[Crosspost from ImmigrationProf Blog]

A little over a week ago, an equally divided Supreme Court left intact a lower court injunction barring the implementation of a major immigration initiative of the Obama administration. The program and litigation had proven to be controversial. Not surprisingly, most of the voluminous commentary about the case has focused on the power of the President vis-à-vis Congress to regulate immigration, the plight of the undocumented immigrants who might have been eligible for temporary reprieve under the program, the role of the states in future immigration policies, and related issues.

It should not be surprising that little of the commentary has focused on the real legal issues before the Supreme Court. Raising legal issues that only a law professor could love, the case really is about something much deeper and much more important to the United States. The case is simply the latest skirmish in the long political debate over immigration reform. As seen with the recent Brexit vote – in which concerns with immigration contributed to passage of a referendum removing the United Kingdom from the European Union, American immigration politics – as historically has been the case -- can be messy, divisive, and heated.

With no success, Congress has debated comprehensive immigration reform bills for more than a decade. Some versions of the reform bills would have offered a path to legalization for the 11-12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Various incarnations of the DREAM Act would have provided relief to undocumented youth.

Because of the lengthy stalemate in Congress, President Barack Obama announced measured, limited, and temporary steps to address some of the issues facing this nation’s undocumented immigrants.

In November 2014, the Obama administration announced a “deferred action” program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) for the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. The program built on the previous Deferred Action Program for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was implemented in the summer of 2012. DACA provided limited and temporary relief to hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people and was viewed as a ray of hope at a time when improvements through congressional action looked bleak. DAPA would have provided similar relief to many more.

“Deferred action” is fancy language that means that the U.S. government will not focus on removing undocumented immigrants who are otherwise law-abiding. It is a kind of prosecutorial discretion routinely employed by government in the enforcement of the law. Deferred action is not a path to legalization or citizenship and should not be mistaken as some kind of “amnesty.” It instead is a temporary reprieve from removal, revocable at the will of the Executive Branch (and thus by a new President).

Nobody, including President Obama, disputes that only Congress could create a durable path to legalization or citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Although cloaked in the language of the law, the simple truth of the matter was that the Republican governor of Texas and 26 states did not agree with the Democratic administration’s policy choices. And, politically, they had little use for President Obama. They sued in federal court to put the immigration plan on hold and ultimately ended one of the Obama administration’s signature immigration measures. Fortunately, the Supreme Court with its even split did not create precedent that would allow the states in the future to pursue litigation for partisan political ends.

In the end, what began as a political question will return to the political arena after the Supreme Court’s non-decision in United States v. Texas. The question of immigration reform will return to Congress.

But even if the Supreme Court had upheld the administration’s immigration programs, Congress would still have needed – as it does now -- to address immigration reform. Deferred action does not offer permanent relief for the millions of undocumented immigrants like that which would be provided by many comprehensive immigration reform proposals. Indeed, a future president – a President Donald Trump, for example – might try to deport any and all deferred action recipients.

As the outcome of United States v. Texas should make clear, congressional action is necessary to reform the immigration laws. As most knowledgeable observers agree, the mass deportation of the millions of undocumented immigrants who are parts of our communities simply is not feasible. Consequently, some kind of path to legalization of undocumented immigrants is needed. Most informed observers further agree that reform of the legal immigration provisions of the laws is needed. Last but not least, many Americans believe that we need better enforcement measures All of these aspects of immigration reform raise thorny political questions that require careful deliberation and rational discourse..

In the end, the nation needs to think about how we achieve meaningful and lasting immigration reform that works.

March 17, 2016

Live Stream Panel Discussion: The Legal and Political Implications of Replacing Justice Scalia

King Hall hosted an outstanding panel discussion yesterday on the Supreme Court nomination process, nominee Hon. Merrick Garland, and the jurisprudence of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.


Photo courtesy the law school's Instagram. Follow us on Instagram @ucdavislaw!

The participants were (left to right): Rose Cuison Villazor, me, Alan E. Brownstein, Albert C. Lin (a former Garland clerk!), Courtney Joslin, and Carlton F.W. Larson. We had a wide-ranging discussion about issues including originalism, Justice Scalia's jurisprudence regarding the separation of church and state, immigration, family law, and the Second Amendment, as well as the likely political battles ahead for Judge Garland, President Obama's nominee.

The event was live-streamed and archived on on YouTube. Watch it now!

Thanks to the student chapter of the American Constitution Society (ACS) and Aoki Center for co-sponsoring the panel!

February 22, 2016

Confirmation and Clarity

Cross-posted from Dorf on Law.

Following the untimely passing of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, the nation is engaged in a vigorous debate over whether the Republican-controlled Senate should confirm President Obama's nominee to replace Justice Scalia on the Supreme Court (President Obama has made it quite clear that he intends to nominate a successor).  Senators (and presidential candidates) Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have both argued strongly against even voting on a replacement nominated by President Obama, leaving the decision for the next President.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also expressed this view, though other Republican Senators are waffling.

The discussions about historical precedents have become frankly tedious (and entirely partisan).  They are also beside the point.  There is no doubt that the Senate has the power to refuse to vote on a nominee, or to vote down a nominee, for purely partisan reasons or to await an election.  And what path the Senate does eventually walk will undoubtedly turn on a political calculation by the Republican leadership rather than either precedent or principle.  That is politics.

What I want to address is a separate matter, which is the practical, legal consequences of a decision by the Senate to refuse to confirm any Obama nominee. It is now February of 2016.  The Supreme Court holds one term a year, beginning on the First Monday in October, and ending in June or early July (the Terms are named for the October in which they start, so we are in the October 2015 Term, or OT 2015 in the jargon).  The last oral arguments for OT 2015 will be held on April 27.  That means that unless a new Justice is nominated and confirmed before that date, the appointee cannot participate in any case before the Court this Term.  Given the current atmosphere on Capitol Hill, clearly that is not going to happen.  So, almost all the cases this Term (excepting those decided before Justice Scalia's death) will be decided by an 8-Justice Court, split evenly between appointees by Republican and Democratic Presidents.  Given the hugely important issues pending before the Court currently (including the future of public sector unions, abortion regulation, affirmative action, and the President's immigration policies, to name just a few), that is very unfortunate.

But it gets worse.  Whoever wins the 2016 presidential election will be inaugurated on January 20, 2017 (per the Twentieth Amendment).  Even if the President-elect has focused on the question of a nominee to replace Justice Scalia before taking office, a proposition which is far from clear given the complexities of any presidential transition, realistically the earliest he/she could send a nomination to the Senate would be early February of 2017.  Then, hearings must be held and a vote taken.  It took 87 days for the Senate to confirm Justice Kagan, 66 days for Justice Sotomayor, and 82 days for Justice Alito.  They are the three most recent nominees on whom the Senate has held a vote, and the only relevant case studies since the 1990s (Chief Justice Roberts does not count because his nomination to an Associate Justice position on the Court had been pending for quite some time before Chief Justice Rehnquist died and he was re-nominated to the Chief Justiceship). Given that partisan rancor has hardly decreased since Kagan's nomination in 2010, this means that we can expect around two-and-a-half to three months at a minimum to pass before a new Justice could be confirmed, if they are confirmed, which puts us in late April or early May.  The last day of oral argument for OT 2016 is April 26, 2017.  Realistically, therefore, if no Obama nominee can be confirmed, the Court will be without a full complement for essentially two entire Terms.

Why is this a problem?  Because the most important job of the Supreme Court is to provide clarity and legal certainty.  Certainly Justice Scalia, the author of a law review article titled "The Rule of Law as a Law of Rules," would have agreed.  But the Court cannot provide certainty if it cannot decide cases and establish a uniform legal rule for the entire nation.  Consider one issue before the Court this year in a case called Zubik v. Burwell:  whether the exemption the Obama Administration has granted religious nonprofits from the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare is legally sufficient. The lower courts are divided on this issue, and it is frankly an extremely difficult and contentious one.  It would be extremely useful, for nonprofits, for the government, and for the public, to know the answer, whatever it might be.  But if the Court splits 4-4 in the case, as is likely, no answer will be forthcoming until 2018 at the earliest (assuming a new case comes to the Court in OT 2017).

Nor is Zubik an anomaly.  It is widely understood, and the Supreme Court's own rules recognize, that perhaps the most important function the Court plays is to resolve "splits," meaning legal disagreements among lower courts.  Many of these splits arise over highly technical, politically invisible issues that get no press coverage, but nonetheless affect the lives of thousands or millions. But they are very often difficult, close issues, because, after all, highly-qualified lower court judges disagreed as to the outcome.  As a result, an 8-Justice Court can be expected to regularly divide evenly on a substantial fraction of them, often on lines that have no partisan correlation.  The result:  continuing legal uncertainty and division.

My basic point here is simple: clarity and legal certainty matter, often more than how legal disagreements are resolved.  The current partisan impasse between the President and the Senate threatens to create substantial, prolonged legal uncertainty on the Supreme Court on many important issues. That is bad for Democrats, bad for Republicans, and bad for the United States.

February 17, 2016

The Missing Discussion of Race and Xenophobia in the Ted Cruz Citizenship Controversy

Cross-posted from PrawfsBlawg.

The debate about Ted Cruz's eligiblility to the presidency, whether he is a natural born citizen (NBC), shows no sign of abatement or conclusive resolution. Eric Posner, Einer Elhauge, Robert Clinton, and Sol Wachtler voted nay, Jack Balkin and Laurence Tribe debated the issue at Harvard, Akhil Amar supports Senator Cruz's eligibility here and here. Former university president Donald Trump has threatened a lawsuit; according to his website, Ted Cruz is eligible. And in a free country, he should be.

Nevertheless, irony abounds, as Professor Tribe wrote, because Senator Cruz is an originalist, but the best arguments for his eligibility are based on progressive readings of the Constitution and US law.  There is another level of irony not yet considered.  Cruz's immigration policy is punitive and harsh, and has introduced what seems to be a patently unconstitutional law to expatriate U.S. citizens. The joke is that historical discrimination embodied in US immigration and naturalization law, of a type that he apparently hopes to revive, make his case for natural born citizenship a heavy lift.

Michael Ramsey, an important and influential scholar on the topic, recently updated his paper about British practices, which argues that "the Framers conveyed to Congress, through the naturalization clause, the power to define 'natural' birth."  While there is wide agreement that the question is difficult, the paper has persuaded me and, for example, Akhil Amar and Jack Balkin.

Critically, the paper reserves the question of whether Congress actually exercised this power to benefit Senator Cruz. (p. 37, n.138) Evaluation of that question requires recognizing the racism, sexism, and xenophobia dominating U.S. citizenship (and immigration) law from the founding until the civil rights revolution.  For example, the naturalization acts of 1790 and 1795 restricted naturalization to "free white persons," a qualification in effect for more than a century and a half.  Reading the relevant legal materials in light of these traditions raises doubt that Congress granted natural born status to people in Ted Cruz's situation.

Here is the problem. Congress only once purported to grant NBC status to foreign-born children of U.S. citizens, in the Naturalization Act of 1790. In the Naturalization Act of 1795 and every subsequent citizenship law, including the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress never mentioned "natural born." Congress grants only citizenship.  Many commentators contend that these acts are critical.  The 1790 Act shows that Congress intended to grant foreign-born children of U.S. citizens natural born status (and had the power to do so, given that many members of the first Congress were Framers of the Constitution.)   The 1795 Act shows that Congress intended to grant NBC status even without using the words "natural born", and, by implication, has done so ever since. 

Professor Ramsey's paper finds the legislative history of the 1795 Act inconclusive regarding the import of the elimination of natural-born status, and that the 1795 law's main effect was to extend the period of U.S. residence required for naturalization. (9-10) I read the 1795 Act as much more restrictive.  In addition to lengthening the residence requirement, the 1795 law: (1) established a monitoring regime by creating the longstanding requirement of filing a declaration of intention to become a citizen; (2) strengthened the required oath, requiring, in addition to supporting the Constitution, that the person "absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to every foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty whatever"; (3) required renunciation of any hereditary titles; and (4) excluded from naturalization those convicted of having joined the army of Great Britain during the Revolutionary War.  The 1795 Act unquestionably reflects greater suspicion of noncitizens than its predecessor; perhaps it was a step toward the Alien and Sedition Acts a few years later. 

The 1795 Act's most critical change linked the kind of citizenship granted to foreign-born children of U.S. citizens to that granted foreign-born children of naturalized citizens.  When their parents naturalized, the 1790 Act had made noncitizen children under 21 "citizens of the United States."  In a separate provision, the 1790 Act made children of US citizen parents born overseas "natural born citizens."  The 1795 Act merged the two provisions. The combined provision made children in both categories "citizens of the United States." Thus, in 1795 Congress did not merely eliminate the words "natural born citizen;" it apparently intended two formerly distinct groups to be treated identically.  It is unlikely that Congress used "citizen" synonymously with "natural born citizen." That is, presumably, Congress did not mean to grant noncitizens presidential eligibility if they became citizens as teenagers upon their parents' naturalization. 

Under the circumstances, it seems fair to apply the canon that "change of language strongly implies an intent to change the object of legislation," United States v. Fisher, 6 U.S. 358, 388 (1805) (Marshall, C.J.), and therefore to conclude that the 1795 Act reflects the decision of Congress not to grant natural born status to overseas-born children of U.S. citizens.  That many in Congress in 1795 were Framers is as important as it was with the 1790 Act: It is impossible that the significance of voting to eliminate the words "natural born" was lost on James Madison and other drafters of the Constitution. I am aware of no indication in text or legislative history that Congress in any later naturalization or citizenship legislation desired to grant "natural born" status to any children born out of the United States.  (I assume that in recent decades Congress has given the issue little thought.)

There is another curve-ball.  Congress sometimes declares noncitizen adults, retroactively, to have been citizens "at birth."  For example, in 1994, Congress enacted 8 USC 1401(h), granting citizenship and nationality "at birth" to people born overseas to U.S. citizen mothers before the date in 1934 when female U.S. citizens were granted equal rights to transmit citizenship to their children.  Congress can at its pleasure grant retroactive citizenship for many purposes (such as to make the new citizen's existing children, retroactively, U.S. citizens "at birth"), but it seems doubtful that Congress can make NBCs out of people who were not citizens at all when born.  If so, then it cannot be assumed automatically that Congress intends to exercise its NBC power every time it grants citizenship "at birth"; perhaps Congress simply wants the beneficiaries, in law, never to have been "aliens" or has some other motive.

Senator Cruz's citizenship did not rest on the long-superseded 1795 Act; the applicable provision (Section 301(a)(7) & (b) of the 1952 Immigration Act) was written in the 1930s. But that also was the era of the "white America" naturalization policy.  As discussed before, Congress granted people with one US citizen parent only conditional citizenship, which automatically expired unless specific steps were taken to retain it. The retention requirement was imposed because of the potentially questionable loyalty of a person with only one US citizen parent, born in a foreign land. 

Applying "strict construction" and "neutral principles" to the words enacted by Congress, Senator Cruz may be in trouble. To conclude that he is an NBC requires, first, acceptance of Professor Ramsey's compelling but controversial theory about the breadth of congressional power under the naturalization clause. Next, it requires the assumption that Congress sub silentio intended to grant natural born status, when their last word on the subject was directly to the contrary. Third, it requires the assumption that by citizenship "at birth" Congress always means "natural born citizenship," when the 1994 amendment, I believe the most recent, makes clear that is not the case. Finally, it requires an assumption that Congress intended to grant presidential eligibility to a class that it distrusted to the point that it made their citizenship temporary.

Again, Senator Cruz should be eligible; the natural born citizen clause is confusing and illiberal. The cleanest resolution would be constitutional amendment; next best would be a statute not about Cruz as an individual but declaring that all citizens at birth are natural born. For whatever reason, both seem nonstarters. But there are other routes, based on progressive readings of the law, or originalism rooted in the Reconstruction Amendments.

On the principle that amendments can impliedly repeal earlier, inconsistent constitutional provisions, perhaps the NBC clause did not survive enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment itself, notably, makes no "natural born citizens," those born in the U.S. are merely citizens, yet this is the only provision for citizenship in the Constitution. The Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment must have contemplated that those born in the United States would be eligible to the presidency, yet it made them mere citizens. Perhaps this should be read as a determination that citizenship at birth suffices.

Alternatively, perhaps on the theory that acts of Congress and jurisprudence created in a pre-modern era should be eyed suspiciously, the broad immigration and naturalization powers recognized in Congress should be subject to far more searching judicial review. On that principle, it might be that, contrary to current doctrine, Congress may not make citizenship contingent. Indeed, perhaps Senator Cruz is a natural born citizen because, again contrary to current law, Congress must grant unconditional natural born citizenship to children of U.S. citizens born overseas.

Finally, relying on the democracy canon, Rick HasenSandy Levinson, Akhil Amar and others propose that there should be a heavy thumb on the scale on the side of finding Senator Cruz eligible. 

Any of these, or others, might prove sufficient to make Senator Cruz eligible. But they would also require invalidation of some of his beloved legal ideas. So I hope The Donald files a lawsuit, and Senator Cruz is found eligible, but based on genuinely neutral principles of law that will be equally available to others who do not happen to be in the Senate.