America’s drone policy makes everyone uncomfortable. The alternatives are worse. Attacking enemy combatants from the air is part of warfare. Combatants who wear civilian clothing or who operate from sanctuaries are not excused from risk. Compare drone strikes to the feckless 1998 cruise missile attack on bin Laden. Drone strikes work; that is why our opponents object to them. If the host governments are cognizant and accepting (even if this is not public), if the laws of armed conflict limiting egregious attacks on civilians are observed, drone strikes are an acceptable use of force.
The more difficult issue involves targeting belligerents who also hold American citizenship. If you think about it, every confederate killed by U.S. forces in the Civil War was an American citizen. Germans with dual citizenship, both civilians and soldiers, were killed in combat or in aerial bombings during World War II. There were probably a few citizens among Chinese forces in Korea. Killing Americans participating in hostilities in an armed conflict against the United States, while disturbing, is not automatically precluded.
Arrest and trial is the preferred approach for dealing with Americans who threaten to kill their fellow citizens. What do we do if arrest is not an option? We could wait for a moment when they can be caught, but that runs the risk that while we wait, there will be another 9/11 or a successful airline bomber. The struggles against global jihad do not fit neatly with existing rules for conflict, and a pragmatic approach that puts public safety first faces difficult choices in balancing risk and rights.
The most difficult choice involves setting bounds for the use of lethal force against Americans. The administration has three rules: A senior U.S. official must determine there is an “imminent” threat of violent attack; capture is not possible; and attacks must be consistent with the laws of war (meaning an effort to avoid collateral damage and innocent causalities). The rules could be clearer in saying targets must be combatants engaged in armed struggle, and the administration uses an elastic definition of “imminent,” but these rules are sufficient for what should be a rare and infrequent event—if drone attacks on U.S. citizens are not rare and infrequent, something is dangerously wrong. It would be better if we did not have to do this and there will be a time when these rules can be abolished, but that time is not now.
By: James Lewis, U. S. News and World Report, February 6, 2013
Legal elites must come to terms with a reality driven by the grass-roots electorate: judicial elections are here to stay. Given this reality, we should focus on balancing important First Amendment rights to financially support campaigns with due process concerns about fair trials.
An ugly, expensive campaign for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court is but the latest example of what is now common in judicial elections: millions of dollars in misleading television ads, subsidized by lobbies that have cases before the bench.
In 39 states, at least some judges are elected. Voters rarely know much, if anything, about the candidates, making illusory the democratic benefits of such elections. Ideally, judges should decide cases based on the law, not to please the voters. But, as Justice Otto Kaus of the California Supreme Court once remarked about the effect of politics on judges’ decisions: “You cannot forget the fact that you have a crocodile in your bathtub. You keep wondering whether you’re letting yourself be influenced, and you do not know.”
The need to run multimillion-dollar campaigns to win election to the court in much of the country renders the crocodile ever more menacing.
For more than a quarter of a century, voters have rejected efforts to move from an elective to an appointive bench. Last year, despite a campaign led by Sandra Day O’Connor, Nevada voters became the latest to reject such a change.
Scholars, judges and advocates who find intellectual comfort in seeking to eliminate judicial elections are indulging a luxury that America’s courts can no longer afford. Instead they should focus on incremental changes to what Justice O’Connor bluntly calls the “wrong” of “cash in the courtroom.”
More than 7 in 10 Americans believe campaign cash influences judicial decisions. Nearly half of state court judges agree. Never before has there been so much cash in the courts. Measured only by direct contributions to candidates for state high courts, campaign fund-raising more than doubled in a decade.
But this is only part of the financial story. Nationally, in 2008, for the first time, noncandidate groups outspent the candidates on the ballot.
Perhaps most tellingly, a study of 29 campaigns in the 10 costliest judicial election states over the last decade revealed the extraordinary comparative power of “super spenders” in court races. The top five spenders in each of the elections laid out an average of $473,000.
In 2009, the United States Supreme Court dealt with this issue, holding that due process is violated when a judge participates in a case involving a party that spent a great deal of money on the judge’s election effort. The case before the court involved a West Virginia Supreme Court decision overturning a jury verdict that awarded a $50 million judgment against Massey Coal Company.
One of the justices in the majority of that 3 to 2 decision, Brent D. Benjamin, had been elected after Massey Coal’s chief executive spent $3 million on his campaign. The United States Supreme Court held, 5 to 4, that due process was violated because of the lack of an impartial decision-maker. The court made clear, however, that campaign spending requires the disqualification of a judge only rarely.
A year later, the high court held, in the Citizens United case, that corporations and unions have the First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money in election campaigns. In light of these two decisions, corporate and union officials must engage in a perverse guessing game: they want to spend enough to get their candidate for the bench elected, but not so much as to require the judge’s disqualification if the campaign is successful.
Rigorous recusal rules are an important step, but merely disqualifying a judge on occasion is insufficient. The most obvious solution is to limit spending in judicial races. States with elected judges should restrict how much can be contributed to a candidate for judicial office or even spent to get someone elected.
That solution has long been assumed to be off the table, though, because the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that while the government can limit the amount that a person gives directly to a candidate, it cannot restrict how much a person spends on his or her own to get the candidate elected. Nevertheless, large expenditures to get a candidate elected to the bench undermine both the appearance and reality of impartial justice.
The Supreme Court’s 2009 decision properly focused on the $3 million in campaign expenditures, not the $1,000 that was directly contributed. In the legislative and executive offices, it is accepted that special-interest lobbying and campaign spending can influence votes; but that is anathema to our most basic notions of fair judging.
Thus, the Supreme Court should hold that the compelling interest in ensuring impartial judges is sufficient to permit restrictions on campaign spending that would be unconstitutional for nonjudicial elections.
States should restrict contributions and expenditures in judicial races to preserve impartiality. Such restrictions are the only way to balance the right to spend to get candidates elected, and the due process right to fair trials.
By: Erwin Chemerinsky and James J. Sample, The New York Times, April 17, 2011