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“Wounded Innocence?”: Why Rick Perry May Be Out Of Luck

Governor Rick Perry of Texas and President Barack Obama, strangest of bedfellows, are making similar discoveries about the scope of prosecutorial discretion. In short, it’s very broad.

Perry’s education on the subject is an unhappy one. Late Friday, the Texas Governor, who has about five months left in his term, was indicted on two counts: abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. What those charges mean, though, is hard to say. The indictment itself is just two pages and, to put it charitably, unelaborated.

The case has its origins in Perry’s long-running feud with Rosemary Lehmberg, a district attorney in Travis County, which includes Austin and represents an island of blue in the deep-red sea of Texas. Last year, Lehmberg was charged with drunken driving. She promptly pleaded guilty, which, in light of the YouTube videos of her sobriety test and her booking at the police station, was no surprise.

Lehmberg served several days in jail but declined to resign, so Perry decided to make the most of her difficulties. He said that, unless she resigned, he would use his power as Governor to veto $7.5 million in state money for her Public Integrity Unit, which had been hard at work prosecuting Texas pols, many of them Republicans. He could not, he said, support “continued state funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence.”

What Perry did was obvious. The Governor was using his leverage to jam a political adversary—not exactly novel behavior in Texas, or most other states. But Democrats succeeded in winning the appointment of a special prosecutor, Michael McCrum, to investigate Perry’s behavior, and on Friday McCrum brought the hammer down. The threat to veto the money for the D.A. amounted to, according to the prosecutor, two different kinds of felonies: a “misuse” of government property, and a corrupt attempt to influence a public official in “a specific exercise of his official power or a specific performance of his official duty” or “to violate the public servants known legal duty.” (In the charmingly archaic view of Texas statutes, every public official is a “him.”)

Perry’s indictment has been widely panned, including by many liberals, as an attempt to criminalize hardball politics. (Vetoing things is, generally, part of a governor’s job.) Perry himself is all wounded innocence. “I intend to fight against those who would erode our state’s constitution and laws purely for political purposes, and I intend to win,” he said at a news conference. (It would be easier to feel sorry for Perry if he expressed similar concern about, say, the constitutional rights of those who were executed on his watch and with his support.)

So Perry may have a point, but he also has a problem. Prosecutors have wide, almost unlimited, latitude to decide which cases to bring. The reason is obvious: there is simply no way that the government could prosecute every violation of law it sees. Think about tax evasion, marijuana use, speeding, jay-walking—we’d live in a police state if the government went after every one of these cases. (Indeed, virtually all plea bargaining, which is an ubiquitous practice, amounts to an exercise of prosecutorial discretion.) As a result, courts give prosecutors virtual carte blanche to bring some cases and ignore others. But, once they do bring them, courts respond to the argument that “everyone does it” more or less the same way that your mother did. It’s no excuse. So if Perry’s behavior fits within the technical definition of the two statutes under which he’s charged, which it well might, he’s probably out of luck.

The President is relying on the same concept of discretion to push immigration reform, even though Congress has refused to pass a law to do so. The legislative branch writes the laws, which define the classes of people who are subject to deportation. But it is the executive branch that decides which actual individuals it will pursue and deport. Over the past several years, the Obama Administration has used its discretion to allow more immigrants to stay. During the 2012 campaign, the President announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which amounted to a kind of administrative DREAM Act. It limited the number of deportations of people who had been children when they were brought illegally to this country, provided they meet certain other conditions. The legality of DACA has not been successfully challenged.

Prosecutorial discretion is not unlimited. The executive branch can refrain from prosecuting certain individuals, but it cannot, in theory, offer immunity to entire classes of law-breakers. Nor can a prosecutor only charge people of a certain race, or, for that matter, political party. But it’s hard to know who would have standing to challenge a failure to bring a criminal case or a deportation. The rules of standing are usually limited to individuals who have suffered a specific harm, and there’s no harm in not being prosecuted. (The New Republic has a useful primer on the subject. )

That sort of limitation on prosecutorial discretion is unlikely to help Rick Perry. His complaint is that the prosecutor is bringing one case too many, not too few. That claim, almost invariably, is a loser. So, it turns out, may be the soon-to-be-former governor.


By: Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker, August 19, 2014

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Rick Perry, Texas | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Losing Their Minds”: Why The Republican Freak-Out Over Obama’s Immigration Order Is Both Dumb And Inhumane

Like it or not, these are the facts: There are 11.7 million undocumented immigrants living in United States. The U.S. Immigrant and Customs Enforcement only has the capacity to remove about 400,000 per year. That’s less than 4 percent of the total undocumented population.

Keep these facts in mind as President Obama prepares to announce an executive action to protect certain classes of undocumented immigrants — and as Republicans lose their minds over it. Obama’s expected move isn’t a sinister example of “domestic Caesarism,” as Ross Douthat would have it, or “stealth amnesty,” in the words of Reihan Salam. It is an eminently reasonable response in the face of congressional inaction, while the conservative opposition puts them on the wrong side of both basic humanitarian instincts and public welfare.

The executive action is expected to expand deferred action to more undocumented immigrants. Deferred action provides an assurance to certain immigrants that they won’t be pursued for deportation. With it comes work permits, so those who won’t be deported can pursue legitimate work.

The legal basis for deferred action is grounded in prosecutorial discretion — the authority of law enforcement agencies to determine how and when to enforce the law. Such discretion is necessary given scarce agency resources. It’s why police and prosecutors devote most of their time to pursuing serious offenses rather than going after every crime on the books. It would be a waste of resources to charge and punish jaywalkers or adulterers, for instance.

Given these constraints, officials have prioritized certain classes of immigrants for removal. ICE specifically targets three categories of undocumented immigrants: those who present national security or public safety risks; those who have recently entered; and those who have reentered after being removed.

These targets guide immigration enforcement actions. In 2013, there were 368,644 removals. Ninety-eight percent met one of ICE’s three priorities. Of these, 235,093 were removed while trying to enter at the border. Among the 133,551 removed while living inside the United States, 82 percent had a previous criminal conviction.

Just as there are removal targets at the top of ICE’s list, there are non-targets at the bottom. These are classes of undocumented immigrants that agents opt to ignore. These categories, outlined in the 2011 Morton Memo, include U.S. military veterans, minors, elderly persons, and pregnant women, among others.

This list broadly tracks the immigrants that we may see benefit from expanded deferred action under Obama’s executive order. As Eric Posner argues, Obama’s order would in many respects do little more than bless preexisting policy. But it would also give some legal guarantee to peaceable immigrants at the distant, unreachable bottom of ICE’s priority list, allowing them access to aboveboard work in the process.

Conservatives will undoubtedly seethe over Obama’s unilateral action. But once they exhaust their procedural objections, any substantive opposition to the policy itself is either cruel or dangerous.

On the one hand, conservatives could object to a codification of ICE’s existing practices. Under this argument, it’s not selective enforcement of the law that’s the problem, but explicitly telling immigrants who arrived in the country illegally that they’re in the clear. Keeping the law hazy would subject law-abiding immigrants to an illusory fear, supposedly discouraging migrant flows.

This is a deeply inhumane tactic. Their preference would be for millions of immigrants to needlessly live with the specter of deportation hanging over their heads. This would condemn them to living in the shadows and working in tenuous, often-exploitative conditions — even though immigration officials have no interest in deporting them.

The other objection — rejecting prosecutorial discretion outright — isn’t any more heartening. This would involve ICE pursuing every undocumented immigrant with equal zeal.

This would be a policy that jeopardizes national security and public safety. Short of expanding enforcement capacity by a factor of 30, time spent expelling military veterans or parents would allow more gang members and felons to slip through the cracks of strained budgets. As John Sandweg, former Homeland Security general counsel, said, “If we eliminated all priorities, and treat [all undocumented immigrants] equally, you are going to make the country less safe, and make the border less secure.”

When he announces his executive action, Obama should remind the country that prosecutorial discretion in immigration keeps us safe. Deferred action is a fairly minor step to provide some peace of mind to those that our immigration system already doesn’t care about deporting, making it easier for them to live freely and work productively. If conservatives still object, it will be clear that they remain far from being fit to step in and lead as moral and protective stewards for our country.


By: Joel Dodge, Member of the Boston University School of Law’s Class of 2014; The Week, August 12, 2014

August 18, 2014 Posted by | Deportation, Immigration, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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