from the archives1 :
Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California Irvine School of Law
Never in my adult life has there been more hope surrounding the election of a president. And never in American history has there been a president as knowledgeable in the law, and especially constitutional law, as Barack Obama. The most obvious place where this will matter is in his judicial appointments. There likely will be somewhere between one and three vacancies on the Supreme Court over the next four years. Justice John Paul Stevens is 88 years old and it does not seem likely that he will still be on the court at age 93 in 2013. There are rumors that Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter might step down.
Obama’s replacing one or more of these individuals likely will not change the ideological composition of the court in the short term; he is likely to choose individuals who have similar views. But Obama’s picks for the lower courts, especially the U.S. Court of Appeals, could be transformative. Most federal courts of appeals have a majority of judges appointed by Republican presidents, but in many places that will change over the next four years. In light of a Senate with at least 56 Democrats, Obama should be able to pick judges without confirmation fights.
Obama’s knowledge of constitutional law will matter in other areas. He has the chance to overturn Bush administration policies that compromised basic human rights. One of Obama’s first actions should be to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay and either transfer its inmates to federal prisons or release them. Guantánamo is an international embarrassment and has become a symbol of America’s violations of international law.
Obama also needs to immediately rescind Bush administration policies authorizing torture, permitting renditions that violate international law, and authorizing extrajudicial spying on Americans. From the moment of his inauguration, Obama must declare that the United States will comply with international law and follow its own Constitution.
In fact, Obama must take the difficult step of initiating the process for war crimes prosecutions of men such as Dick Cheney, David Addington and John Yoo. In her brilliant book “The Dark Side,” investigative journalist Jane Mayer provides compelling proof that these, and likely other individuals, violated basic norms of international law. Moving forward requires taking the difficult step of holding these individuals accountable.
[From The new era of Obama | Salon ]
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