Who Is Pamela Karlan? Legal Leader Committed to Progressive Causes

Pamela S. Karlan’s formidable reputation as a scholar and Supreme Court advocate, coupled with a deep commitment to progressive causes, have made her a leader of the sometimes disorganized liberal legal movement.

Ms. Karlan, 60, received bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees from Yale and clerked for Justice Harry A. Blackmun of the Supreme Court. She is now a director of Stanford Law School’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic. Ms. Karlan made regular media appearances discussing the 2000 presidential election and recount, and was one of the authors of “When Elections Go Bad: The Law of Democracy and the Presidential Election of 2000.”

During the Obama administration, she worked in the Justice Department’s civil rights division and received the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service, the highest award employees there can earn.

She has also worked on the California Fair Political Practices Commission and for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Ms. Karlan has argued nine cases before the Supreme Court, most recently in October, when she argued that employees should not be fired over sexual orientation.

Her litigation experience also includes work on big cases like the affirmative action case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin and the same-sex marriage case Obergefell v. Hodges.

“She is a brilliant, scrupulously careful scholar,” said David Sklansky, a law professor at Stanford who has known Ms. Karlan for more than three decades. “She is also honest and candid, and she has a deep commitment to fairness and the rule of law.”

He added, “If you want to know what something in the Constitution means, it’s hard to think of a better person to ask.”

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Admit It: You Don’t Know How Impeachment Works. We Can Help.

Explosive testimony. News media frenzies. A trial in the Senate. Here is how impeachment works — and how it has played out in the past.

“Impeachment by its nature, it’s a political process.” “What people think is going to happen can turn out to be very different from what happens.” “Because it has to do with elected officials holding another elected official to account for their conduct.” When the framers of the Constitution created a process to remove a president from office, they were well … kind of vague. So to understand how it’s going to play out, the past is really our best guide. “I think we’re just all in for a really crazy ride.” Collectively, these New York Times reporters have covered U.S. politics for over 150 years. “I’m also a drummer in a band, so …” They’ve reported on past impeachment inquiries. “Yea, I’m lost in Senate wonderland.” And they say that the three we’ve had so far have been full of twists and turns. “The president of the United States is not guilty as charged.” In short, expect the unexpected. First, the process. Impeachment is technically only the initial stage. “Common misconceptions about impeachment are that impeachment by itself means removal from office. It doesn’t. The impeachment part of the process is only the indictment that sets up a trial.” The Constitution describes offenses that are grounds for removing the president from office as bribery, treason and — “They say high crimes and misdemeanors, which, really, is in the eye of the beholder.” “The framers didn’t give us a guidebook to it. They simply said, that the House had the responsibility for impeachment and the Senate had the responsibility for the trial.” One of the things missing from the Constitution? How an impeachment inquiry should start. And that has generally been a source of drama. Basically, anything goes. “In fact, in the Andrew Johnson case they voted to impeach him without even having drafted the articles of impeachment.” For Richard Nixon, his case started with several investigations that led to public hearings. That part of the process went on for two years, and yielded revelation after revelation, connecting Nixon to a politically-motivated burglary at D.N.C. headquarters — “… located in the Watergate office building.” — and its subsequent cover-up. “Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?” “I was aware of listening devices. Yes, sir.” “This was a shocker. Everybody in the White House recognized how damaging this could be.” As the House drafted articles of impeachment, Nixon lost the support of his party. “O.K., I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.” “I was asked to write the farewell piece that ran the morning after Nixon resigned. And this is what I wrote: The central question is how a man who won so much could have lost so much.” So for Nixon, it more or less ended after the investigations. But for Bill Clinton, that phase was just the beginning. “This is the information.” An independent counsel’s investigation into his business dealings unexpectedly turned into a very public inquiry about his personal life. “The idea that a president of the United States was having an affair with a White House intern and then a federal prosecutor was looking at that, it was just extraordinary.” That investigation led to public hearings in the House Judiciary Committee. “When the Starr Report was being delivered to Congress it was a little bit like the O.J. chase, only a political one. There were two black cars. They were being filmed live on CNN. They were heading towards the Capitol. We were watching it and a little bit agog.” Public opinion is key. And the media plays a huge part in the process. This was definitely true for Clinton. “You know it was just a crazy time. We worked in the Senate press gallery.” “All your colleagues are kind of piled on top of each other.” “We had crummy computers, the fax machine would always break. The printer would always break.” After committee hearings, the House brought formal impeachment charges. “It was very tense. I thought that the Saturday of the impeachment vote in the House was one of the most tense days I’d experienced in Washington.” And it turned out, also, full of surprises. “The day of impeachment arrived, everyone’s making very impassioned speeches about whether Bill Clinton should or should not be impeached and Livingston rises to give an argument for the House Republicans. He started to talk about how Clinton could resign.” “You, sir, may resign your post.” “And all of a sudden people start booing and saying, ‘Resign, resign’!” “So I must set the example.” “He announced he was resigning because he had had extramarital affairs and challenged President Clinton to do the only honorable thing, in his view —” “I hope President Clinton will follow.” “— to resign as well, so there was all this drama unfolding even in the midst of impeachment.” Then it went to the Senate for trial. The Constitution gets a little more specific about this part. “The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is supposed to preside over that trial.” “Rehnquist, he showed up in this robe he had made for himself, which had gold stripes on the sleeves because he liked Gilbert and Sullivan.” “The Senate is the actual jury.” “You will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws. So help you, God.” “This is a copy of the rules of the Senate for handling impeachment. They’re actually very specific.” “Meet six days a week.” “Convene at noon. The senators have to sit at their desks and remain quiet in their role as jurors. And not talk, which trust me, is going to be a problem for some of the senators who are used to talking all the time.” It’s just like a courtroom trial. There are prosecutors who present the case against the president. “That was perjury.” Only, they’re members of the House, and they’re called managers. Then the senators, or the jurors, vote. And things are still, unpredictable. “The options are guilty or not guilty. But there was one senator —” “Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania.” “Under Scottish law, there are three possible verdicts: guilty, not guilty and not proved.” “— which is not a thing.” “And everybody just looks, you know, how do you even record that vote?” In the end, there were not enough votes to oust Clinton. “What’s amazing about this whole thing to me wasn’t so much the constitutional process. It was that it felt to me like the beginning of really intense partisanship, the weaponization of partisanship.” And here’s the thing: An impeachment charge has never gotten the two-thirds majority it needs in the Senate to actually oust a president from office. “So you could end up having a situation where the president is impeached, acquitted and runs for re-election and wins re-election.” And that would be a first. “This is my ticket to the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. I don’t think you’ll find these on StubHub.”

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Explosive testimony. News media frenzies. A trial in the Senate. Here is how impeachment works — and how it has played out in the past.CreditCredit…Photo illustration by Aaron Byrd

Ms. Karlan has not been very vocal about her stance on the impeachment inquiry. She does not appear to have written columns or made appearances commenting on the proceedings.

But she is widely known in liberal circles. Ms. Karlan is the chairwoman of the board of directors for the left-leaning American Constitution Society. And in December 2016, she and other liberal scholars signed a letter expressing concern over President Trump’s statements and actions during the 2016 presidential campaign.

In May 2017, after reports that Mr. Trump had asked the F.B.I. director at the time, James B. Comey, to end an investigation into Michael T. Flynn, then the national security adviser, Ms. Karlan said in an interview with the BBC that Mr. Trump was “behaving extraordinarily badly.” And, she said, “if it becomes clear that the president is trying to obstruct justice and Congress does nothing, that moves us towards a constitutional crisis.”

In 2009, Ms. Karlan was a favorite of the left, cited by some as their choice for the Supreme Court. She did not make President Barack Obama’s short list.

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