I’ve been criticizing the large and small errors in the OLC memo supporting Whitaker’s appointment. I started last week by pointing out a significant error (or at least a significantly misleading passage) in the OLC’s memo on the relationship between statutes.
I want to highlight a bigger set of problems methodologically about the constitutional argument in terms of its inconsistent methods, its failure to consider originalism while somehow sliding into living constitutionalism, its failure to consider purposes and context (both for constitutional arguments and for statutory arguments), its shading of the historical evidence in favor of its preferred outcome, and its overlooking serious problems based on the Constitution’s text.
[Update: I have to emphasize up top how remarkable it is that the only precedent the OLC provides for an unconfirmed Acting AG is 1) from 1866, 2) for just a week 3) under the chaotic Andrew Johnson, 4) who is infamous for flouting the Senate and was nearly impeached for it, 5) before the AG was even a department head, because the DOJ did not yet exist, and 6) that distinction is constitutionally significant. (OLC p. 11) But there is more in terms of its selective interpretation of the 19th century, too. I also note there is good reason the early republic may have treated AGs differently from other cabinet officers. The Attorney General historically has been understood as a different kind of executive officer, a “quasi judicial officer” from the mid 19th century and on. I also show that AGs were treated differently from other cabinet members. My draft paper addresses this.]
1) The OLC is methodologically incoherent and inconsistent. The OLC uses narrowly textual arguments on the Vacancies Reform Act [VRA] statute, when the legislative history and purposes raise significant questions. This textual approach has many adherents, but the problem is that in the constitutional section, the OLC then suddenly abandons any textualism — and avoiding any originalism or purposivism — and flips to solely post-ratification history, focused mainly on the 20th and 21st century history. It’s not really post-ratification “liquidation.” It looks more like living constitutionalism. I thought that was not allowed.