Checks and Balances from Abroad

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Judicial and scholarly discussions about checks and balances almost always focus on actions and reactions by domestic actors. At least in the intelligence area, however, foreign actors can have direct and indirect influences on US checks and balances. New national-security challenges require increased cooperation with foreign intelligence partners. Leaks and;voluntary transparency mean that far more information is publicly available about intelligence missions. And robust legal rules now bind the United States and other Western intelligence services. These changes create opportunities for foreign leaders, citizens, corporations, and peer intelligence services to affect the quantum of power within the executive or the allocation of power among the three branches of the US government. First, some of these foreign influences can trigger the traditional operation of checks and balances in the US system. Second, these foreign actions simulate some of the effects produced by US checks and balances, even if they do not stimulate the US system to act endogenously. Whether one views these foreign constraints as positive or detrimental, understanding them is critical to an informed conversation about the extent to which the executive is truly unfettered in the national-security arena.

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... These checks and balances serve to ensure that no branch of government unjustifiably expands its role or accumulates uncurbed power and encourages deliberation between the branches to arrive at better policy solutions (Deeks, 2016). The expectation is that well-functioning checks and balances prevent the implementation of illconceived policy proposals by populist leaders and that greater deliberation on policy proposals leads to superior policy outcomes. ...
This article examines how states and international organizations can be held to account for extraterritorial human rights violations. I develop and investigate the potential of what I call an “indirect accountability” mechanism. In indirect accountability relationships, accountability fora do not directly hold states and international organizations that commit extraterritorial human rights violations to account as these are frequently immune to direct accountability claims. Instead, they hold them to account indirectly by addressing accountability claims to an implicated third party, expecting that the third party will upload the accountability claims to the state or international organization. After conceptualizing the mechanism and its scope conditions, I conduct two brief qualitative case studies using the method of deductive process tracing to explore the potential of the mechanism. The first case study traces efforts to indirectly hold the United States to account for violating foreigners’ privacy rights in the context of mass surveillance. The second case study traces attempts to indirectly hold the United Nations Security Council to account for violating the due process rights of blacklisted terror suspects. Both case studies provide support for the mechanism.
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Disputes with foreign policy implications have often been brought to the federal courts. These cases call attention to the tension between the authority of the political branches to conduct the foreign relations of the United States and the authority of the courts to render judgments according to the law. How this tension is resolved, in turn, bears directly on the commitment of the United States to the rule of law.
Scholars have often remarked that Congress neglects its oversight responsibility. We argue that Congress does no such thing: what appears to be a neglect of oversight really is the rational preference for one form of oversight--which we call fire-alarm oversight--over another form--police-patrol oversight. Our analysis supports a somewhat neglected way of looking at the strategies by which legislators seek to achieve their goals.