Update: TPP's assault on the ConstitutionBen Beachy, Counterpunch - Alan Morrison, a constitutional law professor and associate dean at George Washington University Law School who has practiced law for 45 years, taught at six law schools including Harvard, and argued 20 Supreme Court cases.
Morrison warns in a letter to Congress that the TPP's proposed expansion of a controversial parallel legal system for foreign corporations, known as "investor-state dispute settlement", "improperly removes a core judicial function from the federal courts and therefore violates Article III of the Constitution."
TPP's expansion of ISDS would newly empower thousands of foreign corporations to bypass the entire U.S. legal system and challenge U.S. laws before private international tribunals comprised of three attorneys.
These three individuals would not be constitutionally appointed and salaried U.S. judges, but private lawyers who are paid by the hour. As Morrison points out, "many of those who serve as arbitrators in one ISDS case represent investors challenging governments in another." The three ISDS lawyers, though acting like a court, would not be bound by a system of legal precedent. They would be authorized to rule against U.S. laws and order U.S. taxpayer compensation in decisions that could not be appealed on the merits or reviewed in U.S. courts.
The U.S. Constitution states in Article III that U.S. courts, presided over by salaried U.S. judges, have judicial authority over challenges to U.S. laws. Instead, the TPP would empower an ad-hoc group of three bill-by-the-hour private lawyers operating outside of the U.S. legal system to issue binding decisions on corporate challenges to U.S. laws.
Morrison concludes, "The Administration owes it to Congress and the American people to explain how the Constitution allows the United States to agree to submit the validity of its federal, state, and local laws to three private arbitrators, with no possibility of review by any U.S. court."
The TPP's expansion of this constitutional aberration would threaten the policies that we rely on for a clean environment, stable economy and healthy communities. Since ISDS tribunals, unlike U.S. judges, are not bound by legal precedent or substantive appeal, they are free to concoct broad governmental obligations to foreign investors and then rule against environmental, financial and health policies.
What kinds of U.S. laws and regulations would be vulnerable to corporate challenge under this unprecedented expansion of U.S. ISDS liability? Morrison spells out some examples:
* E-cigarette regulations: "If Congress decided to regulate [e-cigarettes] after enactment of the TPP, a non-U.S. investor from a TPP country that makes e-cigarettes here could ask an ISDS panel to rule that its investment-based expectations were improperly violated and thus that it is entitled to damages under the minimum standard of treatment provisions."
* Water rationing for drought-stricken California: "A similar challenge could be made by a TPP investor who owned farm land in California and objected to an intensification of mandatory water rationing for farms enacted after the TPP goes into effect, even if such rules also applied to U.S. owners of land that would be adversely affected by them."
* A $15 minimum wage: "Or the non-U.S. TPP-owner of restaurants in Los Angeles could demand arbitration over a post TPP-enactment of an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which, he claims, violates his investment-based expectations when he decided to purchase the restaurants."
"Let's live on the planet as if we intend to stay."