Professor Neil Kinkopf testified Sept. 7 before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice about the legalities and oversight of the Judgment Fund.
“The Judgment Fund fulfills a fundamentally important duty of the federal government — to provide an effective remedy when the rights of individuals are violated,” Kinkopf said.
The fund was established in the 1950s as a way to pay court judgments and Justice Department compromise settlements of actual or imminent lawsuits against the government. It is administered by the Judgment Fund Branch, which is a part of the Department of the Treasury, Bureau of the Fiscal Service.
The hearing was prompted by charges that President Obama has been abusing the fund to create programs to benefit political allies, Kinkopf said. The recent $1.7 billion payment to Iran, which represented the settlement of a decades-old arbitration claim but has been called a ransom payment for release of prisoners by critics, also was questioned. Part of the payment, $1.3 billion in cash, was taken from the Judgment Fund.
Kinkopf testified about how the fund has been used in the past, particularly with another Iran incident, when the United States mistakenly shot down an Iranian commercial airliner in 1988, killing all 290 people on board. The government paid $61.8 million to Iran to compensate for the plane and loss of lives.
The hearing was in part a predicate to determine if a resolution of censure should be brought against the president, Kinkopf said. “What the Obama administration has done is perfectly legal,” he said.
The hearing also sought expert opinion regarding pending legislation that would require certain disclosures by the Department of Treasury about how Judgment Fund payments are administered.
“Such a requirement would be salutary and, in principle, it is impossible to imagine a reason to oppose such a measure,” Kinkopf said. “The bill would clearly adhere to the constitutional requirements that the Supreme Court has articulated in that it would not grant power to Congress or to any official whom Congress can control.
“The information it would require the executive to disclose would allow the public, and Congress, to monitor the use of the Judgment Fund and to have some basis for identifying instances of overreach,” Kinkopf said. “This bill seems a modest measure that respects the constitutional separation of powers while allowing Congress to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities.”
This is the fourth time Kinkopf has been called as a constitutional law expert to provide information at a congressional hearing. The last testimony was regarding the troop surge in Iraq in 2006.
“It’s a real pleasure to have the opportunity to put some of my academic work and interests to practical use,” Kinkopf said. “It was an honor to have been asked to do so by the Congress.”