Anonymous wrote this as a comment to my recent post on Trump and the original Magnitsky Act and I think it deserves a thorough response:
I don’t think there is any due process burden on statements of condemnation. Saying the Magnitsky Act is an unconstitutional bill of attainder I think is wrong. Firstly, the implicated are foreign nationals, it does not pass guilt nor does it create any sort of mechanism for actually trying or sentencing these individuals. It is the United States Congress formally condemning individuals of suspected crimes. The only punishment it does provide is excluding these individuals from entering the U.S. or using U.S. banks. Sandy, do you think foreign nationals have any kind of meaningful right to enter the country or use banks under the Constitution (why I also think the statements that the visa-waiver restrictions we’re implementing or limitations of immigration from certain nations being unconstitutional are inaccurate).
Do you think we need to charge Kim Jong Un for being a brutal despot in a U.S. federal court in order to continue sanctions against the North Koreans?
I think it’s pretty evident that Putin has a history of illiberal rigging of democracy within his own country. The argument that “we’ve manipulated in other countries” doesn’t seem particularly persuasive to me. I don’t think its unreasonable to say what you do to your own citizens and your own people is a reflection of the type of principles you hold. We don’t – as much as our Left-wing “comrades” might believe – an overriding obligation to people who are not citizens or do not live in this country. But we do have one to Americans. If the government were assassinating Americans or rigging American elections, that would be a problem. And further if people in charge of that rigging called a foreign election candidate “strong” or “trustworthy”, I would rightly be suspicious if I was a citizen of that country of this candidate.
Anonymous says the Magnitsky Act is not a bill of attainder. It only says you can’t visit the US and use our banks. And even if it is a Bill of Attainder, this constitutional protection does not (and neither do most other provisions) apply to foreigners.
A bill of attainder was a act of the British Parliament that tried and punished officials for dereliction of duty and other crimes. Let’s go the the Heritage Guide to the US Constitution (That’s right: Heritage as in the Heritage Foundation) for a more detailed treatment of this clause:
In common law, bills of attainder were legislative acts that, without trial, condemned specifically designated persons or groups to death. Bills of attainder also required the “corruption of blood”; that is, they denied to the condemned’s heirs the right to inherit his estate. Bills of pains and penalties, in contrast, singled out designated persons or groups for punishment less than death, such as banishment or disenfranchisement. Many states had enacted both kinds of statutes after the Revolution.
The United States Supreme Court seems to have had a more expansive view of the Clause (starting in the middle of a paragraph for that first one):
Beginning with Chief Justice John Marshall, however, the Supreme Court has insisted that “a Bill of Attainder may affect the life of an individual, or may confiscate his property, or may do both.” Fletcher v. Peck (1810).
Marshall and his successors saw the Bill of Attainder Clause as an element of the separation of powers. As the decisions of the Court in Marbury v. Madison (1803) and United States v. Klein (1871) made clear, only a court can hold a trial, evaluate the evidence, and determine the merits of the claim or accusation. The Constitution forbade the Congress from “exercis[ing] the power and office of judge.” Cummings v. Missouri (1867). In United States v. Brown (1965), the Court specifically rejected a “narrow historical approach” to the clauses and characterized the Framers’ purpose as to prohibit “legislative punishment, of any form or severity, of specifically designated persons or groups.”
Those cases, although they do not admittedly apply to foreigners, do sound absolute to me in practice. Congress cannot try a person (except for impeachment or contempt of Congress) and then punish that person. The Magnitsky Act does exactly that: First accusing individual Russians of involvement in torture and murder and then human rights violations in general. That is a serious charge to make.
And there is no trial. None of the accused Russians were allowed to try to prove their innocence or to present any evidence at all. No court or jury decided they helped torture or kill Magnitsky – or other human rights violations. Congress (or actually the President, under Congressional authority) decides they are guilty.
There is punishment: These persons cannot visit the USA and any property or money they may have can be confiscated.
This cite [Here] is the entire text of the Magnitsky Act. [Blogger’s note: The act is Title or portion four of a larger bill]
The act reads at first like an indictment:
SEC. 402. FINDINGS; SENSE OF CONGRESS.
(a) Findings.--Congress finds the following:
(1) The United States aspires to a mutually beneficial
relationship with the Russian Federation based on respect for
human rights and the rule of law, and supports the people of the
Russian Federation in their efforts to realize their full
economic potential and to advance democracy, human rights, and
the rule of law.
(2) The Russian Federation--
(A) is a member of the United Nations, the
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe,
the Council of Europe, and the International Monetary
(B) has ratified the Convention against Torture and
Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment, the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, and the United Nations Convention
against Corruption; and
(C) is bound by the legal obligations set forth in
the European Convention on Human Rights.
(3) States voluntarily commit themselves to respect
obligations and responsibilities through the adoption of
international agreements and treaties, which must be observed in
good faith in order to maintain the stability of the
international order. Human rights are an integral part of
international law, and lie at the foundation of the
international order. The protection of human rights, therefore,
particularly in the case of a country that has incurred
obligations to protect human rights under an international
agreement to which it is a party, is not left exclusively to the
internal affairs of that country.
(4) Good governance and anti-corruption measures are
instrumental in the protection of human rights and in achieving
[[Page 126 STAT. 1503]]
sustainable economic growth, which benefits both the people of
the Russian Federation and the international community through
the creation of open and transparent markets.
(5) Systemic corruption erodes trust and confidence in
democratic institutions, the rule of law, and human rights
protections. This is the case when public officials are allowed
to abuse their authority with impunity for political or
financial gains in collusion with private entities.
(6) The Russian nongovernmental organization INDEM has
estimated that bribes by individuals and businesses in the
Russian Federation amount to hundreds of billions of dollars a
year, an increasing share of the country's gross domestic
(7) Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky died on November 16, 2009,
at the age of 37, in Matrosskaya Tishina Prison in Moscow,
Russia, and is survived by a mother, a wife, and 2 sons.
(8) On July 6, 2011, Russian President Dimitry Medvedev's
Human Rights Council announced the results of its independent
investigation into the death of Sergei Magnitsky. The Human
Rights Council concluded that Sergei Magnitsky's arrest and
detention was illegal; he was denied access to justice by the
courts and prosecutors of the Russian Federation; he was
investigated by the same law enforcement officers whom he had
accused of stealing Hermitage Fund companies and illegally
obtaining a fraudulent $230,000,000 tax refund; he was denied
necessary medical care in custody; he was beaten by 8 guards
with rubber batons on the last day of his life; and the
ambulance crew that was called to treat him as he was dying was
deliberately kept outside of his cell for one hour and 18
minutes until he was dead. The report of the Human Rights
Council also states the officials falsified their accounts of
what happened to Sergei Magnitsky and, 18 months after his
death, no officials had been brought to trial for his false
arrest or the crime he uncovered. The impunity continued in
April 2012, when Russian authorities dropped criminal charges
against Larisa Litvinova, the head doctor at the prison where
(9) The systematic abuse of Sergei Magnitsky, including his
repressive arrest and torture in custody by officers of the
Ministry of the Interior of the Russian Federation that Mr.
Magnitsky had implicated in the embezzlement of funds from the
Russian Treasury and the misappropriation of 3 companies from
his client, Hermitage Capital Management, reflects how deeply
the protection of human rights is affected by corruption.
(10) The politically motivated nature of the persecution of
Mr. Magnitsky is demonstrated by--
(A) the denial by all state bodies of the Russian
Federation of any justice or legal remedies to Mr.
Magnitsky during the nearly 12 full months he was kept
without trial in detention; and
(B) the impunity since his death of state officials
he testified against for their involvement in corruption
and the carrying out of his repressive persecution.
(11) The Public Oversight Commission of the City of Moscow
for the Control of the Observance of Human Rights in Places of
Forced Detention, an organization empowered by
[[Page 126 STAT. 1504]]
Russian law to independently monitor prison conditions,
concluded on December 29, 2009, ``A man who is kept in custody
and is being detained is not capable of using all the necessary
means to protect either his life or his health. This is a
responsibility of a state which holds him captive. Therefore,
the case of Sergei Magnitsky can be described as a breach of the
right to life. The members of the civic supervisory commission
have reached the conclusion that Magnitsky had been experiencing
both psychological and physical pressure in custody, and the
conditions in some of the wards of Butyrka can be justifiably
called torturous. The people responsible for this must be
(12) Sergei Magnitsky's experience, while particularly
illustrative of the negative effects of official corruption on
the rights of an individual citizen, appears to be emblematic of
a broader pattern of disregard for the numerous domestic and
international human rights commitments of the Russian Federation
and impunity for those who violate basic human rights and
(13) The second trial, verdict, and sentence against former
Yukos executives Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev evoke
serious concerns about the right to a fair trial and the
independence of the judiciary in the Russian Federation. The
lack of credible charges, intimidation of witnesses, violations
of due process and procedural norms, falsification or
withholding of documents, denial of attorney-client privilege,
and illegal detention in the Yukos case are highly troubling.
The Council of Europe, Freedom House, and Amnesty International,
among others, have concluded that they were charged and
imprisoned in a process that did not follow the rule of law and
was politically influenced. Furthermore, senior officials of the
Government of the Russian Federation, including First Deputy
Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, have acknowledged that the arrest
and imprisonment of Khodorkovsky were politically motivated.
(14) According to Freedom House's 2011 report entitled ``The
Perpetual Battle: Corruption in the Former Soviet Union and the
New EU Members'', ``[t]he highly publicized cases of Sergei
Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer who died in pretrial detention
in November 2009 after exposing a multimillion-dollar fraud
against the Russian taxpayer, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the
jailed business magnate and regime critic who was sentenced at
the end of 2010 to remain in prison through 2017, put an
international spotlight on the Russian state's contempt for the
rule of law * * *. By silencing influential and accomplished
figures such as Khodorkovsky and Magnitsky, the Russian
authorities have made it abundantly clear that anyone in Russia
can be silenced.''.
(15) The tragic and unresolved murders of Nustap
Abdurakhmanov, Maksharip Aushev, Natalya Estemirova, Akhmed
Hadjimagomedov, Umar Israilov, Paul Klebnikov, Anna
Politkovskaya, Saihadji Saihadjiev, and Magomed Y. Yevloyev, the
death in custody of Vera Trifonova, the disappearances of
Mokhmadsalakh Masaev and Said-Saleh Ibragimov, the torture of
Ali Israilov and Islam Umarpashaev, the near-fatal beatings of
Mikhail Beketov, Oleg Kashin, Arkadiy Lander, and Mikhail
Vinyukov, and the harsh and ongoing
[[Page 126 STAT. 1505]]
imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Alexei Kozlov, Platon
Lebedev, and Fyodor Mikheev further illustrate the grave danger
of exposing the wrongdoing of officials of the Government of the
Russian Federation, including Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, or
of seeking to obtain, exercise, defend, or promote
internationally recognized human rights and freedoms.
(b) Sense of Congress.--It is the sense of Congress that the United
States should continue to strongly support, and provide assistance to,
the efforts of the Russian people to establish a vibrant democratic
political system that respects individual liberties and human rights,
including by enhancing the provision of objective information through
all relevant media, such as Radio Liberty and the internet. The Russian
Government's suppression of dissent and political opposition, the
limitations it has imposed on civil society and independent media, and
the deterioration of economic and political freedom inside Russia are of
profound concern to the United States Government and to the American
Then this act authorizes the President to submit a last of names of all those involved in the alleged torture and murder of Sergei Magnitsky. Those named can only appeal to him or the Secretary of State to be removed from the list. And they are punished with more than just “cannot visit the US” – they can have US-held property seized and frozen:
(a) <<NOTE: President.>> Freezing of Assets.--
(1) In general.--The President shall exercise all powers
granted by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50
U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) (except that the requirements of section
202 of such Act (50 U.S.C. 1701) shall not apply) to the extent
necessary to freeze and prohibit all transactions in all
property and interests in property of a person who is on the
list required by section 404(a) of this Act if such property and
interests in property are in the United States, come within the
United States, or are or come within the possession or control
of a United States person.
(2) <<NOTE: Determination.>> Exception.--Paragraph (1)
shall not apply to persons included on the classified annex
under section 404(c)(2) if the President determines that such an
exception is vital for the national security interests of the
This is trial and punishment authorized by Congress and implemented by the Executive Branch. I contend it is immoral, violates due process, is unconstitutional and may violate international law.
And US banks MUST comply:
Requirements <<NOTE: Deadline. Regulations. Certification.>>
for financial institutions.--Not later than 120 days after the
date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of the Treasury
shall prescribe or amend regulations as needed to require each
financial institution that is a United States person and has
within its possession or control assets that are property or
interests in property of a person who is on the list required by
section 404(a) if such property and interests in property are in
the United States to certify to the Secretary that, to the best
of the knowledge of the financial institution, the financial
institution has frozen all
[[Page 126 STAT. 1509]]
assets within the possession or control of the financial
institution that are required to be frozen pursuant to
The definition of US bank is broad:
(4) United states person.--The term ``United States person''
(A) a United States citizen or an alien lawfully
admitted for permanent residence to the United States;
(B) an entity organized under the laws of the United
States or of any jurisdiction within the United States,
including a foreign branch of such an entity.
So, Anonymous and my readers, is this accusation, conviction and punishment without trial or evidence taken?
Many Americans I am afraid adhere to the Lindsey Graham and Jethro Gibbs school of jurisprudence that contends that foreigners have few if any rights under US law. But that is not true. Foreigners have plenty of rights under US law.
Placing economic sanctions against an entire nation like North Korea is not the same as targeted sanctions against individuals and does not apply to this analysis.
I did not fully understand the final paragraph and I think Anonymous was saying be careful of a presidential candidate that a foreign leader praises with intent to influence an election. He’s right. But we do judge the efficacy of foreign elections and leaders regularly and publicly. Some things ought to be left private for negotiations and discussions. And we ought not condemn others without trial for human rights violations; if we intend to judge others in other nations, let’s make sure our own house is in order.
Some might say, but Sandy, targeted economic sanctions are more moral than blanket ones. I agree. BUT it has to be done right. I would target as a sanction items that are directly relevant to the bad behavior (computer software to Iran for example) but not try to destroy economies and systems or encourage rebellion. The United States is too eager to enact economic sanctions against a whole host of nations. Now all lawful sanctions must be obeyed as the law of the land. But we ought to curb most if not all of the sanction regimes we have.
The Magnitsky Act in particular ought to be repealed and replaced with an apology to Russia. Our President is good at the apologizing game. He would be perfect for the job.
Article written by: Elwood "Sandy" Sanders