Does Obama Have This Authority?

I realize that this may stray into GD, but I am confused by the President’s statement from last night’s speech:

Was the Court system in this country dissolved yesterday when I was napping? Don’t we have jury trials and/or attorneys negotiating agreements that judges sign off on before any company or individual is “informed” that he/it is to set aside funds for anything?

They can set aside funds to cover actual damages.

Or they can not set aside funds for actual damages, take their chances in court, and roll the dice with punitive damages.

Looking at this objectively, without any laws explicitly stating that Obama has the authority to impose conditions on BP, he does not have that authority. However, BP is facing the pressure of public opinion and the combined disgust of most of Congress. Obama could make any number of demands and they would have no choice but to comply lest Congress make it law and then they have to do it. It’s better to cooperate than to resist and be compelled to cooperate, and worse, to be seen doing it.

So, again, being GQ, Obama is making an offer of “Set aside amount X to pay for actual damages, and we won’t sue you for punitive damages”?

How can he speak for the Gulf shrimp boat captain who might want to sue for punitive damages?

But surely such a law could only apply to future spills lest it be an ex post facto law, no?

Not all ex post facto laws are unconstitutional.

I didn’t say that. I was responding to your inquiries pertaining to jury trials and lawyers. Realistically, BP could play hardball and tell everyone to fuck off and fight it in court. It will cost them a great deal of money, even if they don’t lose. Exxon/Mobil litigated the Exxon Valdez for over 20 years. Lawyers that know their way around the SCOTUS don’t come cheap.

The thing is BP is in a bad position from a publicity standpoint. As other posters said, Mr Obama cannot make laws but he can make demands.

BP is going to be crafty about this. Mr Obama can say “do this and we won’t sue,” but so what? He might not be in charge in two years, and he definately will be out by 2016. It took 25 years to resolve some lawsuits from the Exxon/Valdez incident.

So BP isn’t going to be stupid enought to concede everything to a man who won’t be around when most of the blank hits the fan, so to speak.

The real problem is image. People LOVE oil. They are gonna feel really sad, that the birdies are coverd in oil, but they want that oil, so they won’t change their behaviour because of some oil covered birds.

In otherwords they will simply not go to a BP gas station, but they’ll use the Shell or Mobil gas station across the street from the BP. What will happen is the gas staions affiliated with, but not owned by BP will simply swich over to another gas brand.

So BP wants to do everything possible to prevent this backlash and giving in to a president’s demands satisfies the average American. It makes the president look tough. We all know that Jimmy Cater really cared about the hostages but he looked like a wimp.

BP has already caved and agreed to the set-aside.

When Obama said he was going to tell them what to do, he was referncing an intent to twist arms in negotiation, not issuing some imperious decree.

BP’s liability is going to be massive, and they know it. They are much better off negotiating a deal with Obama now than having to face a jury who could destroy them with punitive damages. Basically, Obama was only saying what his demands at the table would be, and that BP would have no leverage to say anything about it.

I would not be at all surprised to find out that the right wing media is trying to spin the remark as Obama claiming unfounded authority, though.

That was my take.

Everybody’s talking about the threat of civil suits, fines and such. I am certainly no lawyer, but can’t Obama make this a criminal matter with the tip of his hat, and have Mr. BP (and/or others) hauled off in handcuffs? Surely what BP is doing to the water, the shoreline and the ecosystem is breaking some laws.

Can someone with legal expertise weigh in on that angle?

The shrimp boat captain is free to sue until he takes money from the $20 billion fund. To get money from that, he has to sign a settlement. This way everyone is saved lawyers’ fees. If the shrimp boat captain isn’t happy with the amount he can always sue instead of taking the money, but unless the offer is $0, he’ll be hard-pressed to come out ahead after attorney’s fees.

The BP oil disaster is damaging public and private property. A private enterprise shrimper is more than welcome to sue BP for damages. The president, as “CEO” of a “company” called the US Government is offering BP the opportunity to own up to their responsibilities now, or take their chances in court. At the same time, the US Government can sue on behalf of the American People under various laws, one being the Clean Water Act.

Exxon was originally ordered to pay $5bn in punitive damages and after 20 years finally paid $507mm in punitive damages and $480mm in interest. So unless their legal fees were $4,000,000,000 the lesson from Exxon Valdez is that litigating and foot dragging is incredibly profitable.

Leaking oil isn’t a crime. But gross negligence causing an oil spill would be a crime, and if proven, would eliminate the liability cap for damages caused by the spill. (That’s completely independent of BP having to pay for the cleanup, which costs are not limited.)

The Justice Department has begun an investigation to determine if there was criminal negligence leading up to the spill.

I am sure that some association of tort lawyers is gonna throw monkey wrenches into this thing in wholesale amounts. We are talking about giving up actual Billions of dollars in legal fees here!

No way that can happen.


What torts are we talking about? The fund is for cleanup costs, which are independent of any civil liability that BP faces.

But Obama said “inform” and “that he is to set aside”. He then specifies how these funds “will” be managed.

This language that implies a directive from a position of official power, not as an offer of settlement. Perhaps I am parsing the words wrong.

I would be as if I crashed my car into your car and you came to “inform me that I will set aside funds” to pay for repairs. You would do no such thing. You could make an offer to settle, but maybe I have a say in court?

BP can choose to ignore the President’s “order” based on the absence of specific authority. The United States of America, both officially, and informally as a population would then have to seek other means of redress. Congress, of course could choose to grant authority over many matters involving BP. While ex post facto laws could not be included, there are a whole lot of things that will be decided in the next few years about what qualifies as “recovery” for the environs of the Gulf of Mexico, and the economic recovery of the region.

Pissing off the American People right now might be an expensive choice, even if it is strictly legal.


What if I were a nine-foot tall 565-pound wall of muscle with machine-guns for arms, laser vision, and abominable telekinetic powers? Then, I might just “inform” you that you will set aside funds for repairs. And you would probably find this information perfectly suitable.

The president has a tremendous amount of unofficial power at his disposal. That power is not granted to him by statutory authority, but by his ability to cause pain or provide opportunities to the people and organizations he wants to manipulate. The word for that is “politics.”