Yes, revoking John Brennan’s security clearance raises constitutional concerns

If the Brennan decision winds up before the courts, it won’t be enough for the Trump administration to simply cite Article II. It won’t be enough for the Trump administration to merely note that “no one has a right to security clearance.” Administration lawyers will have to grapple with generations of case law not only holding that even members of the military possess First Amendment rights (though those rights are limited by the requirements of service) but also that — as a general rule — government employees and private citizens have a right to protection from government retaliation for the exercise of their First Amendment rights.

Generations of precedent suggest that the president does not possess entirely unreviewable authority over the substance of security-clearance determinations. Though he does enjoy broad discretion, it’s clearly bounded by limits, even if they haven’t yet been fully defined by the courts. One of those limits should be that presidents cannot dispense or revoke the security clearances of private citizens (such as contractors or former government employees) in retaliation for the exercise of constitutionally protected political expression, short of evidence of disloyalty to the United States, instability, or vulnerability to improper influence. A security clearance is not a reward for good political behavior, and treating it as such has negative consequences for American national security. Does anyone doubt that John Brennan would still have his security clearance if his Twitter comments were just as frothy and erratic, but were instead aimed at the so-called witch hunt rather than the Trump administration?