Constitutional Law

Sorry Mr. Franklin, We Couldn’t

I was going to provide an analysis of both of the Supreme Court decisions today related to gay marriage, but instead I will focus on Hollingsworth v. Perry, which was concerned with California’s Prop 8. But first a couple of thoughts about US v. Windsor, the DOMA case. The immediate short-term impact of the case is somewhat limited in scope. Federal benefits will be conferred upon same-sex couples who live in states that recognize their partnership as marriage. The long-term impact, however, is much starker, as will be explained in a moment.

Both Justices Alito and Scalia provide blistering dissents, and they should be read in full. They disagree on a technical though not insignificant point about the standing of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, or BLAG (and for the record, I tend to side with Alito). First of all, Scalia properly notes that, despite the rhetoric in Kennedy’s opinion, this was not a federalism case, or at least the case was not decided on federalism grounds. In fact, contrary to exhortations of some so-called libertarians on twitter, this case has the ultimate effect of further eroding states’ rights regarding same-sex marriage. Had this case been decided on federalism (10th amendment) grounds, then the outcome would have been possibly justifiable. But the majority’s reliance on 5th and 14th amendment concerns – effectively relying on the absurd legal doctrine of substantive due process – runs completely counter to the federalism argument, and paves the way for future challenges to state laws that prohibit same-sex marriage.

Justice Scalia recognizes this farce for what it is, and reminds the public of the exchange between these two very same Justices ten years ago to the date in Lawrence v. Texas. Then Justice Kennedy assured us all that striking down anti-sodomy laws would not eventually be used as a rationale for upending traditional marriage, and Scalia scoffed at him in the dissent. Well, guess who’s looking prophetic now. Even left-wing pundit David Corn (gleefully, this case) acknowledges Scalia’s prescience. Kennedy, backed up by the obtuse Chief Justice, assures us that nothing in this decision interferes with state decision-making on marriage. Once again Scalia scoffs, and, sadly, at some point in the future he will no doubt be proven right.

As for the Prop 8 case: my what a tangled web. I have been defending Chief Justice Roberts’s decision (joined, I may remind you, by Antonin Scalia along with three of the Court’s leftists) on the grounds that had the case been decided on the merits, it is quite possible that the same 5-4 majority in Windsor would have held Prop 8 to be unconstitutional, and this would have been the Roe v. Wade of gay marriage. Now, I’m not so sure.

Admittedly, I am somewhat conflicted on the ruling on standing. The majority concludes that the petitioners did not have standing because they were not official delegates of the state, and they did not experience any harm due to the appellate court’s ruling decreeing Prop 8 to be unconstitutional. From a  certain point of view, this is a perfectly acceptable legal holding. Scalia made a very good case in his Windsor dissent for a blanket denial of standing to all non-state petitioners in such cases. Scalia is acting fairly consistently, thus that explains why he voted with the majority here.

That said, the Chief Justice’s opinion is very worrisome, and not just from the standpoint of traditional marriage. As Justice Kennedy (!) explained in his dissent (joined in totality by Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayor), the petitioners here do, in effect, represent the state. In fact the state constitution all but says that when it comes to ballot initiatives, ordinary citizens are agents of the state. I would go a step further and suggest that Roberts offers up a very constrained view of who the state is. According to his logic, the “state” is nothing more than the Chief Executive and the bureaucracy. From a technical legal standpoint this is fine, but the very point of a ballot initiative is to bypass state officials whom the citizenry at large have decided are not acting in their best interests. I have written before about my concerns (to put it mildly) regarding ballot initiatives, but it is illogical to deny that the ballot initiative process changes the normal dynamics of who has legal standing.

The Chief suggests on page 8 of his opinion that once the proposition was approved and enacted, that petitioners no longer had a role in enactment. But if the executive branch of the government refuses to defend the amendment or statute, that leaves the citizens with no legal recourse.

The petitioners relied on the case of Karcher v. May to argue that they indeed had standing, but Chief Roberts denied that the the ruling there was applicable.

Far from supporting petitioners’ standing, however, Karcher is compelling precedent against it. The legislators in that case intervened in their official capacities as  Speaker and President of the legislature. No one doubts that a State has a cognizable interest “in the continued enforceability” of its laws that is harmed by a judicial decision declaring a state law unconstitutional. Maine v. Taylor, 477 U. S. 131, 137 (1986). To vindicate that interest or any other, a State must be able to designate agents to represent it in federal court.

But in a case revolving around a ballot initiative, haven’t the voters themselves become, in essence, the equivalent of legislators?

Roberts’s reticence to grant standing in this case is understandable, and I can see why Scalia would join the majority. In his Windsor defense, Scalia admirably rails against the idea of an omnipotent judiciary that decrees on all constitutional issues just because it wants to. An overly broad interpretation of who has standing empowers the judiciary. But I think this is a rare case in which judicial deference actually damages the workings of the republican process. For good or ill, Californians have favored a much more directly democratic system, and the Court’s majority fails to factor that into its decision-making. By denying standing to the petitioners, the Court has said that citizens have no real redress should state executives defy their expressed wishes.

Which leads me back to my uncertainty over the rationale over the votes cast in these two cases. I’m in the odd position where I disagree with the person who I think has the cleaner motive, but agree with the person whose motives are perhaps suspect. I have no doubt that if this case had been decided on the merits, Chief Justice Roberts would have voted to uphold Prop 8, while I’m not so certain about Kennedy.  Scalia acted consistently with his overall principles, as did Alito (who would have granted standing to BLAG). Thomas offered no opinion in either case, but I suspect his reasoning would be similar to that of Alito, and so he acted consistently on the standing question as did, quite frankly, Sonia Sotomayor. As for the Court’s three other left-wingers – well, they did what they always did and just voted for the right (in their minds) outcome, reasoning be damned.

No matter the rationale for Roberts’s decision, it has ill portents. If Roberts acted strategically, then he abdicated his responsibility to be an impartial arbiter of the law. If he acted earnestly, well, he was simply wrong. More importantly, we’re stuck in a situation where the actual wishes of a democratic majority are trivial concerns compared to the desires of a handful of unelected judges. No matter how they voted today, this is simply untenable, and there is no end to this judicial tyranny in sight.

 

The Shelby Decision and Uncle Toms

This is, in a sense, a two-part post. The first part examines the decision handed down by the Court in Shelby v. Holder, and the second looks at the hysterical over-reaction.

The decision itself is fairly restrained. In a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice Roberts delivering the opinion of the Court, the Court ruled as unconstitutional Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Actually, it really just ruled that Congress’s application of a 48-year old formula for determining which states and counties had to seek clearance from the federal government for any changes in its voting laws was lo longer justified. States subject to pre-clearance were those states which had poll tests and other restrictive measures in place at the time of the law’s enactment, and which also had enormous gaps in white versus black voter participation. This formula has remained unchanged for nearly half a century.

As the Chief explained in the ruling, the Court permitted a very wide abrogation of state authority in its decision upholding the Voting Rights Act (Katzenbach v. Morgan). The Court permitted what it termed “an uncommon exercise of Congressional power” due to “exceptional conditions.” As the Chief further explained, those exceptional conditions no longer applied, and indeed in those states and counties subject to pre-clearance there has been increased racial parity in terms of registration and participation. In fact, if one were to construct a list of states that should be subject to pre-clearance based on disparities in voter participation, there would be more justification in including Massachusetts instead of, say, South Carolina.

Justice Ginsburg in her dissent quips, “In the Court’s view, the very success of  Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act demands its dormancy.” By the standards established by the dissenters, the formula established in Section 4 could never be deemed unconstitutional. Further, as Chief Justice Roberts says in his opinion:

The dissent treats the Act as if it were just like any other piece of legislation, but this Court has made clear from the beginning that the Voting Rights Act is far from ordinary. At the risk of repetition, Katzenbach indicated that the Act was “uncommon” and “not otherwise appropriate,” but was justified by “exceptional” and “unique” conditions. 383 U. S., at 334, 335. Multiple decisions since have reaffirmed the Act’s “extraordinary” nature. See, e.g., Northwest Austin, supra, at 211. Yet the dissent goes so far as to suggest instead that the preclearance requirement and disparate treatment of the States should be upheld into the future “unless there [is] no or almost no evidence of unconstitutional action by States.”

Ultimately, the decision is of somewhat limited scope:

Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in §2. We issue no holding on §5 itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions. Such a formula is an initial prerequisite to a determination that exceptional conditions still exist justifying such an “extraordinary departure from the traditional course of relations between the States and the Federal Government.” Presley, 502 U. S., at 500–501. Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.

Of course this hasn’t stopped the left from completely over-reacting. A post on the Corner compiled the most over-the-top reactions. Melissa Harris-Perry’s tweet of “Damn, that citizenship thing was so great for awhile,” certainly was cute, but no one is touching Minnesota state rep. Ryan Winkler, who tweeted, “SCOTUS VRA majority is four accomplices to race discrimination and one Uncle Thomas. Marriage decision may blur Court’s backsliding.” Winkler soon deleted that tweet, and followed up with this whopper:

Uh huh.

It’s difficult to determine the most disgusting part of this exchange. Either Winkler is historically illiterate or a liar, though of course nothing necessarily precludes both being true. What’s worse, this white legislator from one of the whitest states in the Union seems to think he knows better than a black man raised in the South about how to deal with racial prejudice. Moreover, whitey has declared himself the judge of authentic blackness. Charming.

Finally, and I realize this is something of a nitpick, but the very term “Uncle Tom” is offensive not just because it carries with it the implicit notion that all African-Americans must think and act a certain way, but because the term itself is based on a character in a historical novel who was the opposite of what the term is meant to imply. I have a feeling that no one who has ever used the phrase has actually read the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, because if they had they would have a hard time justifying referring to the character as a race traitor. Then again, we live in a world where Al Sharpton is given legitimacy as a political analyst on a cable news network, so perhaps I underestimate the stupidity of large swathes of the American public.

Let’s Ignore That Pesky Constitution

 

 

Louis Michael Seidman, a professor of Constitutional Law at Georgetown (surprise!), doesn’t think much of the Constitution as he explains in an op-ed in the New York Times:

Consider, for example, the assertion by the Senate minority leader last week that the House could not take up a plan by Senate Democrats to extend tax cuts on households making $250,000 or less because the Constitution requires that revenue measures originate in the lower chamber. Why should anyone care? Why should a lame-duck House, 27 members of which were defeated for re-election, have a stranglehold on our economy? Why does a grotesquely malapportioned Senate get to decide the nation’s fate?       

Our obsession with the Constitution has saddled us with a dysfunctional political system, kept us from debating the merits of divisive issues and inflamed our public discourse. Instead of arguing about what is to be done, we argue about what James Madison might have wanted done 225 years ago.       

As someone who has taught constitutional law for almost 40 years, I am ashamed it took me so long to see how bizarre all this is. Imagine that after careful study a government official — say, the president or one of the party leaders in Congress — reaches a considered judgment that a particular course of action is best for the country. Suddenly, someone bursts into the room with new information: a group of white propertied men who have been dead for two centuries, knew nothing of our present situation, acted illegally under existing law and thought it was fine to own slaves might have disagreed with this course of action. Is it even remotely rational that the official should change his or her mind because of this divination?

Of course we should still obey those parts of the Constitution that Professor Seidman likes:

This is not to say that we should disobey all constitutional commands. Freedom of speech and religion, equal protection of the laws and protections against governmental deprivation of life, liberty or property are important, whether or not they are in the Constitution. We should continue to follow those requirements out of respect, not obligation.       

Nor should we have a debate about, for instance, how long the president’s term should last or whether Congress should consist of two houses. Some matters are better left settled, even if not in exactly the way we favor. Nor, finally, should we have an all-powerful president free to do whatever he wants. Even without constitutional fealty, the president would still be checked by Congress and by the states. There is even something to be said for an elite body like the Supreme Court with the power to impose its views of political morality on the country.       

What would change is not the existence of these institutions, but the basis on which they claim legitimacy. The president would have to justify military action against Iran solely on the merits, without shutting down the debate with a claim of unchallengeable constitutional power as commander in chief. Congress might well retain the power of the purse, but this power would have to be defended on contemporary policy grounds, not abstruse constitutional doctrine. The Supreme Court could stop pretending that its decisions protecting same-sex intimacy or limiting affirmative action were rooted in constitutional text. ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

The Chief Justice’s Ruling: A Gross Expansion of Federal Power

Conservatives looking for some kind of victory in today’s decision in National Federation of Independent Business et al. v. Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al. (the Obamacare case) are pointing to two aspects of Chief Justice John Roberts’s rulings. First, a majority of the Court ruled that the individual mandate was unconstitutional under the commerce clause. Second, the Court ruled that the Federal Government could not force the states to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Therefore, the Court narrowed the scope of Congressional power in two different arenas.

Indeed, 44 pages of Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion are absolutely constitutionally sound. During the course of the opinion the Chief Justice made the same argument that many individual mandate opponents have been making for months: you cannot create an economic activity in order to regulate it under the commerce clause. “The power to regulate commerce presupposes the existence of commercial activity to be regulated. If the power to ‘regulate’ something included the power to create it, many of the provisions in the Constitution would be superfluous.” The Chief Justice latter adds that the individual mandate “does not regulate an existing commercial activity. It instead compels individuals to become active in commerce by purchasing a product, on the ground that their failure to do so affects interstate commerce.” Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority.” Furthermore, “[a]llowing Congress to justify federal regulation by pointing to the effect of inaction on commerce would bring countless decisions an individual could potentially make within the scope of federal regulation, and – under the Government’s theory – empower Congress to make those decisions for him.”

Roberts further tears into the logic of those defending the mandate on commerce clause grounds by pointing out that other activity – such as people not eating a healthy diet – does far more to raise health care costs than does failure to have health insurance. Therefore, under the government’s logic, “Congress could address the diet problem by ordering everyone to buy vegetables.” Therefore, the government’s arguments with regards to the commerce clause are ultimately unsupportable.

The problem with those taking the rosy view; however, is that the Chief Justice’s opinion is 59 pages. The Chief takes a detour roughly halfway through the opinion that is so unfathomable, it almost reads as if an entirely different person wrote the opinion.

Chief Justice Roberts holds that despite the statutory language, the penalty for failure to buy health insurance can more accurately described as a tax. This, despite what the language of the bill actually says, and what President Obama himself even said. And that’s also in contradiction of what had just been argued when discussing the anti-Injunction act. As Carrie Severino puts it:

The main holding of the case is that the mandate is upheld as a proper exercise of the taxing power. This is a decidedly awkward result, as the first section of the result explains that the mandate is not a tax for the purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act. During the oral argument the courtroom erupted in laughter when the solicitor general was asked how he could argue that the mandate was not a tax on Monday but was on Tuesday. In the end, the court chose that implausible — even laughable — result in a fairly explicit attempt to hold the mandate constitutional.

Jeff Goldstein also mocks this bit of legal jujitsu. Intentionalism is a concept that he blogs about frequently, and he rightfully calls out the Chief Justice for his violation of the concept.

According to the CJ, a penalty is indeed a tax when it can be viewed as a tax for purposes of a ruling.  Meaning, a penalty is a tax when a Justice decides to rewrite the law to turn a penalty into a tax.  Which he justifies because the way the penalty looks to him suggests that “reasonable”  people (or philosopher kings) can, if they squint — and if they ignore the intent that turned the law into law in the first place, and turned a set of marks into a set of signs, into language — see a tax.  How that is “reasonable” is anyone’s guess:   we know in no uncertain terms that Obama and the Dems who passed the law didn’t devise the mandate as a tax (despite what they later argued); for one to conclude that it is reasonably possible to “read” a penalty as a tax,  therefore, what c0mes to count as “reasonable” must be redefined as “ignoring what we know to be true”.  And that seems antithetical to “reason.”

Roberts has chosen to see a tax where a penalty was intended — thereby rewriting the law and turning it into a new text, one which he intends, though he incoherently and disingenuously suggests that he is finding meaning in the text that can “reasonably” be ascribed to it.

Roberts justifies this change in terminology by noting that the amount of the penalty that would be levied would not be punitive – in fact the cost of paying the penalty would often be less than the cost of buying health insurance. And since the so-called penalty would not be burdensome, it’s not really penalizing behavior.

Yeah.

But the most egregious aspect of this decision, and one which an astounding number of commentators seem to be missing, is that the Chief Justice has massively expanded the use of the taxing power. Roberts asserts that “taxes that seek to influence conduct are nothing new.” He then rattles off a list of things that are taxed heavily in order to change behavior, including cigarettes. The problem with this is that people have to buy cigarettes in order to be taxed. This “tax” is applied to people who don’t make a purchase. In other words, the federal government is taxing non-activity. It is the same exact logic that the government used to justify the mandate under the commerce clause. All Roberts has done is shift the authority under the Constitution which justifies government intervention.

Then Roberts makes the astounding claim, also amazingly echoed approvingly in certain quarters, that “While the individual mandate clearly aims to induce the purchase of health insurance, it need not be read to declare that failing to do so is unlawful. Neither the Act nor any other law attaches negative legal consequences to not buying health insurance, beyond requiring a payment to the IRS.” (emphasis mine)

I’m actually embarrassed for the Chief Justice here. Surely he is not as incapable of making a logical progression as this statement suggests he is. But let’s make this crystal clear. If you do not purchase health insurance, you will be penalized, err, “taxed.” If you fail to pay that tax at the end of the year, what do you suppose happens to you? Does the IRS send you a series of letters pleading with you to “please, pretty please, with a cherry on top, please pay your tax?” Do they put little frowny faces at the bottom of these letters? Does the Commissioner of the IRS stand outside your window with a boom box blaring “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel, the rain pelting him as he cries out “Please, just pay this tax which, by the way, should in no way be construed as a penalty?”

Oh, that’s right, you go to jail. So you totally have the right to not buy health insurance, and there’s absolutely no punishment for failure to pay the tax. This assumes, of course, you always wanted to share a very small space with a drug dealer named Zeke. Just think of this as a government-funded vacation where you may, or may not, have discomfort walking towards the end of the vacation. You see – what a bargain!

The Chief Justice makes several more spurious claims. He notes that “tax incentives already promote, for example, purchasing homes and professional education.” But tax incentives are reductions in the level of taxation for making certain purchases. Your taxes are not increased when you decide to rent a house instead of purchase one.

Roberts observes that the “Constitution does not guarantee that individuals may avoid taxation through inactivity. A capitation, after all, is a tax that everyone must pay simply for existing, and capitations are expressly contemplated in the Constitution.” Really? The income tax was made allowable only through the 16th Amendment, but it’s not a tax merely for existing. It’s a tax that only applies if you earn money – in other words, it’s a tax that applies only when you engage in the activity of earning your daily bread. It’s not a “mere existence” tax, and it’s certainly not a taxation of non-activity.

According to Article I of the Constitution, Congress has the ability to issue direct taxes apportioned among the several States, but the Chief Justice himself declares that this is not a direct tax.

Section 8 of Article I states:

Clause 1: The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

Again, I fail to see how that justifies taxation of non-activity. The idea that this kind of tax would have been countenanced by the same people (by and large) who fought the War of Independence is laughable on its face.

Attempts to sugarcoat this opinion are wrongheaded. In many ways, Roberts’ basing his decision on the tax power is worse than if he had relied on the Commerce Clause, for he has actually expanded the reach of the federal government in a way heretofore unseen. It’s true that Roberts and the four dissenters limit the reach of the commerce clause, but in reality they haven’t done much more than what the Rehnquist Court did in the mid-90s in the Lopez and Morrison cases in limiting the scope of the Commerce Clause. No new ground has been broken, and no old precedents were over-ridden. Much the same can be said with respect to the Medicaid ruling. On the other hand, the Chief Justice has broadened the taxing power so that it can now be applied to non-activity. Long story short, the federal government has more power today than it did yesterday. That is the most chilling aspect of this decision.

I believe that the commenter cthemfly25 has it right in the comments on my previous post:

Congress can always use taxing authority to undermine the constitution.  And if a tax can be used to undermine the constitution and modulate and control social behavior, then the all powerful central government can use its unmitigated taxing power to regulate religion (there is no way applying Roberts’ logic that the religious mandate could be struck down), regulate home schooling or private schooling (“taxed” for not teaching homosexual curriculum), regulate the size of families (taxed for having more than two kids), regulate food or beverage consumption (taxed based on calorie intake), regulate fuel consumption (“taxed” for excessive fuel consumption), regulate choice of consumer goods such as vehicles (“taxed” for not purchasing a “green” car),—–regulate from a central authority any human or civic activity under the rubric of “taxation”.

Perhaps the Anti-Federalist Brutus was right, after all, about the taxing power under the Constitution.

This power, exercised without limitation, will introduce itself into every comer of the city, and country — It will wait upon the ladies at their toilett, and will not leave them in any of their domestic concerns; it will accompany them to the ball, the play, and the assembly; it will go with them when they visit, and will, on all occasions, sit beside them in their carriages, nor will it desert them even at church; it will enter the house of every gentleman, watch over his cellar, wait upon his cook in the kitchen, follow the servants into the parlour, preside over the table, and note down all he eats or drinks; it will attend him to his bed-chamber, and watch him while he sleeps; it will take cognizance of the professional man in his office, or his study; it will watch the merchant in the counting-house, or in his store; it will follow the mechanic to his shop, and in his work, and will haunt him in his family, and in his bed; it will be a constant companion of the industrious farmer in all his labour, it will be with him in the house, and in the field, observe the toil of his hands, and the sweat of his brow; it will penetrate into the most obscure cottage; and finally, it will light upon the head of every person in the United States. To all these different classes of people, and in all these circumstances, in which it will attend them, the language in which it will address them, will be GIVE! GIVE!

 

Et Tu, Ioannes?

The Supreme Court has ruled the individual mandate is constitutional as a tax. So the individual mandate is not a permissible use of the commerce clause; however, it is appropriate for Congress to levy a tax that essentially forces taxpayers to buy health insurance.

I will have to wait until I read the entire opinion before rendering judgment, but at first blush this looks like a terrible defeat for the rule of law.

By the way, it looks like it was a 5-4 decision. Kennedy voted with Scalia, Thomas and Alito. Let that sink in.

Correction: I am now reading that it was 6-3. Honestly, I’m reading a lot of conflicting reports, so I’ll refrain from further commentary until I read the opinions.

Correction to the Corrction: Nope, Kennedy, Alito, Thomas and Scalia would have decreed the entire act unconstitutional. It was John Roberts who saved Obamacare.

And now I offer my apologies to all those I scolded for critiquing the John Roberts selection. You were right. I’ve thus changed the post title.

SCOTUS Update: No Decision on PPACA, Most Provisions of AZ Immigration Law Struck Down (Updated)

The Supreme Court’s decision on the individual mandate will be delivered on Thursday. Based on who has authored opinions thus far this term, it is highly likely that the majority opinion will be delivered by Chief Justice Roberts. Even if that is the case, that does not mean that the individual mandate is doomed.

Today the Court did deliver an opinion on the Arizona immigration law, striking down three of the four major provisions. The Court permitted the “show your papers” provision, though the language suggests that it must be applied narrowly. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court. The case was decided 5-3, with Justice Kagan recusing herself. Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas dissented. The opinions can be found here.

The Court also ruled that juvenile convicts cannot be subject to life in prison without parole. As Shannen Coffiin quipped, next “look for the Court to decide that juvenile offenders cannot be sent to their room without possibility of their supper.” The decision is here.

In another case, the Court ruled that its Citizens United decision applies to a Montana state law.

All in all, today’s decisions remind us that, no matter how the Court rules on the individual mandate, the Court is still a bloody mess.

I hope to have further analysis of the Arizona case later today.

Update: Reading through the opinions now in the Arizona case, and I just want to note that Alito agreed with the majority in declaring Section 3 of the AZ law (which forbids the “willful failure to complete or carry an alien registration document”) to be preempted by federal law. Both Thomas and Scalia would have upheld all four sections of the law.

Update 2: And the fig leaf that the Court gave to the state of Arizona proved to be of little use:

The Obama administration said Monday it is suspending existing agreements with Arizona police over enforcement of federal immigration laws, and said it has issued a directive telling federal authorities to decline many of the calls reporting illegal immigrants that the Homeland Security Department may get from Arizona police.

Administration officials, speaking on condition they not be named, told reporters they expect to see an increase in the number of calls they get from Arizona police — but that won’t change President Obama’s decision to limit whom the government actually tries to detain and deport.

Shorter headline should be, “Obama to Arizona: Drop Dead.”

 

The Left Suddenly Uncomfortable with Concept of Judicial Review

Don has covered President Obama’s not too subtle threat to the Court that it not dare strike down all or even part of Obamacare.  Yesterday he somewhat toned down his remarks, but still managed to step in it.

At an appearance this afternoon, a reporter asked Obama a question following up on yesterday’s comments: “Mr. President, you said yesterday that it would be ‘unprecedented’ for a Supreme Court to overturn laws passed by an elected Congress. But that is exactly what the court’s done during its entire existence. If the court were to overturn the individual mandate, what would you do, or propose to do, for the 30 million people who wouldn’t have health care after that ruling?”

Obama’s answer to the question was that he expects to win in court, and “as a consequence, we’re not spending a whole bunch of time planning for contingencies.” He went on to talk at some length about the “human element”–that is, people who would supposedly suffer in the absence of ObamaCare. Message: Obama cares, though not enough to spend “a whole bunch of time planning for contingencies.”

But the most interesting part of his answer was the beginning, in which he tried to walk back, or at least clarify, his statement from yesterday. He spoke slowly, with long pauses, giving the sense that he was speaking with great thought and precision: “Well, first of all, let me be very specific. Um [pause], we have not seen a court overturn [pause] a [pause] law that was passed [pause] by Congress on [pause] a [pause] economic issue, like health care, that I think most people would clearly consider commerce. A law like that has not been overturned [pause] at least since Lochner,right? So we’re going back to the ’30s, pre-New Deal.”

As James Taranto points out, this response is wrong on multiple levels.  The case that Obama cites in fact pre-dates the New Deal by a good thirty year.  Second, the full title of the case – Lochner vs. New York – tells us that this was a case involving state law, not federal legislation.  As Taranto further explains, there have been plenty of Supreme Court cases in which the high court struck down state laws, some dealing with economic matters.  And there of course have been plenty of cases where the Court has in fact declared federal statutes unconstitutional.  In fact two cases in the late 90s – US v. Lopez and US v. Morrison – directly implicated the commerce clause, and in both cases the Court rendered a 5-4 decision overturning acts of Congress which relied upon the commerce clause for their justification.

But other than that, I guess Obama was spot on.

The broader issue, other than Obama’s seeming ignorance of constitutional law, is that the left has suddenly decided that they don’t much care for this concept of judicial review. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Hollow Victories

There is some excitement that oral arguments are going well for opponents of Obamacare.  Though oral arguments are not perfectly indicative of how the Supreme Court will vote in the end, there is some cause for guarded optimism.  That being said, even if the Court completely strikes down Obamacare, it will be something of a hollow victory.

Don’t get me wrong.  There is no other correct course of action for the Court to take than to strike down the individual mandate and thus effectively kill Obamacare.  It is one of those remarkable monstrosities that happens to be both bad policy and unconstitutional.  The problem is that something this monumental is essentially being decided on the whims of a single Justice.  How did we reach the point where our basic liberties come down to what Anthony Kennedy may have had for breakfast one day?

I don’t mean to be flip, but it feels like we’ve taken a very wrong turn somewhere along the line.  →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

It is Time to Get Rid of Most Campaign Finance Laws

One of the big items today is news that the Romney campaign is bleeding cash.  Considering his all out assault first on Newt Gingrich, and now Rick Santorum, this comes as no surprise.  Yet while Romney spends more in a day than Santorum spent through most of the campaign thus far (only a slight exaggeration, I think), Santorum continues continues to poll ahead of Romney nationally and is neck-and-neck in Romney’s home state.  Of course Romney still has plenty in reserve thanks largely to his Super PAC.  Even Newt Gingrich’s fledgling campaign is still alive thanks to the generosity of one supporter funding a pro-Newt Super PAC.

These Super PACs have come under fire.  They are the indirect result of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, a law which itself amended the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), a law meant to restrict the amount of money that individuals could donate to individual candidates.  FECA created a two-tiered structure that basically divided federal contributions into two categories: hard money and soft money.  Professional sports fans probably recognize the terms as related to soft and hard caps, and it’s really the same concept. Under FECA individuals could only contribute $1,000 to a candidate per election cycle.  Yet there were no restrictions placed on “soft money,” meaning contributions to party committees.  This was the original end-run around campaign finance law.  Under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), or McCain-Feingold, individual contribution maxes to candidates were raised, but soft money contributions were phased out.  This, in turn, gave rise to other organizations, mainly 527s, which were able to raise unlimited amounts of money to air issue advocacy ads against candidates.  These various organizations are not technically affiliated with any candidate, and it is a violation of campaign finance law for candidates to collaborate in any way with these groups.

So is it time for another set of reforms?  Indeed it is.  And the reform is simple: repeal all these ridiculous (and arguably unconstitutional) provisions, and allow individuals to contribute whatever amount of money they want directly to candidates.

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The Lemon Test Strikes Again!

 

Senior Federal District Judge Ronald Lagueux, a 1986 Reagan appointee, has ordered the Cranston High School in Cranston, Rhode Island to remove a mural, pictured above, depicting a school prayer.  The mural had been in the school since 1963.  The suit, as is usual in these modern iconoclastic cases, was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of an atheist student and her father, Mark Ahlquist.  Jessica Ahlquist, the 16 year old atheist who brought the suit, has become an atheist celeb on atheist sites on the internet.  She doesn’t think much of the Catholic Church, is indeed a fallen away Catholic, and Cranston is 90% Catholic, so this suit was her way, actually I suspect more her father’s way, to poke a stick in the eye of local Catholics.  Go here to read the opinion.  Judge Lagueux’s decision is notable for its overall reliance on the Lemon test, and I will leave to Justice Scalia below to set forth my views of that court created doctrine.

In few areas of the law has the Constitution been more twisted and deformed than in the area of First Amendment allowance of religious expression in schools.  Justice Scalia gave a useful summary in 1993 in the Lamb’s Chapel v. Moriches Union Free School District case:

As to the Court’s invocation of the Lemon test: Like some ghoul in a late night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried, Lemon stalks our Establishment Clause jurisprudence once again, frightening thelittle children and school attorneys of Center Moriches Union Free School District. ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Activism! They Cried

The reaction to Judge Hanson’s ruling in Virginia v. Sebelius was predictable:  rejoicing on the right . . . not so much on the left.  A few people actually attempted to analyze the decision on a legal, rather than policy basis.  (Shocking!)

It’s also not surprising in the least to hear the talking point going out – like on the appropriately named Talking Points Memo blog linked above – that this demonstrates conservative hypocrisy with regards to judicial activism.  After all, don’t conservatives bemoan activist judges who overturn the will of democratic legislatures?  This would be a fair point if it actually captured the gist of conservative sentiment on judicial matters.

Happily for us all I wrote a post some two and a half years back detailing why I didn’t like the term judicial activism.  I’ll re-post most of it here. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Constitutional Ignorance

I see that my co-blogger MJ Andrew has already posted about the Christine O’Donnell-Chris Coons debate, and I thank him as that saves me the trouble of having to sort through a whole bunch of links.

I disagree with him, though somewhat reservedly.  Having listened to the entire clip it does seem to me that O’Donnell is questioning whether the concept of the separation of Church and State is in the First Amendment, not the Establishment Clause.  There was some crosstalk at this point in the debate, and it appears to me that she’s just repeating her question with regards to the issue of separation.  It’s debatable, though, and a candidate should do a better job clearly establishing what she’s talking about in such a setting.

That being the case,  I was more intrigued by  Coons’s own response to the question.  While O’Donnell possibly made a gaffe – an unfortunate one if indeed it was a gaffe – Coons’s response is the more troubling aspect of this exchange. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Sharia Law and the U.S. Constitution

[Update I:  I have streamlined the following post to be easily readable to the average layman, but informative enough for a lawyer or law professor to learn a bit more on the similarities and differences between Sharia and U.S. Law]

Is Sharia compatible with the U.S. Constitution?

The simple answer is of course “no”.

But lets take a look at some aspects of Sharia Law and where it may or may not conflict with the U.S. Constitution.  (For disclosure I am not a lawyer nor a legal expert in Sharia or U.S. Law.)

First, what is Sharia?

Wikipedia states Sharia refers to the sacred law of Islam.  All Muslims believe Sharia is God’s law, but they have differences between themselves as to exactly what it entails.  Which will be difficult to discern what to apply when, but we’ll labor along for the sake of discussion.

In Western countries, where Muslim immigration is more recent, Muslim minorities have introduced Sharia family law, for use in their own disputes. Attempts to impose Sharia have been accompanied by controversy, violence, and even warfare (Second Sudanese Civil War).

The recent incidents at the Arab International Festival have reinforced the poor image of Sharia inside the United States and its incompatibility with American culture and law.

The following is a truncated version with a couple of modifications (eliminating repetitious ibids and links) of multiple Wikipedia entries [with my comments]:

Legal and Court Proceedings:

Wikipedia states that Sharia judicial proceedings have significant differences with other legal traditions, including those in both common law and civil law.

1. Sharia courts do not generally employ lawyers; plaintiffs and defendants represent themselves.

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Sharia in Dearborn?

Apparently the police acting to unconstitutionally arrest individuals attempting to hand out proselytizing literature to Muslims in Dearborn is not unusual according to this release from the Thomas More Law Center:

In what some have described as police enforcement of Sharia law at the annual Dearborn Arab International Festival, last Friday night Dearborn Police Officers arrested four Christian missionaries and illegally confiscated their video cameras which were recording the events surrounding their arrests.  The Thomas More Law Center, a public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, today announced it is representing all of the Christian missionaries.

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The Supreme Court, Abortion Jurisprudence, and Pro-Life Politics

Solicitor General Elena Kagan, President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, is already being painted as a moderate by the media and some political interest groups. This portrayal of Kagan is difficult to dispute comprehensively because of her lack of a public record and accompanying statements that delineate her actual personal views on judicial philosophy, thus, complicating the venture of placing her on an ideological spectrum. 

Despite this hermeneutical difficulty, allegedly confident political portraits have been made with the details that we do know about Elena Kagan. The New York Times on May 11 published a piece—“As Clinton Aide, Kagan Recommended Tactical Support for an Abortion Ban”—by Peter Baker discussing a memorandum authored by Kagan while she was working for the Clinton Administration. Kagan in the memo counseled President Clinton to support an amendment, authored by Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), to Republican-sponsored legislation to ban partial-birth abortion that would include an exception for the “health” of the pregnant women in a ban—so broad an exception that it could be easily employed as a loophole that would prevent few, if any, partial-birth abortion procedures.

President Clinton and his advisors (in this case, Kagan) anticipated that the Daschle amendment would not secure enough votes to pass, but White House support could provide enough political cover for Democratic lawmakers who could reiterate their alleged support of the partial-birth abortion ban, but justify their vote against it because of the lack of inclusion of the broad “health” exception for the pregnant woman. In the end, the Daschle amendment failed and the Republican-sponsored partial-birth abortion ban, endorsed by the National Right to Life, was successfully sent to President Clinton who consequently vetoed it.  Kagan’s advice to the President was successful and held up the passage of a partial-birth abortion ban for six years.

Douglas Johnson, the legislative director of the National Right to Life, before a joint-hearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and the Constitution Subcommittee of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in 1997 said:

“The Clinton-Daschle proposal is a political construct, designed to provide political cover for lawmakers who want to appear to their constituents as if they have voted to restrict partial-birth abortions, while actually voting for a hollow measure that is not likely to prevent a single partial-birth abortion, and which therefore is inoffensive to the pro-abortion lobby.”

In other words, a better reading of the facts is not that Kagan is “in the middle” on abortion, but rather she was advising President Clinton of the pragmatic steps (endorsing a pseudo-ban on partial birth abortion) needed to defeat the actual pro-life measure. Kagan may very well be a “legal progressive” as was recently claimed from the White House defending the nominee from the political left suspicious of her liberal credentials. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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