Friday night means the Independence Institute’s public affairs television show Devil’s Advocate on Colorado Public Television 12. First, Independence Institute constitutional scholar Rob Natelson sits down with host Jon Caldara to discuss his amicus brief on the Necessary and Proper Clause of the U.S. Constitution in the recent Obamacare Supreme Court case and how that clause affected the rulings. Then Colorado Springs Gazette editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen swings by to talk about the Waldo Canyon wildfire. That’s tonight at 8:30PM on Colorado Public Television 12.
Archive for the 'Constitutional History' Category
The Supreme Court Obamcare decisions and the first Amendment are topics of recently published works by Independence Institute writers.
In the Denver Post, Health Care Policy Center director Linda Gorman lays out some straightforward, market-based health care reforms should Congress attempt to replace and repeal Obamacare. Writes Linda:
Advocates of Obamacare claim that unless we let the government (mis)manage even more of the health care system, there will no health safety net.
To the contrary, with patient-centered reforms, we can reduce ordinary health care costs for everyone, make insurance for extraordinary costs accessible and affordable, and provide an effective safety net for the poor.
Whole thing here.
In the Great Falls (Montana) Tribune, Rob Natelson writes on the importance of First Amendment freedoms when politicians, from both sides of the aisle, go gunning for media outlets they don’t like, using Great Britain as an example. Writes Rob:
At a minimum, mainstream reporters have to mute what they write about sitting office holders so they can maintain access to sources. Less scrupulous reporters amplify messages promoted by favored politicos and dig up (or manufacture) dirt against political opponents.
Whole thing here.
In NFIB v. Sebelius, Chief Justice Roberts imagined a hypothetical federal tax on windows, in order to bolster his point that the Court should treat the individual mandate as a “tax,” even though the Obamacare statute calls it a “penalty.”
Suppose Congress enacted a statute providing that every taxpayer who owns a house without energy efficient windows must pay $50 to the IRS. The amount due is adjusted based on factors such as taxable income and joint filing status, and is paid along with the taxpayer’s income tax return. Those whose income is below the filing threshold need not pay. The required payment is not called a “tax,”a “penalty,” or anything else. No one would doubt that this law imposed a tax, and was within Congress’s power to tax. That conclusion should not change simply because Congress used the word “penalty” to describe the payment. Interpreting such a law to be a tax would hardly “[i]mpos[e] a tax through judicial legislation.” Post, at 25. Rather, it would give practical effect to the Legislature’s enactment.
The above language is a plausible argument for the Chief Justice’s tax/penalty analysis. But by discussing a window tax, the Roberts opinion provides one more reminder why the individual mandate, if it is a tax, is a direct tax, not an indirect tax. Direct taxes must be apportioned by state population. Art. I, sect. 9, cl. 4. If the individual mandate is a direct tax, then it is unconstitutional, because it is not apportioned by state population.
Pursuant to the 16th Amendment, direct taxes on income need not be apportioned, but neither the individual mandate nor the hypothetical window tax are taxes on income. Constitutionally, “income” subject to the federal income tax must be ”undeniable accessions to wealth.” Commissioner v. Glenshaw Glass Co., 348 U.S. 426 (1955). A decision not to buy overpriced insurance from Congress’s Big Insurance pets, like the decision not to buy a particular type of window, is not an “accession to wealth.” The decision provides no additional income to the person.
So let’s accept Chief Justice Roberts’ theory that a window tax and the individual mandate are analytically comparable. On July 9, 1798, Congress enacted a direct tax statute, to pay for national defense preparations against France. “An Act to provide for the valuation of lands and dwelling-houses, and the enumeration of slaves, within the United States. On July 14, Congress passed the “Direct Tax Act,” to provide for collection of the July 9 taxes. Pursuant to the Direct Tax Act, federal assessors were to examine houses to assess them for purposes of the direct tax. In addition, the Direct Tax Act ordered the assessors make records of the number and sizes of windows in each house. The window data were to be gathered so that Congress could, in the future, decide to impose a direct tax on windows. Paul Douglas Newman, Fries’s Rebellion: The Enduring Struggle for the American Revolution 76-77 (2004).
It seems there was no dispute that a window tax was a direct tax. A fortiori, a tax on not having certain types of windows would be also be a direct tax. This is one more piece of evidence that Chief Justice Roberts was wrong in stating that the individual mandate “tax” is not a direct tax. Much more extensive discussion of the direct/indirect tax issue (but not of window taxes) can be found in Rob Natelson’s 27 minute podcast on the subject, for iVoices.org.
McCulloch v. Maryland had a very good day at the Supreme Court yesterday, with NFIB relying on and applying McCulloch‘s rules for when an enactment violates the Necessary and Proper Clause. What happened after the McCulloch decision also shows the next steps in battle over the individual mandate, as I suggest in an essay this morning for National Review Online.
In refusing to hold the Second Bank of the United States unconstitutional, the McCulloch Court gave Congress broad latitude in Congress’s own evaluation of whether the Bank was “necessary” in a constitutional sense. Relying on and quoting McCulloch, President Andrew Jackson made his own judgment of constitutional necessity when he vetoed the recharter of the Bank in 1832. After a titanic political struggle, the Bank was gone, and a new term created by Jackson, “equal protection,” had become part of what the American People were coming to believe the Constitution was supposed to mean.
President Jackson dealt the Bank a fatal blow by withdrawing federal deposits from the Bank, and moving them to state banks. President Romney can follow Jackson’s lead on his first day in office, instructing the Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services to use the waiver powers in the ACA statute to issue waivers to everyone for the individual mandate. Because the individual mandate is (supposedly) a tax, it can then be repealed through the budget reconciliation process, which cannot be filibustered.
I predict that the individual mandate will never mandate anyone. Yet the mandate will be long remembered as one of the most consequential laws enacted by a Congress. The result of the “bank battle” was that even though a central bank was judicially permissible, central banking was politically toxic for the rest of the century. The “mandate battle” may have the same effect in deterring any future thoughts of congressionally-imposed mandates. (Putting aside the obvious exception for mandates that have a solid basis in the constitutional text, such as jury service.)
The enactment of the mandate has also significantly increased the probability that the next Supreme Court appointments will be made by a President and confirmed by a Senate which denounces the mandate as unconstitutional, and that the new Justices will be the kind who are inclined to vigorously enforce the many strong constitutional limits on congressional over-reaching which are articulated in NFIB v. Sebelius.
I would have preferred that the mandate had met its end yesterday morning, but the fact that the mandate will have to be finished off by the People in November and their elected officials in January may lead to even better long-term results for advocates of a constitutionally limited federal government.
Absolutely not. Rob Natelson explains why in this 27 minute podcast from iVoices.org.
My article yesterday for Scotusblog discussed the tremendous importance of the Court’s 7-2 use of the non-coercion rule to limit Spending Clause violations of State sovereignty and independence. The rule has been around ever since Steward Machine Company v. Davis (1937), but NFIB v. Sebelius is the first decision by any federal court to find that a conditional congressional grant violates the rule.
The folks who think that the “evolving Constitution” completed its evolution in 1937-42, and that everything the Court did during those years must be applied today with the broadest possible reading, should be especially pleased with the NFIB Court’s vigorous enforcement of a very important New Deal precedent.
My essay argues that the application of the non-coercion rule, as well as the application of the doctrine of incidental powers for the Necessary and Proper Clause, are among the many elements of the Roberts opinion whose significance approaches that of some of the most important opinions by Chief Justice Marshall.
Although we do not know Chief Justice Roberts’ motives, I suggestion a comparison of NFIB to Marbury v. Madison: adroitly escaping from a partisan assault on the Court itself, the opinion moves constitutional law very far in the opposite of the direction favored by partisan assaulters–and does so in a way that leaves the partisan assaulters unable to use the case in their attacks on the Court.
Necessary and Proper Clause returned to the Original Understanding. Podcast with Ilya Somin, and more
Yesterday I interviewed Ilya Somin about the NFIB decision, particularly the portion involving the Necessary and Proper Clause. Here’s the link for the 28 minute episode on iVoices.org. As Ilya details, the decision strongly restates and applies a principle from McCulloch v. Maryland: that whether a law is “proper” is an entirely different question from whether it is “necessary.” And CJ Roberts’ opinion is the first in Supreme Court history to find that a law which is “necessary” is not proper. Ilya’s amicus brief was the key brief on the necessity of making separate inquiries into “necessary” and “proper.”
That’s not the only way in which the Roberts opinion brings interpretation of the Necessary and Proper Clause back to the proper, originalist understanding which was explicated in McCulloch. The Roberts opinion explains that the NP Clause grants Congress no additional powers; the clause merely expresses the default legal rule that when an enumerated power is granted, the grant also includes lesser powers which are “incidental” to the enumerated power. In McCulloch, Chief Justice Marshall found it necessary to spend many pages applying the doctrine of incidental powers before he could reach the other issues about the constitutionality of the Second Bank of the United States.
The Roberts opinion is one of many, many post-McCulloch opinions to utilize the doctrine of incidental powers, but it is the first opinion to hold that a particular law is not valid because it is not an incident of an enumerated power. The originalist, Marshallian understanding of the doctrine of incidental powers was the subject of the amicus brief which Rob Natelson, Gary Lawson, and I wrote. The brief is based on the book The Origins of the Necessary and Proper Clause, published by Cambridge University in 2010, and co-authored by Natelson, Lawson, Geoffrey P. Miller and Guy I. Seidman.
The brief devotes much attention to the newspaper essays which John Marshall wrote defending the McCulloch decision. These essays were collected in the book John Marshall’s Defense of McCulloch v. Maryland, published in 1969 and edited by Gerald Gunther. The Roberts opinion is the first in Supreme Court history to cite this book, and the first to cite Marshall’s essays.
The Roberts opinion joins McCulloch v. Maryland as an essential case in any law school textbook that covers the Necessary and Proper Clause. While the Roberts opinion on the Commerce Clause and the Spending Clause brings current interpretation of those clauses closer to the original understanding, current interpretation remains a long way from original meaning. For the Necessary and Proper Clause, however, the Roberts opinion goes all the way. As of yesterday, Supreme Court doctrine about the Necessary and Proper Clause has fully returned to 1791/1819. The originalist victory is complete.
For some background on the doctrine of incidental powers, one starting point is the Lawson/Kopel article Bad News for Professor Koppelman: The Incidental Unconstitutionality of the Individual Mandate, 121 Yale Law Journal Online 267 (2011). A follow-up article, Bad News for John Marshall, 121 Yale Law Journal Online 529 (2012), replies to Andrew Koppelman’s warning that following McCulloch‘s originalist doctrine will cause national catastrophe. It looks like we’ll find out if he’s right. If you’re assuming that he is, and thus time is short before The End, a condensed version of our Yale article is available on Legal Workshop.
For my co-authored textbook Firearms Law and the Second Amendment, I’ve been doing a series of podcasts on each chapter. Now available is the podcast for Chapter 4, which covers the Philadelphia Convention, the ratification debates, the creation of Bill of Rights, and St. George Tucker’s contemporaneous exposition of the original meaning of the Second Amendment. The podcast is 45 minutes. Here are the links for Aspen Publishers web page for the textbook, and the Amazon page. It’s also available from BN.com (Barnes & Noble).
This is the subject of my article in a forthcoming symposium issue of the Fordham Urban Law Journal. The article details the political, cultural, social, and legal battles over gun control from the 1920s to the early 21st century. Here’s the abstract:
A movement to ban handguns began in the 1920s in the Northeast, led by the conservative business establishment. In response, the National Rifle Association began to get involved in politics, and was able to defeat handgun prohibition. Gun control and gun rights became the subjects of intense political, social, and cultural battles for much of the rest of the 20th century, and into the 21st.
Often, the battles were a clash of absolutes: One side contended that there was absolutely no right to arms, that defensive gun ownership must be prohibited, and that gun ownership for sporting purposes could be, at most, allowed as a very limited privilege. Another side asserted that the right to arms was absolute, and that any gun control laws were infringements of that right.
By the time that Heller and McDonald came to the Supreme Court, the battles had mostly been resolved; the Supreme Court did not break new ground, but instead reinforced what had become the American consensus: the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, especially for self-defense, is a fundamental individual right. That right, however, is not absolute. There are some gun control laws which do not violate the right, particularly laws which aim to keep guns out of the hands of people who have proven themselves to be dangerous.
In the post-Heller world, as in the post-Brown v. Board world, a key role of the courts will be to enforce federal constitutional rights against some local or state jurisdictions whose extreme laws make them outliers from the national consensus.
Also recently published in SSRN is a very good draft article by David Hardy, analyzing the four opinions in McDonald v. Chicago. As he persuasively shows, the arguments by Justice Stevens and Breyer against enforcing the Right to Keep and Bear Arms against the states would, if taken seriously, cast serious doubt on the legitimacy of enforcing against the states almost everything else in the Bill of Rights.
That’s the title of an article that I have co-authored with the Cato Institute’s Trevor Burrus, in a symposium issue of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. The symposium is “Law in an Age of Austerity,” and includes contributions from Charles Cooper (Treasury Dept.’s authority to index capital gains for inflation), John Eastman (state authority to enforce immigration laws), and others.
The major part of the Article details some recently-enacted criminal law and sentencing reforms in Colorado, which mitigate the fiscal damage of the drug war. The second part of the Article summarizes the fiscal benefits of ending prohibition. Finally, the Article looks at some of the legal history of alcohol prohibition, and suggests that current federal drug prohibition policies are inconsistent with the spirit of the Tenth Amendment, including state tax powers.