Archive for the 'Popular Constitutionalism' Category

How a Conspiracy Cracked a Monopoly

Posted by on Dec 01 2013 | Constitutional Law, Constitutional Theory, federalism, Health Care, health control law, Individual Mandate, Internet, Law schools, Legal professor, Natelson Rob', obamacare, Popular Constitutionalism, Rob Natelson, Spending Clause, supreme court, Taxing and Spending Clause, Tenth Amendment, U.S. Constitution

Anyone interested in the constitutional debate over the “Affordable Care Act” should pick up a copy of the new book, A Conspiracy Against Obamacare: The Volokh Conspiracy and the Health Care Case.

This “conspiracy” was not a political plot or an illegal combination. Rather, it is one of the nation’s two top constitutional law websites—a blog called the Volokh Conspiracy, founded by UCLA law professor Gene Volokh.

The book is about more than constitutional arguments over Obamacare. It is also about the cracking of a monopoly (or more precisely an oligopoly): the grip on constitutional discourse by a relatively small, and overwhelmingly liberal, cohort of professors who teach at certain elite law schools. These schools include the University of Michigan, Columbia, the University of Chicago—and most notably Harvard and Yale.

Faculty at elite law schools tend to dominate constitutional discourse for a number of reasons. Their prestige attracts a disproportionate amount of legal talent—bright students who later take influential positions as judges, advocates, and policymakers. (Disclosure: I was admitted to several of these institutions, but nevertheless elected to attend Cornell Law School, which is considered very good but not in the “top ten.”) The mainstream media seeks out these professors, largely to the exclusion of other legal experts.

The elite professors also dominate, indirectly, the highly influential law journals published by their own law schools. These journals are edited by law students, who lack the knowledge necessary to measure the quality of a submitted article. Hence, in deciding whether to publish a submission they often rely on the attitudes of their own faculty and/or where the article’s author teaches or attended law school. My own publication career offers two (negative) illustrations of the monopoly’s methods: (1) As a student I resigned from from my own law review in disgust because the editorial board, in imitation of the elite journals, was running the review with a leftist agenda, and (2) as a law professor, I saw all my earlier constitutional articles—including those that ultimately proved most influential—uniformly rejected by the Harvard-Yale axis.

When the Obamacare law was first challenged in court, the Harvard-Yale axis pronounced it “obviously” constitutional. The six authors of this book dared to disagree, and most of the book consists of their postings. In addition to the Independence Institute’s own Dave Kopel, the authors include five full-time law professors, none of whom work at Harvard or Yale. They are Randy Barnett of Georgetown, Jonathan Adler of Case Western, David Bernstein and Ilya Somin of George Mason, and Orin Kerr of George Washington University. All lean libertarian except Kerr; his dissents add spice to the discussion.

Of course, these authors ultimately were vindicated. The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the individual insurance mandate as a “tax” was a 5-4 squeaker. The Court also held that the mandate was outside the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause, and that the Obamacare Medicaid expansion was partly unconstitutional. As you make your way through the book, you can see how the winning arguments evolved. My favorite was the realization that the Supreme Court’s “substantial effects” test is a (mis-) application not of the Commerce Clause but of the Necessary and Proper Clause.

At the end of the volume is a section called “Postscript and Concluding Thoughts.” It encompasses six original essays in which the authors discuss the Obamacare case and its outcome. Probably the longest of these is Dave Kopel’s. I personally found it most interesting because it provides historical context and tells the story of the Independence Institute’s participation in the case.

A Conspiracy Against Obamacare is published by Palgrave MacMillan and edited by the Cato Institute’s Trever Burrus. Paul Clement, the former U.S. Solicitor General who argued the case against Obamacare in the Supreme Court, has written an engaging Foreward.

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Reasons to Get High… No Really

Posted by on Nov 21 2012 | Drug Policy, Economics, Polls, Popular Constitutionalism, Popular Culture, PPC, Public Opinion, Regulation, Tenth Amendment, U.S. Constitution

There are some good reasons to get high on pot.

The Independence Institute held no position on Amendment 64, legalizing recreational marijuana. And I know not everyone is thrilled about Colorado becoming the Amsterdam of America. But like it or not, it is in our state constitution.

So let me throw out this idea – even if you hate pot being legal, there are some great victories for limited government hidden inside this issue.

First, we finally have a state-rights issue that the Left can, must and will understand and fight to preserve.

Marijuana is still very illegal by federal law, but now it’s protected by our state constitution. I am no legal expert on the U.S. Constitution, but I don’t see anything in it that gives the Feds power over Colorado on this one. But what the hell do I know? I didn’t see anything in it that could let the Feds tax us for not buying health insurance.

Pardon me for stealing this phrase, but, this is a great teachable moment. This is a massive opportunity for those of us who fear the growing central authority in D.C. Some portion of the Left will now agree with us. We need to embrace this challenge and take a lead in educating Coloradans about the Tenth Amendment before the Left tries to pervert it somehow.

In order for those who support pot to keep in legal in Colorado, they MUST embrace the Founders’ ideal of Federalism. And I believe we need to help them understand the power of this simple ideal, and why it applies to a whole lot more than weed.

But if you hate Amendment 64 and wish it smothered out of existence, the only way that can happen now is if you embrace what the Left embraces: federal power trumping the expressed wishes of a sovereign state. Perhaps, like health insurance, the Feds can tax us for not purchasing dope, but they’ll have to pervert the Constitution (again) to override the vote in Colorado.

Here’s the second little prize in Amendment 64. Legalized pot MIGHT force some on the Left to face their hypocrisies, like their confusion on property rights and freedom of association.

In Colorado, it is illegal for an owner of a private establishment to allow tobacco smoking in their bar or restaurant. No one here is free to enjoy a cigar and a steak, or a cigarette and a cup of coffee, in the same place and time. Smokers cannot freely associate with other smokers, enjoying their legal product, in private establishments. Smokers are treated like lepers. My elitist hometown of Boulder is about ready to make smoking outdoors on the Pearl Street Mall illegal. Now that about 65% of Boulder voted for pot, will pot smokers and their business owners be treated like their tobacco-smoking brethren?

Tobacco is taxed at an exorbitant rate, regulated to the point of making it a controlled substance. State cigarette tax windfalls are spent on childhood reading programs and building sidewalks. Will the state heap wild sin taxes on pot and spend that money in ways that have nothing to do it?

I am looking forward to owners and customers of pot businesses opening their eyes (if they can pry their baked eyes open) to how abusive regulation destroys what they are trying to build.

We have a problem getting our message of limited government outside of our own echo chamber. If you doubt that, I’ll remind you of the last election. Well, here’s an uncomfortable opportunity to try something different.

Let’s channel our best Voltaire: I disagree with your decision to legalize pot, but I’ll defend to the death your state’s right to do it.

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Louisiana amendment to strengthen right to arms, on November ballot

Posted by on Oct 03 2012 | Constitutional Amendments, Constitutional History, Constitutional Law, elections, guns, Militia, Popular Constitutionalism, Right to carry, State constitutional law

In state elections, the most important vote this November will be in Louisiana. A referendum there would significantly strengthen protection of the right to keep and bear arms in the state, and would set a very significant national precedent.

Before the Civil War, the Louisiana Constitution did not mention a right to arms. The Louisiana Supreme Courts, however, viewed the federal Second Amendment as directly applicable to state government. So in State v. Chandler (1850), the court held that the Second Amendment protected a general right to carry arms, but that a legislature could ban concealed carry.

A new state constitution, adopted in 1879, provided: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged. This shall not prevent the passage of laws to punish those who carry weapons concealed.” La. Const., art. 3. The first sentence is, of course, nearly verbatim from the Second Amendment.

A century later, firearms prohibitionists had convinced some courts to reinterpret the Second Amendment so as to make it practical nullity. Supposedly, the Second Amendment right was not an individual right, but instead a “state’s right” or “collective right”–which meant that individual gun ownership could be entirely outlawed. Because the Louisiana Constitution’s language so closely paralleled the Second Amendment, there was a danger that a Louisiana court could interpret the state constitutional language to protect nothing at all. Indeed, some courts in other states had already done so, regarding state law language that copied the Second Amendment.

So in 1974, the Louisiana constitutional right was strengthened, with new language: “The right of each citizen to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged, but this provision shall not prevent the passage of laws to prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons.” La. Const., art. I, sect. 11. The new language made it indisputable that the state constitution’s right to arms was an individual right, belonging to each citizen.

Unfortunately, Louisiana’s Supreme Court, like some other courts of the late 1970s, was hostile to the right to arms. According to a 1977 Louisiana Supreme Court decision, “The right to keep and bear arms, like other rights guaranteed by our state constitution, is not absolute. We have recognized that such rights may be regulated in order to protect the public health, safety, morals or general welfare so long as that regulation is a reasonable one.” State v. Amos 343 So.2d 166, 168 (La. 1977).

It was unexceptional for the court to observe that the right to arms is no more “absolute” than any other right. But the court went much further, and essentially stripped the Louisiana arms right of any meaningful judicial protection. According to the Amos court, any form of gun control was constitutional, as long as it was “reasonable.”

In 2001, the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling that held: “The right to bear arms is established by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, § 11 of the Louisiana Constitution. The State of Louisiana is entitled to restrict that right for legitimate state purposes, such as public health and safety.” State v. Blanchard, 776 So.2d 1165 (La. 2001). The Blanchard court cited Louisiana state and federal cases from 1986 through 1999 for this proposition.

So Blanchard adopted an even weaker standard of right to arms protection than had Amos. Under Blanchard, any restriction is alright so long as the government has a “legitimate” purpose.  Blanchard‘s legitimate purpose test copies one prong of the weakest standard of judicial review, the “rational basis” test, which was originally created for Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection cases. Under this test, every law is constitutional so long as the government has a “legitimate” purpose, and the law has a “rational” connection to that purpose.

Fortunately, gun control has not been politically popular in Louisiana in recent decades. So even though the state’s courts have essentially nullified the constitutional right to arms, Louisiana’s firearms statutes are not, in general, oppressive.

In the November 2012 referendum, Louisiana citizens will be given the opportunity to remedy the wrong decisions in Blanchard and Amos. Voters can adopt new constitutional language: “The right of each citizen to keep and bear arms is fundamental and shall not be infringed.  Any restriction on this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

If adopted, the referendum would make two direct changes:

1. For the first time in Louisiana, concealed carry would be constitutionally protected. This makes sense, because in the 21st century (unlike in the 19th), concealed carry is most common way that Louisiana citizens exercise their right to carry handguns for lawful protection. Like most other states, Louisiana has a statutory system by which concealed carry permits are issued under fair and objective standards.

2. The judicially-imposed “legitimate purposes” test (the weakest test) of judicial review would be replaced by the strongest test: strict scrutiny. Under “strict scrutiny,” the burden of proof is reversed; the government bears the burden of proving that a gun control law is constitutional. To pass strict scrutiny, a law must be proven to serve a “compelling state interest” (not merely a “legitimate purpose”). Even if the law does advance a compelling state interest, the law is constitutional only if the government additionally proves that the law is “narrowly tailored” and is the “least restrictive means” to advance the compelling state interest.

Louisiana would be the first state to write the “strict scrutiny” standard into its constitution. This would become the model in other states for significantly strengthening protection of their own constitutional right to arms. So it is unsurprising that the proposed amendment is strongly supported by the National Rifle Association, the Louisiana Shooting Association, and Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is the most pro-right to arms Governor in Louisiana history, and a national leader on the issue.

Surprisingly, some people in Louisiana are opposing the Amendment on the grounds that it supposedly promotes anti-gun laws. For example, at this website, the author remains invincibly ignorant, even when the facts are patiently explained an attorney from the Louisiana Shooting Association. The website author wants to live in a world of absolute rights. Be that as it may, Louisiana today is not a state of absolute rights; it is a state where the right to arms essentially does not exist, as a matter of state constitutional law, as mis-interpreted by state courts. The amendment would remedy the misinterpretation, and make it drastically harder for future courts to uphold anti-gun laws.

A victory for the Louisiana referendum will profoundly strengthen the right to arms in Louisiana, and have significant positive effects nationally. A defeat would validate the actions of previously Louisiana judges in recent decades who deigned that the right to arms was unworthy of judicial protection.

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Next step: Repeal the individual mandate because it is unconstitutional

Posted by on Jun 29 2012 | congress, Constitutional History, Equal Protection, Health Care, Individual Mandate, Necessary and Proper, Politics, Popular Constitutionalism, Presidency, Separation of Powers, supreme court, Taxes, Taxing and Spending Clause, Uncategorized

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.

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Public opinion about the National Rifle Association

Posted by on Jun 02 2012 | guns, Politics, Polls, Popular Constitutionalism

In April, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that the National Rifle Association was viewed favorably by 68% of Americans, and unfavorably by 32%. Unlike most polls, the Reuters poll apparently did not allow “unsure” or “undecided” as a choice. In each of the demographics which the poll provided–Republicans, Democrats, independents, whites, and blacks–the NRA was viewed favorably by at least 55%.

A 2005 Gallup Poll had found a 60/34 favorable/unfavorable view of the NRA. Previous Gallup results were 52/39 (May 2000), 51/39 (April 2000), 51/40 (April 1999, right after the Columbine High School murders), 42/51 (June 1995), and 55/32 (March 1993).

It is interesting to compare the NRA’s ratings with support for handgun control.  Since 1959, Gallup has been asking “Do you think there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of handguns, except by the police and other authorized persons?” There have been some small changes in wording over the years, and the question is not a perfect test of support for handgun prohibition; some respondents might interpret “other authorized persons” simply as support for the licensing for handgun owners. However, the Gallup question is the closest thing there is to a 50-year gauge for sentiment for banning handguns.

In October 2011, Gallup found that 26% of Americans (a record low) thought that there should be such a law, and 73% did not. The 26/73 anti-/pro-handgun split is fairly close to the 32/68% anti-/pro-NRA split. After Columbine, 38% wanted the anti-handgun law, and 40% disapproved of NRA.

Likewise, Gallup in May 1993 found 54% in against the proposed law, and 55% approval for NRA.

Thus, generally speaking, over the last two decades, Americans who favor handgun prohibition appear to have accurately identified the NRA as a major obstacle to their wishes, and have viewed the NRA unfavorably. Americans who oppose handgun prohibition have viewed the NRA favorably for the same reason.

As American public opinion has evolved from a majority to a super-majority which supports the right to own a handgun, public opinion has likewise moved towards a super-majority with a favorable view of the NRA.

There are many causes for the evolution, but it seems plausible that at least part of the cause has been the increasing effectiveness of the NRA itself. To the extent that the NRA has convinced some Americans that handguns in the right hands are beneficial, then those Americans may have become more likely to view the NRA favorably. To the extent that popular NRA spokesmen (such as three-term NRA President Charlton Heston) or popular NRA programs (such as Eddie Eagle Gun Safety) have made some Americans view the NRA favorably, some of those Americans may have become less inclined to support handgun prohibition.

Because the NRA has (despite some fierce criticisms by Republicans, including in 2010) continued to support Democrats with good records on the Second Amendment, and to oppose Republicans with bad records, the NRA has avoided the problem of being identified with only a single political party. When an interest group supports only one party, that group will inevitably be viewed unfavorably by most members of the other political party.

And now that even long-time anti-gun advocates such as Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer have been affirming their support for the Second Amendment individual right, the basic premise with which the NRA is identified has become so widely supported that only politicians in very safe districts dare to dispute it publicly.

Founded in 1871, the NRA views itself as “America’s oldest civil rights organization,” an embodiment of American freedom values. These days, it seems that most Americans tend to agree.

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The Great Gun Control War of the 20th Century — And its Lessons for Gun Laws Today

Posted by on May 31 2012 | Constitutional History, Constitutional Law, Fourteenth Amendment, guns, History, McDonald v. City of Chicago, Politics, Popular Constitutionalism, Registration, Right to carry, supreme court

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.

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