December 31, 2009

City of Chicago Files Brief

It can be found here.

Josh Blackman has some initial analysis.

I will update this post as I come across more analysis of the brief.

December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

A little Christmas humor via The Corner:
To All My Liberal Friends:
Please accept with no obligation, implied or explicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2010, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.

To All My Conservative Friends:

More Guns, Less Crime

December 21, 2009

Richard Epstein on Senate Health Care Bill

Richard Epstein has a lengthy essay at Point of Law about the constitutionality of the Senate health care legislation. To sum it up:
In effect, the onerous obligations under the Reid Bill would convert private health insurance companies into virtual public utilities. This action is not only a source of real anxiety but also a decision of constitutional proportions, for it systematically strips the regulated health-insurance issuers of their constitutional entitlement to earn a reasonable rate of return on the massive amounts of capital that they have already invested in building out their businesses.

Justice Ginsburg: Supreme Court may eventually overrule Heller

Extending the Right to Bear Arms to the States

Cato's Ilya Shapiro outlines five possible ways a Justice could decide McDonald:
“Extreme Anti-Gun” — Affirm the lower court in its entirety, deciding that it correctly interpreted Supreme Court precedent, that reconsideration of this precedent is unwarranted, and therefore that neither the Second Amendment nor the right to bear arms it protects extends to people in the states (as opposed to in federal territories, like the District of Columbia). I can’t imagine that any justice will vote for this way; even those who dissented in Heller generally support the selective incorporation of rights against the states.

“Conventional Liberal” – Affirm the lower court in part but clarify that while the Second Amendment is indeed “incorporated” as against the states via the Due Process Clause, Chicago’s gun ban is still okay — possibly under a test weighing the individual right against the city’s interest in reducing gun violence. There may be one to four votes for this position: Justice Breyer likes balancing tests; Justice Stevens may feel that his hometown’s regulations are justified; and Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor may feel the same way about New York.

“Conventional Conservative” — Reverse the lower court, “incorporate” the Second Amendment via the Due Process Clause — adopting an analysis akin to that of Ninth Circuit Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain in the Nordyke case — and strike down Chicago’s gun ban. The NRA’s brief primarily advocates this position, as do many conservatives fearful of the Privileges or Immunities Clause. There may be one to eight votes for this position: The “minimalist” Chief Justice Roberts may be hesitant to overturn longstanding precedent; Justice Scalia may decide that the devil he knows (substantive due process) is better than the one he doesn’t (privileges or immunities); Justice Kennedy may feel vested in his own expansive “fundamental rights” jurisprudence under the Due Process Clause (see my review of a book analyzing that jurisprudence); Justice Alito may share one or more of the above sentiments; and one or more of the aforementioned liberals may decide to “bite the bullet” and go along with this position.

“Mend Slaughter-House, Don’t End It” — Reverse the lower court, overturn three old precedents — Cruikshank (1876), Presser (1886), and Miller (1894), which were decided at a time when none of the rights in the Bill of Rights was considered to apply to the states – “incorporate” the Second Amendment via the Privileges or Immunities Clause without touching Slaughter-House, and strike down Chicago’s gun ban. This is the ACRU position, and while I don’t think it’s textually or historically supportable – a scholarly consensus across ideological lines holds that Slaughter-House was both wrongly decided and forecloses any significant application of the Privileges or Immunities Clause — it could emerge as a political “compromise.” (If Justice O’Connor were still on the Court, I could maybe see her advancing this position.)

“Originalist/Libertarian” — Reverse the lower court, overturn Slaughter-House and the three aforementioned cases, extend the right to keep and bear arms to the states (which is technically distinct from “incorporating” the Second Amendment), and strike down Chicago’s gun ban. This is Cato’s position – as well as that of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center on behalf of eight leading constitutional law professors from across the political spectrum – and there will be one and may be up to all nine of the justices here: Justice Thomas has long said that he’d like to revisit Slaughter-House in the appropriate case, and he surely led the push to grant a cert petition whose question presented called for briefing about the Privileges or Immunities Clause; any of the others who seriously grapple with the arguments in Alan Gura’s brilliant petitioners’ brief (and those of his amici, us included) will also have to go this way despite their various political qualms.

The Committee for Justice signed on to the ACRU brief discussed above which can be read here. A continually updated list of the briefs filed can be found here.

December 15, 2009

Making criminals out of all Americans

Geane Healy in The Examiner:
The court's struggle with the "honest services" statute points toward a larger issue: the burgeoning problem of overcriminalization. It's for good reason that our Constitution mentions only three federal crimes (treason, piracy, and counterfeiting).

The Founders viewed the criminal sanction as a last resort, reserved for serious offenses, clearly defined, so ordinary citizens would know whether they were violating the law. ...

"Is that the system we have, that Congress can say, nobody shall do any bad things?" an exasperated Scalia asked Drebeen. The system we have comes pretty close, unfortunately. And a federal criminal code that covers everything delegates to prosecutors and the police the power to pick their targets at will, leaving everyone at risk.

For more on the issue of overcriminalization, Harvey Silvergate, author of Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent, is guest-blogging all week at Volokh. Here is his first post on Honest Services Fraud that Healy discusses above.

Justice Janet Napolitano?

So thinks Chuck Todd.
Personally, [Obama] likes her probably more than any other cabinet secretary outside of [Robert] Gates on a personal comfort zone. She almost got it the last time. I think he’s determined to put somebody who’s actually run for elective office on the Supreme Court. You know, we’re in the first Supreme Court, I think in a hundred years, that hasn’t had somebody with elective office experience at any point in time. He’s talked about wanting that as a criteria....He’s a big fan of hers.

December 11, 2009

Addressing the Most Important Weakness of Conservative-Libertarian Public Interest Law

Thoughts on the Federalist Society's Pro Bono Center via Ilya Somin.
Over the last 30 years, conservative and libertarian public interest firms such as the Institute for Justice, the Center for Individual Rights, and the Pacific Legal Foundation have mounted a strong challenge to the previously dominant legal left, and won some important legal victories for property rights, economic liberties, and limits on government power. However, right of center public interest law suffers from a key weakness: the paucity of lawyers available to conduct follow-up litigation to enforce favorable precedents. Even the most important federal and state supreme court decisions don’t change the legal landscape all by themselves; they usually require extensive follow-up litigation to make sure that government officials comply and that their principles are enforced in other cases where similar issues come up. Often, the people victimized by government violations of constitutional rights are poor, politically weak, or unable to engage in protracted litigation to vindicate their rights. This is true in the area of property rights, and many others of interest to libertarians and conservatives. Left-liberal scholars and activists have long understood this crucial lesson, and they have created an extensive network to facilitate follow-up litigation to enforce their high court legal victories. In almost every major law firm, there are lawyers who do small-bore pro bono cases on behalf of various left-wing causes. These cases often build on and enforce favorable appellate decisions.

By contrast, conservatives and libertarians have been slow to grasp this point and act on it. That isn’t just my opinion. It’s also the view of Steven Teles, author of the leading academic work on right of center public interest law, and also of prominent leaders of conservative and libertarian public interest organizations, such as Chip Mellor, President of the Institute for Justice and the leaders of CIR (interviewed in Teles’ book).

The Fed Soc Pro Bono Center is a thoughtful effort to address the problem. The premise is simple: interested lawyers sign up at the Center’s website, and give their contact information, areas of expertise (e.g. — property rights, First Amendment, religious liberties, criminal law), what kind of work they can do (trial, appellate, etc.), and how much time they have per month. The Center then matches them up with public interest firms and other organizations that are looking for lawyers to work on specific cases (these organizations can also sign up at the website, and provide information about their needs). I doubt that the Pro Bono Center can cure the greatest weakness of conservative/libertarian public interest law all by itself. But it’s a step in the right direction. IJ’s Human Action Network is an older, somewhat similar initiative (but one that doesn’t have an explicit case-matching system).

December 09, 2009

Sen. Hatch, Randy Barnett, and Eugene Volokh on the Constitutionality of a Health Insurance Mandate