April 30, 2010

Reversal: The ACLU Supports Limits on Free Speach

Floyd Abrams, writing in the Wall Street Journal:
Nonetheless, we've come to this: The premier First Amendment organization in America now favors limitations on the First Amendment in the area in which all agree it must have its most powerful application—political speech during election campaigns.

Experience has shown that the kinds of campaign finance limits the ACLU now endorses have entrenched the powers-that-be even further. Thus the ACLU is prescribing a lot of First Amendment pain for no real democratic gain. And in the process of changing its policy, the principal defender of free-speech rights will abandon that field to others.

In essence, the rhetoric of egalitarianism has won a victory over freedom of speech: The new restrictions the ACLU supports will never bring about the equality it claims is its goal. This is a self-inflicted wound from which the ACLU will not soon recover.

April 29, 2010


The Federalist Society has launched SCOTUSreport.com. From the website's About section:
The Federalist Society is pleased to announce the launch of a new website, SCOTUSReport.com. The purpose of this site is to collect in one place the key news and documents, as well as commentary from across the legal, political and philosophical spectrum, regarding the upcoming Supreme Court nomination. We have regularly been asked by the media and others whether there is any such web-based resource. To date there has not been. So we decided to launch one, both in order to meet this demand and, in light of the public attention focused on these issues during Supreme Court nominations, to use the occasion to promote widespread public debate and education about the role of courts in our constitutional democracy.

Obama and "Conservative Judicial Activism"

Speaking aboard Air Force One, President Obama appeared to fire a shot across the bow when he warned of "conservative judicial activism." In remarks that seemed to be clearly aimed at the constitutional challenges to Obamacare,
He said the notion of judicial restraint should apply to liberal and conservative jurists. Instead, the president said arguments over original intent and other legal theories end up giving judges a lot of power — sometimes more power than elected representatives have.

Obama said judges should presume that the laws produced by the House and Senate and state legislatures should get "some deference as long as core constitutional values are observed."
As always, the devil is in the details. For example, what does Obama mean by "core constitutional values?" With respect to Obamacare he certainly doesn't mean limited government, federalism, or individual liberty - at least in the economic sense. What Obama means, essentially, is the Court should be deferential to his big government boondoggles while striking down laws that interfere with liberal "core constitutional values."

April 26, 2010

Why Obamacare is Unconsitutional Under Congress' Power to Tax

Steven J. Willis and Nakku Chung have a forthcoming article in Tax Notes arguing that Obamacare's individual mandate is unconstitutional. The abstract:
Willis and Chung demonstrate how I.R.C. § 5000A – the HEALTH CARE ACT penalty – is an unapportioned Capitation Tax, violative of U.S. CONSTITUTION ARTICLE I, Section 9. As they demonstrate, the "penalty" is – at least on its face - a tax. To be a Constitutional tax, it must be an Excise Tax, an Income Tax, or a proportional Capitation Tax. Through the process of elimination, they demonstrate the penalty is none of these.

Others convincingly demonstrate the "penalty" is unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause. They argue the "penalty" is indeed a penalty and not a tax. Willis and Chung pick up where that argument leaves off: if that argument fails and the Court finds this is a tax, it is an unconstitutional unapportioned Direct Tax.

Despite being labeled an Excise Tax by Congress, the penalty is unlike any existing Excise Tax because it applies to the failure to act by an individual. Existing failure-to-act Excise Taxes differ because they apply to entities which have chosen to partake in particular activities. The provision thus fails the historic requirements of an Excise Tax, namely that it apply to an activity, transaction, or the use of property. The tax also fails the traditional "pass-on" nature of Excise Taxes. If the Court were to approve it as a uniform Excise Tax, the Direct Tax apportionment requirement would be eviscerated.

The penalty similarly fails the 16th AMENDMENT definition of an Income Tax. Not only does it appear not to tax income, it fails to operate as an Income Tax, and it fails the 16th AMENDMENT realization requirement long accepted by the Supreme Court. Willis and Chung dismiss - as unrealistic academic dogma - arguments for ignoring the realization requirement. They acknowledge, but refute, academic arguments criticizing the Pollock and Macomber decisions, as well as arguments for ignoring the CONSTITUTION's Direct Tax apportionment requirement.

What a Judicial Nominee Should be Entitled to

The Washington Post endorses 9th Circuit nominee, Goodwin Liu, in a short, unsigned editorial. There is much that could be commented on, but I want to focus on one paragraph in particular.
It would be no surprise if Republicans gave Mr. Liu a taste of his own medicine and cast party-line votes against him. But it would be wrong. Mr. Liu, like every other judicial nominee, should be judged on his qualifications and voted down only if he is ethically compromised or if his views fall far outside accepted strands of legal theory.
This is flat out wrong. Judicial Nominees are not and should not be entitled to a Yes vote. They are entitled to a fair, timely process and, in my opinion, an up or down vote. While Mr. Liu's views may not be "far outside accepted strands of legal theory," they are certainly far outside the views of mainstream Americans. As such, Senators should be able to reflect the views of their constituents by casting a No vote.

Addendum: Much like The New York Times, The Washington Post leaves itself plenty of wiggle room to advocate against conservative nominees with their "far outside the strands of legal theory" language. Because academia is so dominated by left wing views, conservative legal beliefs are often necessarily out of the academic mainstream. This generally puts them, however, within the views of mainstream Americans.

April 23, 2010

SCOTUS Nomination Round-Up

April 22, 2010

3 Reasons Why Obamacare is Unconstitutional Under the Power “To Lay and Collect Taxes”

Robert Levy takes on the constitutionality of Obamacare under the taxing power in National Review. He points to three reasons why Obamacare is unconstitutional.
First, the penalty is not a tax; it’s a fine. The president said as much when confronted with the argument that it violated his promise not to raise taxes on the middle class. ...

Second, even if the penalty for noncompliance is deemed to be a tax rather than a fine, it does not meet the constitutional requirements for income, excise, or direct taxes. ...

The third reason the power to tax cannot justify an insurance mandate is that, even if the penalty is considered a tax and somehow survives the test for apportionment or uniformity, Congress cannot use the taxing power as a backdoor means of regulating an activity, unless the regulation is authorized elsewhere in the Constitution.
Read the whole thing.

RELATED: Randy Barnett discusses Obamacare on the Healthcare Channel.

In WH meeting, the Two Republicans Were Only Ones Never to Filibuster a SCOTUS Nominee

From Byron York.
When Senate leaders went to the White House Wednesday morning to discuss the Supreme Court opening, the meeting was attended by President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman and ranking member Patrick Leahy and Jeff Sessions, and Senate majority and minority leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell. ...

"It didn't go without being noticed that only two of the elected officials in the room had never filibustered a Supreme Court nominee," says one Republican Senate aide. Those two, of course, were McConnell and Sessions. So at the moment, the only lawmakers who are being criticized for even being open to the possibility of a filibuster are the ones who have never, in fact, taken part in one. "It's kind of challenging for Democrats now to make the case that Republicans ought to be helpful and speed things up when they not only tried to slow Alito down but voted against cloture," says the Senate aide.

April 21, 2010

Obama's Short List

As reported by Jan Crawford.
Martha Minow, dean of Harvard Law School

Elana Kagan, Solicitor General, former Harvard Law dean

Sid Thomas, Montana federal appeals court judge

Merrick Garland, federal appeals court judge, Washington DC

Jennifer Granholm, Michigan governor

Diane Wood, Chicago-based federal appeals court

Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security

Leah Ward Sears, former Chief Justice, Georgia Supreme Court

Ann Claire Williams, federal appeals court judge, Chicago

The Golden Age of Free Speech

From Adam Liptak:
It has been more than a quarter-century since the Supreme Court placed a category of speech outside the protection of the First Amendment. Tuesday’s resounding and lopsided rejection of a request that it do so, along with its decision in Citizens United in January — concluding that corporations may spend freely in candidate elections — suggest that the Roberts Court is prepared to adopt a robustly libertarian view of the constitutional protection of free speech.

And in the next couple of months, the court is set to decide several other important First Amendment cases about anonymous speech, the right of free association and a federal law that limits speech supporting terrorist organizations.
While I am sure neither right nor left agree with all the speakers involved in these cases, it is interesting to see the breadth of free speech protection secured by the Roberts' Court. This is especially noteworthy at a time when countries around the world are actively engaged in stifling free speech.

Related: Artistic Expression v. The Nanny State

Both stories courtesy of Hit & Run

Is Diane Wood the Public Option?

I have been cruising some lefty sites to see who is being talked about to replace Justice Stevens, and I came across this interesting analogy from Glenn Greenwald.
If one were to analogize the search for Justice Stevens' replacement to the recently concluded health care debate, Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diane Wood would be the public option. Just as the truly left-wing health care approach (a single-payer system) was eliminated from consideration before the process even began, so, too, have the truly left-wing candidates to replace Justice Stevens (Pam Karlan, Harold Koh) been ruled out as "not viable." As a result, the moderate-progressive compromises (i.e., the public option for health care and Diane Wood for Stevens' replacement) are falsely depicted as some sort of liberal extremism, merely because they're the least conservative options allowed to be considered.
I would expect this analogy to gain traction with the far left. For context, here is Greenwald's preventative strike against Kagan.

April 20, 2010

Is White House Signaling a Kagan Nomination?

Sam Stein takes a look at the recent defenses of Kagan by the White House and wonders if they are signaling that she is the choice to replace Justice Stevens.
The aggressive pushback by the White House against speculation that potential Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is a lesbian -- she's not, the administration says -- has spurred talk that the Solicitor General currently tops the president's short list for the bench. The notion was posited early on Friday by the Plum Line's Greg Sargent. And there is other evidence to suggest it might be true.

On Wednesday, the Huffington Post learned, former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn, who is leading outreach efforts around the upcoming court vacancy, reached out to progressive allies to dismiss a critical article written about Kagan. The article, authored by Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald, attacked the former Harvard Law School dean for her expansive interpretation of executive powers. Dunn's response, however, focused on a much narrower Greenwald critique -- that Kagan didn't have sufficient experience and lacked an extensive written record, having never been a sitting judge.

The outreach left the impression that the White House has been aggressive in defending Kagan from attack. That, in turn, suggests that they have plans to tap her to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the court.

April 19, 2010

Goodwin Liu & Clarence Thomas

The following quote, attributed to CFJ Executive Director Curt Levey, aired Friday in a story about 9th Circuit nominee Goodwin Liu on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and also appeared in a print story on NPR’s web site:
“Goodwin Liu is not your typical liberal. He's very far out on the left wing, even in academia. So I think you could think of Liu as the Democratic Clarence Thomas.”
In response to questions about the quote, we present Mr. Levey’s unedited remarks below. With the full context – including the 78 words omitted between the second and third sentences of the quote – we hope it’s clear that Mr. Levey intended the comparison to be about grooming Liu for a seat on the Supreme Court.

Mr. Levey’s unedited remarks (excerpts used by NPR are in caps):
“Everybody expected Obama to nominate liberals to the federal courts, and that's what he's done, but GOODWIN LIU IS NOT YOUR TYPICAL LIBERAL. HE'S VERY FAR OUT ON THE LEFT-WING, EVEN OF ACADEMIA. He is an unabashed defender, really advocate, of judicial activism, and add on top of that, the fact that I think everyone knows that Obama would love to groom him for a spot on the Supreme Court. Obama would love to, you know, be able to say that he nominated the first Asian to the Supreme Court. As you know, it's been almost forty years since somebody who was not a judge was appointed to the Supreme Court. SO I THINK THAT YOU CAN THINK OF GOODWIN LIU AS THE DEMOCRATIC CLARENCE THOMAS. I think everyone knows that he's being groomed to be on the Supreme Court, and you know, that scares people because he's to the left of even Justice Ginsburg.”

Update: BigJournalism.com reports on this matter.


April 16, 2010

In What Sense is the Personal Health Insurance Mandate “Unconstitutional”?

Professor Randy Barnett clarifies his previous remarks regarding the unconstitutionality of Obamacare's individual mandate and adds why he now feels more strongly about his opinion.
When discussing the “constitutionality” of a governmental action, one must distinguish between three senses of “constitutionality”: (1) What the Constitution says and means; (2) what the Supreme Court has said and meant, and (3) whether there are five votes on the Supreme Court to uphold or invalidate the action. ... I have been very clear in my publications and media statements that I am not offering an originalist objection to the individual health insurance mandate.

Instead, I have objected that the mandate that individuals purchase health insurance from a private company is unconstitutional under existing Supreme Court doctrine–the second of the three senses of unconstitutionality. And, in response to confident predictions that the Supreme Court will uphold the mandate, I have suggested that they may be less inclined to do so if the bill continues to be unpopular, one or both houses of Congress flip parties, a serious repeal effort is blocked by a presidential veto or filibuster in the Senate, and the “benefits” promised by the bill have yet to be implemented. Everyone should know I think this last type of analysis should have nothing to do with whether a measure is or is not “constitutional,” but I do not deny these factors are relevant to whether the Supreme Court will uphold or invalidate an act of Congress. My point is that those who confidently predict that the Supreme Court will uphold this bill are not taking these sorts of factors adequately into account.

Part of my constitutional assessment (in the second sense) involves the unprecedented nature of this claim of power by Congress. (The other part is analysis of what the Supreme Court has said about the Commerce power since the New Deal.) Having made this observation back in December in my co-authored paper for the Heritage Foundation, my confidence in its accuracy has been increased by two developments. The first is the change of subject to the Tax power of Congress. Think about it. If the claim that this legislation was as clearly authorized by post-New Deal Commerce Clause doctrine as so many law professors seem to assume, then why almost immediately change the subject to the power of Congress to tax? This switch telegraphs a fundamental weakness of the Commerce Clause claim.

The second development is the inability of supporters of the bill to generate any examples of when the Commerce Clause power has been exercised in the past to mandate individuals engage in economic activity by entering a contract with a private company. True the early Militia Act mandated militia members provide their own private arms, but this was not an exercise of the Commerce Power. And we have been treated to the discovery of an early statute taxing sailors and spending the money on hospitals for their care. Of course, this is very much akin to how Medicare works (which is clearly “constitutional” in the second and third senses), and the regulation of navigation is squarely within the original meaning of the Commerce Clause (as I have shown in Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty), so this provision seems “constitutional” in the first sense as well.

April 15, 2010

Should Conservatives Rethink Judicial Activism?

From George Will's latest column:
Conservatives spoiling for a fight should watch their language. The recent decision most dismaying to them was Kelo (2005), wherein the court upheld the constitutionality of a city government using its eminent domain power to seize property for the spurious "public use" of transferring it to wealthier interests who will pay higher taxes to the seizing government. Conservatives wish the court had been less deferential to elected local governments. (Stevens later expressed regret for his part in the Kelo ruling.)

The recent decision most pleasing to conservatives was this year's Citizens United, wherein the court overturned part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. The four liberal justices deplored the conservatives' refusal to defer to Congress's expertise in regulating political speech.

So conservatives should rethink their rhetoric about "judicial activism." The proper question is: Will the nominee be actively enough engaged in protecting liberty from depredations perpetrated by popular sovereignty?

April 14, 2010


"Dems take aim at court conservatives"
Democrats hope to turn the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation hearings into a referendum of sorts on controversial recent decisions by the Roberts court — portraying the conservative majority as a judicial Goliath trampling the rights of average Americans.

As President Barack Obama mulls possible replacements for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, the administration and congressional aides are gravitating toward a strategy that goes beyond the goals of a run-of-the-mill confirmation fight – to define a corporations-vs.-the-common-man battle between Democrats and the high court.

In addition to building a defensive perimeter around Obama’s pick — whoever that may be — Democrats will use the hearings to attack what they view as a dangerous strain of conservative judicial activism espoused by Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
So, we are going to have another nominee that eschews explaining the liberal view of judging to the American people? Sounds like a losing strategy for the Democrats to me.

CFJ to Congress: Oppose “Net Neutrality” Mandates

The Committee for Justice and about 30 other groups have written to members of Congress to express their concern about “a dangerous effort underway at the Federal Communications Commission” to “fundamentally alter the federal government’s role in regulating the Internet by imposing so-called ‘net neutrality’ mandates.” The letter asks members to oppose the mandates and instead support innovation and competition.

Justice Stevens and Liberty Cont'd

Writing at Townhall, Jacob Sullum takes his turn at debunking the myth that Justice Stevens was a champion of individual rights.
As Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens "gradually became the leader of the court's liberal wing," The New York Times reports, "he became increasingly skeptical of claims of government power." According to a Washington Post editorial, "his voice was consistently raised on behalf of those vulnerable to government excesses."

Such descriptions of Stevens, which were common after he announced his retirement last week, are based on a highly selective concern about state power. A closer look at Stevens' record shows he has been anything but consistent in his opposition to government excesses and that in some ways he has become less inclined to protect constitutional rights. ...

When it comes to reining in government excesses, the doctrine of enumerated powers, which says Congress needs specific constitutional authority for its legislation, is at least as important as the protection of enumerated rights. Yet Stevens has consistently opposed efforts to define the limits of the power to regulate interstate commerce, treating it as a blank check that Congress can fill in as it pleases. In 2005, he wrote a decision that said even a single marijuana plant grown by a patient in a state that allows medical use of the drug can be treated as interstate commerce.

In many of the cases where Stevens has sided with the government, he has been opposed by Antonin Scalia and/or Clarence Thomas, justices who have undeserved reputations as authoritarians hostile to civil liberties.
UPDATE: Tim Carney: Justice Stevens was no champion of the little guy.
President Obama said his nominee to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court would "be someone who, like Justice Stevens, knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens."

Tell that to the "ordinary citizens" of New London, Conn., whose homes were stolen by the government for use by real estate developers at the request of the largest drug company in America -- with the approval of Justice Stevens. ...

[I]n practice, liberalism often isn't really about the "little guy" as much as it is about central planning. The company and the city, Stevens wrote, had exhibited enough "thorough deliberation" and had "carefully formulated" a "comprehensive" plan -- and that was enough.

The hotel was never built, the bulldozed neighborhood is still rubble, and Pfizer has announced it is ditching the New London facility in the wake of its merger with Wyeth.

Also, Podcast: "Justice Steven's Undue Deference" featuring Cato's John Samples

UPDATE 2: David Harsanyi takes a look at Patrick Leahy's strategy for the upcoming SCOTUS hearings.
So, Leahy, who believes Stevens is a model jurist, will likely ask many piercing questions (How evil is corporate America? Nixon evil or merely Nazi evil?) in defense of average Americans.

But I wonder if the average American believes, like Justice Stevens, that an unelected federal agency like the Environmental Protection Agency should bypass Congress and, by fiat, regulate carbon dioxide, a chemical compound that permeates everything, without any consideration for cost or imposition or the electorate? ...

Do they believe, like Justice Stevens, that government should continue to use racial quotas and preferences rather than allow citizens the freedom to succeed or fail on their own merits — or even their own luck — rather than color of their skin? ...

It's no mystery why Leahy would want to turn the tables on conservatives and make the confirmation hearing about corporations rather than the Constitution or the reckless manner in which justices like Stevens treat it. I would do the same if my agenda's success was intricately tied to the pliability of the document.

April 13, 2010

Obamacare and Privacy Rights

The first private lawsuit has been filed challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare. In addition to the general arguments against Obamacare, i.e. Commerce Clause objection, it brings up the privacy issue inherent in turning over one's medical information to an insurer.
You still have to give a big, scary, mean corporation a lot of private medical and psychological information about yourself and your family. Then, forever after, the insurance corporation’s bureaucrats will gather this private information without even bothering to let you know. As our Complaint states:
Moreover, compelling Plaintiffs to enter into a private contract to purchase insurance from another entity will legally require them to share private and personal information with the contracting party. Specifically, by requiring Plaintiffs to abide by the Act’s individual mandate, Congress is also compelling Plaintiffs to fully disclose past medical conditions, habits and behaviors. Not only will the insurer be privy to all past medical information, Congress’s individual mandate will, by necessity, allow the compelled insurer access to Plaintiffs’ present and future medical information of a confidential nature. If judicially enforceable privacy rights mean anything, then private and confidential medical details certainly merit Constitutional protection. Plaintiffs should not be forced to disclose the most intimate details of their past, present and future medical information.
Do you have an STD? How many abortions have you had? How about a sexual dysfunction? Did your
father or mother have cancer? Do you have a birth defect? Have you ever been prescribed drugs for a mental condition, such as anxiety or depression? There are many reasons people have concerns over their medical privacy. The desire to keep one’s medical history private is universal.
I think this is an interesting angle that perhaps has more legs than other arguments for the reasons that Michael Barone points out in the column linked below. At the very least, I would love to see the liberal Justices uphold the mandate and attempt to square the privacy concerns inherent in the individual mandate with Roe and its progeny. Should make for some entertaining mental gymnastics.

Thomas Sowell to Justice Stevens: Good Riddance!

Thomas Sowell pens a farewell to Justice Stevens, and in doing so, attacks one of the Justice's most disastrous opinions, Kelo.
The Constitution of the United States says that the government must pay "just compensation" for seizing a citizen's private property for "public use." In other words, if the government has to build a reservoir or bridge, and your property is in the way, they can take that property, provided that they pay you its value.

What has happened over the years, however, is that judges have eroded this protection and expanded the government's power-- as they have in other issues. This trend reached its logical extreme in the Supreme Court case of Kelo v. City of New London. This case involved local government officials seizing homes and businesses-- not for "public use" as the Constitution specified, but to turn this private property over to other private parties, to build more upscale facilities that would bring in more tax revenues.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the Supreme Court opinion that expanded the Constitution's authorization of seizing private property for "public use" to seizing private property for a "public purpose." And who would define what a "public purpose" is? Basically, those who were doing the seizing. As Justice Stevens put it, the government authorities' assessment of a proper "public purpose" was entitled to "great respect" by the courts.

Let's go back to square one. Just who was this provision of the Constitution supposed to restrict? Answer: government officials. And to whom would Justice Stevens defer: government officials. Why would those who wrote the Constitution waste good ink putting that protection in there, if not to protect citizens from the very government officials to whom Justice Stevens deferred?
With all the "protector of rights" and "champion of liberty" rhetoric floating around, this opinion cannot be brought up enough.

April 12, 2010

Michael Barone on Obamacare and the Supreme Court

I want to highlight two passages from an excellent column by Michael Barone.
The retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens means that in coming months we'll have another hearing on a Supreme Court nominee. But it's not likely to be the sort of hearing we got used to in the two decades after Edward Kennedy declared war on Robert Bork in 1987.

Nomination fights in those years centered on the issue of abortion. Many Republicans hoped and most Democrats feared that Republican nominees would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Democrats launched ferocious and often unfair attacks on nominees like Bork, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Republicans defended them warily, but refrained from launching similar attacks on Democratic nominees Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer.
Barone is one of the few major columnists to accurately report the history of judicial nominations, unlike Marc Ambinder and Tom Goldstein for example. Barone also writes:
Another set of questions could prove embarrassing for Democrats who have lauded Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade for creating a right to privacy that includes contraception and abortion. "How can the freedom to make such choices with your doctor be protected and not freedom to choose a hip replacement or a Caesarean section?" asks former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey in the Wall Street Journal. "Either your body is protected from government interference or it's not."

McCaughey also notes that in 2006 the Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Oregon ruled that the federal government couldn't set standards for doctors to administer lethal drugs to terminally ill patients under Oregon's death with dignity act. So does the Constitution empower the feds to regulate nonlethal drugs in contravention of other state laws?

Such questions may not persuade an Obama nominee to rule that Obamacare is unconstitutional. But they can raise politically damaging issues in a high-visibility forum at a time when Democrats would like to move beyond health care and talk about jobs and financial regulation. Stevens apparently timed his retirement to secure the confirmation of a congenial successor -- but some Democrats probably wish that he had quit a year ago when they had more Senate votes and fewer unpopular policies.
It will be interesting to see if the GOP pursues this angle.

Whelan on Liu

Ed Whelan has consolidated his extensive reporting on the nomination of Goodwin Liu at Bench Memos.

Is The Washington Post Mocking Justice Stevens?

Michael Cannon notices something interesting in Saturday's Washington Post.
The front page contains excerpts from three opinions Stevens wrote while on the Court. (I could not find them on the Post’s web site, so I can’t furnish a link.) The first is from Bush v. Gore (2000):
Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law. I respectfully dissent.
The second is from Baze v. Rees (2008):
[The death penalty is] becoming more and more anachronisitic… I have relied on my own experience in reaching the conclusion that the imposition of the death penalty “represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes.”

And finally, from Citizens United v. FEC (2010):
While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.
The first excerpt decries judges who decide cases based on their personal preferences, rather than what the law says. The other two excerpts show Stevens incorporating his personal preferences into his rulings.

So we must consider the possibility that someone at The Washington Post subtly wanted to poke fun at Justice Stevens. Unless it was inadvertent, which would make it even more amusing.

Interesting Hypo for Obama Involving the Supreme Court and School Choice

Via Instapundit:
Mr. President, do you believe that ANY of America’s public university law schools are competent to educate the next Supreme Court Justice? And if so, please name them.

Potential Nominees and the Second Amendment

Dave Kopel has a rundown at The Volokh Conspiracy.
In order from worst to not-all-bad:

Strongly-ideological, highly-committed gun prohibitionist: Harold Koh.

Extensive record of anti-Second Amendment leadership: Secretary of State Clinton, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Gov. Deval Patrick.

Limited but clearly negative record on right to arms: Judge Diane Wood, Judge Merrick Garland.

Mixed record, but with very little positive: Amy Klobuchar.

Mixed record: Cass Sunstein, Janet Napolitano [negatives include the ridiculous Dept. of Homeland Security report conflating political dissent with terrorism; as governor she signed some pro-right to arms legislation, and vetoed other bills], Jennifer Granholm [like Napolitano, a mixed record as governor, including signing some important reforms].

Unknown: Elena Kagan

April 09, 2010


National Journal's "The Ninth Justice" blog is back online.

Justice Stevens and Liberty

Following Justice Stevens' Retirement, Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, said that Stevens "emerged as one of the Court’s most vocal and eloquent spokespersons for individual liberties, separation of powers, and equal access to justice. A master tactician, he leaves a legacy of championing personal freedoms and human dignity in defense of everyday Americans."

I am sure this sentiment will be echoed many times across the news media in the wake of his retirement. But I just want to introduce Ms. Aron to DC v. Heller, Kelo v. New London, and Citizens United where Justice Stevens wrote opinions, in major cases, that were quite hostile to "individual liberties" and "personal freedoms." Those cases make Justice Stevens more of a champion of government action than a defender of individual rights.

UPDATE: Cato's Ilya Shapiro makes a similar observation and adds that "even on those issues where friends of liberty can disagree in good faith as a matter of policy, such as abortion and the death penalty, Stevens admittedly and unabashedly asserted his own policy preferences instead of following the law."

UPDATE: Damon Root had previously commented on the pro-corporate legacy of Justice Stevens.
At the risk of spoiling all the lovely tributes going on, I’d like to suggest that Stevens’ new fans check out his majority opinion in a case that Toobin failed to mention: Kelo v. City of New London, the 2005 decision where Stevens and his most liberal colleagues (plus the "modestly libertarian" Justice Anthony Kennedy) upheld the government’s ability to seize private property via eminent domain and then hand the land over to another private party in order to widen the tax base. I’ve heard a lot recently about how Stevens stood up for “We the People” against the evil corporations in Citizens United, but what about the people who were literally forced out of their homes in New London, Connecticut, so the municipal government could clear their neighborhood and hand it over to a private developer? And let’s not forget why the developer wanted that land in the first place: The pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer had built a new research and development center on the adjacent land and the developer wanted to build a fancy new hotel, apartment buildings, and office towers to complement the Pfizer facility, something Justice John Paul Stevens was more than happy to oblige. That’s what I’d call a pro-corporate decision.

Justice John Paul Stevens to Retire

WaPo is reporting that it is official. Justice Stevens will step down in June.

April 07, 2010

SCOTUS Vacancy: Filibuster, Vets & Napolitano

Byron York reports in yesterday’s Examiner that
“there is one particularly pressing reason Democrats would like to see [Justice] Stevens go now rather than later. That reason is coming up this November. ... continued Democratic rule with a smaller majority would give the president less flexibility in choosing a successor to Stevens.”
While we agree with York that Democrats would prefer that Stevens retire this year, we disagree with York’s conclusion about a confirmation fight this year:
“If [it were to] take place before November, there would be virtually no chance of a filibuster no matter how extraordinary the circumstances. With 59 votes, Democrats would need just one Republican to join with them to reach a filibuster-proof 60 votes. ... So the calculation for Democrats is this: With 59 votes, the president can nominate anybody he wants.”
In light of Republican resentment at the procedural shenanigans Democrats engaged in to pass the healthcare bill, we suspect that there is far more than “virtually no chance” of keeping all 41 GOP senators together on a Supreme Court filibuster vote. In any case, they key to stopping particularly bad Obama nominees has been and will continue to be red and purple state Senate Democrats, whether the nominee is stopped by a filibuster or before a vote on the Senate floor.

For an example of the former, look at Obama’s recent recess appointment of Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board. Obama was forced to forgo Senate confirmation after Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln voted against cloture. For an example of the latter, consider Dawn Johnsen, President Obama’s nominee to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Despite being nominated more than a year ago, the opposition of a couple of red state Democrats has been sufficient to prevent Majority Leader Reid from bringing her nomination to the floor.

Finally, consider that the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court was withdrawn after senators in President Bush’s own party told him they couldn’t support the nominee. Similarly, the opposition of a few red state Senate Democrats this summer would likely be sufficient to stop a Supreme Court nominee before any vote on the floor. All the more so because vulnerable Democrats like Blanche Lincoln will be actively looking for opportunities to distance themselves from the President and their more liberal Democratic colleagues. In sum, it is far from true that “the president can nominate anybody he wants.”

Especially in an election year, Obama will also be constrained by his demonstrated desire to keep the focus off of the hot-button social issues that a controversial Supreme Court nominee will inevitably stir up. “I don’t think Obama was ever anxious to have the debate be about guns, gay marriage, and partial-birth abortion, and is even less so now,” said CFJ Executive Director Curt Levey in Politico. But not all the people interviewed for the Politico article agree: “some liberal activists hope that Obama will swing for the fences and name an outspoken progressive to the court this time.”

In contrast, there seems to be a consensus that the Supreme Court chances of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, one of the finalists to fill last summer’s High Court vacancy, have evaporated because of Obama’s reluctance to make the “underwear bomber” incident part of the debate. Politico reports that “Both liberal and conservative advocates agree that choosing her now would refocus what the administration would view as unwelcome attention on government failures prior to the Christmas Day airplane bombing attempt.”

The consensus that Napolitano has “dropped from Obama’s short list” likely reflects a realization that Obama feels vulnerable on national security, even more so than on social issues. Which makes it all the more interesting that, last Friday, long-time conservative leader Phyllis Schlafly called on senators to demand that Justice Stevens, the last military veteran on the High Court, be replaced by another veteran:
“For as long as we can remember, the U.S. Supreme Court has included at least one military veteran. ... When President Obama fills Stevens' seat, will the High Court be left without anyone who has military experience? Veterans in the U.S. Senate should make sure that such an embarrassment does not occur. Cases concerning the military appear every year before the Supreme Court, and our nation will not be well-served by a Court lacking in military experience. ... The men and women who risk their lives for our nation's security deserve better.”
We agree and so does Justice Stevens. From Stevens’ interview with Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker last month:
“‘Somebody was saying that there ought to be at least one person on the Court who had military experience,’ Stevens told me. ‘I sort of feel that it is important. I have to confess that.’ The war helped shape his jurisprudence, and even today shapes his frame of reference.”
President Obama promised to appoint judges with “the empathy to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom [or] poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old.” He would be hard pressed to explain why it is not equally important to have a Supreme Court Justice who knows what it’s like to serve in the military, not to mention a Justice with the military experience necessary to understand and evaluate the government’s national security arguments.

President Obama’s judicial appointments – from Sonia Sotomayor down to circuit and district court nominees – tell us that he places a high value on racial diversity on the federal bench. Let’s hope that Obama’s next Supreme Court pick indicates that he also places a high value on military service.