Caleb Brown interviews me for this new Cato podcast on a knotty question: when should a state attorney general decline to argue in court in defense of a law he thinks unconstitutional? On the one hand, the legal profession’s norms strongly favor giving every client and cause its day in court, and practical dysfunction might result were cases routinely handed over to others to defend or dropped entirely. On the other hand, attorneys general like other officials take an oath of office to the constitution, which calls in doubt whether they should (or even may) use their skills on behalf of unconstitutional measures. Complicating matters: how should unconstitutionality be assessed, by way of the AG’s own judgment, by way of predicting how the highest relevant court would rule, or by some other method? What kind of difference should it make whether the assessment appears certain, very probable, or more ambiguous than that?
In recent weeks about a half-dozen Democratic AGs around the country have declined to defend their states’ bans on same-sex marriage, on the grounds that they are inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision of last year, while other AGs both Republican and Democratic have argued in defense of those laws. (Today, Kentucky’s attorney general announced that he will not appeal a federal court ruling requiring the state to recognize out-of-state marriages, although the state’s governor is stepping in to do so.) Finding either liberals or conservatives who have preserved entirely consistent positions on the issue, though, is not always easy. Former attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, a strong conservative, declined to defend a state education reform law last year, while in 2011 Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen declined to defend a state domestic partnership registry they deemed unconstitutional. In a case like the latter it was liberals who tended to criticize the refusal to defend a law, and conservatives who applauded — patterns that to some extent have been reversed this time around.
I’ve got a post at Cato at Liberty on today’s big decision in Peruta v. County of San Diego, in which a Ninth Circuit panel struck down a licensing scheme under California law in which even persons with legitimate self-defense concerns were unable to get permission to carry handguns outside the home.
More from David Kopel and Eugene Volokh on how “today’s decision creates a split of the Seventh and Ninth Circuits vs. the Second, Third, and Fourth Circuits,” on the court’s reasoning on open vs. concealed carry (an individual right to bear implies that at least one of the two must be allowed), and on how the substantial majority of states already have laws according respect to the freedoms at issue here (& welcome Jim Geraghty/NRO readers; I was also a guest on the Michael Graham Show Friday afternoon to discuss the ruling).
Presumptions of guilt without actual evidence? It squeaked by at the Supreme Court by only one vote, in a case that should be better known [my new Cato post]
“A group of snowboarders is suing Alta ski resort, claiming its no-snowboards policy violates their constitutional rights. ‘Alta’s snowboarding prohibition was initiated as a result of animus … towards the type of people they believed to be “snowboarders,”‘ claims the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court.” Alta, unlike other ski resorts to ban snowboarding, is on public land. [Salt Lake Tribune, AP]
Half of them arise from the White House’s ongoing effort to rewrite the terms of ObamaCare on the fly without actually going back to ask Congress to change the law. [Ilya Shapiro, Forbes]
Incidentally, the Executive Branch’s claim of power to suspend various provisions of the ObamaCare law at its whim stands on quite a different and weaker footing, constitutionally, from the well-established tradition of prosecutorial discretion (or the even more well-established power to pardon individual violators). In requiring the president to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, the Constitution’s Take Care clause necessarily implies that not all aspects of law enforcement can be suspended at executive whim, and discretion is necessarily narrower when it comes to the enforcement of statutes creating general civil schemes of private rights and regulation than it is in the realm of criminal enforcement, which necessarily labors under a scarcity of investigative and correctional resources. English kings like James II long asserted a “dispensing power” to suspend the operation of otherwise applicable laws at the royal will, but civil libertarians fought for centuries (and with much success) to cabin and curtail that power. Zachary Price of Hastings recounts some of this history, as well as contemporary readings of the Take Care clause, in a new article that is getting a lot of attention.
While on the topic: ObamaCare’s corporatism is sacrificing both the rule of law and transparency, argues Mickey Kaus [first, second] The program’s atomistic individualism [David Boaz] And Megan McArdle on the Administration’s “willingness to take large risks with the program’s stability” by altering rules.
I’ve long found it exasperating when would-be lawmakers take the view that it’s okay for them to vote for measures that might be unconstitutional because, after all, the courts are there to backstop things. The Michigan businessman who’s challenging Rep. Justin Amash in a Republican primary is just out with a particularly flagrant quote along those lines to which I respond at Cato at Liberty.
Whence Congress enacted and President Obama signed the NOEL law (Naughtiness Obliteration and Elimination Law of 2012):
…(1) Imposes a naughtiness “fee” of $50 upon each American child for every documented instance of their “naughtiness.” Revenues from this “fee” are to support the Federal Nice Fund (FNF), a newly created fund for public-works projects in NOEL-compliant states. (NOEL, § 3(a).)…
(4) To ensure full compliance, the NOEL bars any “person, group, or agency” that receives “funding, or any benefit from the federal government” from making a “material naughtiness determination” contrary to rules promulgated by the NRB, with the consequence of such a contrary determination being withdrawal of the federal funding and/or other benefit. (Id., § 22(z)(12)(F)(vii)(¥)(‰) (LOL)(¿)(?)(D).)…
Relax. It’s not real (yet). It’s just Prof. Kyle Graham’s constitutional law exam holiday card.
It’s debunked by Adam Liptak’s sources in a good piece this weekend: “If judicial activism is defined as the tendency to strike down laws, the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is less activist than any court in the last 60 years.” [New York Times; Jonathan Adler] More: Watch author Clark Neily, cited in Liptak’s article, speak recently at Cato about his new book Terms of Engagement.
No fewer than three friends of Overlawyered (and I’m probably forgetting some) have new books out on constitutional law and political theory. Clark Neily has just published Terms of Engagement: How Our Courts Should Enforce the Constitution’s Promise of Limited Government (more), Ilya Somin has just published Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter (review), and Josh Blackman has just published Unprecedented: The Constitutional Challenge to Obamacare (review; triple mini-review by Tim Sandefur of all three books with preview of two more). Congratulations to all!
I’m quoted in this report today in the Washington Times by Annie Yu:
“It’s often not realized that much of the civil rights movement in the 20th century was a movement for economic liberty against economic restrictions,” said Walter Olson, senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies. “Many of the landmark decisions in the courts were on the basis of economic liberty.”
David Bernstein of George Mason has written in detail about how the old Jim Crow system was based on massive regulation of private economic decision-making, and how reformers often managed to chip away at it in court by invoking rights of contract, property, and free association. A sampling here and here (Buchanan v. Warley), here (labor regulations, and related), here, and in papers here.
Writing at the New Republic, Simon Lazarus of the left-leaning Constitutional Accountability Center says “the recent surge of libertarianism among conservative academics, advocates, politicians and, of course, voters… has shown up among court-focused conservative constituencies and advocates and begun to register at the Supreme Court.” He cites the Cato Institute’s remarkably successful amicus curiae season (mentioned earlier in this space) and discerns in the majority an “appetite for doctrinal resets aimed at crippling federal regulatory power.”
In response, Randy Barnett, whose writings have been influential in advancing what libertarian tendencies may exist on the Court, writes “I wish it were so. … For a few reasons, the Court has become more ‘libertarian’ than its members.” Ilya Somin disputes Lazarus’s claim that the ObamaCare challenge invited the Court “‘to junk the “New Deal settlement” that bars constitutional interference with regulatory and safety net legislation.’ Even if the challengers had prevailed on every point at issue in that case, Congress would still have sweeping authority to regulate virtually any ‘economic activity,’ and state governments would have even greater regulatory authority than that.”
The new four-judge decision is unanimous, which means every judge to consider the matter has now agreed that the NYC Department of Health overstepped its legal powers. And they’re right, as I explain here at Cato. Earlier here, here, here, etc.
One person who presumably had not expected today’s result is Emily Bazelon at Slate, who has claimed that Judge Milton Tingling’s trial-court decision was somehow a venture into conservative activism. None of the New York appellate judges heard from today give evidence of sharing that view.
In my new CNN.com piece I argue that we shouldn’t let anger over the Zimmerman acquittal shred the rights of criminal defendants: “awarding new powers to prosecutors will likely mean that more black people will end up behind bars.” [CNN](& Steele; thanks for Instalanche to Glenn Reynolds)
P.S. Some may wonder whether a toughening of hate crime laws might be an exception to the general rule that minorities have much to fear from a broadening of grounds for prosecution. Leaving aside whether the hate crime issue has any relation to the Martin/Zimmerman case (few lawyers believe Zimmerman could be found guilty of a hate crime, and when the FBI investigated him last summer it found no evidence of racial motivation; more on this from Michelle Meyer), per FBI statistics for 2011, blacks are actually overrepresented among persons charged with hate crimes, at 21 percent compared with 14 percent of general U.S. population.
At Utah’s Deseret News, reporter Eric Schulzke writes on how “the U.S. Bill of Rights remains a work in progress 222 years after it became law — a continuing struggle between government claims for order and security, and the individual’s interest in clarity and freedom. This past year, the struggle played out in numerous areas, including free speech and search and seizure rules, to touch just a few.” He quotes me on the hope of bright-line rules establishing the public’s right to take pictures of law enforcement (recent Hawthorne, Calif. cause celebre here), on the need to focus on state and local police use of DNA databases before the inevitable abuses establish themselves, and on how four significant Fourth Amendment cases made it to the Supreme Court this year: “‘Here we are 200 years later, and a lot of big, interesting questions still haven’t been settled on what the Bill of Rights says about search and seizures,’ Olson said.” A sidebar reviews the year in civil liberties controversies.