To the now-famous Obama “pen and phone” formula for circumventing Congress to change the law through executive fiat, columnist Debra Saunders suggests adding “…and teleprompter,” since blaming the opposition seems to be an integral part of the tactic. The President’s flippant, confrontational “so sue me” remark illustrates the problem: even when the executive decrees are not at war with the rule of law, as they often are, they often breach the spirit of comity between the branches.
As Saunders notes in quoting me, there are areas where I find some of the administration’s underlying policy objectives to be sympathetic or understandable — for example, in the effort to adjust banking regulation to accommodate legal marijuana commerce in Washington and Colorado. But “understandably motivated” does not equal “lawful.” On top of all that, many of the executive initiatives, typified by those on labor issues, are truly horrible as policy.
None of which is to endorse proposals to head off the problem by having Congress sue the President. Those will often collide with the Framers’ contemplated role of the courts as adjudicating true cases or controversies arising between parties, not umpiring every power dispute between the other two branches (plus: follow-up Saunders blog post).
Obama urged to raise taxes unilaterally on disfavored groups by regulation if Congress won’t act:
Out of deference to Congress, the Treasury Department has traditionally avoided making policy in areas where the legislative branch may act. “But when the legislative process is as broken as it has become today,” said Daniel N. Shaviro, a law professor at New York University, “it’s simply inevitable that administrations will care less about such comity, and be more willing to advance their policy views in controversial areas through the unilateral exercise of regulatory authority.”
That’s the ticket. We’ll call it “simply inevitable”! [Victor Fleischer, NYT "DealBook" via TaxProf; earlier on pen-and-phone executive orders here, etc.]
After a long career as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives deeply unsympathetic to business concerns, he became a restaurant owner in Washington, D.C., and discovered a lot of things worth knowing about how the world works [Thomas Heath, Washington Post] More: Greenfield.
Huge win for justice and good sense: facing a mounting public furor, “The Social Security Administration announced Monday that it will immediately cease efforts to collect on taxpayers’ debts to the government that are more than 10 years old.” [WaPo] Credit goes above all to the Washington Post and its reporter Marc Fisher for exposing the most outrageous features of the IRS’s refund-interception program last week, as recounted in this space; I like to think I helped as well by beating the drum early and repeatedly since then with Cato’s help. Overlawyered’s Facebook post on the subject has been seen by more than 60,000 people and shared more than 700 times in the past few days. (Have you liked us yet?)
The next step should be to establish for the public record how the provision in question got slipped into the farm bill, and at whose behest. Congress’s refusal to be forthcoming on this topic speaks volumes about its lack of a felt sense of responsibility toward the people it represents.
And a theme I’ve been repeating for almost as long as I’ve been writing about law: statutes of limitations developed in civilized legal systems for a reason. They protect us not only from cost, uncertainty, and the misery of legal process, but from injustice of a hundred other kinds, and they protect society itself from spiraling into a legal war of all against all. Stop trying to abolish them!
More: Ed Morrissey, Megan McArdle. And here’s a Cato podcast just out on the subject in which Caleb Brown interviews me on the topic:
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.
Paul Barrett at Business Week:
…even a politically moderate, law school-educated guy like me, someone who’s perfectly prepared to root for a suit against a dishonest insurance company or an exploitative landlord, finds himself increasingly dismayed by the uses to which our civil justice system is put.
That’s by way of introducing the lawsuit filed by 69-year-old Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), known as a big-time smoker, attributing her lung cancer to asbestos products made by more than 40 companies. Did we mention that representing her is the politically well-connected New York firm of Weitz & Luxenberg?
Yesterday I poked fun at a ridiculous piece at HuffPo (apparently written by an undergraduate who was given a byline as a university researcher) claiming that doubling wages at McDonald’s would be no big deal for its prices or business strategy. Well, hats off to HuffPo, which has now withdrawn the piece, apologized for its errors, and substituted a piece that tries to take a more sober look at the issue. I wonder whether Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who was completely taken in by the original article, is feeling sheepish now (via Twitchy).
The House Republican Study Committee calls for reconsideration of over-restrictive copyright law, then un-calls for it a day later [TechDirt, rueful update; Alex Tabarrok]
P.S. And check out this upcoming Dec. 6 Cato discussion of the newly published Copyright Unbalanced: From Incentive To Excess (Mercatus Center; Jerry Brito, ed.)
Martin Redish (Northwestern) and John Beisner (Skadden Arps) were among the panelists at the June 1 hearing, and cy pres slush funds were a particular focus of interest [John O'Brien/Legal NewsLine, Ted Frank/PoL]
The federal government should keep its busy hands off local traffic laws — and that goes for bribing states to its will, as well as issuing direct orders. Today the House will debate a measure that would make that point by cutting off a fledgling program that would pay states for doing what “distracted driving” crusader and DoT secretary Ray LaHood lacks the constitutional authority or political capital to do directly. I explain in my new post at Cato at Liberty.
DealBreaker and Prof. Bainbridge try to clarify what the proposed ban would do, and address fears that it would criminalize stock trading by persons not employed by Congress who learn of impending legislative developments. Related: Jim Copland.