George Leef reviews a new book by John Compton, political scientist at Chapman University, on how evangelical anti-vice campaigns against gambling, liquor and other social ills helped undermine the Constitution’s curbs on centralized power, paving the way for later Progressive gains.
The tension between moral reformers who insisted on a virtually unlimited view of the “police powers” of government (i.e., to regulate in ways intended to protect the health and morals of the citizenry) and the Constitution’s framers, who feared the results of allowing factions to use government power for their ends, was crucial in shaping constitutional law during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The book shows that by the time the New Deal’s aggressive expansions of federal power came before the Supreme Court, its earlier decisions in favor of approving legislation against liquor and lotteries had so undermined the defenses of property rights, contract, and federalism that it was nearly inevitable that the Court would cave in.
For example, when the Court decided the 1934 case of Blaisdell v. Savings and Loan, gutting the former understanding of the impairment of contracts clause, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes cited an earlier decision on interstate shipment of lottery tickets which had acquiesced in a new extension of the police power, on the grounds that a previously sacrosanct constitutional barrier could be “qualified” when a state needed to “safeguard the interests of its people.” [Forbes]
I will not say I told you so for fear of coming off as ungracious, but Coyote has no such compunction:
I could find about a thousand far more sympathetic examples of folks screwed over by government land use regulations — e.g. people whose puddle in the backyard is suddenly a wetlands that they can’t build on. But for some reason Conservatives all rushed to pile on this one example. Stupid.
Only a thousand?
The American Family Association’s zany yet high-profile Bryan Fischer is in the news for calling for an “Underground Railroad” by which his fellow believers would “rescue” kids from gay parents. In my new Huffington Post piece, just up, I trace two main threads in his argument — that gay parents are a menace to their kids, and that extralegal steps are called for to put “God’s law over man’s” – and show how the same messages have been emanating lately from some rather more respectable social-conservative quarters, in Princeton, N.J. and elsewhere. The controversy develops in part from the Miller-Jenkins custody and kidnapping case, long a topic of coverage in this space; in the latest development, Mennonite clergyman Kenneth Miller (applauded by Fischer) has just gone on trial for allegedly abetting the spiriting of Isabella Miller-Jenkins (no relation), now 10, out of the country in defiance of court orders.
Fischer now says he wasn’t suggesting that kids of same-sex couples be abducted from their beds by Christians unrelated to those children, but he definitely is encouraging believers to use extralegal force in cases that pit one of theirs against a gay parent in a custody dispute. He hints broadly that the next test case after Miller-Jenkins will be that of a divorced woman he describes who is losing custody to her gay ex-husband, and who just might disappear with the child into the “Underground Railroad” he promotes. Meanwhile, the Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va., whose faculty has multiple connections with Lisa Miller’s side of the Miller-Jenkins litigation, stirred criticism when related civil-disobedience precepts reportedly emerged as part of the curriculum in a class.
It might be added that this, like so many unsettling developments on the Right, is not without its parallels on the Left. Since the 1980s and the famous Elizabeth Morgan case, some feminists have operated a so-called Underground Railroad to enable mothers to defy court orders and abduct their kids away from fathers with shared custody or visitation orders. Usually some allegation is made of abuse, but the tactic has been used and applauded even where a judge has considered the abuse allegations and declined to accept them. (Law prof Nancy Polikoff discusses her mixed feelings about the Miller-Jenkins case here).
Reacting to the potential for lawlessness in this realm, Congress has passed at least two statutes of relevance: the International Child Abduction Remedies Act, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988, and the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
Update Aug. 15: Jury convicts Kenneth Miller.
It’s almost entirely off-topic for this site, but some readers may be interested in my new piece for Huffington Post (my first in that venue) poking some additional holes in an already much-criticized study by Mark Regnerus finding bad life outcomes among young adults who report that a parent had a same-sex relationship. Sample:
The Witherspoon Institute, discussing the study’s findings, adds another clue: “48% of the respondents with a GF [gay father], and 43% of the respondents with an LM [lesbian mother] indicated that they were either black or Hispanic.” Those numbers sound awfully high, and they are. They far exceed the roughly 30-percent black-plus-Hispanic share of the U.S. population. Why would young adults with minority backgrounds and a high rate of economic distress report having far more than their share of gay parents? Are they somehow more likely to grow up in homes with actual gay parents? Or are their parents somehow being overclassified as gay?
Putting together that with other anomalies in the study data, I conclude that the study does not come even close to measuring what it claims to be measuring. See also: Amy Davidson, New Yorker, among a whole mini-literature of responses.
Some believe the Obama camp has spent a fortune in lawyers’ fees responding to far-fetched “birther” lawsuits, but John Bringardner at Legal Blog Watch is skeptical about that claim. Speaking of which, don’t you wish more conservatives would keep their distance from the site WorldNetDaily? [Jon Henke]
In 2007, the Texas Supreme Court unanimously decided Borg-Warner v. Flores, holding that a defendant in an asbestos case was not liable unless its product was a “substantial factor” in causing injury.
But there are now bills in the Texas House and Senate, SB 1123 (recently reported out of Senate committee) and HB 1811, that seek to undo this by defining “substantial factor” to merely mean that a product “contributed to the [plaintiff’s] cumulative exposure”—whether or not other defendants’ products were far more responsible for a plaintiff’s injury. The effect of this rollback would be to return Texas to the role of asbestos magnet, since it could conceivably create indiscriminate liability for hundreds of innocent businesses in any given case. The effect will be very similar to the infamous Lipke rule in Madison County, Illinois that extracted billions of dollars from the innocent this decade.
Texans for Lawsuit Reform has a fact-sheet, as does the Texas Civil Justice League.
Social conservative Maggie Gallagher, with whose views we have been known to differ, suggests a tort of “facilitating” adultery that would apply to businesses that “that intentionally and explicitly attempt to profit from acts of adultery”. [NRO "Corner", first, second posts]
P.S. Eugene Volokh now has a more lengthy and serious treatment: “you can love marriage and hate adultery without thinking that more tort liability will make things better.”
“The Bush administration, as expected, announced new protections on Thursday for health care providers who oppose abortion and other medical procedures on religious or moral grounds.” (NYT via GruntDoc). I briefly criticized this bad idea in a post last week at Secular Right, and there are hopes that the incoming Obama administration will rescind it. P.S. Longer post now up over there.
[walks up to blackboard]
I will NOT take at face value anything Bill O’Reilly says regarding the supposed “War on Christmas”.
(my post at Secular Right just now; earlier).
Occasionally a reader will ask why I’m averse to linking to the conservative publication WorldNetDaily. Reason #17,945: the birth certificate/citizenship trutherism by which WND promotes litigation aimed at keeping Barack Obama from being inaugurated President. (David Weigel, Slate, Dec. 4).
Update: Supreme Court turns down first of such cases (Doug Mataconis, Below the Beltway, Dec. 8).
I’ve been taking a hand in a new blog project called Secular Right, which describes itself as follows:
We believe that conservative principles and policies need not be grounded in a specific set of supernatural claims. Rather, conservatism serves the ends of “Human Flourishing,” what the Greeks termed Eudaimonia. Secular conservatism takes the empirical world for what it is, and accepts that the making of it the best that it can be is only possible through our faculties of reason.
Recent writings by Heather Mac Donald and David Frum come in for attention. Amusingly, I’m the only one so far posting under his or her real name, although the identities of some of the others are not all that hard to guess under pseudonyms such as “Bradlaugh” and “David Hume”. It should also be apparent that there is a wide range of views represented, including some that are at quite a distance from my own, but that should help keep things interesting. The site has already drawn notice from Ann Althouse (and more), “Tapped”, Eve Tushnet, John Derbyshire/NRO “Corner”, and Gene Expression, among others.