Posts tagged: Constitution

The Government Lost Citizens United in the First Oral Argument

By , February 7, 2011 12:00 pm

Adam Liptak struggles to find a distinction between corporations in general and the so-called institutional media (which are usually corporations) in particular, in his piece on Citizens United and campaign finance reform. Of course, the is no distinction, or there shouldn’t be.

But that’s beside the point, the point at which the government lost the case. Liptak hints at it in his story when he writes,

Consider this telling exchange between Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and a lawyer for the Obama administration at the first of two arguments in Citizens United. The lawyer, Malcolm L. Stewart, said Congress had the power to regulate corporate speech about political candidates under the First Amendment.

“Most publishers are corporations,” Justice Alito said. “And a publisher that is a corporation could be prohibited from selling a book?”

It was a hypothetical question, but it cut to the core of the meaning of the press clause of the First Amendment. There was a lot of back and forth, and other justices jumped in. In the end, though, Mr. Stewart gave a candid answer.

“We could prohibit the publication of the book,” he said.

But Stewart was not talking about just any book with his answer. No, he was responding to a very specific question about a very specific kind of book.

I was out for a run and listening on my MP3 player to the exchange between Stewart and various Justices on this point (courtesy of the Oyez Project), and I remember saying to myself, “he [Stewart] just lost this case.” And this is where he lost it:

Justice Roberts: If it’s a 500-page book, and at the end it says, and so vote for X, the government could ban that?

Mr. Stewart: Well, if it says vote for X, it would be express advocacy and it would be covered by pre-existing Federal Election Campaign act provisions . . . we could prohibit the publication of the book using corporate treasury funds.

So, did you get that? One request that you vote for candidate X, at the end of a very long book, and zippo facto manulo, the government could ban that 500-page book published by a corporation under pre-Citizens United law, at least according to the government in the first oral argument. No wonder the Court ruled the way it did. No wonder, at least to me.

Liptak is right, however. The government backed away from that argument in reargument. Solicitor General Elena Kagan argued the case this time around, and she went nowhere near Stewart’s bold claim. But the damage was done, and in my view, the case had already been lost because, fortunately, five Justices couldn’t see their way clear to ban a 500-page book because of one pitch at the very end, a simple plea to “vote for X.”

So Now the Constitutionality of Obamacare is “A Very Difficult Question”?

By , February 4, 2011 12:53 pm

For the longest time, supporters of Obamacare in general and the individual mandate in particular have criticized constitutional arguments against the law as unserious. Declares Edwin Chemerinsky, dean and distinguished professor of law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law,

Those opposing health care reform are increasingly relying on an argument that has no legal merit: that the health care reform legislation would be unconstitutional.

That’s changed, as Josh Marshall noted in December.

And with that, the goal posts move. Now the argument is that the recent Federal District Court rulings against the bill will move slowly through the appellate court system, allowing support for the bill to grow. In fact, that’s the government’s strategy at this point, according to the report. Will the stall work? It just might. The report in Bloomberg quotes Sidley Austin attorney Carter Phillips opining on the probability that the Supreme Court will fast track the cases (2 for, 2 against at this point). With certitude that would make Chemerinsky proud, Phillips, who has argued more than 60 cases before the Court, says the chances are “zero.” And why does he say that?

I do not think the court will be inclined to decide this question without the benefit of having the views of at least one and probably more than one court of appeals on a very difficult question of constitutional law. (emphasis mine)

So arguments that once had no merit are now “very difficult question[s].” Wonder what Chemerinsky thinks?

Good Idea, Bad Execution

By , February 1, 2011 9:49 am

In an effort to make the case that the so-called Individual Mandate under Obamacare is unconstitutional, a group of South Dakota state lawmakers introduced a bill that would require South Dakota citizens 21 and over to buy a firearm “sufficient to provide for their self-defense.” In explaining the purpose behind the proposed law, Rep. Hal Wick (R-Sioux Falls) said,

Do I or the other cosponsors believe that the State of South Dakota can require citizens to buy firearms? Of course not. But at the same time, we do not believe the federal government can order every citizen to buy health insurance.

He should require citizens–including himself–to buy and read a pocket Constitution: States, unlike the Federal government, do not have enumerated powers under the U.S. Constitution. The knock against the Individual Mandate is that it exceeds the reach of Congress’s enumerated and implied powers.

Blogging the Federalist Papers – #47 (Madison)

By , January 19, 2011 10:18 am

I’m reading the Federalist Papers for a class I’m teaching. I won’t write about them in chronological order because I’m teaching them as they relate to what we’re studying at the time. For example, this week we’re studying the three branches of government, separation of powers, and checks and balances. Thus, we’ve read Numbers 47, 48, 70, and 78.

In #47, Madison discusses the separation of powers and spends much of his time addressing his opponents’s argument that, he writes, the proposed Constitution violates

the political maxim, that the legislative, executive, and judiciary departments ought to be separate and distinct. In the structure of the federal government, no regard, it
is said, seems to have been paid to this essential precaution in
favor of liberty.

Madison acknowledges the truth upon which “the objection is founded,” but argues, of course, that the charge is ill founded and wrong, appealing first to Montesquieu, then to the constitutions of each of the 13 colonies to prove his point. He ends by writing,

I am fully aware that among the many excellent principles which they exemplify, they carry strong marks of the haste, and still stronger of the inexperience, under which they were framed. It is but too obvious that in some instances the fundamental principle under consideration has been violated by too great a mixture, and even an actual consolidation, of the different powers; and that in no instance has a competent provision been made for maintaining in practice the separation delineated on paper. (emphasis supplied)

In #48, Madison says he will show why the same doesn’t apply to the document he helped create.

Key quote from #47: “where the whole power of one department is exercised by the same hands which possess the whole power of another department, the fundamental principles of a free constitution are subverted.”

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