Posts tagged: Law

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.”

Thomas Friedman, Call Home — Now!!

By , February 5, 2011 12:00 pm

China law to make children visit parents.

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.

Buy High, Sell Low

By , December 16, 2010 2:48 pm

Megan McCardle says it better than I’ve heard it in a long time: “We say give me liberty or give me death, but the moment death approaches, we are ready to sell out liberty.”

Ain’t it the truth.

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