Recently in Constitution Category

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court decided three consolidated cases involving the implied consent laws that all 50 states utilize in their efforts to combat the serious problem of drunk driving.  The implied consent laws imply a lawfully arrested motorist's consent to chemical testing as a matter of law and the state uses the test results as probative evidence of intoxication in a subsequent DUI prosecution.  Some motorists, usually repeat offenders, refuse requests for testing because they know that the Blood Alcohol Concentration ("BAC") results would impose harsher penalties than that of simply refusing a test.  The standard legal consequence in most states for test refusal is the suspension or revocation of a motorist's driver's license.  A refusal can also be admitted as evidence of intoxication in a DUI prosecution.  Based on recidivist drunk driver statistics, it does not matter if they have a driver's license or not.  The suspension or revocation of a driver's license does nothing to stop a person from drinking and driving if that person chooses to get into a car and drive while intoxicated.

Thirteen states gave some teeth to their implied consent laws and made it a crime to refuse testing.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided two cases this morning involving the reach of federal law under the Commerce Clauses of the Constitution.

Taylor v. United States, No. 14-6166, deals with one of the broadest laws for extending federal criminal jurisdiction to seemingly local cases, the Hobbs Act.  Any robbery affecting interstate commerce is within federal jurisdiction, and given the post-1937 definition of interstate commerce, that is a very broad sweep.  In today's case, any robbery of drug dealers can be a federal offense.

RJR Nabisco v. European Community, No. 15-138, involves civil suits under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.  The Court puts some limits on this much-misused procedure, blocking civil RICO suits where the acts are all outside the United States.

The Scalia Legacy

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The Constitution Center in Philadelphia yesterday hosted a discussion of the legacy of Justice Antonin Scalia, by anyone's reckoning a genius, a spectacular writer, and one of the most influential Justices of my lifetime.

My wife, Hon. Lee Liberman Otis, was one of the participants, all of whom, I thought, did a first-rate job.

The tape, a little more than an hour, is here.

A Second "Birther" Decision

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This decision was issued Tuesday by a judge in the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law:
After Justice Scalia's death, I wrote this post on his successor and the Great Question.  Today Juan Williams has an op-ed in the WSJ on the same theme:  The Never-Ending Battle Over How to Read the Constitution: Whether Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland is a 'centrist' distracts from a much bigger issue.

The article concludes:

In today's debate regarding Merrick Garland's nomination to the court, much of the discussion concerns whether or not he is a "centrist." But the real question, for both sides, is how he regards the Constitution. On that point it is clear from his record that Judge Garland is firmly in the "living document" camp. The push-pull over the Constitution and the Supreme Court is a battle without end, and in the current phase with the eight-person bench likely to divide 4-4 on important cases, the contrast between the court with Scalia on it and the court with Judge Garland or any other Democratic nominee couldn't be greater.
Of course, there is no chance whatever that President Obama will nominate anyone on the correct side of the Great Question, and if Hillary Clinton is elected in November there is no chance whatever that she will.  A week ago, Stanford Law Professor and former Circuit Judge Michael McConnell suggested a course of action in this op-ed, also in the WSJ.

The Evolving Constitution

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One of the classic debates in constitutional law is about whether the Constitution "evolves."  This is, for example, at the center of much of the discussion concerning the death penalty and the Eighth Amendment, as "currently understood."  The battle between Justice Scalia's concurrence in Glossip and the two-Justice dissent filed by Justice Breyer is an apt illustration.

One of the country's leading senators has seen the Constitution evolve dramatically about a question now much in the news, given the pending Supreme Court nomination.
Lee Liberman Otis has this post at SCOTUSblog with the above title, noting how her constitutional law professor, Antonin Scalia, had a view of the Marbury case different from what is usually taught in law school. 

This reading of Marbury, I later realized, was integral to how Justice Scalia saw his job - not as the shaper of the Constitution, but as its servant.   And while, to be sure, there is something to be said for both ways of viewing the case, it turns out that there is a lot more to be said for Justice Scalia's than most of the professoriate had been inclined to think.

Law As Politics By Other Means

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A perfect example of the wrong way to think of the Supreme Court comes to us from President Obama's former White House Counsel.  Kathleen Hennessey and Mark Sherman report for AP:

"The Supreme Court has not reflected where the American people have been on issues," said Gregory Craig, who served as White House counsel early in Obama's first term. "This is the first opportunity in many, many years to bring the court more in line with the American people."
In this way of thinking, the Supreme Court is nothing but a third house of the legislative branch.  It's job is to take the pulse of current public opinion and be "in line" with current views, declaring as a constitutional mandate whatever that current view is.

That is not how it is supposed to work.  Fundamental rules are written into the Constitution when they are agreed by a strong national consensus to be so fundamental as to place them beyond the short-term reach of ordinary legislation.  They can be changed when (and legitimately only when) a strong enough consensus to the contrary has formed to clear the high hurdle for a constitutional amendment under Article V.

The Next Justice and the Great Question

Bill noted yesterday the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia.  His passing is a great loss to the country and the Constitution.

The Great Question of constitutional law is not hard to state.  Is the Constitution a contract between the people and their government, with the power to change its terms reserved to the people, or is it an empty vessel for five unelected, unaccountable justices to pour their policy preferences into?

Legitimate judicial review is to prevent the legislature from crossing a line that the people wrote into the Constitution.  Illegitimate judicial review is creating lines that the people did not write into the Constitution, striking down laws enacted by the people's representatives or by the people themselves on a pretense that they violate the Constitution but actually just because the judges disagree with the people -- "substitute their own pleasure to the constitutional intentions of the legislature," as Hamilton put it in Federalist No. 78.

There are two primary dangers in appointing Justices to the Supreme Court:  appointing people with views on the wrong side of the Great Question and appointing people who have not thought much about it at all.

The Oregon Occupiers

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The WaPo has several articles on the Oregon wildlife refuge occupiers:  Sarah Larimer and Niraj Chokski on the eight in custody, Michael Miller on LaVoy Finicum, who was killed, and Sarah Kaplan, Adam Goldman, and Mark Berman on efforts to recover the refuge from the remaining occupiers.  In the WSJ, Jim Carlton and Devlin Barrett also cover the latter point.

Personally, I have little use for people who protest by occupying property that is not theirs and has nothing to do with the dispute.  That goes for the Occupy movement of a few years ago, the current protest, and all the way back to the Vietnam War when protesting students staged sit-ins at campus facilities that had nothing to do with the war.

The sit-ins at segregated lunch counters during the civil rights movement were different.  The lunch counter operators were perpetrators of the injustice at issue.

The main beef of the current occupiers is the violation of their constitutional right to graze cattle on land that does not belong to them without paying fees to the owner of the land, i.e., the federal government.  I don't recall reading that in the Constitution, but maybe it's part of the "living document."
I should have listened to Yogi Berra and not made predictions, especially about the future.  The U.S. Supreme Court's orders list this morning does include certiorari grants as well as denials, and the Court did take up United States v. Texas, No. 15-674, even while turning down Arpaio v. Obama, No-15-643.

Questions Presented follow the break.

Connecticut Death Penalty Hearing

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Generally speaking, legislatures can make reductions in punishments retroactive to old cases or not, as they choose.  The Connecticut Legislature's repeal of the death penalty was unambiguously not retroactive, and politically it would not have passed without that savings clause.  The ink was not dry on the bill before the anti-death-penalty crowd attacked that clause of their own bill.  In a shocking act of judicial activism, the Connecticut Supreme Court in Santiago v. State declared the death penalty unconstitutional despite having rejected that claim many times over the years and despite the established history of nonretroactive changes in sentencing law in that state.

Last Thursday's News Scan noted the oral argument in the case of State v. Peeler, in which the state asks the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.  Video of the argument is now available here.

The defense lawyer's argument is really painful to watch.  He just keeps insisting over and over that the Santiago decision must be respected as final.  So why did Santiago itself not respect as final all the earlier cases rejecting constitutional attacks on the death penalty?  The defense side seems to think that precedent is a ratchet.  No decision favoring the prosecution is ever final.  Every one is subject to constant attack.  But once the defense wins a point, it becomes absolutely sacrosanct.  This is utter nonsense.

A decision should receive no more respect as precedent than it gave to precedent.

Sheriff Joe v. Barry O.

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On January 15, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider in conference whether to take up the case of Arpaio v. Obama, No. 15-643.  This is a challenge to the effective nullification of large portions of immigration law through nonenforcement.  The D.C. Circuit dismissed on standing.  See my prior post.

The certiorari petition is here.  The SG's brief in opposition is here.  Sheriff Joe's reply was filed December 30, but I haven't found it online.

The petition, by Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, has 10 questions presented.  Not the way I would have done it, but we all have our own style.

On the same conference list, presenting largely the same issues, is United States v. Texas, No. 15-674.  Texas won in the Fifth Circuit at the preliminary injunction stage.  SCOTUSblog's case page has the pertinent documents.  In this case, the Solicitor General is the petitioner.  Unlike us mere mortals, the SG gets a large portion of his certiorari petitions granted.  That's good for Sheriff Joe, because if they take one it makes it considerably easier to take the other.

Judges, Conscience, and Dictatorship

Judge Harry Pregerson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently took senior status.  That means he may still sit on three-judge panels but will no longer participate in the court's decisions to rehear a particularly important case before an 11-judge panel or sit on such larger panels.  Maura Dolan has this article in the L.A. Times.  It is mostly favorable, as articles on such occasions tend to be, but there is one dissenting view expressed.

The headline is, "Judge Harry Pregerson, leaving the bench at 92, always followed his conscience."  Sounds nice, doesn't it?  I mean, who could criticize a person for following his conscience?  Well, there is a big difference between "conscience" in personal conduct and "conscience" as used in this context.  Here, "conscience" is little more than a high falutin word for "opinion."  On matters of great public controversy, both sides believe they are right, and a judge who decides on the basis of which opinion he agrees with rather than on the basis of the law is acting as a dictator, not a judge.

Do Not Forget. Do Not Repeat.

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Fourteen years ago today, the worst crime in American history was committed.  For a time, we came together and realized that business as usual would not do.  Some people have very short memories, and many people have slipped back into the casual attitude toward national security that enabled Al Qaeda to perpetrate this crime.  Some contend that the Constitution requires us to dismantle the measures we put in place that successfully prevented a repeat of this crime.  It does not.

The great Justice Robert Jackson nailed it in 1949:  "The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact."

Add to this the famous saying of George Santayana:  "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

We must not forget.  We must not repeat.

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