Posts Tagged ‘constitutional law’

Emergency state powers during an epidemic — and what happens after it’s over

The framers of American government were only too well aware of epidemics as a danger to human life (here’s a list of more than 30 such outbreaks that occurred between 1763 and 1783; Alexander Hamilton and his wife Elizabeth, after both contracting yellow fever and surviving, then underwent quarantine). And American constitutional law has from the outset recognized and countenanced a “police power” in state government during true emergencies to intercept the sorts of otherwise harmless movements and actions that can turn well-meaning individuals into vectors of physical harm to follow citizens. At the same time, as they also knew, freedom would count for little were these emergency powers to set the measure for what government can do to citizens in circumstances short of that dire urgency.

I’m grateful to Ingrid Jacques of the Detroit News for quoting me in her column on this subject yesterday:

“’We have no collective memory of going through this kind of thing,’ says Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies. ‘It’s an invasion of rights we normally wouldn’t let the government get away with.’

“We’re all getting a crash course on what exactly the government can do in times of crisis. It turns out, it’s a lot….

“… Once the virus subsides, limited??government champions should watch whether all the regulations in effect during the threat go away, too.

“’The government must put away these dangerous weapons once the emergency is over,’ says Olson.”

For a sense of the sweeping powers governments sometimes assert in the name of quarantine, isolation and lockdown—definitely not meant as an endorsement—check this New York Times account. (It at least quotes a former NSC official who says “The American way is to look for better outcomes through a voluntary system.”)

Because courts applying constitutional law tend to treat government power as at its legitimate zenith during a “hot” emergency, and (this is nothing new) grant maximum short-term deference to the authorities at such times, ordinarily robust constitutional rights bend at least until the immediate threat to life has passed.

Freedom to assemble and freedom to worship are central to the First Amendment, yet courts have upheld and would uphold bans on religious and political assemblies in times of epidemic. Second Amendment rights that courts would ordinarily enforce, such as to operate a gun store or get processing for a required permit, may also be suspended without a short-term judicial remedy. Indeed, the judicial remedy needed to enforce any right may fail if the courts are closed owing to an epidemic.

True emergencies do not last. When this is over, as it will be, both the courts’ vigilance and ours must be directed toward making sure the government promptly and fully relinquishes whatever emergency powers it has flexed. We will face a body of opinion intent on pressing that exact advantage, as in this Chicago Sun-Times column from Friday:

If we can fight a war against an enemy we can’t see or touch, we certainly could use draconian measures to fight the gun violence in our neighborhoods as well.

Watch out for this kind of thinking. We’re going to hear a lot more of it.

[cross-posted from Cato at Liberty]

COVID-19 pandemic roundup

Federal charges belong before federal courts

“How many unconstitutional administrative trials must one endure before getting the chance to argue your case in an Article III court? According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the answer is at least two.” [Russell Ryan, Ashley Parrish, Ilya Shapiro, and William Yeatman on Cato amicus brief in Lucia v. SEC, a case that has already made a trip to the Supreme Court]

State constitution clauses that require compensation for “damaging” property

Most of us are familiar with the Constitution’s Takings Clause, which requires the federal government to pay compensation when it takes private property. Virtually all state constitutions contain similar provisions. But twenty-seven state constitutions go further than that by requiring the government also to pay compensation for “damaging” or “injuring” property.

Until now, these “Damagings Clauses” have largely been ignored by legal scholars, particularly constitutional law scholars—and even by property rights advocates. But an outstanding 2018 article by Professor Maureen “Molly” Brady (who has just moved from the University of Virginia to Harvard) could help change that. She sheds light on the origins of these clauses in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the ways in which they have been largely gutted by court decisions, and what can be done to resuscitate them today.

Of the many lessons, one is simple: getting a constitutional amendment on the books is only half the battle, and often not the more difficult half. [Ilya Somin, Jotwell]

The Equal Rights Amendment expired. Can it be revived?

Lawmakers in both houses of the Virginia legislature have approved resolutions endorsing the Equal Rights Amendment, a measure proposed by Congress in 1972. An Associated Press story, in line with proponents’ characterization, describes the actions in Richmond as a “ratification,” as “final,” and as making Virginia “the critical 38th state.” Is that the case?

The Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice has issued an opinion concluding that because the requisite number of states did not ratify the Equal Rights Amendment before Congress’s previously imposed deadline, it cannot be adopted now without starting the amendment process over. [Keith Whittington] The ruling binds executive branch agencies including the National Archives, which per AP “said it would abide by that opinion ‘unless otherwise directed by a final court order.'”

Proponents say the time limit written into the original ERA shouldn’t count because it appeared in the measure’s preamble rather than its main text, and argue that some combination of Congress and the courts are free if they like to count as valid all extensions (whether assented to by a supermajority or by a bare majority), revival measures, and ratification votes taking place at later times, while not counting as valid five states’ rescissions of earlier approval. The case of the 27th Amendment, which was proposed with no time limit and did not reach the requisite number of states until more than two centuries later, suggests that contemporaneous “meeting of the minds” is not so intrinsic a feature of the amendment process as many legal scholars once assumed; on the other hand, a 1921 Supreme Court case, Dillon v. Gloss, confirms that Congress did not act unconstitutionally in prescribing a time limit. [more: Michael Stokes Paulsen, Yale Law Journal, 1993]

The result before long could be a face-off in which advocates claim the ERA has been duly adopted as the 28th Amendment to the Constitution, while others say it hasn’t. [Mike Rappaport, Law and Liberty]

Proposal: small claims courts for police misconduct

A proposal from my Cato Institute colleague Clark Neily: small claims courts for low-level police misconduct. Ilya Somin praises it as among the few constitutional law ideas “that are simultaneously good, original, and potentially useful in the real world.” [Volokh Conspiracy] More: Howard Wasserman (similar ideas), Scott Greenfield and some other thoughts on small claims.

Supreme Court roundup

Not unconstitutional for county to jump off probation-for-profit carousel

“Craighead County, Arkansas officials use private company to run probation for people convicted of misdemeanors. The company charges probationers monthly fees, other fees on pain of arrest, which results in more fees. (On one day in 2016, of 34 defendants brought to court, only six were charged with crimes. The remaining 28 were in jail for failing to pay the company.) Voters elect new judges who promise to cease using the company, erase outstanding debts. Company: Which violates the Contracts Clause, Takings Clause. Eighth Circuit: Can’t sue the judges over that. The judges are entitled to modify probation conditions and discharge debts.” [John Ross, Institute for Justice “Short Circuit” summarizing Eighth Circuit ruling in Justice Network v. Craighead County]

Constitutional law roundup

  • “North Dakota legislators attempt to retroactively change the terms of contracts between manufacturers and dealers of farm equipment. Well, crack open your Con Law casebook because that violates the Contract Clause of Article I, Section 10. So holds the Eighth Circuit (over a dissent), treating the reader to a history of the clause from 1789 to the New Deal and beyond.” [IJ “Short Circuit” on Association of Equipment Manufacturers v. Burgum]
  • Subsidies conditioned on, and meant to promote, an official orthodoxy: California moves to approve $50 million state fund for film and TV production earmarked for producers who “share” state’s “values” on reproductive rights [Eugene Volokh]
  • Not your usual combination: Cato Institute, Brennan Center, and Sierra Club join in amicus brief to challenge President’s powers under National Emergencies Act to divert funds appropriated for other purposes to construction of U.S.-Mexico wall [David Post]
  • Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain on textualism and the future of the federal judiciary [Federalist Society]
  • “No person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law,” declares the constitution of Arizona. While judges in Washington have developed a distinctive jurisprudence based on the similar clause in their state’s constitution, the Arizona judiciary as yet has not [Timothy Sandefur]
  • Does the Commerce Clause really empower the U.S. Congress to criminalize acts of animal cruelty “affecting” interstate commerce, whatever that means? [Jacob Sullum]

Supreme Court roundup

A Cato-centric selection:

  • Massachusetts bans the most popular variety of self-defense firearms and that violates the Second Amendment, as SCOTUS should make clear [Ilya Shapiro and James T. Knight II on Cato Institute amicus brief in Worman v. Healey] Congress has never passed a law criminalizing the accessories known as bump stocks and the Executive branch can’t change that on its own [Trevor Burrus and James Knight, Guedes v. BATF]
  • Three more Cato certiorari amicus briefs: With return of Little Sisters case, Court should make clear that scope of accommodation under Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not for executive agencies to expand and contract accordion-like [Ilya Shapiro and Sam Spiegelman] Berkeley, Calif.’s ordinance requiring disclosure of the purported risks of cell phone radio frequency (RF) exposure poses First Amendment questions of forced commercial speech [Ilya Shapiro and Michael Collins on return to SCOTUS of CTIA v. Berkeley] Supreme Court has rejected attempt to use Alien Tort Statute to assert universal jurisdiction over human-rights abuses in overseas business, but Ninth Circuit still hasn’t gotten the message [Ilya Shapiro and Dennis Garcia, Nestle v. Doe]
  • Summing up the last Court term: speech by Miguel Estrada and a short video with Ilya Shapiro for the Federalist Society;
  • “Fearful that the Supreme Court will reject a broad interpretation of the CWA’s [Clean Water Act’s] scope, environmentalist groups have been seeking to settle the Maui case before the Court rules.” [Jonathan Adler on Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund]
  • Another case of surprise plain meaning? Advocates argue that Congress didn’t really end Indian reservation status for much of the state of Oklahoma even if everyone at the time thought it did [Will Baude on Sharp v. Murphy; earlier on surprise plain meaning]
  • “An Introduction to Constitutional Law: 100 Supreme Court Cases Everyone Should Know” [new book by Randy Barnett and Josh Blackman; described here, and discussed in this Cato video]