The video of Cato’s 18th Constitution Day forum, held September 17, is now online, with a line-up of eminent speakers including Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSBlog, Jan Crawford of CBS News, and Judge Thomas Hardiman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, who in the annual B. Kenneth Simon Lecture discussed judicial independence and service during good behavior. I moderate the third panel, on Property Rights, Antitrust, and the Census.
- Does the Constitution allow Arizona to frame a new tax in such a way that de facto, though not de jure, nearly all of it falls on out-of-state residents? [Ilya Shapiro, Cato]
- Writer and star of one-act play “isn’t a fan of America’s founding charter — which may be why her audiences are such big fans of hers.” [Andrew Ferguson, The Atlantic]
- Pentagon has lately developed aerial surveillance technology with near-panopticon capabilities. OK to deploy over home territory? [Cato video with Patrick G. Eddington, Arthur Holland Michel, and Jenna McLaughlin on Michel’s book Eyes in the Sky: The Secret Rise of Gorgon Stare and How It Will Watch Us All]
- Ilya Shapiro discusses New York Rifle and Pistol Association v. the City of New York [National Constitution Center We the People podcast; earlier here, here, and here] “Maryland’s gun permit system is challenged — and it’s probably unconstitutional” [my post at Free State Notes] “3-D Printed Guns & the First Amendment” [Federalist Society Policy Brief video with John Stossel and Josh Blackman]
- Tradcons are kidding themselves if they imagine they can get a better constitutional deal outside the current legal conservative movement with its commitment to a broadly fusionist originalism, argues John McGinnis [Liberty and Law] “Originalism as ideology” [Michael Greve]
- “Guam officials seek to hold referendum allowing voters to express their opinion about the future of the relationship between Guam and the United States but will only permit ‘Native Inhabitants of Guam’ to vote. Ninth Circuit: Which means restricting voting based upon race, which is explicitly prohibited by the Fifteenth Amendment.” [Institute for Justice “Short Circuit” on Davis v. Guam]
In March the Connecticut Supreme Court, over a dissent from three of its seven justices, ruled that the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) did not pre-empt a state unfair-trade-practice statute for purposes of allowing suits against the maker of the rifle used in the Sandy Hook massacre — this even though the firearm in question was never marketed or sold to the killer, who stole it from his mother who had purchased it lawfully long before. As expected, gunmaker Remington has now filed a certiorari petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking for a ruling clarifying the scope of the federal law.
The Cato Institute together with the Independent Institute has filed an amicus brief in the case [Trevor Burrus, Cato] urging the high court to review the Connecticut decision and accord the intended broad effect to Congress’s pre-emption of state litigation intended to achieve gun control by other means.
The brief emphasizes two lines of argument that I find exactly to the point. First, under the right circumstances, the workings of tort lawsuits can impinge on individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution: exorbitant libel verdicts can menace freedom of speech, and similarly stretching of tort and public nuisance law can endanger Second Amendment rights. It is worth making explicit the parallels between the Supreme Court’s acknowledgment of the first in New York Times v. Sullivan and Congress’s recognition of the second in its passage of PLCAA.
It is noteworthy that in both cases the line-drawing came in response to litigation campaigns intended to challenge, or chip away at, the rights in question. By organizing costly libel suits against defendants that included the New York Times, some Southern partisans hoped to silence voices critical of the status quo in their part of the country (and deter others). Decades later, advocates of gun control teamed up with government officials in a litigation campaign intended to force the firearms industry into negotiations by threatening it with bankruptcy through litigation costs, whether it won or lost its cases.
Writes David Kopel: “In both cases, the stakes are the same: whether the Supreme Court will allow the misuse of tort suits to destroy an enumerated right.” What the Supreme Court is being asked to do in this case, namely give effect to Congressional intention in a statutory interpretation case, is less ambitious and far-reaching than what it was asked to do in Sullivan, namely craft entirely new Constitutional law to respond to the problem.
Taking up an issue that the U.S. Supreme Court has never pronounced on — whether or not the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause applies to corporations as well as to individuals — the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that it does. Cato, together with the Independence Institute, had filed an amicus brief in the case [Eugene Volokh; Jodee R. Rankin, Washington Legal Foundation; decision in Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, Division of Workers’ Compensation v. Dami Hospitality, LLC; earlier]
- Nice little Supreme Court you got there, be a shame if anyone came around to mess it up, say Sens. Whitehouse, Blumenthal, Gillibrand, Hirono, and Durbin in incendiary “enemy-of-the-court” brief [Robert Barnes, Washington Post/Laredo Morning Times; David French, National Review; James Huffman, Inside Sources]
- Cato podcast triple-header, all with Caleb Brown: Trevor Burrus and Ilya Shapiro on Gundy v. U.S. and the limits of Congressional delegation, Ilya Shapiro and Clark Neily on the aftermath of double-jeopardy case Gamble v. U.S., and Trevor Burrus on the First Amendment case Manhattan Community Access Corporation v. Halleck (cable public access channel not a state actor);
- Criminal forfeiture, where used, should track lines of individual owner and asset responsibility, not the loose all-for-one joint-and-several-liability standards of some civil litigation [Trevor Burrus on Cato certiorari petition in Peithman v. U.S.]
- Federalist Society National Student Symposium panel on “The Original Understanding of the Privileges and Immunities Clause” with Randy Barnett, Rebecca Zietlow, Kurt Lash, Ilan Wurman, and moderated by Judge Amul Thapar;
- On the independence of administrative law judges, issues left over from Lucia v. U.S. are now coming back up in SEC proceedings [William Yeatman on Cato Fifth Circuit amicus brief in Cochran v. U.S.]
- Take-land-now, pay-later procedures may get pipelines built faster but at the expense of property owners’ rights. SCOTUS should act to assure just and timely compensation [Ilya Shapiro on Cato certiorari petition in Givens v. Mountain Valley Pipeline]
Crossing to join his four liberal colleagues, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion in yesterday’s Davis v. U.S., finding unconstitutionally vague a federal sentence-enhancement provision prescribing “harsher penalties for those who use guns ‘in connection with certain other federal crimes.'” [Jack Rodgers, Courthouse News] His opinion begins:
In our constitutional order, a vague law is no law at all. Only the people’s elected representatives in Congress have the power to write new federal criminal laws. And when Congress exercises that power, it has to write statutes that give ordinary people fair warning about what the law demands of them. Vague laws transgress both of those constitutional requirements. They hand off the legislature’s responsibility for defining criminal behavior to unelected prosecutors and judges, and they leave people with no sure way to know what consequences will attach to their conduct. When Congress passes a vague law, the role of courts under our Constitution is not to fashion a new, clearer law to take its place, but to treat the law as a nullity and invite Congress to try again.
It was the third rights-of-the-accused case this term in which Gorsuch took the liberal side, and put him at odds once again with Justice Brett Kavanaugh. In his dissent yesterday, after crediting tougher federal laws with at least partial responsibility for the drop in crime since the 1980s, Kavanaugh noted that the sentence enhancement has been applied without seeming difficulty in thousands of cases of violent offenses since its enactment:
The Constitution’s separation of powers authorizes this Court to declare Acts of Congress unconstitutional. That is an awesome power. We exercise that power of judicial review in justiciable cases to, among other things, ensure that Congress acts within constitutional limits and abides by the separation of powers. But when we overstep our role in the name of enforcing limits on Congress, we do not uphold the separation of powers, we transgress the separation of powers….
The Court usually reads statutes with a presumption of rationality and a presumption of constitutionality.
While both were appointed by President Trump, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh have been anything but in lockstep.
Yesterday’s biggest news from the Supreme Court was not its 7-2 upholding of the Bladensburg, Md. Peace Cross (American Legion et al. v. American Humanist Association et al.; earlier). That outcome could readily have been foreseen given the result in earlier cases: Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, to say nothing of the five conservatives, are prepared to uphold “longstanding monuments, symbols, and practices” that may include religious content but do not impose any significant harms on those of other faiths or none. This World War I memorial qualifies.
Instead, the big news is the outcome in Gundy v. U.S. (earlier), a case over whether Congress can delegate to the Department of Justice the power to decide how severe the penalties will be in one application of the sex offender registration law. While the critique of excessive delegation did not carry the day this time (the vote was 4-3-1 with Justice Brett Kavanaugh not participating), Justice Samuel Alito indicated that he would be inclined to look at the issue in a future case, and Kavanaugh is thought (from his D.C. Circuit jurisprudence) to be similarly minded. If so, then a future case could establish the important principle that Congress must spell out penalties and prohibitions in law itself, rather than punt such issues to executive agencies, at least in criminal matters and perhaps also in some regulatory ones. That’s huge, since the Court has rejected improper-delegation theories since the New Deal.
Justice Neil Gorsuch’s dissent in Gundy, together with his scalding dissent (earlier) in the double jeopardy/dual sovereignty case Gamble v. U.S. on Monday, makes him the libertarian hero of the week.
- My comment on the House-passed H.R. 5: “Proposed Equality Act would 1) massively expand federal liability in areas unrelated to sex, gender, or orientation; 2) turn 1000s of routine customer gripes into federal public-accommodations cases; 3) squeeze conscience exemptions hard. All are good reasons to oppose.” More: Scott Shackford, Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Hans Bader, and earlier here and here;
- America is not in a constitutional crisis: “Politicians have become incentivized to declare constitutional crises because it enhances their own importance as saviors and demonizes their opponents as illegitimate.” [Keith Whittington; Vox mini-symposium with Ilya Somin and others] Mike McConnell vs. Josh Chafetz on whether the current Congressional subpoena fights are really that different from politics of the past [Jonathan Adler] Calm, down-the-middle analysis of the issues raised by the Mueller report [Cato Institute chairman Bob Levy]
- “Mercedes Goes To Court To Get Background Use Of Public Murals In Promotional Pics Deemed Fair Use” [Timothy Geigner]
- Bizarro sovereign-citizen notions are found in the background of more than a few serious financial fraud cases [Ashley Powers, New York Times]
- Divestment and sanctions by state governments aimed at other U.S. states is a bad idea that never seems to go away. Now it’s being floated in Maryland, against Alabama [my Free State Notes post]
- “A federal judge in Texas wants you to know she’s sick and tired of whiny lawyers” [Justin Rohrlich, Quartz from December, Brad Heath on Twitter; Align Technology v. ClearCorrect, Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore]
This term’s win in the Excessive Fines Clause case of Timbs v. Indiana comes as the latest in a series of legal actions waged against governments’ revenue-driven pursuit of law enforcement forfeitures, fines, and fees, and more important battles lie ahead [Scott Bullock and Nick Sibilla, The Atlantic]
- You don’t need to be a religious believer to think the Supreme Court should uphold the continued display of the Bladensburg war memorial cross [George Will/syndicated, Eugene “Jesse” Nash IV and Victoria Gomes-Boronat, Capital News Service] Cato filed a brief in the case [Ilya Shapiro, Trevor Burrus, Patrick Moran, and Michael Finch on The American Legion v. American Humanist Association]
- “The Second Amendment In The New Supreme Court” [Federalist Society conference with Renee Lerner, Stephen Halbrook, Mark W. Smith, and others; Halbrook on the Court’s decision to hear New York State Rifle and Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, earlier on which] Map of state changes liberalizing concealed carry law since 1986 [Eugene Volokh]
- In the spirit of balance, here’s a more cheerful and positive view of an Article V convention than the one I take [Paul Starobin, American Affairs Journal]
- “Bruno Leoni and the Search for Certainty in Law” [Alberto Mingardi, Law and Liberty]
- Oregon carbon emission credit system falls more heavily on out-of-state than on in-state suppliers, and the Dormant Commerce Clause has something to say about that [Ilya Shapiro on Cato cert amicus brief in American Fuel & Petroleum Manufacturers v. O’Keeffe]
- Would a wealth tax be constitutional? [Richard Epstein, Hoover]