Eagle feathers have long been important in Native American religious practice, but federal law generally bans possession of eagle feathers under stringent penalties. While the law authorizes the Interior Department to exempt Native American religious use, the Department has sometimes been stinting and ungenerous in its granting of permission. Although the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of Indian worshipers in a big 2014 case under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, uncertainty continues to linger. Now advocates have petitioned for a rulemaking that would expand the exemption from federally recognized tribes only to all sincere believers including members of state-recognized tribes, and would set the exemption on a firmer legal footing for the future by taking it through the notice and comment process. [Joseph Davis, Federalist Society, earlier; End the Feather Ban advocacy page]
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.
- Will the liberal wing’s success at piecing together 5-4 majorities survive Justice Kennedy’s departure? [Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson, Bloomberg] Fundamental restructuring of Supreme Court becomes a popular campaign issue with Democrats, and the dangers in that [Ilya Shapiro, Washington Examiner] More: Gorsuch, Kavanaugh differ often, we can see clearly now [Jonathan Adler and update]
- Federalist Society video on stare decisis with Roger Pilon, and related by Pilon on constitutional stare decisis;
- The high court decides relatively few admiralty/maritime cases but has heard more than one of them this term; one artist’s whimsical illustration [@CourtArtist on Twitter]
- In writing opinions, “the justices should be careful about naming politicians, especially when they name in order to make a point about the political process.” [Josh Blackman, The Atlantic]
- A constitutional right to religious exemptions from otherwise applicable laws? Eugene Volokh still backs Scalia’s logic on that, but it’s looking as if Court’s conservative wing may not. Cleanup in the Lemon aisle: Michael McConnell on Maryland Peace Cross case [Volokh Conspiracy]
- New resource: database of all Supreme Court nomination hearing transcripts that are yet available (with Kavanaugh’s still to come) [Shoshana Weissmann and Anthony Marcum, R Street]
- 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]
- In move to protect itself against patent trolls, Apple plans to close retail stores in the troll-favored Eastern District of Texas [Joe Rossignol, MacRumors; Sarah Perez, TechCrunch]
- Don’t: “Civil Rights Lawyer Faked Cancer to Delay Cases, Illinois Bar Authorities Say” [Scott Flaherty, American Lawyer]
- Don’t: “* lies about joint stipulation for extension * FABRICATES OPPOSITION BRIEF * constructs false chain of emails, forwards to partner. Dude, just doing the work would have been WAY less effort.” [Keith Lee thread on Twitter, with punch line being what the New York courts did by way of discipline; Jason Grant, New York Law Journal]
- I’m quoted disagreeing (cordially) with Sen. Mike Lee on whether criticism of judicial nominees at hearings based on their religious views oversteps Constitution’s Religious Test Clause [Mark Tapscott, Epoch Times; my 2017 post at Secular Right]
- Colorado may become 13th state to enact National Popular Vote interstate compact, an attempted workaround of the Electoral College. This critique of the idea is from 2008 [John Samples, Cato; Emily Tillett, CBS]
- New York law imposes strict liability on simple possession of a gravity knife, leaves enforcement to official whim, and lacks a mens rea (guilty mind) requirement. The Constitution demands better [Ilya Shapiro on Cato Institute cert amicus brief in Copeland v. Vance, earlier and more on such laws]
- Extended look at problems of the adult guardianship program in New York [John Leland, New York Times, earlier]
- “‘Professional Speech’: a Distinction without a Difference” after the NIFLA case [Cato podcast with Caleb Brown and Robert McNamara of Institute for Justice]
- New York enacts law imposing stiff new tax on opioid makers and wholesalers while forbidding them to recoup it by raising prices for buyers in other states. That won’t fly under the Dormant Commerce Clause, rules federal judge [Nate Raymond, Reuters/Insurance Journal]
- Should courts uphold laws grounded in part on hostility to a religious group, though rationalized on some other basis? Both right and left have trouble staying consistent [Ilya Somin]
- “Oxford University Gets Opposition To Its Attempt To Trademark ‘Oxford’ For All The Things” [Timothy Geigner, TechDirt]
- Australian corrections officials keep bringing the wrong Peter Brown to court as murder defendant [Lowering the Bar]
I’ve posted before about our July Cato conference on adoption, pluralism, and children’s interests. Now Cato’s bimonthly Policy Report has published highlights of the panel on anti-discrimination law and religious agencies, with speakers including Stephanie Barclay of BYU, Sarah Warbelow of the Human Rights Campaign, Robin Fretwell Wilson of the University of Illinois, and me.
One of my comments about pluralism and freedom in the system: “When I began reading about adoption, I realized for about the umpteenth time how glad I was to live in America.” Not that the system isn’t full of problems: on the grueling 26-year litigation in the New York City foster care case, Wilder v. Bernstein, see this 2011 piece of mine.
- State by state survey of 140 bills around the country on hot topics related to religious accommodation, including adoption, service refusals, campus speech, health care, etc. [Kelsey Dallas, Deseret News] And don’t forget to mark your calendar for two weeks from today when Cato will host our half-day conference on adoption, foster care, and pluralism with an array of fine speakers;
- What ails long-haul trucking in a time of prosperity? Federal break regulations, electronic monitoring, artificial constraints on parking among factors [Virginia Postrel, Bloomberg]
- Antitrust debates cut across political spectrum [Daniel A. Crane, Cato Regulation magazine] “Solicitor General Inveighs Against Antitrust-Law Revolution in SCOTUS ‘Apple v. Pepper’ Amicus Brief” [Corbin Barthold, WLF]
- These seem like well-planned-out laws: Google suspends running campaign ads in Washington and Maryland following states’ enactment of new disclosure laws [Michael Dresser, Baltimore Sun, Jim Brunner and Christine Clarridge, Seattle Times, Scott Shackford]
- “Missouri appeals court tosses $55 million Johnson & Johnson talc-powder verdict” [Reuters, earlier (courts reverse two other big verdicts) and generally]
- “What Secretary Carson Should Know about Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH)” [Vanessa Brown Calder, earlier]
- Judge orders Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to take CLE lessons as sanction for disclosure and discovery missteps [Lowering the Bar, Jonathan Adler]
- In 7-2 decisions, Supreme Court of Canada finds it “proportionate and reasonable” limitation on religious liberty for Ontario and British Columbia to refuse rights of legal practice to grads of conservative Christian law school which requires students to agree to refrain from sex outside heterosexual marriage [Kathleen Harris, CBC, Caron/TaxProf, Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada, Jonathan Kay/Quillette, earlier on Trinity Western]
- “Gratiot County, Mich. officials foreclose on 35-acre parcel worth $100k over unpaid $2k tax debt. They sell the property for $42k and keep $2k to cover the tax bill—and keep the other $40k as well. District court: ‘In some legal precincts that sort of behavior is called theft.’ Motion to dismiss denied.” [John Kenneth Ross, “Short Circuit” on Freed v. Thomas, United States District Court, E.D. Michigan]
- UK: “Obese people should be allowed to turn up for work an hour later, government adviser recommends” [Martin Bagot, Mirror]
- “Law Schools Need a New Governance Model” [Mark Pulliam, and thanks for mention]
- “Until 1950, U.S. Weathermen Were Forbidden From Talking About Tornados” [Cara Giaimo, Atlas Obscura]
I’ve got a piece up at the Weekly Standard on yesterday’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, on which a Supreme Court uniting 7-2 on result — but split five ways as to particulars — found the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to have operated unfairly, thus managing to dodge a substantive decision about the limits of forced expression. “Next time you run this process, skip the religious animus” is not the same as proclaiming a First Amendment right for the baker to turn down the wedding, though it may convey a significant message for the future in its own right.
More commentary: Ilya Shapiro (“the real action is foreshadowed by the concurring opinions”), Eugene Volokh (“will have little effect on other such same-sex wedding service provider cases, especially when government commissioners realize they shouldn’t say more about religion than is necessary”), John Corvino (opinion could put a brake on “rushing to dismiss our opponents as ‘despicable'”), David French (Kennedy’s emphasis on comparing the case with cake inquiries that offend other bakers bodes well for religious service providers), and Richard Epstein (“the worst kind of judicial minimalism”; what does the not-yet-legality of gay marriage at the time have to do with anything? and can Colorado reopen the case?), and earlier here. And you can listen to my guest appearance yesterday on the popular Clarence Mitchell IV (C4) show on Baltimore’s WBAL.