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How can someone whose entire political resume involves a few months in the Senate possibly think themselves qualified for the
Senate [Correction: White House]? What insane egotism and hubris!
I have said from day one that establishing the no-fly zone in Libya was a very bad policy for the United States to adopt. No interests of the United States (other than our general humanitarian desires for all nations to be free) were being impacted by Qaddafi's brutality toward his own citizens. Intervening, I said, was more likely to cause more people in that region to dislike us. I particularly noted that we would be held responsible for civilian casualties.
In response, several people said, more or less: "What civilian casualties? We're only going to target Qaddafi's air force and maybe some maneuvering ground troops away from civilian areas." Well, today U.S. forces seem to have fired on a batch of innocent civilians.
According to this story in the U.K.'s Daily Mail, friendly residents of a nearby village came out to welcome U.S. pilots after their F-15 crashed. The U.S. rescue helicopter coming to retrieve the pilots opened fire on the approaching villagers (presumably because they assumed that any Libyans walking towards our pilots had a high risk of being hostile).
This is the first event. There will be others. War is MESSY. The U.S. does everything humanly possible to minimize civilian casualties caused by its armed forces, but "humanly possible" is a severe limit on our abilities in that area. And the rest of the world, and that region in particular, doesn't give us much credit for our efforts, but rather treat each civilian death as something akin to an act of murder on our part.
My point, of course, is not to criticize the troops in the rescue helicopter who opened fire. I have no doubt they were acting honorably, and solely to protect our downed pilots from a potential threat. My point is that such misunderstandings will ALWAYS occur in any military action, no matter how limited. And every single one of them will do substantial damage to the U.S. reputation in that world, and allow al Qaeda and our other enemies in the area even more ammunition to attack us for "invading" their lands and killing their people.
That by itself is not a sufficient reason to stop us from taking necessary action to defend American interests. But it IS good reason to stop us from taking action for solely humanitarian reasons.
In the wake of this Newsweek piece, there will be smugness in other countries about how illiterate Americans are in civics, but my question is: "Compared to which other country?" I wonder, for example, what percentage of a thousand Britons could correctly answer analogous questions—the century in which the restoration took place? The king who signed Magna Carta? How many members has the House of Commons? Who is the President (i.e. Chief Justice) of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom? For what is Mary Wollstonecraft famous? Which Prime Minister, while serving as Home Secretary, created the first modern police force? And so on. I think most Americans could tell you which side won the civil war; I am less sure that most Britons could tell you how the wars of the roses concluded.
And don't say that Britain has much more history to remember! That's nonsense. Anglo-American civilization has a shared history until that unpleasantness in the eighteenth century; everything that went before is as much a part of American history as it is part of Britain's—those colonists didn't arrive from mars, they arrived from Britain—and if it isn't taught that way in our schools, it should be.
Two more things to say about the NW piece. First, I question that the American political system is "relative[ly] complex"; it seems quite straightforward to me, in broad outline, which is the level of generality whence the citizenship test views matters. Their lead example demonstrates how lame the point is: In contrast to Europe's easy-to-describe parliaments, they say, "we’re saddled with a nonproportional Senate…." How to describe the Senate? Well, "each state has two Senators." Done. Next question, m'lud? And while I agree that there is a tangle of jurisdictions at the local level in many states, and that there is an alphabet soup of federal agencies, you must realize that the citizenship test does not ask candidates to delineate the jurisdictions of the United States Maritime Administration versus that of the Federal Maritime Commission, or the interrelationship of the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive with the FBI and CIA. Nor, to my knowledge, has anyone ever been asked, still less failed for want of the ability, to describe the job of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
Second, and on the other hand, I do agree with this:
The current conflict over government spending illustrates the new dangers of ignorance. Every economist knows how to deal with the debt: cost-saving reforms to big-ticket entitlement programs; cuts to our bloated defense budget; and (if growth remains slow) tax reforms designed to refill our depleted revenue coffers. But poll after poll shows that voters have no clue what the budget actually looks like. A 2010 World Public Opinion survey found that Americans want to tackle deficits by cutting foreign aid from what they believe is the current level (27 percent of the budget) to a more prudent 13 percent. The real number is under 1 percent. A Jan. 25 CNN poll, meanwhile, discovered that even though 71 percent of voters want smaller government, vast majorities oppose cuts to Medicare (81 percent), Social Security (78 percent), and Medicaid (70 percent). Instead, they prefer to slash waste—a category that, in their fantasy world, seems to include 50 percent of spending, according to a 2009 Gallup poll. ¶ Needless to say, it’s impossible to balance the budget by listening to these people.
That's certainly true. But guess what also isn't on the citizenship test? A detailed examination of the candidate's understanding of the latest federal budget. It's important that debate proceed from an understanding of real numbers, but to sweep that under the broad header of civics seems like a reach. Nor is it as worrying, to my mind. The information is easily available, and when problems arise, they can be corrected, but when an interlocutor fundamentally misunderstands the nature and structure of our government, that is a much harder thing to refute.
Since the UN's decision to take action on Libya, a number of liberal, libertarian, and centrist critics have said that American involvement without a declaration of war by Congress violates the Constitution, for only Congress has the power to declare war. The problem with these theories is their assumption that any military action constitutes "war."
The challenge here is that the original semantic meaning of the word "war" is extremely broad: Most founding-era dictionaries define it as the exercise of violence under sovereign command. See, e.g., Johnson's 1768; Sheridan's 1789. That definition is so broad, however (it would encompass police using billy-clubs against protesters), and the founding generation's experience of real war was so recent, that it's tough to imagine that the original understanding of the power to declare war encompassed literally any use of force—or even just any use of military force. Cf. Easterbrook, Text, History and Structure in Statutory Interpretation, 17 Harv. J. L. & Pub. Pol. 61, 67 (1994) (“a dictionary … [is] a museum of words, an historical catalogue”). This supposition is confirmed by the manner in which it was used in the early Republic. When this country declared war on Great Britain in 1812, Congress declared "that war be, and hereby is declared to exist, between the United Kingdom … and the United States…." Quoted in Story's Commentaries, § 1169. What did they mean? It couldn't be that battle was joined at that very moment; "war" clearly meant something both more and less—that is, something distinct—than actual military action. And we know that in fact, the President can use military force—can exercise violence under sovereign command—without Congressional authorization in at least two instances: to repel military invasion of the United States, and when someone else declares war on us. See Prize Cases, 67 U.S. (2 Black) 635, 668 (1862).
Against this we may stack a long line of American military action under Presidential direction without a declaration of war. If it is true that maintaining a no fly zone over Libya (or, for that matter, assisting our allies in doing so, a distinction which may or may not matter) is making war, then President Reagan was a fortiori making war when he invaded Grenada, and a fortissimus President Truman made war in Korea. Come to think of it, I don't remember President Bush 41 seeking a declaration of war for our first action against Iraq or President Clinton seeking a declaration of war for our Kosovo intervention. This history pushes the theory that any use of military force constitutes "war" for Constitutional purposes almost to the breaking point.
Perhaps I'm speaking only for myself in this, but I think that while conservatives are open to tradition being corrected by text, we're instinctively reluctant to assume—and slow to conclude—that they clash. That what might look like tension between the two at face value actually is. (On the other hand, if that's true, why aren't most conservatives also Catholics or Orthodox? But I digress.) Consequently, when I look at these factors—when I see a Constitutional term which isn't as clear as it seems at first blush, and a long tradition of Presidents using the military without Congressional approval—I'm hesitant to say that what looks on the surface like tension between what Obama is doing and what Article I requires is in fact tension. I am not convinced that the Constitution requires Congress to act before the United States can.
I have not yet said anything of the war powers act. 50 U.S.C. § 1541 reads the Constitution broadly to require the "collective judgment of both the Congress and the President" before "the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, and to the continued use of such forces in hostilities or in such situations." If the Constitution doesn't confine the President, perhaps this does? No. The original meaning of "the executive power," bolstered by the commander-in-chief power, suggests to me that the President has the power to undertake military actions short of the original understanding of "war," and if this is so, the War Powers Act would unconstitutionally abridge that power—a point urged by everyone from scholars to Presidents since the day it passed. The executive power understood by the Framers included all aspects of waging war, see Story, Commentaries, § 1165, and the Framers chose to divide that power by giving the power to declare war to Congress. The implication must be that the remainder of that power remained in the executive.
Moreover, at risk of seeming blasé, I think the practical stakes are particularly low in this case. Congress is actively deliberating the President's budget for this year; if it is displeased by President Obama's actions, it has ample opportunity to make that known by defunding him with unusually immediate effect. Who knows: Maybe this will break the budget logjam, bringing together deficit hawks and anti-war Democrats to shut the government down? As Justice Story remarked, in Britain—where the king was far more free to use military force than is our President, the power of the purse "is found to be abundantly sufficient to protect the nation against any war against the sense of the nation, or any serious abuse of the power in modern times." Id., § 1486.
I doubt that law—the sum of our Constitution, tradition, and statutes—prevents the President from doing what is right in Libya; he should do so forthwith.
Maybe there will be developments in Libya, or maybe there's something you just want to talk about.
The untold story of Vladimir Kamarov. I couldn't bear to click on the audio link; reading was horrifying enough.
Via email@example.com, "National Popular Vote" urges me to tell my Indiana representatives to back a General Assembly bill that will change the way Indiana votes in the electoral college. They must not have heard: The representatives they have in mind have fled to Illinois! And even if they were doing their jobs, the only encouragement I would give them is to not pass this disastrous and dubious proposal.
The flaw in NPV's thinking is on stark display when it writes:
Because electoral votes are currently awarded to the candidate who gets the most popular votes inside each separate state, the second-place candidate has won the Presidency in 4 of our nation's 56 presidential elections. This is a 1 in 14 failure rate.
That's a non sequitur unless we are willing to join NPV in making the erroneous assumption that the college "fail[s]" if it doesn't choose the candidate with the most popular votes. It doesn't. The electoral college has arguably "failed" only three times: 1800 (after which the defect was remedied), 1824 (which involved third- and fourth-party candidates, something I disapprove of anyway), and 1876. And even if these can be characterized as failures (rather than, say, contingencies, see Federalist 68), the last one was over a century ago. So why is it that the left keeps coming back to this proposal? It's no mystery; Tully well-described both the answer and its flaws in 2006: "Because switching would give near-complete control of presidential elections to large urban areas, and eliminate the pesky influence of the rest of the nation. Duh. Which is what the Electoral College was designed to prevent, by providing extra "weight" to rural areas and smaller states." Chancellor Kent was prescient: "if ever the tranquility of this nation is to be disturbed, and its liberties endangered by a struggle for power, it will be upon this very subject of the choice of a President." 1 Commentaries 273-74.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect is that such proposals raise constitutional difficulties, and it is hard to see how they could be resolved in advance of a Presidential election, and it would presumably only be challenged when it mattered—which takes us into Bush v. Gore territory. Election rules should ideally be settled clearly before it is apparent which candidate they will favor, otherwise their adjudication after the fact will always be open to the kind of criticism attracted by Bush. And, of course, the higher the office, the higher the stakes, and so the higher the temperature/volume of the debate. This is all the worse in the case of the NPV proposals, because the Constitutional question isn't clear either way; I've said before that NPV agreements may violate the compact clause. At a minimum, an Atascadero State Hospital-style clear statement rule should be required to give Congress' approval, and even then, I think that such a move so fundamentally subversive of our constitutional order would still be unconstitutional (cf. U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton.) But it is entirely unclear what the Supreme Court would do. There is no directly-controlling or even roughly analogous case to which the court could point to justify its decision, and so any decision will ignite furious responses from partisans of the losing side. The result would therefore be a political and legal firestorm with the clock ticking louder every day.
If this foolish proposal is doing the rounds at the state capitol, I shall write to urge its defeat, and urge our readers to do likewise.
More from Eliot Spitzer.
Time is of the essence, as the possibility that the opposition forces will be entirely defeated becomes more real every day, and the efficacy of a no-fly zone, or any other military support, becomes more uncertain, and surely more costly in military terms.
The Arab League has passed a resolution supporting a no-fly zone. The French—the French—have recognized the opposition government as the legitimate government of Libya and have spoken in favor of military action in support of the opposition. England is supportive of a no-fly zone.
Yet the United States waits. And waits. Repeatedly President Obama has stated that Qaddafi has lost his legitimacy, and that he must go. President Obama did not reject intervention on the basis that sovereignty was inviolate, or that Libya was not a vital interest, or that civil war did not provide a basis for our intervention. Just the contrary; he has repeatedly stated that Qaddafi must go, and has put the credibility of his presidency behind the notion that Qaddafi will depart. Yet President Obama also states that we need international support for intervention. And he has defined that international support as a United Nations Security Council resolution. Nothing else will suffice.
Oh, and by the way, that U.N resolution we've been waiting for? They just passed it.
About a year ago, I noted a troubling religious freedom story in Canada. Requests by Muslim women who wear niqabs to be photographed by a female employee had customarily been granted, but Quebec's "growing resistance to the accommodation of minority religious practices" brought that to a halt. (The niqab, remember, is the full-face veil; it is entirely different from the hair-covering hijab.) In contrast to the famous Florida case where a woman was denied permission to wear a niqab in her drivers' license photograph (Freeman v. Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles), I found Quebec's decision unreasonable. The province had imposed a burden on religious exercise without any kind of countervailing state interest. The women were not refusing to be photographed, and there was no indication that they would be unwilling to work with the province to ensure that they showed up at a time when a female photographer was available. Moreover, the women asking for accomodation were a drop in the bucket when compared to the total pool of applicants—ten of 118,000 in the preceding year—which eliminated any possibility for the state to claim hardship or undue burden on it from accommodation. Cf., in a concededly different context, 29 C.F.R. § 1605.2(c).
This story, however, presents a much harder case. The Supreme Court of Canada will hear an appeal from two men accused of sexually assaulting a female relative. When the case came to trial, the alleged victim insisted on wearing her niqab while testifying (which I assume that is her practice—that it's not a gimmick for the trial), and the defendants claim that this violated their right "to face their accuser in court." (That's the Globe & Mail's characterization of the right; I don't know if that's the actual language in Canada.)
At first blush, this looks more like Freeman. Set aside the confrontation issue for a minute. We traditionally assume that there is a strong interest in weighing the demeanor—including the facial expressions—of a witness, see Aaron Williams, The Veiled Truth: Can the Credibility of Testimony Given by a Niqab-Wearing Witness be Judged Without the Assistance of Facial Expressions?, 85 U. Detroit Mercy L. Rev. 273, 274 et seq. (2008), and the niqab obviously precludes that. There are, however, reasons to question that assumption, to think that such assesments may be unhelpful—indeed, positively misleading. Compare id., generally, with Mark Spottswood, Live Hearings and Paper Trials, 38 Fla. State U. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2011) (available at SSRN) (arguing that physical cues generally impair, not aid, credibility judgments). If Spottswood is right, the state interest in refusing witnesses leave to wear a niqab would seem to collapse.
And then there is the confrontation issue. I do not have an answer on this, and since there has been a lot of interesting discussion in the comments over the last few days, I'd like to invite comment. Because this is happening in Canada, the focus here isn't necessarily on the legal question as we would perceive it in the United States (U.S. Const., amdt. VI; Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004)), although that is obviously related. If the right to confrontation is guaranteed and would be violated by allowing a person to testify wearing a niqab (or any other headgear which obscures their appearance despite physical presence in the courtroom—say, a hockey mask or balaclava), the state interest in refusing witnesses leave to wear such headgear becomes, it would seem to me, all-but irresistible. But is that so? And is the right to confrontation violated? My guess is that the answer is that it does not violate the right to confrontation. While I said I'm not looking exclusively at American law, I should nevertheless note that cases like Ohio v. Roberts, Maryland v. Craig, Crawford, and Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts involve the absence of witnesses from the courtroom, not the obscuring of their identity; Coy v. Iowa, where a screen was placed between the defendant and his accusers, is closer but still different. I welcome comments.
There is some truth to Matt Yglesias' observations about the dificult conditions of state government imposed by certain populist conceits; I agree that short legislative sessions and small salaries fail to achieve their intended goals while imposing significant costs. But the elephant being ignored here is that the greater paralysis problem comes from Yglesias' side. As soon as a legislature acts in any way contrary to liberal dogma, there is a rush to the courthouse door in an attempt to thwart what the legislature has done. It happens every time an abortion bill is passed, it happens with any bills involving illegal aliens (to name but three, voter ID in Indiana, SB1070 in Arizona, and the Oklahoma litiation I wrote about here) and if Wisconsin Democrats haven't filed suit against a union bill which required herculean efforts by the legislature to enact, they soon will. The Supreme Court has tried to cut back on this (emphasizing severability in Ayotte and the limits of facial challenges in Carhart, Crawford, and Washington State Grange), but the success of these moves remain to be seen and they in any event do nothing to damp litigation in state courts. To be sure, this sometimes happens on the right—the ink was barely dry on Obamacare before the first complaints were being filed—because sometimes legislatures do overreach. But the problem seems far more prevalent on the left.
Jami Floyd offers this post about Justice Thomas. Before we start, a brief reminder of neutral principles (see this post for more detail). Generally-speaking, to avoid lapsing into partisanship, one should consider specific situations through the lens of neutral principles: It's not necessarily a problem that a conclusion happens to fit your partisan needs, but it should rest on a principle you would be willing to follow in other situations to which it applies, even situations where it might hurt your interests. (For instance, tea partiers are big on the Constitution but many of them recoiled from Snyder v. Phelps.) Put another way, we must decide this case in this way because it is an instance of a more broader class of cases which are all properly decided in this way. (That's a paraphrase of Golding, Principled Decisionmaking and the Supreme Court, 63 Colum. L. Rev. 35, 40 (1963).)
The biggest problem with Floyd's piece—as with many critiques of Thomas, it seems to me—is its failure to adhere to neutral principles. Her criticisms weigh as heavily on several justices, including Justice Marshall, as they do on Thomas:
At bottom, Floyd doesn't like Justice Thomas' jurisprudence. But there seems to be something more. Or rather, there's either something more or the bottom line is inartfully camouflaged. Look at this backhanded insinuation that Thomas hasn't carried his intellectual weight since his appointment:
Conservatives who would suggest that my criticism of Thomas is purely ideological should note that I have no similar criticism of Justice Antonin Scalia. … Not only was Scalia deserving of the post when nominated in 1986, after four years on the D.C. Circuit, but he has more than carried his intellectual weight ever since.
Justice Scalia isn't in the crosshairs here, so the compliments are really designed solely to highlight the contrast being drawn with Thomas. It's therefore not as clear as Floyd would have us believe that her criticisms aren't motivated in large part by ideology. Similarly, we are told that Thomas "clings" to the jurisprudential tag assigned to him, "strict constructionist." Is Thomas a strict constructionist? He doesn't call himself one, and it's hard to imagine how a strict constructionist could join the sovereign immunity cases—Alden, etc. Lay critics—and fans, for that matter—continue to label Scalia as a strict constructionist (an obsolete and faulty dog whistle for "conservative") although he isn't, so I must wonder if the same is true here. And even if Thomas is a strict constructionist, it seems bizarre to refer to someone as "clinging" to their judicial philosophy. No matter how little she might like Black's dissent in Griswold, would Floyd say that he clung staunchly to textualism?
So perhaps there is more here than pure disagreement. If we take Floyd at her word that her criticisms have nothing to do with ideological differences, what are they about? Senator Reid got into this same pickle a few years ago; he made the same rhetorical comparison to Scalia, but when pressed couldn't articulate anything coherent or accurate about why Thomas was more egregious. In Reid's case, it was obvious that he had a a priori opinion of Thomas that wasn't grounded on any real knowledge of the latter's work or that of the court. And what of Floyd? Reid may at least claim the excuse that he was speaking extemporaneously, but Floyd's written piece is presumptively a thought-out expression of her views. Yet the real basis for her difference with Thomas (if it is not in fact about race or ideology) is evasive. It seems to be this: Thomas holds "extrem[e]" views and is "ineffective." But these are strange arguments to make. If Floyd thinks Thomas' views are extreme and/or wrong, why would she want him to be more effective in advancing them? And while one can seriously argue that Thomas is more radical than Scalia, Floyd doesn't seem to have such arguments in mind. I get no sense that Floyd is reflecting concern for, say, Eastern Enterprises v. Apfel, Gonzales v. Raich, or Morse v. Fredrick, cases in which Thomas would go much further than Scalia. Instead, she simply fabricates an easily-disproved soundbite to support her claim that Thomas is too extreme:
While others may prefer to focus on the silence of the judge from the bench, the more salient point is the silence of his pen. Like the late Chief Justice Rehnquist before him, Chief Justice Roberts rarely assigns majority opinions to Thomas. Whether this is because of Thomas’ lack of intellectual heft (as his critics on the far left might like to assume) or because of his staunchly conservative views (my personal opinion) the result is the same: Thomas does not write for the majority very much because he cannot persuade a majority of justices to join him.
In the first instance, Floyd is wrong. (She seem to have uncritically adopted and then seriously distorted a far more modest point made by Mark Tushnet, viz. that for strategic reasons, Thomas got fewer assignments than he might have, see A Court Divided 85-86 (2006).) Chief Justice Rehnquist sought—and Chief Justice Roberts has followed suit—to assign each justice an equal number of majority opinions over the course of the term, see Rehnquist, The Supreme Court 260 (2d ed. 2004), and the numbers bear this out. Last term, OT 2009, the court issued 73 signed opinions for the court, so with nine justices, each should have written about eight. Thomas wrote eight. In OT 2008, the court issued 74 signed opinions for the court, so with nine justices, each should have written about eight. Thomas wrote nine. I could go on, but you get the point. Nor is Thomas assigned only unanimous opinions; for example, Magwood v. Patterson and 14 Penn Plaza v. Pyett were 5-4, and the lopsided 7-2 margin of Washington State Grange perhaps does an injustice to Scalia's dissent. [Update, 3/29/11: And this very term, Thomas writes for a 5-4 majority in Connick v. Thompson.]
Even if she was right, however, it is hard to see how it is Thomas fault that he is unable to persuade eight judges not of his choosing, each with strong views on the law of his position. In his 2006 commencement address at Georgetown, our fearless leader quoted from Justice Frankfurter's address Chief Justices I have Known, 39 Va. L. Ref. 883 (1953): the notion that Chief Justice Taft would soothe the court's troubled was "funny" to Frankfurter: "that Taft would just smile and then Holmes would say, 'Aye, aye, sir,' or Justice Van Devanter would say, 'For ten years I've been disagreeing with Holmes, but now that you've smiled at both of us, why we just love each other.'" And it seems much the same here. Does Floyd suppose that if Thomas would be no more extreme on the issue of abortion than Scalia, and would just smile more sweetly at Justice Ginsburg, that he could persuade her to join him more often in abortion cases? Just yesterday, I was quoting from Minn. GOP v. White: "even if it were possible to select judges who did not have preconceived views on legal issues, it would hardly be desirable to do so. Proof that a Justice’s mind at the time he joined the Court was a complete tabula rasa in the area of constitutional adjudication would be evidence of lack of qualification, not lack of bias." Justices arrive on the Supreme Court with legal views that may not be amenable to being changed—and besides, wasn't one of Floyd's criticisms precisely that he wasn't a judicial thinker of Supreme Court caliber? The two criticisms are incoherent: a judge who has a carefully thought out position is even less likely to be able to "deal" with justices who do not share his or her views.
For all these reasons—the factual errors, the dubious points and insinuations, the ad hoc standard by which she judges Thomas without any indication that she would apply it neutrally—Floyd's piece fails. All that emerges clearly is that Floyd, like Senator Reid, has a strongly negative opinion of Thomas, whether in fact based on race or ideology, and that like Reid, she is uncomfortable just saying so. Instead of bouncing back and forth between various "top ten slams on Clarence Thomas," it would be more honest and more effective to frankly acknowledge the real source of her beef with Thomas—no matter what it is. If it is his extremism, make that point, and make it clearly.
Finally, almost as a postscript, I will add this. There are legitimate criticisms of Justice Thomas. One that I saw recently (sorry, I don't have a link handy) had some bite in it: Thomas' silence at oral argument, the authors argued, denies litigants the opportunity to address his concerns. That is a good criticism; twenty years ago, Judge Easterbrook wrote: "Just as parties may choose the terms of their contract, they may choose the subjects of their litigation. Resolving a case on a ground not presented denies the parties this autonomy and increases the risk that an uninformed opinion will impede rather than promote commerce. It is hard enough to navigate when the court sticks to questions fully ventilated by counsel." Frank Easterbrook, Afterword: On Being a Commercial Court, 65 Chi. Kent L. Rev. 877, 880 (1989), but cf. United States v. Skoien, 587 F.3d 803 (7th Cir. 2010) (en banc) (Sykes, J., dissenting). David Karp has a useful article applying this problem to Thomas, and Thomas himself sometimes recognizes that this can be a problem—see, e.g., Powell v. Nevada, 511 U.S. 79, 87 (1994) (Thomas, J., dissenting), or his brief concurrence in Carhart. I do not propose to resolve the issue, but I do note that critics like Floyd would do well to press on serious, concrete issues like these rather than glamorous rehashings of Anita Hill and amorphous (and, it would seem, disingenuous) worries about whether Thomas is effective enough in advancing his views.
Okay. We don't have any larger context for Obama's comment. But I think it's pretty clear that he was not expressing an actual desire to preside over a dictatorship. Nor is he expressing support for the Chinese regime. He's saying the Chinese regime suppresses dissent and his government doesn't.
Let me analogize this in a way that the Standard might understand: It would be much easier to be a lazy welfare queen, pulling down fat government checks for popping out babies, but some of us have to work for a living. That statement is the opposite of empathizing with a welfare recipient. Throwing in that bit about the Great Leap Forward is an especially comic touch -- it's not enough to smear Obama as a sympathizer with a brutal Chinese government, you have to stretch the attack to tie him in with the murder of 45 million people during the 1950s.
It's getting harder to distinguish that magazine from a cheap oppo research shop.
Indeed. The thing is, an increasing number of right-wingers have the idea fixed in the firmament of their minds like the Northern Star, that Obama really is the Marxist, freedom-hating, thuggish tyrant they say he is. This comment, ripped from its obvious context, is just fodder for that idea. If Obama were to say something like "freedom is hard," which I suspect is what he meant here, there'd be those who would doubtless say, "Well of course it is, for someone who doesn't believe in it."
For the record, this phenomenon is also prevalent on the Left, as you can no doubt find plenty of Lefties who will use any bit of fodder they can, to justify their preconceived notions of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, Scott Walker, etc.
The thing is, the Weekly Standard fancies itself a respectable magazine, but this infantile nonsense is the stuff of, well, a cheap oppo research shop. Dirt cheap.
I supported Wisconsin's efforts to haul in their missing Senators because the inherent power of legislatures to compel members' attendance includes, ex vi termini, compulsion. Any interpretation short of that would transform the power to compel attendance into the power to suggest it, and the notion (heard in some quarters) that the power goes no further than levying monetary sanctions would transform the power to compel attendance into the power so punish absence. I had some doubts, however, about the contempt citations; it didn't matter at the time, but now it might. In a nutshell, the Wisconsin Senate majority is claiming that because the minority members are under a contempt of the Senate sanction, they may attend but not vote.
As some critics noted at the time, Wisconsin's legislative contempt statute may pose a difficulty. Wis. Stat. § 13.26(1) (2010) authorizes the legislature to "punish as a contempt, by imprisonment, a breach of its privileges or the privileges of its members," but only for specified offenses. We immediately notice that the statute limits two things: the range of punishments, and the offenses for which punishment may be meted out. Thus, before we even get to whether the Wisconsin 14's behavior is punishable by contempt, we can observe that the statute does not on its face authorize loss of facilities and perquisites as a punishment.
Let's move on to the punishable offenses. Only two of the specified offenses seem remotely within striking distance, and their difficulties are immediately apparent: "Disorderly conduct in the immediate view of either house or of any committee thereof and directly tending to interrupt its proceedings" (§ 13.26(1)(b)) and "[r]efusing to attend or be examined as a witness, either before the house or a committee, or before any person authorized to take testimony in legislative proceedings, or to produce any books, records, documents, papers or keys according to the exigency of any subpoena" (§ 13.26(1)(c)). It's hard to imagine the former sticking—it's just too much of a stretch. The latter could work, but only by construing "as a witness" as modifying the particle "be examined" rather than the entire clause "attend or be examined." The absence of a comma, a fortiori given the structure of the dependent clause, confirms the latter, while the alternative inserts an absent comma ("Refusing to attend, or be examined as a witness, either before the house or a committee"), which doesn't work with a provision that's otherwise scrupulous in comma usage.
Accordingly, it is hard to treat this response (just deserts though it may be) as within the statute. But does the statute exhaust the contempt power?
Article IV § 8 of the Wisconsin Constitution authorizes a contempt power: "Each house may determine the rules of its own proceedings, punish for contempt and disorderly behavior, and … expel a member…." This is not a "grant of contempt power but a recognition and affirmation of the historic and inherent contempt power possessed by the legislative branch of our tripartite government and of the British Parliament."1 We must dwell on this for a moment. In England, Parliament traditionally enjoyed the power to punish contempt,2 and the mother of all parliaments bequeathed it generously: "The contempt power is everywhere, in the English speaking world, regarded as an inherent power, an essential auxiliary of 'legislative power,' and … scarcely affected at all by the advent of written constitutions and the doctrine of the separation of the powers of government."3 When the founding generation spoke of "judicial power," "executive power," and, as relevant here, "legislative power," they presupposed the historic content of those terms from the English constitution with which they were familiar,4 and this undoubtedly included the power to hold persons in contempt.5
Given the inherent nature of this power, a legislature can enact a statute to deal with contempt, as Wisconsin has (and as the U.S. Congress did in 1857, today codified at 2 U.S.C. § 292), but it doesn't have to.6 What happens if it does? Does the existence of the statute "occupy the field," binding the legislature to exercise its power only within the four corners and process of that statute? Put another way (to borrow Chief Justice White's phrase in a case he thought roughly analogous), can we say that provisions like sections 292 and 13.26 "conferred no power not already granted and imposed no limitations not already existing"?7
There are some reasons to think that the answers should be no to the former and yes to the latter. The U.S. Supreme Court has observed that while a legislature can erect procedures for exercising powers like contempt, it may not divest itself of the "essential and inherent power to punish for contempt in cases to which the power of either House properly extended."8 Accordingly, it is recognized that Congress' enactment of statutory contempt in the form of section 292 neither exhausts nor extinguishes Congress' inherent contempt power.9 Moreover, because the contempt power inheres in the legislative power, it might be arguable that an attempt to slough off that power into the criminal code to the exclusion of direct legislative action would violate the axiom that today's legislature can't bind the hands of tomorrow's.10 And one must observe that only a few short years ago, Democrats were rather taken with the idea of Congress reclaiming its inherent contempt authority as a weapon against the Bush administration's stonewalling of Congress.11
Interesting as this all is as general background, however, in Wisconsin we run into State ex rel. Groppi v. Leslie.12 Tackling section 13.26, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin characterized it as a voluntary "restriction"13 of the legislature's contempt power:
The forerunners of these sections were adopted in 1849 shortly after the adoption of the constitution. In the light of the law on contempts as it then existed and by their terms, these sections granted no power but limit and proscribe the exercise of the legislative contempt power. It was an expression of the legislative intent to limit its own power to less than that declared by the constitution and less than that exercised by the Parliament. The contempt power in sec. 13.26 was restricted to enumerated offenses and the imprisonment was limited to prevent the occurrence of such offenses during the session of the legislature.14
State supreme courts are the authoritative expositors of state law,15 and we have a directly on-point decision from Wisconsin's Supreme Court. It is enough to push past the dicta from McGrain quoted above; the Groppi court was presumably aware of the concerns mentioned, and if the Wisconsin Supreme Court chooses to revisit the issue, perhaps that would not be amiss. Nevertheless, as things stand today, the law of Wisconsin is that section 13.26 is the exclusive vehicle through which the legislature may exercise the contempt power.16
In sum, we have seen that while background principles of Anglo-American law may afford legislatures broader contempt powers than the statutes suggest, and that these may hold good in other jurisdictions, these have been rejected by the law of Wisconsin. Groppi holds that the statutory contempt is the only game in town.17 And as I explained above, it is hard to treat the Senate's response as within the statute; section 13.26 provides an exclusive remedy for contempt which does not include forfeit of voting rights, and the conduct at issue is not made sanctionable by the statute. For these reasons, it is my view that the majority is acting ultra vires.
Like the Tea Party, you mean? You know what, I've got to call bulls**t here. I really do. I find it exceedingly difficult to defend the walk-out by the fourteen Democratic senators as an acceptable normal response, which I've mentioned before, but this idea that the protests, and the potential moves to recall the Senators who voted for the budget bill, is somehow an affront to democracy, is absurd.
A bit of history: A little over two years ago, a democratically elected President, was elected with a majority, along with a democratically elected majority in both Houses of Congress. He began enacting policies that he campaigned on, yet a significant number of Americans didn't like. About two months into his presidency, those Americans began protesting his policies, and the policies put forth by the Congress. They were angry, and there were numerous angry signs, many comparisons of this President to dictators, and a great deal of heated and even violent rhetoric. They protested for two years, and from day one began protesting the results of an election. They protested policies they didn't like, and sought to change things. After two years, they were successful, and made significant gains.
So, after a democratically elected Governor, elected with a majority, along with a democratically elected Congress, enacts policies that a significant number of voters didn't like, they took to the streets, and began to protest. There was angry rhetoric just like the Tea Party, comparisons of the Governor to dictators, just like the Tea Party, angry signs, just like the Tea Party. They were upset, and they still are. They are protesting policies they don't like, and are seeking to change things, just like the Tea Party.
Yet somehow, the Tea Party was a natural expression of democratic activism, and these Wisconsin protests are anti-democratic whining by sore losers?
The only way that can possibly be true, is if you believe that protests are only valid if they line up with your views--that is to say, when the Right does it, it's legitimate dissent, and when the Left does it, it's intimidation, union thuggery, and whining by sore losers. Or if it's the Left, it's grassroots, and if it's the Right, it's corporate astroturf. Or vice versa. That, to use Althouse's words, is acting like crybaby children.
Now, some might argue that these protests were violent. From what I've seen, and I include Althouse's own coverage in this, I've seen no evidence of widespread actual violence. As Dave Weigel points out, there is a big difference between violent protests (like say in Greece), and mostly peaceful protests with a few incidents of violence. Don't misunderstand me--one violent incident is one too many, and that includes the violent threats. The property damage, while not indicative of the protests as a whole, is still wrong. Littering up the joint is wrong. I'm not defending those things, but one gets the impression that protest critics have a beef with the whole idea of these protests, as somehow shuttng out the voice of the people, as opposed to reflecting a part of it, which the current polls are right, is the majority.
Now, a brief note about the polls: I am naturally skeptical of polls, even ones that appear to support those things I believe in. Over the last two years, polls were frequently cited as evidence of the rightness of the Tea Party and the GOP, and the wrongness of Obama and the Democrats--and vice versa. In the early days of this current protest, a Rasmussen poll showed a plurality in favor of Walker, and now things have changed. I am continually amazed at how partisans' faith in polls change like the wind--when the first poll came out, at was seen as early evidence of Walker's strength, now that his numbers are dropping, it's because of media bias.
The initial point of Althouse's post was about the attempt to recall those Senators who voted for the Budget Bill. She seems to think this is undemocratic, that the people have already spoken, and they really don't want another election. Seems to me, that if the recall option is the law, and the law was established by the people, the people choosing to use that option is entirely democratic. Does Althouse, and other protest critics believe that if the Tea Party had a recall option in national elections, that at least some wouldn't have tried it? If enough people consent to allowing the recall, if enough people vote to recall, how is that not democratic? Now, to be honest, I'm ambivalent about recall elections--I had real problems with the California one in 2003 (not its legitimacy, but the reasons behind it seemed specious and childish to me), and perhaps Althouse did too. My only point is, the idea of a recall has been around for a while, and is the law. Oppose it, by voting against recall. What about the potential recalls against the 14 walkouts? Do the same objections apply?
I don't know how these things will turn out politically. Walker's victory may hold, and the Democrats may lose the war, as well as the battle. Or, not. The voters may punish Walker for what they see as an overreach, or they may punish the Dems for their walkout. Or both. Or neither. I don't know. My point is, you cannot have it both ways: if the Tea Party's actions, mere weeks after an election, to overturn its results are examples of legitimate democratic activism, then so are the actions of those on the streets, and in the Capitol. You may disagree with their message. Fine. You may think that public sector unions are bad, and that unions need to be stopped. You may not like the idea of the public unions being so closely tied with the Democratic Party. Ok, then. That's the debate--I respect most of those concerns, but if you're going to pick and choose which protests are legitimate based on whether the protesters' views line up with your ideology--then if you're looking for the crybabies, look in the mirror.
ADDED: Now this is not democratic activism, and actually qualifies as intimidation and violence. The above caveats still apply, but this should never happen.
Last year, my governor and your next President* said that "the next president would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues." Mike Huckabee shot back: "In other words, stop fighting to end abortion and don’t make protecting traditional marriage a priority. … A strong leader doesn’t need to focus myopically on one or two issues – but a strong leader is willing to fight for and defend their principles while rising to meet new challenges and solve all of the existing systemic problems confronting us." And more forceful criticism came from Bill McGurn, just a few weeks ago:
To begin with, the aggression on social issues today emanates mostly from the left, whose preferred vehicle is a willing judge inflicting his private social preferences on the law. Anyone who believes that a Republican call for a truce will end this is living in dreamland.
To the contrary, the agitation will continue. Ultimately it will force a president's hand on a host of issues—not least his judicial nominees. A far better way to unite Republicans and independents and tea partiers would be to talk about returning these hot-button issues to where they belong: with the states and localities, acting through the people's elected governors and legislators.
. . . .
Surely the most obvious point is that a call for a truce on any issue will be persuasive only to those who don't care about the issue in the first place. To those who do care, it sounds awfully condescending. In Mr. Daniels' case, it was also unnecessary: He is hardly a social liberal and has good pro-life credentials.
Now Peter Robison puts that to Daniels in a video linked by Doug Mataconis, and while Doug seems convinced, Mitch just doesn't have a cohesive answer. The gist is, he casts his point as an effort to say that we have to unite as many people as possible if we're going to deal with the government spending crisis. That's true, but I still have no idea what this "truce" involves and how it's supposed to accomplish that.
The problem with all this is that McGurn is entirely right, and Huckabee mostly so. What exactly is a truce supposed to look like, practically-speaking? Does it mean not reinstating the Mexico City policy, for instance? That isn't truce, it's surrender. What happens when activists persuade a district court judge in his dotage to strike down a hot button law they don't like—do you appeal the decision? One side or the other will cry foul as we've seen recently on DOMA, DADT, and the litany of leftist legal complaints. Worse yet: What happens when you have to appoint someone to the Supreme Court?
The simple fact is that the culture wars won't stand still for four years, and there is nothing—nothing—that a President can do about that. Presidents must take actions, react to situations that arise, and those actions and responses at least impact, and sometimes require taking sides in, the culture wars. If he means simply limiting the rhetorical emphasis placed on abortion—well, ask Ronald Reagan how well Democrats love him.
It seems to me that the truth is probably as simple as this: Daniels made an off the cuff remark—one with superficial appeal but which wasn't really thought out and which doesn't make sense on reflection—and has been trying to avoid excusing it as just that ever since. Politicians are inexplicably afraid to say they goofed. It's as if they think voters look up to them as infallible oracles and are afraid of shattering the image! Lookit, the economic situation facing America is urgent and bleak. Perhaps Daniels is the man to fix it, but he does not make a case for himself by casting himself as King Canute commanding the tide of culture wars to recede in an indulgent flight of fantasy. Daniels is nothing if not a practical politician, so he should know better than anyone that you don't get to deal with the world as you'd like it to be.
* Just kidding. Maybe.
Prayers go out for what appears to be little short of catastrophe in Japan.
This is your regularly-scheduled (if sometimes cancelled) friday open thread.
Some useful thoughts from Jay Rosen—including this surprising prescription:
Abandon viewlessness as the official ideology at NPR. Replace it with pluralism. Meaning: NPR acknowledges that the people who work for it have a diverse mix of views and starting points. It is unreasonable to expect that these won’t factor into their work, but it is perfectly reasonable to hold everyone at NPR to basic standards: accuracy, fairness, intellectual honesty and transparency. That means you can click on the name of any editorial staffer and find out where they’re coming from.
I agree. I can't cite statistics or any kind of data showing the bias problem with NPR and PBS, but what I can say is that over many years as a reader/listener, it has seemed entirely clear that public media tilts to the left and stacks the deck that way in their coverage. Again, I can't prove this; it's an impression built on hundreds of individually trivial incidents over the years. Even if this is entirely unconscious, however, Rosen's prescription would help fix the problem. If NPR/PBS required disclosure and 95% of its reporters and editors turned out to be liberals, perhaps that would induce them to protect their reputation (I assume they are sincere in their protestations of neutrality) by addressing the imbalance.
Does E.D. Kain know what happened there? After Obamacare was passed, David Frum bewailed the GOP's defeat as a Waterloo, and while one can argue the point, the analogy itself works if his premise is stipulated. If the Democrats outmaneuvered and dealt a crushing blow to the once-mighty Republican party with dire consequences for the future, as Frum contended, the Battle of Waterloo is an imperfect but serviceable analogy: The British and Germans trounced the French, sealing Napoleon's fate.
Kain's premise is rather different. His point is that the GOP's victory in Wisconsin will have far worse consequences for the GOP than their defeat on Obamacare. That's a fair argument, although again, it's arguable. But even stipulating the point, something is wrong. Having attached to Frum for his opening line, Kain finds himself unable to detach from Frum's analogy. Oh, no, Kain says: Frum has it all wrong. "If anything, the healthcare reform victory was the GOP’s Siege of Acre. Wisconsin is shaping up to be the real Waterloo."
Frum makes the analogy work by casting Obama as Wellington and the GOP as Napoleon—but who is who in Kain's version? Napoleon didn't lose the war because his victory at Waterloo backfired! Seemingly in a death grip with the Frum article, however, Kain plows ahead with the clearly inapt rhetoric—and does so even though a better martial metaphor is available. At the Battle of Asculum, the Romans (they were even using elephants, which makes the rhetorical image even better) were defeated by the forces of Taranto and Epirus. But the victory came at such brutal cost that such a success has come to be associated with the name of the Epiran king: Phyrrus, whence phyrric victory.
Reporting on a speech by Justice Sotomayor, James Warren writes:
She was also willing to admit that oral arguments before the court -- even after she and colleagues have done substantial homework on an individual case -- are enormously influential in how she winds up in voting. Other colleagues, such as Justice Antonin Scalia, may often depict matters, such as constitutional questions, as rather straightforward, given their pre-existing interpretation of the constitution.
Well, not quite. Here's what Our Hero had to say about oral argument last year:
[A] lot of people have the impression that it's just a dog and pony show. That in fact, you know, "I read a 60-page brief by the petitioner, a 60-page brief by the respondent, a 40-page reply brief, very often an amicus brief by the solicitor general. Sometimes dozens of other amicus briefs, not all of which I will read. I have underlined significant passages, I have written at best nonsense in the margin. What can somebody tell me in half an hour that's going to make a difference?" And the answer is that it is probably quite rare, although not unheard of, that oral argument will change my mind. But it is quite common that I go in with my mind not made up. I mean, a lot of these cases are very close, and you go in on the knife's edge. Persuasive counsel can make the difference. There are things you can do with oral argument that cannot be done in a brief. You can convey the relative importance of your various points.
. . . .
And the brief cannot answer back when I write 'nonsense' in the margin. And you can ask counsel, you know, "Counsel, is there some reason why this point is not nonsense?" And sometimes they can tell you. So I'm a big proponent of oral argument. I think it's very important and you'd be surprised how much probing can be done within half an hour—an awful lot.
(My emphases.) To be sure, there are easy cases; Justice Scalia does not go into oral argument in an abortion case on the knife's edge—but neither does Justice Sotomayor, and if you think otherwise, I have a bridge to sell you. Warren's contrast fails, I think.
However, the spectrum of options—both multilateral and unilateral—is quite broad, ranging from the creation and enforcement of a no-fly zone, to targeted attacks to take out what little remains of the Qaddafi air force, to covert efforts to keep the Qaddafi air force on the ground, to the provision of communication infrastructure to the resistance, to the provision of armaments so that they can fight on an equal footing.
Not only would our actual assistance be of great actual help, but the emotional impact of our intervention could sway many who remain with Qaddafi and bring them over to the side of the resistance.
AND: "But the pilots of Qaddafi's own air force, who flew their planes to Malta rather than let themselves be used against civilians, have demonstrated more courage and principle than the entire U.S. Sixth Fleet."