ACSBlog

  • October 1, 2014
    BookTalk
    God vs. the Gavel
    The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty
    By: 
    Marci A. Hamilton

    by Marci A. Hamiltonthe Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.

    *This post originally appeared on Hamilton and Griffin on Rights.

    How do you talk about the unspeakable? A decade ago, it was taboo to criticize religion or religious believers in print. They were a benign presence in America right next to apple pie.   I wrote God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law then to defeat this taboo, because it was masking a reality most Americans would want to know.

    There I stacked up transgressions of religious actors, including the sexual abuse and medical neglect (to death) of children, the forced marriage of adolescents into polygamous marriages, the violence of white supremacist or radical jihadist prison gangs, and even the questionable dealings of religious developers who forced incompatible uses like homeless shelters into residential neighborhoods. It was all for religion, with results that were not so benign.

    The destruction of the taboo was necessary in a just society. The perpetrators of 9/11 were religious zealots. So were the parents who let their children die. Roman Catholic bishops covered up for child abusers and endangered one child after another to protect the religious institution from scandal. Then the same pattern appeared across virtually all religious denominations. These were atrocities.

    Before these criminal acts reminded us of the power of religion to be both transcendent and horrible, Congress had ratcheted up the rights of religious believers by passing the misbegotten Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993 and 2000. Hardly anyone understood what it meant either time and no one was thinking of jihadists, clergy child predators, or children dying from medical neglect, in part because mainstream religious lobbyists intentionally presented a wholesome face to Congress, arguing that religious believers faced discrimination across the country that needed to be corrected by the statute.

  • October 1, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Walter Shapiro writes for the Brennan Center blog on how allowing candidates to buy more cheap television time could dull the influence of Super PACs.

    The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus considers what the departure of Attorney General Eric Holder says about the next nominee.

    The Supreme Court has lost significant interest in education cases, reports Mark Walsh for Education Week.

    Trevor Boeckmann of Alliance for Justice argues that Ohio is on the cutting edge of voter suppression.

    Jeffrey Toobin explains why Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was right on Hobby Lobby in The New Yorker

    Thomas B. Edsall considers in The New York Times whether liberals are fundraising hypocrites and considers the case of the American Constitution Society and the Democracy Alliance. 

  • September 30, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Robert Barnes of The Washington Post discusses Erwin Chemerinsky’s new book and bold criticisms of the Supreme Court. Chemerinsky recently contributed to the ACSblog Book Talk to discuss his work.

    In The Atlantic, Dawinder Sidhu looks at the next religious freedom case facing the Supreme Court and how it will test how the justices apply Hobby Lobby to minority religions.

    Adam Liptak writes in The New York Times that an answer from the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage is likely to come next June.

    Bloomberg writer Greg Stohr reports that the Supreme Court has blocked an early voting period in Ohio and reinstated voting limits the state passed this year.

    John Nichols writes for The Nation on the Ohio early voting decision and what it says about the Supreme Court’s priorities. 

  • September 29, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Chris Edelson, an assistant professor of government in American University's School of Public Affairs. He is the author of Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror, published in 2013 by the University of Wisconsin Press.

    Watching Congress utterly fail to discharge its duty as President Obama boldly exceeds the limits of his power by unilaterally authorizing military action against ISIS reminds me of the old philosophical question: if a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, does it makes a sound?  In this case, the question is: if the President violates the Constitution and Congress does nothing, are there any consequences for the constitutional violation?

    The answer is almost certain to be “no”. The Constitution is not self-enforcing.  It only works when each branch of government resists and rejects overreach by the others—and, when it comes to checking executive overreach in the context of national security, the key actor is Congress. As Justice Robert H. Jackson observed in the 1952 Youngstown Sheet decision, “I have no illusion that any decision by this Court can keep power in the hands of Congress if it is not wise and timely in meeting its problems. A crisis that challenges the President equally, or perhaps primarily, challenges Congress…We may say that power to legislate for emergencies belongs in the hands of Congress, but only Congress itself can prevent power from slipping through its fingers.”

    What we’re seeing right now is Congress letting power slip right through its fingers and become more concentrated in the hands of the President.  Congress has gone into recess without weighing in on the President’s decision to authorize military action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria (the vote to arm Syrian rebels addressed a separate matter).  President Obama has claimed he has authority to order military action based on the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.  But that legislation cannot plausibly provide authority to act against ISIS, a rival of Al Qaeda’s that did not even exist when the 2001 AUMF was enacted.  As Harvard Law professor Jack Goldsmith put it, President Obama’s decision to order military action against ISIS in Syria “is, at bottom, presidential unilateralism masquerading as implausible statutory interpretation.”

  • September 29, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Judy Appelbaum, Visiting Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center; Acting Assistant Attorney General and Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs, 2009-2013.

    When Eric Holder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January 2009 on his nomination to serve as Attorney General, he pledged to faithfully execute his duties by adhering to the precepts and principles of the Constitution, and to do so in a fair, just and independent manner. He also promised to reinvigorate the traditional missions of the Department of Justice and emphasized that one of his top priorities would be to safeguard what he called our precious civil rights.  He has lived up to those commitments, and he will leave office with an extraordinary record of accomplishment. 

    I was privileged to have a close-up view of Attorney General Holder’s stewardship of the Department when I helped lead DOJ’s office of legislative affairs for the first four years of his tenure. Right at the beginning, I saw the determination and energy he put into passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which gave the Department new tools to address violent hate crimes and for the first time enabled DOJ to protect LGBT victims.  After the bill became law, he made sure that the Department aggressively investigated and pursued such crimes wherever warranted by the facts and the law. 

    Demonstrating his commitment to fairness in the criminal justice system, early in his term Attorney General Holder also pressed Congress to pass the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce crack-powder sentencing disparities that disproportionately penalized African American offenders.  He didn’t rest on that legislative success, either. He then launched the Smart on Crime Initiative, which led to a series of path-breaking reforms. These include a change in the Department’s charging policies to avoid triggering excessive mandatory minimum penalties for low-level, non-violent drug offenders, and measures to reduce barriers faced by ex-offenders as they re-enter society. Under Holder’s innovative Access to Justice Initiative, the Department has found ways to help ensure that indigent criminal defendants receive adequate legal representation.