ACSblog Constitution Day Symposium

  • February 27, 2015

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Yes, King v. Burwell is fundamentally a case dealing with a statutory matter, not a lofty constitutional claim, but at the end of the day one must not forget that this statutory-based case, if handled improperly by the Supreme Court, will harm millions of Americans, making economic inequalities worse in this country and sending the nation’s health care system into chaos. That’s according to Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law and one of the nation’s leading legal scholars, who along with Yale Law School Professor Abbe Gluck were featured in a February 26 ACS briefing on King, which the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in on March 4.

    “I think it’s important for us to focus on who is going to suffer from a result of this [a ruling by the Supreme Court that would buy the Obamacare challengers’ argument],” Chemerinsky said toward the end of the discussion. “There are millions of individuals who will no longer have health insurance because they won’t be able to afford it without” the tax credits. Such an outcome would bring down the Affordable Care Act, leaving millions without health care coverage and millions more with higher costs to keep it, he said.

    Gluck noted the highly politicized nature of King, but focused on the statutory challenge and the role of the Supreme Court.

    “The case at bottom is about how the Supreme Court is going to do textual interpretation of four words in a two-thousand page law that is very complex. The challengers want the Court to look at these four words – the words are ‘established by the state,’ … in a vacuum, and the government is saying just as the court has done time and time again … that you have to look at statutory language in context and against the backdrop of all of the other legal principles, including federalism and agency deference that the Court has traditionally used to interpret statutes.”

    Gluck said there is a lot of extra textual narrative and history being invoked in the case, but not by the government. “There is a whole blogosphere set of activity, that is aimed to construct a narrative to convince the Court that what the challengers are arguing is true – that it is actually possible that Congress could have written a statute into which it sowed the seeds of its own destruction,” Gluck continued.

    Without that narrative, Gluck said, “it is impossible to think that any court would buy that story because it is so destructive to the statute as a whole and it is implausible to think Congress would have ever intended it.”

    Listen to the entire discussion here. For more on King v. Burwell, see Chemerinsky’s recent ABA Journal piece and Gluck’s Feb. 27 article for Politico Magazine.

  • September 18, 2012
    Humor

    by John Schachter. This post is part of an ACSblog Constitution Day Symposium.

    Wanna know whom I feel sorry for? William Hill Brown, Sir William Herschel, and Father John Carroll. Each chalked up a noteworthy achievement, yet none receives the appropriate attention or accolades because of unfortunate timing. Students across this country – even students of history – would be hard-pressed to recognize any of these three gentlemen.

    Brown published the first American novel, “Power of Sympathy," in January 1789. In August and September that same year, Herschel discovered Enceladus and Mimas, Saturn's respective moon and satellite. And Carroll, in November 1789, became the first Catholic bishop in the United States thanks to his appointment by Pope Pius VI.

    But do we celebrate these fine achievements? Are we preparing to celebrate the anniversary of the first American novel, first Catholic bishop or discovery of Saturn’s orbits? No. Because 1789, in American books and minds, belongs to the U.S. Constitution. To the exclusion of other worldly events, 1789 is all Constitution, all the time. (Francophiles may note that French Revolution garners some worthy attention.) Thanks to the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) we actually celebrate 1787 -- when the Constitution was written and adopted by the Constitutional Convention -- more so than 1789 -- when the Constitution took effect. So this year is big, what with it being the founding document’s bicenvicenquinquennial. Or is it the quinta-semicentury? Or maybe the sesquicentennial-semicentury-quarterquell? OK, let’s just stick with the 225th anniversary.

  • September 17, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Adam Winkler, a professor at the UCLA School of Law, and author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America. This post is part of an ACSblog Constitution Day Symposium.


    Over the past three decades, conservative legal commentators have promoted a narrative about our Constitution that puts our hallowed text at odds with the goals of liberals. The Constitution, this story goes, is a profoundly conservative document whose words and principles tilt favorably towards the policy goals of today’s Republican Party: Small government. Law and order. Hostile to gay rights. Opposed to campaign finance law and affirmative action. Favoring nearly unbridled executive power in matters of war and foreign policy. If only jurists stuck to history – by interpreting the text by way of original intent or, alternatively, original meaning, rather than the living constitutionalism favored by Warren Court liberals – we would see the Constitution in its true light.

    There’s just one problem with this story. It’s not true.

    The Constitution was designed by the Framers to be a radically progressive document. The founding generation was comprised of revolutionaries, people who sought to make a new system of government that broadened rights rather than limited them. Their handiwork was itself thoroughly reformed by another group of progressives: the radical Republicans who added the Reconstruction Amendments. Over and over again, the Constitution has been revised by people inspired by liberal ideas, from the populists who sought the direct elections of senators to woman rights proponents who fought for the right to vote. Taken as a whole, the Constitution is anything but a conservative document. And while its words and principles don’t favor any political party, many of its core ideas support the policy goals of modern-day liberals. 

    Take, for instance, the argument that the Constitution favors small government. It is undoubtedly true that the framers wanted to circumscribe the power of government; that’s why we have the separation of powers, federalism, and a Bill of Rights. Yet often ignored is that the Framers crafted the Constitution to expand the powers of government so that Congress could effectively solve national problems. The document the Constitution replaced – the Articles of Confederation – hobbled government too much and the men who met in Philadelphia sought to rectify that error.

  • September 17, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Elizabeth B. Wydra, Chief Counsel, Constitutional Accountability Center. This post is part of an ACSblog Constitution Day Symposium.


    September 17th is Constitution and Citizenship Day, marking the day 225 years ago when our Founding charter was signed in Philadelphia and presented to “We the People” for ratification.  As Yale Law Professor Akhil Amar has eloquently explained, never before in world history had a government charter been ratified by the people themselves.  Calling our constitutional moment in 1787 the hinge of modern democratic history, Prof. Amar notes that the Founding generation took important steps to increase the number of eligible voters in the ratification process, with many states waiving voting restrictions (such as property requirements) and some allowing African Americans to vote for convention delegates.

    However advanced this expanded voting pool may have been during the 18th century; through a modern lens it is obviously profoundly flawed and restrictive.  Fortunately, after declaring that “We the People” would be the ones to establish and ordain the Constitution, the preamble also boldly states our intention to “create a more perfect union.”  The goal was not just to create something “more perfect” than what Americans had seen before -- whether it be the tyranny of the British crown or the dysfunction of the Articles of Confederation -- but to establish a Union that was itself perfectible across history.  Article V, authorizing Amendments, made it clear that the 1787 Constitution was not an end, but a beginning.  And perhaps nowhere is that arc of constitutional progress seen more plainly than in the story of suffrage.

  • September 14, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Kent Greenfield, Professor and Law Fund Research Scholar, Boston College Law School. Follow Professor Greenfield @kentgreenfield1. This post is part of an ACSblog Constitution Day Symposium.


    Every September, the American Constitution Society celebrates Constitution Day, as well it should. ACS isn’t alone, of course. Schools around the country, from kindergartens to universities, also commemorate the day in various ways.

    And every year at this time I play the constitutional curmudgeon, warning that Constitution Day may be unconstitutional. You can read previous iterations of my arguments in this blog here and in The New York Times here.

    The basic argument is that Constitution Day is unconstitutional because, as a federal mandate on any public or private educational institution receiving federal funds, it amounts to coerced speech under the First Amendment.  If a kindergarten or university were to refuse to alter their curriculum to cover the topic, they would stand to lose all federal funds.  That sounds to me like a violation of the unconstitutional conditions doctrine.  As Justice Jackson famously said for the Court in West Virginia v Barnette: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

    Because I’m a law professor, I can alter the hypothetical to make my point. If Congress passed a law saying “no school receiving federal funds is permitted to offer a course about Islam,” wouldn’t it be clearly unconstitutional?

    Of course the argument is not simple, mostly because the unconstitutional conditions doctrine is a hash. Sometimes the Court allows conditions — see Rumsfeld v FAIR or Rust v Sullivan — and sometimes it doesn’t — see Speiser v Randall or Legal Services Corp. v Velazquez.

    I will say, however, that my argument is stronger this year. Why? Because of Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion in National Federation of Independent Business v Sebelius, the ACA case.