Federalism

  • March 11, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Raph Graybill, Fellow, Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies (ISPS)

    This spring, western state legislatures will consider a series of laws demanding the end of public land management by the federal government.  The bills, which evoke the “Sagebrush Rebellion” anti-conservation movement of the 1970s, issue a state-law “demand” that the United States relinquish its title to American public lands and transfer ownership to states.

    Nearly two years after Utah passed its “Transfer of Public Lands Act” (TPLA), similar laws are under consideration in a majority of western states.  At stake is the core of American conservation policy.  Under state ownership, state governments could restrict public access, authorize commercial development or even divide lands for private sale.  Current federal environmental law effectively forecloses these possibilities, limiting privatization and preventing environmental degradation.

    Other outlets have addressed the policy wisdom of transfer demand laws, but very little work has been devoted to understanding their constitutional validity.  This post will address the legal arguments behind transfer demands with an eye toward understanding both the Constitution’s text and a newer, nontextual argument advanced by supporters.

    A legal analysis of transfer demands begins with the Constitution itself, and the plain text of the Constitution speaks directly to transfer demand laws.  The Property Clause, Article IV, § 3, cl. 2, states, “The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.”  The text leaves little room for ambiguity over who may make decisions affecting United States land: Only Congress may initiate the sale or transfer of federal public lands.

  • January 15, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Michael Leachman, Director of State Fiscal Research, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, State Fiscal Policy Division

    As state legislative sessions begin, right-wing groups are ramping up a nationwide campaign to convene a constitutional convention to propose amendments that would strip the federal government of much of its power to invest in national priorities and protect civil rights.

    As respected legal voices in the states, ACS members can help defeat this campaign by educating policymakers and the public (through op-eds, testimony and the like) about its radical goals and misleading claims. 

    Here’s the background.  Under Article V of the Constitution, Congress must call a convention to propose constitutional amendments if two-thirds of the states formally request one.  In the late 1970s and early 1980s, many states passed resolutions calling for a convention to propose a federal balanced budget amendment.  At one point, 32 states had passed resolutions along these lines, close to the 34 states required.  But over the next 25 years, no more states passed resolutions and half of the states that had passed resolutions formally rescinded them, fearing that a convention would throw open the Constitution to harmful changes.

    The tide turned in 2010 as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its allies began pushing anew for state resolutions.  Since then, eight states have adopted new resolutions calling for a convention to propose a balanced budget amendment.  Some proponents claim that 24 states have “live” applications, including those passed in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s but never rescinded.  They’ve targeted another 15 states for the coming year.

  • December 9, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Vikram David Amar writes at Verdict why the federalism lessons of the 2012 Affordable Care Act case weaken the argument in King v. Burwell.

    In Reuters, Joan Biskupic, Janet Roberts, and John Shiffman consider the small group of elite lawyers that dominate the Supreme Court docket.

    Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic writes about applying the “broken windows” theory to the police.

    At Bloomberg View, Noah Feldman reviews the recent Supreme Court case on Amtrak that considers how much lawmaking authority Congress can delegate to other bodies.

  • August 8, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Nicholas Bagley. Bagley is an Assistant Professor at University of Michigan Law School. 

    *This post originally appeared on The Incidental Economist. 

    Now that the government has asked the full D.C. Circuit to rehear Halbigsome commentators have suggested that it’s an inappropriate candidate for en banc review. A Wall Street Journal op-ed from a lawyer representing a right-wing health-care think tank, for example, says that en banc review ought to be reserved for “cases raising serious constitutional issues.” Halbig, though, is just a “straightforward statutory interpretation case.”

    This is wrong for so, so many reasons. Under the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, a case can be taken en banc if it involves “a question of exceptional importance.” The rule does not say “a constitutional question of exceptional importance.” No judge, to my knowledge, has ever suggested that the rule be read so narrowly.

    To the contrary, the rules are drafted in open-ended terms—“exceptional importance”—because cases differ in their importance along many different dimensions. Some cases are trivial in themselves but present novel legal questions that will affect hundreds of other cases. Others are of “exceptional importance” because they implicate questions of faith or principle.

  • August 7, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Robert N. Weiner, Litigation Partner, Arnold & Porter LLP

    *This post originally appeared on Balkinization

    On July 22, in Halbig v. Burwell, a panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled 2-1 that low income families cannot get the tax subsidies the Affordable Care Act granted to enable them to afford health insurance, if their states opted to have the federal rather than the state government set up health insurance exchanges. Within hours, in King v. Burwell, a unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit held just the opposite, that subsidies are available on all exchanges established under the Act. (I filed amicus briefs on behalf of Families USA in both cases.) 

    In making its ruling, the D.C. Circuit panel simultaneously issued an order on its own initiative making clear that its judgment was not effective until the full Court of Appeals decided whether to reconsider the case. The panel perhaps recognized that the other judges on the Court might view the decision as out of step with the Circuit’s precedents. A decision by the en banc Court to reconsider will automatically vacate the panel opinion. If the majority of the Court then concludes that the panel decision was wrong, they will issue an opinion reflecting the correct result.

    In arguing against en banc review in a Volokh Conspiracy post on August 5, Professor Jonathan Adler quotes with evident approval a 17-year old disquisition by Judge Harry Edwards, the dissenter in Halbig, regarding the standards for en banc review. The temptation of scoring a “gotcha” against Judge Edwards appears to have displaced reasoned analysis to whether those views make sense in this case. For example, Professor Adler commends Judge Edwards’ 1987 view regarding the limited value of having the entire D.C. Circuit reconsider en banc the 2-1 vote of the three-judge panel. A vote of 6 out of 11 judges, it is claimed, has no greater “legal validity” than a vote of 2 out of 3. If the implication is that any panel decision is as likely as an en banc ruling to be correct, then it was overbroad in 1987, and it is particularly fallacious here. Human fallibility being what it is, judges sometimes get an answer wildly wrong. As a matter of probability and logic, 6 judges are less likely to go off the deep end than 2.