Federalism

  • April 27, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Adam Winkler, Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law. Follow Professor Winkler on Twitter @adamwinkler.

    *This post is part of ACSblog’s symposium on the consolidated marriage equality cases before the Supreme Court.

    Oral argument in the Supreme Court can be opaque, especially for those who aren’t well versed in the legal issues at stake or the precedents likely to be considered.  During oral argument, the justices aren’t interested in educating the citizenry.  They are trying to gain a better understanding of the case or subtly influencing the votes of their colleagues, so the questions and comments fly  quickly—and usually right over the heads of anyone but the experts.  Because oral argument in the same-sex marriages cases will draw an extraordinary amount of public attention, here’s a list of five things to watch for when the justices hold Court on April 28.

     

    1.    Justice Kennedy

    The first and most obvious thing to pay careful attention to is the questioning by Justice Anthony Kennedy.  With four justices who lean liberal and four who lean conservative, the Supreme Court has long been the Kennedy Court.  Because Kennedy has written all the major pro-gay rights decisions of the Supreme Court in recent years, many people assume he’ll vote in favor of marriage equality.  If I were a betting person, that’s where I’d put my money, too.  Yet it’s worth remembering that Kennedy’s opinions in those cases have always been compromises.  In Romer v. Evans, he declined to say that sexual orientation was a suspect classification.  In Lawrence v. Texas, he didn’t say gay intimacy was a fundamental right that triggered strict scrutiny.  In U.S. v. Windsor, half his opinion rested on states’ rights.  If Kennedy was serious in Windsor’s ode to the traditional autonomy of states over marriage, it could spell trouble.  That’s why it’s worth paying close attention to what Kennedy says at oral argument.  Is he skeptical of the state’s arguments?  Does he express concern about the implications of overturning the marriage bans?  Or does he emphasize the harms that come from denying LGBT couples marriage?  Kennedy, in this as in most other cases, is the vote that counts.

    2.    Baker v. Nelson

    Often lost in the current debate over marriage is that the Supreme Court has already held there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage.  Or at least that’s one way to read Baker v. Nelson, a 1971 case that raised the issue.  The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld that state’s restriction of marriage to one man and one woman, and the case was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.  The justices summarily affirmed the lower court decision “for want of a substantial federal question.”  In other words, the challenge to the marriage ban didn’t even raise a colorable constitutional claim.  Will the justices treat Baker as binding precedent warranting their deference under the principle of stare decisis?  There are good reasons to believe they won’t.  The law and society has changed immensely since 1971.  Back then, laws discriminating against women didn’t even trigger any form of heightened review.  Besides, do the justices ever really treat any prior decision as binding?

  • 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.