Guest Post

  • September 17, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Gabriel J. Chin, Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law. This post is part of our 2014 Constitution Day symposium.

    Americans know their history and want to change it. No ancient injustice is ever settled; Lenny Bruce and the Scottsboro Boys were pardoned long after their deaths.  There is a constant flow of high school and college diplomas awarded to elderly people who were denied them decades ago for illegitimate reasons, including University of California students of Japanese ancestry who were unable to finish because they were interned in World War II, high school students expelled for participating in civil rights marches,  excluded because of their race, or who could not graduate because the schools were shut down entirely rather than allow racial integration. My students and I are petitioning the California Supreme Court to posthumously admit Hong Yen Chang to the bar, over a century after they excluded him because of his race.  The examples go on and on.

    In this context, the popularity of the Constitution is remarkable. It is studded with oppressive, offensive measures. One would think that those who, say, protest the disgraceful name of the pro football team in Washington, would insist, independently of the substantive meaning of the Constitution, that the document be revised and restated to eliminate the parts protecting slavery or which are otherwise inconsistent with widely shared contemporary views of justice.

    Part of the reason the Constitution stays the same is because it is hard to amend. But there is more than that.  Women and men, people of all races, and others who were once outside the Constitution but are now part of it can live with it because they feel the meaning of the words can change over time.

    For example, people who support non-discrimination might nevertheless regard the Fourteenth Amendment as something of an embarrassment; in Section 2, it seems to grant constitutional approval of the denial of the vote to female citizens. Similarly, the Fugitive Slave Clause is still in force (and of course the Thirteenth Amendment permits slavery for those convicted of crime).

    Ultimately, arguably the most offensive part of the Constitution is one of the most popular, the preamble. The Constitution, it said, was ordained and established by “we the people of the United States” for “ourselves and our posterity.” The republic was white and male, by text, tradition, and canonical statutes (such as the Naturalization Act of 1790, passed by the first Congress and signed by George Washington, which limited the privilege of naturalization to “free white persons”). When the words were written, they unmistakably excluded African Americans, Asians, Native Americans and women, and they were intended to have that effect, evidently, for so long as the Framers’ posterity trod the earth. 

  • September 17, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law. This post is part of our 2014 Constitution Day symposium.

    Constitution Day, Wednesday, September 17, is a national day to celebrate the Constitution, but it also should be an occasion for critically appraising it and the government that it created. On September 17, 1787, the drafters of the Constitution signed the document and it was then submitted to the states for ratification. There is much to celebrate about the Constitution.  

    For 227 years, there has been democratic rule. The Constitution is a document that had enough certainty to create a working government and enough flexibility that although written for an agrarian slave society, it still can be used for the technological world of the early 21st century. It is a document that both creates power and provides checks on that authority. It protects basic values like separation of powers and freedom and liberty and due process of law.

    Yet any celebration of the Constitution needs to be tempered by recognition of its failures too. For the first 78 years of its existence, the Constitution explicitly protected the rights of slave owners. For 58 years, it was interpreted to approve Jim Crow laws that segregated every aspect of Southern life. The results are the enormous racial inequalities that exist today. According to the 2010 census, 27.22 percent of African-Americans live below the poverty level, compared with only 9.7 percent of whites. Thirty-five percent of all African-American children are in families below the poverty line.

    In a book to be published by Viking this month, The Case Against the Supreme Court, I argue that the Supreme Court deserves a good deal of the blame for the failure to deal with racial inequality throughout American history and today. In fact, my thesis is that the Supreme Court has largely failed throughout American history, especially at its most important tasks and at the most important times.

    The Supreme Court exists, above all, to enforce the Constitution against the will of the majority. The Court plays an especially important role in safeguarding the rights minorities of all types who should not have to rely on democratic majorities for protection. The Court also should be crucial in times of crisis in ensuring that the passions of the moment do not cause basic values to be compromised or lost.

    But the Court has had a dismal record of protecting minorities and has continually failed to stand up to majoritarian pressures in times of crisis. During World War I, individuals were imprisoned for speech that criticized the draft and the war without the slightest evidence that it had any adverse effect on military recruitment or the war effort. During World War II, 110,000 Japanese-Americans were uprooted from their life long homes and placed in what President Franklin Roosevelt referred to as concentration camps. During the McCarthy era, people were imprisoned simply for teaching works by Marx and Engels and Lenin. In all of these instances, the Court erred badly and failed to enforce the Constitution.

  • September 9, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Geoffrey R. Stone. He is the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law for the University of Chicago, the former ACS Board Chair and current Co-Chair of the Board of Advisors for the ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter, and a Co-Faculty Advisor for the University of Chicago Law School ACS Student Chapter

    *This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post. 

    In the context of ongoing deliberations over a proposed amendment to the Constitution to authorize the government to enact laws regulating campaign expenditures and contributions, a sharp, even bitter, rift has emerged between different generations of the ACLU's leadership over the ACLU's understanding of the First Amendment. The rift is not about whether to adopt the proposed constitutional amendment (neither side of the intra-ACLU debate has endorsed it), but about the ACLU's position on the constitutionality of campaign finance reform today.

    The current leadership of the ACLU takes a strong pro-free speech position that, like the position of Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Chief Justice John Roberts, looks askance at most forms of campaign finance regulation that would limit the freedom of individuals to spend as much as they want in the political process to advance their political beliefs.

    The six individuals who led the ACLU from 1962 to 1993 endorse a rather different view. In a letter sent on September 4 to the leadership of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, they embraced a position that, like the position of Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, recognizes that limitations on campaign expenditures and contributions may be necessary to ensure the proper functioning of the democratic process.

  • September 5, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Brianne Gorod, Appellate Counsel for the Constitutional Accountability Center.

    This post originally appeared on the Constitutional Accountability Center's Text & History Blog.

    Ever since three-judge panels on the Fourth Circuit and the D.C. Circuit issued conflicting rulings in July on the availability of tax credits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the opponents of the law have been trying to rush their case to the Supreme Court.  That’s where they apparently think they have their best shot at succeeding in what D.C. Circuit Judge Harry Edwards called their “not-so-veiled attempt to gut” the law.  But thanks to an Order just issued by the full D.C. Circuit, their chances of getting the case in front of the Supremes just got a lot lower.

    The two cases involved are just the latest salvo in the ACA opponents’ continuing efforts to kill the ACA by any means possible.  In these challenges, the opponents of the law argue that the ACA, which was enacted to make health insurance affordable for all Americans, doesn’t permit people to receive the tax credits that actually make it affordable if they purchase their insurance in one of the 36 states that have opted to let the federal government run their Exchange.  Thus, they argue, an IRS rule confirming that tax credits are available to all qualifying Americans, regardless of where they live, is invalid under the statute. 

    It’s an argument that shouldn’t hold water in any court.  The opponents of the law rest their argument on one four word phrase—“established by the State”—but ignore the text of the rest of the 900-some page statute that makes it clear that federally-facilitated Exchanges are functionally the same as state-established Exchanges.  Even Justice Scalia should recognize that’s no way to interpret a statute.  As he explained just last year, “the words of a statute must be read in their context and with a view to their place in the overall statutory scheme."  Here, reading the words of the statute in context makes clear that tax credits should be available to all qualifying Americans.  Fourth Circuit Judge Andre Davis called the argument made by the law’s opponents “tortured” and “nonsensical.” 

  • September 5, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Leah Nicholls and Leslie Brueckner, Senior Attorneys at Public Justice. 

    *This post originally appeared on the Public Justice blog.

    Today we have both good news and bad news about our motion to unseal the court records in Harman v. Trinity, a federal whistleblower case involving defective highway guardrails.

    First, the good news:

    In response to our motion (which we filed on behalf of the Center for Auto Safety and The Safety Institute), the judge just ruled that Trinity Industries, Inc., a huge company that allegedly made secret modifications to a popular model of highway guardrails that transformed those guardrails into lethal spears, must show why records in the case should remain sealed from public view after the trial.

    Over the course of the case, many documents were filed under seal. We suspect that at least some of those secret documents contain important information on the safety of Trinity’s guardrails. This information could be used by safety organizations to help make our nation’s roadways safer and to help prevent another GM debacle.