Professor Adam Winkler

  • 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.

  • June 18, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    We likely shouldn’t be surprised by Justice Antonin Scalia’s “flip-flop,” as TPM puts it, on precedent supporting modern understanding of the Constitution’s commerce clause.

    TPM’s Sahil Kapur reports that in his forthcoming book, Scalia says the Supreme Court’s 1942 opinion in Wickard v. Filburn wrongly construed the scope of the commerce clause. As Kapur and many others have noted, including the Obama administration, Scalia cited Wickard in a 2005 opinion concluding that a law barring personal cultivation of marijuana for medical use was not beyond the scope of the commerce clause.

    In that case, Gonzales v. Raich, Scalia lodged a concurring opinion, citing precedent in holding, “where Congress has the authority to enact a regulation of interstate commerce, ‘it possesses every power needed to make that regulation effective.’”

    In an e-mail to TPM, constitutional law expert Adam Winkler wrote, “This is typical Scalia.”

    Winkler, a law professor at UCLA, continued:

    He respects precedents when they fit his conservative ideology and disregards them when they don’t. He claims that history should guide judges. But nothing about the history of the commerce clause has changed. What’s changed is the political implications of the commerce clause. When it’s being invoked for law and order conservatives, he favors Wickard. When invoked by liberals to support healthcare reform, he thinks Wickard is bad law.

    Once again, we see that Scalia’s orginalism is a charade.

    There is also the spectacle of oral argument, where Scalia not only revealed a wobbly understanding of the health care insurance system but affinity for the simplistic, but radically libertarian arguments lobbed against the Affordable Care Act’s minimum coverage provision. The minimum coverage provision is integral to the health care reform law, requiring those who can afford to do so to obtain a minimum amount of the health care coverage starting in 2014.

  • March 28, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    So it appears just based on oral argument action, if you believe pundits, such as CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin that the high court’s conservative justices are ready to trash precedent and accept the simplistic arguments of the challengers that the Affordable Care Act’s minimum coverage provision is a wild overreach by the federal government.

    As noted in this ACSblog post, UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler says we shouldn’t be surprised that the high court’s right-wing majority may be leaning this way. It has already proved it has no problem shunning precedent or being out-of-touch, for example see Citizens United v. FEC.

    In a piece for The Huffington Post, ACS President Caroline Fredrickson argued against the idea that the minimum coverage provision is “unprecedented,” as its challengers like to call it.

    “What is truly radical,” Fredrickson says, “is the economic theory the state and individual challengers are pushing, which calls for a greatly limiting the ability of Congress to address national concerns. It’s an argument that longs for the days when courts actively shut down congressional attempts to solve national problems.”

    Geoffrey Stone, a constitutional law expert and a member of the ACS board, explains, also in a Huffington Post article, why the law’s minimum coverage provision, which will require Americans who can afford to do so to starting carrying health care insurance in 2014, is seemingly so unappealing to the high court’s conservative wing. Primarily the conservative wing appears to be obsessed with a slippery slope – if folks can be required to purchase health care insurance then what’s next?

    Stone notes that the “slippery slope is a means of reasoning, not a conclusion. Every principle and decision has a slippery slope: The question is whether we can get off the slope before it reaches bad outcomes. In this instance, this is easy. The decisions of millions of individual Americans not to purchase health insurance (even though they can afford it) have a dramatic impact on the cost of health care for everyone else and on interstate commerce. This is clearly an appropriate matter for federal attention under the Commerce Clause.”

  • March 27, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Adam Winkler, professor of law, UCLA School of Law. This post is part of an ACSblog online symposium on oral argument in HHS v. Florida.


    The two days of oral argument into President Obama's health care reform law have been notable for their lack of surprises.

    On the first day, the Court considered whether the Anti-Injunction Act barred the lawsuits challenging the individual mandate. Although this was always considered the sleeper issue of the case, there are few stronger trends in the Supreme Court these days than judicial assertiveness. A Court that could decide a disputed presidential election in Bush v. Gore; unleash Citizens United; and repeatedly wade into presidential war powers should have little hesitancy reaching out to decide the fate of the Affordable Care Act. So when the Justices breezily ignored the plain language of the AIA, it was predictable. The Court wants to decide all of the major issues in American politics, including this.

    On day two, the Court looked at the individual mandate. One thing that always seemed beyond the pale to me was the idea that, when it came to the mandate, the votes of Justice Scalia and Chief Justice Roberts were in play. Just because Scalia voted to uphold the federal drug laws in Gonzalez v. Raich should never have fooled anyone into thinking he'd vote to uphold the mandate, and his aggressive questioning of the government on the mandate indicated he's likely to vote to strike it down. The same can be said for Roberts, who for seven years now has been confounding the expectations of those who believed he'd really push for unanimous, narrow rulings that avoided constitutional questions, as he promised in his confirmation hearings. His voting record is strongly conservative and his desire to protect the institutional legitimacy of the Court is remarkable mainly for its lack of manifestation.

  • February 23, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Maryland lawmakers late today voted to join seven other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex marriage. The marriage equality measure, sponsored by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), will now likely face voters, since religious rights special interests in the state have promised to work to drag the measure, the Civil Marriage Protection Act, before voters this fall.

    One of the Senate’s leaders said the bill would end discrimination against same-sex couples and their families, and that it would not impact straight marriages. He said it was time to end state-sanctioned discrimination and allow gays and lesbians to wed. Another senator noted that this was not the first time the General Assembly had altered the civil right of marriage, noting that in the late 1960s it invalidated a ban on interracial marriage.

    Following debate, which included many allusions to religion and “traditional” marriage, the Md. Senate passed the bill by a vote of 25 – 22. With the promise of O’Malley’s signature, likely to happen tomorrow, Maryland will become the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage. The District of Columbia also recognizes same-sex marriage.  Like marriage equality laws in New York and Washington, the Maryland measure includes an exemption for houses of worship, meaning they will not be under a legal obligation to perform same-sex marriages or allow their facilities to be used for the marriages.

    In an interview yesterday with one of the nation’s best gay reporters, Michelangelo Signorile, O’Malley (pictured) said he is confident a consensus has emerged in support of marriage equality. “There’s been an evolution in the broadest sense among the people of our state,” O’Malley said. He added that “people have come to realize that the way forward, among people of many different faiths, is always through the greater and broader respect for equal rights for all.”

    UCLA law school professor Adam Winkler examines another major win for marriage equality in a piece for The Huffington Post. Winkler notes that earlier this week a federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush ruled that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.