In his Gettysburg Address of 1863, United States President Abraham Lincoln spoke about a "government of the people, by the people and for the people." Fast forward 151 years, and the meaning of that phrase is not so clear. Who runs government? Is the United States Federal Government run in all instances by those who have been elected by the people? As the government struggles to govern and enforce regulatory compliance in an era where technological advancement and globalization have created new challenges, its reliance on the private sector or private contractors has reached new peaks.
Extensive use of private contractors
Private contractors, of course, were used by the Union Army during the Civil War; they built the nation's nuclear weapons complex during World War II and have supplied the military with armaments from guns to fighting vessels. That the government buys things from the private sector is no surprise. Nor is it a surprise that the government buys discrete services from the private sector. Government buildings, for example, are cleaned by private contractors.
Yet, how much can the government contract out before it is delegating functions that it should perform itself? Political scientists talk about the problem with contracting out "inherently governmental functions" but what does that term really mean? Is it like what former Supreme Court Justice Stewart said about obscenity, "I know it when I see it"? Or is there some objective definition?
Delegating to the private sector
It may be easier to answer these questions after looking at how much has been delegated to the private sector. Wake up in the morning and drive to work in a hurry and you may be turned in for a speeding ticket by a private contractor that operates and, in theory, calibrates equipment that clocks drivers and photographs speeders. If your infraction is markedly more serious than a speeding violation and prison time is mandated, you may find yourself in a jail run by a private contractor and staffed with private prison guards. While your criminal case will still be heard by judge who is a government employee, the same cannot be said for all civil cases as civil dispute resolution is actually being privatised.
* Mr. Essaheb will be a panelist at the March 24 event, “From ‘Papers Please’ To DREAM and TRUST,” hosted by ACS and the Center for American Progress. See here to register for the event at SEIU in Washington, D.C.
While high-profile discussions about immigration policy sputtered in 2013, states across the country have proposed—and enacted—inclusive legislation that improves community policing, increases access to affordable education, and improves highway safety. Therein lies the lesson from state capitals to Washington: pro-migrant measures aren’t just good policy, they’re good, bipartisan politics.
It hasn’t always been this way. As recently as 2011, five states rushed to adopt Arizona’s SB 1070, an anti-immigrant law that was subsequently challenged by the National Immigration Law Center and others. Last year, North Carolina was the only state to propose legislation that would require police officers to demand “papers” of those they suspected were in the country without authorization, but this proposal was turned into a study bill. This resulting study found that enforcement measures were unnecessary and costly. Furthermore, states that had vigorously defended their anti-immigrant laws—Alabama, Indiana, and, most recently, South Carolina—have all agreed to settle civil rights challenges instead, and Colorado repealed an anti-immigrant law that had long been on its books.
Last year, the pendulum shifted toward laws designed to restore trust in the community and local law enforcement. California and Connecticut passed different versions of the TRUST Act, designed to mitigate the harms caused by entanglement between state and local authorities and federal immigration law. These laws help improve the delicate relationships between immigrant communities and local law enforcement by limiting the instances in which local authorities can hold an immigrant at the behest of immigration officials. Other states, including Maryland, seem poised to join their ranks this year.
Writing for The Global Legal Post, ACS Board Member Reuben Guttman addresses the growing “privatisation of America.” In the piece, Guttman discusses the extensive use of private contractors and questions whether “we really have a modern day United States Government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’?”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testified last week before the U.S. Sentencing Commission about a proposal that would reduce the federal prison population. Among other things, the amendments would offer “modestly shorter sentence recommendations [for] low level, nonviolent drug offenders.” Jessica Eaglin at the Brennan Center for Justice has the story.
The Supreme Court is set to review a petition for certiorari in a case involving whether a photographing company can deny services to same-sex couples on the basis of religion. Richard Wolf at USA TODAY breaks down Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock.
As the high court prepares to hear oral argument in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., Lawrence Hurley at Reuters notes how the justices could “dodge the contentious question of whether corporations have religious rights.”
Writing for The Daily Beast, Jamelle Bouie debunks the assumption that “culture” is to blame for inner-city black poverty.
At Opinio Juris, Julian Ku discusses his participation in a hearing of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board that addressed the National Security Agency’s surveillance authority.
While the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate was the center of attention during the first round of constitutional challenges to it, its “contraception mandate” stars in two cases currently before the Supreme Court, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. Under health care reform, large employers must now provide employees with health insurance that covers basic preventive care. For women, basic preventive care includes access to FDA-approved contraception. The Obama administration has totally exempted churches from this requirement, and essentially exempted nonprofits from it, so it really only applies to for-profit corporations. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a chain of arts and crafts stores, and Conestoga Woods Specialties Corp., a cabinet manufacturer, argue that they are religiously opposed to certain forms of contraception and that consequently the contraception mandate violates their religious liberty.
Actually, there are two types of plaintiffs in these cases. First, there are the for-profit corporations who claim that the contraception mandate violates the corporations’ religious rights. Second, there are the owners of the for-profit corporations who claim that the contraception mandate violates their individual religious rights. Both plaintiffs should lose, but for different reasons. The corporations should lose because for-profit corporations do not and should not have religious liberty rights. The owners of the corporations should lose because their claims have no merit.
Starting with the corporate plaintiffs: the reasons individuals and churches are granted religious liberty rights simply do not apply to for-profit corporations. Why do we protect individual religious conscience? Religious people might respond that we protect individual religious conscience so that people can fulfill their obligations to God. Failure to do so can cause great suffering now and in the hereafter. Corporations, of course, cannot not suffer, have no soul, and certainly have no relationship with God. Secular people might respond that we protect people’s decisions about their spirituality because it is a way of respecting their individual autonomy and inherent dignity. But while people are ends in themselves and possess an inviolable dignity, corporations do not. They are merely a means to an end, and possess no inherent dignity that we must respect. In short, religious rights only make sense when applied to actual people. Corporations lack the fundamentally human attributes, such as a relationship with God or inviolable dignity, which justify religious liberty protection.
This week, the American Civil Liberties Union advised the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reject an Arizona law denying bail to immigrants in the country illegally. While those defending the law claim that it is meant to “improve public safety, not punish people for federal immigration violations,” the ACLU maintains that “Latino detainees are [being] unfairly held while other nationalities are allowed to put up bond.” Paul Elias of the The Associated Press has the story.
In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which required select jurisdictions to submit all changes in voting rules to the Justice Department for review. Writing for MSNBC, Adam Serwer comments on the role Chief Justice John Roberts played in the controversial decision and the implications of “equal sovereignty.” For further analysis on Shelby County, please see ACSbloganalysis by Spencer Overton, former ACS Board Member and the President and CEO of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
At CPRBlog, James Goodwin follows the developing legal dispute concerning Duke Energy’s violation of the Clean Water Act. Goodwin explains why “federal prosecutors are now looking into whether North Carolina’s environmental regulators engaged in any criminal activity in their efforts to shield Duke.”
Steven R. Morrison at PrawfsBlawg notes “a rare move in terrorism (and all criminal) cases” concerning former Al-Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghayth.
On C-SPAN, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan reflects on her “life and career” in a conversation with Georgetown University Law Center students.