Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Judge Norman Moon (W.D. Va.) today dismissed Liberty University v. Geithner, a case filed by state lawmakers, a doctor, Liberty University, and individuals challenging the federal healthcare reform legislation. The plaintiffs argued that the legislation exceeds Congress's Article I authority, and that it violates the Tenth Amendment, the religion clauses, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, equal protection, free speech and free association, Article I, Section 9's prohibition against unapportioned capitation or direct taxes, and the Guarantee Clause.
Judge Moon ruled that the state lawmakers lacked standing by virtue of their opposition to federal reform. The doctor lacked standing, because his claims that reform may interfere with his ability to provide quality care for his patients were too vague. Judge Moon ruled that other plaintiffs have standing; the case is ripe; and it's not barred by the Anti-Injunction Act.
On the merits, Judge Moon ruled that Congress acted within its authority under the Commerce Clause in enacting the individual health insurance mandate. Judge Moon wrote that
The conduct regulated by the individual coverage provision--individuals' decisions to forego purchasing health insurance coverage--is economic in nature, and so the provision is not susceptible to the shortcomings of the statutes struck down by the Court in Lopez and Morrison. Nearly everyone will require health care services at some point in their lifetimes, and it is not always possible to predict when one will be afflicted by illness or injury and require care. The "fundamental need for health care and the necessity of paying for such services received" creates the market in health care services, of which nearly everyone is a participant." . . . Far from "inactivity," by choosing to forgo insurance, Plaintiffs are making an economic decision to try to pay for health care services later, out of pocket, rather than now, through the purchase of insurance.
Op. at 27 (quoting Thomas More Law Ctr., another challenge to federal health care reform). Judge Moon had less trouble concluding that the employer mandate fell within Congress's Commerce Clause authority:
As defendants correctly point out, it is well-established in Supreme Court precedent that Congress has the power to regulate the terms and conditions of employment. . . .
The requirement imposed by the Act on employers to offer a minimum level of health insurance resembles the requirement imposed by the [Fair Labor Standards Act] on employers to offer a minimum wage upheld in Darby, and Plaintiffs fail to distinguish the two.
Op. at 31.
As to the Tenth Amendment, Judge Moon ruled that Congress had authority (and therefore the Tenth Amendment is no bar), Congress can regulate in the area of insurance (and therefore federal reform doesn't infringe upon an area reserved to the states, or upon state sovereignty), and state participation is voluntary (and therefore there's no commandeering of states or state officials).
As to the Establishment Clause, Judge Moon ruled that the religious exemptions to the individual mandate were permissible accommodations under Cutter v. Wilkinson. The exemptions do not differentiate based on faiths, they are based upon a secular government purpose, and they do not lead to excessive government entanglement with religion.
As to Free Exercise and the Regligious Freedom Restoration Act, Judge Moon ruled that the federal law does not require the plaintiffs to pay for abortion, in violation of their religious practices. "Indeed, the Act contains strict safeguards at multiple levels to prevent federal funds from being used to pay for abortion services beyond those in cases of rape or incest, or where the life of the woman would be endangered." Op. at 43.
Judge Moon ruled that the religious exemptions also did not violate equal protection. "Accordingly, with no reason to believe the exemptions were designed to favor or penalize a particular religious group, I proceed to analyze the exemptions under rational basis review." Op. at 46. The exemptions, toward the end of accommodating religion, clearly satisfied rational basis review.
As to speech and association, Judge Moon ruled that federal reform does not require the plaintiffs to support or associate with individuals who obtain an abortion in violation of free speech and association. "The Act does not require health plans to cover abortion, and it ensures that at least one policy offered through each health benefit exchange will not cover non-excepted abortion services." Op. at 49. Any required association is minimal. And the federal act does not require the plaintiffs to speak on, or to support, abortion.
As to taxes, Judge Moon ruled that the penalties for noncompliance are not taxes; instead they are "mere incident[s] of the regulation of commerce." Op. at 52 (quoting Head Money Cases.)
Finally, as to the Guarantee Clause, Judge Moon rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the federal act gives Congress the ability to veto private choices about health care and thus gives the federal government absolute sovereignty over the people. "The Act does no such thing; nothing prevents the people and their representatives from amending or repealing the Act through the democratic process." Op. at 53.
November 30, 2010 in Association, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Religion, Ripeness, Speech, Standing, Taxing Clause, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
How do you spell Bush v. Gore?: Miller sues over ballot interpretations of Murkowski's name in Alaska Senate race
In a Complaint filed late yesterday in the Alaska District Court, United States Senate Candidate Joe Miller is seeking to exclude write-in ballots for incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski unless her name is spelled correctly. As background, there is good reporting from the Anchorage Daily News and a prediction of this lawsuit by Rick Hansen over at Election Law Blog.
Miller's Complaint states four claims for relief:
First, citing the Elections Clause, Article I section 4, cl 1, which provides that the "Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof," Miller argues that the state executive branch is usurping the power of the state legislative branch.
Second, relying on the Equal Protection Clause as interpreted in Bush v. Gore, Miller alleges that the state officials “quixotic quest” to determine the intent of the voter will result in the “arbitrary and disparate treatment of write-in ballots in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution.”
In counts three and four, Miller raises state law claims under the Alaska Election Code and the Alaska Administrative Procedure Act.
As in Bush v. Gore, the candidate who otherwise advocates "states rights" and disparages "federal activist judges" is asking a federal court to intervene and enjoin state officials from implementing their interpretation of state law.
Before the election, Miller filed a complaint with the FEC against Alaskans Standing Together, a PAC with Native Alaskan support that opposed his candicacy and supported Murkowski (as illustrated by the image above from its website). The PAC will undoubtedly be relying upon Citizens United v. FEC.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Steve Sanders has posted an interesting commentary on the amicus brief filed by thirteen states in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the Proposition 8 case now in the Ninth Circuit, which we last discussed here.
Sanders points to the inconsistency in the arguments in this amicus brief with the appeal in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. HHS, the DOMA case in which the district judge agreed that DOMA conflicts with the Massachusetts' Tenth Amendment reserved powers. He writes that these 13 states are "unlikely to link arms with Massachusetts," because given "the choice between a consistent position in favor of states' rights over marriage, or a consistent position against recognition of same-sex marriages by any level of government, it is predictable that they will choose the latter."
The Tenth Amendment argument in the Massachuetts DOMA case also poses consistency issues for those relying on the Tenth Amendment in the context of challenges to Arizona's immigration law, SB 1070.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
In a 65 page opinion issued today, Senior United States District Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida has granted in part and denied in part the morion to dismiss the complaint.
The Complaint alleges that the Health Care Reform Act is unconstitutional on various grounds in six counts and the Motion to Dismiss was directed at all the counts.
Here is the bottom line:
(1) the individual mandate and concomitant penalty exceed Congressional authority under the Commerce Clause and violate the Ninth and Tenth Amendments; NOT DISMISSED
(2) the individual mandate and penalty violate substantive due process under the Fifth Amendment; DISMISSED
(3) if the penalty imposed for failing to comply with the individual mandate is found to be a tax, it is an unconstitutional unapportioned capitation or direct tax in violation of U.S. Const. art. I, § 9, cl. 4, and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments; DISMISSED AS MOOT
(4) the Act coerces and commandeers the states with respect to Medicaid by altering and expanding the program in violation of Article I and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments; NOT DISMISSED
(5) it coerces and commandeers with respect to the health benefit exchanges in violation of Article I and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments; DISMISSED
(6) the employer mandate interferes with the states' sovereignty as large employers and in the performance of government functions in violation of Article I and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments; DISMISSED
Thus, the case will proceed on the issue of whether the individual mandate is in excess of Congress' commerce power in contravention of the Tenth Amendment and on the issue of whether the Medicaid changes are in excess of Congress' Article I power and in contravention of the Tenth Amendment.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Recall the two decisions of United States District Judge Joseph Tauro holding section 3 of the Defense of Mariage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional: Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. HHS and Gill v. Office of Personnel Management.
The Obama Department of Justice has filed its notices of appeal to the First Circuit today.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Editorializing about the "war on drugs" as a war not on the "drug lords and violent cartels" but a war " that disproportionately impacts young men and women and is the latest tool for imposing Jim Crow on poor African Americans," Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP, supports California's Proposition 19 in the San Francisco Chronicle here.
Huffman has joined other voices in favor of legalizing marijuana, including arguments regarding an extension of Lawrence v. Texas to include marijuana legalization, which we discussed here.
Marijuana legalization by California (or any state) raises a potential federalism or Tenth Amendment issue since marijuana remains a controlled substance under federal law.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Missourians on Tuesday will vote on a referendum aimed at nullifying the individual health insurance mandate enacted as part of the federal health care overhaul earlier this year. The ballot proposal, Proposition C, asks voters if the Missouri statutes--not its constitution--shall be amended to
[d]eny the government authority to penalize citizens for refusing to purchase private health insurance or infringe upon the right to offer or accept direct payment for lawful healthcare services?
Missouri is the first of at least three states to consider such a measure.
Proposition C is quite likely to pass on Tuesday, according to polls. Democrats have all but ignored it and framed it as a meaningless Republican straw poll; Republicans have framed it as a referendum on federal health care reform, an expansive federal government, and the Obama administration. The NYT reports here.
Whatever the measure's political significance, the ballot results will have no legal significance. If the federal government has authority to enact the individual health insurance mandate--a hotly contested issue, which we've covered here, here, here, here, and here--the Supremacy Clause prohibits states from interfering and nullifying. In other words, if the federal government has authority to do this--a question that will ultimately be decided by the courts--Missouri can't stop it by ballot initiative.
And if the federal government doesn't have authority, Missouri's vote will be irrelevant.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
The Ordinance 5165 provides that all persons renting or leasing dwelling units obtain an “occupancy license” from the city. The fee is $5.00, and requires “citizens or nationals” to sign a declaration so stating, and
in cases in which the applicant is not a United States citizen or national, an identification number assigned by the federal government that the occupant believes establishes his lawful presence in the United States (examples include, but are not limited to: resident alien card number, visa number, "A" number, 1-94 registration number, employment authorization number, or any other number on a document issued by the U.S. Government). If the alien does not know of any such number, he shall so declare. Such a declaration shall be sufficient to satisfy this requirement.
Fremont Ordinance 5165 also requires that “Every business entity employing one or more employees and performing work within the City shall register in the [federal] E-Verify Program within 60 days after the effective date of this Ordinance, and shall use the E-Verify Program to verify the authorization of employment in the United States of each employee hired after such registration.
Interestingly, before the vote, the City of Fremont itself brought an action in state court seeking a declaratory judgment that any ordinance resulting from the ballot initiative would be unconstitutional in contravention of the Supremacy Clause. The Nebraska Supreme Court issued its opinion in April: it did not rule on the merits of the Supremacy Clause argument, holding instead that “substantive challenges to proposed initiatives are not justiciable before the measure is adopted by voters.” (The city also argued that the ballot measure violated the state constitution’s “single subject” rule, but the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s conclusion that the measure did have “one general subject- - - the regulation of illegal aliens in Fremont.”)
Two complaints have been filed in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the Ordinance.
The ACLU Nebraska Foundation and various named plaintiffs have filed a Complaint in the US District Court for Nebraska seeking an injunction against enforcement of the Fremont Ordinance. The complaint alleges that the Fremont Ordinance is subject to preemption under the Supremacy Clause, Article VI; that the Fremont Ordinance is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause; that the Fremont Ordinance is void for vagueness under the Due Process Clause; and that the Ordinance violates the Federal Fair Housing Act and state laws regarding municipal powers.
The Complaint filed by MALDEF that includes a landlord as a named plaintiff also seeks an injunction and likewise alleges preemption and equal protection, and also includes a commerce clause claim.In defending the lawsuits, the City of Fremont is in the unenviable position of having the complaints filed against it repeat the very arguments it previously advanced. According to the Nebraska Supreme Court opinion:
The Nebraska Supreme Court followed this recitation of the city’s argument by stating: “We point out that a measure is not unconstitutional until a court makes such a determination.”Fremont points out that courts have uniformly determined that harboring and housing provisions such as those contained in the Measure are preempted by federal law and therefore are unconstitutional. It therefore asserts that measures which are unconstitutional or void are beyond the power or authority of a municipality to enact and are therefore not subject to initiative or referendum.
The federal district court in Nebraska now has the task of making such a determination. Some of our previous discussions of preemption/Supremacy Clause and other arguments regarding immigration laws passed by states and localities are available here, here and here. An excellent news report on the Fremont, Nebraska controversy is here.
July 22, 2010 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Preemption, State Constitutional Law, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, July 15, 2010
The Seventeenth Amendment, ratified in 1913, provides for direct election of U.S. Senators by the people (and not, as in the original Article I, Section 3, by process set by the state legislature). The change, Zywicki argues, means that U.S. Senators no longer answer to their states. As a result, the Senate no longer plays its state-protecting role that it once played--that individual U.S. Senators (and thus the Senate as a whole) lack the incentives to control federal encroachment upon the states. Moreover, questions of federalism that were once resolved by the political branches (with the Senate as protector of the states) now go to the Supreme Court under the Tenth Amendment. But the Supreme Court has "fumbled," upsetting the federal-state balance that the Founders so carefully framed.
These and similar arguments have gained more vocal followers recently, especially within the Tea Party movement, as we've covered here.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
"If the federal government chooses not to exercise its powers, does it forfeit that power to the states and the people [under the Tenth Amendment]?" Chicago Tribune columnist Dennis Byrne asks the question in his op-ed in today's paper, Immigration: A state or federal power?
The Tenth Amendment states simply that "[t]he powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."
Byrne isn't alone in arguing that the Tenth Amendment bans the federal government from taking action in any number of areas, including, health care reform and immigration. Such claims have even worked their way into Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's hearings. Consider these written follow-up questions (pages 9 to 10) from Senator Sessions to Kagan (released with Kagan's written responses on Friday):
Do you think the Tenth Amendment is "a very specific provision" of the Constitution, or a "broad principle"? Please explain your answer.
Do you think the purpose of the Tenth Amendment was intended to give further textual protections to federalism, apart from the broader structure set up by the Constitution?
If you believe the Tenth Amendment is a "broad principle," do you think the "broad principle" was ultimately intended to protect the liberty of individuals, or the power of governments?
But Byrne overreads the Tenth Amendment in two ways. First, he suggests that the Tenth Amendment somehow empowers the states to act in areas delegated to the federal government when the federal government declines to exercise its full power, or when it exercises its power in a way that the states don't like. This is exactly what happened in the Arizona immigration debate: The federal government enforced its comprehensive immigration scheme in a way that Arizona didn't like. Byrne argues that this is enough under the Tenth Amendment to reserve the immigration power to Arizona.
This position is belied by the plain language of the Amendment. The Amendment doesn't reserve to the states "the powers not executed (or only partially executed, or executed in a way that a state doesn't like) by the United States"; instead, it reserves "powers not delegated to the United States." The Tenth Amendment does not take the federal government out of the federalism equation and vest all powers in the states simply because the federal government exercises its powers incompletely, or in a way that a state doesn't like. Instead, it merely does what it says: It reserves powers to the states that are not delegated to the federal government.
But more: Byrne (and Sessions and others) seem to read the Tenth Amendment as a protection against too much federal power--even when the Constitution delegates the federal power. Again, the Tenth Amendment cannot bear this weight. To be sure, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Tenth Amendment bars the federal government from directly commandeering the states and their employees--using the states or their employees as mere arms of the federal government--but the Court's contemporary approach to the Amendment does not otherwise limit valid congressional enactments under the Constitution.
Kagan said it well in response to Sessions's questions:
The Tenth Amendment reserves to the States or to the people the "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States." The principal question the Court has considered with respect to this Amendment is whether it provides protections to the States and to the people beyond what follows from a system of enumerated and limited federal powers.
As Justice Story explained, the Tenth Amendment is an "affirmation" of the "necessary rule of interpreting the constitution" that all powers "not conferred" on the federal government are "withheld, and belong to state authorities." United States v. Darby [citation omitted]. In New York v. United States, the Court noted that, "[i]f a power is delegated to Congress in the Constitution, the Tenth Amendment expressly disclaims any reservation of that power to the States; if a power is an attribute of state sovereignty reserved by the Tenth Amendment, it is necessarily a power the Constitution has not conferred on Congress." [Citation omitted.]
The Court has explained that the Tenth Amendment was intended to protect the powers reserved to the states, and thereby to safeguard individual liberty: "The Constitution divides authority between federal and state governments for the protection of individuals. State sovereignty is not just an end in itself: 'Rather, federalism secures to citizens the liberties that derive from the diffusion of sovereign power.'" New York v. United States [citation omitted].
Thursday, July 8, 2010
DOMA Unconstitutional: Massachusetts Federal District Judge Finds Section 3 of Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional
In two decisions today, Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. HHS and Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, United States District Judge Joseph Tauro held section 3 of the Defense of Mariage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.
Section 3 of DOMA, 1 USC section 7, provides:
In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.
Thus, same-sex partners who are legally married pursuant to Massachusetts law are nevertheless not considered married for federal purposes.
In Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. US Dept of Health and Human Services, the Judge first found that the Commonwealth had standing to bring the lawsuit, noting that the federal "VA already informed the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services that the federal government is entitled to recapture millions of dollars in federal grants if the Commonwealth decides to entomb an otherwise ineligible same-sex spouse of a veteran," and that the "Commonwealth has amassed approximately $640,661 in additional tax liability and forsaken at least $2,224,018 in federal funding because DOMA bars HHS’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services from using federal funds to insure same-sex married couples." (Opinion at 21). The Judge then merged the Tenth Amendment and Spending Clause challenges - - - "two sides of the same coin" - - - although specifically discussing and applying the classic spending clause case of South Dakota v. Dole. The Judge found that DOMA "plainly intrudes on a core area of state sovereignty—the ability to define the marital status of its citizens," and applied First Circuit precedent regarding the test for a Tenth Amendment analysis. (Opinion at 28). Further, Judge Tauro discussed the historical practice of marriage and family as being state, rather than federal matters, and noted:
That the Supreme Court, over the past century, has repeatedly offered family law as an example of a quintessential area of state concern, also persuades this court that marital status determinations are an attribute of state sovereignty. For instance, in [United States v. ] Morrison, the Supreme Court noted that an overly expansive view of the Commerce Clause could lead to federal legislation of “family law and other areas of traditional state regulation since the aggregate effect of marriage, divorce, and childrearing on the national economy is undoubtedly significant.” Similarly, in Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, the Supreme Court observed “that ‘[t]he whole subject of the domestic relations of husband and wife, parent and child, belongs to the laws of the States and not to the laws of the United States.’”
Opinion at 32. Thus, the Judge concluded that by enacting and enforcing DOMA, the federal government "encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state, and, in doing so, offends the Tenth Amendment." Opinion at 36.
In the companion case of Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, (opinion available above), the Judge considered the challenge of seven plaintiffs who had been in same-sex marriages in Massachusetts and were denied federal benefits, including survivors’ benefits. Judge Tauro outlined the plaintiffs arguments that the classification should merit strict scrutiny under equal protection clause doctrine, but held that the court “need not address these arguments, however, because DOMA fails to pass constitutional muster even under the highly deferential rational basis test,” because “there exists no fairly conceivable set of facts that could ground a rational relationship” between DOMA and a legitimate government objective, and that therefore DOMA violates the core constitutional principles of equal protection. Opinion at 21.
The Judge wrote that the Congressional House Report identifies four interests which Congress sought to advance through the enactment of DOMA: (1) encouraging responsible procreation and child-bearing, (2) defending and nurturing the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage, (3) defending traditional notions of morality, and (4) preserving scarce resources.
The Judge analyzed these interests finding them not legitimate, but not before noting that for "purposes of this litigation, the government has disavowed Congress’s stated justifications for the statute." Opinion at 23.
The Obama Administration's stance in defending DOMA has been watched closely; we discussed it here, and in the California litigation here. According to Judge Tauro, in essence, the government now argued that "the Constitution permitted Congress to enact DOMA as a means to preserve the 'status quo,' pending the resolution of a socially contentious debate taking place in the states over whether to sanction same-sex marriage." Opinion at 27. Judge Tauro also found that interest not legitimate, echoing some of the Tenth Amendment arguments in the companion case, Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. HHS, regarding the federal governments role - - - or lack of role - - - in marriage and family law.
The Judge also found that the 'status quo' rationale was not rationally served by DOMA:
The states alone are empowered to determine who is eligible to marry and, as of 1996 [the year DOMA was passed] no state had extended such eligibility to same-sex couples. In 1996, therefore, it was indeed the status quo at the state level to restrict the definition of marriage to the union of one man and one
woman. But, the status quo at the federal level was to recognize, for federal purposes, any marriage declared valid according to state law. Thus, Congress’ enactment of a provision denying federal recognition to a particular category of valid state-sanctioned marriages was, in fact, a significant departure from the status quo at the federal level.
Opinion at 32. Explicitly accepting the Plaintiffs’ argument, Judge Tauro, reasoned that "DOMA seems to inject complexity into an otherwise straightforward administrative task by sundering the class of state sanctioned marriages into two, those that are valid for federal purposes and those that are not.” Opinion at 35. Regarding the rational relationship argument, the Judge concluded that DOMA was based on "irrational prejudice" and therefore violated the equal protection clause as applicable to the federal government through the Fifth Amendment.
Thus, this federal district judge finds DOMA's section 3 unconstitutional, a ruling that will have great import for Massachusetts same-sex married couples and the state of Massachusetts, and which could be used persuasively in other states such as Iowa which allow same-sex marriage.
Whether or not the Obama Administration will appeal the ruling will be closely watched.
July 8, 2010 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fundamental Rights, News, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Spending Clause, State Constitutional Law, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
There has been a spate of coverage in recent days of Tea Party calls for repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment--the 1913 Amendment that replaced the appointment of U.S. Senators by state legislatures with popular election. Just to cite a few pieces in just two outlets: David Firestone opined yesterday in the NYT; Ashby Jones responded in the WSJ Law Blog; Matt Bai wrote in today's NYT; Jones came back in today's WSJ Law Blog.
There appear to be two primary arguments against the Seventeenth Amendment. First, the Seventeenth Amendment took away the states' primary political check on the federal government, leading to a vastly oversized federal government that freely tramples the states and their "rights." Next, the Seventeenth Amendment took away the appointment of U.S. Senators from responsible and accountable state legislatures and put it in the hands of special interests (who pull the strings in state-wide senate elections). As a result, Senators represent Big [Fill in the Blank], and not the states. (The links in this paragraph go to The Tenth Amendment Center, a site full of material on "states' rights.")
Both arguments seem surprising in this political climate, where "states' rights" get frequent attention and where "states' rights" advocates seem to enjoy at least some political power at different levels of government. (Don't the arguments fold back on themselves if "states' righters" are able to elect their own senators? And if they can't garner the political support to elect their own senators, doesn't that say something about the voters' views on federal power and "states' rights," effectively negating the arguments?)
In any event, the issue has appeared in a handful of races this year, but has sometimes backfired. "Repeal the Seventeenth Amendment" doesn't appear to be a particularly effective rallying cry, for good reasons. First, there's no particular reason that voters should trust state legislatures more than themselves; repeal thus may sound anti-democratic and even elitist. Next, repeal isn't a particularly durable position: When the politics change, positions on repeal will, too. (If state legislatures were to appoint Senators who do not (by advocates' reckoning) sufficiently respect "states' rights," repeal advocates might call for reinstatement!) Finally, repeal of a constitutional amendment is a particularly difficult (and uncertain) way to achieve the result that advocates seek; they might much more easily promote the election of candidates favorable to their own positions. The call to repeal thus may sound to many voters like a political gimmick, not a serious constitutional position.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
The Supreme Court's 7-2 ruling yesterday in U.S. v. Comstock, upholding the government's ability to order "sexually dangerous persons" detained beyond their federal prison term, is a significant statement on the power of the federal government. The case has important ramifications for other public debates and cases on the scope of federal authority and federalism--particularly on the individual health insurance mandate and health care reform's alleged violation of state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment.
There are four aspects of the Comstock ruling that ought to catch our attention:
1. The Scope of the Sweeping Clause. The five-member majority (Justice Breyer, who wrote for the Court, Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor) validated the broad and sweeping authority of the Necessary and Proper Clause, reviving the expansive language given to that Clause in McCulloch v. Maryland and citing to that case throughout the ruling. (This itself is notable. According to a Westlaw search, the Court has "examined" or "discussed" McCulloch in only nine other cases in the last 20 years. The Comstock Court, in contrast, uses that case aggressively.) The Court adopted an extremely deferential version of the McCulloch test for the Necessary and Proper Clause, writing that "Congress could have reasonably concluded . . ." in support of the Act. And the Court ruled that the Clause could support a federal Act toward the end of another federal program that itself was predicated on an enumerated power in Article I, Section 8--that an Act under the Necessary and Proper Clause can be more than once removed from an enumerated power.
The upshot of the majority ruling is that the Necessary and Proper Clause can support broad federal action beyond the enumerated powers in Article I, Section 8, as long as the ultimate end (and not merely the immediate end) is one of those enumerated powers. And moreover, as discussed below, it's up to Congress, not the Court, to decide the limits of this power.
Justices Kennedy and Alito would have read a narrower Necessary and Proper Clause, but they nevertheless joined the Court in its conclusion that the Clause supported this legislation.
2. Deference to Congress. The five-member majority read the Necessary and Proper Clause as giving Congress, not the Court, the power to determine the scope of its authority. The Court deferred to Congress using something like Williamson v. Lee Optical rational basis review, writing that "Congress could have reasonably concluded . . ." in support of the legislation.
This is the kind of deference we haven't seen in the Court's recent Commerce Clause jurisprudence (with the possible exception of Gonzales v. Raich). And here it's notable that Justice Breyer wrote for the Court: Justice Breyer also wrote the lengthy and detailed dissents in U.S. v. Lopez and U.S. v. Morrison showing how the legislative evidence supported a rational basis for finding that the regulated activities in those cases substantially affected interstate commerce--why the Court should have deferred to Congress in those cases. Comstock is something of a vindication of the Breyer position as applied to the Necessary and Proper Clause.
3. A "Living" Constitution, Expanding Powers. The five-member majority was unconcerned that detaining federal prisoners as "sexually dangerous persons" was an idea unanticipated by the Framers. The Court quoted New York v. U.S. and McCulloch in writing that "the powers conferred upon the Federal Government by the Constitution were phrased in language broad enough to allow for the expansion of the Federal Government's role," and that ours is "a constitution intended to endure for ages to come, and, consequently, to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs."
4. No Infringement upon State Sovereignty. The five-member majority reaffirmed the Tenth Amendment as a truism, writing that "[v]irtually by definition, [powers in Article I, including the Necessary and Proper Clause] are not powers that the Constitution 'reserved to the States,'" and that nothing in the Act intruded into the powers of the states.
Taken together, these aspects of the Comstock ruling reflect broad (and expanding) federal authority, with little concern for federal infringement upon so-called "states' rights." As the cases challenging health care reform move through the lower courts, we'll see how this plays out. But it's hard to imagine how, with this new 7-2 ruling, this Court wouldn't also uphold health care reform (including the health insurance mandate).
Monday, May 17, 2010
In a 7-2 opinion, the Court this morning decided United States v. Comstock, argued in January (our discussion here). The Court reversed the Fourth Circuit and upheld the constitutionality of a Congressional statute, 18 U. S. C. § 4248, allowing the order of civil commitment for a federal prisoner who is a sex offender, even if the commitment continues beyond the date the inmate otherwise would be released.
The question presented was whether the statute was within Congressional power under the Necessary and Proper Clause, Art. I, § 8, cl. 18.
McCulloch v. Maryland's famous 1819 formulation was of course invoked:
Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the constitution, are constitutional.
- The Necessary and Proper Clause grants Congress broad powers;
- This type of legislation is a long-standing Congressional practice: "the civil-commitment statute before us constitutes a modest addition to a set of federal prison-related mental-health statutes that have existed for many decades."
- The statute is merely an extension to persons already in federal custody ("If a federal prisoner is infected with a communicable disease that threatens others, surely it would be “necessary and proper” for the Federal Government to take action, pursuant to its role as federal custodian, to refuse (at least until the threat diminishes) to release that individual among the general public, where he might infect others).
- Congress properly accounted for state interests and there is no Tenth Amendment issue.
- The statute has a narrow scope, and although relying on the necessary & proper clause, the "links" to an "enumerated Article I power are not too attenuated."
As to the fifth reason, Breyer does not cite a specific enumerated power to which the necessary and proper clause "links." This lack provides much of the substance of Thomas' lengthy dissenting opinion:
The Government identifies no specific enumerated power or powers as a constitutional predicate for § 4248, and none are readily discernable. Indeed, not even the Commerce Clause—the enumerated power this Court has interpreted most expansively, [citation omitted] can justify federal civil detention of sex offenders. Under the Court’s precedents, Congress may not regulate noneconomic activity (such as sexual violence) based solely on the effect such activity may have, in individual cases or in the aggregate, on interstate commerce. Morrison, 529 U. S., at 617–618; United States v. Lopez, 514 U. S. 549, 563–567 (1995).
Thomas also takes issue with the majority's dismissal of any Tenth Amendment problem, arguing that the federal statute "closely resembles the involuntary civil-commitment laws that States have enacted under their parens patriae and general police powers. "
Breyer's opinion for the Court bracketed any due process concerns, citing Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U. S. 346 (1997). However, there is an obvious connection between the Court's narrow reading of due process in Hendricks and the expansive reading of the Necessary and Proper Clause in Comstock. Indeed, the Court seems keen to uphold laws regulating so-called "sex offenders."
Monday, April 5, 2010
Ilya Shaprio (Cato Institute) offers to debate the constitutionality of health care reform anytime, anywhere--just pay his travel expenses:
Shaprio claims to make his offer because he's heard that some groups have had a hard time finding anyone to make the constitutional case against health care reform. This seems surprising--see our coverage of opponents, on constitutional grounds (Tenth Amendment, Commerce Clause, and other grounds), here, here, and here.
Saturday, April 3, 2010
When we think of so-called "states' rights" or the Tenth Amendment, we think of the current 50 states, or perhaps if we are more historically-minded, we think of the past, including the "original" 13 colonies/states. But what about the "other" states, the almost-states?
Transylvania? Texlahoma? Deseret? South California? West Florida?
And even - - - Long Island?
An NPR story asserts: "It's been over half a century since Hawaii joined the United States and the 50th star was added to the flag. And — except for the occasional discussion of Puerto Rican statehood — there hasn't been much serious talk about expanding beyond 50. As for unserious talk, that has never been in short supply."
The focus is Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made It by Michael J. Trinklein. The just-published book is advertised to delight history buffs, but it should also provide fodder for theorists of federalism and of the Tenth Amendment.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Within ten minutes of President Obama’s signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, available as large download here, thirteen states through their state attorney generals filed a complaint in the Northern District of Florida, Pensacola Division, challenging the constitutionality of the statute.
The states - - - Florida, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Washington, Idaho, and South Dakota - - - contend that the Act “greatly alters the federal-state relationship, to the detriment of the states, with respect to Medicaid programs specifically and healthcare coverage generally” (para 39).
Count One, entitled “Unconstitutional Exercise of Federal Power and Violation of The Tenth Amendment (Const. Art. I & Amend. X)” alleges both that the Act exceeds Congressional power under Art I sec 8; the “taxing and Spending Clause”; or “any other provision of the Constitution” (para 56), and that the Act violates the Tenth Amendment.Count Two, entitled “Violation of Constitutional Prohibition of Unapportioned Capitation or Direct Tax
(Const. Art. I, §§ 2, 9)” alleges that the tax penalty on uninsured persons “constitutes a capitation and a direct tax that is not apportioned among the states.”
Count Three, entitled “Unconstitutional Mandate That All Individuals Have Health Insurance Coverage Or Pay Tax Penalty (Const. Art. I & Amend. X)” alleges:
The Act is directed to a lack of or failure to engage in activity that is driven by the choices of individual Americans. Such inactivity by its nature cannot be deemed to be in commerce or to have any substantial effect on commerce, whether interstate or otherwise. As a result, the Act cannot be upheld under the Commerce Clause, Const. art. I, § 8. The Act infringes upon Plaintiffs’ interests in protecting the freedom, public health, and welfare of their citizens and their state fiscs, by coercing many persons to enroll in Medicaid at a substantial cost to Plaintiffs; and denies Plaintiffs their sovereign ability to confer rights upon their citizens and residents to make healthcare decisions without government interference, including the decision not to participate in any healthcare insurance program or scheme, in violation of the Tenth Amendment (para 65).
The fourth and final count seeks declaratory judgment based on the previous allegations.
For pedagogical purposes, the Complaint could be used as an in class exercise in a Constitutional Law course, perhaps using some of the materials available from the Federalist Society here to write a memo in support of the complaint, as well our previous discussions here and here. It might also be useful for a Constitutional Litigation seminar to engage in a redrafting of the Complaint or a drafting of an Answer.
March 23, 2010 in Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Current Affairs, Federalism, Medical Decisions, News, Supremacy Clause, Teaching Tips, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, January 4, 2010
The Tenth Amendment Center tracks state health care "nullification" efforts on an interactive map, with useful links to legislation and proposed state constitutional amendments. We posted most recently on state constitutional arguments against federal health care reform here and here.
As you know, or might guess, the Tenth Amendment Center supports such state nullification efforts and argues that they are fully constitutional. Michael Boldin sets out the case here. If you think that the Supremacy Clause might have something to say about state arguments against federal health care reform, the Tenth Amendment Center has a response to that, too:
Sunday, September 13, 2009
State lawmakers in several states have sought to introduce measures to curtail federal health care reform, according to a report yesterday by the AP. The effort has so far been most successful in Arizona, where a proposed state constitutional amendment will appear on the ballot in 2010. The bill reads in relevant part:
A. To preserve the freedom of Arizonans to provide for their health care:
1. A law or rule shall not compel, directly or indirectly, any person, employer or health care provider to participate in any health care system.
2. A person or employer may pay directly for lawful health care services and shall not be required to pay penalties or fines for paying directly for lawful health care services. A health care provider may accept direct payment for lawful health care services and shall not be required to pay penalties or fines for accepting direct payment from a person or employer for lawful health care services.
B. Subject to reasonable and necessary rules that do not substantially limit a person's options, the purchase or sale of health insurance in private health care systems shall not be prohibited by law or rule.
This measure, and others like it, would certainly run up against federal preemption under any comprehensive federal reform bill.
On the flip side, protesters again suggested at Saturday's protest on the National Mall that federal health care reform would increase the size and scope of the federal government beyond what the founders intended. But any federal reform measure currently in play would fit comfortably within Congress's authority under the Commerce Clause and the Court's "substantial effects" test--i.e., that Congress can regulate under the Commerce Clause anything that has a "substantial effect" upon interstate commerce.
Given the reality of federal supremacy, the expansive federal authority under the Commerce Clause, and a sprawling health care system that pervades the national economy (isn't that exactly the problem?), the state efforts to limit federal health care reform and the arguments that federal health care reform exceed the federal government's powers have no real traction in our federal constitutional system. But they seem to have garnered enough of a following to at least signal that some number think, on principle or merely because of politics, that the federal government has no business in health care reform.
Friday, May 15, 2009
The state sovereignty movement speaks with many voices. At its modest, the movement merely seeks to release states from unfunded federal mandates and federal strong-arming through conditioned spending programs. At its strongest, some in the movement advocate secession.
But despite significant differences within the movement, there seems to be broad agreement that the Tenth Amendment protects states from federal interference more than the Supreme Court has held in cases like New York v. United States (federal government cannot commandeer a state's legislative process by requiring a state to enact and enforce a federal regulatory program), Printz v. United States (federal government cannot require state or local officials to enforce federal law), and South Dakota v. Dole (federal government may place certain conditions upon federal funds).
Just Wednesday, the Oklahoma Senate passed House Concurrent Resolution 1028, "A Concurrent Resolution claiming sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over certain powers; serving notice to the federal government to cease and desist certain mandates; providing that certain federal legislation be prohibited or repealed; and directing distribution." Here are some highlights:
WHEREAS, the scope of power defined by the Tenth Amendment means that the federal government was created by the states specifically to be an agent of the states . . .
WHEREAS, the Tenth Amendment assures that we, the people of the United States of America and each sovereign state in the Union of States, now have, and have always had, rights the federal government may not usurp . . .
[therefore be it resolved]
THAT the State of Oklahoma hereby claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States.
THAT this serve as Notice and Demand to the federal government, as our agent, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers.
THAT all compulsory federal legislation which directs states to comply under threat of civil or criminal penalties or sanctions or requires states to pass legislation or lose federal funding be prohibited or repealed.