Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, July 30, 2018

"Wanna Beat Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee? Focus on Marijuana"

Brett-kavanaughThe title of this post is the headline of this intriguing new Daily Beast commentary authored by Jeff Hauser.  I recommend the whole piece, and here are extended excerpts:

What if I were to tell you that there is a political issue that galvanizes young voters?  An issue that unites libertarians, independents, and African-Americans?  An issue with bipartisan power, that works not only in cities, but has demonstrated strength in red states like Kentucky and West Virginia? 

It’s an issue likely to generate cases to be heard by the Supreme Court in the next decade and one on which the Trump administration’s leading law enforcement official — Attorney General Jeff Sessions — is already on the losing side politically.

Given all that, you would think this issue would be a central part of the Democratic Party’s campaign against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court.  You would think wavering Democrats and shaky Republican senators would be targeted on the basis of the threat Kavanaugh poses on this issue.  But because the progressive movement sometimes makes political basics look liking trying to solve Fermat's Last Theorem, you would be wrong.

The issue I speak of is marijuana.  And it is likely to be a source of many complicated legal disputes in the coming decade, disputes that will be of increasing salience to American voters and, by turn, the Supreme Court.

In fact, the Supreme Court has already had to deal with some marijuana-related matters.  Just a few years ago, it was asked to weigh in on Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana. Nebraska and Oklahoma argued Colorado’s law was preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act, and that the court should enjoin Colorado from implementing its law.  Nebraska and Oklahoma complained that Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana “undermin[ed] their own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems.”

On presumably technical grounds, six members of the Court declined to hear the lawsuit, but without prejudice (meaning there was no implication those Justices disagreed on the merits and the states could pursue their theory in the lower courts). Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Samuel Alito, dissented from the decision to not hear the case not only on technical grounds, but also by noting that Nebraska and Oklahoma have alleged “significant harms to their sovereign interests caused by another State.”  They stated that those allegations were significant enough to warrant the Court’s attention.

That decision was back in 2016. How will Justice Neil Gorsuch (typically an ally of Thomas and Alito) feel when this question comes back to the Court now, as it likely will?  How would a Justice Kavanaugh, who most well-informed observers believe is essentially Gorsuch 2.0, feel about it?  Would Chief Justice John Roberts feel differently about it with a social-issues moderate like Justice Anthony Kennedy no longer on the Court?

These are important questions, affecting a massive and growing industry that a growing portion of the population supports.  And yet, they’ve been completely unasked during this current debate about the future composition of the Court....

It’s impossible, of course, to say for sure whether other questions surrounding marijuana legalization will come to the Court, or in what form.  But it appears likely.  Even the intersection of banking law and drug policy is a messy thicket right now.  America’s slow burning experiment with marijuana reform raises many as yet unclarified legal issues.

And that’s why those who are interested in marijuana legalization should also want to know what Judge Brett Kavanaugh thinks about the host of legal questions that might ultimately decide its future.

As a political matter, there are few better cards for the Democratic Party to play.  According to Gallup, support for legalization has "risen from 12 percent in 1969 to 31 percent in 2000 to 64 percent in 2017."  Several other surveys reveal similar increases.  An April 2018 Quinnipiac poll shows support for marijuana legalization not only strong among Democrats (75 percent) but Independents as well (67 percent), and even 41 percent of Republicans.

Support remains strongest among millennials — a group that commentators have noted is crucial to Democrats’ performance in this November’s midterm elections — but it has also risen rapidly among all age groups and places.  This past June, Oklahoma — Oklahoma! — voted to legalize marijuana.

In an environment in which marijuana is salient to the Supreme Court and many voters, the fact that marijuana is not part of the effort to secure red and purple state Senate votes against Kavanaugh is a little perplexing.

Not least because it has already proven to be a topic that can compel lawmakers to act.  Senators with “the federalist position” on-marijuana includes progressives like Senators Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand but also Republicans “Rand Paul, Lisa Murkowski, and Mike Lee.”

But no Senator better reflects the potential of the marijuana issue as a wedge than Colorado’s Cory Gardner.  Just last month, Gardner and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released a marijuana legislation reform bill to “give states the right to determine the best approach to marijuana within their borders.”  And for three months this winter, Gardner held up all Justice Department nominees in an effort to force Attorney General Sessions to agree to leave Colorado’s marijuana industry alone.

That display of spine was about as much as any Republican Senator has shown in attempting to restrain the Trump Administration to date.  But it also made sense.  Being viewed as a fighter for Colorado's right to legalize marijuana is likely pivotal to Gardner's political survival.  In 2014, Gardner won his seat in a GOP wave by a mere 2 points. In 2020, he will be facing an uphill battle since he holds the single most pro-Hillary Clinton seat of any Republican in the U.S. Senate....

Marijuana is not a staple of Supreme Court fights. The issue advocacy groups that focus on marijuana do not typically focus on the Supreme Court. And Cory Gardner is not a typical target for Democrats. But “typical” isn’t good enough. It is sadly clear that if progressive groups and Democrats rely exclusively on raising the same issues they raised in the Gorsuch “fight” in 2017, Kavanaugh will be confirmed easily.

Marijuana reform is one of the most important new political issues of this era and it’s about time Democrats and progressives take it seriously.

I do not think questions about marijuana will lead to "beating" Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but I do think it quite sound to urge Senators to ask Judge Kavanaugh about the range of federalism and personal freedom issues that surround modern marijuana reform.  In this post upon Justice Anthony Kennedy announcing his retirement, I asked "With Justice Kennedy now retiring and precedents being reversed, is it time for marijuana advocates to urge SCOTUS to reconsider Raich?".   Asking questions about Raich could be one of a number of ways to probe Judge Kavanaugh's views on these important topics.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2018/07/wanna-beat-trumps-supreme-court-nominee-focus-on-marijuana.html

Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink

Comments

Post a comment