The Supreme Court’s decision last week in Gundy v. U.S. was deceptively anticlimactic. The vote was 5-3, but there was no majority opinion and the decision made no new law. Justice Samuel Alito’s lone concurrence, however, suggested that a major break with precedent—and a return to the Constitution’s original meaning—will soon be in the offing.
The Constitution’s first clause after the Preamble states: “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” Since 1935 the justices have ignored that provision and permitted lawmakers to delegate their authority to the executive branch. At issue in this case was a provision of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act of 2006, or Sorna, that directed the attorney general to “specify the applicability” of the law’s registration requirements to offenders, like Herman Gundy, whose crimes predated the act. Mr. Gundy, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for failing to register, claimed this delegation was illegitimate.
The case was heard four days before Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Had Justice Alito dissented, the resulting 4-4 split would have upheld the lower court’s ruling against Mr. Gundy without any opinion being issued. Instead, Justice Alito joined his four liberal colleagues in rejecting Mr. Gundy’s appeal but said he was prepared to switch sides: “If a majority of this Court were willing to reconsider the approach we have taken for the past 84 years, I would support that effort.” A dissent from Justice Neil Gorsuch, meanwhile, set forth the case for nondelegation.
Gundy offered an excellent opportunity to begin reasserting the original constitutional design. Sorna’s delegation of power was extreme. While setting up an elaborate registration system for sex offenders convicted after its enactment, the law granted the attorney general “authority to specify the applicability of the requirements of this subchapter to sex offenders convicted before the enactment of this chapter.” A single official in the executive branch was given the power to impose requirements carrying severe criminal penalties on more than 500,000 Americans, and then to carry them out.
Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the plurality opinion, struggled mightily to find an intelligible principle. She wrote that the court had interpreted Sorna as requiring applicability “to all pre-Act offenders as soon as feasible.” But as Justice Gorsuch noted, that language appears neither in the statute nor in the Justice Department’s implementing regulations.
Keeping track of the Jacksonians, Reformicons, Paleos, and Post-liberals.
I like to start my classes on conservative intellectual history by distinguishing between three groups. There is the Republican party, with its millions of adherents and spectrum of opinion from very conservative, somewhat conservative, moderate, and yes, liberal. There is the conservative movement, the constellation of single-issue nonprofits that sprung up in the 1970s —
- gun rights,
- right to work
— and continue to influence elected officials. Finally, there is the conservative intellectual movement: writers, scholars, and wonks whose journalistic and political work deals mainly with ideas and, if we’re lucky, their translation into public policy.
Contrary to what supporters say, he’s no originalist.
But Judge Kavanaugh hasn’t earned his originalist badge. It’s being fixed to him to mask the fact that as an appeals court judge, he relentlessly pressed forward a Republican agenda favoring business and religious interests.
.. Judge Kavanaugh leaned a bit toward an originalist approach in two opinions, one in 2008, the other in 2011. But when he was asked in 2016 whether he considered himself an originalist, he didn’t answer, and in a 2017 lecture, he expressed caution. “History and tradition, liberty, and judicial restraint and deference to the legislature,” he explained, “compete for primacy of place in different areas of the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence.”
To a pure originalist, this is an incoherent mixing of methodologies. Any ruling that departs from the original meaning should be thrown out. Judge Kavanaugh has called for no such thing.
.. Instead, he has proudly said that he’s a textualist, which means that he gives primacy to the ordinary meanings of the words of a statute, or the Constitution itself. Textualists steer away from other sources of meaning, like legislative history. Conservatives have often touted textualism for its neutral deference to the legislature. Three of the court’s conservative members — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Neal Gorsuch — lay claim to textualism as a guiding principle.
But textualism doesn’t serve as an overarching theory for conservative jurisprudence. Textualist interpretation can produce liberal as well as conservative interpretations of statutes. And because ambiguous phrasing in laws leaves judges with choices to make, it doesn’t put much of a restraint on judges. As Judge Kavanaugh has said, quoting the liberal-moderate Justice Elena Kagan, “We are all textualists now.” This means that textualism offers neither a clear dividing line from liberals nor the historical gravitas of originalism.
.. This is clear from the conservatives’ expansive interpretation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, an approach that has no historical support from the time the First Amendment was written. Despite this, in a series of decisions, from Citizens United in 2010, which opened a faucet of campaign donations and spending, to Janus v. AFSCME in June, which diminished the clout of unions by stopping them from collecting dues from all the workers they represent, conservatives have used the First Amendment to strike down laws that regulate corporations, help unions and limit the influence of money on politics.
.. Tellingly, the court has accepted far more cases involving challenges to regulations of conservative speech than previous courts, with a win rate of 69 percent, compared with 21 percent for cases involving liberal speech. Judge Kavanaugh, too, has embraced this business-friendly interpretation of the First Amendment.
.. With five reliable members, the court’s conservative wing will be in a position to accomplish much, and for the most part it will be easier to achieve its goals without originalism.
.. Expect a reappearance, however, when it comes time to reconsider the constitutional right to abortion access established in Roe v. Wade. With that important exception, originalism has largely served its purpose and can be cast away
.. Judge Kavanaugh’s supporters call him an originalist rather than the pro-business Republican he is because of the theory’s claim that it separates law from politics. As the gap between originalism and the greater goals of conservative jurisprudence widens, however, the claim that the Supreme Court stands above the political fray, already damaged, will become harder to sustain.
- Trump identified a huge gap between Republican leadership and voters.
- Trump in office is not much different than a Ted Cruz or Bush government. Trump has been more than happy to give away the store to party elites.
If you want to know how the Republican party consolidated, it was not Donald Trump, it was
(49 min) Trump has managed to combine the things that voters and elites felt most strongly about
- Voters: group identities: racial, demographic, nationalistic change: Immigration, Trade, NFL players
- Party Elites: low taxes, overturning Roe, appointing judges, anti-administrative state, anti-Obamacare
He went out his way to say unorthodox things about taxing Hedge Fund managers, protecting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. Instinctively lied about those things.
European parties have big state for nativists
The real test of how weak the Republican State would be if he went after the economic elites.
The Democrats are becoming more orthodoxly liberal.
Like America’s president, Brexiteers resent the very idea of governing as complex and based in facts.A common thread linking “hard” Brexiteers to nationalists across the globe is that they resent the very idea of governing as a complex, modern, fact-based set of activities that requires technical expertise and permanent officials.
Soon after entering the White House as President Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon expressed hope that the newly appointed cabinet would achieve the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” In Europe, the European Commission — which has copious governmental capacity, but scant sovereignty — is an obvious target for nationalists such as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary.
The more extreme fringes of British conservatism have now reached the point that American conservatives first arrived at during the Clinton administration: They are seeking to undermine the very possibility of workable government. For hard-liners such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, it is an article of faith that Britain’s Treasury Department, the Bank of England and Downing Street itself are now conspiring to deny Britain its sovereignty.
It is thought that Mr. Davis’s real grudge was with the unelected official, Olly Robbins, who had usurped him in his influence over the Brexit process. The problem was that Mr. Robbins is willing and able to do the laborious and intellectually demanding policy work that Brexit will require, while Mr. Davis is famously not... But another byproduct of the anti-government attitude is a constant wave of exits. Britain leaves the European Union, Mr. Johnson resigns from the cabinet. The Trump White House has been defined by the constant churn of sackings and resignations. With astonishing hypocrisy, wealthy Brexiteers such as Mr. Rees-Mogg, John Redwood, Lord Lawson and Lord Ashcroft have all been discovered either preparing to move their own assets into European Union jurisdictions or advising clients on how to do so. No doubt when Britain does finally leave the European Union in March 2019, they will distance themselves from reality once more, allowing the sense of victimhood and the dream of “sovereignty” to live another day. Meanwhile, someone has to keep governing.
Presidential appointees, business advocates complain, routinely overstep the authority given them by Congress in how they write and enforce rules. With the addition of Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, business sees the Supreme Court as a reliable bulwark against executive branch overreach.
.. Judge Kavanaugh believes presidents, unlike regulators, are owed considerable deference, especially on national security and law enforcement. That’s significant because Mr. Trump is now using national security to justify his own economic interventions, especially on trade.
.. Much of the controversy over the administrative state harkens back to 1984, when the Supreme Court decided, in a case involving the Environmental Protection Agency, Chevron U.S.A. Inc. and an environmental group, that when a law is unclear, the court should defer to a federal agency’s interpretation of that law.
.. Courts have cited Chevron deference, as this doctrine is known, to grant wide latitude to regulatory agencies, from the EPA to the Department of Labor and the Federal Communications Commission. Many conservatives blame it for a decadeslong transfer of power to the executive branch. They questioned the legality of President Barack Obama’s routine use of executive authority, such as limiting greenhouse gas emissions and suspending some deportations of illegal immigrants, to sidestep Congress.It encourages the president, regardless of party, to “be extremely aggressive in seeking to squeeze its policy goals into ill-fitting statutory authorizations and restraints.”
.. Both parties have agencies they love to hate: For Republicans, it’s the EPA and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; for liberal Democrats, it’s now Immigration and Customs Enforcement. For both, it’s the Internal Revenue Service or the Justice Department when the other party controls the White House. In each case, a change of president is usually enough to change the agency’s behavior.
.. Yet even as he rolls back the administrative state, Mr. Trump has pushed the boundaries of presidential authority. He has imposed steep tariffs on imports of aluminum and steel and is planning the same on cars, citing his national security authority under a little-used 1962 law. Mr. Trump is also weighing forcing utilities to buy more coal and nuclear-generated power, also on national security grounds.In both cases, national security appears to be a pretext to shore up economically beleaguered industries... “There is a pronounced dichotomy between Kavanaugh’s view on deference to agencies as opposed to his view on deference to presidents,” says Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. He says Congress has been progressively marginalized by the expanding authority of both federal agencies, and presidents; Judge Kavanaugh seems to oppose the first and encourage the second.
.. Judge Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion, as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in 2015 that the National Security Agency could collect an individual’s telephone “meta data.” Because the purpose was preventing terrorist attacks, he said, it didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure.
His dozen years on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit have been marked with dozens of votes to roll back rules and regulations. He has often concluded that agencies stretched their power too far and frequently found himself at odds with the Obama administration, including in dissents he wrote opposing net-neutrality rules and greenhouse-gas restrictions... When a divided Supreme Court in 2015 rejected the Obama administration’s rules requiring power plants to cut mercury emissions and other pollutants, the majority opinion by conservative justices drew heavily from Judge Kavanaugh.
.. The high court cited his earlier dissent when he argued that the Environmental Protection Agency had failed to consider the costs of its regulations before moving forward. The EPA, he concluded, had ignored a requirement in the Clear Air Act that the agency determine whether an electric-utility regulation is “appropriate” before imposing it... Too often, he found, judges were giving agency regulators the benefit of the doubt based on a doctrine that instructs judges to give more deference when the meaning of what Congress wrote isn’t precisely clear.That was the case, he thought, when the D.C. Circuit last year reviewed the legality of net-neutrality rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission.
In a dissenting opinion, he said the FCC didn’t have the authority to classify internet providers as “telecommunications services” and ban them from splitting internet traffic into fast and slow lanes.