Violating the Constitution that created it

The political left’s responses to Donald Trump’s surprise Electoral College victory has led to many proposed “improvements” in that institution, ironically illustrating one of the main issues determining the outcome — what philosophy would guide judicial appointments.

Trump indicated that he would appoint justices that would honor the Constitution as the supreme law of the land. That would comport with our founders, expressed in Federalist 78, that “It will be the duty of the judicial tribunals … to guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals.” That was at odds with Hillary Clinton’s intent to appoint “living Constitution” jurists, who prefer subsequent judicial interpretations they like over the Constitution itself, whenever they conflict, effectively re-writing the Constitution.

So left-leaning legal scholars have illustrated their preferred means of Constitutional redefinition to produce their desired results via Electoral College “reform” proposals.

Kenneth Jost, author of the Supreme Court Yearbook, argues, “The electoral college is enshrined in the Constitution, but that doesn’t make it constitutional.” He arrives at that internally inconsistent conclusion because “The Supreme Court established the principle — ‘one person, one vote’ — in 1964.” But that is not in the Constitution. It is a much later court invention, now being used retroactively to define part of the Constitution unconstitutional. The fact that our founders did not find that so when they wrote and adopted the Constitution is simply ignored.

University of California, Irvine, Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, a leading liberal Constitutional interpreter, takes the same theme further. He argues that “the text of the Constitution is modified by its amendments,” so the Electoral College allocation of votes should be declared unconstitutional as violating the constitutional amendments [citing the 5th Amendment] that guarantee equal protection of the law.” This, despite the fact that adopters of the Bill of Rights in 1791 clearly found no unconstitutionality in the Electoral College from the 5th Amendment. Neither were earlier examples of popular vote winners who lost in the Electoral College asserted to be unconstitutional. Chemerinsky, as Jost, builds his case not on the Constitution, but upon “The Supreme Court long has held,” followed by some ruling that twists the Constitution and can now be interpreted as at odds with the Electoral College, plus the claim that the redefined constitutional meaning should now trump the Constitution.

Neither of these prominent challenges to the Electoral College relies on the Constitution. Arguments are instead grounded in previous “The Supreme Court has held” rulings that deviated from consistency with the clearly understood original meaning of the Constitution. This is, in fact, such a common approach in “living Constitution” jurisprudence that scholars have even compiled “worst of” lists, such as Robert Levy and William Mellor’s The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom.

Should America be faithful to the Constitution, and the sharply limited federal government of enumerated powers it created to protect our freedoms from abuse at its hands, as the earlier, controlling precedent, or should we accept precedents that have already warped it almost beyond recognition? If the Constitution’s meaning is to be so easily changed (but only when the left finds it amenable to their ends) that even “emanations from penumbras” around other rights can effectively rewrite it, why did our founders spell out such a difficult process for changing it? And why should we respect precedents from 1964 or others years long after America’s establishment, on the basis that the Constitution must be upheld, when those precedents distorted it rather than upheld it? Surely that Alice in Wonderland approach to constitutional meaning is too weak a reed to throw out the Electoral College as violating the Constitution that created it.

Gary M. Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University, a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, an Adjunct Scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and a member of the Foundation for Economic Education Faculty Network. His books include Lines of Liberty (2016), Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014) and Apostle of Peace (2013).

Pascal’s Wager – Bet On Trump

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Though born a few years after the official end of the Renaissance, Blaise Pascal was a true Renaissance man. He was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and top notch Christian philosopher. His most famous work is the book Pensees. The most famous item in that tome is a discourse on why it is logical and rational to live a Godly life even if you don’t believe in God.

This has become known as “Pascal’s Wager,” and can be summarized thusly: A rational person should live as though God exists. If God does not exist, you lose nothing except some worldly pleasures by believing in Him. But if God does exist, you gain eternal life by living a good life, but will suffer eternal damnation if you deny Him through a life of debauchery. (A giant hat tip to Father Lawrence at St. Francis High School long ago for patiently taking the many, many hours necessary to get this across to a bunch of thick-skulled seniors in “Apologetics” class.)

Pascal’s wager has become my fire-wall in arguing with the Kool-Aid drinkers of  NeverTrump. Backed into a corner on the fact that a federal judiciary appointed by a President Hillary is a clear and present existential danger to all things conservative, the last refuge of these scoundrels is that Trump can’t be believed. They say that Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court appointees – developed with the input of the impeccably upright and conservative Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society – is a scam, that he has no intention of appointing such stellar conservatives to the courts.

This is where old pal Blaise comes in. His wager applies to the Trump v. Clinton presidential choice in this way: If the NeverTrump folks are right and I am wrong – if Trump’s court appointments would be mediocre at best and as bad as Hillary’s at worst – then we are no worse off by voting for Trump. Whether he wins or loses, we still have an awful judiciary.

However, if I am correct and the NeverTrump folks are wrong, then Trump’s court appointments will be full of young Antonin Scalias and Clarence Thomases. That represents the difference between salvation for conservatives and our values from a Trump judiciary and the gang rape of the Constitution which is certain with a Hillary-appointed judiciary. This is a wager that ought to be obvious even to the most deranged NeverTrumpster. The only rational bet, the only safe bet – vote – is for Trump.

Rational thought, however, has never been a strong point of the NeverTrump cabal, and NeverTrump-land has lately become a logic-free zone. They obsess on irrelevancies, frothing about how much rent he charges his campaign office in Trump Towers, but ignore Hillary making the State Department a giant cash laundromat for her foundation. Hillary lying to the families of the four Americans murdered in Benghazi is not as important to them as how many copies of “The Art Of The Deal” the campaign has purchased.

NeverTrump-land is inhabited by large egos and small minds, happy to play into the hands of the left-wing media to elect Hillary. No minor official who served in a previous Republican administration is too obscure not to be given breathless headlines and interviews as they denounce Trump. Any former Fourth Assistant Undersecretary to the Chief Deputy Paper Shuffler in the Department of Swamps and Sewers is guaranteed 15 minutes of fame if he or she will wax hysterical about the dangers of Trump.

The moral preening of NeverTrump is as unending as it is astounding. Conservative icon Richard Viguerie aptly described the situation as a battle between “the new puritans and Trump’s revolutionary conservatives.” The conservative grassroots workers who are rallying to Trump are not rich or famous and don’t want to be. They want to be left alone to live their lives and raise their families as they see fit – through traditional conservative American values. By supporting Trump in order to do so they have become revolutionary conservatives.

On the other side of this divide is an a group of self-appointed conservative grandees – inside the D.C. beltway, insulated, isolated from the real world. Led by Billy Kristol, Bow Tie Will and National Review magazine, NeverTrump has devolved into a group of holier-than-thou pearl clutchers. They are the new puritans, horrified that this brusque, brash brute from New York dared to rouse the rabble in fly-over country, and did so without their permission.

Kristol and Will fit Vice President Spiro Agnew’s description perfectly of “nattering nabobs of negativism” and “effete, impudent snobs.” National Review was once a great magazine, founded by conservative giants Bill Buckley and Bill Rusher. As they rail against Trump, the new puritans currently running National Review have made it largely irrelevant. By embracing NeverTrump they are ignoring one of Buckley’s most famous bits of advice. He said that when faced with a choice between less-than-perfect candidates, conservatives should always choose “the most rightward candidate with the best chance of winning.”

Hmm, the most conservative candidate with a chance of winning. That’s apparently a tough one for our new puritans.

In closing, I want to once again make clear that I am well aware of Trump’s imperfections, both as a person and as a candidate. However, none of those imperfections threaten the future of the country. Hillary appointing far-left zealots to the federal judiciary and bureaucracy absolutely does. Longtime conservative warrior and comrade-in-arms Allen Brandstater  (we met in 1965 in “Youth For Reagan For Governor”) put the choice this way: “It’s between castor oil, which is unpleasant but won’t kill you and arsenic, which will.”

Bill Bennett, Secretary of Education during the Reagan years, put it a bit more elegantly: “Our country can survive the occasional infelicities and improprieties of Donald Trump. But it cannot survive losing the Supreme Court to liberals and allowing them to wreck our sacred republic. It would reshape the country for decades.”

Pascal’s wager would no doubt be on the castor oil, infelicities and all, instead of the arsenic.

Bill Saracino is a member of the Editorial Board of CA Political Review.

‘Right to Vote on Taxes’ Case Now Before California Supreme Court

TaxesLast week the California Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that could determine whether the right to vote on local taxes, which is constitutionally guaranteed by both Propositions 13 and 218, will cease to exist.

The case, California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland, at first glance seems limited to a narrow technical question: When a local initiative seeks to impose a new tax, does the issue need to be put to the voters at the next general election or can the proponents, relying on other laws, force a special election? But in answering that question, the lower court ruled that taxes proposed by initiative are exempt from the taxpayer protections contained in the state constitution, such as the provision dictating the timing of the election.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA), which filed the petition seeking Supreme Court review, was alarmed because the constitution’s taxpayer protections include the right to vote on taxes. If local initiatives are exempt from those protections, then public agencies could easily deny taxpayers their right to vote on taxes by colluding with outside interests to propose taxes in the form of an initiative, then adopting the initiative without an election.

The import of the case was not lost on those who dislike Proposition 13’s requirement that local special taxes – those imposed for specific purposes – receive a two-thirds vote of the local electorate. For example, backers of a tax to subsidize a new sports arena in San Diego were hoping that the lower court ruling would allow them to impose a special tax with only a simple majority vote.

Some legal scholars suggested that the lower court decision was not as far-reaching as feared by HJTA. But the fact that the Supreme Court granted review, which it does in only a fraction of cases it receives, validates the concern about the potential scope of the lower court ruling.

By way of background, the case began when the California Cannabis Coalition (CCC) circulated an initiative petition to legalize medical marijuana dispensaries in the City of Upland. The initiative requires each dispensary to pay the City an annual $75,000 tax. CCC collected enough signatures to qualify for a special election. But a provision of Proposition 218, the Right to Vote on Taxes Act, part of the California Constitution approved by voters in 1996, requires tax proposals to be presented at a general election for city council candidates. (This forces candidates to identify for or against the tax, which helps voters choose the taxpayer-friendly candidates.)

The Court of Appeal ruled that taxes proposed by a local initiative are not subject to Proposition 218. The ruling, however, was not limited to Proposition 218’s election date requirement. The Court said taxes proposed by initiative are exempt from all of 218.

HJTA, having sponsored Proposition 218, was so concerned by the decision, it offered to represent the City of Upland at no cost to take the case to California’s highest court. It was HJTA’s petition on behalf of the City of Upland that was granted.

Taxpayers of all stripes and interests will be watching this case very closely. California is already a hostile place for taxpayers so losing the right to vote on local taxes would simply be adding to the pain.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece was originally published by HJTA.org

New Gun Laws in California Would be in Supreme Court’s Crosshairs

Photo courtesy of krazydad/jbum, Flickr.

Photo courtesy of krazydad/jbum, Flickr.

Gun owners in California recently woke up to the news that the California Senate had passed a stack of bills putting new restrictions on the use of guns.

If they all become law, you’ll need a license to sell ammunition and a background check to buy it, magazines that hold more than 10 rounds will be illegal, more guns will be classified as “assault weapons,” homemade guns will need state serial numbers, and it will be a crime to loan a gun to anyone who isn’t a family member or a licensed hunter.

Are those proposed laws constitutional?

The Supreme Court said in 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, that Americans have the right as individuals to keep and bear arms. The court struck down Washington, D.C.’s, “absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home.”

But the Heller decision left many questions unanswered, starting with whether the Second Amendment was binding on the 50 states as well as on the District of Columbia.

When the first 10 amendments to the Constitution were ratified in 1791, nobody thought they applied to the states. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in 1833 that if Congress had intended the Bill of Rights to bind the states, “they would have declared this purpose in plain and intelligible language.”

That understanding still prevailed at the start of the 20th century, as bank robber “Gunplay” Maxwell discovered. In 1900 he complained that Utah had denied his Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury, but the U.S. Supreme Court said the first 10 amendments “were not intended to and did not have any effect upon the powers of the respective states,” adding, “This has been many times decided.”

The Supreme Court never said the whole Bill of Rights applies to the states. Instead, there was a gradual process of selectively declaring particular rights to be “fundamental” to liberty. That makes them apply to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, which says the states can’t deny liberty to any person without due process of law.

“Gunplay” Maxwell was ahead of his time. The Supreme Court decided that trial by jury was “fundamental” to liberty in 1968.

In 2010, two years after the Heller decision, the right to keep and bear arms was declared “fundamental” in McDonald v. Chicago.

This gradual “incorporation” of the Bill of Rights into the Fourteenth Amendment has been going on for about 90 years and has silently transferred power from state legislatures to federal courts. For example, in 2011 the Supreme Court struck down a California law that banned the sale of violent video games to minors. The justices said California had not shown the court a “compelling” reason to have a law that infringes the First Amendment rights of video game creators.

Soon, California may have to show the court a “compelling” reason for laws that infringe the Second Amendment rights of gun owners.

For 90 years, the justices have invented balancing tests and “scrutiny” levels to guide decisions in these cases, but it remains what Justice Felix Frankfurter called it in 1947: “merely subjective.”

Does California have a “compelling” reason to require background checks for ammunition purchases? One justice may think so, but another may find the reason “only rational.” Five votes for “compelling” would uphold such a law, while five “only rationals” would be enough to strike it down.

Over the next decade, Second Amendment rights will be profoundly affected by the personal values of the justices appointed by the president who’s elected this November.

The NRA made an early endorsement and started the fight before June.

Supreme Court OKs California’s use of ‘unclaimed’ cash

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

California’s system of seizing and spending “unclaimed” cash from banks, mutual funds and defunct businesses has survived a Supreme Court challenge.

The state says it is now holding $8 billion in lost assets. And from this fund, it takes about $450 million a year to add to the state budget.

After considering an appeal for four months, the justices said Monday they would not hear a long-running lawsuit that contends the state does not do enough to notify the rightful owners before seizing their assets.

Under the state’s law, accounts can be seized if a bank or retirement fund has lost track of the owner for three years. …

Click here to read the full story

SCOTUS Showdown: Obama’s Dysfunctional Relationship With Congress

SCOTUSbuilding_1st_Street_SEAfter this week’s news that Republican Senate leaders will not even consider any Supreme Court nominee until a new president is in office, current President Obama is taking it to the streets in an effort to get his yet unnamed pick approved. Or at least to make some much-needed political hay.

In a guest column on the acronymically-named SCOTUSblog, Obama makes his case that he will do his constitutional duty by naming an appointment and he expects the Senate will do the same by giving the Obama nominee a fair hearing and, at least in Obama’s world, the thumbs up in an up-or-down vote.

The president’s implication is that he is fulfilling his duty while a Republican Senate contingent which has clearly stated it will not act on a Supreme Court replacement for Justice Scalia until the next president is in office, would be guilty of a dereliction of duty. If you read between the lines, it almost could be an admonition straight out of Gilbert and Sullivan: “He has done his duty. I will do mine. Go ye and do yours.”

Obama talks about his putative nominee’s virtuous qualities: fierce independence; understanding the role of the judiciary in interpreting, not making law; a keen intellect; faultless integrity. Of course. But let’s cut through the crap. At this stage it’s all political posturing. On both sides.

And in some ways, the president’s predicament reminds me of situations faced by the kids in my high school forensics class who after getting busted by the teacher for some infraction or other were faced with detention or another equally odious punishment. In such situations, Bonnie Miller’s response was invariably the same: “Sorry, hon, you did it to yourself.”

In the past, we have heard criticisms from the White House when Congress passed bills which the president had signaled he would veto. On such occasions it was as if one could hear in the background of the White House declarations Seinfeld’s Larry Thomas deliver one of his lesser-known classic lines with gusto: “Please, you’re wasting everyone’s time.” The president would then go on to veto the bill in question with a slight head-shake, as if to say “kids will be kids.”

On a number of occasions, if the president wanted to be spared the inconvenience of a veto, he got his Senate acolytes to use the filibuster. In this way, for example, he was able to see his recent Iran deal sail through, despite majority opposition in both houses of Congress. While the deal was voted down by the House, it failed to get an up-or-down vote in the Senate.

At that time, of course, it was the Republican Senate leadership which decried the Democrats’ use of the filibuster. As a key element of American foreign policy, the Iran deal, they claimed, deserved a full hearing and an up-or-down vote. The Democrats not only responded with the “waste of time” argument, but also suggested that the use of the filibuster was simply yet another way in which – through their duly elected Senators – the people of the United States were speaking. Sorry, Republicans, you didn’t have the votes. Next!

Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Democrats are crying “Foul!” and trying parse the differences between their own use of the filibuster and the Republicans’ unwillingness to consider any Obama SCOTUS nominee, which is in itself a form of filibuster.

“Ah, but the filibuster is often used when it comes to legislation. It is unprecedented when it comes to Supreme Court nominees.”

This is sheer nonsense, and it is all political game-playing within the wacky, arcane set of rules the Senate in all its old-school glory sets for itself. When you change those rules, as for instance when the Democrats under then-Majority Leader Harry Reid used the “nuclear option” to eliminate the filibuster for lower court nominees, don’t be surprised when the new rules are used against you if ever that shoe moves feet. And be even less surprised when the existing rules are used against you. You’re all playing by the same rules, unless, of course, you change them.

Let me make it clear: I personally believe the Republicans in the Senate should give any Obama nominee a hearing (though I do not feel their “advise and consent” role obligates them to an up-or-down vote). If anything, the Republicans are playing within those old-school rules which allow them to make a decision without actually voting on it. They are not changing the rules, as the Democrats did when they used the nuclear option.

Now it is the president who is on notice that his nominee has no chance of clearing the Senate, as the Senate exercises its constitutionally mandated “advise and consent” role. In this case of reversed fortunes, it is the Senate which effectively is threatening a veto. And yet, just as the Republicans in Congress don’t always pay heed to the president’s veto threat when it comes to legislation, the president himself seems undeterred by the Senate’s veto threat.

It’s a classic game of political chicken. This time the Republicans will want to frame the matter as one of the American People’s right to decide the matter through the upcoming presidential election; they will want to paint the president as “wasting time.”  The president will want to paint the Republicans as “obstructionist” and “derelict in their duties.” Each side will attempt to inflict the maximum amount of political damage on the other in this election year.

In a sense, the president is reaping what he has sowed through his inability to reach across the aisle during his 7+ years in office. Ultimately, the SCOTUS showdown and game-playing are nothing more than a symptom of his dysfunctional relationship with the Republicans in Congress, which has been exacerbated by his own abuse of executive orders. In short: how can Republicans in Congress trust the president to pick a justice who understands the Supreme Court’s constitutionally mandated role when he himself doesn’t seem to understand his own?

Just as Republicans shouldn’t be surprised when the president follows through with a threatened veto, so should the president not be surprised when the Senate, led by the Republicans, exercises its veto. The immortal words of Bonnie Miller seem to ring truer than ever before.

John Mirisch has served on the Beverly Hills City Council since 2009.  He is currently Vice Mayor and will become Mayor next month.  In a previous turn as Mayor he created the Sunshine Task Force to increase transparency and public engagement in local government.

Comity is Dead – A Reflection on the Supreme Court Vacancy

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

We began this drama with Republicans suggesting there will be no action on any Obama nomination, followed by Democratic outrage.

I have been convinced all along that the Senate will not go down that path; it would be too easy for the Democrats to portray inaction as a willful refusal to do a task required by the Constitution, and thus even worse than the government shutdown.  That could cost the GOP control of the Senate in November, which will be decided by a handful of races, most likely the open seats in Nevada and Florida.

But a vote by the 54 GOP Senators to reject the nomination is more likely and far more justifiable. Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Grassley signaled in his interview on Tuesday that he would consider holding hearings, at least hinting at that strategy.

THE 2016 ELECTION

Despite the many predictions that the court vacancy and deadlock will be a winning issue for Democrats this year, the issue may benefit Republicans just as much. In the opening primaries, the energy on the right was very high (see record turnout in Iowa), and conservatives have long emphasized the importance of the court majority as the last line of defense of their views.  And in general, the side that fears losing something it now has will always be the most passionate – and that is the conservatives. A new liberal justice could, among other things, overturn the Second Amendment right to gun ownership. But it seems unlikely that replacing Scalia with a like-minded jurist would lead to the end of abortion rights or other existing freedoms.

Republicans need to talk about the context behind their strategy. President Obama spent all of 2015 expanding the reach of the Imperial Presidency beyond anything Richard Nixon ever did. His foreign policy initiatives, such as restoration of relations with Cuba, are more defensible, given that presidents have their greatest power in foreign affairs, but he is on shakier ground with his domestic “orders.” His immigration policy and coal rules represent a much broader assertion of new powers, and are being challenged in the lower federal courts, with mixed results so far.

The president believes he has a mandate to enact his views, and despite losing a net of 69 House and 14 Senate seats since 2009, he has basically said, “I’m doing what I believe in because Congress will not act.”

The Senate response is then to reciprocate by voting no on any nominee, which is an explicitly granted constitutional power. It is the same kind of maximalist posture that the president has been employing for a year. So we can say with certainty that comity among the branches of government is dead.

Republicans also need to bring up the history. Democratic politicians insist that a president has the right to have a qualified nominee confirmed. Yet while there has been occasional mention of the 1968 rejection by a Democratic Senate of Abe Fortas, everyone seems to have forgotten the 1987 nomination of Robert Bork, which was rejected on ideological grounds by a Democratic Senate.

THE POLITICS OF SELECTION

If any nominee is doomed, that means candidates for the most prestigious and important legal body in the world are now being weighed and measured on how they will boost election turnout among certain groups – e.g., will Hillary Clinton get a larger boost in key states from an African American or a Latino nominee? That is a sad state of affairs indeed.

This has led many to predict that an African American woman will be chosen. Names floated include Attorney General Kamala Harris and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the federal District Court in D.C. And if it were up to me, I might push for Justice Leondra Kruger of the California Supreme Court, who used to work in the Obama administration.

However, the early leader in the speculation derby was Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who has the advantage of having been fully vetted by the Senate.

But court watchers have noted a problem. We know Senate Judiciary will ask for every conceivable piece of information on a nominee, in the hopes of finding something that will make a rejection easy. And the incumbent AG may have internal documents that directly address discussions of or investigations into Benghazi, the email servers or the Clinton Foundation.

If such documents exist, they might reflect unfavorably on Secretary Clinton, or might make it appear DoJ has shown favoritism in its investigations. Justice would then have to choose between withholding the material, giving the Senate a reason to reject Lynch, or releasing it, at a potential cost to Mrs. Clinton.

The other choice facing the president is moderate or firebrand? Most seem to think he will avoid the firebrands – no Sen. Elizabeth Warren types – as that offers the best chance of political success.

Choosing a nominee known to stand for overturning 5-4 decisions that absolutely infuriate the left, especially the Heller case establishing an individual right to gun ownership and the Citizens United decision on campaign spending, will help motivate and turn out core Democrats. But an activist nominee eager to overturn recent rulings could be more easily rejected as someone who lacked the appropriate judicial temperament.

The alternative approach would be to nominate a judge whose views are less known and/or more moderate, and who ideally has already been confirmed. While her defeat would be less motivating to the Bernie Sanders demographic, it would allow Democrats to attack the GOP all year as rejecting a qualified woman for purely political reasons (and perhaps throw in accusations of racism as well). That does seem like a winning strategy for the president. But who knows? If there’s one thing we can count on this election cycle, it’s that what we think we know turns out to be wrong.

Lawrence Molton is an attorney and political consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Mainstream Misdirection in SCOTUS Search

 

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

Antonin Scalia’s death has begun a new Supreme Court battle. And much of it will be expressed in terms of whether nominees are “mainstream” or not.

Senator Charles Schumer already demonstrated this pattern. In 2007, he said any Bush nominee “must prove … that they are in the mainstream rather than we have to prove that they are not,” but has now doubled down in the opposite direction, saying, “many of the mainstream Republicans, when the president nominates a mainstream nominee, will not want to follow Mitch McConnell over the cliff.”

Why so much mainstream rhetoric? To be in it sounds good; to be out of it sounds bad. But it rests on a distorting analogy.

The analogy equates mainstream to “normal,” or majority, views. They are then further equated to “correct” views. But while majorities choose representatives, our Constitution was far from majority rule (“mob rule,” to many founders). It put many choices off-limits to political determination, and subjected others to very stringent standards. In short, it defended liberty against government encroachment. This is especially critical in evaluating justices, whose primary role is preserving the Constitution against majority abuses.

The analogy presumes a speaker’s mainstream evaluation is accurate. But where the mainstream is and how far from its supposed center is acceptable are indefinable.

The core issue is not, then, about being in the current mainstream, but where that mainstream should be. Advocating respecting the Constitution as written, as Scalia was famous for, focused on that.

That is, the mainstream may be in the wrong place. It has clearly changed in our country, but only because some were out of the previous mainstream. Men being created equal, with inalienable rights against government abuse, is far from the once mainstream belief in the divine right of kings. And our Bill of Rights freedoms to speak, write and worship as we choose, and to have our property protected from government predation, were not always mainstream.

Federalist 78, America’s most famous statement of the judiciary’s role, reveals that the political mainstream has indeed jumped its constitutionally enumerated banks, arguing for re-routing it toward its original course: “A limited Constitution…can be preserved in practice no other way than through…courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing.”  Further, “whenever a particular statute contravenes the Constitution, it will be the duty of the judicial tribunals to adhere to the latter…to guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals.”

If the mainstream has moved from its original American course, only those now out of it can shift it back. For example, the now-common view that using government to rob Peter to pay Paul is acceptable means anyone acting to undo such policies would be outside today’s mainstream, though not that of our founders. As Jefferson said, “The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and…breaks up the foundations of society.”

In fact, “out of the mainstream” nominees are the only ones who might resist further expanding government encroachment or even reclaim eviscerated freedoms once taken for granted. In contrast, those recently advocated as mainstream have enabled “new and improved” encroachments.

Expanding the divide between the Constitution and current interpretation increasingly threatens our founders’ mainstream belief in liberty and the Constitution they designed to defend it. Consequently, advocates for the modern mainstream are opposing the mainstream that made America great. That is why Antonin Scalia fought vigorously for our founders’ understanding. It is also why Americans don’t need more justices from the modern mainstream, but more from its original channel.

Gary M. Galles is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University. His books include Lines of Liberty (2015), Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014) and Apostle of Peace (2013).

Supreme Court Justices Are About To Tip The Scales In California Politics

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

California politics could be shaken up this spring when the U.S. Supreme Court hands down its decisions in two potentially landmark cases.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution thought they were keeping the judiciary out of politics, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Today the Supreme Court exercises so much power over our lives that if one of the justices mentions retirement, half the country experiences chest pains. And the stress is not unwarranted: Policies that were created by judges can be reversed by judges.

Right now the Supreme Court is considering whether to change the rules that control state redistricting, and whether to abolish mandatory union dues for public employees. The impact of the two decisions could make California’s predictable elections a lot less predictable.

In the redistricting case, Evenwel v. Abbott, the issue is whether Texas should be allowed — perhaps even required — to draw its legislative district boundaries based on eligible voters instead of total population.

For example, an Assembly district might have a population of half a million people but far fewer citizens who are eligible to vote. The court’s ruling could result in the district’s boundaries being redrawn to take in new geographical areas with more citizens and fewer immigrants. The decision could scramble the political map in Texas and potentially in other states with a high proportion of non-citizens, including California.

Until the mid-20th century, the federal courts stayed out of state redistricting. That changed when Chief Justice Earl Warren decided to get involved.

As governor of California in the 1940s, Warren had opposed a plan to draw district lines based on population instead of geographical area. At the time, rural Senate districts with fewer voters had the same political power as urban districts jammed with voters. The votes of city residents were, in a sense, unequal to the votes of rural residents. Los Angeles was outvoted on everything.

As chief justice, Warren had second thoughts about the fairness of that arrangement. In two landmark decisions, Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims, the court imposed a “one person, one vote” standard that required voting districts to have roughly equal populations.

But the Evenwel case could be a new landmark.

The second case that could shake up California politics, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, may determine whether public employees have the right to refuse to pay union dues. Ten California teachers are suing the CTA over the automatic deduction from their paychecks of “agency fees,” or what unions call “fair share fees.”

Public employee unions have had the power to collect fees from non-members ever since the Supreme Court ruled in a 1977 case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that mandatory dues were legal as long as no one was forced to pay for a union’s political activities. But the teachers argue that everything the union does is a political activity, because it negotiates with government officials for salaries and benefits paid from tax dollars.

If the court rules against the union, the continuous stream of cash that has flowed from teachers’ paychecks to the California Teachers Association could slow to a trickle. That may limit the CTA’s campaign spending, which for decades has flooded the political landscape to elect union-friendly lawmakers. Other public employee unions could find themselves in the same boat.

The Supreme Court’s decisions could unsettle California politics virtually overnight.

We’ve had some low-turnout elections, but this must be some kind of record. Thirty-eight million people live in California and its future may be decided by nine voters.

 

Free Speech Rights on the Line as SCOTUS Hears Friedrichs Case

Rebecca FriedrichsIn less than one week the U.S. Supreme Court will begin to hear arguments in the case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, to determine whether unions can force public employees to fund speech through collective bargaining with which they might disagree. The case could result in a landmark decision impacting the First Amendment rights of millions of public sector workers nationwide. The California Policy Center joins hundreds of other organizations and millions of individual activists in urging the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the plaintiffs.

If the justices rule in favor of Friedrichs, the decision would not only take away government union’s ability to get public employees who do not pay them fired in the half of the states – most definitely including California – which do not have right-to-work, but would allow public workers to opt out of their union without needing to renew their objection every year. Here in California, the decision, which is expected in June 2016, would impact well over 1 million state and local public employees who are currently unionized.

The Friedrichs case rests on the argument that anything and everything that public employee unions negotiate is inherently political. We couldn’t agree more. To state an obvious example, negotiations between unions and elected officials over public employee pensions and pay are arguments over how elected officials should use public money – an inherently political question. Conceding to demands for higher salaries during an economic downturn – or at any time, for that matter – is a political choice. When public employees make more, either other services are cut, or taxes are increased. These are political decisions, not mere employer/employee issues.

While how public agencies spend taxpayers’ money is obviously a matter of public policy, the work rules negotiated by government unions also are inherently political. Union negotiated rules governing California’s system of public education provide examples of this in the form of “lifetime tenure” – awarded after less than two years in the classroom, dismissal procedures that make it nearly impossible to fire incompetent teachers, and “last in first out” layoff policies that reward seniority over merit. Conscientious teachers can be forgiven for believing these union rules, among others, are public policy decisions, inherently political, that have harmed California’s children. Yet they are forced to pay to support the unions who negotiated these rules.

The Friedrichs case, despite an avalanche of well-funded propaganda from unions, is not about whether or not unions even belong in the public sector. The point of the Friedrichs case, again, is that everything that public sector unions negotiate for is inherently political. And because they are inherently political, public employees should not be forced to fund these unions if they don’t want to, because that is a violation of their First Amendment free speech rights. You don’t have to restrict the scope of your argument to the explicitly political activities of government unions to make this case. Because everything government unions do, everything they fight for, affects government policy.

As a result, members of government unions should not be merely permitted to opt-out of the acknowledged “political” portion of their union dues, the amounts spent on political campaigns and lobbyists. They should be allowed to opt-0ut of paying all of it, including the so-called “agency fee.” And because these unions have made the “opt-out” process a difficult bureaucratic ordeal, where members can only opt-out during a certain limited time each year, and have to do that over and over again, year after year, paying union dues should instead depend on an “opt-in” process. This would mean the government unions themselves would have to obtain affirmative consent, year after year, in order to continue to collect dues from government workers.

Government unions are not just inherently political in everything they do. Their agenda is inherently in conflict with the public interest. Unlike private unions, government unions elect their own bosses. Unlike private unions, government unions can demand pay and benefits without having nearly the same concerns about how that may impact the financial health of their organization. And unlike private unions, government unions run the government bureaucracy, which means they can more easily intimidate their opponents. For these reasons, perhaps the Friedrichs case doesn’t go far enough. But it’s a very good start.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.