Ribble and Pocan: Political Opposites Find the Attractions of Working Together

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Reid Ribble says that when Mark Pocan was elected to the House of Representatives in 2012, Ribble was told by some Republican legislators in Madison he should reach out to Pocan.Ribble said then-Rep. Tammy Baldwin did the same for him when he was elected in 2011.

So Ribble contacted Pocan, and the two developed a friendship that has seen them work together in friendly, civil ways, including in the work of the House budget committee, on which they each serve.

What’s so unusual about that? Only this: Ribble is a Republican who represents the Appleton-Green Bay area in Washington. He is a self-described conservative with a libertarian bent. Pocan is a self-described progressive liberal Democrat who represents the Madison area. (For that matter, Baldwin, who helped Ribble on his arrival and who is now a senator, is one of the most liberal members of Congress.)

You just don’t do that cross-the-aisle stuff in the divisive, highly partisan atmosphere that surrounds Congress.

Or do you? Ribble and Pocan are now leading figures in a growing effort called the No-Labels Problem Solvers, which brings together members in the House and Senate from both parties in informal social settings, just to get to know each other. Ribble was one of the four initial members of the group, which has grown to more than 90, including two other Republican representatives from Wisconsin, Sean Duffy and Tom Petri.

At an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” session Monday at Eckstein Hall, Pocan and Ribble described the effort and their hopes that it will change the way Congress handles many issues and raise the low-opinion so many Americans have of Congress. Read more »

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Two Americas

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Category: Congress & Congressional Power, Health Care, Public
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The federal government is now shutdown. What happens next is anyone’s guess, especially since we hit the debt ceiling in two weeks and still have to pass an actual budget to fund the government. To get out of the current stalemate, one compromise that has been floated is for Congress to pass a continuing resolution – funding the government until November – along with the “Vitter amendment.” The Vitter Amendment would prohibit Congress from exempting itself from Obamacare. So what is the controversy over Congress and its staffers having to purchase healthcare on the exchanges? What are the issues with Congress exempting itself from Obamacare? And what does it say about our legislature?

In 2009, during the peak of the legislative debate over healthcare reform, Senator Chuck Grassley (R) inserted an amendment in Obamacare that required all members of Congress and their staffers to purchase health insurance on the newly-created health insurance exchanges. Of course, members of Congress wouldn’t be alone in doing this. Starting today, millions of Americans are utilizing the exchanges. Read more »

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In Case You Missed It: We’re Still Heading Towards a Debt Crisis

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Category: Congress & Congressional Power, Federal Law & Legal System, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
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These past few weeks have seen their share of crisis and controversy in the nation’s capital. But, yesterday’s news from the CBO is significant and should not be missed. It will play a major role in the debt ceiling and budget debates that will highlight the next two months.

Yesterday, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its annual report on the long-term budget projections for the federal government. Their conclusion: despite the sequestration cuts and tax hikes on the rich from last year, the United States is still on a path towards a debt crisis because we have not reigned in our spending on entitlements.

According to the CBO, “[t]he $2.1 trillion in spending cuts passed by Congress in 2011 won’t curb the growth of entitlements that poses a fiscal-crisis risk in the next 25 years.” (Bloomberg). Consequently, by 2038, the public debt will be equal to the total output of the U.S. economy. And as The New York Times described it, “lawmakers have been cutting the wrong kind of federal spending as they try to avoid the unsustainable buildup of debt that is projected in the coming decades.”

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Is It Time to Expand the Size of Congress?

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Seal of US House of RepresentativesOn August 8, 1911, President William Howard Taft signed a bill authorizing an increase in the size of the House of Representatives from 391 members to 433. A provision in the bill also provided that two additional members would be added in 1912, following the scheduled admission of New Mexico and Arizona as the 47th and 48th states, and thereby raising the size of the House to 435, which is still the size of the House.

This means that since the admission of Arizona as the 48th state on Valentine’s Day, 1912, the size of the House of Representatives has remained unchanged for the 101.5 years. (The admission of Alaska and Hawaii in 1959 increased the size of the United States Senate from 96 members to 100, but a decision was made at that time to keep the size of the House at 435.)

The 1910 Census reported the population of the United States as slightly more than 92 million people. In comparison, the figure for 2010 was slightly less than 309 million, an increase of more than 330%. This means that every Congressman today represents more than three times as many people as his or her counterpart of a century ago. Read more »

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What Difference Did the Constitution’s Three-Fifths Clause Really Make?

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We the PeopleThis is one in a series of posts relating to slavery and the Constitution as part of Marquette University’s observation of the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation during the 2012-2013 academic year.

The United States Constitution’s infamous “Three-Fifths Clause” dictated that for purposes of representation in the House of Representatives African-American slaves were to be counted as less than full persons. The somewhat obliquely worded section of Article I, Section 2, provided:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

Although this provision has traditionally been cited as evidence that the Constitution was a pro-slavery document (though never actually using the term “slavery”), historians have more recently begun to emphasize the “anti-slavery” aspects of the clause, or at least to argue that it reflects an ambivalence toward slavery among the document’s drafters. Since white women and children, free blacks, and property-less whites were counted as full persons for enumeration purposes, even though they lacked the right to vote, hold office, or serve on juries in most situations, the decision to treat enslaved people differently from others who lacked full citizenship rights was clearly to the disadvantage of those who lived in states with large slave populations.

The actual effects of the Three-Fifths Clause on Southern representation in the House of Representatives were not as significant as one might think. As it turns out, counting slaves as full persons would not have shifted the balance of power in the House of Representatives to the South at any point between the ratification of the Constitution and the onset of the Civil War. Read more »

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Does Federal Law Actually Preempt Relaxed State Marijuana Laws?

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Category: Congress & Congressional Power, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Federalism, Public, Speakers at Marquette
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Federalism & MarijuanaThe Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro recently spoke at the Law School concerning the status of relaxed state marijuana laws in light of the federal Controlled Substances Act’s continued prohibition of activities that these state laws now allow. This is a timely question with, it turns out, a less-than-certain answer. More precisely, it demands an answer that is more nuanced, and less categorical, than one might initially be inclined to give.

One’s initial answer is likely that these state laws are preempted—that is, rendered void and unenforceable—because of the federal statute. It is conventional constitutional doctrine, after all, that the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause makes valid federal law supreme over conflicting state law. Moreover, because the U.S. Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Raich (2005) deemed the federal marijuana prohibition to be a valid exercise of Congress’ commerce power, the specific question of whether state marijuana laws are vulnerable to preemption seems already to have been answered.

Mr. Shapiro makes an important observation, however. Read more »

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Important Points Won Even as ACA Case Was Lost, Paul Clement Says

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Category: Congress & Congressional Power, Constitutional Interpretation, Federal Law & Legal System, Federalism, Public, Speakers at Marquette, U.S. Supreme Court
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Paul Clement’s arguments did not carry the day when it came to the outcome a year ago of the historic United States Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the federal Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. But his arguments were supported by a majority of the justices on important points that will have an impact for years to come in Congress and in the judicial system, Clement said in delivering the Hallows Lecture 2013 in the Appellate Courtroom of Marquette University Law School’s Eckstein Hall this week.

Clement, formerly solicitor general of the United States, has argued 65 cases before the Supreme Court. He was the lead attorney in presenting arguments to the Court on behalf of 26 states that challenged the health care law. The Court heard a remarkable six hours of arguments focused on several major aspects of the challenge.

“The challenge for the challengers was to run the table to the tune of going 15 for 15” on legal points involved in the case, Clement said. “The good news is the challengers went 14 for 15. The bad news, from the perspective of my clients, is that 14 out 15 isn’t good enough. . . . Getting a really satisfying opinion from four justices still counts as a loss.”

The question at the heart of the case was whether there would continue to be a meaningful limit on the power of the federal government to impose laws such as the Affordable Care Act on the states, Clement said. He said, “I do think in some respects, the single most important takeaway from the decision was there were not five votes to say that there really is no meaningful judicial review of federalism constraints on Congress. There are constraints—again, the power is very substantial, very broad in the wake of the New Deal precedents of the Court, but it remains a limited power.” Read more »

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Time to Finally Pass the Equal Rights Amendment?

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Category: Civil Rights, Congress & Congressional Power, Constitutional Law, Feminism, Human Rights, Legal History, Public
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Equal-Rights-Amendment-imageIn 1776, as the founders were meeting to form the new government for the nation that would become the United States of America, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John Adams and asked him “to remember the ladies” while drafting the governing documents.  She continued,

[B]e more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors [have been].  Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of husbands. . . . [I]f particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.

Quoted in Susan Gluck Mezey, Elusive Equality:  Women’s Rights, Public Policy, and the Law 5 (2011) (internal citations omitted). 

John Adams responded, “I cannot but laugh . . . .” Id. To Mr. Adams, this was the first he’d heard of women’s possible discontent with the status quo.  “[Y]our letter was the first intimation that another tribe, more numerous and powerful than all the rest were grown discontented.” Id. For whatever “power” that Mr. Adams suggested that women had, it clearly wasn’t enough, for the new Declaration of Independence and Constitution failed to give any express (or even implied) rights to women. 

Mrs. Adams responded to her husband, “I cannot say that I think you are very generous to the ladies; for whilst you are proclaiming peace and good-will to men, emancipating all nations, you insist on retaining an absolute power over wives.” Id. Read more »

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Ban on Women in Combat: A Response

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Category: Civil Rights, Congress & Congressional Power, Constitutional Law, Federal Law & Legal System, Feminism, Public
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I recently had the opportunity to read Professor Mazzie’s post on the lifting of the ban on women serving in combat.  As a military officer with over 20 years of service to include a recent overseas deployment to a combat zone, I thought that I would offer my personal observations and opinions related to this matter.

First, while I personally have not served on the “front lines,” I generally agree with the lifting of the ban.  Since September 11, 2001, women have served alongside men in Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other places around the world.  The majority of women have served with great distinction and all of them who have served have made great sacrifices (let us also not forget about the sacrifices that their families have made).  As Professor Mazzie notes, since September 11, 2001, 152 women have made the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good of this country. 

As a person who enlisted as a Private in 1992, I have seen how the military has grown, matured, and become more professional over the years, especially since the rapid deployment of service members over the last 11 years.  Professor Mazzie entitles her post “Ban on Women in Combat Lifted: Is the Military Ready?”  For the reasons cited above, I do believe that the military is ready.  If the military is not ready at this point in time, after 11 plus years of overseas operations in which women have played a key role in the success of these operations, I personally do not believe that the military will ever be ready.  To put it simply, I believe that the timing is right and the lifting of the ban is the right thing to do. 

All that being said, I do believe that some of the arguments made by opponents of the lifting of the ban have some validity.  Read more »

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Ban on Women in Combat Lifted: Is the Military Ready?

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This week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the military’s ban on women in combat will be lifted.  According to the Department of Defense, 14.6% of the nation’s military is made up of women; according to The N.Y. Times and Huffington Post, more than 280,000 of them were deployed during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  While those women were banned from combat, they often saw combat action nonetheless, as they were attached to battalions in positions that sometimes came under fire.  Of the more than 6,600 troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, 152 of them have been women

There may still be some combat positions that women will not be allowed to fill; however, the presumption seems to be that all combat positions are open to women unless a particular branch of the military requests an exception and presumably has the burden to prove why women should not be so allowed.  Previous opposition to women in combat often revolved around concerns about women’s strength and whether their presence might hurt unit cohesion.  Clearly, not all women will be physically capable of certain assignments. But then again, neither are all men.  At least now, those women who are capable and who want to fill those assignments will have the opportunity to do so.  The argument about unit cohesion is also one that had long been made against allowing gays—and African Americans before them—to serve in the military.  That argument, too, has been debunked, and since 2012, LBGT soldiers can serve openly.    

Allowing women in combat opens up hundreds of thousands of new jobs for women and allows women the opportunity to climb the ranks in the military.  Without combat leadership experience, military advancement, regardless of the soldier’s gender, is limited.  In the past, this limitation disproportionately stifled women’s military careers.  No longer. As The New York Times reported, General Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated in a letter that the lifting of the ban ensures “that women as well as men ‘are given the opportunity to succeed.’”

Despite the public support for allowing women in combat, there are those who oppose the idea, with one retired army general calling it “a vast social experiment in which hundreds of thousands of men and women will be the guinea pigs.” The decision, he maintains, is ideologically based and not militarily based. Read more »

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Lessons From Sixteen Years of the PLRA and AEDPA

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Category: Congress & Congressional Power, Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Legal Scholarship, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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I have some reflections on the great 1996 prisoner litigation reforms in an essay newly uploaded to SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

In 1996, Congress adopted two sweeping statutes that were intended to restrict the ability of prisoners to obtain redress in federal court for violations of their constitutional rights. This essay introduces an issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter assessing the legacy of these two laws, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty and Prison Litigation Reform Acts, and considers the extent to which these statutes highlight structural flaws in the way that the political and legal systems engage with prisoner litigation.

The essay, entitled “Not So Sweet: Questions Raised by Sixteen Years of the PLRA and AEDPA,” was published at 24 Fed. Sent. Rep. 223 (2012).

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This Day in Legal History—Alabama Statehood and a New Era of Slavery Compromises

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On December 14, 1819, Alabama was admitted to the Union as the twenty-second state. The admission itself was not especially remarkable. Various parts of present-day Alabama had been settled by the French (and later the British) since the early 1700s, and explored by the Spanish as early as the 1540s. The territory to the west, moreover, had already been admitted as the states of Mississippi (1817) and Louisiana (1814). Not least important, Alabama’s soil and climate were amenable to cotton production, which was accelerating due to technological innovation and increased demand, such that the years preceding Alabama’s statehood had seen substantial growth in the region’s population.

What made Alabama’s admission significant, politically and constitutionally, was the situation it then posed for Congress regarding the admission of subsequent states, particularly west of the Mississippi River. Specifically, the nation was now evenly divided between free and slave states, having eleven of each. Given a federal Senate based on equal voting for every state regardless of population, this resulting parity of free and slave states made the admission of any additional state an opportunity either to expand or to restrict slavery. The South especially perceived the need to maintain parity as its influence in the House of Representatives declined relative to the North, which was experiencing (and would continue to experience) more immigration as well as greater industrial and economic growth.

This dynamic, in turn, set the stage for a new era of anti- and pro-slavery compromises and eventually—as these compromises less and less alleviated sectional tensions—a rather bloody civil war. Read more »

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