From Immigration to Executive Orders to Judicial Review: Miracle or Not?

Posted on Categories Civil Procedure, Judges & Judicial Process, Political Processes & Rhetoric, PublicLeave a comment» on From Immigration to Executive Orders to Judicial Review: Miracle or Not?

[The following guest post is from Jacques Condon, the alumni guest blogger for October 2016.] In the movie Die Hard, an enterprising police office played by Bruce Willis thwarts a large-scale robbery attempt (of, all things, bearer bonds). He does it barefoot, and clandestinely. But he also has aid from outside law enforcement which, unwittingly, is also used by the bad guys to their advantage. According to the lead bad guy, played by Alan Rickman, when asked what miracle will crack the safe to expose its riches, he responds: “You asked for miracles, Theo, I give you the F.B.I.”

The Die Hard “miracle” is rolled out for full entertainment value, and, to be sure, even Hollywood miracles that can be traced to non-fiction are sometimes hidden by the misnomers of “Based on a True Story” or “Taken From Real Events,” which allow for artistic license.

Yet this same point — the artistry of miracles — continually shows up in explaining and describing judicial rhetoric.

Nowhere has this been more than in the sound bites surrounding the President’s executive order on immigration. Continue reading “From Immigration to Executive Orders to Judicial Review: Miracle or Not?”

How Did We Get Here?

Posted on Categories Constitutional Law, Election Law, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public1 Comment on How Did We Get Here?

Part Six of a Six Part series on Election Law, providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.

In an age where the presidential vote is relatively close, a two-party system dominates politics, and the average voter recognizes that voting for an independent/splinter candidate has no real shot at electoral success, is this really what the framers intended in 1787 when drafting the Constitution of the United States?

Doubtful.

Not only was the Electoral College system problematic almost from the moment it left the starting block, but the election process has grown more complicated, more winner-takes-all, and more divisive than perhaps the delegates could ever have imagined.

For instance, in 1797, Ththomas_jefferson_by_rembrandt_peale_1800omas Jefferson, the then-sitting Vice President, wrote a letter to his colleague, Edward Rutledge, in which Jefferson reported that the mood of the nation’s capital had become politically divisive:

“The passions are too high at present, to be cooled in our day. You & I have formerly seen warm debates and high political passions. But gentlemen of different politics would then speak to each other, & separate the business of the Senate from that of society. It is not so now. Men who have been intimate all their lives, cross the streets to avoid meeting, & turn their heads another way, lest they should be obliged to touch their hats. This may do for young men with whom passion is enjoyment. But it is afflicting to peaceable minds. Tranquility is the old man’s milk.” (Jefferson to Rutledge, June 24, 1797, in Jefferson, Papers, 29:456-57.)

Does Jefferson’s report of a political divide — in 1797! — sound familiar when looking at today’s election debate?

Continue reading “How Did We Get Here?”

The Teachings of Elections Past

Posted on Categories Congress & Congressional Power, Constitutional Law, Election Law, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public1 Comment on The Teachings of Elections Past

john_quincy_adams_-_copy_of_1843_philip_haas_daguerreotypePart Five of a Six Part series on Election Law, providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.

In the run-up to Election Day, maps of the United States will be colored in as red or blue. This so-called “electoral map” is the focus of all the debate, particularly for the presidency, with pundits asking what color the “swing states” will shade. Of course, the maps don’t show green, purple, or even different tints of red or blue. There are only two colors, red or blue. So why is that?

Without getting too far in the weeds, as it were, and from a political science view, the shading is based on the “winner-takes-all” principle. One party wins and everyone else loses. When a party loses, that party is without representation. Weaker parties are pressured to join a more dominant party in hopes of gaining a voice. This leads to party-dominance. Voters learn that, because of party dominance, voting for a third party candidate is ineffectual to the result, and hence alignment into a two-party race between winners and losers.

And, in terms of the presidency, by devising a system of “electors” as opposed to popular vote, history teaches us that an indirect electoral-election scheme can lead to odd results.

The elections of 1876, 1888, and 2000 produced an Electoral College winner who did not receive at least a plurality of the nationwide popular vote. What did this mean? It meant that in 2000, Al Gore received 543,895 more popular votes than George Bush, yet lost the election. The same was true for Samuel J. Tilden (New York) losing to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 and Grover Cleveland (New York), the incumbent President, losing to Benjamin Harrison (Indiana) in 1888.

There is also tie-breaker history. Per the Twelfth Amendment, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of electoral votes (currently 270) to win the presidency. If no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes in the election, the election is determined by the House of Representatives. The House chooses the President from one of the top three presidential electoral vote-winners. (A run-off vote for Vice President belongs to the Senate.)

As to a run-off presidential vote, this has happened only once since 1804. Continue reading “The Teachings of Elections Past”

The School Of Electoral College

Posted on Categories Constitutional Law, Election Law, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, PublicLeave a comment» on The School Of Electoral College

Part Four of a Six Part serwashington_constitutional_convention_1787ies on Election Law, providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.  Prior blog posts mentioned party-politics as having emerged during the Constitutional debate — in the framing days of the late eighteenth century, delegates began aligning along federalist and anti-federalist divides. Alignment shaped the compromise that became the Constitution of the United States, with the process of choosing the President — indirectly through electors — an example of compromise at work.

The compromised solution was complicated. Rather than allowing election by the populous or allowing Congress to choose the position, each state was given a number of “electors” and these electors would vote for the President.

Each state was left to determine the manner of selecting their electors, thus allowing the states a role in choosing the president. The electors would choose the president on the same day, all in an effort to even the playing field, as it were, in election and governance.

So how did it work, at least initially?

It was a problem.

Continue reading “The School Of Electoral College”

Whom Do I Want As My King?

Posted on Categories Constitutional Law, Election Law, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Uncategorized1 Comment on Whom Do I Want As My King?

2014_1006_1024px-mount_rushmore2_largePart Three of a series on Election Law, providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.  Prior blog posts discussed the lead-up to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and provided context to the debate over the American system of government. Here is further context.  For a more in depth discussion and a great read — upon which much of this blog finds its genesis — look to Ray Raphael’s book Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive (2012).

I begin with the delegates. Think of it like this: If you were a wealthy American landowner in the late eighteenth century, and held a position of prominence for some time, you probably wanted to ensure that, whatever government governed, your status remained unchanged. Should not your vote count a little more than someone else? Can we really let the people select of our elected officials?

On these basic questions the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were either conflicted, or outright opposed. As Roger Sherman, the representative from Connecticut proclaimed, “The people immediately should have as little to do as may be about the government. They want information and are constantly liable to be misled.” On the flip side was Alexander Hamilton who touted the “genius of the people” in qualifying the electorate.

Basically, even if a Constitutional Convention delegate agreed to a national government and an “executive branch” to that government, he still had open questions as to what should it look like, how much power it would have, and who would decide the person/persons for such an office.

So how did the delegates get from point A to point B? First, the delegates took the unusual move of calling for secrecy in their debates, something unheard of then and which continues to be a source of confounding discussion even in today’s society; in 1787, and as often argued today, the delegates wanted the freedom to speak freely.

Second, the delegates used England’s King George III as a counter-point to an executive. They wanted no part of a monarchy, or despotic leader, yet needed the executive position to have some teeth so that it would be recognized internationally and complement intra-national needs. Continue reading “Whom Do I Want As My King?”

What Does It Take to be “United” As States?

Posted on Categories Constitutional Law, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Uncategorized1 Comment on What Does It Take to be “United” As States?

washington_constitutional_convention_1787Part Two of a series providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.

Anyone who has been part of a committee, whether it be in government, business, or even the local PTA, will recognize that the same discussion points come up over, and over, and over again. In the political realm, the issue is largely taxation. In the PTA, it’s fundraising. Between April 15th and the local bake sale, the same discussions are had, year after year after year.

So imagine yourself in May of 1787, at the Constitutional Convention. The topic de jure was the present form of government — the Articles of Confederation — and how to improve on what was, by then, government gridlock (sound familiar?).

Those in attendance had a choice of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as it were, or improving upon what got them there.

In retrospect, the choice of what to do was clear — out goes the baby — but in 1787 it was as clear as mud.

Keep in mind, the Articles of Confederation were years (decades) in the making, and were fashioned with state-interests in mind. Essentially, the delegates needed to ask themselves who they wanted to govern: themselves as states or a national government with power over the states.

And as the days dragged on, and as the weather changed from comfortable to hot, so too did the debate over what to do, how to do it, and why. Continue reading “What Does It Take to be “United” As States?”

How Many Years Does It Take to Bake a Constitution?

Posted on Categories Congress & Congressional Power, Constitutional Law, Federalism, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, PublicLeave a comment» on How Many Years Does It Take to Bake a Constitution?

articles_of_confederation_13c_1977_issueAs the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November approaches — that is, National Election Day — the talking-head debate intensifies over candidates, politics and what is right/wrong with the American system of governance.  There is one missing piece to the debate — context — that is seldom discussed, or understood. Indeed, if the average voter dislikes the candidates and the election process (something I hear a lot), then it’s time to take a step back and look at the big picture question of how we got here. In what I hope will be a six part series, I will attempt to provide context to our system of government, our election process and, hopefully, a little history to evaluate and consider in your next candidate-debate.

Part One – How Many Years Does it Take to Bake A Constitution?

If you polled the average American citizen, asking if they heard of the Declaration of Independence, most would answer yes. The citizen might even know the year and date — July 4, 1776.

But ask the same citizen when the Constitution of the United States was adopted (which technically means when it was “ratified” by the States), and you’ll likely get a blank stare, an “I don’t know”, or a guess — likely July 4, 1776.

The correct answer to that question is: June 21, 1788. Continue reading “How Many Years Does It Take to Bake a Constitution?”