SCOTUS Decides Blueford, Declines Opportunity to Tighten Up Double Jeopardy “Manifest Necessity” Rule

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On some apparently flimsy evidence of intent to kill, the State of Arkansas prosecuted Alex Blueford for the capital murder of his girlfriend’s one-year-old son. After deliberating for some time, the jury reported that it had unanimously voted to acquit on both capital murder and a lesser-included murder charge, but was deadlocked on another lesser-included offense, manslaughter. The judge sent the jurors back to deliberate further. Meanwhile, Blueford requested that the jury be given a new verdict form on which it could enter a partial verdict of acquittal on the greater offenses. The judge declined and, after another half hour of fruitless deliberations, declared a mistrial.

Can Blueford now be retried in front of a new jury on the capital-murder charge? The prosecutor announced an intention to try, and Blueford predictably objected on double jeopardy grounds. Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court overruled his objections, clearing the path for a second trial.  Continue reading “SCOTUS Decides Blueford, Declines Opportunity to Tighten Up Double Jeopardy “Manifest Necessity” Rule”

ObamaCare Is Still Constitutional

Posted on Categories Business Regulation, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Health Care, Public, U.S. Supreme Court19 Comments on ObamaCare Is Still Constitutional

Today I particpated in another debate over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.  At the invitation of the Milwaukee Chapters of the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society, I debated Robert Levy of the Cato Institute over luncheon at the Milwaukee Athletic Club.  My thanks to our hosts, to Mr. Levy, and to the audience.  Below are my prepared remarks.  My previous post on the consitutionality of the individual mandate can be viewed here.

In December 1783, George Washington gave a toast at a dinner celebrating the formal dissolution of the Revolutionary Army.  He did not use his toast to offer a tribute to individual liberty.  Nor did he sing the praises of limited government.  Instead, his toast was a simple expression of what he hoped the future would bring to our new nation. He raised his glass and he said: “Competent powers to Congress for general purposes.”

We must never forget that our Constitution is a document that was intended to create competent powers for Congress for general purposes.

Much of what Mr. Levy cites in oppostion to the individual mandate is based upon abstract principles.  However, when we interpret the Constitution, we do not begin with abstract theories of political philosophy, and then attempt to shoehorn those theories into the text.

Instead, when we interpret the Constitution, we begin by looking to the text itself.

The power to “regulate,” which is the power delegated to Congress under the Commerce Clause, is the power to prescribe the rules by which commerce is governed.  The word “regulate” means “to direct” or “to command.”  Therefore, the plain meaning of the word “regulate” in the text includes a grant to Congress of the power to require action. Continue reading “ObamaCare Is Still Constitutional”

Some Modest Predictions on the Severability of the Individual Mandate

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The Court’s decision on the severability of the individual mandate may be the aspect of the PPACA litigation that is most difficult to predict. If the Court holds that the individual mandate is constitutional, then severability won’t be an issue in the first place. If severability does arise, whether and how the Court will sever the mandate is unclear. In part, this is because of problems with severability doctrine itself. Notwithstanding over a century of cases on the issue, the Court has had a hard time settling upon a definitive severability test. Sometimes the emphasis has been on legislative intent. Other times the focus has been on whether the constitutional remainder can function without the invalid part. Still other times the Court has severed or refused to sever without acknowledging the doctrine at all. The oral argument on severability reflected this state of affairs, as the Justices spent a considerable amount of time exploring the merits of several possible tests. Without knowing the doctrine, it is difficult to anticipate a result.

In part, the unpredictability also reflects the absence of a completely satisfying way to sever the mandate if it is unconstitutional. Because the PPACA lacks a severability clause, covers such a diversity of topics, and reflects a variety of legislative compromises, it is hard to identify a clear legislative intent with respect to severability. Because the invalidation of the mandate will render certain aspects of the core health-care reforms financially problematic, it is unsatisfying to focus exclusively on the textual separability of the mandate from surrounding provisions. And because courts are poorly equipped to appreciate the complexities of health care policy, it seems problematic to base severability on anticipated financial implications.

That being said, I think we can reasonably make a couple of predictions about this aspect of the decision. First, if the Court holds that the individual mandate is not severable, that holding will rest on the votes of the conservative Justices, who generally seemed much more skeptical of severability than their counterparts during oral argument. Continue reading “Some Modest Predictions on the Severability of the Individual Mandate”

The Individual Mandate: A Rejoinder

Posted on Categories Business Regulation, Congress & Congressional Power, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Health Care, Public17 Comments on The Individual Mandate: A Rejoinder

Last week, Ed Fallone posted his prepared remarks at our debate on the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the health care law. Inspired by his example, I have – after a fashion – cleaned up my notes for last week’s debate. This is how I see it.

When Nancy Pelosi was asked about the potential for a constitutional challenge to the health care law, her response was “you’ve got to be kidding.” The substance of her response – “look, we used the commerce power and that permits us to do almost whatever we want” – reflected large patches of conventional wisdom.

Many lawyers (particularly those trained before the Rehnquist Court began to push back against an unlimited commerce power) and, in particular, Progressive legal academics thought that this dragon had been slain long ago. They assumed that the idea that there might be structural limits on the federal constitution had been relegated to the status of flat earth creationism and alchemy.

Continue reading “The Individual Mandate: A Rejoinder”

Why the Supreme Court Should Uphold the Individual Mandate

Posted on Categories Business Regulation, Congress & Congressional Power, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Health Care, Marquette Law School, Public, U.S. Supreme Court17 Comments on Why the Supreme Court Should Uphold the Individual Mandate

This afternoon, I participated in a debate with Rick Esenberg at the Marquette University Law School.  The debate was co-sponsored by the American Constitution Society and the Federalist Society.  I was asked to defend the constitutionality of the individual mandate imposed by the Affordable Care Act.  What follows are my prepared remarks.

Historians tell us that the connection between access to health insurance and employment was an accident. During World War II, wage and price controls prevented employers from increasing cash compensation for their workers. Employers wishing to recruit workers began to offer subsidized health insurance benefits as a way of avoiding this freeze on wages.

This is not a gift to workers from employers. We all pay for our health insurance with our labor. In return for our labor, we receive a combination of cash, employer provided benefits and non-cash prerequisites. The amount that employers pay towards our health insurance premiums is part of our income, which is why we are taxed on our employer-provided insurance above a certain level. The government encourages employers to offer health insurance benefits by allowing the employer to deduct these expenses as a business expense. About 60% of us receive health insurance through our employer.

The elderly and the disabled are not physically capable of working. Employer-based health insurance does not work for them. They receive their health insurance through Medicare. Participants pay certain deductibles and co-payments, but the bulk of the cost is imposed on the rest of us in the form of a payroll tax and the government then pays medical providers.

So our health insurance system has become tied to employment. As the costs of health care rise, it is increasingly difficult for middle and lower income Americans to afford health insurance unless they get it through an employer. This is because, as I mentioned, an employer will partially subsidize the cost of the premium as a component of total compensation. In addition, an employer can offer access to a plan that includes many other workers, thus broadening the risk pool and lowering the overall premium for each worker. An individual who seeks to purchase health insurance on their own gets neither of these two advantages. As health care costs continue to rise (an annual increase of about 8% in recent years), this cost differential becomes more significant. Continue reading “Why the Supreme Court Should Uphold the Individual Mandate”

Signing a Recall Petition Does Not Require Judicial Recusal

Posted on Categories Constitutional Law, Election Law, First Amendment, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal Ethics, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Wisconsin Court System, Wisconsin Law & Legal System14 Comments on Signing a Recall Petition Does Not Require Judicial Recusal

We live in interesting times.  A segment of the general public is quick to forgive the killing of two young men in Slinger, Wisconsin and Sanford, Florida as the unavoidable consequence of the exercise of a constitutional right.  Yet at the same time, state court judges who have exercised their constitutional right of self-governance by signing a recall petition are being publicly called out by both special interest groups and the media, as if by signing the petition they have transgressed some moral boundary.  These are interesting times, indeed.

The signing of a recall petition is a right guaranteed by Article XIII of the Wisconsin Constitution.  It is a procedure whereby any voter can request that the continuation in office of an elected official in the State of Wisconsin should be put to the vote of the full electorate.  If a sufficient number of voters sign the petition, a recall election is held.  A recall can only succeed in removing the officeholder if both a sufficient number of recall signatures are filed and a majority of the electorate votes in favor of removal.  The Recall is democratic self-governance in its purest form, and along with the Initiative and the Referendum it is one of the three structural vehicles by which Progressive Era voters sought to bypass the influence that special interests hold on elected bodies.

The Wisconsin GOP has filed an official complaint against Dane County Circuit Court Judge David Flanagan with the Judicial Commission on the grounds that the judge should have recused himself in a case challenging the constitutionality of the Wisconsin Voter ID law.  Must judges who have signed a recall petition subsequently recuse themselves from sitting on any case in which the Governor, or Republican legislators, or the Republican Party of Wisconsin asserts that the signing of the petition evidences a bias against them?  The answer is “no.”  There is no explicit provision that prohibits judges from signing a recall petition or that mandates that they recuse themselves from any politically charged case if they have done so. Continue reading “Signing a Recall Petition Does Not Require Judicial Recusal”

The Resurrection of the “Trespass” Element of Fourth Amendment Law

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Recently, in United States v. Jones, the Supreme Court ruled that the attaching of a GPS tracking device to a suspect’s car without his knowledge and monitoring of the vehicle’s movements violated the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.  See generally 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012).  In so doing, the Court resurrected an idea relating to Fourth Amendment law that had been dormant for almost 50 years – the idea of common-law trespass as a test for violations of the amendment.

Specifically, police officers obtained a warrant to put the tracking device on a car registered to Jones’ wife.  Jones, 132 S.Ct. at 948.  Officers then placed the GPS tracker on the undercarriage of the car while it was parked in a public parking lot.  Id.  The officers then monitored the car’s movements for 28 days.  Id.  Eventually, the Government indicted Jones on charges of (among other things) conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine.  Id.  Jones moved to suppress the evidence from the GPS device.   Continue reading “The Resurrection of the “Trespass” Element of Fourth Amendment Law”

Judge Sutton’s Hallows Lecture

Posted on Categories Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Marquette Law School, Public, U.S. Supreme Court1 Comment on Judge Sutton’s Hallows Lecture

Hallows LectureMarquette University Law School is fortunate to welcome this week the Hon. Jeffrey S. Sutton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Judge Sutton will deliver our annual Hallows Lecture on Tuesday, February 28, at 4:30 p.m. in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall. His lecture, titled “Barnette, the Roosevelt Appointees, and the Progressive Embrace of Judicial Review,” focuses on Board of Education v. Barnette, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1943 decision holding that the First Amendment protected students unwilling on religious grounds to salute the American flag. The 6-3 decision overturned Minersville School District v. Gobitis, a 7-2 decision only three years earlier. Appointees of Franklin D. Roosevelt were central in this drama: Robert H. Jackson wrote for the Court in Barnette, over the dissent of Felix Frankfurter, who had authored Gobitis but found himself abandoned by William O. Douglas and Hugo L. Black. Judge Sutton will discuss how this reversal of course happened so quickly and why it marked a turning point away from the progressive opposition to many forms of judicial review. The lecture is free and open to the public (registration is required) and will bear 1.0 CLE. The Hallows Lecture—perpetuating the memory of the late E. Harold Hallows, Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and longtime Professor of Law at Marquette University—is one of the Law School’s flagship events, precisely because we have been the beneficiary of contributions from such distinguished jurists as Judge Sutton.