The Docket

The Prospect's legal affairs blog

Should Obama Have Abandoned Health Care Reform?

Princeton University Press

I've just finished George Edwards's Overreach. In essence, the book applies the lessons of On Deaf Ears and The Strategic Presidency to the Obama administration.

Filibuster Reform Lies in the Voters

(Flickr / Cle0patra)

In 1906, journalist David Graham Phillips scored a best-seller with his book The Treason of the Senate. “The Senate is the eager, resourceful, indefatigable agent of interests as hostile to the American people as any invading army could be,” Phillips wrote.

There’s a good case that the “millionaire’s club” of 1906 was Audie Murphy compared to today’s Senate.

A Gun to the Debt-Ceiling Fight


If Barack Obama turns out to be a one-term president, historians may mark the summer of 2011 as the moment his failure became inevitable. At that point, the new right-wing Republican House majority declared the national debt hostage and demanded Obama’s surrender to them on all points of domestic policy. When the debt-ceiling statute required authorization of a new federal borrowing limit, they refused to vote on the measure without massive cuts in federal spending and no increase in federal revenue. The crisis was averted by the appointment of an idiotic congressional “supercommittee” that was supposed to identify future cuts, matched with a set of “automatic” cuts that were to take effect if the “supercommittee” failed to come up with a compromise aimed at reducing federal debt.

1st Circuit Rules DOMA Unconstitutional

Nancy Gill & Marcelle Letourneau, by GLAD

One of the most striking examples of the progress made by supporters of gay and lesbian rights can be seen with respect to the odious Defense of Marriage Act. The bill, which denied federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples and allowed states not to recognize same-sex marriages valid in other states, had been signed by the second-most recent Democratic president after passing both the House and Senate by veto-proof margins. A little more than a decade later, President Obama—even before his recent announcement declaring support for marriage equality—had refused to defend the constitutionality of DOMA in court.

The Continuing Importance of the Voting Rights Act

In her excellent piece about the Republican Party's systematic vote suppression efforts, Dahlia Lithwick details the various strategies:

The War on Contraception Enters the Courts

WikiMedia Commons

Forty-three Roman Catholic plaintiffs—including the archdiocese of New York and the University of Notre Dame—have filed lawsuits alleging that the Obama administration's contraceptive coverage requirements violate the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Be Very Afraid

WikiMedia Commons

Jamelle's hot-off-the-presses cover story on how Romney will govern as a hardcore right-winger irrespective of what he "really" thinks is a must-read. And what's even worse is that this lesson applies beyond budget policy. To address one particularly important point, consider the Supreme Court.

A State-Federal Standoff over the Death Penalty

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

A principled governor invoking “state’s rights” to defy federal policy. Aggressive local officials overriding state decisions. A federal court angrily affirming its own power. An anguished dissent attacking a power-hungry Congress. 

The Unecessary Radicalism of Citizens United

WikiMedia COmmons

One of the many striking things about the Supreme Court's infamous Citizens United decision is how poorly the facts of the case fit the extremely sweeping holding. The potential First Amendment issues involved with campaign finance regulation exist on a spectrum. Political editorials, even when published in corporate-owned media and attempting to influence the campaign, are obviously "pure speech" that can be restricted only in extraordinary circumstances. Direct donations to candidates, on the other hand, are further removed from pure speech and also raise serious problems of democratic equality, so the leeway that can be given to government to restrict them might be greater.

Striking Down the PPACA: Still Not A Desirable Outcome

WikiMedia commons

Jon Rauch has an imaginary dialogued with the late Ted Kennedy in which he argues that a Supreme Court decision striking down the Affordable Care Act (a k a the PPACA) might actually be good for liberals. "If the Supreme Court guts another important law and conservatives cheer even louder," Rauch argues, "their credibility as advocates of [judicial] restraint will be shot.” And, in addition, striking down the PPACA would put us on the path to national health insurance. Perhaps, then, striking down the PPACA is something that progressives should secretly wish for?

Face It: SB 1070 Is about Race

“Before you get into what the case is about,” Chief Justice John Roberts told Solicitor General Donald Verilli at the beginning of the government’s argument in United States v. Arizona, “I’d like to clear up at the outset what it’s not about. No part of your argument has to do with racial or ethnic profiling, does it? I saw none of that in your brief.”

A non-lawyer might be puzzled. The case, argued Wednesday, is testing the constitutionality of part of Arizona’s S.B. 1070, a statute that seeks to drive undocumented immigrants out of the state by rigid law enforcement. 

Dworkin on Why the PPACA is Constitutional

WikiMEdia Commons

Ronald Dworkin has an article defending the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in the New York Review of Books that offers an excellent primer on the relevant issues. There are two sections I'd recommend in particular. First, in Section II Dworkin does the most lucid job I've seen so far in explaining why the "activity/inactivity" distinction made by the challengers is so weak:

Arizona Asks the Court Not to Trust the Feds

(Krista Kennell/Sipa Press)

This term’s last oral argument ends next week with yet another blockbuster case—Arizona v. United States, the challenge to Arizona’s harshly anti-immigrant S.B. 1070. This case poses vitally important questions about individual rights, racial profiling, and the future of individual equality in the United States.

But don’t expect to hear them argued openly next week.

Bush-Appointed Judge Does the Full Lochner

I've argued that the legal arguments against the Affordable Care Act are just libertarianism in a thin disguise—the arguments fundamentally make very little sense unless they're part of a broader argument about the unconstitutionality of the welfare state. Janice Rogers Brown, the ultra-reactionary appointed by George W. Bush to the prestigious D.C. Circuit Court of appeals, doesn't see any need for the disguise.

Of Course a Decision Striking Down the ACA Would Be "Judicial Activism"

WikiMedia commons.

Orin Kerr outlines a five-part test for whether a decision can be called "judicial activism" as a means of assessing whether the label could be fairly applied to a decision striking down the Affordable Care Act. Roughly, the criteria are: 1) whether the decision was motivated by the policy preferences of judges; 2) whether it expands judicial power for future cases; 3) whether it was inconsistent with past precedents; 4) whether it struck down a "law or practice"; and 5) whether the decision was "wrong." On three of the first four criteria, Kerr essentially agrees that a decision striking down the ACA would be "activist." On points No. 3 and No.