Constitution

President Evolving Positions, Warrantless Wiretap Edition

Cross-posted from Friction Tape.

Shot:

For one thing, under an Obama presidency, Americans will be able to leave behind the era of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and “wiretaps without warrants,” he said. (He was referring to the lingering legal fallout over reports that the National Security Agency scooped up Americans’ phone and Internet activities without court orders, ostensibly to monitor terrorist plots, in the years after the September 11 attacks.)

It’s hardly a new stance for Obama, who has made similar statements in previous campaign speeches, but mention of the issue in a stump speech, alongside more frequently discussed topics like Iraq and education, may give some clue to his priorities.

Chaser:

Happy Constitution Day from United Liberty

By Constitutional Convention [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In Federalist No. 51, a Virginia farmer named James Madison mused:

But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Today — September 17 — is the day we celebrate the 225th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution by the U.S. Constitutional Convention. This document, which sought to protect man from himself by placing limits on the powers that a representative government would try to wield, is a watershed triumph in the history of human freedom movements, despite some of the gross violations of human rights that have been perpetrated against African-Americans, women, Asian-Americans and other groups since the founding. As written constitutions go, the United States is something of an anomaly: since 1789, constitutions have lasted an average of only seventeen years. That statistic makes the U.S. Constitution a pretty special document.

We hope you’ll join us in celebrating by taking the Bill of Rights Institute’s Constitution quiz to see how well you know the document that framed the United States government!

Point vs. Counterpoint: Chick-fil-A, Gay Marriage, and Boston Mayor Tom Menino

Cross-posted from Friction Tape.

//creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In a blog post yesterday morning, my former Cato Institute colleague Tom G. Palmer, who is openly gay and who once “brandished a pistol to scare off several men who he feared were about to attack him because of his sexual orientation,” discussed Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s reaction to Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s on-the-record remarks about his company’s multi-million dollar support for traditional marriage causes and advocacy. Mayor Menino, in an interview with the Boston Herald, subsequently threatened to lean on city planners to deny Chick-fil-A business licenses it would need to operate within the jurisdiction:

“If they need licenses in the city, it will be very difficult — unless they open up their policies,” he warned.

Menino also told the Herald that

“Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.”

Tom Palmer concluded his post, writing

Forget Tax Returns, Just Focus on Taxes

There’s been a lot of nonsense lately over Mitt Romney’s tax returns, with Barack Obama’s “truth team” claiming on Twitter that since Obama has released his forms for the past decade, he is better suited to lead this country. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, has called for them while refusing to give out her own. But she isn’t the only one. From Politico:

Over the past three months, McClatchy Newspapers asked all 535 members of the House and Senate to release their tax records. Only 17 — or just over 3 percent — handed over the documents. Another 19 percent said they wouldn’t release them. The remainder didn’t respond to McClatchy’s request.

While members of the executive branch are expected to release their tax records either while running for office or as part of the vetting process for Cabinet appointments, members of Congress aren’t held to the same standard. While they fill out annual disclosures, those forms aren’t as detailed as a tax return.

DISCLOSE Act’s Lead Sponsor: We Need Campaign Finance Reform to Protect Incumbents

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. Photo courtesy of the Office of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

Following up on my piece last week on the newest version of the DISCLOSE Act, which failed a cloture vote to overcome a GOP filibuster last night, and which will face another cloture vote around 3pm Eastern today, I wanted to share this interview of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), the lead sponsor of S.3369, conducted by progressive talk radio host Sam Seder at this year’s Netroots Nation conference.

Around the 1:35 mark, Sen. Whitehouse says (emphasis added)

The One Petition You’ll Ever Need

TSA

If you know me personally, outside of the blogosphere, you know that I generally hold a dim view of online petitions. I generally don’t think they mean much, they mostly get ignored by whomever is being petitioned. However, the First Amendment provides for the people “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” And, with the rise of sites such as Change.org and even the White House’s own petition center, petitions are slowly gaining some traction. People do pay attention, if only because they’re afraid of the PR fallout.

With that in mind, I’m here to show you the one online petition you should be caring about. It was started by the Cato Institute’s Director of Information Policy Studies Jim Haper, and it literally says: Require the Transportation Security Administration to Follow the Law!

Harper explains on Cato-At-Liberty:

A year ago this coming Sunday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered the Transportation Security Administration to do a notice-and-comment rulemaking on its use of Advanced Imaging Technology (aka “body-scanners” or “strip-search machines”) for primary screening at airports. (The alternative for those who refuse such treatment: a prison-style pat-down.) It was a very important ruling, for reasons I discussed in a post back then. The TSA was supposed to publish its policy in the Federal Register, take comments from the public, and issue a final rule that responds to public input.

So far, it hasn’t done any of those things.

Senate Democrats Try DISCLOSE Act Once More before Election

DISCLOSE tweet

That’s a tweet from Roll Call Senate reporter Niels Lesniewski just after breakfast this morning. Instead of taking up annual appropriations, a rudimentary function of annual fiscal business in Congress, Senate Democrats are instead choosing to attempt to squelch political participation before the November elections.

Morning After: More SCOTUS Reflections from a Non-Lawyer

In reaction to my post yesterday, and lots of other punditry around the web, my friend Rusty Weiss of Mental Recession fame (he recently celebrated six months of blogging!) emailed me to say he’s tired of having to settle for silver linings — that he want points on the board.

A lot of us — political activists, policy geeks, and court watchers alike — were disappointed with the outcome of yesterday’s ruling. We wanted a full takedown of Obamacare, for both substantive and political reasons. Instead, we got a ruling that the president’s signature legislative achievement passes constitutional muster, even if it was most peculiarly reasoned.

Silver Linings in SCOTUS Obamacare Ruling

[Editor’s note: This post should not be construed as an endorsement of Mitt Romney or of Republican candidates for U.S. Senate or U.S. House in 2012. The author is a political media strategist by trade.]

Regular readers know I am not a lawyer, and that I do not specialize in health policy. I also did not come to Washington through Capitol Hill and am therefore no expert in parliamentary procedure. Still, I wanted to share a few thoughts on the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Obamacare — some original, some not — and they’re not all bad.

First, here’s the opinion itself (PDF).

Second, the greatest legal minds on the left have spent the last couple of years arguing that the individual mandate is constitutional under authority granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause and Necessary and Proper Clause. The Court summarily rejected this argument, and that is great for individual liberty. Congress does not, as Obamacare opponents have argued all along, have the power to force you to buy health insurance, broccoli, or anything else. It does not have power to regulate economic inactivity.

Third, the mandate was upheld because Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the penalty for not purchasing health insurance can reasonably be construed as a tax. Because the power to tax is an enumerated power of Congress as outlined in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, this provision of the law was upheld.

An interesting political point — in September 2009, fearing political blowback from pushing so hard for the law, the president flatly rejected that Obamacare constituted a tax increase on Americans during a recession:

Opinion: “First, they came for the donor lists…”

Emboldened by the response to my piece last week, I put on my political theorist hat this weekend and penned another editorial that has now been published in The Daily Caller. Here’s an excerpt:

“Don’t we all have a right to know,” asks Obama campaign manager Jim Messina in a recent fundraising email, “exactly which corporations and individuals are spending millions in attack ads to influence elections – and what their agendas are?” While we should expect this type of rhetoric from bullies who think that the government should force workers to give up their right to a secret ballot in unionization proceedings, making it easier for Democratic supporters to rake new campaign funds from their peers’ paychecks, this is one of those times when “No” is a complete, forceful, and declarative sentence.

But in fairness to Messina, to whom I wish a swift and humiliating trip to the unemployment line this November, we should (for a moment) take his claim at face value. We should ask, “Upon what moral principle” – we’re talking about rights, after all – “is this ‘right to know’ predicated?”


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