Archive | Popular Constitutionalism

The Colorado Recalls Explained

Yesterday voters in Colorado recalled two State Senators. One result was not a surprise, and the other is a shock. Of course the votes are Second Amendment victories for the right to arms, but more fundamentally, they are Fourteenth Amendment victories for Due Process of Law.

Former State Senate President John Morse represented Colorado Springs, plus the somewhat hipster mountain community of Manitou Springs. While El Paso County is strongly Republican, the interior city of Colorado Springs has been center/center-left for years. Senate District 11 was carved to make the election of a Democrat possible, and it worked. Voter registration in SD 11 is about a third, a third, and a third among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, with Democrats having the largest third and Republicans the smallest. Morse barely won re-election in 2010, and might have lost if not for the presence of a Libertarian on the ballot.

As the conventional wisdom expected, voter turn-out was relatively low. Morse was recalled by  51-49%. The conventional wisdom of Colorado politics had been that Morse would probably lose, but that the election would be tight, and there was a chance that he might win. As things turned out, Republicans turned out greatly in excess of their registration percentage, and that was probably the difference.

Both sides had hard-working GOTV programs, but apparently the Democrats did not succeed in convincing enough of their less-enthusiastic voters to vote. This is in contrast to 2012, when Obama won the district by 21%.

Pueblo, the largest city in southern Colorado, delivered the result that stunned almost everyone. For more than a century, Pueblo has been a Colorado stronghold of working-class union Democrats. Like most of southern Colorado, it has a large Hispanic population. Obama won Senate District 3 by 19% in 2012. In 2010, Democratic Senator [...]

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Seidman: “Let’s Give Up on [Parts of] the Constitution”

Georgetown’s Louis Michael Seidman, author of On Constitutional Disobedience has an NYT op-ed (noted in the comments to Orin’s open thread) calling for ignoring the Constitution — or at least those parts that he does not like.

As the nation teeters at the edge of fiscal chaos, observers are reaching the conclusion that the American system of government is broken. But almost no one blames the culprit: our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions. . . .

Our obsession with the Constitution has saddled us with a dysfunctional political system, kept us from debating the merits of divisive issues and inflamed our public discourse. Instead of arguing about what is to be done, we argue about what James Madison might have wanted done 225 years ago. . . .

If even this change is impossible, perhaps the dream of a country ruled by “We the people” is impossibly utopian. If so, we have to give up on the claim that we are a self-governing people who can settle our disagreements through mature and tolerant debate. But before abandoning our heritage of self-government, we ought to try extricating ourselves from constitutional bondage so that we can give real freedom a chance.

As commenters in the open thread have already noted, the Constitution itself provides for its own revision to cure deficiencies: Article V. This amendment process has allowed for dramatic changes to the document, from the Bill of Rights and the Civil War Amendments to women’s suffrage and changes to election procedures.

Seidman cites what he characterizes as a proud history of “constitutional disobedience” to suggest that ignoring the document would be all to the good, suggesting that the country would be better off if political disputes about everything from budgetary policy [...]

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Louisiana amendment to strengthen right to arms, on November ballot

In state elections, the most important vote this November will be in Louisiana. A referendum there would significantly strengthen protection of the right to keep and bear arms in the state, and would set a very significant national precedent.

Before the Civil War, the Louisiana Constitution did not mention a right to arms. The Louisiana Supreme Courts, however, viewed the federal Second Amendment as directly applicable to state government. So in State v. Chandler (1850), the court held that the Second Amendment protected a general right to carry arms, but that a legislature could ban concealed carry.

A new state constitution, adopted in 1879, provided: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged. This shall not prevent the passage of laws to punish those who carry weapons concealed.” La. Const., art. 3. The first sentence is, of course, nearly verbatim from the Second Amendment.

A century later, firearms prohibitionists had convinced some courts to reinterpret the Second Amendment so as to make it practical nullity. Supposedly, the Second Amendment right was not an individual right, but instead a “state’s right” or “collective right”–which meant that individual gun ownership could be entirely outlawed. Because the Louisiana Constitution’s language so closely paralleled the Second Amendment, there was a danger that a Louisiana court could interpret the state constitutional language to protect nothing at all. Indeed, some courts in other states had already done so, regarding state law language that copied the Second Amendment.

So in 1974, the Louisiana constitutional right was strengthened, with new language: “The right of each citizen to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged, but this provision shall not prevent the passage of laws to prohibit the carrying [...]

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Next step: Repeal the individual mandate because it is unconstitutional

McCulloch v. Maryland had a very good day at the Supreme Court yesterday, with NFIB relying on and applying McCulloch‘s rules for when an enactment violates the Necessary and Proper Clause. What happened after the McCulloch decision also shows the next steps in battle over the individual mandate, as I suggest in an essay this morning for National Review Online.

In refusing to hold the Second Bank of the United States unconstitutional, the McCulloch Court gave Congress broad latitude in Congress’s own evaluation of whether the Bank was “necessary” in a constitutional sense. Relying on and quoting McCulloch, President Andrew Jackson made his own judgment of constitutional necessity when he vetoed the recharter of the Bank in 1832. After a titanic political struggle, the Bank was gone, and a new term created by Jackson, “equal protection,” had become part of what the American People were coming to believe the Constitution was supposed to mean.

President Jackson dealt the Bank a fatal blow by withdrawing federal deposits from the Bank, and moving them to state banks. President Romney can follow Jackson’s lead on his first day in office, instructing the Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services to use the waiver powers in the ACA statute to issue waivers to everyone for the individual mandate. Because the individual mandate is (supposedly) a tax, it can then be repealed through the budget reconciliation process, which cannot be filibustered.

I predict that the individual mandate will never mandate anyone. Yet the mandate will be long remembered as one of the most consequential laws enacted by a Congress. The result of the “bank battle” was that even though a central bank was judicially permissible, central banking was politically toxic for the rest of the century. The “mandate battle” may have the same [...]

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Public opinion about the National Rifle Association

In April, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that the National Rifle Association was viewed favorably by 68% of Americans, and unfavorably by 32%. Unlike most polls, the Reuters poll apparently did not allow “unsure” or “undecided” as a choice. In each of the demographics which the poll provided–Republicans, Democrats, independents, whites, and blacks–the NRA was viewed favorably by at least 55%.

A 2005 Gallup Poll had found a 60/34 favorable/unfavorable view of the NRA. Previous Gallup results were 52/39 (May 2000), 51/39 (April 2000), 51/40 (April 1999, right after the Columbine High School murders), 42/51 (June 1995), and 55/32 (March 1993).

It is interesting to compare the NRA’s ratings with support for handgun control.  Since 1959, Gallup has been asking “Do you think there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of handguns, except by the police and other authorized persons?” There have been some small changes in wording over the years, and the question is not a perfect test of support for handgun prohibition; some respondents might interpret “other authorized persons” simply as support for the licensing for handgun owners. However, the Gallup question is the closest thing there is to a 50-year gauge for sentiment for banning handguns.

In October 2011, Gallup found that 26% of Americans (a record low) thought that there should be such a law, and 73% did not. The 26/73 anti-/pro-handgun split is fairly close to the 32/68% anti-/pro-NRA split. After Columbine, 38% wanted the anti-handgun law, and 40% disapproved of NRA.

Likewise, Gallup in May 1993 found 54% in against the proposed law, and 55% approval for NRA.

Thus, generally speaking, over the last two decades, Americans who favor handgun prohibition appear to have accurately identified the NRA as a major obstacle to their wishes, and have viewed the NRA unfavorably. Americans who oppose handgun prohibition have viewed the NRA favorably [...]

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The Great Gun Control War of the 20th Century — And its Lessons for Gun Laws Today

This is the subject of my article in a forthcoming symposium issue of the Fordham Urban Law Journal. The article details the political, cultural, social, and legal battles over gun control from the 1920s to the early 21st century. Here’s the abstract:

A movement to ban handguns began in the 1920s in the Northeast, led by the conservative business establishment. In response, the National Rifle Association began to get involved in politics, and was able to defeat handgun prohibition. Gun control and gun rights became the subjects of intense political, social, and cultural battles for much of the rest of the 20th century, and into the 21st.

Often, the battles were a clash of absolutes: One side contended that there was absolutely no right to arms, that defensive gun ownership must be prohibited, and that gun ownership for sporting purposes could be, at most, allowed as a very limited privilege. Another side asserted that the right to arms was absolute, and that any gun control laws were infringements of that right.

By the time that Heller and McDonald came to the Supreme Court, the battles had mostly been resolved; the Supreme Court did not break new ground, but instead reinforced what had become the American consensus: the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, especially for self-defense, is a fundamental individual right. That right, however, is not absolute. There are some gun control laws which do not violate the right, particularly laws which aim to keep guns out of the hands of people who have proven themselves to be dangerous.

In the post-Heller world, as in the post-Brown v. Board world, a key role of the courts will be to enforce federal constitutional rights against some local or state jurisdictions whose extreme laws make them outliers from

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Occupy Wall Street and Popular Constitutionalism

The Occupy Wall Street movement is often seen as a left-wing counterpart to the Tea Party movement. Until recently, however, OWS has differed from the Tea Party in so far as it paid little attention to constitutional issues. By contrast, constitutional issues are a central focus of the Tea Party, which claims that the courts have departed from the original meaning and have allowed the federal government to seize too much power. As I explained in this article, the Tea Party fits the classic model of “popular constitutionalism” – a popular movement that makes constitutional issues a central focus of its agenda. Until now, such issues have been mostly peripheral for OWS.

Today, however, a group inspired by OWS is holding a series of “Occupy the Courts” protests, which do focus on constitutional issues, mostly attacking the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decisions:

The “Occupy” movement will turn its focus on the nation’s highest court Friday as organizers plan to gather around the Supreme Court building dressed like justices and singing songs of the Motown group, The Supremes.

The event is being held around the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which removed many limits to corporate spending in federal political campaigns, organizers say….

The one-day event dubbed “Occupy the Courts” is organized by the grassroots group called Move to Amend and was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street participants, organizers said.

“Move to Amend volunteers across the USA will lead the charge on the judiciary which created — and continues to expand — corporate personhood rights,” the Occupy the Courts website states.

There is some irony in the OWS protestors campaign against “corporate personhood.” OWS gets a great deal of financial and organizational support from labor unions [...]

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