‘Lawfare’ loses big

The ACLU loses its nasty suit against former defense officials.

By The Wall Street Journal 

(published January 28, 2012)

The guerrilla legal campaign against national security suffered a big defeat this week, and the good news deserves more attention. The victory for legal sanity came Monday when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision to toss out a suit brought by aspiring terrorist Jose Padilla against a slew of Bush Administration officials.

Readers may remember that Padilla was arrested in 2002 for plotting to set off a dirty bomb on U.S. soil. He was detained as an enemy combatant, convicted in a Miami court and sentenced to 17 years in prison. But Padilla has been adopted as a legal mascot by the ACLU and the National Litigation Project at Yale Law School, which have sued far and wide alleging mistreatment and lack of due process.

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Obama vs. Congress—and the Law

President has taken a hatchet to welfare reform, the immigration laws, and ‘No Child Left Behind.’

(published in The Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2012)

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey

On July 12, President Obama unilaterally gutted the Clinton administration’s signature achievement—welfare reform. The 1996 welfare-reform law, while passed with strong bipartisan support, has been the bane of progressives, who have never accepted its fundamental principle that those who can work must work. Over the last year, the Obama administration also took the hatchet to the immigration laws and to the Bush-era “No Child Left Behind” statute.

These actions have two things in common. First, they were announced with much fanfare and designed to appeal to the president’s liberal base. Second, and much worse, they were implemented by suspending enforcement or waiving applications of laws Mr. Obama does not like.

The president cannot write—or rewrite—the laws. The Constitution makes Congress the legislature, and the president cannot simply ignore its decisions.

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A triumph and tragedy for the law

To uphold the individual mandate as an exercise of the taxing power, the majority overlooked the natural meaning of the statutory text.

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey

The Supreme Court’s ObamaCare decision is both a triumph and a tragedy for our constitutional system. On the plus side, as we have long argued in these pages and in the courts, the justices held that Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce cannot support federal requirements imposed on Americans simply because they exist. The court also ruled that there are limits to Congress’s ability to use federal spending to force the states to adopt its preferred policies.

However, in upholding ObamaCare’s mandate that all Americans buy health insurance as a kind of “tax,” the court itself engaged in a quintessentially legislative activity—redrafting the law’s unambiguous text. The court struck down ObamaCare as enacted by Congress and upheld a new ObamaCare of its own making.

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The Triumph of the Text

In “Reading Law,” Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and legal writer Bryan A. Garner argue for paying close attention to the original meaning of the words in the Constitution and other legal documents.

(published in The Wall Street Journal, August 29, 2012)

By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR.

For many years now, a debate has raged over how best to interpret the Constitution and other canonical legal texts. One way of grouping the warring parties is to divide them according to their views of writing itself—the words on the page. The textualists feel a strong loyalty, even a moral commitment, to the words themselves and the meanings they were intended to convey. The non-textualists have a very different approach, guided by a peculiar view of democratic society and the law.

Like the government in Anthony Burgess’s “A Clockwork Orange”—setting out to adjust the behavior of inherently flawed men and women—non-textualists see the American electorate as a collection of people in need of improvement and democracy as too error-prone to do the job. Their solution is to vest judges with the ability to “adjust” the law in order to ensure a more “progressive” direction, loosely interpreting the wording of statutes and the Constitution and sometimes disregarding the wording entirely. The result is a search for non-democratic shortcuts as the best way to promote fairness and social justice.

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Health Care Reform v. the Founders

By David B. Rivkin Jr.

Editor’s note: This op-ed was originally published on September 29, 1993.

The president has announced his health care plan, and congressional Republicans have announced theirs. Although the details are still murky, the plans seem to share one fundamental assumption — that every man, woman and child in the U.S. must participate in the system. The healthy must subsidize the sick; the young must subsidize the old; the not so old must subsidize the very young. If this redistribution of wealth is to work without new taxes (and no one wants to admit that new taxes might be necessary), then everyone must be in the plan.

Where, exactly, does the U.S. government get the power to require that every one of its citizens must participate in a government-sponsored health care plan? Ask this of a health care reformer and he, or she, will sniff, think a moment, and (if legally trained) will immediately utter the two most magic words in late 20th century constitutional jurisprudence—Commerce Clause.

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ObamaCare ruling 2012: Who’s laughing now?

“Congress has crossed a fundamental constitutional line.”

United States Supreme CourtAs the nation awaits one of the most important Supreme Court decisions of our time, efforts to sway the decision toward upholding ObamaCare are not in short supply. Some have the thin veneer of news articles; others carry the weight of admonition by the President himself. One can only conclude that such efforts are based on a sober assessment that overturning at least one linchpin of the law is a very real possibility.

The editors of this newsletter recall vividly how the efforts of Messers Rivkin and Casey to call attention to the unconstitutionality of the 2010 healthcare law were met with derision by professors, legislators, and, unsurprisingly, reporters and news “analysts.” The hearty laughs and chuckles have long since ceased.

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