Justice Scalia kept constitutional originalism in the conversation — no small legacy

by David B. Rivkin Jr. & Lee A. Casey, in the Los Angeles Times

“I’m Scalia.” That’s how Justice Antonin Scalia began to question a nervous lawyer, who was mixing up the names of the nine Supreme Court justices during oral arguments on the controversial 2000 case Bush vs. Gore. His introduction should have been unnecessary, because if any justice dominated the contemporary Supreme Court stage, it was Scalia.

By turns combative, argumentative and thoughtful, Scalia was a stout conservative who transformed American jurisprudence in 34 years on the bench. He was also charming, witty and cordial, able to maintain a close friendship with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, perhaps his leading intellectual rival on the Supreme Court’s left wing.

Appointed to the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., by President Reagan in 1982, Scalia was elevated by Reagan to the Supreme Court in 1986. Scalia was, first and foremost, an “Originalist” — the title of a popular play about the justice that premiered last year in the capital. Scalia was not the first to argue that the Constitution must be applied based on the original meaning of its words — that is, the general, public meaning those words had when that document was drafted, rather than any assumed or secret intent of its framers. He did, however, supply much of the intellectual power behind the movement to reestablish the primacy of the Constitution’s actual text in judging.

With Scalia on the bench, academics, lawyers and jurists left, right and center were forced to confront originalist theory, which many had previously dismissed as hopelessly simplistic. Read more »

Pulling the Plug on Obama’s Power Plan

President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is dead and will not be resurrected. The cause of death was hubris. As a result, the plan’s intended victims—including the national coal industry, the rule of law and state sovereignty—will live to fight another day.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court put President Obama’s signature climate initiative on hold while a lower court considers challenges brought by industry opponents and 27 states. That stay will remain in effect through the end of Mr. Obama’s presidency, until the Supreme Court has a chance to hear the case—in 2017 at the earliest. The stay sends the strongest possible signal that the court is prepared to strike down the Clean Power Plan on the merits, assuming the next president doesn’t revoke it.

Not since the court blocked President Harry Truman’s seizure of the steel industry has it so severely rebuked a president’s abuse of power. Read more »

Hillary’s Rationale for Opposing Citizens United Fell Apart in Last Week’s Debate

by DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. & DARIN BARTRAM

February 9, 2016 in the National Review Online

Few politicians have railed more loudly against the Supreme Court’s 2010 key First Amendment decision, Citizens United v. FEC, than the star of the Citizens United–produced political documentary (Hillary: The Movie) that provided the factual basis for the decision. But forget about the kind of independent advocacy at issue in that case or even highly regulated campaign contributions. At last Thursday’s debate against Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton grandly asserted that she could not be bought or influenced even by huge amounts of money flowing directly into her own pocket from mega-corporations such as Goldman Sachs. She angrily denied the corrupting influence of money in politics when she is the one cashing the check. Having done that, on what possible basis can Secretary Clinton oppose the kind of independent speech unleashed by Citizens United?

It has become a matter of Democrat orthodoxy that Citizens United has been a disaster, because it enables groups of citizens, including those organized in the corporate form, to freely engage in political speech. To many Democrats, that is tantamount to buying elections and politicians. Secretary Clinton’s opposition to Citizens United is well known and a central plank of her presidential campaign. Just last month, in noting the six-year anniversary of that decision, she accused the Court of having “transformed our politics by allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.”

While slamming the Supreme Court’s decision, Hillary Clinton has pledged something that most presidential candidates shy away from: a litmus test for future Supreme Court nominees if she is elected, to ensure they would vote to overturn Citizens United. She has also endorsed partially repealing the First Amendment to enable the government to restrict political speech for a variety of purposes, including the alleged need to equalize the ability of diverse voices to participate in democratic governance. Presumably, films like Hillary: The Movie wouldn’t make the cut.

The Supreme Court in Citizens United concluded that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political advocacy by corporations, labor unions, and associations, because such speech expenditures do not pose a threat of quid pro quo corruption or even the credible appearance of corruption. They simply expand the marketplace of ideas. The decision led to the establishment of super PACs, regulated groups that can receive unlimited donations from individuals and corporations to spend on political and policy advocacy. It also permitted well-established national advocacy groups — whether the National Rifle Association or the Sierra Club — to become energetically engaged in political speech and debates. Read more »

UT–Austin’s Race-Conscious Policies

The Supreme Court may soon end racial discrimination disguised as ‘diversity.’

by DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. & ANDREW GROSSMAN, December 8, 2015, in the National Review

The don’t-ask-don’t-tell era of racial preferences in college admissions may soon be at an end, as Abigail Fisher’s challenge to the University of Texas’s affirmative-action program makes its second appearance before the Supreme Court, which will hear the case this Wednesday. 

Significantly, Ms. Fisher isn’t asking the Court to ban affirmative action. Instead, her case seeks to hold schools to the general rule that the government may employ race-based measures only as a last resort. And even then, such measures must be almost perfectly calibrated to serve a compelling interest — in this instance, achieving the educational benefits of diversity.

In the admissions context, those principles have too often been honored in the breach. And for that, blame the Court. Its 2003 decision upholding the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative-action program combined the tough language typical of decisions reviewing race-conscious government policies with a loose and open-ended analysis of the way the program actually worked and the way it was justified.

University administrators took the decision as license to do what they pleased, never mind necessity or tailoring, so long as they stayed vague about the way their programs worked. Admissions at UT–Austin offer a case in point. In 2008, the year Ms. Fisher applied, the bulk of students (81 percent) were admitted under Texas’s Top Ten Percent law, which grants automatic admission to top students at Texas high schools. That alone made UT–Austin one of the most racially diverse campuses among elite public universities. Read more »

Ignore Trump — the issue of birthright citizenship has been settled

By DAVID RIVKIN, JOHN YOO, Sept. 6 2015 in the Los Angeles Times

Donald Trump’s call to end birthright citizenship has roiled the Republican presidential primary. Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Marco Rubio embrace the traditional view that the Constitution bestows citizenship on anyone born on U.S. territory. Ben Carson and Rand Paul agree with Trump that Congress could dismantle birthright citizenship by itself. Meanwhile, Ted Cruz acknowledges birthright citizenship but seeks a constitutional amendment to abolish it.

Conservatives should reject Trump’s nativist siren song and reaffirm the legal and policy vitality of one of the Republican Party’s greatest achievements: the 14th Amendment. Under its text, structure and history, anyone born on American territory, no matter their national origin, ethnicity or station in life, is a U.S. citizen.

Although the original Constitution required citizenship for federal office, it never defined it. The 14th Amendment, however, provides that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” Congress did not draft this language to alter the concept of citizenship but to affirm American practice dating from the origins of our republic.

With the exception of a few years before the Civil War, the United States followed the British rule of jus solis (citizenship defined by birthplace) rather than the rule of jus sanguinis (citizenship defined by that of parents), which still prevails in much of continental Europe. As the 18th century English jurist William Blackstone explained: “The children of aliens, born here in England, are generally speaking, natural-born subjects, and entitled to all the privileges of such.” Read more »

Symposium: Correcting the “historical accident” of opt-out requirements

By David Rivkin and Andrew Grossman, 27 August 2015 in SCOTUSblog

Whatever the fate of mandatory “fair share” payments that nonmembers are often required to make to fund public-sector unions’ collective bargaining activities, Friedrichs will likely mark the end of requirements that dissenting workers take action to “opt out” of funding public-sector unions’ political and ideological activities, the subject of the second question that the Court agreed to consider. Although less prominent than the forced-payments issue, ending opt-out requirements would correct a serious anomaly in the Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence, one that facilitates tens of millions of dollars annually in union political spending of funds obtained through inertia, trickery, and coercion.

If everyone agrees that forcing public employees to subsidize a labor union’s political or ideological speech impinges their First Amendment rights – and the Court has been unanimous on that point for decades – then what possible justification is there for requiring workers who’ve declined to join the union to go through the arduous process of opting out from making such payments year after year? Put differently, why not allow workers who support a union’s political activities to opt in to funding them, rather than require dissenting workers to play a game of cat and mouse to stop the union from taking their money to fund ideological causes they likely oppose? We’ve never heard a compelling justification for the current “opt out” regime and, like the majority in Knox v. SEIU, suspect that there isn’t one.

Instead, as the Court recounted in Knox, “acceptance of the opt-out approach appears to have come about more as a historical accident than through the careful application of First Amendment principles.” In early cases, workers subject to the Railway Labor Act sought relief from being forced to fund unions’ political activities, and the Court assumed (the statute saying nothing one way or the other) that allowing them to affirmatively object to funding such expenditures would be sufficient to protect their rights. Without any reasoning or analysis, the Court in Abood further assumed that the opt-out approach discussed in those prior statutory cases was sufficient to remedy the First Amendment violation when a public employee is coerced into subsidizing political or ideological speech by the threat of loss of governmental employment. Read more »