Plenty of debates, not much about states

Democrats regard federalism as quaint, Republicans at least pay lip service to it

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Elizabeth Price Foley

In the presidential debates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney ranged across dozens of topics, but an important one didn’t come up: federalism. And no wonder.

The idea that the Constitution grants only limited and enumerated powers and leaves the remainder to the states is foreign to those who believe that the national government should or even could address voters’ every concern. But contrary to the view widely shared by the political class, Washington—in particular, Congress—does not have the power to pass any law it wants in the name of the “general welfare.”

Politicians should take heed. Voters are increasingly focused on the proper role of government in society: Witness the rise of the tea party and unease over the massive debt caused by entitlements and other government handouts. The continuing loud objection to ObamaCare’s takeover of health care shows that voters want to preserve the Constitution’s architecture of limited federal power.

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Failed U.S. leadership in foreign policy

Unfortunately, examples of failed U.S. leadership in foreign policy continue to increase in both frequency and gravity:

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  1. We have failed to stop Iran’s nuclear-weapons program.
  2. We have failed to punish Tehran for facilitating the deaths of American soldiers
  3. We have failed to punish them for plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

In the aftermath of September 11, 2012, an even more tragic failure,the Obama administration failed to have Iraq extradite Hezbollah terrorist Ali Musa Daqduq to the U.S. for trial. The president continues to reinforce the impression of American impotence. In December 2011, nearly a year ago, we predicted that the failure to extradite Daqduq would “have serious repercussions, measured in diplomatic defeats and lost lives.”

Did the fact that an Iraqi court cleared Daqduq of all charges embolden the attackers on Benghazi last month?

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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Overturning ObamaCare isn’t ‘Judicial Activism’

If the Supreme Court upholds purchase mandates in health care, they will become a mainstay of federal regulation throughout the U.S. economy.

By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. And LEE A. CASEY

Since the Supreme Court’s historic three-day ObamaCare hearings in late March, the president and his supporters have tried to pressure the Justices into upholding that law, asserting that any other decision would overstep the court’s constitutional bounds. Ruling against ObamaCare would not be what the president called illegitimate “judicial activism,” but an appropriate exercise of the Supreme Court’s core constitutional role.

“Judicial activism” is one of those agreeably ambiguous terms that can support almost any criticism of the courts. Under our constitutional system, judicial activism entails judges rewriting rather than interpreting the laws, exercising “will instead of judgment,” in Alexander Hamilton’s phrase.

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