Tag: 10th amendment

The President Can’t Increase Congress’s Power Simply by Signing a Treaty

A lost episode of Jerry Springer found its way into the Supreme Court’s 2010-11 term in the case of United States v. Bond. Mrs. Bond, upset by the pregnancy that resulted from an affair between her husband and her erstwhile best friend, decided to take revenge. A trained microbiologist working at a chemical manufacturer, Mrs. Bond tried to poison her husband’s mistress by dusting her door knobs, mailbox, and car handles with dangerous, possibly lethal chemicals.

Upon being caught by (federal) postal inspectors, Mrs. Bond was charged with violating the law Congress passed to implement an international chemical weapons treaty. (There are no generally applicable federal attempted murder statutes, so prosecutors had to get creative to remain in federal court.)

But if general criminal statutes are beyond Congress’s powers, as even the most ardent federal-power activist must acknowledge, how did Congress have the power to pass the law that ensnared Mrs. Bond? — who, whatever her character flaws, was not selling chemical weapons to terrorists (the treaty’s target). Mrs. Bond thus hoped to challenge her conviction by arguing that Congress did not have the power to pass the law in question.

The Third Circuit, however, ruled that she did not have standing — a legal doctrine defining who has the right to bring a claim — to challenge the law on federalism grounds. Cato filed a Supreme Court brief supporting Mrs. Bond’s position and arguing that it makes no sense to deny standing to someone challenging a law under which she is being prosecuted. The Court unanimously agreed and remanded the case back to the Third Circuit, to finally hear arguments over whether the statute is beyond congressional power.

Cato has now reentered the fray, in a brief authored by Georgetown law professor Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz and joined by the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence. We again support Mrs. Bond’s claim that the law under which she was charged is beyond Congress’s enumerated powers. The main obstacle to this argument is the 1920 case Missouri v. Holland, a short and not completely clear opinion by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes that has been interpreted to mean that Congress can expand its enumerated powers via the Treaty Clause.

In other words, even though Congress does not have the power to pass, for example, general criminal statutes, if Congress ratifies a treaty calling for such statutes, its power increases beyond constitutional limits. We argue that this is an astounding manner in which to interpret a Constitution that creates a federal government of limited powers. Not only would this mean that the Executive has the ability to expand congressional power by signing a treaty, but it would mean that foreign governments could change congressional power by abrogating a previously valid treaty — thus removing the constitutional authority from certain laws. We also point out how the most influential argument supporting Missouri v. Holland is based on a clear misreading of constitutional history and that the ruling is in deep tension with other cases.

On the treaty power, we’re in a constitutional quagmire that can only be escaped by limiting or overturning Missouri v. Holland.  The Third Circuit can’t itself overturn a Supreme Court decision, of course, but it follows our brief, it can at least limit its damage.

Utah Legislators Call for Fiscal Federalism

Tea partiers take note: at the forefront of any effort to reduce the size of the federal government should be the devolvement of federal programs to the states. Achieving this may seem like mission impossible given the states’ addiction to federal money. However, there are signs that the idea of returning the relationship between the federal government and the states to that which the Founders prescribed is starting to gain some currency.

On Friday, the president of the Utah Senate and the speaker of the Utah House of Representatives penned an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for the federal government to begin the devolution process. The authors want the states to have the right to opt out of federal programs and allow the states to keep the taxes their residents send to Washington to fund them. The states would then be free to fund and manage the programs as they see fit.

The authors call their idea a “modest experiment,” and indeed, it is hardly radical. The 10th amendment to the Constitution is clear:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

From the op-ed:

Let’s select a few programs – say, education, transportation and Medicaid – that are managed mostly by Utah’s government, but with significant federal dollars and a plethora of onerous federal interventions and regulations.

Let Utah take over these programs entirely. But let us keep in our state the portion of federal taxes Utah residents pay for these programs. The amount would not be difficult to determine. Rather than send this money through the federal bureaucracy, we would retain it and would take full responsibility for education, transportation and Medicaid – minus all federal oversight and regulation.

Such a notion terrifies proponents of big government because state budgets are generally constrained by balanced budget requirements, debt inhibitions, and the inability to print money. States are also more limited in how much they can abuse taxpayers for the simple reason that citizens can move to a friendlier environment. Indeed, one of the beautiful aspects of returning to fiscal federalism is that it would strengthen this competition that $600+ billion in annual federal subsidies has somewhat neutered.

See this essay for more on fiscal federalism and this Cato Policy Analysis on the problems with federal subsidies to state and local governments.

Update: A C@L reader pointed me to this resolution introduced by Michigan state representative Paul Opsommer, which calls on the federal government to allow the states to opt out of federal highway programs funded by the federal gas tax. The states would be free to fund their own roads with their own gas tax revenues instead of sending money to Washington where its then redistributed back to the states according to Congress’s politicized wishes. As the resolution notes, the federal government uses the leverage it has over transportation spending to force the states to enact policies that they don’t want.

Tuesday Links

  • In the past eight months, the unemployment rate has jumped from 7.2 percent to 10.2 percent. Here’s why.
  • Three trillion reasons to hope the Senate is not as fiscally reckless as their counterparts in the House on health care reform.
  • Obama a federalist? Not quite: “Not yet a year into his administration, Obama’s record on 10th Amendment issues is already clear: He’ll let the states have their way when their policies please blue team sensibilities and he’ll call in the feds when they don’t.” More here.
  • It’s time to get immigration reform right: “Republican leaders need to liberate themselves from the Lou Dobbs minority within their own ranks that will oppose any legalization. Democratic leaders need to face down their labor-union constituency that opposes any workable temporary-visa program. Working together, President Obama and a bipartisan majority in Congress can seize the current opportunity to reform the immigration system and finally fix the problem of illegal immigration.”
Topics:

Is Rick Perry Really for Limited Government?

Conservative radio hosts are excited about a recent speech by Texas governor Rick Perry. Perry forcefully argued his theme of “unwavering support for efforts all across our country, but, most of all, here in Texas, to reaffirm the states’ rights affirmed through the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

That sounds great, but does he really mean it?

In a study, I noted that Perry and the Texas state government are aggressive scavengers of federal grant dollars. The rise in federal granting is one of the central causes of the destruction of the Tenth Amendment in recent decades.

I noted that Perry’s official webpage is chock full of press releases touting his distribution of federal subsidies. These press releases are from a short time period in 2006:

  • “Perry: Texas Farmers and Ranchers to Share $780 Million in Drought Assistance.”
  • “Perry: FEMA Agrees to Reimburse Texas at Same Rate as Louisiana for Hurricanes.”
  • “Gov. Perry Announces $1.6 Million in Grants to Juvenile Offender Accountability Programs.”
  • “Perry: Homeland Security Grants to Focus on Technology Needs.”
  • “Gov. Perry: Presidential Disaster Declaration Approved for El Paso.”
  • “Gov. Perry Announces $38,098 in Victims of Crime Act Funds to El Paso County.”
  • “Gov. Perry Announces $3.6 Million in Grants to Local Law Enforcement.”

Notice how Perry takes credit for all the new spending? Politicians love spending, especially when they can foist the cost on taxpayers living in other states.

Look at these two press releases up on Perry’s website right now:

  • Apr. 9: “Gov. Perry Backs Resolution Affirming Texas’ Sovereignty Under 10th Amendment.”
  • Apr. 10: “Gov. Perry Calls on FEMA to Assist the State in Fighting Wildfires.”

Governor Perry: Do you want to revive the Tenth Amendment or do you want the FEMA money? You’re giving us whiplash out here!

I don’t think Perry’s tax policies have been particularly conservative either, as they have centralized fiscal power at the state level and thus reduced beneficial competition between local governments.