Tag: Indian law

Are You Indian Enough to Be Exempt from Obamacare?

You can’t make this up: Obamacare exempts certain American Indians from the “choice” Americans will face as of January of buying health insurance or paying Chief Justice Roberts’s special tax. But apparently this is a far narrower category of people than those recognized as “Indian” under various state laws:

The problem is so new that the federal government is still seeking to establish how many people might be affected, although Indian health advocacy groups estimate it could be up to 480,000.

In California alone, about 21,000 people who currently receive free health care through Indian clinics are not recognized as Native American by the federal government and would have to pay the penalty, according to the nonprofit California Rural Indian Health Board.

So people who’ve considered themselves American Indian all their lives and have been treated as such by their states–including for health care purposes–suddenly won’t be considered Indian as far as Obamacare is concerned. 

Wow–Indian law is complicated and constitutionally problematic enough without having further regulatory overlays bollix up the works even more. But that’s what happens when government encoraches more and more into civil society. As I wrote in January in an article on, of all things, the contraceptive mandate:

But there’s an even bigger issue here. This is just the latest example of the difficulties in turning health care—or increasing parts of our economy more broadly—over to the government. As my colleague Roger Pilon has written, when health care (or anything) is socialized or treated as a public utility, we’re forced to fight for every “carve-out” of liberty…

The more government controls—whether health care, education, or even marriage—the greater the battles over conflicting values. With certain things, such as national defense, basic infrastructure, clean air and water and other “public goods,” we largely agree, at least inside reasonable margins. But we have vast disagreements about social programs, economic regulation and so much else that government now dominates at the expense of individual liberty.

Obamacare delenda est.

With All Due Respect, Rep. Cole, My Arguments Against Race-Based Government Are Quite Principled

While campaigning for former Hawaii governor Linda Lingle, who is now running for U.S. Senate, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), the only Native American in Congress, said that opposition to the Akaka Bill is “arrogant” meddling in local affairs.  (The Akaka Bill, which I’ve covered extensively, would create a race-based governing entity that would negotiate with the federal and state governments over all sorts of issues—effectively carving out an unconstitutional system of racial spoils.)

As quoted in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser ($):

“Hawaii has told us again and again, on a bipartisan basis, this is what we want to do,” Cole said. “I’d have to tell you, I think it’s incredibly arrogant, whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat that opposes tribal sovereignty — in this case sovereignty for Native Hawaiians—when the people of Hawaii have told us we’d like it. Who are we to impose our opinions?”

Cole’s attack is not only a calumny on those who oppose the Akaka Bill in good faith—including all but six of his House Republicans who voted against it in 2010 after years of deliberation, public vetting, and a 2006 Department of Justice conclusion that the bill was unwise as a policy matter and presented serious constitutional difficulties—but itself displays a dangerous misunderstanding of the issues involved.

It’s easy to think of the Akaka Bill as being “merely” another request for self-governance by native peoples as was extended to Aleuts upon Alaskan statehood, but that’s simply not what’s going on in Hawaii.  Hawaiians, “Native” and otherwise, have a different history and political sociology from the tribes that are accommodated in our (dubious and counterproductive) Indian law, which itself is a unique compromise with pre-constitutional reality.  Congress can’t simply define Hawaiians as an “Indian tribe” because that term has a fixed meaning, limited to preexisting North American tribes that were “dependent nations” at the time of the Founding.  Such tribes, to benefit from the protections of Indian law, must have an independent existence and “community” apart from the rest of American society, and their separate government structure must have a continuous history for at least the past century.  By these standards, Hawaiians don’t qualify.

Moreover, it’s false to say that Hawaiians support the Akaka Bill or ethnic/racial preferences more broadly.  There has never been a public referendum—Akaka Bill supporters resist such a move—but a November 2009 Zogby poll revealed that 51% of Hawaiians oppose the bill, 60% opposed if you remove the undecideds.  In addition, 76% would oppose tax increases to pay for the Akaka nation-tribe (which would be inevitable), only 7% favor separate laws and regulations for a new native government, and only 28% say the bill is fair with respect to racial discrimination.  Perhaps most importantly, 58% would want a chance to vote before the Akaka Bill could become law, with only 28% saying that would be unnecessary.

Finally, and quite apart from the policy and political considerations, the Akaka Bill has serious constitutional defects. As mentioned above, the Constitution’s anamolous Indian law exception was created by the document itself and Congress still retains a great amount of oversight.  Once the Constitution was ratified, no government organized under it could create another government that can exempt itself from the Bill of Rights.  Even setting these structural issues aside, the Akaka Bill is facially disallowed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments’ explicit proscription against any state action that treats people differently based on their race or ethnicity. The Supreme Court has found Native Hawaiians to be an ethnic group, so Congress cannot pass a law giving them rights denied other Americans.

I respect Rep. Cole’s right to hold a different view of the Akaka Bill’s merits than mine, in which case he could have said something like, “Some folks have principled objections to this.  I think they’re wrong.  I think they misread the Constitution and don’t appreciate Hawaii’s unique history.  We need to show them why they should come over to our side, and Linda Lingle can help me do that.”  Instead, he accuses us critics of arrogance, ignorance, and willfully thwarting Hawaiians’ dreams of self-determination.

With all due respect, Rep. Cole (and Gov. Lingle to the extent she associates herself with his remarks), if you want to pass the Akaka Bill, you need to do a better job of answering some very valid concerns rather than engaging in base demagoguery.  And these concerns aren’t limited to parochial issues relevant only to Hawaiians.  So long as Hawaii remains part of the United States, all Americans have a stake in the future of the state and how it treats its citizens.

h/t Steven Duffield

Supreme Court Non-Rulings More Important Than Cases It Actually Hears

While all the hot constitutional action of late, on issues ranging from Obamacare to gay marriage to immigration, has been in the lower courts — or even in Congress! — the Supreme Court still goes about its daily business.  After last year’s blockbuster term, however, this term is pretty low-profile aside from a spate of First Amendment cases (funeral protests, violent video games, school choice tax credits, public financing of election campaigns, etc.).  And so it was yesterday, when Supreme Court arguments over securities law and Western water rights were overshadowed by news of cases on which the Court decided not to rule:

  • Without comment, the Court denied an unusual request — a petition for a writ of mandamus — in the Gulf Coast global warming lawsuit, Comer v. Murphy Oil.  This is the case, you may recall, where the Fifth Circuit lost its quorum as it was about to hear the en banc (whole court) appeal of a panel ruling that allowed the suit to proceed, resulting in the odd situation of the appeal being dismissed altogether and the district court decision to dismiss the lawsuit being the law of the case.  Those complicated procedural twists would’ve made for an ungainly case, but the Supreme Court will hear a different global warming–related case, which I also previously discussed and in which Cato filed a brief
  • The Court declined to review the constitutionality of a federal ban on felons’ possession of body  armor (e.g., a bulletproof vest) — in a challenge arguing that these are issues properly left to the states, there being no interstate commerce connection.  In ruling for the government, the Ninth Circuit (always them!) had applied a precedent that antedated the seminal cases of Lopez (1995) and Morrison (2000), where — as you know if you’ve been paying attention to the Obamacare lawsuits — the Court struck down the federal Gun-Free School Zones and Violence Against Women Acts, respectively, as beyond Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce.  Notably, Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Scalia in all but one footnote, filed a trenchant dissent from this cert denial (starts on page 33 here), saying that, ” Today the Court tacitly accepts the nullification of our recent Commerce Clause jurisprudence…. [The lower court’s] logic threatens the proper limits on Congress’ commerce power and may allow Congress to exercise police powers that our Constitution reserves to the States.”  Perhaps more notably, neither the Chief Justice nor Justice Alito joined Thomas’s dissent.  (H/T Josh Blackman)
  • The Court also declined to review the constitutionality of criminal convictions by non-unanimous juries — which are only allowed in Oregon (the place where this case originates) and Louisiana — denying a cert petition filed by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh.  The interesting angle here is that it’s not at all clear whether (1) all the rights protected by the Bill of Rights — here the Sixth Amendment requirement that jury convictions be unanimous — are “incorporated” against the states and (2) whatever incorporation there is goes through the Due Process Clause or the Privileges or Immunities Clause (which is important for courts’ consideration of the scope of constitutional rights).  Recall that in McDonald v. Chicago, the Court extended the right to keep and bear arms to the states but could not agree on the jurisprudential methodology for doing so — yet still hinted that it would be open to revisiting these issues in a case relating to unanimous jury verdicts… but apparently not yet.
  • The Court took off its argument calendar a case regarding the sovereign immunity of Indian tribes, specifically whether that doctrine prevents the enforcement of property taxes against those legally peculiar entities.  This is a huge issue for federalism, state revenues, and a host of other policy matters — and is quite complex legally — but New York’s Oneida tribe, perhaps fearing what would have been an epic loss at the Supreme Court, here decided to waive its immunity claim and thus moot the case.

After all this “active non-action” — which may be how the government next tries to characterize the non-purchase of health insurance in its next attempt to somehow find constitutional authority for the individual mandate — the Court did release one opinion of note today.  The opinion itself, in a technical bankruptcy case regarding the compelling issue of whether a debtor can take a car-ownership deduction if she does not make loan or lease payments, is not particularly noteworthy, but the author — rookie Justice Elena Kagan — is.  And so, with 18 dry pages and over a lone dissent by Justice Scalia, the Kagan era has begun.