Tag: judicial engagement

Time for the Supreme Court to Explain the Scope of the Second Amendment

From the 1939 case of United States v. Miller until 2008’s District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court left unclear what right the Second Amendment protects. For nearly 70 years, the lower courts were forced to make do with Miller’s vague guidance, which in many jurisdictions resulted in a cramped and limited right to keep and bear arms, erroneously restricted to militia service. While Heller did eventually clarify that the Second Amendment secures an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense, the ruling left many questions about the scope of that right unanswered (and 2010’s McDonald v. City of Chicago merely extended the right to people living in the states, without further defining it).

Since then, several courts have made clear that they plan to take only as much from Heller as they explicitly have to. One of these is the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which last year in Drake v. Filko upheld New Jersey’s “may-issue” handgun law, which says that an individual may be granted a carry license—read: may be permitted to exercise her Second Amendment rights—only if she proves an urgent need to do so to the satisfaction of a law enforcement officer. In order to show this need, one must prove, with documentation, that there are specific, immediate threats to one’s safety that cannot be avoided in any way other than through possession of a handgun. If an individual can actually persuade the local official—who has total discretion to accept or deny the claim—then she gets a license for two years, at which time the gun owner must repeat the entire discretionary process (proving an imminent threat, etc.) to renew the permit.

New Obamacare Lawsuit Targets Arizona Gov. Brewer’s Illegal New Taxes

In 1992, after seeing their taxes raised 8 times in 9 years, the people of Arizona overwhelmingly approved Proposition 108, a ballot initiative that amended the state constitution to require tax and fee increases to be passed by a 2/3 vote in each of Arizona’s legislative bodies.  Since then, Prop 108’s supermajority requirement has protected Arizona taxpayers from the kind of special-interest-driven tax increases that typically don’t enjoy public support. As a result, Arizona’s tax burden has fallen over the years, to the state’s great economic benefit.

Recently, however, as part of a brazen effort to force through Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, Governor Jan Brewer – who ran for reelection last year as a staunch opponent of Obamacare – sidestepped Prop 108 in a way that threatens to eviscerate its taxpayer protections and otherwise violate Arizona’s stricter-than-normal adherence to the separation of powers.

Because the Medicaid expansion will cost Arizona an untold sum, and did not receive the 2/3 majority required for it to raise the taxes to pay for itself, Brewer employed more creative means to raise Arizonans’ taxes: delegating the taxation authority to a state bureaucracy and calling it an “assessment.” This approach takes advantage of Prop 108’s exception for “fees and assessments that are authorized by statute, but are not prescribed by formula, amount or limit, and are set by a state officer or agency.” Interpreted Brewer’s way, the exception allows the legislature to delegate a taxing power to state agencies that the legislature itself doesn’t have. If read this way, the exception would forevermore swallow the rule and impose an outcome contrary to Prop 108’s stated purpose.

Accordingly, our friends at the Goldwater Institute last week filed suit in state court on behalf of state lawmakers – including Rep. Adam Kwasman, a good friend of mine who’s now the vice-chair of the Arizona House Ways & Means Committee – and their constituents, challenging the new tax as a violation of Arizona’s constitution and the state’s separation of powers.  Goldwater argues that the hidden tax violates Prop. 108’s supermajority requirement for new taxes, and that Arizona’s strict separation of powers prohibits the delegation of taxing power to an unaccountable state bureaucracy.

Goldwater is clearly in the right. Prop 108 was adopted for the plain purpose of preventing precisely this type of special interest tax-and-spend behavior – behavior the people of Arizona will be even less able to oppose if state courts determine that a bare legislative majority can delegate taxation power that it doesn’t itself possess. Brewer’s Medicaid expansion, meanwhile, threatens to take the taxing power out of Arizonans’ hands and give it to bureuacrats and the special interests that lobby them.

It will be a shame if Arizona courts permit Brewer’s newfound insistence on enabling Obamacare to effectively neuter a constitutional provision supported by more than 70% of voters. For more commentary on the case, read Josh Blackman.

This blogpost was co-authored by Cato legal associate Julio Colomba.

I’m Still Not Over the Obamacare Ruling

That’s the title of an op-ed I had in the Daily Caller last week.  Here’s how it begins:

Four months have passed since Chief Justice John Roberts made Obamacare’s individual mandate a tax and thereby let stand one of the two laws most responsible for our sluggish economy (the other being the Dodd-Frank financial “reform”). I was in the courtroom that fateful June day and my emotions quickly cycled through shock, denial, anger, and later depression — why had I dedicated myself to the law when the most important case of my lifetime turned out in this illegitimate way? — before settling into the “bargaining” stage of grieving.

I’m still there. I just cannot get over that blow against not only sound jurisprudence and the rule of law — bad enough — but against the legitimacy of our government altogether. By recognizing that Obamacare was unconstitutional but shying away from striking it down, John Roberts fundamentally shook my faith in our system of justice.

Read the whole thing and also consider the words of Randy Barnett – who more than anyone is responsible for the Obamacare litigation – from the first panel of Cato’s Constitution Day conference in September:

Now we will have an election to decide the ultimate fate of Obamacare. But this election will also be about who gets selected to serve on the Supreme Court. Should Republican presidents continue to nominate judicial conservatives who are enthralled with New Dealers’ mantra of judicial restraint, or should Republican presidents nominate constitutional conservatives who believe that it is not activism for judges to be engaged in enforcing the whole Constitution. All future nominees should be vetted not only for their views on the meaning of the Constitution, but for their willingness to enforce that meaning. For over two years, our nation was given a great lesson on constitutional law — that the enumerated powers are limits Congress cannot exceed. In June, the electorate was given a different lesson in judicial philosophy: Judicial restraint in enforcing those limits is no virtue. In November and beyond, we will see just how well those lessons were learned.

Obamacare delenda est.