Tag: Richard Epstein

Libertarians Shouldn’t Want Perfect Security—Reply to Professor Epstein

I was pleased to see last week that Professor Epstein had penned a response to my criticism of his recent piece on Hoover’s Defining Ideas in which he argued against treating protection of civil liberties and privacy as “nonnegotiable” in the context of counterterrorism. It is not the disagreement that is pleasing, of course, but the opportunity to air it, which can foster discussion of these issues among libertarians while illustrating to the broader world how seriously libertarians take both security and liberty.

What’s most important in Professor Epstein’s rejoinder is what comes at the end. He says that I should “comment constructively on serious proposals” rather than take an a priori position that civil liberties and privacy will often impede expansions of government power proposed in the name of counterterrorism.

I believe that Professor Epstein and I share the same prior commitments–to limited government, free markets, and peace. Having left it implicit before, I’ll state that I, too, believe that protection of life and property is the primary function of the state. But I also believe that excesses in pursuit of security can cost society and our liberties more than they produce in benefits.

Some years of work on counterterrorism, civil liberties, and privacy bring me to my conclusions. I had put in a half-decade of work on privacy before my six years of service on the Department of Homeland Security’s privacy advisory committee began in 2005. While interacting with numerous DHS components and their programs, I helped produce the DHS Privacy Committee’s risk-management-oriented “Framework for Privacy Analysis of Programs, Technologies, and Applications.” From time to time, I’ve also examined programs in the Science and Technology Directorate at DHS through the Homeland Security Institute. My direct knowledge of the issues in counterterrorism pales in comparison to the 30+ experts my Cato colleagues and I convened in private and public conferences in 2009 and 2010, of course, but my analysis benefitted from that experience and from co-editing the Cato book: Terrorizing Ourselves: Why U.S. Counterterrorism Policy is Failing and How to Fix It.

Whether I’m operating from an inappropriate a priori position or not, I don’t accept Professor Epstein’s shift of the burden. I will certainly comment constructively when the opportunity arises, but it is up to the government, its defenders, and here Professor Epstein to show that security programs are within the government’s constitutional powers, that such programs are not otherwise proscribed by the constitution, and that they cost-effectively make our society more secure.

The latter two questions are collapsed somewhat by the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of reasonableness, or “fit” between means and ends when a search or seizure occurs. And to the extent I can discern the program that Professor Epstein prefers, I have commented on it as constructively as I can.

Civil Liberties After Boston—My Take

It’s to be expected that privacy will suffer a bear market after a terrorist attack or attempt. I’ve seen worse, of course, but was concerned this week to read a piece by Richard Epstein on the Hoover Institution web site that I think sounds needless anti-privacy notes. Professor Epstein is not only an important public intellectual, but a Cato adjunct scholar of which we’re proud, and a friendly professional colleague (to whose defense I’ll leap when he’s wronged).

The issue is what policies governments might adopt toward the end of terrorism prevention. Professor Epstein finds the statement of Massachusetts state senator Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth) to be a bridge too far. Hedlund says:

It’s not surprising that you have law enforcement agencies rushing out to use [the Boston bombing and subsequent manhunt] as pretext to secure additional powers but I think we have to maintain perspective and realize that civil liberties and the protections we’re granted under the Constitution and our rights to privacy, to a degree, are nonnegotiable…

You don’t want to let a couple of young punks beat us and allow our civil liberties to be completely eroded. I don’t fall into the trap that, because of the hysteria, we need to kiss our civil liberties away.

Professor Epstein calls that “dead wrong,” saying, “the last thing needed in these difficult circumstances is a squeamishness about aggressive government action.” Given the importance of preventing terrorism, claims of right against increased surveillance and racial or other profiling should be “stoutly resisted,” he says.

I agree with Professor Epstein that flat claims about a “right to privacy” shouldn’t limit surveillance. “Concern” with racial or ethnic profiling is not a sound basis for desisting from the practice. But I don’t take Hedlund’s statement to be a product of squeamishness, and I think it is in the main correct.

Where I think Professor Epstein goes wrong insofar as he wants law enforcement to have its way is in setting aside “technical difficulties” and “means-ends” questions as peripheral. For me, the Fourth Amendment’s bar on unreasonable searches and seizures demands coordination between means and ends in light of the technological situation (both in terms of doing harm and discovering it). It is not a given that government action is reasonable, and no amount of priority given to a threat makes an incoherent response reasonable and constitutional.

Texas Court Rules For Eminent-Domain Critic

Good news from Texas, where a state appeals court has handed a major win to investigative journalist Carla Main, whose book Bulldozed: ‘Kelo,’ Eminent Domain, and the American Lust for Land took a critical look at the seizure of private land under eminent domain laws for purposes of urban redevelopment. Dallas developer H. Walker Royall didn’t like what Main wrote about his involvement in a Freeport, Texas marina project and proceeded to sue her, publisher Encounter Books (which I should note is also my own publisher on Schools for Misrule), and even liberty-minded law professor Richard Epstein over a dust jacket blurb Epstein had given for the book. (Earlier coverage of the suit here and here.)

A trial court had declined to dismiss Royall’s claims on summary judgment, but yesterday Judge Elizabeth Lang-Miers reversed in substantial part, ruling that Royall had failed to make the requisite showing that key passages in Bulldozed had in fact defamed him. The case is not yet over, but Institute for Justice senior attorney Dana Berliner, who argued for the defense, is understandably jubilant: “Walker Royall has failed in his attempt to use this frivolous defamation lawsuit as a weapon to silence his critics,” she said. Moreover, outrage at Royall’s suit contributed to Texas’s enactment this summer (joining 26 other states) of strong “anti-SLAPP” legislation aimed at curbing lawsuits intimidating speech. You can read the opinion here, and early coverage at Gideon Kanner’s blog, the Dallas Observer and D Magazine.

Update on the Legal Challenges to Obamacare

Since I first issued my challenge to debate “anyone anytime anywhere” on the (un)constitutionality of Obamacare, a lot has happened.  For one thing, Randy Barnett and Richard Epstein, among many others, have published provoctive articles looking at issues beyond the Commerce Clause justification for the individual mandate – such as the argument that Congress’s tax power justifies the mandate penalty and that the new Medicaid arrangement amounts to a coercive federal-state bargain.  (Look for to a longish article from yours truly due to come out in next month’s issue of Health Affairs.)  For another, as Michael Cannon noted, seven more states – plus the National Federation of Independent Business and two individuals – have joined the Florida-led lawsuit against Obamacare.  Perhaps most importantly, such legal challenges are gaining mainstream credibility.

Here’s a brief look at some important legal filings from the past 10 days:

  1. On May 11, the U.S. government filed a response to the Thomas More Center’s lawsuit asking a federal court in Michigan to enjoin Obamacare on various grounds, including, distinct from other suits I’ve seen, religious liberty violations from having to pay for abortions.  The government argues that the plaintiffs lack standing because it’s unclear whether the individual mandate will harm them and in any event this provision doesn’t go into effect until 2014 at the earliest. The government also predictably argues that the mandate is a valid exercise of Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce and to provide for the general welfare.  There is nothing surprising here and we now await the court’s preliminary ruling.
  2. On May 12, the U.S. Citizens Association (a conservative group) and five individuals filed a new suit in Ohio, as Jacob Sullum notes.  In addition to the government powers arguments that are being made in most Obamacare lawsuits (most notably the state suits), this suit claims a violation of: the First Amendment freedom of association (the government forces people to associate with insurers); individual liberty interests under the Fifth Amendment; and the right to privacy under the Fifth Amendment’s liberty provision, Ninth Amendment retained rights, and the rights emanating from the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Amendments (such is the Court’s convoluted jurisprudence in this area).  I’ll add that the attorney filing this suit, Jonathan Emord, worked for Cato over 20 years ago.
  3. On May 14, Florida filed an amended complaint that, along with adding seven states, two individuals, and the NFIB – so all potential standing bases are covered – beefs up relevant factual allegations and, most importantly, shores up a few legal insufficiencies to the previous claims.  This is a solid complaint, and alleges the following counts: (1) the individual mandate/penalty exceeds Congress’s power under both the Commerce Clause and taxing power and, as such, violate the Ninth and Tenth Amendments; (2) the mandate violate’s the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause; (3) the mandate penalty is an unconstitutional capitation or direct tax because it is unapportioned; (4) the Medicare expansion constitutes a coercive federal-state bargain that commandeers state officials; (5) a different formulation of coercion/commandeering; and (6) interference with state sovereignty and functions under the Tenth Amendment.   After further briefing, oral arguments on the government’s expected motion to dismiss are scheduled for September 14 in Pensacola.
  4. At least one enterprising analyst has determined that the 2,400-page bill lacks a severability clause.  This means that if one part of the bill is struck down as unconstitutional, the whole thing falls! – and would mean that the drafters committed legal malpractice of the highest order.  I guess it goes to show that nobody has read the whole thing.

Finally, if anybody is reading this is in Seattle, I’ll be debating Obamacare at the University of Washington Law School next Thursday, May 27 at 4:30pm.  This debate, sponsored by a number of groups, including the law school itself and the Federalist Society, is free and open to the public.  For those interested in other subjects, I’ll be giving a different talk to the Puget Sound Federalist Society Lawyers Chapter the day before at 6:30pm at the Washington Athletic Club ($25, rsvp to Michael Bindas at mbindas [at] ij [dot] org).  The title of that one is “Justice Elena Kagan?  What the President’s Choice Tells Us About the Modern Court and Confirmation Process.”  Please do introduce yourself to me if you attend either event.

On the Right to Discriminate

In his post this morning, “Kagan on Military Recruitment,” Cato adjunct scholar Mark Moller touches on Cato’s 2005 amicus brief in Rumsfeld v. FAIR, which he co-authored when he was with us as editor-and-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review – a duty he performed splendidly before moving off to the legal academy. In mentioning the brief, however, Mark says that he recalls that the position it took was controversial within Cato, that it might still be, and that Cato’s legal shop might take a different view were the case presented today.

I don’t recall that the position we took was controversial within Cato, but then it was five years ago, memories fade, and much has happened in the meantime, including the filing of a brief just three months ago that nicely complements the earlier position we took. In Rumsfeld v. Fair we argued that the government could not condition a private university’s eligibility for federal grants, as the Solomon Amendment did, on the university’s giving up one of its rights, namely, its right to freedom of association. The law school plaintiffs, citing the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, sought to exclude military recruiters from campus. Pursuant to their nondiscrimination policies, that is, the law schools sought to discriminate against those they thought to be wrongly discriminating. In our brief we took no position on the policy Congress had set for the military (that question was not before the Court), nor on the rights of public universities in this matter – nor did we address the question whether Congress, under its raise-and-support-armies power, could directly order schools to admit recruiters, as the Court ultimately held.

Well we now have the public school version of that issue before us, and the Court, in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. And our brief in this case, written by Cato adjunct scholar Richard Epstein, argues that a public law school – Hastings, in this case – cannot condition the receipt of benefits it extends to all other student groups on CLS’s giving up its right to freedom of association. CLS, a private student group, excludes nonbelievers from its membership, which is its right. As a public institution, we argue, Hastings must treat all equally.

Thus, the principle in the two cases is the same. Private parties, pursuant to their right to freedom of association, may discriminate, whether we agree with their grounds for doing so or not. Public institutions, which belong to all of us, may not discriminate except on grounds narrowly tailored to their functions. Unfortunately, in numerous respects, that’s not our current law. For more, see here.

Individual Mandate Is Constitutional - If You Rewrite the Constitution

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) was asked on Friday where in the Constitution Congress gets the power to force people to buy health insurance.  He said, “Under several clauses, the good and welfare clause and a couple others.”

As it happens, there is no “good and welfare clause” – which Conyers should know, as both judiciary chairman and a lawyer.  But even if you excuse his casual use of constitutional language, what he probably means – the General Welfare Clause of Article I, Section 8 – is not a better answer.  What that clause does is limit Congress’s use of the powers enumerated elsewhere in that section to legislation that promotes ”the general welfare.”  (So earmarks are arguably unconstitutional, though you can make a colorable argument that, when considering a pork bill as a whole, with all parts of the country getting something, that monstrosity is collectively in “the general welfare” – maybe.)  In any event, the General Welfare Clause doesn’t give Congress any additional powers – and I’d be curious to know what the other “several clauses” are.

Conyers  also noted that, “All the scholars, the constitutional scholars that I know … they all say that there’s nothing unconstitutional in this bill and if there were, I would have tried to correct it if I thought there were.”  Well, Mr. Conyers, to start let me introduce you to three constitutional scholars – not fringe right-wing kooks or anything like that, but respected people who publish widely – who think Obamacare is unconstitutional.  Now will you try to “correct” the bill?

Here’s video of Conyers’s full remarks on the subject (h/t Jon Blanks):

And for a survey of the various constitutional issues attending Obamacare, see Randy Barnett’s oped from Sunday’s Washington Post.

Comcast-NBC Universal: Everybody Loves a Fight!

If you haven’t been paying attention to the Comcast-NBC Universal merger, here’s a reason to: A good fight has broken out!

It starts with Mark Cooper, Director of Research at the Consumer Federation of America, who testified against the merger to the House Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet on behalf of CFA, Free Press, and Consumers Union.

The merger has so many anti-competitive, anti-consumer, and anti-social effects that it cannot be fixed,” says Cooper.

Cato Adjunct Scholar Richard Epstein lays into Cooper’s testimony with aplomb: ”Dr. Cooper has achieved a rare feat. The evidence that he presents against this proposed merger suffices to explain emphatically why it ought to be approved.”

And in a second commentary, Epstein ladles out another helping of humble pie to Cooper, concluding:

The cumbersome Soviet-style review process that Mr. Cooper advocates does no good for the consumers who he purports to represent. It only shows how far out of touch he is with the basics of antitrust theory as they relate to the particulars of the telecommunication market.

Maybe Cooper will have a rejoinder. But until then, I’ll just note that the best fights are the ones that your guy wins.