Tag: rule of law

Americans Don’t Know How Good They Have It

CAIRO—“I could be arrested when I leave here,” said a journalist who I met at the tiny Marriott near Cairo’s Tahir Square.  A student activist observed that he could be detained at any time. 

A veteran human rights activist calmly stated:  “Some of our groups will be closed.  Some of us will be imprisoned.  It is inevitable.”

Most foreigners travel to Egypt to play tourist.  I visited with a human rights delegation, reminding me yet again about how lucky Americans—and, indeed, most Westerners—are.

Most important are the basic characteristics of a free society.  The rule of law.  Civil liberties.  Criminal procedures.  Legal safeguards.  Democratic processes. 

Obviously, even nations which purport to have all of these often fall short.  However, few Americans or Europeans, or citizens of democratic Asian nations live in constant fear of arrest, imprisonment, and torture. 

In Egypt the uncertainty began when arriving.  On both of my trips the government knew our delegation was coming.  Both times I was pulled aside. 

On the first trip an entry guard took my passport and I waited for an hour before officials returned it and waved me on.  The second time after far shorter delay security officials formally welcomed me—after asking for my phone number and hotel destination. 

Of course, the U.S. occasionally stops people from entering, but not typically because they want to assess America’s human rights record.  Even after leaving the arrivals area on my first trip I had to wait again while the videographer joining us unsuccessfully attempted to persuade officials to let him bring in his camera. 

Both visits were filled with interviews—relating all sorts of harrowing stories.  Most every society has injustice and errors are sadly common in U.S. jurisprudence.  However, most Americans don’t expect a visit to a friend to turn into a stint in prison.

In Egypt for reasons of political repression and personal revenge people face arbitrary arrest, perpetual detention, fraudulent trials, and horrific imprisonment.  Some of the accounts we heard could be exaggerated or even false, but reports from people in many walks of life and across the political spectrum suggested that the slightest resistance to state authority risks freedom and even life.

The U.S. Fall in Economic Freedom and the Rule of Law

The United States is the 12th  freest economy in the world according to the new Economic Freedom of the World report. Co-published today by Cato and the Fraser Institute, it finds a strong relationship between economic freedom and human well-being.

The U.S. ranking is part of a worrisome decline in economic freedom that began more than a decade ago. For decades, the United States ranked in second or third place on the index. In 2000 it was #2, yet by 2005 it ranked 8 and it continued its precipitous fall until recently. On a 0-10 scale, the U.S. rating is now 7.81 compared to 7.74 last year, a slight improvement. The level of economic freedom in the United States is lower today than it was in 1980. Since 2005, Canada has ranked higher than the United States.

The authors of the report note that the United States has fallen in all five areas that they measure: size of government; legal system and property rights; sound money; freedom to trade; and regulation. But the rule-of-law indicator (legal system and property rights) has seen the biggest decline and, as the graph shows, it has been enormous.

The U.S. Decline

The measured deterioration in the rule of law is consistent with scholarship in that field and, according to the report, is a result of “increased use of eminent domain to transfer property to powerful political interests, the ramifications of the wars on terrorism and drugs,” and other property rights violations. Because the rule of law is of course a cornerstone not just of economic freedom but of all freedoms, and because there is a strong relationship between economic freedom and other liberties (civil and political), all Americans should be concerned with the findings of the report.

A deterioration in the rule of law should also be of special concern to Hong Kong, the top ranked territory in the index, where recent protests highlight the danger that Beijing’s interference in its legal system, including the perception of such, poses to the overall freedoms and economic success of Hong Kong.

Legalization or Amnesty for Unlawful Immigrants – An American Tradition

Legalization of unlawful immigrants, commonly referred to as amnesty, has been hyperbolically described as an affront to U.S. national sovereignty, the rule of law, and even our Constitutional Republic.  However, the U.S. government has a long history of successfully legalizing violators of immigration laws.

In 1929, the year the Immigration Act of 1924 went in effect, Congress passed an amnesty to allow for the voluntary registration of all unlawful immigrants who wished to legalize their unrecorded entry.  Beginning a familiar pattern, Congress combined this 1929 amnesty with severe legal penalties on unauthorized immigrants who entered the United States without inspection after the amnesty was complete.[i]

As part of the reforms of the Bracero Program’s guest worker visa in the late 1940s and early 1950s, many unauthorized Mexican migrants were legalized and granted a visa on the spot.  According to Professor Kitty Calavita, 55,000 unlawful Mexican immigrants were legalized as Bracero workers in 1947 through a process derogatively referred to as “drying out” unlawful migrant workers.[ii] Under the auspices of an increase in immigration enforcement and the expansion of the Bracero guest worker visa, other unlawful Mexican migrants were driven down to the Mexican border and made to take one step across the border and immediately reenter as a legal Bracero worker, a process referred to as “a walk around statute.”[iii]

In 1958, the cutoff date for the 1929 amnesty was advanced to June 28, 1940 – meaning that unlawful immigrants who entered before that later date could legalize.  The Immigration Act of 1965 again advanced the cut off date for the 1929 amnesty to June 30, 1948.[iv]

Year

 Legalizations of Unauthorized Immigrants

1959

4,321

1960

4,773

1961

5,037

1962

3,399

1963

2,680

1964

2,585

1965

2,064

1966

2,595

1967

3,195

1968

2,148

1969

1,565

1970

1,520

1971

1,190

1972

1,653

1973

1,254

1974

875

1975

556

1976

796

1977

546

1978

423

1979

262

1980

428

1981

241

Total

44,106

Source: Vernon M. Briggs Jr., Immigration Policy and the American Labor Force, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1984, p. 66.

The Immigration Reform and Control (IRCA) Act in 1986 – the so-called Reagan Amnesty – legalized 2.7 million unauthorized immigrants who had been residing in the United States since 1982.  After IRCA, the Section 245(i) legalization passed in 1994 and was then extended again in 1997.  The 1997 Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief (NACARA) Act also legalized close to one million unlawful immigrants from Central America.  The Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness (HRIFA) Act legalized around 125,000 unauthorized immigrants from Haiti in 1998.  The Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act of 2000 reinstated the rolling 245(i) legalization provision. 

So long as there are immigration restrictions on the movement of peaceful and healthy people, and Americans want to continue to hire and sell products to immigrants, some will always come whether the immigration laws allow it or not.  To address the unlawful immigrant population, Congress periodically passes a legalization or amnesty bill, but the number of unlawful immigrants rises again because lawful immigration has not been sufficiently liberalized – despite vast increases in enforcement.

Past amnesties and legalizations of unauthorized immigrants didn’t destroy U.S. national sovereignty (the United States is still a sovereign country), the rule of law (in tatters for many reasons, including efforts to enforce our arbitrary and capricious immigration laws), or our Constitutional Republic.  It’s hard to see why another one passed by Congress and signed by the President would produce those grave harms.


[i] Vernon M. Briggs Jr., Immigration Policy and the American Labor Force, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1984, p. 47.

[ii] Deborah Cohen, Braceros: Migrant Citizens and Transnational Subject in the Postwar United States and Mexico, University of North Carolina Press, 2011, p. 209, Kitty Calavita, Inside the State: The Bracero Program, Immigration, and the INS, Quid Pro Books, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2010, pp. 25-26, 34.

[iii] Kitty Calavita, Inside the State: The Bracero Program, Immigration, and the INS, Quid Pro Books, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2010, p. 43.

[iv] Vernon M. Briggs Jr., Immigration Policy and the American Labor Force, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1984, p. 66.

Government Can’t Simply Ignore Judicial Rulings It Doesn’t Like

By design, the federal judiciary is the weakest of the three branches of government. While the executive wields the sword, and Congress holds the purse strings, the courts have no temporal power.

To give effect to their decisions and orders, courts depend on popular legitimacy and the cooperation of the other branches. While that cooperation is normally forthcoming when needed to enforce judicial decisions against private citizens, when the subject of a court’s order is the government itself, there’s always a risk that it will be ignored or avoided.

Such is the case in Hornbeck Offshore Services v. Jewell, which began when the Interior Department (DOI) chose to put itself above the courts and above the law. Following the Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010, DOI issued a total ban on drilling activity in the Gulf of Mexico. A district court judge held that this drilling moratorium was irrational and not supported by scientific research or other credible evidence. The judge issued an injunction prohibiting DOI from enforcing its ban.

Instead of obeying the injunction — or appealing it — DOI ignored it. The Secretary of the Interior told Congress that as far as he was concerned, the drilling ban was still in effect. DOI then issued a second ban on drilling that was identical to the first. The district judge held DOI in contempt of court, noting that “each step the government took following the Court’s imposition of a preliminary injunction showcase[d] its defiance” of the court’s authority.

On appeal, a panel of the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit sided 2-1 with the DOI’s position that the contempt finding was improper because the issuance of a second (identical) drilling ban was not technically disallowed by the text of the injunction — which explicitly prohibited only enforcement of the initial ban. Cato has filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to hear the case because the appellate court’s ruling undermines the rule of law and the judiciary’s independent authority.

Under the Fifth Circuit’s rule, government agencies will be able to legally avoid court orders with bureaucratic trickery. If only the explicit text of an injunction — and not any of its spirit or clear purpose — binds the federal government, Congress or the executive could simply rename whatever statute or regulation has been declared unconstitutional and continue enforcing the substantively unconstitutional rule. Such an overly technical rule would force district court judges into the role of mind-readers, trying to predict how the government could weasel its way out of a ruling.

Without an effective contempt power to punish the violation of its orders, even the Supreme Court would be unable to enforce its important rulings, such as ending the District of Columbia’s unconstitutional ban on handguns, and striking down section 3 of DOMA. In both of those recent cases, the sort of semantic game-playing endorsed by the Fifth Circuit here would have resulted in hollow victories for liberty and an evisceration of the idea that in our constitutional republic, the government is bound by the same (if not stricter) rules as the rest of us.

CBO: One-Year Delay of Employer Mandate Increases Spending, Debt, and Dependence

The Congressional Budget Office has released its cost estimate of the Obama administration’s one-year repeal delay of ObamaCare’s employer mandate and anti-fraud provisions. The CBO expects the Obama administration’s unilateral rewriting of federal law (my words, not CBO’s) will increase federal spending by $3 billion in 2014 and reduce federal revenues by a net $9 billion, thereby increasing the federal debt by $12 billion. If President Obama keeps this up, Congress may have to raise the debt ceiling or something.

Where is that $3 billion of new spending going? The CBO estimates the administration’s action will lead to about half a million additional people receiving government subsidies, including through ObamaCare’s Exchanges:

All told, as a result of the announced changes and new final rules, roughly 1 million fewer people are expected to be enrolled in employment-based coverage in 2014 than the number projected in CBO’s May 2013 baseline, primarily because of the one-year delay in penalties on employers. Of those who would otherwise have obtained employment-based coverage, roughly half will be uninsured and the others will obtain coverage through the exchanges or will enroll in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), CBO and JCT estimate.

Which makes the president’s delay of the employer mandate and anti-fraud provisions consistent with his administration’s goal of hooking enough voters on government subsidies to affect electoral outcomes and votes in Congress.

Yes, Delaying Obamacare’s Employer Mandate Is Illegal

Last week, when most Americans were starting their Fourth of July holiday, the Obama administration announced it will wait until 2015 to implement Obamacare’s penalties against employers who fail to offer “affordable” and “minimum value” coverage to their workers, rather than impose this “employer mandate” in 2014, as the statute requires. The administration’s stated rationale is that, despite nearly four years of lead time, it still won’t have the capacity to collect from employers the information required to determine which employers will be subject to penalties in 2014. As a result, the administration also announced it would not require employers to report that information until 2015, though (again) the statute requires employers to furnish that information in 2014.

Nicholas Bagley, a professor of law at the University of Michigan, suggests that maybe there is a legal rationale for the Obama administration’s delaying these provisions. So let’s take each provision in turn.

1) Has Congress given Treasury the authority to waive the penalties? The answer is no. The employer-mandate penalties unequivocally take effect on January 1, 2014, and the PPACA gives the Treasury secretary no authority to postpone their imposition.

Every element of the employer mandate demonstrates that it takes effect in 2014.

  • If any worker at a firm with more than 50 full-time-equivalent employees receives a tax credit through a health insurance “exchange,” then “there is hereby imposed on the employer an assessable payment.” Those tax credits become available on January 1, 2014. Thus that is also the date on which the penalties take effect.
  • The statute specifies penalty amounts that apply specifically in 2014, and provides that those penalties shall be adjusted for inflation in years after 2014.
  • The section creating the employer mandate even contains an effective date: “The amendments made by this section shall apply to months beginning after December 31, 2013.”

The statute gives the Treasury secretary the authority to collect these penalties “on an annual, monthly, or other periodic basis as the Secretary may prescribe.” It does not allow the secretary to waive the imposition of such penalties, except in one circumstance: Section 1332 authorizes the Treasury secretary to waive the employer mandate, but only as part of a state-specific waiver, and only if the state enacts a law that would provide equally comprehensive health insurance to as many residents, and only if that law would impose no additional cost to the federal government, and only if there is a “meaningful level of public input” over the waiver and its approval, and even then not until 2017. In other words, Congress spoke to the question of whether and when the executive should be able to waive the employer mandate, and Congress clearly did not want the administration to waive it unless certain specified conditions were met.

Nevertheless, Treasury claims it has the authority to waive those penalties without following Congress’ instructions: “[T]he employer shared responsibility payments…will not apply for 2014. Any employer shared responsibility payments will not apply until 2015.”

2) Has Congress given Treasury the authority to waive the reporting requirement? Again, the answer is no.

The PPACA added two sections to the Internal Revenue Code (sections 6055 & 6056) that require employers to report certain information on their health benefits and the workers who enroll in that coverage, in order to help the IRS determine whether those workers are eligible for tax credits and whether the employer is subject to penalties. Again, the statute is clear: those reporting requirements take effect in “calendar years beginning after 2013” and “periods beginning after December 31, 2013.” The statute contains no language authorizing Treasury to waive those requirements.

Bagley argues the statute does contain language that might enable Treasury to delay the imposition of these reporting requirements. Sections 6055 & 6056 state that employers must furnish this information “at such time as the Secretary may prescribe.” He writes, “Delaying the reporting requirements until 2015 is arguably just a specification of the ‘time’ at which the reports must be submitted.”

This theory reflects a misunderstanding of what an effective date is. When Congress imposes an obligation on some party, that obligation becomes effective on the effective date. The secretary’s discretion to prescribe the time at which the affected party must discharge that obligation neither affects the existence of the obligation, nor empowers the secretary to repeal it.

One might argue that Treasury has the authority to say employers need not report the required information regarding their 2014 health benefits offerings until, say, the next year, when they report the same information for their 2015 offerings. Yet that is not what Treasury is doing. Treasury claims it can altogether eliminate the obligation to report the 2014 information: “The Administration…will provide an additional year before the ACA mandatory employer and insurer reporting requirements begin.”

Moreover, if the language Bagley cites were interpreted to permit Treasury to waive the mandate and reporting requirements for 2014, is there any reason why that interpretation would not empower Treasury waive those provisions indefinitely? Could the secretary determine employers need discharge these obligations every 1,000 years? If not, why not?

Finally, Bagley concludes no one would have standing to challenge these actions in court. Thus even if the administration’s actions are illegal, he writes, “So what?”

Let’s assume for the moment that Bagley is correct on the standing issue. Here’s “what.” The law is a mutual compact between the government and the people. The more the government acts as though it is not bound by that the law, the more widespread will be the belief among the people that they are not bound by the law, either. That would be a very bad situation. There are already enough people out there who believe the government is not bound by the law that President Obama feels it is worth his time to counsel Americans to “reject these voices” – even as his actions lend credence to them, and further diminish respect for the law. That’s a “what” that I figured law professors understood.

50 Vetoes: How States Can Stop the Obama Health Care Law

Today, the Cato Institute releases my latest working paper, “50 Vetoes: How States Can Stop the Obama Health Care Law.” From the executive summary:

Despite surviving a number of threats, President Obama’s health care law remains harmful, unstable, and unpopular. It also remains vulnerable to repeal, largely because Congress and the Supreme Court have granted each state the power to veto major provisions of the law before they take effect in 2014.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) itself empowers states to block the employer mandate, to exempt many of their low- and middle-income taxpayers from the individual mandate, and to reduce federal deficit spending, simply by not establishing a health insurance “exchange.” Supporters of the law do not care for this feature, yet they adopted it because they had no choice. The bill would not have become law without it.

To date, 34 states, accounting for roughly two-thirds of the U.S. population, have refused to create Exchanges. Under the statute, this shields employers in those states from a $2,000 per worker tax that will apply in states that are creating Exchanges (e.g., California, Colorado, New York). Those 34 states have exempted at least 8 million residents from taxes as high as $2,085 on families of four earning as little as $24,000. They have also reduced federal deficits by hundreds of billions of dollars.

The Obama administration is nevertheless attempting to tax those employers and individuals, contrary to the plain language of the PPACA and congressional intent, and to deny millions of Americans the opportunity to purchase low-cost, high-deductible coverage. Employers, consumers, and even state officials in those 34 states can challenge those illegal taxes in court, as Oklahoma has done. States can also block those illegal taxes—and even stop the federal government from operating an Exchange—by approving a strengthened version of the Health Care Freedom Act.

The PPACA’s Medicaid expansion, which would cost individual states up to $53 billion over its first 10 years, is now optional for states, thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius. Some 16 states have announced they will not expand their programs, while half of the states remain undecided. Yet the Obama administration is trying to coerce states into implementing parts of the expansion that the Court rendered optional. States can replicate Maine’s lawsuit challenging this arbitrary attempt to limit the Court’s ruling.

Collectively, states can shield all employers and at least 12 million taxpayers from the law’s new taxes, and still reduce federal deficits by $1.7 trillion, simply by refusing to establish Exchanges or expand Medicaid.

Congress and President Obama have already repealed the third new entitlement program the PPACA created—the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, or CLASS Act—as well as funding for the “co-op” plans meant to serve as an alternative to a “public option.” A critical mass of states exercising their vetoes over Exchanges and the Medicaid expansion can force Congress to reconsider, and hopefully repeal, the rest of this counterproductive law. Real health care reform is impossible until that happens.

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