Topic: Government and Politics

South Carolina Should Move the Confederate Flag

The South Carolina Senate has voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the state capitol. The House still has to vote, and Gov. Nikki Haley has already urged that the flag be moved. The flag was moved from its position atop the capitol dome back in 2000. Now it’s time to move it entirely off the capitol grounds.

In 2001, 64 percent of Mississippi voters chose to keep the Confederate battle cross in their official state flag. At the time I wrote:

It seems that I have every reason to side with the defenders of the flag: I grew up in the South during the centennial of the Civil War—or, as we called it, the War Between the States, or in particularly defiant moments, the War of Northern Aggression. My great-grandfather was a Confederate sympathizer whose movements were limited by the occupying Union army. I’ve campaigned against political correctness and the federal leviathan. I think there’s a good case for secession in the government of a free people. I even wrote a college paper on the ways in which the Confederate Constitution was superior to the U.S. Constitution.

Much as I’d like to join this latest crusade for Southern heritage and defiance of the federal government, though, I keep coming back to one question: What does the flag mean?

I noted that defenders of the 1894 flag and other public displays of Confederate flags

say that the Civil War was about states’ rights, or taxes, or tariffs or the meaning of the Constitution. Indeed, it was about all those things. But at bottom the South seceded, not over some abstract notion of states’ rights, but over the right of the Southern states to practice human slavery. As Gov. James S. Gilmore III of Virginia put it in his proclamation commemorating the Civil War, “Had there been no slavery, there would have been no war.” Mississippi didn’t go to war for lower tariffs or for constitutional theory; it went to war to protect white Mississippians’ right to buy and sell black Mississippians.

We still hear those claims: the Confederate flag stands for history, states’ rights, resistance to an overbearing federal government, Southern pride. For some people it probably does. But those who seceded from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America were pretty clear about what they were seeking.

Gay Marriage Is Here - Now What?

That’s the title of a symposium that the Federalist published after the Obergefell ruling. It included mini-opeds from a range of people on both sides of the debate, including Newt Gingrich and Mike Lee. Here was my contribution:

Just because today’s opinion was expected by nearly everyone doesn’t make it any less momentous. In sometimes-soaring rhetoric Kennedy explains that the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of both substantive liberty and equality means there is no further valid reason to deny this particular institution, the benefit of these particular laws, to gay and lesbian couples. Okay, fair enough: there’s a constitutional right for gay and lesbian couples to get marriage licenses—at least so long as everyone else gets them. (We’ll set aside the question of why the government is involved in marriage in the first place for a later time.)

But where do we go from here? What about people who disagree, in good faith, with no ill intent towards gay people? Will ministers, to the extent they play a dual role in ratifying marriage licenses, have to officiate big gay weddings? Will bakers and photographers have to work them? What about employment-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation—most states lack them, but are they now required? And what about tax-exempt status for religious schools, the issue that came up during oral argument?

It’s unclear to be honest—much depends on whether Anthony Kennedy remains on the court to answer these thorny questions in his own hand-waving way—but all of these examples, including marriage licensing itself, show the folly inherent in government insinuation into the sea of liberty upon which we’re supposed to sail our ship of life. (Justice Kennedy, you can use that one next time; no need even to cite me.)

If government didn’t get involved in regulating private relationships between consenting adults—whether sexual, economic, political, athletic, educational, or anything else—we wouldn’t be in that second-best world of adjudicating competing rights claims. If we maintained that broad public non-governmental sphere, as distinct from both the private home and state action, then we could let a thousand flowers bloom and each person would be free to choose a little platoon with which to associate.

But the extent to which we live in that world is decreasing at a horrendous pace, and so we’re forced to fight for carve-outs of liberty amidst the sea of mandates, regulations, and other authoritarian “nudges.”

In any event, good for the court today—and I echo Justice Kennedy’s hope that both sides will now respect each other’s liberties and the rule of law. But I stand ready to defend anybody’s right to offend or otherwise live his or her life (or run his or her business) in ways I might not approve.

You can read the other entries here, and also see Jason Kuznicki’s longer post on the future of “marriage policy” and Roger Pilon’s prescient piece from a few months ago.

Overtime Regulation

President Obama plans to raise the salary threshold at which employers must pay time-and-half for overtime hours (normally defined as those above 40 hours per week). Currently these rules apply to workers with annual salaries up to $23,660; the President’s proposal raises this threshold to $50,400.  The new rules will affect about 5 milllion workers according to administration estimates.

What impact will this expanded regulation have on the labor market?

In the very short run, employers affected by this expansion may have little choice but to pay their employees higher total compensation; in the very short run, employers have few ways to avoid this added cost.

But in the medium term, employers will invoke a host of methods to offset these costs: re-arranging employee work schedules so that fewer hit 40 hours; laying off employees who work more than 40 hours; or pushing such employees to work overtime hours off the books.

And in the longer term, employers can simply reduce the base wages they pay so that, even with overtime pay, total compensation for an employee working more than 40 hours is no different than before the overtime expansion.  

So, expanded overtime regulation will benefit some employees in the very short term; cost others their jobs or lower their compensation in the medium term; and have no meaningful impact on anything in the long term.

Is that a victory for middle class economics?

Not Theirs to Give: Misguided Compassion at Public Expense

What can seem more appealing than a cafeteria worker giving out free lunches? Or an education official writing-off school loans?

Yet, in both cases, those acting as beneficent philanthropists weren’t paying the cost. The taxpayers were. Public officials should learn that the money is not theirs to give.

Della Curry recently was dismissed as kitchen manager from an elementary school in Aurora, Colorado for, she admitted, “giving food to children that did not have money.” Doing so was legally wrong, she said, but “I do not feel bad about it and would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Although posing as a great humanitarian while denouncing this rich nation for failing to “provide lunch for its children,” she didn’t pay for any children’s lunch. Rather, she gave them a full lunch at public expense.

Indeed, contrary to her claim, the school district was no collective Scrooge. Many children were on official school lunch plans and received free or cheap meals. In fact, a family of four could earn $44,000 annually and still receive a federal subsidy.

Any other student without money received free meals three times. After that, cashless children received a cheese sandwich.

Do You Hear the Drivers Honk?

Last week, taxi drivers in France protested the Uber ride-sharing service by blocking access to airports and train stations, erecting barricades, destroying vehicles, and assaulting rival drivers in confrontations that led to injuries. American celebrity Courtney Love Cobain, caught up in the chaos, tweeted: “they’ve ambushed our car and are holding our driver hostage. they’re beating the cars with metal bats. this is France?? I’m safer in Baghdad.”

The government of France then responded to the violence in oh-so-French fashion: it arrested Uber’s executives

My Cato colleague Matthew Feeney wrote the whole story up and you should go read his Forbes piece now. My humbler role is to set the episode to music, by way of a tune you may have found hard to get out of your head if you’ve ever seen Les Miserables

Do you hear the drivers honk
Smashing the heads of random chaps
It is the music of a people
Who will not give way to apps

When the tapping of a screen
Summons a ride with just their thumbs
It is the future we are fighting
When Uber comes

When technology disrupts
The cozy pasture where we graze
We’ll challenge it with fisticuffs
And self-serving Luddite cliches

[repeat chorus:]

When the tapping of a screen
Summons a ride with just their thumbs
It is the future we are fighting
When Uber comes.

[thanks to Rogers Turner and John Strong for suggestions on the lyrics]

Cato Continues Win Streak at Supreme Court, Government Does Abysmally Yet Again

After several blockbuster terms, this year was supposed to give a bit of a breather to Supreme Court watchers – but of course all that changed in November, when RobertsCare and same-sex marriage landed back on the justices’ laps. Looking back on the term, we see a few trends: fewer unanimous rulings than the last few years; more results that experts classify as “liberal” than “conservative” (though that’s a function of the vagaries of the docket); the lockstep voting of the liberal bloc contrasted against the inscrutability of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy.

But despite the highs and lows of the last few decision days, when the dust cleared, there was one aspect of continuity that’s particularly gratifying to me: Cato continued its winning streak in cases in which we filed amicus briefs. While not as dominating as last term, we still managed to pull off an 8-7 record. I’m also proud to note that we were the only organization in the country to support the challenges to both the IRS rule on the ACA and state marriage laws.

Here’s the breakdown, in the order the opinions arrived:

Winning side (8): North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. FTCYates v. United StatesElonis v. United StatesCity of Los Angeles v. PatelHorne v. U.S. Dept. of AgricultureJohnson v. United StatesObergefell v. HodgesMichigan v. EPA.

Losing side (7): Heien v. North CarolinaPerez v. Mortgage Bankers Assoc.; U.S. Dept. of Transportation v. Assoc. of American RailroadsEEOC v. Abercrombie & FitchWalker v. Sons of Confederate VeteransTexas Dept. of Housing v. Inclusive Communities ProjectKing v. Burwell

Kennedy the Swing, Roberts Back on Reservation, Scalia Is Scalia

This morning I was on the steps of the Supreme Court, as I have been each of the decision days starting last Monday. It’s a real spectacle, with protestors and counter-protestors, interns running from the Court’s press office to give their media principals slip opinions, and phalanxes of TV cameras, bright lights, screens, and assorted technical accoutrements. For someone whose job includes digesting and commenting on legal opinions, this last week of the high court’s term is pretty much the Super Bowl.

Except today didn’t feel that way. After Obamacare on Thursday and same-sex marriage on Friday, today was the most anticlimactic “last day of school” since I’ve begun doing this.

That’s not to say that the three cases decided today were unimportant, either legally or politically. Indeed, until the Court took up King v. Burwell and Obergefell v. Hodges, each of them would’ve been considered among the “big ones” for what was, to that point, a low-key term. After all, we’re talking about the death penalty, redistricting, and major environmental regulations. (And also the Court announced that it will again take up Fisher v. UT-Austin, the racial-preferences case that is set to become one of next term’s blockbusters.)

Let’s take the cases in the order they came: