Preferably for Reasons of Good Policy rather than Political Revenge, Trump and Republicans Should End Subsidies for the OECD

If I was Captain Ahab in a Herman Melville novel, my Moby Dick would be the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. I have spent more than 15 years fighting that Paris-based bureaucracy. Even to the point that the OECD threatened to throw me in a Mexican jail.

So when I had a chance earlier today to comment on the OECD’s statist agenda, I could barely contain myself

Notwithstanding the glitch at the beginning (the perils of a producer talking in my ear), I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to castigate the OECD.

Kate’s Law: A Waste of Federal Resources

The House of Representatives will vote on a bill this week titled “Kate’s Law” (H.R. 3004). While it is nominally an “immigration” bill, its principal aim relates to criminal justice—namely, an increase in the maximum sentences for immigrants who reenter the country illegally after a deportation. The bill is a waste of federal resources. It would likely balloon America’s population of nonviolent prisoners, while not protecting Americans against serious criminals.

Kate’s Law Would Not Have Helped Kate

The bill’s namesake is Kate Steinle, a 32-year-old medical sales rep killed in San Francisco in 2015. Her killer was Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who was in the country without status after five removals. Proponents of this bill—providing lengthier prison sentences for people who reenter the country after a removal—believe that this would have somehow helped Kate Steinle. This assertion cannot withstand a moment’s contact with the facts of the case, which I have previously laid out in detail here.

After his last three apprehensions, the government prosecuted Lopez-Sanchez for felony illegal reentry. He served 15 years in federal prison in three five-year increments. None of the facts of this case would have changed if he had served those 15 years consecutively. Indeed, because Lopez-Sanchez never actually made it across the border without being caught since 1997, the only reason that he ended up in San Francisco is because the Bureau of Prisons inexplicably decided to ignore a request for transfer from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Instead, it shipped him to the city based on a 20-year-old marijuana charge—an offense that no longer even exists in the city. Thus, deterrence against reentry has no relevance whatsoever to this case.

The Provisions of Kate’s Law

This legislation introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) should not be confused with other bills of the same name introduced in the House and the Senate by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), respectively. The entire purpose of the prior iterations of “Kate’s Law” was to create mandatory minimum sentences for crossing the border illegally after a removal. Indeed, the alternate title for the bills was the “Establishing Mandatory Minimums for Illegal Reentry Act.” This new Kate’s Law, however, mercifully contains no mandatory minimum sentences—a sign that criminal justice reformers’ criticisms of them (including Cato’s) have started to penetrate the mainstream.

But the purpose of the law in the broader sense remains: trying to lock up more immigrants for longer periods. Most of the actual text comes from section 3705 of the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 744) passed in June 2013, but the Kate’s Law authors have added several odious provisions. The heart of the bill would create a new 10-year maximum sentence for any person removed or denied entry more than two times who reenters. The current maximum for regular reentry is just 2 years. It would increase the maximum sentences for people who reenter after being convicted of various criminal offenses—including for immigration offenses—to up to 25 years.

Kate’s Law deletes two important provisions from the S. 744 language that would have protected from prosecution non-felon juveniles (p. 772-73) and humanitarian groups that provide immigrants caught in deserts or mountains food, water, or transportation to safety, which are sometimes the target of the “aiding and abetting” statutes (p. 774). Kate’s Law would also prohibit challenging the legality or validity of a prior removal order, which is a common defense in these cases. If the earlier removal was not valid, as in at least one case where a U.S. citizen was deported, it should not be the basis of prosecution.

Supreme Court Returns Sanity to Debate Over Travel Ban

In what can only be seen as a big win for the Trump administration, the unanimous Supreme Court both took up the travel-ban cases and allowed most of the relevant executive order to go into effect. There may be lower-court litigation in coming months over the meaning of the “bona fide relationship” to an American person or entity that exempts someone from the travel restriction. Given that the second executive order on this subject, unlike the first, specifically exempted greencard holders, students, family members, those with established business ties, and others, is there even anybody who benefits from this carve-out who wasn’t already exempt from the travel ban?

At the end of the day, and regardless of the policy merits of the executive order—which doesn’t seem well-crafted to address security concerns, but I, like the judiciary, lack access to classified information—the Supreme Court doesn’t seem likely to be swayed by the idiosyncratic atmospherics (campaign speeches, tweets, and all) and will instead focus on a close textual reading of the laws at issue. It seems that all the justices want to return to the “presumption of regularity” that applies to presidential decisions on national security. As Justice Thomas, joined by Justices Alito and Gorsuch, wrote in partial concurrence, the decision to stay the lower courts’ rulings—to allow most of the travel ban to go into effect—is an implicit recognition that the government is likely to succeed on the merits.

Of course, the case might not get to the merits at all, because of standing and mootness concerns that would throw out the lawsuits altogether—or because the travel ban will expire before any final ruling. We shall see soon enough, because the Court has scheduled expedited argument for when it returns from its summer recess the first week of October.

In Trinity Lutheran, Supreme Court Upholds Religious Nondiscrimination

Today, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that Trinity Lutheran Church can’t be denied a state playground refurbishment subsidy simply because it’s a religious institution.

As I predicted after argument, the Court saw this as an easy case whereby the government improperly denied a public benefit because of religious status. This doesn’t mean that taxpayer funds can now be used to fund religious instruction or any other parade of horribles that was raised by Trinity Lutheran’s opponents.

Simply put, people and entities can’t be restricted from a government program simply because they’re religious. This is no different than the situation where police or fire protection is provided to houses of worship and other religious institutions.

It’s telling that Chief Justice Roberts’s attempt, via a curious footnote 3, to narrow the scope of his ruling to the facts of this case (to playgrounds?) didn’t command a majority. Justice Breyer only concurs in the judgment—he’s a pragmatist anyway—while Justices Thomas and Gorsuch specifically disclaim the disputed language. Meanwhile, Justice Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg, seems to think that the ruling dissolves the separation of church and state altogether, footnote or no footnote.

Finally, I should note that the case doesn’t touch issues of taxpayer standing to challenge government grants or exemptions for businesses from generally applicable laws. (On the latter, stay tuned next term when the Court takes up the Masterpiece Cakeshop wedding-vendor case where a bakery declined on religious and free-speech grounds to make a cake for a same-sex ceremony.)

Say It With Frosting: Supreme Court Will Hear Masterpiece Cakeshop Case

As our Policy Report noted last year, Cato is the only organization in the country that has gone to court to defend both one’s right to marry a person of the same sex and one’s right as a businessperson to join or not join as one chooses in assisting in celebrating a same-sex wedding. We’ll be hearing a lot more about that second issue over the coming year, because this morning the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The case presents the issue “whether applying Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel the petitioner to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the free speech or free exercise clauses of the First Amendment.”

Cato scholars and commentators have written about this set of issues for years, including, to name a few, David Boaz (“The solution to injustice is never to reverse the injustice”), Roger Pilon (history of free association and public accommodations laws), Ilya Shapiro (“private individuals should be able to make their own decisions on whom to do business with and how—on religious or any other grounds”), Robert Levy (“Forcing private parties to serve gay weddings is a higher order of coercion than forcing private hotels and restaurants to provide rooms and food to black—or gay—travelers”), Jason Kuznicki (“The market doesn’t care, and that’s a wonderful thing”), Emily Ekins on the polling data on a divided public, and David Lampo (different legal issues at stake than in same-sex marriage cases). Cato filed an amicus brief in the parallel (alas unsuccessful) Arlene’s Flowers case involving Washington florist Barronelle Stutzman. I’ve written about the cake and flowers cases many times at Overlawyered (as well as about other vendor cases involving meeting halls and so forth), and have delved into the collateral damage to civil liberties seen in enforcement actions like that of Oregon in the Melissa and Aaron Klein (Sweet Cakes by Melissa) case. 

Win for School Choice in Georgia

Lost in all the commotion over the U.S. Supreme Court’s several decisions today is another important decision with ramifications for school choice. The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Gaddy v. Georgia Department of Revenue that plaintiffs had no standing to challenge the state’s tax-credit scholarship program because the scholarship funds are private funds, not a government expenditure:

We also reject the assertion that plaintiffs have standing because these tax credits actually amount to unconstitutional expenditures of tax revenues or public funds. The statutes that govern the Program demonstrate that only private funds, and not public revenue, are used.

The program allows donors to receive tax credits in return for contributions to qualified nonprofit scholarship organizations that help families send their children to the schools of their choice. Plaintiffs asserted that the program violated Georgia’s Blaine Amendment, which prohibits the state from giving public funds to religious schools. However, as we explained in our amicus brief, no public funds are involved. “Taxpayers choose to donate voluntarily using their own private funds and receive a tax credit for the amount of the donation; no money ever enters or leaves the treasury.” Neither does the state direct where the funds are used. “The state exercises no control over which scholarship organizations donors choose to support, which students receive scholarships, or at which schools parents choose to use the scholarships.” The Georgia Supreme Court agreed:

Individuals and corporations chose the [scholarship organizations] to which they wish to direct contributions; these private [scholarship organizations] select the student recipients of the scholarships they award; and the students and their parents decide whether to use their scholarships at religious or other private schools. The State controls none of these decisions. Nor does it control the contributed funds or the educational entities that ultimately receive the funds.

“Today’s victory has secured Georgia parents’ right to continue choosing the best education for their children,” stated Erica Smith, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, which represented scholarship parents in the Gaddy case. “This Court correctly recognized that government should promote educational opportunity and choice, not limit it as the plaintiffs proposed.” 

Even in a “Slow” Year, Cato Continues Its Winning Ways at the Supreme Court

If the death of Justice Antonin Scalia overshadowed the 2015-16 Supreme Court term, the extended absence of his successor and the subsequent battle (including eliminating the judicial filibuster) over the appointment of Neil Gorsuch dominated Court news for 2016. Indeed, Scalia’s absence was felt more in the the lower quality and quantity of cases that the Court took up: The justices ended up deciding 62 cases after argumentthe fewest evernone of which would’ve made it into the “greatest hits” in recent years given the six or seven consecutive “terms of the century.” And recall that the Trump Department of Education withdrew a 2015 guidance letter construing Title IX to require schools to treat transgender students consistent with their expressed gender identity, removing the most politically charged case from the Court’s already muted docket. 

In any event, Justice Gorsuch took his seat on the bench in April, and his initial opinions showcase his promised readable style and principled textualist approach to statutory interpretation. With Justice Anthony Kennedy refraining from announcing his rumored retirementthough we could get a telegram from Salzburg this summerCourt-watchers will likely have to wait another year for the first nomination in a “post-nuclear” world.

Cato still filed in 13 merits cases on important issues ranging from separation of powers, free speech (both commercial and disparaging), and property rights. Improving on a 4-4 performance in an unusual term last yearwhere we still beat the government handilyCato achieved a strong 9-4 showing, besting the combined Obama-Trump effort of 8-12. Cato also effectively drew votes from across the judicial spectrum, winning 10 votes from both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Elena Kagan, 9 votes from Justice Stephen Breyer, and 8 votes each from Justices Kennedy, Samuel Alito, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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

Winning side (9)NLRB v. SW General, IncExpressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman; Nelson v. Colorado; Bank of America Corp. v. Miami; Kokesh v. SEC; Packingham v. North Carolina; Matal v. Tam; Lee v. Unites States; Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer.

Losing side (4): Bravo-Fernandez v. United StatesSalman v. United States; Turner v. United States; Murr v. Wisconsin.

Donald Trump’s inauguration also marked the official end of the Obama era at the Supreme Court. A pair of unanimous losses brought the administration’s total to 48, more than a quarter of all cases argued by his administration and approximately 50% higher than both the Bush and Clinton teams. His total winning percentage of under 47% was also significantly lower than both of his predecessors, who finished at 60% and 63% respectively. Of course, the Trump administration is off to an even less auspicious start, with a 1-9 record and 5 unanimous losses in just half a term. (The apportionment of cases on either side of the inauguration may be somewhat artificial, given that most or all of these relatively low-profile Supreme Court arguments were handled by career lawyers, not political appointees, and the government’s position didn’t change with the change of administration.)

This fall promises another blockbuster term, with the travel ban, Fourth Amendment protection of cellphone location data, same-sex wedding vendors, and likely the fate of mandatory union dues headlining the docket.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this in future commentary, but if you’d like to learn more about all these cases/trends and the views of Cato-friendly scholars and lawyers, register for our 16th Annual Constitution Day Symposium, which will be held September 18. That’s also when we’ll be releasing the latest volume of the Cato Supreme Court Review, the editing of which will consume much of my summer.

Pages