Archives: 06/2008

Supreme Court Still Split

Those who just days ago were proclaiming a new “era of good feelings” on the Court have been definitively proven wrong. Indeed, the last two weeks have seen more 5-4 divisions than the entire rest of the year to that point. While we have seen more unanimous rulings and fewer narrow splits than last term – when a full third of the cases came out 5-4 – this is clearly a function of the vagaries of the docket and not any shift in ideologies, judicial philosophies, or voting strategies. True, the Court under Chief Justice Roberts’ direction has increased the portion of business cases (typically more technical and therefore less divisive), but still the constitutional cases that catch the public’s eye – relating to social issues, civil rights, and national security – divide the Court on predictable lines. While this is in some senses unfortunate – we would prefer the highest court in the land to speak with one voice in resolving the nation’s deepest disputes – it is better for five justices to hold to their constitutional duty to say what the law is than to have nine produce a lukewarm opinion that either splits the baby or, worse, legislates from the bench. All in all it was a pretty good term for those concerned with upholding constitutional rights and limiting governmental powers (as well as reining in lawsuit abuse), but a sanguine consensus remains a pipe dream.

Good Day for the Bill of Rights

Congrats to Bob Levy, the prime mover behind yesterday’s landmark ruling concerning the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.  Congrats also to his legal team of Alan Gura and Clark Neily.  And congrats to Eugene Volokh (of the Volokh Conspiracy blog) who had three of his law review articles cited in the majority opinion.

Brian Doherty, author of the forthcoming Cato book, Gun Control On Trial, has this piece in today’s Los Angeles Times. Cato associate policy analyst (and gun control expert) David Kopel offers his quick take here.  The Washington Post offers full coverage here.  More Cato analysis here.

This Can’t Be Good

France has reportedly called an extraordinary meeting of European Union trade ministers to discuss EU trade negotiating strategy in the World Trade Organization’s floundering Doha round of trade talks.

France takes over the EU’s rotating presidency on 1st July for six months, inconvenient timing considering that the WTO’s Director-General Pascal Lamy has called a July 21st meeting of around 30 trade ministers from key countries in a last-ditch effort to cobble together a deal. The political calendar (a U.S. presidential election in November 2008, followed by a brand-new European Commission and Indian elections in 2009) means that no deal in July likely means no deal until 2010.

France has been a long-standing irritant to the Doha round and President Sarkozy, despite his sometimes-promising rhetoric, has not been the free-market reformer we might have hoped for. I wrote previously on his hostility towards the Doha round, and he has reportedly seized on Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon treaty as a signal that Europe’s strategy in the WTO needs to change.

Of course, a liberalizing result in the Doha round is not necessary for lower trade barriers (see here and here, for example), bit it certainly would be welcome.

Stephen Colbert and the Supreme Court

In the interview touted below by Jim Harper, the faux-neocon character played by Stephen Colbert asks constitutional scholar Neal Katyal, “Where does the Constitution get off telling the government what it can and cannot do?”

He’s ostensibly speaking for the four conservative justices who dissented in the Boumediene v. Bush case. But today he could be channeling the four liberal justices who dissented in the D.C. v. Heller case. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that he couldn’t imagine that the Constitution would “limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons.”

It is sadly hard to find justices who don’t, in some cases, sound like “Stephen Colbert”:

“Where does the Constitution get off telling the government what it can and cannot do?”

For a discussion of how the Constitution does in fact establish a government of delegated, enumerated, and thus limited powers, go here.

Holy Moses, Do We Need Medicaid Reform

Steve Moses is a one-man long-term-care-reform juggernaut. 

No, literally. Moses is currently conducting a whirlwind National Long-Term Care Consciousness Tour.  The tour aims to educate the public about the damage that government has done to the market for long-term care, the fact that the government will not be able to provide long-term care to baby boomers as it has for their parents, and the need to plan for one’s own long-term care needs.

As he passed through D.C. last week, Moses stopped to have lunch with me and to conduct a mini-interview with me, which he has posted on the tour’s YouTube page.

If You Can’t Win Against Them, Remove Them from The Ballot

The Economist recently reported about Hugo Chávez’s abrupt changes of mind. One day he decrees an intelligence law that turns Venezuela into a police state, the next day he denounces it. One day he calls for political recognition for the FARC guerillas in Colombia, the next one he asks them to put down their arms.

One explanation for Chávez’s more conciliatory tone lately is that he’s facing gubernatorial elections in November. His popularity has plummeted to 20%–a record low–and since his party controls all but two governorships in Venezuela, it’s very likely that Chávez will suffer heavy losses in the election.

But, trying to be more likeable isn’t enough to win at the ballot box if the economy is falling apart, so Chávez is taking no chances with the opposition. This is how the Office of the General Comptroller—an institution controlled by Chávez—has disqualified 400 politicians of the opposition from running in November. Among the disqualified is Leopoldo López, the popular mayor of Chacao, a municipality of Caracas, who has become one of the leaders of the fragmented opposition.

It seems that Chávez will try to force his way to an electoral victory in November. The question is: How far is he willing to go?