Archives: 10/2011

Romney Supports National ID, Government Pre-Approval of Working

Speaking at a town hall meeting at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa yesterday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney backed a national ID system and government pre-approval of all new hires in the country. It’s a stunning amount of power he wants the federal government to have.

Addressing a question about illegal immigration (starting at 30:40 in this video) he said:

You’ve got to crack down on employers that hire people that are illegal, and that means you have to have a system that identifies who’s here legally, with a biometric card that has: this is the person, they’re allowed to work here. You say to an employer, you look at that card, you swipe it in your computer, you type in the number, it instantly tells you whether they’re legal or not.

He’s describing an expanded E-Verify system, and the biometric national identity system that has been proposed for it. That system would not only be used for controlling employment, of course. Like the Social Security number did when it caught mission creep, the national ID Romney talks about would come to be used to control access to housing, to financial services and credit, gun ownership, health care and medicine, the list goes on and on.

It’s technically possible to have a biometric card that solely indicates one’s qualification to work under federal law, but as I wrote in my paper, “Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration,” there is almost no chance that the government would limit itself this way. E-Verify requires a national identity system, and Mitt Romney wants that national identity system.

Obamacare Litigation Update: All the Briefs the Supreme Court Needs to Take the Case Are In

In the last week, we’ve seen another slew of Supreme Court filings regarding the various Obamacare lawsuits.  Most notably, the private plaintiffs in the Florida/Eleventh Circuit case (the NFIB and two individuals)—represented by Mike Carvin and Randy Barnett, among others—filed their response to the government’s cert petition last Friday, two weeks before it was due! 

So, as with the cert petitions themselves at the end of September, the private plaintiffs initiated a “filing cascade” (my phrase, not a legal term of art) and forced the government’s hand.  The government then filed its consolidated response (to both the private and state plaintiff petitions) on Wednesday, and the (26) state plaintiffs—represented by former solicitor general Paul Clement—also filed their response to the government’s petition.

Got all that?  It basically means that all the necessary filings are in and the case is “ready for distribution” to the justices’ chambers for consideration of the cert petitions, which could happen as early as the Court’s November 10 conference. That means we could see an order about which case(s)/issue(s) the Court is taking as early as November 14.

So that’s the timing.  A brief note on substance: As you may recall, the Eleventh Circuit plaintiffs want the Court to review the following issues: whether the individual mandate exceeds federal power, the new Medicaid regulations/expansion as coercing the states, the mandate that states provide health insurance in their roles as employers, and severability.  The government, for its part, wants the Court to review the individual mandate, whether the Anti-Injunction Act makes the suits unripe (it argues that the AIA doesn’t apply but still, oddly, wants the Court to weigh in), and severability.  On this last point, the government has reiterated its position that if the individual mandate falls, the guaranteed-issue and community-rating provisions must fall with it—a position that garnered some media attention but is both consistent with its previous arguments and honest lawyering.  (It’s disingenuous as a matter of basic economics to argue that the overall reform can survive without the individual mandate, even if that’s the incongruous position that the Eleventh Circuit took rejecting the government’s “concession” on severability.)  Of course, the government is also hoping that the idea that striking the individual mandate also means striking the provision requiring coverage of pre-existing conditions will make the Court hesitant to do so.

Note that the government also filed its response to the Liberty University petition and still has time to file a response to Virginia’s cert petition (on the state standing issue), both out of the Fourth Circuit.  It argues, as do the Eleventh Circuit plaintiffs, that the Court should hold these petitions (as well as the Thomas More Legal Center’s out of the Sixth Circuit) pending resolution of the Eleventh Circuit case.   Finally, the D.C. Circuit has yet to issue its opinion in the Obamacare case argued there a month ago.

For more on both the timing and which issues the Court is likely to take, see Lyle Denniston’s excellent analysis at SCOTUSblog.

Should You Need a License to Hang Curtains?

The latest example of liberty-reducing occupational licensing schemes comes to us from Florida, where a law restricts the practice of interior design to people the state has licensed. Those wishing to pursue this occupation must first undergo an onerous process ostensibly in the name of “public safety.”

In reality, the law serves as an anti-competition measure that protects Florida’s current cohort of interior designers. Our friends at the Institute for Justice have pursued a lawsuit against the law but lost their appeal in the Eleventh Circuit.

Cato has now joined the Pacific Legal Foundation on an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to review that ruling. The lower court got it wrong not just with respect to the right to earn a living, however, but also on First Amendment grounds.

That is, interior design, as a form of artistic expression, is historically protected by the First Amendment. Indeed, interior designers are measured primarily on the value of their aesthetic expression, not for any technical knowledge or expertise. This type of artistry is a matter of taste, and the designer and client usually arrive at the end result through collaboration and according to personal preferences. Thus, the designer-client relationship has little in common with traditionally regulated professions such as medicine, law and finance, where bad advice can have real and far-reaching consequences—but even then, the Supreme Court has emphasized the First Amendment implications of placing “prior restraints” on expression through burdensome licensing schemes.

Instead of following that precedent, however, the circuit court carved out a constitutionally unprotected exception for “direct personalized speech with clients.” Florida’s “public safety” justification is similarly weak, given that the state has presented no evidence of any bona fide concerns that substantiate a burdensome licensing scheme that includes six years of higher education and a painstaking exam—instead relying on cursory allegations that, for example, licensed designers are more adept at ensuring that fixture placements do not violate building codes.

Finally, the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling disregarded the infinite array of auxiliary occupations the Florida law subjects to possible criminal sanctions: wedding planners, branding consultants, sellers of retail display racks, retail business consultants, corporate art consultants, and even theater-set designers could all get swept in. The state has already taken enforcement actions against a wide spectrum of people who are not interior designers, including office furniture dealers, restaurant equipment suppliers, flooring companies, wall covering companies, fabric vendors, builders, real estate developers, remodelers, accessories retailers, antique dealers, drafting services, lighting companies, kitchen designers, workrooms, carpet companies, art dealers, stagers, yacht designers, and even a florist. This dragnet effect also suggests that the law is too broad to survive constitutional scrutiny.

The Court will likely decide by the end of the year (or early 2012) whether to take this case of Locke v. Shore.

Another Romneycare/Obamacare Similarity: Earning Their Sponsors Insurance-Company Love

I’ve been meaning to post this article from OpenSecrets.org that sheds light on the claim that either Obamacare or its twin, Romneycare, somehow “get tough” on insurance companies:

Health Insurance Industry Opens Check Books for Mitt Romney, Barack Obama

Research by the Center for Responsive Politics shows that President Barack Obama and his GOP rival Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, are the only two presidential candidates to have raised more than $40,000 from the health insurance industry so far this election cycle…

Both men have favored health care policies that include an individual mandate for people to purchase private insurance plans. Romney did so as governor of Massachusetts, and Obama did so as part of the health care reform package he signed into law last year…

Such mandates are supported by the insurance industry, which stand to benefit from increased customers as well as from government subsidies that help enroll people who could not otherwise afford insurance.

Romney, in fact, has received more than five times as much money from the health insurance industry than any other GOP presidential candidate, according to the Center’s research.

That should weigh on the minds of states that are considering whether to create the health insurance “exchanges” that will implement Obamacare’s individual mandate and subsidies for insurance companies.

Living in the Past

A year after Kate Zernike wrote in the New York Times that Tea Partiers were “resurrect[ing] once-obscure texts by dead writers”—such as F. A. Hayek, who won the Nobel Prize in 1974 and died in 1992—the New Yorker’s cover depicts Wall Streeters in top hats and bushy mustaches. That’s an image from, what, the 1930s? Or maybe the 1870s? Who’s “reach[ing] back to dusty bookshelves for long-dormant ideas” now?

How Much Homeland Security Is Enough? Monday Book Forum

At noon Monday, Professors John Mueller and Mark Stewart will be here to discuss their new book: Terror Security and Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits and Costs of Homeland Security. Register here.

The question in this post’s title is the book’s. It quantifies Mueller’s skepticism about the utility of homeland security spending with cost-benefit analysis, which is Stewart’s specialty. They use this analysis, which is employed by various federal agencies as part of the regulatory review process, to show that little of what the Department of Homeland Security does is a good investment. That is, the bulk of its activities cost more—measured in lives or dollars— than they save. In the conclusion, where you find most of the book’s political science, Mueller and Stewart discuss why DHS avoids this sort of analysis—neither it nor its political advocates have much reason to advertise its wastefulness—and why that should change.

Alan Cohn, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at DHS, has boldly agreed to join the proceeding. DHS rules prohibit him from commenting directly on the book, but he will presumably defend his department and discuss how it considers policies’ cost and benefits, or what it calls risk management.

That all sounds very wonky, I know. Here is why the book and forum should interest those not particularly concerned with homeland security or risk analysis: the book calls a bluff. One of the great myths about U.S. national security is that it aims to maximize safety. Almost everyone speaks about security as if this were so.

The truth is instead that every security policy, indeed every government policy, is a choice among risks. Most policies aim to mitigate risk in some way and by expending resources expose us to other risks. Our policy preferences and ideologies are largely beliefs about which risks to combat socially and which to leave to individuals, or least how much attention we should pay to competing risks. Our society, it turns out, is willing to pay far more to save lives from terrorism than most other dangers. That is, we value lives lost from it far more highly than those lost in other ways. We trade small gains in protection from terrorists for substantial losses in our ability to combat other troubles.

By asking what U.S. homeland security would look like it if truly aimed to maximize safety against all dangers, Mueller and Stewart’s book makes plain that we have chosen to do otherwise. People that disagree about the merit of that choice should agree at least that it is one we should make openly. Democracies make better choices when they perceive them.