Tag: libertarian center

Is There a Libertarian Center at the Supreme Court?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about “The Supreme Court’s Libertarian Moment,” perhaps mostly though not entirely from Ilya Shapiro. A detailed analysis of the 2013-14 Supreme Court term in the Washington Post provides some evidence for that, if you read to the very end. In an article on the rising number of unanimous decisions this term, Robert Barnes notes at the end:

Criminal cases are often ones where the lines between the court’s liberal and conservative wings are blurred.

“There’s been a lot of talk in progressive circles about how you want to avoid taking cases to this particular Supreme Court,” said Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel with the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center. “One of the areas we’ve seen the Roberts court taking what might be called liberal positions are areas where there are a liberal-libertarian alliance.” [A point that two of her colleagues had made at length in the Post a few days earlier.]

Noel Francisco, a Washington lawyer and former Scalia clerk who represented challengers in the recess appointments case, said there is the same gravitation on the right.

“I think one of the most interesting phenomenon we’ve seen on the court over the last 30 or 40 years is what I would call the evolution of the conservative instinct,” Francisco said. It no longer means “a thumb on the scale for the government.”

Roger Pilon explored the revival of libertarian legal thought in the Chapman Law Review last year.

Is America a ‘Center-Libertarian Nation’?

Los Angeles Times columnist James Rainey writes:

Many debates have broken out about the meaning of last week’s election, including over whether conservatives should still push their claim that America is a “center-right nation.”…

After 32 straight losses for same-sex wedding laws, four states approved marriage-equality proposals last week. Two other states legalized marijuana for recreational purposes….

But Americans appear to remain more receptive to conservative viewpoints on spending, debt and the size of government. A bare majority, 51%, of voters last Tuesday told exit pollsters that government should do less, with 43% saying it should do more….

A more precise verdict would be that the majority of the country remains slightly right of center when it comes to supporting lower spending, decreased debt and smaller government.  But America appears to have shifted left of center in allowing more liberal policies on drugs and the institution of marriage. So, left on social issues and right on economics. If you eliminated the desire to tax the rich, it would sound like we had a center-libertarian nation.

Good points! And of course reminiscent of arguments we’ve made here at Cato, including Brink Lindsey’s “libertarian center” and of course the work David Kirby and I have done on “the libertarian vote,” now available in a convenient ebook.

Rand Paul and Me in the Wall Street Journal

I’ve gotten some questions about these paragraphs in today’s Wall Street Journal (slightly shorter in the print version):

David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute, said that in many ways Americans are freer now than they were in any pre-1937 libertarian Halcyon day. Women and black citizens can vote, work and own property. “Micro-regulations” that existed before the Supreme Court shift, which controlled trucking, civil aviation and other private pursuits, are gone.

“Sometimes he talks the way libertarians talk in political seminars,” Mr. Boaz said of Mr. Paul. “There are not really many people who want to reverse Wickard, but there are many professors who could make a good case for it.”

Whenever a reporter takes a few sentences from an interview, some context is going to be lost. These quotations are accurate, but let me add some context. For a discussion of my view that we have not in fact followed a road to serfdom from a libertarian golden age, check out these blog posts and articles, as well as my book The Politics of Freedom.

When I said that Rand Paul “talks the way libertarians talk in political seminars” – and I should have said “philosophy seminars” – I was trying to make a distinction between the kinds of ideas that are commonly debated in classrooms and think tank seminars and those that are relevant to any particular political campaign. And my statement that there aren’t “many people who want to reverse Wickard” was in the context of a discussion about the tens of millions of Americans who believe in less government and more freedom, as noted here and here and here and, classically, here. I made the point that there were two great libertarian shifts in American politics and culture in my lifetime, the cultural/civil rights/women’s revolution of the Sixties and the entrepreneurial/economic/taxcutting revolution of the Eighties, and few people want to return either to the cultural strictures of the 1950s or the tax rates of the 1970s.  And in that sense there’s a broadly libertarian center in American politics, and some of those people reacted against the excessive social conservatism (not to mention the over-spending and the endless wars) of the Bush Republicans in 2008, and are now reacting against the excessive statism of the Obama administration. But of course they’re not all as libertarian as I am, and not many normal people would recognize the term “Wickard v. Filburn,” much less call for its reversal. (On the other hand, pollsters should try asking voters, “Do you think the federal government should be able to tell a farmer what crops he can grow on his own farm for his own use?” I’ll bet more people would side with Rand Paul than with, say, the New York Times.) When Rand Paul gets back to talking about bailouts, deficits, debt, and Obamacare, he’s going to be appealing to many of those voters. And if his opponent accuses him of supporting medical marijuana, he’ll find that 81 percent of Americans agree. Sixty percent of Americans oppose federal mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes, as Rand Paul does. Paul has every likelihood of appealing to a broad swath of Americans who are broadly libertarian.