Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

NRA Shoots Itself in the Foot

I previously blogged about the NRA’s misbegotten motion, which the Supreme Court granted, to carve 10 minutes of oral argument time away from the petitioners in McDonald v. Chicago.  Essentially, there was no discernable reason for the motion other than to ensure that the NRA could claim some credit for the eventual victory, and thus boost its fundraising.

Well, having argued that petitioners’ counsel Alan Gura insufficiently covered the argument that the Second Amendment should be “incorporated” against the states via the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, the NRA has now filed a brief that fails even to reference the four biggest cases regarding incorporation and substantive due process.  That is, the NRA reply brief contains no mention of Washington v. Glucksberg (1997), Benton v. Maryland (1969), Duncan v. Louisiana (1968), or Palko v. Connecticut (1937).  (The NRA did cite those cases in its opening brief.)  What is more, it also lacks a discussion of Judge O’Scannlain’s magisterial Ninth Circuit opinion in Nordyke v. King (2009), which the Supreme Court might as well cut and paste regardless of which constitutional provision it uses to extend the right to keep and bear arms to the states!

I should add that the petitioners’ reply brief does cite all of those aforementioned cases (as well as the “Keeping Pandora’s Box Sealed” law review article I co-authored with Josh Blackman).  I leave it to the reader to determine whether it is Alan Gura or the NRA who is better positioned to argue substantive due process – or any other part of the McDonald case.

For more on the rift between the McDonald petitioners and the NRA, see this story in today’s Washington Post (in which I’m quoted, full disclosure, after a lengthy interview I gave the reporter last week).

(Full disclosure again: Alan Gura is a friend of mine and of Cato, and I suppose I should also say that I’ve participated in NRA-sponsored events in the past.)

Law Students: Use Your Deferment to Work for Liberty!

Many law firms continue to ask their incoming first-year associates to defer their start dates (from a few months to a full year) and are offering stipends to these deferred associates to work at public interest organizations. The Cato Institute has been running a successful deferred associates program and we always consider applications on a rolling basis.

We invite third-year law students and others facing firm deferrals to apply to work at our Center for Constitutional Studies. This is an opportunity to assist projects ranging from Supreme Court amicus briefs to policy papers to the Cato Supreme Court Review. Start and end dates are flexible. Interested students and recent graduates should email a cover letter, resume, transcript, and writing sample, along with any specific details of their deferment (timing, availability of stipend, etc.) to Jonathan Blanks at jblanks [at] cato.org.

Please feel free to pass the above information to your friends and colleagues. For information on Cato’s programs for non-graduating students, contact Joey Coon at jcoon [at] cato.org (.)

Holder on the Hot Seat

Today Politico Arena asks:

Terror suspects: Eric Holder’s defense (nothing new here)–agree or disagree?

My response:

There’s no question that after the killings in Little Rock and Fort Hood, the decision to try the KSM five in a civilian court in downtown Manhattan, and the Christmas Day bombing attempt (the government’s before and after behavior alike), the Obama-Holder “law-enforcement” approach to terrorism is under serious bipartisan scrutiny.  And Holder’s letter yesterday to his critics on the Hill isn’t likely to assuage them, not least because it essentially ignores issues brought out in the January 20 hearings before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, like the government’s failure to have its promised High-Value Interrogation Group (HIG) in place.
 
Nor are the administration’s repeated efforts to justify itself by saying it’s doing only what the Bush administration did likely to persuade.  In the aftermath of 9/11, and in the teeth of manifold legal challenges, the Bush administration hardly developed a systematic or consistent approach to terrorism.  Much thought has been given to the subject since 9/11, of course, and it’s shown the subject to be anything but simple.  Nevertheless, if anything is clear, it is that if we are in a war on terror (or in a war against Islamic terrorists), as Obama has finally acknowledged, then the main object in that war ought not to be ”to bring terrorists to justice” through after-the-fact prosecutions – the law-enforcement approach – but to prevent terrorist attacks before they happen, which means that intelligence gathering should be the main object of this war.  And that, precisely, is what the obsession with Mirandizing, lawyering up, and prosecuting seems to treat as of secondary importance.  Intelligence is our first line of defense – and should be our first priority.

Socialists Shouldn’t Have to Admit Libertarians Into Their Club

Hastings College of the Law, a public law school in California, has a policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disabilities, age, sex or sexual orientation.” In 2004, the Christian Legal Society, a religious student organization at the school, applied to become a “recognized student organization” – a designation that would have allowed CLS to receive a variety of benefits afforded to about 60 other Hastings groups. While all are welcome to attend CLS meetings, CLS’s charter requires that its officers and voting members abide by key tenets of the Christian faith and comport themselves in ways consistent with its fundamental mission, which includes a prohibition on “unrepentant” sexual conduct outside of marriage between one man and one woman.

Hastings denied CLS registration on the asserted ground that this charter conflicts with the school’s nondiscrimination policy. CLS sued Hastings, asking for no different treatment than is given to any registered student group. The district court granted Hastings summary judgment and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether Hastings’s refusal to grant CLS access to student organization benefits amounted to viewpoint discrimination, which is impermissible under the First Amendment.

Yesterday Cato filed an amicus brief supporting CLS – authored by preeminent legal scholar Richard Epstein – in which we argue that CLS’s right to intimate and expressive association trump any purported state interest in enforcing a school nondiscrimination policy. While Hastings may impose reasonable restrictions on access to limited public forums, it should not be allowed to admit speakers with one point of view while excluding speakers who hold different views. Our brief also discredits Hastings’s assertion that its ability to exclude the public at large from school premises renders their content-based speech restrictions constitutional.

We urge the Court to safeguard public university students’ right to form groups – which by definition exclude people – free from government interference or censorship.  (Of course, our first choice would be for the government to get out of the university business and our second choice would be to stop forcing taxpayers to pay for student clubs, but given those two realities – as in the case at hand – freedom of association is the way to go.)

Liberty, Even for People You Don’t Like

In a conversation about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council admitted that he wants to re-criminalize sodomy:

…which is easy for him to say, of course, because he’s unlikely to be affected by the law. As someone who is likely to be affected by the law, I’m tempted to criminalize Peter Sprigg. Liberty is never more negotiable than when it’s liberty for someone you don’t like.

What is it that I don’t like? I don’t like putting people in cages. Whenever we can reasonably avoid it, we should. Liberty means liberty even for people we think are weird, or disgusting, or immoral – provided that they do not hurt us or our own legitimate interests. Lawrence v. Texas, for which the Cato Institute filed an amicus brief, is one of the most important expressions of this idea in our time.

Once liberty applies only to the things that we like, we have abandoned the true idea of liberty entirely. From that point on, you and I, as enforcers, must cling ever more tightly to arbitrary power. If we don’t, then someone else may come along, take that power, and criminalize us. A free society leaves the misfits alone, because sooner or later, everyone is a misfit, in some way or another.

Look Who’s Talking Now

Today Politico Arena asks:

Should officials be talking about the Christmas-day bomber talking and what does it prove?

My response:

Amid growing bipartisan criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the Christmas Day bombing, the Manhattan KSM trial, and much else in its approach to terrorism, it’s pretty clear that the White House put out the news last evening that Abdulmutallab is now talking simply to quiet that criticism.  After all, that’s a story only because Abdulmutallab had not been talking.  And why wasn’t he talking?  Because shortly after he was arrested and briefly questioned by agents with no terrorism-related expertise, he was Mirandized and lawyered up, like any common criminal – consistent with the Obama administration’s law-enforcement approach to terrorism.  And so he clammed up – and we were now put in the unseemly position of having to bargain with him to get intelligence.  If this issue were not so serious, you’d have to call the Obama-Holder operation the Keystone Cops.

When Individuals Form Corporations, They Don’t Lose Their Rights

The blogosphere has been abuzz on the heels of the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United opinion.  Hysteric criticisms of the speculative changes to our political landscape aside – including the President’s misstatements in the State of the Union – one of the most common and oft-repeated criticisms is that the Constitution does not protect corporations. Several “reform” groups have even drafted and circulated constitutional amendments to address this concern.

This line of attack demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of both the nature of corporations and the freedoms protected by the Constitution, which is exemplified by the facile charge that “corporations aren’t human beings.”

Well of course they aren’t — but that’s constitutionally irrelevant:  Corporations aren’t “real people” in the sense that the Constitution’s protection of sexual privacy or prohibition on slavery make no sense in this context, but that doesn’t mean that corporate entities also lack, say, Fourth Amendment rights.  Or would the “no rights for corporations” crowd be okay with the police storming their employers’ offices and carting off their (employer-owned) computers for no particular reason? — or to chill criticism of some government policy. 

Or how about Fifth Amendment rights?  Can the mayor of New York exercise eminent domain over Rockefeller Center by fiat and without compensation if he decides he’d like to move his office there?

So corporations have to have some constitutional rights or nobody would form them in the first place.  The reason they have these rights isn’t because they’re “legal” persons, however – though much of the doctrine builds on that technical point – but instead because corporations are merely one of the ways in which rights-bearing individuals associate to better engage in a whole host of constitutionally protected activity.

That is, the Constitution protects these groups of rights-bearing individuals. The proposition that only human beings, standing alone, with no group affiliation whatsoever, are entitled to First Amendment protection – that “real people” lose some of their rights when they join together in groups of two or ten or fifty or 100,000 – is legally baseless and has no grounding in the Constitution. George Mason law professor Ilya Somin, also a Cato adjunct scholar, discusses this point here.

In any event, as Chief Justice Roberts said in his Citizens United concurrence: “The First Amendment protects more than just the individual on a soapbox and the lonely pamphleteer.” Justice Scalia makes the same point, explaining that the text of the Constitution “makes no distinction between types of speakers.” The New York Times isn’t “an individual American” but its speech is still protected under the First Amendment (regardless of any exemption for “media corporations” – whatever those are in a world where conglomerates own interests not limited to media, not to mention the advent of blogs and other “new” media).

A related line of attack is that individuals acting through corporations should be denied their freedom of speech because corporations are “state-created entities.” The theory goes that if a state has the power to create corporations, then it has the power to define those entities’ rights. Somin rebuts the weakness of this argument here, correctly pointing out that nearly every newspaper and political journal in the country is a corporation.

In short, the contention that the First Amendment does not protect corporations ignores the fact that there is no constitutional difference between individuals and groups of individuals, however organized.  Still, I give credit to the groups who are proposing constitutional amendments that would limit corporate rights: at least they recognize that, after Citizens United, there is no basis upon which to argue that the First Amendment does not protect corporate political speech.  The Free Speech Clause, after all, is blind as to the nature of the speaker.

For further concise refutations of the basic arguments against Citizens United, see here (points 3-6 address issues relating to corporations and their rights).