Showing posts from 2023

How Vacuousness on "Serious Issues" Takes Over the US Political Discussion

In a column last Tuesday, I indulged in a brief digression about an interview of Matt Gaetz, the Florida congressman who is currently leading the effort to shut down the federal government.  I could have noted there that Gaetz's escape from being indicted for sex trafficking (involving at least one minor) seems to derive from his history of hanging out with people who are so sleazy that they would make bad witnesses against him at trial (and who he, of course, now trashes for being in prison).  I could have done that, but there were too many other issues to talk about. The least sensationalistic of those other issues, which was relevant to the central point of my column, was Gaetz's attempt to sound like a sober-minded adult in the interview by decrying the national debt.  I wrote that, "when it came to saying anything at all about actual policy matters (as opposed to intra-party squabbling), he ritualistically invoked the national debt as a reason to criticize Democ

Wishes and Hopes: Top Ten Ways to Improve The Supreme Court of the United States

Next Monday, the Supreme Court starts its 2023-24 term amidst more than the usual share of controversy surrounding the justices. The public seems to strongly  disapprove of the Court's landmark abortion  decision that returned the issue completely to the political process. Moreover, just about every week there is new reporting about Justice Thomas's wildly inappropriate billionaire-paid lavish lifestyle, Justice Alito being Alito (publicly obnoxious and wrong), or one of the other justices trying unsuccessfully to defend the institution against charges of partisanship. The justices' approval rating is at an all-time low .  There are ethics, recusal, and term limit bills pending in congressional committees but the odds are low they will make it through both Houses, especially given the Senate filibuster and the GOP -controlled House of Representatives in an era where the GOP also controls the Court. Nevertheless, these days in America wishes and hopes are possibly our last,

Compassion Versus Incentives: Iranian Hostages, Venezuelan Migrants, and Russian Aggressors

Here's a familiar proposition: We don't negotiate with hostage takers, lest we thereby incentivize more hostage taking. Most repeat players--including sovereign nations like the United States--purport to follow this policy in various contexts, but it is difficult to maintain in practice. There is inevitably a humanitarian urge and often political pressure to do what is necessary to secure the release of hostages. Sometimes one can say--as the U.S. government has been saying with respect to the recent release of five Americans who were being unlawfully detained by Iran--that the agreement won't actually create dangerous incentives. In the most recent instance, the Biden administration has combated claims by critics who say it gave Iran billions of dollars in exchange for hostages by noting that the money had been earned lawfully by Iran through sanctions-exempt sales of oil to South Korea . That's technically true. It's also probably true that the five Iranians relea

Mocking a Stammerer: Their Nonstop Ugliness Makes It Difficult Even to Keep Track of Republicans' Sneering Cruelty

A new article in The New Yorker by Susan B. Glasser appears under this headline: " The Rage of the Toddler Caucus on Capitol Hill ."  Focusing on the dysfunction among House Republicans in the immediate moment -- an incomprehensible mess that threatens the rather weighty consequence of another Republican-led government shutdown -- Glasser adds to the plentiful political literature likening Republican politicians to children at various stages prior to full and healthy adulthood. We (and here I do include myself, without question) regularly describe Republicans as mean girls, high school bullies, infants, kindergartners, and so on.  Often, as with Glasser's piece, the idea is to call out Republicans with the simple truth, which is that they are not acting like adults.  Along those lines, yesterday's event staged by the House Judiciary Committee's Republicans, where they strutted their vacuous stuff by loudly and repeatedly insulting Attorney General Merrick Garla

The Co-Authored Article I'll Present at the Symposium in Honor of Sherry Colb

As I have previously noted, next Friday, September 29, Rutgers School of Law in Newark will host a symposium co-sponsored by the Cornell Law Review and honoring the life and work of Sherry Colb. On behalf of myself and the other members of the organizing committee, I'm happy to say that we have a good-sized audience registered, but I have also heard from various of Sherry's former students, colleagues, and admirers who have said that they plan to attend but haven't yet registered. By the end of the week, we need to give final numbers to the caterer (for the free food throughout the day -- vegan, of course), so I would much appreciate if you plan to attend but have not yet register, please do so here . It's free. If you want CLE credit, you can get that (for a modest administration fee with a discount for public interest lawyers) by  registering for CLE credit here . All of that info is easily accessible via the tabs on the symposium webpage . We also have a terrific sch

Breaking News on the Federal Debt: 33 is a Bigger Number than Any Smaller Number!!

Today's New York Times includes a news article under this actual (that is, not a parody) headline: " U.S. National Debt Tops $33 Trillion for First Time ."  Why would anyone suspect that that might in fact be a parody?  Because it means nothing to announce that federal debt has exceeded a number for the first time , any more than it would make sense to say breathlessly that we are all older right now than we were yesterday.  Time passes, the US economy grows to a new level of GDP "for the first time," the population and the work force grow to levels that we are only seeing "for the first time," even low levels of inflation lead to price levels that we are only seeing "for the first time," and on and on.  That is how upward trends -- most definitely including sustainable upward trends -- work. To readers who are having a sense of deja vu : No, it is not in your mind.  Last October, I wrote a two - part Verdict column and a complementary Dor

The Supreme Court and Immeasurable Interests

Among the more peculiar moves the Supreme Court has made in recent high profile decisions is its rejection of interests that, while real, are difficult to measure.  In Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College , Harvard and UNC identified the educational benefits of diversity, including (among others) training future leaders, preparing graduates to adapt to an increasingly pluralistic society, and enhancing cross-racial understanding.  These may be "commendable goals," the Chief Justice wrote, but they were "not sufficiently coherent for purposes of strict scrutiny."  How, the Court asked, should courts "measure any of these goals"?   Likewise, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization , the Court discounted women's reliance interests because they were too intangible.  In upholding the right to abortion, the Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey had followed Roe v. Wade because "people [had] organized inti

The Difficult Legal and Political Questions Surrounding Trump's Disqualification Under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment

Voters in Colorado and Minnesota have filed lawsuits to keep Donald Trump off the ballot in 2024 because he allegedly engaged in conduct that violates Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. Additionally, two teams of two law professors each (all on the right) have written a total of 252 pages on the original meaning of the text of Section 3 and whether that meaning disqualifies Trump. According to Will Baude and Michael Paulsen, the evidence points unmistakably to the conclusion that Trump is already  disqualified under Section 3, though once he is refused eligibility on a ballot he may challenge that finding in court. Josh Blackman and Seth Tillman, however, believe Baude and Paulsen make numerous mistakes on their way to their conclusions and that their article "tells only one side of a complex story."  Section 3 says the following: No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, un

John Eastman's "I'm Just a Mainstream Constitutional Lawyer" Defense

Whether and when John Eastman faces a jury of his peers in Georgia for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 Presidential election remain to be seen, but his first trial is already underway in California, where the issue is whether he will be disbarred. Eastman is trying to persuade the judge that in promoting the plan for Vice President Pence to disqualify slates of Biden electors and give the election to Trump he was just engaging in mainstream constitutional lawyering. To make that point, Eastman has relied on testimony from Berkeley Law Professor John Yoo. That might seem an odd choice, given that Professor Yoo isn't himself all that mainstream. If you had your choice of constitutional law professors to testify on your behalf that you're not an authoritarian kook, you probably would want to pick a constitutional law professor whose classes aren't picketed by people clad in orange jumpsuits decrying him as a war criminal . But what Professor Yoo lacks in mainst

Chris Christie is (Still) an Unserious Person

Chris Christie, who was once the governor of a big-ish state and who failed to seize his "moment" to run for President in 2012 (only to fail miserably in 2016), is running for President in 2024.  Or is he?  The consensus among political junkies seems to be that Christie knows that he is not truly in the running for President, but unlike the other also-ran candidates , he is also not running for Vice President or to serve in a future Trump Administration. What is Christie doing?  The most plausible theory is that he is going through the motions of running for President as a way to stop Donald Trump from having any chance at setting up a (surely corrupt) future Administration.  By being in the spotlight and seizing every opportunity to criticize Trump relentlessly -- and accurately -- Christie is doing more damage as a declared candidate than he could do without formally running for President. If that theory is correct (and I no longer think it is, as I explain below), Christi