Author: Gerard Magliocca

14

Halbig and Originalism

One criticism of originalism in constitutional law is that we cannot always determine with reasonable certainty what the Framers of the 1787 Constitution, the Bill of Rights, or the Fourteenth Amendment intended or what the public understood those provisions to mean.  Nonsense, say defenders of originalism.  There is plenty of evidence on what the Constitution meant, and even where there is less we can still pull enough together to give courts guidance.

Halbig pokes a hole in this argument.  At issue is a major provision in the most visible statute passed by Congress in years (if not decades).  And we cannot agree what that provision was trying to accomplish just four years after it was enacted.  Did Congress use subsidies to give states an incentive to set up health insurance exchanges, or was that not the case?  Was there a drafting error, or was this intentional?  If that is unknowable, what are we supposed to do with ambiguous constitutional provisions ratified more than two centuries ago?

1

En Banc Review

The DC Circuit is considering a petition for rehearing en banc in Halbig (the Affordable Care Act case).  I have no opinion on what the Court should do, and I think that it’s silly for outsiders to advise judges on a discretionary matter.  (In other words, there is no “expertise” on whether to go en banc.)

I thought this would be a good opportunity, though, to reflect on how circuits differ with respect to en bancs.  Some have many and others have few.  Why is that?  One answer is that large circuits (I’m talking to you–Ninth) tend to go en banc more often.  In part this is because a panel is more likely to be unrepresentative of the court as a whole, and in part because large circuits are just less collegial because there are more judges who live further apart.  Another thought is that circuits that are badly split along ideological lines (I’m talking to you–Sixth) go en banc more often.

But there is also a distinctive culture that develops in each circuit about this issue.  The Second Circuit (where I clerked) has long had a strong aversion to going en banc.  (Indeed, the year that I clerked there were no en banc hearings.)  This practice is usually attributed to Learned Hand, who thought that en bancwere a waste of time and showed disrespect for the judges on the panel.  I think all of us would be interested to hear from former DC Circuit clerks about their thoughts on the norms there.

6

Some Textual Questions

I was rereading the Constitution the other day, and two things stuck out this time that I had not thought about before.

1.  Article I, Section 3 says “each senator shall have one Vote.”  But Article I never says that each Representative shall have one vote.  I wonder why.  Perhaps because the Senate was new, the Framers felt the need to clarify the role of a Senator.  Representatives, by contrast, were more familiar and thus everyone knew that each one would get one vote.

2.  When addressing impeachment, Article I, Section 3 also says that anyone removed from office shall “be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”  Does this mean that an indictment is a requirement?  In other words, if a state wanted to proceed by information against an impeached and removed official, can they do that?

9

Vice Presidential Proxy Voting

96px-Joe_Biden_official_portrait_cropThere have been a few stories recently speculating on how the Senate would function if the November elections resulted in a 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats.  The standard answer is that that Joe Biden would have to spend a lot more time on Capitol Hill to cast his tie-breaking vote.  While the practice has always been that a vice-president must cast his Senate vote in person, I wonder if that should be changed.

There are good reasons for not allowing proxy voting by House and Senate members.  You might think part of the duty of being a member is to show up and cast votes.  Verifying the accuracy of proxy votes could also be a problem, especially if an absent member is ill or in some remote place.  Likewise, permitting proxy voting might give party leaders more power than they already possess by effectively delegating votes to them.  (In this respect, you might say that voting in Congress is simply non-delegable.)

The Vice-President, though, is a different kettle of fish.  He isn’t really a member of the Senate.  He is only one person, so establishing the truth of his proxy should be easy.  He will always vote the Administration line, so there is no risk that the Senate Majority Leader will get more discretion as a result of the VPs proxy.   Moreover, the VP often needs to be elsewhere (on a diplomatic mission, in a national security council meeting), such that subjecting him to the whims of the Senate schedule could be a problem.  Why not let him vote by proxy?

I should add (on a related note) that a 50-50 Senate tie could expose the fact that there is no procedure in place to deal with an ill or incapacitated vice-president.  Suppose the VP has a stroke and cannot function for months.  Then all of the ties would be actual ties.  (Proxy voting would reduce but not eliminate this problem–no proxy could occur if the VP was in a coma.)  I do not believe that the Senate was equally divided during one of the periods (prior to the 25th Amendment) where we had no vice-president at all, but I’m not sure.

3

The Incorporation of the Seventh Amendment

Recently a federal district court held that the Seventh Amendment applies to that territory and to the states.  While I am uncertain if this will stand up on appeal (it’s not clear that the issue need even be reached in this case), I did want to offer two thoughts about the opinion.

First, it’s disappointing (though not that surprising) that the Court said nothing about Reconstruction in its analysis.  There is a lot of talk about the importance of the civil jury to the Framers, but none about how that right was seen by John Bingham and his colleagues when they ratified the Fourteenth Amendment.  What that evidence would show (beyond Bingham’s view that the Seventh Amendment should be incorporated) is one thing, but to ignore it is wrong.

Second, I am unclear about how incorporating the Seventh Amendment against the States would change civil practice.  (Puerto Rico has a more unusual constitution, so the impact would be greater there).  In other words, to what extent can you not get a civil jury trial in a state nowadays?  Granted, the Seventh Amendment’s outdated money threshold ($20) may wipe out higher amount-in-controversy requirements that states have, but otherwise would incorporation matter?  As an aside, why twenty dollars?  There must be a story there.

 

2

Magna Carta and Anti-Semitism

Many sacred constitutional texts have unfortunate provisions.  The Constitution countenanced slavery (while using euphemisms for the word).  The Declaration of Independence called Native Americans “merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.”  And the Act of Settlement of 1701 barred anyone who “shall profess the Popish Religion or shall marry a Papist” from the Crown.

Magna Carta’s embarrassment is its description of Jews.  One provision stated: “If anyone who has borrowed from the Jews any sum of money, great or small, dies before the debt has been paid, the heir shall pay no interest on the debt so long as he remains under age.”  Another added that “if any man dies indebted to the Jews, his wife shall have her dower and pay nothing of that debt.”  This latter provision adds that “[s]o shall it be done with regard to debts owed persons other than Jews,” which makes you wonder why Jews were singled out earlier.  At that time, the Church took a strong position against loaning money at interest, which in practice made Jews the only creditors, so Magna Carta could have just said “anyone who has borrowed money” or “if any man dies indebted” to achieve the same result.  I would be curious to hear more from medievalists or English legal historians on this point.

1

Article Submission Season

This is a very insiderish post, so feel free to skip if you want.

The law reviews are opening their submission window (I’m starting to send out), and I’m wondering if people find that getting papers accepted in the Fall is more difficult now than in the past.  More journals seem to fill up in the Spring, and I just have the sense that Fall is no longer a good time to send.  Law review editors–feel free to chime in.

0

Citizens United and Freedom of the Press

If you want to read a great article, then go look at Michael McConnell’s paper on Citizens United.  He offers a very convincing explanation of why the result is correct on a narrower constitutional ground than what the Court used. Here is the Abstract:

The central flaw in the analysis of Citizens United by both the majority and the dissent was to treat it as a free speech case rather than a free press case. The right of a group to write and disseminate a documentary film criticizing a candidate for public office falls within the core of the freedom of the press. It is not constitutional for the government to punish the dissemination of such a documentary by a media corporation, and it therefore follows that it cannot be constitutional to punish its dissemination by a non-media corporation like Citizens United unless the freedom of the press is confined to the institutional media. Precedent, history, and pragmatics all refute the idea that freedom of the press is so confined.

The result in Citizens United was therefore almost uncontrovertibly correct. No one disputes that corporations, such as the New York Times Company, can editorialize during an election, and other groups performing the press function have the same right, even if they are not part of the traditional news media industry. A holding based on the Press Clause, though, would not have implied any change in constitutional doctrine about campaign contributions, which are not an exercise of the freedom of the press.