Archive for March, 2010


Party Preferences in Healthcare

   Posted by: Robert    in News, Politics

A post today by Michelle Malkin brings to light an interesting provision of Obamacare which will apparently target funding at racial minorities.  As she details with a good deal of clarity, this would seem to be an invitation for generating illegal racial preferences in healthcare.  While this, itself, is not a violation of the Civil Rights Act (which Congress may modify or ignore at will), it may present a legal conundrum within the world of medicine.  It also reminded me of concerns that I expressed privately months ago about healthcare being used as a vehicle for political preferences; concerns which are now certainly credible enough to be worth active discussion.

While I do not recall when it first occurred to me, I have been concerned since sometime last summer about the possibility that the healthcare bill would eventually be used as a tool to leverage votes for Democrats.  The basic scenario works as follows: When healthcare rationing inevitably begins, funds will be directed preferentially toward states, counties, and cities which routinely vote Democrat.  The more insidious scenario looks a little bit different: Medical records will be paired, secretly or explicitly, with rolls of party affiliation, campaign contributions, and political activism, and those individuals who support Democrat candidates and policies will receive care more quickly and completely than individuals who are opposed.  However unlikely those scenarios seem, neither one is impossible, and the first appears to be already happening.

Regardless of which scenario ultimately plays out, the result is that voters will be placed into a voting system built from a framework of oppression.  While politicians are well known to offer money to favored constituencies, this becomes the first time in America’s history that politicians can literally begin to equate votes to matters of life and death.  Most voters would not find it a difficult choice to select between supporting some policy that they don’t like, or a politician that they would otherwise oppose, when the alternative is that they will not be able to receive a life saving cancer treatment in time.

No neutral observer could call trading votes for life anything other than false liberty.

Strangely, though, this potential avenue for abuse has been almost entirely absent from the debate over health care.  Throughout the entire debate, I can only recall having seen the question show up once, in a survey published by the RNC asking if voters were concerned “that the government could use voter registration to determine a person’s political affiliation, prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system.”  My vote, of course, would have been (and is) quite affirmative, especially as the full blown public option was still alive and well as a possibility in August when that survey was published.  The flash of furor, though, was apparently strong enough that the impotent GOP backpedaled, said that the question was “inartfully worded,” and tried to re-frame it as being about privacy rather than political gamesmanship.  With the GOP’s apology issued, the issue promptly disappeared from the debate.

But as we are already beginning to see, the GOP was right the first time.  Trading healthcare for votes is a serious issue about which Americans need to seriously engage.  Even liberals, who may think they’re safe with Obama in charge, should be scared of the potential for abuse.  Imagine, after all, if George W. Bush had been in charge of making your medical decisions; imagine the future of medicine under President Karl Rove.  Tying political support to medical treatment is far more dangerous than the financial quid pro quo that Americans have, unfortunately, gotten used to.

Perhaps Michelle discovering this first attempt will finally shed some light on a looming problem that should have been discussed months ago.

Tags: ,


Yes you can what?

   Posted by: Robert    in Uncategorized

In watching the House vote on healthcare this evening, I was struck rather profoundly by the fact that after the predictable cheering, the Democrat delegation broke out into a chant of “yes we can.” Perhaps I should have predicted that too, but it was a disgusting spectacle to watch as our elected politicians worked themselves into such a self-congratulatory frenzy. It is even more disturbing when you considered what they now proclaim they can do.

Most of the drama leading up to this vote comes from the fact that the American people did not want this bill to pass. If the people were on board, tonight’s vote would have been a mere formality; furthermore, it would have happened months ago. But the people stood up against the bill, some on principle, others formore specific reasons, but a clear majority did not want what happened tonight to occur. The people expressed their views in polls, by mail, by phone, by internet, and at the ballot box where a series of candidates did better than they should have had any reason to simply because they ran on conservative principles. Congress knew that the clear will of the people was that the bill must die.

So when they chant at us, “Yes we can,” what they are really chanting is that they can defy the will of the people, openly and in plain sight. They are saying that they can govern against us, not just against our will, but to our own detriment. They are loudly proclaiming that they can defile every principle the nation was built from, enshrined in the constitution, and cherished by everyone who believes in liberty.

I look forward to the coming election, where I expect the American people will have their own chance to be equally jovial in the streets. I look forward to 2012, when Obama will be thrown from office in disgrace. On these says of reckoning, the people will have their chance to take to the streets in and greet Washington with their own rallying cries:

“No, you can’t.” “Freedom reigns.”


Why Article 1, Section 7 isn’t the answer

   Posted by: Robert    in Law

As reluctant as I am to take issue with the well considered opinion of Mark Levin, I find myself doubting that the constitutional case against the Slaughter Rule is as open and shut as I have heard him and other conservative commentators describe.  While the procedure set forth in the Slaughter Rule of considering the Senate Bill to have been “deemed passed” is clearly contrary to the legal history and tradition of the country, and to the concept of democracy more generally, there is no particular command in Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution, or any other place within its text, that definitively rebuts the Slaughter Rule.

Article 1, section 7 of the Constitution states:

Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a law. But in all such cases the votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, and the names of the persons voting for and against the bill shall be entered on the journal of each House respectively. If any bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law, in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their adjournment prevent its return, in which case it shall not be a law.

Mark Levin and other commentators point out from that text two phrases of paramount importance.  The first is the first sentence which states that “Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States,” and the second comes in the middle of the paragraph to say that “in all such cases the votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and nays.”  From these two phrases, and with reference to Clinton v. City of New York, commentators have deemed it obvious that the Constitution requires actually voting on the bill to pass it.  Obvious and correct as this ought to be, it’s not actually what the Constitution says.

To begin again at the start of the paragraph, the clause introduces itself with the words “Every bill which shall have passed” (emphasis added).  Those words, right there, are in the past tense.  This paragraph, right from the start, is not talking about how to pass a bill; it is, rather, talking about how to take a passed bill and turn it into a law.  The remainder of the paragraph is consistent with the understanding that it applies to passed bills, rather than bills to be passed.  It first describes the presentment to the President, explains the process for handling a veto, including its override, and further explains what happens to bills that the President leaves sitting on his desk.  All of the things described by the paragraph are only possible on bills which both houses have finished with.  This paragraph, in other words, assumes that a bill has been passed somehow, but offers no command for how that passage must come about.

Reading on to the second interesting clause, the bill says that “the votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and nays” in “all such cases.”  The inclusion of the word “such” is clearly an invitation to examine the preceding context of that phrase and to limit its scope accordingly.  The preceding context is none other than the process for overriding a Presidential veto, meaning that what that sentence tells us is that vetos may be overridden only by yeas and nays, and that it is limited to that meaning by its own terms.  Had the word “such” been omitted, Levin would have a stronger position, although he would still have an uphill battle to defeat the obvious context in which that phrase was placed.

Ultimately, the strongest argument against the Slaughter Rule are originalist rather than textualist, and Clinton v. New York guides the way.  In that case, the Supreme Court held that laws can only be formed when (among other things) “a bill containing its exact text was approved by a majority of the Members of the House of Representatives.”  But even this language leaves open the argument that, because it takes a majority to adopt a rule, and the rule contains an approval of the bill, passing the rule is tantamount to a majority of Representatives approving the bill.  Regardless, it is clear that the Supreme Court has recognized that there is a traditional process for passing laws, which is a good sign.

I have little doubt that the founders would be astonished to learn that the Slaughter Rule is even being considered.  The English law traditions they inherited and the process the country has followed consistently ever since the founding is clear in that bills are passed with majority votes, not with parliamentary trickery.

If the Senate Bill should pass on the basis of the Slaughter Rule, I wish Mark Levin the best of luck in bringing his lawsuit and having the bill stricken in court.  There is no doubt that the proposed rule is an abuse of process and a direct assault on American tradition, perpetrated by politicians waging a war against the liberty of the American people.  I do believe, though, that it would be a mistake to rely on the text of the Constitution alone to defeat the Slaughter Rule.

Tags: ,


More Privileges and Immunities Confusion

   Posted by: Robert    in Law

As one would not doubt expect from today, the media has been abuzz with thoughts and comments related to this afternoon’s oral argument in the case of McDonald v. Chicago. Most of the reporting has managed to crystallize around two salient facts: The Supreme Court will incorporate the Second Amendment, but the won’t do it through Privileges and Immunities.

With respect to the first fact, no piece of reporting I’ve yet to see has managed any more than a statement of agreement or disagreement with that the Court is poised to do. I’ll join this silly straw poll: Incorporating the Second Amendment would be an activist decision; Incorporation ignores the original understanding of the scope of the amendment, it ignores the unique anti-federal-involvement-in-state-gun-laws purpose which motivated the amendment, and it has no basis in the Constitution’s text.

More interesting is the bizarre confusion about what’s at stake when it comes to the use of the Privileges and Immunities Clause for bringing about that incorporation.

Under the Court’s current precedent, the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment provides every tool that McDonald could ever need to bring about incorporation of the 2nd Amendment. It also contains a great many other things. Most of what the Due Process Clause is said to contain has been rightly criticized by conservatives as being impossible to support under any reasonable reading of the text of the amendment. The Due Process Clause has become, in essence, an open-ended clause which allows the Court to pretty much do whatever it wants.

Perhaps recognizing that they would eventually need to reconcile their appropriate disdain for “substantive due process” with their misplaced desire to allow the Court to make activist decisions which favor conservative policy preferences, there has been a push to breathe new life into the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment. Leading with a smear campaign against the Slaughterhouse Cases and culminating with today’s argument in McDonald, conservatives have certainly put up a good fight.

Despite an effort to promote the Privileges and Immunities Clause as being somehow more restrained than “substantive due process,” it was apparent that the justices saw at least partly through the charade. A parenthetical on SCOTUSblog tells the tale:

(In fact, when Gura near the end of the argument returned to the podium for his rebuttal, his time was used up by Justices Ginsburg and Anthony M. Kennedy exploring what other rights might come into being if the Court gave new life to the “privileges or immunities” clause. He responded that he could not provide a full list, to which Justice Scalia retorted: “Doesn’ t that trouble you?” It was obvious that it troubled the Court.)

A more appropriate question might have been, “Why does the Constitution need two open ended clauses?” Or perhaps, “What does anyone gain by replacing one open ended clause with another?”

And if, as Roger Pilon states over on Bench Memos, “[most 14th Amendment cases] should have been decided under the more substantive Privileges or Immunities Clause,” might not one be forgiven for wondering what the point is in promoting this distinction without a difference? When the Court can turn Due Process (among other things) into “emanations from penumbras” into a “right to privacy” into a right to abortion on demand, it seems unlikely that any amount of “history,” no matter how much “better [it] informed the Court,” would have done anything to have “better checked the Court’s occasional activism.” After all, activism happens when a court ignores the overwhelming weight of text and history to arrive at a preferred decision.

I continue to be disappointed that conservatives have generally failed to remain true to the principles of judicial restraint when it comes to carrying guns. As I said at the time, the Court in Heller got to the right conclusion — individual right, no flat ban on handguns — but did so in a terribly activist way with an opinion I would not have joined. In this case, however, I continue to believe that incorporation is nowhere to be found in the Constitution and that, while a respect for precedent may council against disicorporating the Bill of Rights, there is no reason to extend its impropriety beyond where it has already gone.

Tags: ,