Greg Weiner

Greg Weiner, who teaches political science at Assumption College, is the author of Madison’s Metronome: The Constitution, Majority Rule and the Tempo of American Politics. His book American Burke: The Uncommon Liberalism of Daniel Patrick Moynihan will be published by University Press of Kansas in early 2015.

Abolish the State of the Union Address  

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The enigma, and perhaps impetus, of swelling executive power is that when constitutionally asserted, the presidency is shrinking. Witness the White House’s apparent intent to use the State of the Union address to propose that—wait for it—Congress enact national standards regarding how quickly companies must inform customers of data breaches.

Now, hacking is bad and reporting it is good. But it is also time—and the constitutional conservative should reach this conclusion with due reluctance—to abolish the State of the Union address, whose most pernicious effect is its political imperative for the President to propose as many new ideas as possible, regardless of the need for them, while Congress occupies a supine posture of reaction.

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What’s the Matter with Kansas?

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A Kansas court has just ruled that it would be unconstitutional under that state’s founding document to spend $548 million on police, infrastructure, health care or welfare. The court’s ruling does not explicitly disclose this, of course, nor will the judges on the panel admit it. But this is what happens when judges, who reside in a magical, apolitical world shorn of scarcity and therefore tradeoffs, mandate hundreds of millions of dollars in new education spending: The money comes from someplace else.

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Torturing Prudence

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The knock on the CIA is that its interrogation program, exposed as ineffective and abusive in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s recent report, was lawless. But the agency’s worst excesses may have resulted from the attempt to be excessively lawful.

Such a paradox can only come about when what Edmund Burke called “the first of all virtues, prudence,” has fled the scene. The Intelligence Committee’s voluminous report (even its summary is 525 pages long) is an in-depth account of that decline.

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Deconstructing the Grand Jury

grand juryThe tragedy that is Ferguson now distills to this: To vindicate the civil rights of one man, Michael Brown, that were allegedly violated, the civil rights of another, Darren Wilson, should have been definitely infringed.

To be sure, despite its apparent justification, there is little to celebrate in the decision not to indict Officer Wilson. Whether his actions were warranted has probably forever vanished into a fog of mixed evidence and ambiguous testimony. The profound culture of mistrust between African-Americans and police in Ferguson—as elsewhere—reflects a deep and continuing racial divide that cannot be wished or refuted away. Frustrations so deep generally do not arise from nothing.

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When Deference Is Dereliction

Section 3331 of the United States Code prescribes the oath of office for the House of Representatives. Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) has taken it 11 times, which is enough to commit to memory its opening pledge—to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; [to] bear truth faith and allegiance to the same.” Anyone who promises to do the same thing 11 times can probably find a shortcut, and Clyburn has evidently identified one: outsourcing constitutional protection to another branch of government.

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The Constitutional Mandate of 2014

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The political puritans who control most editorial boards will doubtless mourn the tragically short life of the ardently sought détente between the White House and the ascendant Republicans in Congress. The good-government words were trotted out the day after the election—cooperation; grease the Capitol’s rusted legislative skids; we can hold hands to pass legislation and sing folk songs while we do—only to collapse under the President’s threat of unilateral action on immigration. Good. The good-government shtick—let us, said the President, “explore where we can make progress”; Mitch McConnell chimed in that “maybe there are things we can agree on to make progress for the country”—was nonsense to begin with.

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A Sanctions Shell Game

There “is a role for Congress,” says a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council, “in our Iran policy.” This is big of her, seeing as how “our” Iran policy consists largely of sanctions imposed by the legislative authority of Congress. A great deal hangs on the spokeswoman’s cavalier use of the word “our.” The suggestion is that the nation’s disposition toward other nations is a constitutional plaything, belonging solely to “us,” which is to say to the executive, and to be shared at “our” discretion. Imagine a comparable audacity—or is it to be called magnanimity?—from a congressional spokesperson: “There…

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Halbig and the Nonchalance of Six Small Words

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The psychology of legislative draftsmanship involved in the six words at stake in Halbig v. Burwell—“an exchange established by the State”—reflects a short-odds gamble that did not hit. The bettors first wanted the IRS to rescue them from the consequences, and now they want the courts to do it.

The gamble was that states, enticed by subsidies for their citizens or intimidated by the threat of losing Medicaid funds, would establish healthcare exchanges. The Obama administration is surely right that the whole idea of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was that such subsidies be provided, and that the consequences that have ensued from those six small words were probably unintended.

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Corporate Conscripts

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The syllogism used to run as follows.

The state should provide good things. X is a good thing. Therefore, the state should provide X. This is fraught with problems, to be sure—but it is also clear, debatable and honest. Now, on November’s ballots, comes the purportedly market-oriented version, which, debauching the name of Adam Smith, reframes it as follows: The state should guarantee good things. X is a good thing. Therefore, the public sector should compel the private sector to provide X. This is opaque, indirect and pernicious.

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