Michael Toth

Michael Toth is Senior Counsel for Special Litigation in the Office of the Attorney General of Texas. This commentary is the author's only, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Attorney General of Texas or the Office of the Attorney General.

State Attorneys General Didn’t Start the Fire

The American form of government, in the classic formulation of Justice Salmon Chase, contemplates “an indestructible Union composed of indestructible States.”[1] The Constitution, apart from assigning specific functions to the federal government, and prohibiting the states from exercising certain powers, largely leaves the determination of public policy to the 50 states. As numerous jurists, statesmen, and political commentators have noted, the Union presupposes the inherent right of the states to self-government. To be sure, the never-ending quest to find a federal/state equilibrium has engendered many debates and controversies. In his Liberty Forum essay, Professor Nolette asserts that state attorneys general have…

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They’re Not the Main Culprit

State attorneys general aren’t ruining federalism. It was already ruined, as Michael Greve’s 2012 classic The Upside Down Constitution chronicles. It is tempting to blame them, given how badly many state attorneys general behave. Some use their office to enrich themselves or their lawyer pals, or to pursue vendettas against adversaries. The attorney general of Pennsylvania,…

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Federalism and State Attorneys General

There are many challenges in designing a federalist system of government. Perhaps the most daunting is how to create incentives for government officials to preserve a regime of state-by-state decisionmaking—especially when constituent pressures, partisan allegiance, or ideological beliefs tug in other directions. The U.S. Constitution tries to preserve state prerogatives by enumerating the powers of the…

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State Attorneys General Remain Unsteady Allies for Federalism

My thanks to Hans Bader, Michael Toth, and Jonathan F. Mitchell for their thoughtful responses to my essay concerning state attorneys general (AGs) and contemporary American federalism. Each raises good points about the AGs’ various roles in the era of executive federalism that has rapidly expanded during the Obama years. As all three authors note,…

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Public Servants and the Future of Reform: Michael Toth Responds

The state of Illinois, according to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, is headed for a “pension doomsday.” So are other states. Across the country, unionized governments are a halfway house to nosebleed long-term pension and healthcare costs, giving politicians a Hobson’s choice. They can renege on existing collective bargaining agreements, hike taxes, or pare back social services. Interestingly, neither my Liberty Forum essay nor the responses to me focused on the fiscal train wreck aspect. This was most likely a subconscious choice on the part of the contributors, myself included, to leave aside the nuts and bolts of public finance and concentrate…

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Is It Curtains for Mandatory Public Sector Union Dues?

MADISON, WI - MARCH 12:  Thousands of demonstrators protest outside the Wisconsin State Capitol March 12, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. Organizers were expecting 200 thousand participants to attend the rally to voice their opposition to Governor Scott Walker public sector union reforms.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

In America’s experiment with unionized government, 2005 was a watershed year. California was then in the second year of the Age of Arnold. Elected on a pledge to put the Golden State’s dysfunctional fiscal house in order, Governor Schwarzenegger terminated the car tax on his first day in office. In his first year, the Republican and self-proclaimed Milton Friedman devotee successfully championed a balanced budget initiative and legislation putting a lid on spiraling worker-compensation costs. His prime time address at the 2004 GOP convention portrayed the Republican Party as dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and to “getting government off your…

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Clawing Back the Right of Free Speech

Many say the Roberts Court has been exceptionally supportive of First Amendment principles. As Michael Toth ably details in his Liberty Forum essay, these principles have been at issue in two recent cases, Knox v. SEIU Local 1000 (2012) and Harris v. Quinn (2014). Both dealt with public employee unions and both were decided in…

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Time to Drive a Stake Through the Heart of Mandatory Dues

Let me start with a disclaimer. I was once a member of a union—albeit involuntarily. During college, I responded to Southwestern Bell’s ad for a part-time, 20-hour-a-week graveyard shift job designing Yellow Pages advertisements. I was offered the position, but was required to join the union as a condition of my employment. Had I been…

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“We Will Fight for a Fair Contract!”

Labour movement, workers union strike

Until recently, the public paid little attention to government-labor relations. The subject is technical and the action backstage. Government workers in most states and municipalities work under collective bargaining agreements, the details of which are negotiated by representatives of the employees and the public employer. Eyes glaze over at this point (or before).

Not so fast, writes political scientist Daniel DiSalvo in his definitive account of America’s 50-year experiment with unionized public employment. Meticulously weighing an array of empirical studies, and drawing from a cross-country collection of newsworthy anecdotes, Government Against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequences concludes that public sector unions have transformed state and local politics, and mainly for the worse.

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“Competition Is for Losers”

Miniature soldiers are fighting on the desk

It was supposed to make consumers happy. Last month, Target launched a line of clothes designed by Lilly Pulitzer. Within hours, however, things turned ugly. Customers flooded the stores and cleared the shelves. The story online was the same, a torrent of early sales caused Target’s website to crash and supplies to vanish. Shoppers who came up empty-handed fumed when Target announced that it would not restock the clothing line. The anger only increased when items from the limited-edition collection began popping up on eBay for several times the prices they were offered at Target.

Who would have guessed, the media wondered that the designer of preppy resort wear could cause so much trouble?

René Girard, for one.

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Is the Republic Lost?

Money keep silent

When the delegates were departing the Constitutional Convention, a woman stopped Benjamin Franklin outside Independence Hall and asked the Pennsylvania delegate, “Well, Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Political journalist Jay Cost believes we didn’t. His new book, A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption, is a highly informative and at times deeply dispiriting account of how we failed Franklin’s challenge.

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