Constitutional Change, Article V, and the Presidential Election

Recently, I did a podcast interview on Constitutional Amendments and the Presidential Election.  The interview, which was conducted by the National Constitutional Center, also featured David Strauss of the University of Chicago.  Jeff Rosen, the President of the National Constitution Center and a Professor at George Washington Law School, was the interviewer.

It was an interesting discussion, which focused both on the constitutional amendment process and the impact that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump might have on constitutional change if they were elected.

It was fun discussing these issues with David Strauss, because his views are so diametrically the opposite of mine.  Many nonoriginalists resist being described as living constitutionalists.  Strauss embraces it.  He takes the opposite position of mine on a whole range of specific issues, which follows from his more general approach.

Strauss believes two main things about constitutional change.  First, he claims that the actual practice of constitutional change occurs through judicial decisions and other governmental actions.  In fact, he believes that constitutional amendments are largely irrelevant.  Second, he believes that constitutional amendments are not generally a good way generally of changing the Constitution.  The way that is actually practiced – where judges follow a common law like system – is better.

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What Do These Two Think About the Office to Which They Aspire?

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Presidential debates neither are nor ought to be midterm exams. The people who administer midterms do not necessarily possess political wisdom (see “Wilson, Woodrow”), and the people who excel at taking them may be better at demonstrating technical detail than prudential judgment (see above). Thus questions that make a candidate stumble—and that can win the journalistic brass ring for the moderator, namely, instigating news—tend not to be as valuable as those that prompt reflection and reveal a mind at work.

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Loyalty and Liberal Constitutionalism

We The People - U.S. Constitution document and flag

I have returned to the mothership after a great trip to Worcester, Massachusetts earlier this week to speak at Assumption College for its Constitution Day event, albeit a few days after September 17th. The students and faculty at the event were excellent. I thought it worth mentioning that the students in attendance were fundamentally sound in mind and not overwhelmed with ideological convictions, which proved excellent for the talk I delivered. In short, there’s a solid liberal arts tradition at Assumption. And that’s all to the credit of the faculty. If you’re looking for an education in the Humanities for yourself or for a son or daughter, then I would urge considering Assumption. They also permitted me to indulge in a bit of an off-road lecture on Orestes Brownson’s case for political loyalty as the crucial underpinning of our constitutional order. Many thanks to Prof. Bernard Dobski, Chairman of the Political Science Department, for the invitation and to Brother Greg for a wonderful introduction. My talk is below:

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Deregulation Is Best for Competition, but Antitrust Can Be Second-Best

Over at our sister site, the Library of Economics and Liberty, David Henderson has a post taking some issue with my view that the Obama administration’s antitrust division should not have agreed to the US Airways/American Airlines merger. He argues that the better course is not to block the merger and instead to permit the building of more airport landing slots and allow foreign airlines to fly between U.S. cities.

I agree entirely with these deregulatory measures. Indeed in prior posts, I have called for some of them. But the soundness of such policy proposals does not advance the case for this merger. The Justice Department has no power to deregulate airport construction; such zoning is controlled by state and local authorities. Even foreign airline entry is controlled by another agency: the Department of Transportation. By law and competition theory, the Department should take the world as it finds it.

As a matter of law, the antitrust merger guidelines tell competition regulators to consider ease of entry as part of assessing whether an industry is too concentrated to permit a given merger. And these guidelines make sense. If entry is easy, concentration of incumbents becomes less relevant, because they remain price takers, deterred by fear of new competitors from raising prices above competitive levels. But when entry is difficult, that crucial discipline is absent.

More generally, antitrust regulators cannot assume a world that does not exist, because that premise makes the perfect the enemy of the good. 

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Higher Ed Bingo

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) periodically sends “Dear Colleague” letters to higher ed leaders, suggesting ways in which their institutions might avoid running afoul of made-up civil rights requirements. Said leaders (presidents, provosts, etc) periodically send “Dear Faculty Colleague” letters, not to intimidate but to—actually, I don’t know what. I’ve cobbled together a letter from missives you can find on the internet (so it’s ferreal; only PCU is made up):

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Hillbilly Empathy

Old barn with a Mail Pouch Tobacco ad painted on in rural Ohio

Hillbilly Elegy is J.D. Vance’s raw, uncensored, personal history of his Scots-Irish family who struggled in Ohio after leaving their Kentucky home. Vance grew up amid domestic strife and a never-ending cycle of new stepfathers, his family weighed down by dwindling economic prospects and drug dependency. A Marine veteran who graduated from Ohio State and Yale Law, Vance considers his upbringing from the vantage point of a San Francisco investment firm, separated by space but not by emotion or memory—or accent. Fraught relationships continue to pull him back to his small-town Ohio roots, and convince him that the pat solutions of the Left and the Right are inadequate to the problems of America’s forgotten and left behind.

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Rise of the Libertarian Technocrats


Jason Brennan’s provocative new book, Against Democracy, divides people into three groups based on their orientation to politics: “Hobbits,” who are apathetic and ignorant; “Hooligans,” who are engaged but hopelessly biased, convinced that fans of other political teams are “stupid, evil, selfish, or at best, deeply misguided”; and “Vulcans,” who “think scientifically and rationally about politics” and whose “opinions are strongly grounded in social science and philosophy.”

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Uncle Sammy Knows Best

All American Boy

If Lenore Skenazy’s Free-Range Kids (2009) was the book that told parents it was okay to liberate their children from the overprotective parenting expectations of their generation, Abby Schachter’s new book may be the one that tells them to liberate themselves from overprotection by government.

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The Continuity of the Fourteenth Amendment with the Founding

At a splendid conference at the University of the South last weekend, the most important underlying theme turned out to be the question of the continuity of the 14th Amendment with the rest of the constitution. Some scholars—indeed most– argued that the Reconstruction Amendments represented a second founding and a radical break with the past.

In contrast, I believe that there is substantial continuity between these two essential parts of our charter of liberty.  The 14th Amendment advanced and opened to all the commercial republic that was at the heart of the original Constitution. By their secession and actions leading up to succession, the South showed that it recognized that commercial dynamism and freedoms of the original founding would doom slavery. The Civil War just accelerated the realization of guarantees that flowed from principles implicit in the original Constitution.

For instance, before the War Southern states tried to gag discussion of petitions on slavery on the House floor and banish criticism of the peculiar institution from the federal mails, in obvious violation of constitutional guarantees. Slavery supporters also burned down abolition newspapers.  They tried to ban books that argued that the wages of Southerners who did not own slaves were decreased by the institution of slavery.  As Michael Kent Curtis noted, these acts allowed the North to reframe the debate about slavery as one about established constitutional liberties and the freedom of labor generally.

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