The Fugitive Slave Clause, State Action, and Congressional Power

Here are two related thoughts about the Fugitive Slave Clause.

State Action: It is often said that the Constitution only imposes obligations on government officials.  While that may be generally true, it is not clear that it is entirely true.  One famous example is the 13th Amendment, which simply prohibits slavery, rather than prohibiting the federal government or the states from imposing slavery. (“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude . . . shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”)

It is often argued that the 13th thus prohibits private persons from participating in slave relations.  While this is certainly a plausible interpretation of the Amendment, I genuinely don’t know if it is correct.

The other day, however, I came upon a couple of other clauses that may not have government action requirements.  The Fugitive Slave Clause provides that “No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.” 

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Sooner or Later, A Sovereign People Asserts Its Authority

Declaration of Independence

Though American politics at the grassroots is polarized and divided, sharp commentators have written thoughtfully about the similarities between the parties as a practical matter. I would add that the similarities extend to their leaders.

While George W. Bush and Barack Obama could not be further apart ideologically, their attitudes toward governing suffer from the same flaw. Bush said he was “the Decider,” to which Obama rejoined: “I won.” Both ran roughshod over public opinion.

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America’s Class Divide: Scribes v. Producers

The most comprehensive study of the ideology in the legal profession ever has just been published. It confirms what most people have already intuited: lawyers as a whole lean strongly to the left. Within the profession, a few characteristics predict that a lawyer will be even farther left than the median. Females and government attorneys are even more liberal, and no category is farther to the left than law professors. So much for diversity in legal education.

But what is most interesting about the study was its comparison of the ideology of lawyers with that of other key professions. Academics as a whole are substantially more left-wing than lawyers, and journalists in the print media are even slightly more left-wing than academics. Thus, we now know that there is a shared ideology of what we might call the scribal class – those who seek to alter the world by their use of information and rhetoric.

This scribal class wields enormous political power.

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Regulatory Reform: A Brief Update

In last week’s post on the regulatory state I surmised that “a retrospective review of the [Obama administration’s] retrospective review exercise would prove it to be largely pointless.” Well, not quite. As the American Action Forum’s excellent Sam Batkins explains, agency review of old, outdated regulations has actually added some $14.7 billion in costs. Thank you, Doctor Sunstein. To the iron laws of the administrative state, we should add the following: It’s always worse than Greve thinks. Never permit the administrative state to look back. Instead, let the heralded purposes of Congress and of rulemakings past get lost in the vast hallways of the…

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Marco Rubio vs. Aristotle?

Statue of Aristotle

Aristotle, unfortunately, won’t be on the ballot.

Marco Rubio’s form of dissing liberal education is probably more ridiculous than the more insistent and policy-driven efforts of Scott Walker, although Rubio, just as obviously, is much smarter than Walker. It’s reasonable to believe that Rubio and his supporters can be educated concerning how his ill-considered rhetoric aids and abets the more deeply misguided attack on liberal education.

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Uber: I Have Seen the Future and It Works

Last weekend I was in NYC visiting family and friends, and I had the chance to use Uber for the first time.  In fact, I used it 6 or 7 times during the weekend, since I needed to visit various people.  As compared to the normal yellow cabs, it was a glorious experience.

I had, of course, heard about Uber – see this great Econtalk interview with Mike Munger – but had not had the chance to use it out in San Diego, where I drive my own car everywhere.  It turned out to be as good as everyone says it is.

First, the app gets you a car quickly.  You don’t have to call a service far in advance and you don’t have to go out on the street and hail a cab.  It simply comes – usually within a couple of minutes – to where you are.  What is more, the app is reliable.  When it tells you 3 minutes, it usually is.  Further, it shows you a little map, and you can follow your cab as it approaches from a distance.

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The Iran Deal and the Weakness of Multilateralism

The Obama administration’s best argument for the Iran nuclear deal is also an argument against its general enthusiasm for multilateralism in preserving the international order. If a deal with Iran were not struck soon, it is indeed quite possible that the coalition imposing sanctions on Iran would unravel. And there is no chance that this coalition will ratchet sanctions up to put more pressure on Iran. The coalition may be fraying even more quickly now, as Russia and China fall into financial distress and become more eager to export goods to Iran. Russia in particular supported Iran in its demand to have restrictions on development of ballistic missiles lifted.  No prizes for guessing what nation is likely to make money off deals with Iran in that area.

But this line of analysis is also a demonstration of the inherent weakness of international coalitions as an instrument of foreign policy. Nations may come together to purse a joint program, when their interests coincide. But the world is a turbulent place and interests change. And unlike domestic contracts, long term agreements among nations are difficult to police and enforce.

That is the reason that United States would do well to maintain the force and will to act alone.

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