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.

Read More

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.

Read More

Liberalism, Populism, and the Politicization of Everything

As this post goes up I’m off to Germany, this time for some actual work. In cooperation with the Council on Public Policy (a German think tank run by my buddy Michael Zoeller), the GMU Law & Economics Center runs something called the Transatlantic Law Forum (TLF). We assemble legal scholars, judges, and lawyers from both sides of the pond and the blessed isle in-between to discuss serious, salient questions related to constitutionalism and the rule of law. Our conferences alternate between GMU’s Antonin Scalia Law School and Bucerius Law School in Hamburg (Germany’s only private law school, and therefore far and away the best). Last year’s event at ASLS, on “The Administrative State and its Law,” produced terrific essays that will appear in a forthcoming issue of the George Mason Law Review; I’ll blog them.

Read More

Will Judges Debate the Layout of Shower Areas?

Paragraph Rechtsstreit

Aristotle teaches that justice is necessary where friendship has failed. His point is that the strictures of the law need only be imposed where ordinary, informal, face-to-face interactions collapse. Lawsuits—and, for that matter, laws—thus begin where comity and common sense end. That is worth keeping in mind as the first frontal constitutional challenge to the U.S. Department of Education’s attempt to impose a one-size-fits-all approach to transgender access to intimate facilities—bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers—works its way through the courts.

Read More

Freedom, Unfreedom, and the Burkini

Illustration (vector) of islamic swimsuit on white background

You don’t choose your family, goes the old saying, but you do choose your friends. The same goes for quarrels: you choose when and where to have them, and what to have them about. Needless to say, friends and quarrels should be chosen with some care.

Read More

Jackson Hole and Democracy

Janet Yellen, chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, center, walks past a protester as she arrives for the Jackson Hole economic symposium, sponsored by the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank: Bradly Boner/Bloomberg via Getty Images

There’s some historical elegance to the fact that the Fed’s annual symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is roughly as old as the modern Fed itself. The symposium, hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, started in 1978.

Read More

Social Norms, Not the Constitution, Should Regulate Protests at Sport Ceremonies

President Obama weighed in recently on the controversy created by a football player refusing to standing during the playing of the national anthem at the beginning of a game. Colin Kaepernick, a San Francisco 49er’s quarterback, wants to call attention to his view that people of color are oppressed. The President supported him, saying Kaepernick was exercising his constitutional right under the First Amendment.  A  few days ago Jeffrey Toobin more specifically analogized this issue to a case in which the Supreme Court struck down a law requiring school children to salute the flag, because it violated their beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The President’s and Toobin’s comments represent a characteristic bit of Progressive misdirection, failing to distinguish between legal and social norms. It is absolutely correct that the government has no right to penalize Kaepernick for his action. Expressive conduct up to burning the American flag should indeed be immune to criminal penalties. But no government official is threatening Kaepernick with official sanctions, although some politicians are exercising their own First Amendment rights to criticize his behavior.

The real question is whether Kaepernick is right to use the time for the national anthem for protest. A directly related question is whether his team or the NFL should tell him to desist and penalize him if he does not. That is an issue to be decided in light of his contract with his team and his team’s contractual relation to the NFL. It is one of private ordering about which the Constitution has nothing to say.

The optimal content of social norms cannot be decided by First Amendment case law.

Read More

The Conscience and The Light Between Oceans


The Light Between Oceans is fascinating and even important film. Directed by Derek Cianfrance and based on the novel by M.L. Stedman, it’s a gorgeous if overly long examination of mercy, passion, and the slow working of the conscience.

Read More

Presidential Power According to Jack Balkin

oval office

Earlier this month Jack Balkin (Yale Law School) and I found ourselves on an APSA/Claremont Panel on “The Legacy of Justice Antonin Scalia,” alongside Hadley Arkes and Ralph Rossum. We couldn’t find anything to disagree about.

Read More