Amending the Constitution Through Direct Democracy

Over the weekend, I attended a great conference at Stanford Law School entitled, A Big Fix: Should We Amend Our Constitution.  The idea for the conference was to have various people propose constitutional amendments.  Some years ago, I proposed a constitutional amendment of my own as part of the Room for Debate feature of the New York Times.  See here and here. My job was to comment on Sandy Levinson’s proposed amendments to the Constitution.  While Levinson proposed various provisions, his most interesting proposal was for constitutional amendments to be enacted through direct democracy.  Under Levinson’s proposal, 10 percent of those…

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Sowing the Seeds of Academic Renewal

Does this graduation season bring any good news from the American campus—any deviation from higher ed’s slide into politically correct incivility and closed-mindedness? A few cheering, or at least not thoroughly disheartening, signs are visible. The president of Bethune-Cookman University, joined by the school’s faculty, took a stand against protesters’ rudeness last week, when the U.S. Secretary of Education tried to address the Class of 2017 amid booing, back-turning, and catcalls at the Florida school. President Edison O. Jackson told the disruptors: “If this behavior continues, your degrees will be mailed to you. Choose which way you want to go,” reports…

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What Do We Hold in Common?

3d earth

Nineteenth-Century Americans associated with the nativist American Party (a.k.a., “Know Nothings”) proposed extended probationary periods before immigrants could apply for U.S. citizenship. They also forwarded other policies aimed to press the assimilation of (mainly) Catholic immigrants, or at least to mold immigrant behavior to conform with the predominant scruples of American Protestants. (Some latitude was allowed German Lutherans, particularly with respect to temperance.) While nativist, however, the Know Nothing movement did not broadly advocate restrictions on immigration. I wondered in a prior post whether the Americanism of the American Party, namely, a commitment to the natural-rights position of humanity’s common ownership of the earth (consistent with the natural rights philosophy articulated in the Declaration of Independence at the nation’s founding), channeled their energies toward assimilation and away from restrictions.

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The Phoenix Option

Phoenix drawing made in ash

Anthony Esolen is well on the way to being America’s G.K. Chesterton (if more academic— Chesterton did not produce a widely admired translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy). Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture takes us on a wide-ranging tour of the failures of American culture, from our use of language to how we play, how we build buildings, how we run our schools. As the longtime literature professor tells us on the first page, “I shall decry the decay of civilization.”

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The Politician Addressing a Law School Commencement is a Democrat

Above the Law performs the useful service of identifying the 2017 law school commencement speakers. It is surely not comprehensive, but it is long and likely representative, because the site solicits information as well as doing its own reporting.

Of the politicians and political appointees, current or former, who are speaking this year, 22 are Democratic elected representatives or officials appointed by Democrats. Two are Republicans. And it is clear that there is close to a rule for choosing Democratic speakers as opposed to Republicans, because the exceptions prove the rule.

You can be a Republican official and a law school commencement speaker if you are Vice President of the United States and your university has a very long established practice of inviting the newly elected President of the United States to be its commencement speaker at its university wide graduation. But because that President was in its view the unacceptable Donald Trump, Notre Dame invited Mike Pence to be the commencement speaker. Now I am not as confident as Above the Law that he is a speaker for the law school itself as well, but even if he is, it is on account of unusual circumstances.

The other Republican official speaking is Alex Acosta at the Florida International University College of Law. He is now Labor Secretary. Until April he had been Dean of the Florida International University College of Law.

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Across the Fruited Plain, in Photos


Forget about making America great again—in terms of sheer beauty, the country has always been amazing. And now there’s a book people can buy that is “armchair traveling at its best,” in the words of Reuel Golden.

Golden has edited National Geographic: The United States of America, a massive, gorgeously illustrated book that offers a state-by-state tour of the 50 states and the District of Columbia over the past 100 years. Collecting over 700 images from the archives of the D.C.-based National Geographic and accompanied by narrative captions and prefaces, the doorstopper chronicles American places over the last century from the jazz bars of New Orleans to the ski slopes of Colorado, the Hollywood Hills, the streets of Manhattan, a river baptism in Mississippi, and much more.

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Goldfarb on the Language of the Law: A Response

Neil Goldfarb has written a blog post commenting on our paper, The Language of the Law and the Constitution.  The gist of his post is that the law is not a language in any of four categories of language that he recognizes.  But Goldfarb himself notes that words often have shades of meaning: they cannot be confined to a procrustean bed of meanings. There is no reason to take his list as exhaustive. Most significantly, Goldfarb fails to address our argument that the language of the law is a technical language.  There is little doubt that there are technical languages: many…

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How to Rate a President — or Not

Dramatic Sky above Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakot

More than the Roman emperors, the Popes, the English monarchs, the czars and czarinas, the sultans and the Chinese emperors, the American presidency is unique in the political history of the world. Reacting against both the weakness of the executives in the states under the Articles of Confederation, and the arbitrary prerogatives of the English monarchy, the Framers of the American Republic sought to merge two opposing principles: a vigorous unitary executive within a limited and limiting constitutional republic. Whether their experiment was successful or not has depended from the start largely on the personality and character of those who occupied the office.

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Limits on Limiting Immigration

While styled as an anti-immigrant movement, according to historian Tyler G. Anbinder in his book, Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s, the American Party (the “Know Nothings”) of the 1850s did not widely advocate laws that would cap the number of immigrants coming to the U.S. Rather, they channeled their anti-immigrant sentiments most directly into policies that would delay citizenship for new immigrants for a number of years (and sometimes even for decades). The delay aimed to provide time to insure a measure of assimilation for new residents prior to citizenship. (Policies also…

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