Corpus Linguistics and the Misuse of Dictionaries

Recently, I attended an interesting conference on Corpus Linguistics and the Law.  Corpus Linguistics “is the study of language based on large collections of ‘real life’ language use stored in corpora (or corpuses) – computerized databases created for linguistic research.”  Much of the conference focused on how this method could be used to engage in originalist research. At present, originalism often uses dictionaries to determine the meaning of words at the time of the Constitution’s enactment.  But there are significant limits to dictionaries.  The promise of corpus linguistics is to use very powerful software to examine actual usage of words from…

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Immigration “Law” a la Obama: What a Wicked Game

Immigration Documents

A Ninth Circuit immigration decision bears crucially on the Supreme Court’s pending decision in Texas v. United States, better known as “the DAPA case.” The appellate court’s April 5 decision shines a harsh spotlight on the administration’s legal defense of its immigration policies.

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The Inadequacy of Trump and Clinton as Heads of State

The President of the United States is both head of government and head of state. As a result, he must not simply act as a party leader, but as the leader of the United States. He is both obligated to respect social traditions that contribute to national unity and behave personally in ways that promote the sound social norms that undergird civil society.

I have almost nothing good to say about President Obama’s policies as head of government. Probably the most important policy with which I wholeheartedly agree is his decision to move toward privatizing space exploration, a pretty insignificant matter. But I give him high marks as head of state. He has behaved decorously, has largely respected the social traditions of the office, and has refrained from personally denouncing his opponents.

Sadly, I have no such confidence in the performance of either of the candidates most likely to be elected President in 2016. It is almost superfluous to detail the reasons that Donald Trump is likely to fall short. He insults his opponents in the most personal terms and vulgarly discusses matters in public that should be private. My friend Heather Mac Donald rightfully argues that his presidency is likely to coarsen an already coarse social culture.

But Hillary Clinton is in my view no better.

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The Rise of Political Caesarism

The leader: Cesare Augustus - Emperor

“The cause is in my will.”—Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene II 

We ought to have known it would come to this. Still, the latest assertion of presidential authority assumes a new and ominous form: the power not merely to assert authority outside the law—which can at least masquerade under the banner of Lockean prerogative—but rather to redefine words and, with them, the institution of law itself.

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Puerto Rico:  A Big Default—What Next?

Flag of Puerto Rico in a stack of coins.(series)

Rexford Tugwell, sometimes known as “Rex the Red” for his admiration of the 1930s Soviet Union and his fervent belief in central planning, was made Governor of Puerto Rico by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1941.  Among the results of his theories was the Government Development Bank of Puerto Rico, a bank designed as “an arm of the state,” which is a central element in the complicated inner workings of the Puerto Rican government’s massive insolvency. The bank has just defaulted on $367 million of bonds, the first, but unless there is Congressional action, not the last, massive default by the Puerto…

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Statement to the George Mason University Faculty Senate

The following remarks were the prepared text of remarks delivered to the George Mason University Faculty Senate during the deliberations on May 4, 2016 regarding a proposed Resolution by the Faculty Senate that expresses “Concerns” regarding the record $30 million gift received by the law school on the condition that law school bear the name of the late United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. These remarks were co-authored by Professors Todd Zywicki and Lloyd Cohen and delivered by Cohen to the body. The language of the proposed resolution is available here.

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When Pascal Parked His Porsche

porsche

There are riots in France every time the government tries to liberalize the sclerotic French labor market to make the country as a whole more competitive. That (considerable) part of the population which benefits from the legal privileges it currently enjoys is either unable or unwilling to grasp that, in a market, the protections of some are the obstacles of others. As ever, such privileges set one part of the population against another.

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Uber Drivers—This Century’s Yeomen of Liberty

One of the great pleasures of using Uber is talking to drivers about why they have chosen to use the service. Almost to a man (and so far all my drivers have been men) they celebrate being their own boss.  They decide when and where they would like to drive and even what model of car they will use.

Their ebullience about Uber is also informed by their previous experiences as employees. Quite a few previously worked for limousine companies and had difficulty getting along with management. One was summarily fired to make way for a nephew of the owner.

Their independence has social and political as well as personal benefits. It is striking in my conversations how aware they are of regulatory threats to their business and of the price of inputs, like insurance. Their knowledge translates into a healthy skepticism of government intervention generally. The political sensibility that comes from being in small business is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty.

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The Framers/Justices Conflation

Recently, Justice Stevens gave a speech about Justice Scalia. At the end, Stevens relies upon an argument from historian Joseph Ellis that both Stevens and Ellis believe suggests that Thomas Jefferson was not an originalist. But as Ed Whelan points out, this is a misinterpretation. Jefferson writes: Let us [not] weakly believe that one generation is not as capable as another of taking care of itself, and of ordering its own affairs. Let us, as our sister States have done, avail ourselves of our reason and experience, to correct the crude essays of our first and unexperienced, although wise, virtuous, and…

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Explaining Trump’s Hostile Takeover

(Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The outcome of the Republican nomination process is a disaster for the party. The person chosen clearly is unqualified to be President, and many of his views are not those that have dominated the party over the last generation. He is not a man who respects the Constitution and the limits it imposes on political power. He is against, not big government, but stupid government. And Donald Trump really thinks he is the remedy for stupidity we need.

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