This past Friday, Boston College’s excellent Shep Melnick (interviewed on this site not long ago) gratuitously ruined my weekend by alerting me to the latest “Dear Colleague Letter” (“DCL”) from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”). The DCL “shares” OCR’s views on “resource compatibility” at the nation’s schools, district by district. Horrendous in its own right, the letter also prompts broader thoughts on “government by guidance”: it’s a prescription for a banana republic.
With the Islamic State’s invitation to sympathizers everywhere to join in murdering Americans, U.S. public opinion favors destroying this nefarious force. Accordingly, politicians of both parties—especially those up for election—are competing to see who can issue the most bellicose statements.
But popular sentiment notwithstanding, there is no reason to believe that our ruling class has learned anything new, that it is shedding the ways that have opened hunting season on Americans, or that it is setting about destroying America’s enemies.
For many people who spend their time writing, the issue of descriptivism versus prescriptivism is a fascinating one. Are there rules of grammar and usage that people should follow? Sure. But are those rules defined by an elite group of language speakers and writers? Or should they simply be based on regularities of language usage by all speakers and writers? A fascinating question, with all types of issues.
For what it is worth, my view is basically that at any one time (within a group of language users), there are rules that define proper usage. But those rules change over time. At a certain point, the old conventions will give way to new ones, and those new ones will become the proper usages. So one day, perhaps pretty soon, the distinction between imply and infer is likely to evaporate and it will be proper to use them interchangeably.
Even if one is a descriptivist and agrees with that prediction, I think that one should be sad about the demise of the distinction. When the distinction is no longer recognized, it will be harder to convey precise information about whether the speaker is implying or the hearer is inferring. Perhaps in the new world new words will allow a speaker to convey the distinction, but there is no certainty and it seems like a lot of trouble to reinvent the wheel.
As Eric Holder leaves office, I want to remind readers of a decision that was a startling breach of legal regularity. It concerned the Attorney General’s core obligation to help the President carry out his constitutional duty “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
The incident arose from a bill that purported to give the District of Columbia voting representation in the House of Representatives.
Though Constitution Day has come and gone (it was September 17), it may still be appropriate to honor the enactment of our Founding charter by looking into the question of “civic literacy” and “civic engagement.” By the first, I mean knowledge largely about American history and political institutions. The second is meant to denote participating in the political process, passively by voting and actively by contributing to and working on campaigns, trying to influence others’ votes, attending political events, contacting officials, signing petitions, and writing letters to the editor.
Now that the D.C. Circuit has granted rehearing en banc for the Halbig case, there is speculation about whether the case will make it to the Supreme Court. Halbig, of course, is the case addressing whether federal health care exchanges are allowed to receive federal subsidies.
The defenders of the subsidies for the federal exchanges are hopeful that the case does not reach the Supreme Court. Before the D.C. Circuit granted rehearing en banc, there was a split between the circuits, with the D.C. Circuit ruling against the legality of the subsidies and the Fourth Circuit ruling in favor of them. Cert seemed assured.
But the future decision of the en banc court of the D.C. Circuit changes things. With the three new Democratic appointees to the Court, there is now a Democratic majority and it seems extremely likely that the panel decision will be reversed – in which case, there would no longer be a split. Of course, there are other cases – a District Court in Oklahoma just held that federal exchanges cannot receive subsidies – but those circuit court decisions may take some time and there is arguably a strong need for this issue to be resolved expeditiously.
I wonder whether the Supreme Court will feel constrained from taking cert if the full D.C. Circuit decides in favor of federal exchange subsidies. Every circuit court judge who has decided the matter has voted on party lines in these cases. If the Democratic D.C. Circuit reverses, that trend will continue. And there is controversy about whether the D.C. Circuit should have taken the case en banc. In these circumstances, one might wonder whether at least four of the five Republicans on the Supreme Court will decide to hear the case, notwithstanding the lack of a circuit split.
There’s a terrific new blog out there, under the umbrella of the Yale Journal on Regulation. Cleverly entitled Notice & Comment, it’s the brainchild of Chris “Just-Because-We-Teach-AdLaw-Doesn’t-Mean-We’re-Boring” Walker. The blog follows the AdLaw literature, so we don’t have to. It also has posts on ongoing events, and they’re darn good. Among the recent entries: a fun piece by Peter Conti-Brown, an occasional contributor to this site, on how POTUS can fire the head of the Secret Service (“head” is a metaphor here) but not the President of the New York Reserve—and how stupid is that? And Jeff Pojanowski has an…
Eighty years ago this week, Herbert Hoover published a book of political philosophy entitled The Challenge to Liberty. Although little remembered today, it deserves scrutiny, especially by those interested in the history and theory of classical liberalism in its American context.
When President Hoover left the White House in 1933, he and his wife returned to Palo Alto, California to live. At first he maintained a public silence about the new chief executive and his shimmering New Deal. He did not wish, by any premature, partisan outburst, to jeopardize or appear to jeopardize economic recovery during a national emergency. At any rate he doubted that comments of his would have an effect in the current public atmosphere, poisoned as he considered it to be by the incessant “smearing” of his record by the opposition. He hoped also that, as New Deal measures failed (which he expected them to do), the American people would learn from disillusioning experience and return to their traditional values.
In republican constitutionalism, the people make a firm precommitment to a particular form of governance. Thus, they pass a constitution whose provisions prohibit certain actions in later periods. This process of self-constraint can be seen in republican terms as an exercise in popular sovereignty. In addition, if the constitution is originally enacted under a good process, such as one having relatively stringent supermajority rules, it is likely to improve the welfare of the people over the course of the nation’s history. The distinctive interpretative method of republican constitutionalism is originalism: the meaning chosen by the people when the constitution is passed binds the people at later times.
In contrast, living constitutionalism is the distinctive interpretive method of the constitution of a mixed regime, which includes an aristocratic element.
Earlier this week, John McGinnis and I appeared at the Cato Institute to make a presentation on our book, Originalism and the Good Constitution. The event was moderated by Trevor Burrus of Cato and commentary was supplied by Roger Pilon of Cato and by Brianne Gorad of the Constitutional Accountability Center. You can watch the video here. Roger took issue with our book from a natural rights perspective. He accused the book of endorsing Borkianism and modern constitutional law, not the original constitution, on the ground that we left too much room for democracy. But I believe that Roger is mistaken. …