Russia, China, and Us: A Response to Mark Helprin

gas tubes with russian and china flag

Lord Salisbury, Britain’s 19th century strategist and prime minister, famously remarked to a correspondent that “if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe.” Alarms that experts raised from their own preoccupations, he believed, required tempering with common sense before such warnings could offer a reasonable guide for policy. Much of the discussion of American security over recent years brings to mind Salisbury’s observation. Mark Helprin’s “Indefensible Defense” in National Review’s June 22 offers a case in point.

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Departmentalism versus Judicial Supremacy – Part III: Some Thoughts on the History

In my previous post, I noted that any obligation of the executive and Congress to follow court precedents – either a strong judicial supremacy or a milder obligation to follow a series of court decisions – would have its source in either an interpretation of the Constitution’s judicial power or federal common law.  But that reading of the Constitution or the common law would require evidence that judicial precedents were seen as imposing such an obligation.

What then might that evidence be?  One possible source of evidence are statements made by various framers at the Philadelphia and Ratification Conventions that Randy Barnett has recently blogged about.  For example, he notes that James Wilson said:

If a law should be made inconsistent with those powers vested by this instrument in Congress, the judges, as a consequence of their independence, and the particular powers of government being defined, will declare such law to be null and void; for the power of the Constitution predominates. Any thing, therefore, that shall be enacted by Congress contrary thereto, will not have the force of law.

One might read Wilson as stating that a judicial decision declares an unconstitutional law “null and void” and therefore the executive is obligated not to enforce it.  But Wilson need not be read that way.  As Ed Whelan notes, this statement might be understood instead as stating that the executive will as a practical matter not be able to enforce laws that the courts are unwilling to apply in adjudications.

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Raising the National Minimum Wage Would Destroy the Job Market

manager disoccupato in fabbrica abbandonata

With President Obama’s call to raise the national minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, Americans have been divided on how this would affect businesses and workers. Many opined that an increase would pull millions of workers above the poverty line, stimulate business profits, and even benefit taxpayers by reducing the number of citizens on food stamps. In reality, raising the national minimum wage would harm the very people it’s intended to help. By forcing business owners’ hands on the matter, the government would accelerate unemployment, diminish resources and profits for businesses, intensify the social divide, and undermine the free market. There’s a…

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Is Elon Musk the Henry Ford of Our Time?


A new biography, Elon Musk: Tesla, Space X, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, provides more evidence that America does not face secular stagnation—a state of slow growth and little innovation. I have always been skeptical of this claim, because many of the statistical measures on which it relies are those of our centralized government that miss out on improvements in health and enormous benefits of new technology, particularly the internet.

But some intelligent observers, notably Peter Thiel, have argued that recent gains are narrowly focused on information technology. As Thiel provocatively puts it: “We were promised flying cars, and instead what we got was 140 characters.”  Musk, however, has become a billionaire by building actual products that do gesture to a fantastic future where such items as flying cars are imaginable.

One is an electric car, Tesla, that has attracted attention not only for its battery engine, but for its aesthetics. It combines Silicon Valley know-how with Hollywood dazzle. 

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Victory in Spite of Ourselves


David Cortman showed remarkable poise and command last January when he made his first appearance before the Supreme Court. The case was Reed v. Gilbert, and he represented the cause of a small, fledgling church having no fixed site for its services. His masterful performance was recognized this week: victory, with a box score of 9 to 0. Cortman brought to the aid of this small congregation all of the dedication and resources of the Alliance Defending Freedom.

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Perfect Ten

Ten dollars isolated on white background

At long last the U.S. Department of the Treasury has taken an action for which it actually has legal authority (the 1862 Legal Tender Act): it has decided to replace Alexander Hamilton’s image on the $10 bill with the picture of a woman. After extensive consultations with stakeholders, the Department agreed that the “New 10” woman must be a Cherokee. The nod eventually went to Chief Wilma Mankiller. In a somewhat testy Senate oversight hearing, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew regretfully informed the runner-up, Ms. Elizabeth Warren, that under binding law individuals—male, female, or other—who wish to appear on U.S. currency must…

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Departmentalism versus Judicial Supremacy – Part II: Getting from Departmentalism to Judicial Supremacy

After a short detour responding to Mike Paulsen, I am back to elaborating on my view of the departmentalism/judicial supremacy debate.  As I noted in my last post, the basic question turns on whether the executive or Congress must follow judicial precedents.

What might obligate the executive or Congress to follow judicial precedents?  One starts, of course, with the text of the Constitution.  The judicial power extends only to “cases” and “controversies.”  Therefore, in the absence of anything else, a judicial decision cannot bind other than as to the judgment.  The judgment decides the case; the precedent is about possible future cases that have not arisen.  This is part of the core of the case for departmentalism.

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All the King’s Men

The Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell is due out shortly. As a special service to faithful and even occasional readers of this blog, I proudly present in the flesh, or at least in moving pictures, the obscure characters who produced the case. The highlight of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s annual dinners is a staff-produced movie, starring CEI’s magnificent principals and employees. This year’s movie, originally shown to great acclaim at this year’s June 11 dinner, appears here by special permission (thanks, Annie!). To catch all the inside jokes you have to know and work with these guys and gals—good,…

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San Francisco Defies the Right to Arms


Karl Llewellyn’s classic Bramble Bush introduces law students to the case method and explains that precedents have both a minimum and a maximum value.  Playing within that field and finding the point in both directions “beyond which it does not make sense to go” is central to establishing the fair meaning of judicial decisions.  When one is moved, as I am here, to brand the city hall shenanigans that lead to the litigation in Jackson v. San Francisco, as blatant defiance of the Supreme Court’s decisions affirming the individual right to arms, Llewellyn’s instructions help to slow and unpack that reflex.

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Deregulate, Don’t Subsidize the Legal Profession

An op-ed in today’s New York Times argued that not enough lawyers served the poor. The author, Theresa Amato, therefore proposed that the government should subsidize lawyers and lawyering. It should provide more funds for the Legal Service Corporation, a federal entity that offers legal services for the underserved. It should provide more loan forgiveness for lawyers who work in the “public interest.” Law schools should provide more clinics to make lawyers practice ready for low-income service

Ms. Amato may well be right in believing that the poor need more lawyers, although her own evidence is relatively weak, focusing on a few unrepresentative rural jurisdictions. Moreover, the poor might well choose to take the money by which the state subsidizes lawyers and spend it instead for other goods and services that would more greatly improve their lives.  But, whatever the need, Amato’s proposals are the wrong way to solve the problem. We should deregulate the legal profession to lower its costs, rather than subsidize it.

The cost of most law schools is far too high, but forgiving student debt will just encourage law schools to charge more. Instead, we need to create a variety of lower cost platforms for legal education. I have suggested an undergraduate option and the University of Arizona has initiated such a program.

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