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.
A good explanation of the Clinton-Trump clash we are living through, and of Trump’s having taken the Republican Party by storm, is in Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule’s 2010 brief for executive supremacy as the way we do constitutionalism. The Posner-Vermeule thesis in The Executive Unbound is that the Madisonian philosophy of separation of powers as a constraint on the presidency no longer exists, and good riddance. The more authoritative check on executive power, they say, is majority opinion and the fact that the President must face the voters every four years. This, and not Greg Weiner’s paean to Jemmy Madison, is the only source we have now for safe, effective, and informally limited government. Those wanting Madison on demand, Posner and Vermeule inform us, are whistling past the graveyard of a constitutionalism that no longer fits this American nation.
Last week, in a case brought by the State of Texas and several other states and state agencies, a U.S. District Court (Judge O’Connor, Northern District, Texas) issued a preliminary injunction against the feds’ rule, or maybe it’s just a suggestion, contained in a “Dear Colleague” letter regarding bathroom, locker room, and shower access for transgendered individuals. Judge O’Connor ordered some further briefing on the appropriate scope of the injunction. The ruling is just one brief episode in the transgender bathroom saga, whose trajectory points to yet another Supreme Court determination on conflicts between the Constitution’s Meaning of Life Clause and the rule of law as we thought we knew it.
In this year’s presidential campaign, it would be a wonderful contribution to the republic and perhaps a winning move to run credibly on a rule of law platform. This kind of platform is to be distinguished from a “law and order” one, because it emphasizes that in a well-ordered republic that government must enforce order only through law. And this slogan also underscores that the problem we face is not simply or indeed mainly lawlessness on the streets, but lawlessness in government. Respect for law must begin at the top.
What is the cause of our polarized politics? Some blame one party or the other, and that is certainly plausible. But I wonder if the problem goes deeper. Our two parties are fighting for the future. We are polarized because we disagree about what it would mean to make America better. Beyond that, the arguments are so extreme because in our post-modern age we cannot agree about what it means to be reasonable.
Late last week, a panel of the D.C. Circuit dinged Amtrak for the second time. The case (Association of American Railroads v. Department of Transportation) involves several constitutional questions regarding Amtrak’s funky set-up and operation. Herewith a few preliminary words on one of them: delegation and due process.