Calabresi on the Goodness of Federalism and Presidentialism in the U.S. Constitution

While many of us greatly value the United States Constitution, there are numerous critics of the Constitution including in the United States.  In particular, the critics argue that other countries should not attempt to emulate the U.S. Constitution.  Two features of the U.S. Constitution have been subject to scrutiny: its establishment of a federalist system and its use of a presidentialist executive.

Steve Calabresi has a new article out that ably defends the U.S. Constitution.  Calabresi acknowledges the problems with federalist and presidentialist systems, but argues that the U.S. Constitution avoids these problems with distinctive features that have not been employed by other countries that have adopted these systems.

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Living under Executive Federalism

National mall sunset, Washington DC

Last week, I visited Boston College for a discussion of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions. Herewith an abbreviated version of my remarks. Comments etc. most welcome because the thoughts (some old, some new) are embryonic: I’m working on a more serious, grown-up presentation.

We are living in an age of Executive Federalism. That form of government has some deeply disturbing features, including several that should prompt a judicial response. So far, the Court has given no indication that it has a clue.

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Leave It to the States

Six or so out-of-town summer trips down, only four more to go before the start of the Fall semester—at which point I’ll be able to resume regular blogging, and maybe even some actual research and writing. Pending that merciful eventuality, here’s my Wall Street Journal review of Adam Freedman’s recent federalism manifesto, A Less Perfect Union: The Case For States’ Rights. I’ve met Adam occasionally at Manhattan Institute events. He’s a thoroughly good guy; creative thinker; great writer. Obviously I don’t agree with every chord in his federalism riff. Foremost: while Adam does a manful job in defense of “states’ rights,”…

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Fighting Federalism: Damon Root’s Overruled (Part One)

U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington D.C.

Supreme Court pundits generally have the Court’s members pegged along a simple political spectrum, with “liberal” denoting one side and “conservative” the other (with Justice Anthony Kennedy endlessly dancing from one side to the other). The assumption is that constitutional interpretation falls along a simple liberal-conservative continuum. Damon Root’s new book, Overruled: The Long War for Control of the Supreme Court, suggests that this binary view is too simplistic. A third approach, libertarianism, presents a theory of limited government power that is indebted to, and yet distinguishable from, post-New Deal liberalism and traditional social conservativism. Like most constitutional conservatives, libertarians call…

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Federalism, Upside-Down and Executive

The Upside-Down Constitution isn’t for the faint of heart, or for people who actually work for a living. So some time ago, the Mercatus Center nudged me to write up a more digestible version of the federalism argument—the political economy piece, sans the ConLaw and FedCourts jazz—for wider distribution. The product, a sixty-off page essay on “Federalism and the Constitution: Competition versus Cartel,” is now available from Mercatus. It’s a quick, convenient introduction to the subject. The essay contains a few new riffs. Among them: our upside-down cartel federalism has become an executive federalism: increasingly, federal-state relations are shaped in one-off…

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Federalism as a Catalyst for Beneficial Social Change

The question of whether there is a federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage is essentially a debate about whether judges need to update the Constitution to keep step with changing times. Justice Anthony Kennedy appears to be the pivotal vote on the issue.  One observer yesterday summarized what he takes to be the lesson of  his previous opinions on rights: Kennedy “believes that each generation has the right to conceive of newer and broader forms of liberty that merit constitutional protection. He sees history as a guide but not a straitjacket.”

There is no doubt that each generation has the right to conceive of newer and broader forms of liberty. But it does not follow that federal judges should determine what those are. As Mike Rappaport and I have noted, the Constitution accommodates social change through features other than judicial updating. The most important such method is federalism. The states themselves have few restrictions on their powers.  Their experiments to address social change can be readily adopted by other states in a continental republic with a free press.

Federalism in the modern era has been a great catalyst for freedoms.

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When Is “the Law” Violated Under the Constitution, Anyway?

Supreme Court of United States

Recently a New York Times headline blared: “McConnell Urges States to Defy U.S. Plan to Cut Greenhouse Gas.” It was the first in a barrage of mainstream media stories to the same effect. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was telling the states to violate the law! An apalled ranking environmental committee Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said she could not recall another top politician actually “calling on states to disobey the law.”

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Roving Bandits: A Discussion with Paul Nolette on the Power Wielded by State Attorneys General

federalism 2

Paul Nolette comes to Liberty Law Talk to discuss his book Federalism on Trial, which demonstrates how state attorneys general quietly became significant national policymakers. What was once a rather staid position in state government has become the source of entirely new regimes of conduct impressed on companies and industries. Incredible evidence of this legal revolution can be seen in the Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco industry, which, courtesy of the attorneys general, sent $200 billion to the states and negotiated an entirely new cartel for the industry without a single vote in Congress. While some attorneys general have challenged…

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Indiana Wants Me, or Maybe Not

I just returned from a speaking engagement with the National Association of Attorneys General (Midwestern) in Indianapolis. The city used to be a dump; now it’s thriving. (In these pre-Final Four days, it’s the place to be.) The NAAG event was tremendous: it’s a shame they don’t transcribe or podcast the discussions. The panelists (yours truly included) yell at each other on the blogs but lo, they’re actually is a trans-party, Yale-to-GMU constituency for the rule of law—and they meet in a hotel room and learn from each other. The NAAG’s Dan Schweitzer, who called this thing together, is a…

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Generals of Regulation

Tutela legale, giustizia, avvocato, legge

Over the past few years, state attorneys general have brought dozens of lawsuits challenging the Obama Administration’s regulatory initiatives. In addition to leading constitutional challenges to the Affordable Care Act, AGs have sued to block new environmental regulations, implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial law, and a host of other federal policies. For those concerned about the size and scope of federal power, this is a welcome development. Who is better positioned than the states’ top litigators to use law as a bulwark to protect the rights of states against an expanding federal government?

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