The Constitution permits Congress to do amazing stuff to the independent judiciary. It can withhold jurisdiction, or yank jurisdiction that’s been given. It can change the law for pending cases. It can legislate for a “legitimate class of one.” But suppose Smith sues Jones in federal court and Congress enacts a law saying, “In Smith v. Jones [docket number], Smith wins.” Constitutional? An ancient, messy case, U.S. v. Klein (1872), seems to say “no.” After Wednesday’s decision in Bank Markazi v. Peterson, the answer may be “yes.” I’ve written about the case before: The outcome is more depressing than I had apprehended.
The fundamental constitutional question presented by the case of United States v. Texas is not whether the President is constitutionally required to enforce immigration laws (he is), but whether the Supreme Court is constitutionally empowered to police every constitutional dispute. If it decides to do the work of Congress and restrain the executive, it will, more than it did in Cooper v. Aaron (1958), proclaim a doctrine of judicial supremacy over constitutional questions.
The presidential nominating contests continue to befuddle prognosticators, but the consensus winner of the Syntactical Caucus of 2016 is already in. Whether Republican or Democrat, the next President will almost certainly display an unreasoning proclivity for the first person singular.
The 20th century ended amid well-founded optimism that Latin America had taken firm steps toward democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Only the island of Cuba seemed stuck in the era of military dictatorship and authoritarianism. But in the last 15 years, things have changed. Political violence has reappeared in many Latin countries and criminality is on the rise, with concomitant erosion of respect for individual rights.
Constitutions built upon a separation of powers were not made to last. The conceit that executive and legislative branches of government might be set in equipoise, and balance each other off over the decades, was amusingly mocked by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. in The Deacon’s Masterpiece (1858):
Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day…?
The secret to building a carriage, the Deacon thought, was to make each piece as strong as the rest, so that no one part wears out first. And as there’d never be a weakest spot, the shay would go on forever, just like the imagined Madisonian Constitution. Well, it lasted and lasted, the talk of the town, until 100 years to the day it all collapsed at once and the new owner found himself sitting on a pile of ashes. No part wore out first. Everything went simultaneously. “End of the wonderful one-hoss shay. Logic is logic. That’s all I say.”
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.
Conventional wisdom holds that the Speakership of the House is an impossible job because the Republican caucus is ungovernable. On this narrative, compromise is profane, and conservative purists outflank any constructive proposal leadership makes, thus rendering it toxic to the opposition. The purists are the proverbial bidders in Burke’s “auction of popularity”: “If any [leader] should happen to propose a scheme of liberty, soberly limited, and defined with proper qualifications, he will be immediately outbid by his competitors, who will produce something more splendidly popular.”
Alas: What’s a speaker to do?