The Crisis of American Conservatism: A Conversation with George Nash

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 08:   (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)The great historian of American conservatism, George Nash, returns to Liberty Law Talk to discuss the current state of conservatism after the improbable victory of Donald Trump.

US State Constitutions and the American Contribution to the Theory of Bicameralism

Virginia State Capitol complex - old House of Delegates chamber

With the US House of Representatives representing the people, and the US Senate representing the states (more so prior to the adoption of the 17th Amendment, but that’s another discussion), the US Congress is a recognizable extension of the “mixed-government” rationale for legislative bicameralism.

Read More

How Separation-of-Power Systems Can Disrupt, Rather than Preserve, the Status Quo

Last week I discussed why bicameralism is not necessarily a status-quo preserving institution, at least in the sense that conventional wisdom suggests bicameral legislatures produce less legislation relative to analogously situated (however defined) unicameral legislatures.

Commentators often ignore that in “strong” bicameral systems, as exist in the U.S., “second” legislative chambers can initiate legislation itself as well as kill legislation approved by the other chamber. Depending on how much legislation each chamber initiates, and on cross-chamber kill rates, it’s entirely possible that a bicameral legislature will enact more legislation than a similarly-situated unicameral legislature.

To be sure, it is a bit of a bait-and-switch to purport to consider the impact of veto players on legislative production and then initially discuss an institution that can initiate legislation as well as stop legislation. So let’s now face the original question fairly: What about institutions that can only veto legislation without also having the power to initiate legislation? Think of judicial review.

Read More

Testing the Logic of Veto Points

Interior view of the House of Commons, vintage engraved illustration. Magasin Pittoresque 1853.

Conventional wisdom is that separation-of-power political systems are inherently conservative in the sense of being a status-quo preserving institution. As one adds veto points to the legislative process, the thought goes, less legislation will be implemented relative to a system with fewer veto points.

Read More

Better Days, Really?

Any serious checks on the separation of parties and executive government, I’ve argued in my earlier post, would compel us to re-think big pieces of the constitutional and institutional architecture—stuff we haven’t thought about and that’s wholly missing from the GOP’s pedestrian “Better Way” agenda.  Herewith some examples of what that might look like. Here’s an option that ABW stumbles toward: under the German Constitution, one-third of the legislature can ask for immediate constitutional review of any piece of legislation. Why? Because Germany doesn’t have a separation of powers that permits one political branch to check the other’s transgression. It’s a…

Read More

Removal of the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Recently, a three judge panel on the D.C. Circuit held in PHH Corp. v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, that the for cause removal provision for the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was unconstitutional. Rather than striking down the entire statute, the court struck the for cause removal provision, leaving the director subject to removal at the pleasure of the President.

The Bureau is an example of the newest philosophy in administrative governance, which the Democrats have pursued in Sarbanes Oxley, Obamacare, and the Dodd-Frank banking act. The idea is to maximize the independence of administrative agencies and to enhance their power. In terms of maximizing the independence of the Bureau, the Bureau does not answer to the President (that is what the for cause removal provision means) and it is funded through the Federal Reserve, so that the Congress cannot use its appropriations power to control the agency. The power of the agency is enhanced, because it is controlled by a single director rather than a bipartisan commission as virtually all independent agencies are. Needless to say, this new philosophy of governance is extremely problematic.

Read More

While It Was All Just Slippin’ Away

Yesterday, the Hoover Institution hosted a conference on “A Better Way,” the House Republicans’ agenda to make America perhaps not great again but at least work again. That proved a useful focus for a panel discussion featuring yours truly (video link to come). As for ABW itself, I’m with the Boss: Well my soul checked out missing as I sat listening  To the hours and minutes tickin' away Yeah just sittin' around waitin' for my life to begin While it was all just slippin' away The fact is that ABW is dead for the foreseeable future. Mr. Trump has severely compromised, if not single-handedly destroyed,…

Read More

The Mistakes of Chevron and a Separation of Powers Fallacy

In my previous post, I talked about how delegation came to dominate our government.  I focused on two types of delegation – delegation of policymaking discretion and delegation of legal interpretation, such as Chevron deference.

I suggested that Chevron was a disaster, because it greatly added to the delegations that had already occurred though congressional statutes.  The courts could have simply enforced those congressional delegations without adding to them with Chevron.  But instead they invented Chevron – which had not been enacted by Congress – and greatly expanded the delegations.

Chevron was also a disaster in another way.  One might believe that Republicans are generally more in favor of limited government than Democrats these days, especially as to government regulation.  This is not an uncontroversial judgment, but I believe it is largely correct.  And if that is so, then the Republican judges of the 1980s undermined their cause when they pushed Chevron.  Chevron allowed administrative agencies significantly more authority to enact regulations. 

Read More

The Constitutional Work Before Us

Capitol Dome with Dark Storm Sky

The Supreme Court is lost. Sunday night’s debate settled that. The question now is not how to save the Court but rather how to navigate an adverse one, and the answer is to deprive it of power.

Read More

A Tale of Two Majorities

George Caleb Bingham, Stump Speaking. 1853.

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.

Read More