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Posts Tagged ‘Supreme Court’

In Armour v. City of Indianapolis, (No. 11-161 6-4-12) the Supreme Court again decided to ignore the Constitution and side with the government on very unsteady ground. At issue was whether the City had to pay back to certain homeowners money it had collected for a sewer assessment that it was later able to obtain funding for (through bonds). While the plaintiffs in this case paid the entire assessment (some $9,000 up front), the other homeowners who elected to pay the assessment over time had the amounts remaining due forgiven. While this would seem to violate the Equal Protection Clause with the government favoring one group of citizens over another, the court disagreed. Because the right at issue was economic rather than a “fundamental” right, the court applied the “rational basis” test. In other words, did the City have a rational basis to make the distinction between the homeowners who paid the assessment up front and the homeowners who chose to pay it over time. The City’s “rational basis” was that it was inconvenient to issue the refunds.
To his credit, Chief Justice Roberts indicated in his dissent that: “The Equal Protection Clause does not provide that no state shall ‘deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, unless it’s too much of a bother.’” Only Scalia and Alito joined the dissent, leaving this the current law of the land as stated by a majority of 6. Your economic rights can be trampled on by government. One can only dream of the time when the American public wakes up and starts electing libertarian officials to dismantle the non-working nonsensical unconstitutional parts of our government and demand that the Constitution be followed in a logical consistent way and that the rights given to individuals in the Constitution are resuscitated.

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As I discussed in an earlier blog post, the Health Care Law is not constitutional. Our Constitution provides limits on what the federal government can legislate. The enumerated powers are found in Article 1, Section 8. These are the only areas within which the federal government can legislate. Unfortunately, we are in the situation we are in today (with massive amounts of unconstitutional federal regulations) because the Supreme Court declared the Social Security Act constitutional in three (3) decisions passed down on May 24, 1937. In coming to the conclusion that the Social Security Act was constitutional, it did a complete about-face from over 100 years of rulings. Prior to these 3 decisions on Social Security (Helvering v. Davis, Stewart Machine v. Davis, and Carmichael v. Southern Coal and Coke), the Supreme Court routinely struck down legislation which went beyond the powers granted to the federal government in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.  The Court rejected much of the New Deal and repeatedly held that the federal government did not have the authority under the Constitution to set up social welfare programs, or tax individuals in an effort to get them to comply with a legislative desire. The pre-May 24, 1937 decisions were consistent the intent of the Founding Fathers. The wording of the Constitution makes it clear that the federal government does not have the power to intervene in economic or state matters and the reservation clause (Tenth Amendment) reinforces this limit on the power of the federal government – “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Why did the court change its mind on May 24, 1937? When Roosevelt didn’t get his way concerning his planned expansion of federal power (the “New Deal”) he decided the Supreme Court was too old to make decisions. To relieve them of this burden, he proposed that new Justices should be added for every current Justice over the age of 70. Although this legislation was not passed, it clearly signaled to the Supreme Court (or at least a majority on the Supreme Court) that it had better get in line and support the President’s desire to expand federal power and stamp its approval on the New Deal.

When you read the 3 decisions that came out on that day, you see how ridiculous the arguments are. The Court concluded that the Social Security Act was constitutional because of societal conditions at the time (i.e., the Great Depression). In other words, because the States were unable to handle the issue of the societal ills of the unemployed elderly, the federal government had to step in and provide welfare to them. This is the first time we hear that the Constitution does allow the federal government to spend for the “general welfare” and that the discretion to determine where to draw the line between general welfare and particular welfare rested with Congress, unless the choice is arbitrary or capricious (Helvering). What was formerly an introductory phrase to the list of actual areas in which the federal government could pass laws, was now a new area in itself: general welfare. It is clear from the written opinion in Helvering that Cardoza had to bend over backwards to reach this conclusion. He spends an inordinate amount of time discussing the Great Depression and characterizing unemployment not as a “particular” ill, but a “general” one. In addition, with respect to taxing as a way to get individuals and states to bend to the will of the federal government, the Court indicates that just because the excise taxes were expected to coerce the states into some type of action does not make the tax invalid. The court seems to imply that if the means (taxing in order to coerce the states to adopt conforming regulations) accomplishes a national end (general welfare), then it must be valid (Stewart Machine).

It is my fervent hope that our current Supreme Court will correct this long line of holdings by explaining how the actual wording of Article 1, Section 8 and the reservation clause (contained in the 10th Amendment) provide a limit on federal government. In addition, they have an opportunity to reclaim the true meaning of the word “commerce” in the Constitution as Judge Roger Vinson of Federal District Court in Pensacola, Florida did in his very well-worded decision striking down the Health Care Law.

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The District Court in Florida recently declared the new Health Care Law unconstitutional. Of course, this decision will still need to be appealed to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, but the Judge carefully outlined the reasons for his declaration in the written opinion. Although I would have listed a few more reasons, I was impressed with some of the rationales he listed. I especially liked the fact that he went back to the actual language in the Constitution as it was intended when written. I know that is not the popular way to interpret the Constitution, but it does make sense. To summarize: Interstate commerce means interstate trade. Trade means the movement of goods in exchange for money. Insurance does in no way fall within this category. Insurance is a service, not a physical product which can travel in a truck on I-35 between Texas and Illinois. Basically, despite all of the reasons you may have heard about why this law is unconstitutional, the best one is the simplest one: it is not authorized under Section 1 Article 8 – the section which grants Congress the power to pass laws. The powers in this Article were enumerated in order to LIMIT federal government. As you can imagine this was a huge concern to our founding fathers.
There has been some talk of repealing the Health Care Act, but I hope this doesn’t happen. I would like to see the Supreme Court rule on this issue. If they do interpret the Constitution the way it was intended, they will find that Congress did not have the authority to pass this Act and it would open the door for States to bring other lawsuits concerning federal laws outside the purview of Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution. I can envision California taking on the establishment of the DEA, for example, or the passing of laws that criminalized the possession of marijuana and made it a federal offense under the Commerce Clause. (Remember, police power is reserved to the States so the only way these laws could be passed and these agencies established was through a tenuous connection to interstate commerce. Of course, the commerce clause wasn’t intended to criminalize trade. Well, at least the sale of marijuana would fall under the definition of trade. The problem is that on the one hand Congress wants to force citizens to buy the services of for-profit corporations and on the other wants to prevent citizens from purchasing a plant. Neither type of law is authorized in the Constitution. Of course, our founding fathers were not averse to marijuana – it is believed that George Washington grew hemp on his farm.)
The bottom line is that the federal government has gotten out of control of the people. It is no longer acting as a government for the people, but rather as a government for more government. Congress is passing laws in areas beyond what the Constitution permits. This is not a right v. left issue or a liberal v. conservative issue. It is simply a matter of whether or not the States are going to permit the Federal government to continue down this road. It is up to us as citizens to elect state officials who will stand up to federal encroachment. The best way to get our country back and our economy out of the gutter is to vote. Vote in your state elections – they really matter.

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In the case of US v. Stevens which was decided this week by the Supreme Court, a federal statute banning the making or sale of animal cruelty videos was declared unconstitutional. The statute at issue was intended to criminalize “crush videos” (which I won’t describe here but depict horrendous animal cruelty). While there are some exceptions to the right of free speech – most notably the one for obscenity – the Court indicated that animal cruelty should not be an additional exception. In other words, the statute attempted to criminalize speech which is protected under the First Amendment.

 Despite the free speech analysis in the decision, I think the bigger issue is government encroachment on individual’s rights through the passage of federal criminal laws. Under the Bill of Rights, the federal government does not have police power; it was reserved to the states. Thus, the federal government does not have Constitutional authority to make and enforce criminal laws against its own citizens (except in a few very limited circumstances – such as regarding the military). While the result is right in US v. Stevens; it is for 10th Amendment reasons as opposed to 1st Amendment reasons.  I do believe that videos depicting animal cruelty are obscene and the making and distribution thereof should be criminalized, but this should be done at the state level.

This 10th Amendment issue is going to come up more and more frequently now that people are starting to question the extent of federal legislation in this country. I was hoping this opinion would have given us a clue as to how this Court will rule when a 10th Amendment argument is made to it. I imagine it will come up with respect to the federal marijuana laws and the Health Care Reform Bill. I for one will be looking at the wording of future Supreme Court decisions to see if I can determine how they will resolve this issue.

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Does telling a suspect that “You have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions” and “You have the right to use any of these rights at any time you want during this interview” mean the same thing as “You have the right to an attorney during questioning?”

In the case of Florida v. Powell decided February 23, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Florida Supreme Court’s holding that the statements made by the police were misleading because they seemed to imply that the suspect only had a right to an attorney prior to the interrogation.  The case of Miranda v. Arizona (1966) requires that a suspect must be clearly warned prior to any questioning that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer present with him during interrogation.

The Supreme Court stated that the exact warning given did satisfy the requirements in Miranda. The Court declined to prescribe any exact phraseology. What are your thoughts? Do you believe the statement “You have the right to use any of the rights at any time you want during this interview” is clear enough to inform a suspect that he or she can have an attorney present during an interrogation? Why or why not?

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Recently the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Maryland v. Shatzer which created new law. Although the law requires the police to inform those being questioned that they have the right to have an attorney present during questioning, the issue in this case was whether an arrestee’s invocation of the right expires when there is a break in custody. Previous law indicates that police cannot re-question a suspect after they have invoked their right, even after they have spoken with their attorney, unless the suspect approaches them. In the Shatzer case, the suspect invoked his Miranda rights in 2003 after a police officer approached him in jail on another offense. In 2006, a different officer approached him while still in jail and this time he waived his rights.

The lower court in this case had held that because of the “break in custody” between 2003 and 2006, the police were able to re-question the suspect. The Maryland Court of Appeals reversed indicating that because the suspect remained in jail, there was no break in custody. The Supreme Court felt that the previous rule applied to “investigative custody” not any other type of custody. What is interesting about this case is that the Court adopted a 14-day rule which means that the police can now wait 14 days before attempting to re-question a witness who is no longer in custody. This is quite different from the previous rule indicating that once invoked, Miranda rights remain intact until the suspect approaches the police.

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In Salazar v. Buono, 08-472 (Supreme Court 2008 – not yet decided) the lower court held that the presence of a Christian cross located on land owned by the federal government was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The original cross had been erected in 1934 by the Veterans of Foreign Wars in remembrance of those who died. The original case was brought by a former National Park Service employee who felt that displaying the cross on public lands without other religions represented was offensive. In an attempt to get around the Establishment clause issue, Congress declared the cross a national monument and then attempted to exchange the parcel on which it was located for another so that the memorial would not be located on federal property. The lower court disallowed this as well.

Unlike Citizens United (see previous post) where the Supreme Court took a very limited issue and expanded it beyond recognition, in Salazar, the Supreme Court reduced this potentially far-reaching decision and limited their questioning on oral argument to whether the government had the right to exchange the parcel to allow the cross to stay where it was.

While Scalia suggested that the cross was a war memorial, and Alito implied that the Congress’ actions had solved the Establishment Clause issue, the rest of the Justices seemed focused on whether Congress even had the right to exchange the parcels under these circumstances. Had Souter remained on the court, it is likely he would have objected to the war memorial as being a religious symbol. It will be interesting to read the decision when it comes out and see what Sotomayor has to say, if anything.

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