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Archive for the ‘Supreme Court’ Category

The Contract From America—Agenda Item 1

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

The Tea Party movement is a fascinating groundswell of activism among Americans who are concerned about the direction of their government.

Because it’s a bottom-up movement, it’s got official Washington having fits. Nobody knows exactly what Tea Partiers want or how they will act in the next election. But Tea Partiers want something, and they’re very likely to express their views at the ballot box in November.

The Contract From America is one set of policies that roughly bind together many Tea Partiers and Tea Party groups. It’s a follow-on of sorts to the Contract With America that swept Republicans into office in the 1994 election.

contact_from_americaSo we’re going to look at the terms of the Contract From America in a series of posts. And we’ll look at some of the bills that exist to do what Contract Tea Partiers want.

Below is item 1 in the Contract (with the level of support it received in a voting process), followed by some discussion of the proposal.

1. Protect the Constitution

Require each bill to identify the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does. (82.03%)

Interestingly, the House already requires a “constitutional authority statement” in committee reports—the explanatory documents that House committees issue when they advance a bill. It was a reform established after Republicans took over the House in 1994.

The Supreme Court interprets the Commerce Clause very broadly, though, allowing Congress to do many things that would have driven the framers of the constitution around the bend.

Item 1 in the Contract is probably really about hoping the Supreme Court will reassert the constitution’s limits on federal authority. And perhaps it will…

In 1995, the Supreme Court held in a case called United States v. Lopez that Congress couldn’t criminalize gun possession near a school under the constitution’s commerce power. Gun possession isn’t commerce—get it? The Lopez case had been argued before the Court on election day 1994, the day that Republicans won the House using the Contract With America.

There are bills in both the House and Senate to require Congress to specify its authority under the constitution for the enactment of laws. In the Senate, the bill is S. 1319, the Enumerated Powers Act, introduced by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK).

In his statement about the bill, Senator Coburn admitted that passage of it wouldn’t fix everything in one fell swoop.

So this bill says you can still cheat on the constitution, but now you’ve just got to explain to the American people why you’re doing it. . . . And that is one of the ways we get our country back, because the American people become informed. I guarantee you many will become outraged when they hear some of the statements on why we think we have the authority to do some of the things we do.

This reform—item 1 in the Contract From America—is a modest reform, but an important one.

The House bill is H.R. 450. It was introduced by John Shadegg (R-AZ).

Here are the votes on the two bills, first the Senate bill and second the House bill. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki articles about the bills.

. . . Referred to the Committee on Sarcasm

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

I had to do a double-take when I first saw this bill.

H.R. 6615 would “provide for the transport of the enemy combatants detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Washington, D.C., where the United States Supreme Court will be able to more effectively micromanage the detainees by holding them on the Supreme Court grounds . . . .”

OK, I get it.

Some member of Congress doesn’t like the Supreme Court’s rulings on treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and decided to introduce a bill to makes a symbolic point: “Well if the dang Supreme Court wants these guys treated well, they should have to serve ‘em sandwiches and sweet tea right there in their own offices!”

I like sarcasm and irony and all, but on balance I think this annoys me. For a symbolic gesture, this guy put his staff to work, he put the House parliamentarian to work, he put the Government Printing Office to work, and the committees of jurisdiction too (Armed Services and Judiciary).

This is taking the legislative process very unseriously. It wastes a lot of people’s time and money.

So, Louie Gohmert, leave it out next time. There are people who differ with the Supreme Court’s rulings, and they offer serious legislation and serious arguments. They’re doing they’re jobs as they see them, not monkeying around with taxpayers’ money on stunts that they think will make cheap political points.

Reserving my right to applaud abuses of the legislative process that are actually clever, here’s the current vote on the bill. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

Reversing the Supreme Court

Friday, July 4th, 2008

The Supreme Court recently ended its October 2007 term. There’s always a flurry of interest around this time as big cases are often handed down late in the term.

Here’s more analysis than you need of the term just ended from SCOTUSBlog and a summary of some of the most significant recent cases.

Supreme Court cases have winners and losers, of course. And Members of Congress aren’t content to sit idly by while the Court takes things in the wrong direction as they see it. There are at least two examples in the last couple of weeks where bills have been introduced in Congress to reverse the results or outcomes in Supreme Court cases.

Kennedy v. Louisiana found that executions for the rape of a child violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. “The death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child,” Justice Kennedy wrote for the court.

There is interesting discussion in the legal blogosphere and a story in the New York Times about whether the Court had overlooked some relevant law. Whether or not because of that detail, some members of Congress have moved to reverse the Court.

House Joint Resolution 96 proposes an amendment to the Constitution that says: “The penalty of death for the forcible rape of a child who has not attained the age of 12 years does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.”

Here’s the current vote on the bill. Click to vote or comment:



Boumediene v. Bush is a second case that members of Congress have gone after. The case found that foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay have rights under the Constitution to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts. Justice Kennedy, again writing for the Court, said, “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.”

Shortly after the decision, H.R. 6274 was introduced: the Boumediene Jurisdiction Correction Act. It doesn’t set out to reverse the Supreme Court, but it says:

Any person being held under military authority in the part of Cuba leased to the United States may challenge the circumstances and legality of that person’s detention to the same extent and with the same rights as are provided under the writ of habeas corpus. The courts established under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and operating in that part of Cuba shall have exclusive original jurisdiction to hear and determine any such challenge.

Of course, giving jurisdiction over a writ of habeas corpus to a military court would have about the same effect as taking away the habeas petition, and the first commenter on the bill said: “If this bill will ‘undo’ the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of the Guantanamo detainees, it must be passed.”

Here’s the current vote on the bill. Click or vote to comment:



The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, but it may not always have the last word.