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Democracy and Liberty

From National Affairs George Will writes The Limits of Majority Rule.  It is an excellent summary of the history of the court as it has moved from judicial review to activism.  The success of Progressivism has hinged on the court shifting from upholding constitutional restraints on majority rule to an activist approach to uphold the majoritarianism- what many would call democracy- of Congress.

an excerpt:

The court did not say, but it might as well have said, that majority rule requires that courts only reluctantly and rarely engage in the judicial supervision of democracy, because majority rule is the essence of the American project. There are, however, two things wrong with this formulation.

First, it is utterly unrealistic and simpleminded to think that there is majority support for, or majority interest in, or even majority awareness of, even a tiny fraction of what governments do in “dishing out” advantages to economic factions. Does anyone really think that, when the Nashville city government dispenses favors for the taxi and limo cartel, it is acting on the will of a majority of the city’s residents? Can anyone actually believe that a majority of Louisianans give a tinker’s dam about who sells caskets or arranges flowers?

The second fallacy behind a passive judiciary deferring to majoritarian institutions is more fundamental. It is rooted in the fact that we know, because he said so, clearly and often, that Lincoln took his political bearings from the Declaration of Independence. We know that Lincoln believed, because the Declaration says so, that governments are instituted to secure our natural rights. These rights therefore pre-exist government. And they include the unenumerated ones affirmed in the Constitution’s Ninth Amendment: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

 

HKO

The Progressive Era can be summarized as the point in our history where democracy became more important than liberty.  The Founders and Framers clearly valued Liberty much more.

Congress is the instrument of Democracy, but the Court is the instrument of the Constitution which was designed to be a limit to majoritarianism. Democracy is important but without the limits of the Constitution and the proper supervision of the court Democracy breed demagogues and dangerous populism. The Framers understood that democracy and demagogue have the same root.

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The Essence of Restraint

george_will

From National Affairs George Will writes The Limits of Majority Rule. :

an excerpt:

If the sole, or overriding, goal of the Constitution can be reduced to establishing democracy, and if the distilled essence of democracy is that majorities shall rule in whatever sphere of life where majorities wish to rule, then the Court is indeed a “deviant institution.” But such a reductionist understanding of American constitutionalism is passing strange. It is excessive to say, as often has been said, that the Constitution is “undemocratic” or “anti-democratic” or “anti-majoritarian.” It is not, however, too much to say that the Constitution regards majority rule as but one component of a system of liberty.

The principle of judicial restraint, distilled to its essence, frequently is the principle that an act of the government should be presumed constitutional and that the party disputing the act’s constitutionality bears the heavy burden of demonstrating the act’s unconstitutionality beyond a reasonable doubt. The contrary principle of judicial engagement is that the judiciary’s principal duty is the defense of liberty, and that the government, when challenged, bears the burden of demonstrating that its action is in conformity with the Constitution’s architecture, the purpose of which is to protect liberty. The federal government can dispatch this burden by demonstrating that its action is both necessary and proper for the exercise of an enumerated power. A state or local government can dispatch the burden by demonstrating that its act is within the constitutionally proscribed limits of its police power.

HKO

I highly recommend reading Will’s entire essay

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The Conscience of the Constitution

From National Affairs George Will writes The Limits of Majority Rule.  I strongly recommend you read the entire essay.

an excerpt:

Another reason many conservatives favor judicial deference and restraint is what can be called the conservative populist temptation. Conservatives are hardly immune to the temptation to pander — to preach that majorities are presumptively virtuous and that the things legislatures do are necessarily right because they reflect the will of the majority.

But the essential drama of democracy derives from the inherent tension between the natural rights of the individual and the constructed right of the community to make such laws as the majority deems necessary and proper. Natural rights are affirmed by the Declaration of Independence; majority rule, circumscribed and modulated, is constructed by the Constitution. Timothy Sandefur of the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, in his book The Conscience of the Constitution, rightly emphasizes that the Declaration is not just chronologically prior to the Constitution, it is logically prior. Because it “sets the framework for reading” the Constitution, it is the Constitution’s “conscience”: By the terms with which the Declaration articulates the Constitution’s purpose — the purpose is to “secure” unalienable rights — the Declaration intimates the standards by which to distinguish the proper from the improper exercises of majority rule. “Freedom,” writes Sandefur, “is the starting point of politics; government’s powers are secondary and derivative, and therefore limited….Liberty is the goal at which democracy aims, not the other way around.”

The progressive project, now entering its second century, has been to reverse this by giving majority rule priority over liberty when the two conflict, as they inevitably and frequently do. This reflects the progressive belief that rights are the result of government; they are “spaces of privacy” that government “has chosen to carve out and protect.”

HKO

The Progressive Era marks the point in our history where democracy took precedence over liberty; where majority rights took precedence over individual rights. This was contrary to the intent of the Framers. This departure was the critical argument that converted the administrative state, meant to delivery efficiency in government unpolluted by politics, to the welfare state which grew to serve majoritarian impulses.

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Chasing Cash Instead of Crime

When Cops Seize Property from Michael Haugen at The National Review

If this situation sounds like an abuse of constitutional due process, it is — and it gets worse. Because the property itself “commits” a crime under civil forfeiture, the burden of proof is on the property owner, who must prove that the property was not involved in criminal activity, or that he didn’t know, or couldn’t have known, that it would be used for that purpose. And since law-enforcement agencies usually get to retain most, if not all, forfeiture proceeds upon final disposition, this creates a perverse incentive to be as aggressive as possible in pushing civil forfeiture to its limits.

It isn’t just the government that’s making money, either. DEA agents paid one Amtrak secretary $854,460 over two decades to provide information on travelers. Initially this was done only at an agent’s request, but soon the secretary “began making queries on his own initiative.” The potential for civil forfeiture to corrupt otherwise well-intended law-enforcement activity is very significant, and evidently isn’t limited to government actors. Ordinary citizens should not be co-opted to aid in a constitutionally dubious practice with the allure of hefty remunerations, nor should they be incentivized to take law into their own hands.

“We want the cash,” proclaimed a former drug-task-force supervisor who oversaw one such operation attached to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. “Good agents chase cash.” This sort of sentiment is an unfortunate example of how the perverse incentives behind asset forfeiture can transform an otherwise legitimate crime-fighting tool into a constitutional nightmare, and well-meaning law-enforcement officers into de facto revenue generators.

Good agents don’t chase cash, they combat crime.

HKO

Asset forfeiture laws are morally and legally reprehensible.

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Politics and Law

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from Kevin Williamson at National Review,  Merrick Garland’s ‘Moderation’

It should not matter — if the law were the law. If the law is whatever our black-robed secular clerics say it is, then it does matter what sort of political views justices hold. And if it matters what sort of political views justices hold, then the Supreme Court is not a court, but something else.

Conservatives should not accept an extreme left-wing judicial activist. They should not accept an extreme right-wing judicial activist, if there were such a thing. They should not accept a moderate judicial activist, for the same reason that they would not shoot themselves in the foot with a firearm of moderate caliber. Litmus tests may be in bad odor with our self-proclaimed sophisticates, but here one is very much in order: The law is the law is the law, and it isn’t anything else. Those who believe otherwise do not belong on the Supreme Court any more than moderate phrenologists belong on medical-school faculties or moderate foxes should be assigned guard duty at the henhouse.