Kopel's Corner weblog, November-December 2011

Are people with concealed handgun carry permits a menace to society?

• December 28, 2011 1:20 pm

According to the New York Times, the answer seems to be “yes.” An article in yesterday’s Times by Michael Luo collects some anecdotes about misbehavior by a few licensees in North Carolina. The Times article has some numbers in it, and it provides the number of North Carolinians with carry permits (240,000). After a thorough search of North Carolina records, the Times finds that about 1% of permitees were convicted of something, other than a traffic offense, over the past five years. Of these 2,400 convictions, by far the largest group is “nearly 900 permit holders were convicted of drunken driving, a potentially volatile circumstance given the link between drinking and violence.”

“Drunk driving” (which, I would guess, the Times uses as a shorthand for lesser offenses such as driving while impaired) is a serious crime in itself. But just because a woman has three glasses of wine with dinner at a restaurant, and then gets caught in a police checkpoint, doesn’t make her some “potentially volatile” person who is going to murder somebody in an inebriated rage.

In any large population (e.g., 240,000) there will be at least a small percentage who over a period of time are found guilty of some crimes. This does not mean that that population as a whole is dangerous. It would have been useful to compare the conviction rates of North Carolinians who have carry licenses with the convictions rates of those who do not. I suspect that the non-licensee crime rate would be much higher, especially for violent gun crimes.

In a 2009 article in the Connecticut Law Review, I collected data from Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Louisiana, Texas, and Florida. (The state data begin on page 564 of the article.) The data show that concealed carry licensees are much more law-abiding than the general population, and that the rate of gun misuse of any sort (let alone having something to do with violence in public place) is less than one in one thousand.

Instapundit collects some other responses to the Times' effort to foment hysteria and prejudice against the persons who exercise the constitutional right to carry firearms for lawful protection.

[This post was corrected in response to reader comments, including the fact that I wrongly wrote that the Times had not reported the total number of licensees.]

Categories: Guns, Press, Right to carry0 Comments

Laws about gun ownership in early America

• December 9, 2011 2:23 am

Regarding Eugene Volokh’s post below about an NYU L. Rev. article, “The People” of the Second Amendment: Citizenship and the Right To Bear Arms. I just scanned the article, and there appears to be only a single footnote which directly cites any state statutes from before 1800. Note 125, accurately cites standard statutory compilations from Massachusetts and Connecticut for laws against selling firearms to Indians. Although the author is apparently unaware that by 1661 (Connecticut) and 1688 (Massachusetts) the laws were changed to allow gun sales (and even gun carrying in towns) by friendly Indians. The article suffers very severely from its near-exclusive reliance on secondary sources for the pre-1800 period, especially since some of those sources are highly tendentious.

To summarize the information from Chapter 3 of my forthcoming textbook Firearms Law and the Second Amendment: Regulation, Rights, and Policy (Aspen Publishers, available in late Jan. 2012) regarding American law pre-1800:

Women: No restrictions. Of course they did not serve in the militia. Laws requiring “householders” (whether or not they were in the militia) to have arms were common, and these usually included a woman who was the head of the house (e.g., a widow).

Free blacks: Some states had no restrictions, some states had bans on their owning guns. Free blacks served in some state militia, not in some other states, and in some states policies changed depending on military necessity. They were excluded from the federal militia by the Second Militia Act of 1792.

Slaves: Several states banned gun ownership, or allowed ownership only with the master’s permission.

Poor whites: To claim that they were excluded from gun ownership or from militia service is absurd. There were absolutely no property or wealth restrictions on gun ownership, nor on service in the militia. To the contrary, many states had programs to supply poor people with guns (“public arms”) for militia service, if they could not afford their own. Further, the laws requiring householders to be armed often required that the household provide arms to adult male servants. State laws also required that when an indentured servant finished his or her term of service, the master must provide the former servant with “freedom dues” so that the servant could begin independent life. The freedom dues were specified set of goods; in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, freedom dues for male servants included a firearm. In short, the state laws of the 17th and 18th centuries in America were generally prescriptive about gun ownership by poor people, and the prescriptions were to put guns into the hands of the poor.

The author of the NYU article asserts that “arms bearing was considered congruent to voting, holding public office, or serving on juries.” That’s incorrect for “bearing” in the sense of carrying a gun for personal use, since there were no wealth, sex, age, or citizenship restrictions on carrying. And the claim is even more incorrect if “bearing” is meant in the restrictive sense of “bearing for militia service.” Militia laws always mandated service by all males (except, sometimes Blacks or Indians) in a certain age range. Period. The only exemptions were for specified professions (e.g., clergy). Militia duty was generally required starting at age 16 or 18 (which was before voting eligibility). Indeed, during the end of the 18th century and the early 19th century, one of the standard, successful, arguments for broadening the franchise by eliminating the property requirement for voting was that anyone who served in the militia deserved to vote. E.g., “Let every man who fights or pays, exercise his just and equal right in their election.” Thomas Jefferson letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816.

Catholics: In Maryland, temporarily barred from gun ownership during the French & Indian War.

Dissenters: During the Revolution, there were plenty of instances of confiscating guns (sometimes with compensation) for militia use from people who would not take a loyalty oath to the new nation, or who would not serve in the militia (this included plenty of religious pacifists in Pennsylvania). During the early theocratic days in Massachusetts, 75 supporters of the religious dissident Anne Hutchinson were disarmed.

The author’s thesis is that illegal aliens and legal non-resident aliens should be allowed to own guns. Part of his argument is to construct and then criticize the supposedly historical “gendered, and class-stratified understanding of persons permitted to own guns.” The author could have made a stronger historical argument for his position if he had accurately described the gun laws of 17th and 18th century America.

Categories: Constitutional History, Election Law, Guns, History, Militia, Political Ignorance, Religion and the Law, Right to carry0 Comments

How the British Gun Control Program Precipitated the American Revolution

• December 7, 2011 8:35 pm

That’s the title of my new law review article, currently in the editing process at the Charleston Law Review. A draft is available at SSRN, and comments are welcome. The final part of the article suggests how the history might inform our modern understanding of Second Amendment rights.

Categories: Constitutional History, Guns, Militia0 Comments

The original meaning of the 14th Amendment regarding interracial marriage

• December 5, 2011 5:38 pm

Over at Balkinization, Andrew Koppelman (Northwestern) has an interesting and thoughtful post on the state of originalism. Synthesizing analysis by Jamal Greene and Jack Balkin, Koppelman writes, “Originalism is fundamentally about a narrative of rhetorical self-identification with the achievements of a founding historical moment. That is the real basis of its power. An originalist argument will be powerful to the extent that can persuade its audience that it can keep faith with that identification.”

Thus, “Originalist argument is an artifact designed to recall the Constitution’s origin and connect what we are doing now with that origin. Once this functional definition of originalism is understood, it follows that the range of possible original arguments is quite broad. It is not, however, infinite.” So, argues Koppelman, the fact that originalists differ among themselves in many important details about what “originalism” really is, is not a fatal flaw. Similarly, there are many different things called “aspirin” (e.g., Excedrin, generic products, St. Joseph’s children’s aspirin, etc.), but they all contain acetylsalicylic acid, and they all have a generally similar function. Which particular one you use at a given time will depend on the particular purposes for which it is needed.

I do want to quibble, though, with one particular legal history claim that Koppelman makes: “Thus originalists struggle with the problem whether the general purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment, to mandate the legal equality of blacks, should trump the framers’ specific intention to permit school segregation and miscegenation laws.” Michael McConnell and Randy Barnett have written on the school segregation issue, but I’d like to add something on miscegenation. I don’t think that the historical record unambiguously supports the claim of a specific intent in the 14th Amendment to allow the continuation of laws against interracial marriage.

We do know for certain that one very specific intention of the 14th Amendment framers was to provide a solid constitutional foundation for the Civil Rights Act of 1866. According to the Act: “All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens. . .”

Early exposition by courts is one source of original public meaning. (Although this source is not always guaranteed to be reliable. See, e.g., the Slaughter-House majority’s dicta). In 1872, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that the state’s 1866 constitutional ban on miscegenation violated the “cardinal principle” of the Civil Rights Act and of the Equal Protection clause. Burns v. State, 48 Ala. 195 (1872). According to the unanimous Burns court, the idea that contracts could be limited to members of the same race was absurd: “Marriage is a civil contract, and in that character alone is dealt with by the municipal law. The same right to make a contract as is enjoyed by white citizens, means the right to make any contract which a white citizen may make. The law intended to destroy the distinctions of race and color in respect to the rights secured by it. It did not aim to create merely an equality of the races in reference to each other. If so, laws prohibiting the races from suing each other, giving evidence for or against, or dealing with one another, would be permissible. The very excess to which such a construction would lead is conclusive against it.”

That same year, the Texas Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the “the law prohibiting such a [common law] marriage [between a white and a black] had been abrogated by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.” Bonds v. Foster, 36 Tex. 68 (1872) (inheritance case). As detailed in Peggy Pascoe’s book, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America (2010), in the years after the Civil War, eleven states repealed their bans on interracial marriage.

It was the Indiana Supreme Court that figured out the way to evade the clear statutory language about the equal right of contract. According to the court, marriage is ”more than a mere civil contract”; it is an institution fundamental to society. The Indiana court insisted at length that the 14th Amendment had not limited the traditional police power of the states. If Congress could ban states from imposing a racial mandate on the right to enter a marriage contract, then Congress would (supposedly) have the power to legislate on all aspects of marriage. State v. Gibson, 36 Ind. 389 (1871).

I don’t find the Indiana court’s 1871 reasoning persuasive, and, apparently, neither did the Alabama and Texas Supreme Courts in 1872. But courts cannot stand forever against the sustained will of the electorate. After four losses, the proponents of anti-miscegenation won on their fifth try in the Alabama Supreme Court. When the courts in the various states finally acquiesced to anti-miscegenation laws, Gibson was the essential citation, because it came from a state where slavery had never legally existed. The Texas intermediate Court of Appeals provided the legal reformulation that marriage was “status” and not “contract,” and was therefore not covered by the Civil Rights Act: “Marriage is not a contract protected by the Constitution of the United States, or within the meaning of the Civil Rights Bill. Marriage is more than a contract within the meaning of the act. It is a civil status, left solely by the Federal Constitution and the laws to the discretion of the states, under their general power to regulate their domestic affairs.” Frasher v. State, 3 Tex. App. 263 (Tex. Ct. App. 1877). (The regressive Frasher decision is one more data point in support of the observation in Henry Sumner Maine’s great 1861 book Ancient Law: “we may say that the movement of the progressive societies has hitherto been a movement from Status to Contract.” Maine’s book elaborates in great detail why marriage law fits this paradigm.)

By the time that Plessy v. Ferguson was decided in 1896, the Supreme Court majority, which was willfully oblivious to contemporary social reality (e.g., if blacks consider a segregation mandate to be a “a badge of inferiority,” that is “solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it”), was also lazily ignorant of legal history: “Laws forbidding the intermarriage of the two races may be said in a technical sense to interfere with the freedom of contact, and yet have been universally recognized as within the police power of the state.” The sole citation for this allegedly “universal” recognition was State v. Gibson. The Court was right that as of 1895, miscegenation laws were constitutionally safe, but the Court seemed quite unaware that during the first years when the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act were the law of the land, the issue was in dispute.

Although the late Professor Pascoe’s book is suffused with critical race/gender theory, readers who find such theories useless will still find Pascoe’s book enormously useful. It is an excellent legal history of anti-miscegenation laws and cases, and not just during Reconstruction. You will learn about the national panic to spread such laws during the early 20th century because the black boxer Jack Johnson (who defeated a string of opponents who were billed as “the Great White Hope”) notoriously consorted with white women; how courts struggled with interpreting miscegenation laws in the West (which were mainly aimed at Asians, and which raised questions such as whether a ban on white marriage to “the Mongolian or Malay races” applied to Filipinos); the NAACP’s political opposition to new miscegenation laws coupled with its great reluctance to mount legal challenges to existing ones; and the extremely risky litigation (not endorsed by NAACP) which led to the landmark 1948 California Supreme Court Perez v. Lippold decision (won mainly on void for vagueness, the fundamental unenumerated right to marry, and First Amendment free exercise of religion, rather than a categorical attack on all racial discrimination).

Justice Carter’s concurrence in Perez is a good illustration of the main thesis of Koppelman’s post, and of the point made by the second Justice Harlan (and also by Jack Balkin) that our “tradition is a living thing,” in which our national understanding of the original meaning can be deepened by new experiences. Rebutting respondent’s collection of social scientists who contended that race-mixing was destructive to the health of the white race, Justice Carter quoted some essentially similar claims from Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Justice Carter continued: “To bring into issue the correctness of the writings of a madman, a rabble-rouser, a mass-murderer, would be to clothe his utterances with an undeserved aura of respectability and authoritativeness. Let us not forget that this was the man who plunged the world into a war in which, for the third time, Americans fought, bled, and died for the truth of the proposition that all men are created equal.” And so, “In my opinion, the statutes here involved violate the very premise on which this country and its Constitution were built, the very ideas embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the very issue over which the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Second World War were fought, and the spirit in which the Constitution must be interpreted in order that the interpretations will appear as ‘Reason in any part of the World besides.’”

Categories: Anti-Semitism, Congress, Constitutional History, Constitutional Law, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, History, Racism, Supreme Court0 Comments

Supreme Court: “Obviously, direct control of medical practice in the states is beyond the power of the federal government.”

• December 1, 2011 5:54 pm

So said the unanimous Supreme Court in United States v. Linder, 268 U.S. 5 (1925). The opinion was written by McReynolds, and joined by the progressive Justices Brandeis and Holmes, along with the rest of the Court.

At issue was the federal Harrison Anti-Narcotic Law, which taxed opium and coca leaves, and their derivatives. Ostensibly as part of the tax scheme, the Act also required registration of those drugs. A physician lawfully dispensed one tablet of morphine and three tablets of cocaine to a female patient who was an addict. The trial court instructed the jury that Dr. Linder’s actions would be lawful if the drugs were dispensed as painkillers for stomach cancer or an ulcer, but not simply because the patient was an addict. As the Supreme Court observed, the indictment “does not question the doctor’s good faith nor the wisdom or propriety of his action according to medical standards. It does not allege that he dispensed the drugs otherwise than to a patient in the course of his professional practice or for other than medical purposes. The facts disclosed indicate no conscious design to violate the law, no cause to suspect that the recipient intended to sell or otherwise dispose of the drugs, and no real probability that she would not consume them.”

The Court pointed out that “Congress cannot, under the pretext of executing delegated power [here, the Tax Power], pass laws for the accomplishment of objects not intrusted to the federal government. And we accept as established doctrine that any provision of an act of Congress ostensibly enacted under power granted by the Constitution, not naturally and reasonably adapted to the effective exercise of such power, but solely to the achievement of something plainly within power reserved to the states, is invalid and cannot be enforced.” This was supported by a string cite starting with McCulloch v. Maryland.

In the instant case, the power to tax cocaine and morphine carried with it incidental powers to effectuate that tax, and the effectuation of the tax was the sole legitimate use of incidental powers. Incidental powers could not be construed to control a physician’s decision about properly taxed and registered products:

“Obviously, direct control of medical practice in the states is beyond the power of the federal government. Incidental regulation of such practice by Congress through a taxing act cannot extend to matters plainly inappropriate and unnecessary to reasonable enforcement of a revenue measure. The enactment under consideration levies a tax, upheld by this court, upon every person who imports, manufactures, produces, compounds, sells, deals in, dispenses or gives away opium or coca leaves or derivatives therefrom, and may regulate medical practice in the states only so far as reasonably appropriate for or merely incidental to its enforcement. It says nothing of ‘addicts’ and does not undertake to prescribe methods for their medical treatment. They are diseased and proper subjects for such treatment, and we cannot possibly conclude that a physician acted improperly or unwisely or for other than medical purposes solely because he has dispensed to one of them in the ordinary course and in good faith, four small tablets of morphine or cocaine for relief of conditions incident to addiction. What constitutes bona fide medical practice must be determined upon consideration of evidence and attending circumstances. Mere pretense of such practice, of course, cannot legalize forbidden sales, or otherwise nullify valid provisions of the statute, or defeat such regulations as may be fairly appropriate to its enforcement within the proper limitations of a revenue measure.”

Thus, said the Court, Linder was different from previous cases in which the Court had upheld the prosecution of physicians whose prescription of large quantities of drugs was obviously a sham, for no medical purpose, and simply to serve as a conduit for drugs to the general public.

It is not surprising that Linder was relied in several cases finding that Congress had exceeded tax power. U.S. v. Butler (1936); Hopkins Federal Savings & Loan Ass’n v. Cleary (1935); U.S. v. Constantine (1935); Trusler v. Crooks (1926).

Significantly, after 1937, the Court continued to rely on Linder, and in upholding other statutes, to distinguish them from the mis-application of the statute in Linder. “While there has long been recognition of the authority of Congress to obtain incidental social, health or economic advantages from the exercise of constitutional powers, it has been said that such collateral results must be obtained from statutory provisions reasonably adapted to the constitutional objects of the legislation. Linder v. United States.” Cloverleaf Butter v. Patterson (1942).

Linder appears the very first paragraph of a case familiar to many VC readers, United States v. Miller (1939). Citing, inter alia, Linder, the Miller opinion says that the federal tax and tax registration system for certain firearms does not “usurp[] police power reserved to the States.”

In U.S. v. Kahriger (1953), Linder is a “But see” footnote for this sentence: “Unless there are provisions, extraneous to any tax need, courts are without authority to limit the exercise of the taxing power.” I think that’s a misreading of Linder. The Court’s point in Linder was that micro-managing a physician’s decision about when to write a prescription was in fact “extraneous to any tax need.” So Linder and Kahriger are not inconsistent.

In a case decided after Kahriger, the Court upheld a gambling device tax, expressly distinguishing it from Linder, because the gambling tax is “certainly not a mere ruse designed to invade areas of control reserved to the states.” U.S. v. Five Gambling Devices (1953).

The most important case which relies on Linder is Ashwander v. Tennessee Valley Authority (1936) (upholding the TVA). There, the majority opinion by Chief Justice Hughes affirms that “The Congress may not, ‘under the pretext of executing its powers, pass laws for the accomplishment of objects not intrusted to the government.’ Chief Justice Marshall, in McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 423; Linder v. United States, 268 U.S. 5, 15, 17.”

Justice Brandeis’s concurrence in Ashwander is, to this day, regarded as the most important guidance for the judicial principles of abstention. Number 7 of the “Ashwander principles” is that a court should attempt to construe a statute so as to avoid a constitutional problem, and for this proposition, Justice Brandeis cited Linder, among other cases.

In short, even if one takes the view that cases upholding certain aspects of the New Deal and the Fair Deal enjoy some sort of supra-precedential status that earlier cases do not, Linder is part of the fabric of those privileged cases.

Categories: Constitutional History, Constitutional Law, Health Care, Taxing and Spending Clause, Tenth Amendment0 Comments

Defense bill will allow President to indefinitely detain American citizens

• November 30, 2011 4:11 pm

H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, has already passed the House, and is currently before the Senate. One section of the bill gives the President the authority to detain indefinitely American citizens, picked up on American soil, because they are allegedly supporting the enemy:

SEC. 1034. AFFIRMATION OF ARMED CONFLICT WITH AL QAEDA, THE TALIBAN, AND ASSOCIATED FORCES.
Congress affirms that—
(1) the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces and that those entities continue to pose a threat to the United States and its citizens, both domestically and abroad;
(2) the President has the authority to use all necessary and appropriate force during the current armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–40; 50 U.S.C. 23 1541 note);
(3) the current armed conflict includes nations, organization, and persons who—
(A) are part of, or are substantially supporting, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners; or
(B) have engaged in hostilities or have directly supported hostilities in aid of a nation, organization, or person described in subparagraph (A); and
(4) the President’s authority pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 11 107–40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) includes the authority to detain belligerents, including persons described in paragraph (3), until the termination of hostilities.

Yesterday the Senate rejected an amendment by Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) that would have stricken the detention provisions, and required the Executive branch to submit a report (within 90 days) on the legal and practical issues involving detention, and required Congress to hold hearings on the detention within the next 45 days after receipt of the report.

The bill also includes provisions to prevent civilian trials of prisoners currently held at Guantanamo. The Obama administration is threatening to veto the bill, although the objections appear to involve Guantanamo-type issues, and not the expansion of the executive’s detention powers. [Note: The bill version quoted above is the version as passed by the House and sent to the Senate. It is the latest version available on Thomas. The numbering for some sections may be different in earlier versions of the bill.] Kudos to Senator Udall, one of the few genuine civil libertarians in Congress, for taking the lead on this issue.

UPDATE: A commenter points out that, according to Senator Carl Levin, it was the Obama administration which told Congress to remove the language in the original bill which exempted American citizens and lawful residents from the detention power. See the C-Span video of the debate on the floor of the Senate, at 4:43:29. This is not the Obama I caucused for in Feb. 2008.

Categories: Counter-Terrorism Policy, Obama, Terrorism, War on Terror0 Comments

60s sitcom themes: The hidden alien. The strange family that doesn’t know it is strange.

• November 23, 2011 12:14 pm

During the early and mid-1960s, a typical theme of television situation comedies was a character who is some way was different from everyone else, and whose difference (or whose very existence) needed to be concealed from almost everyone by the show’s protagonist. To wit:

Mister Ed (1961-66). Mister Ed is a talking horse who belongs to a human named Wilbur, and will speak only to him. Wilbur attempts to conceal Mr. Ed’s ability from the neighbors.

McHale’s Navy (1962-66). In the South Pacific during World War II, PT boat Lt. Commander McHale and the crew of PT-73 work hard at having fun, to the dismay of Captain Binghamton. Concealed in their barracks is a Japanese prisoner of war named “Fuji,” who gratefully serves as their houseboy. Keeping Fuji hidden from the American officers is the subject of several episodes, but it is not as central to the show as are the secrets in the other shows on this list.

My Favorite Martian (1963-66). After a Martian scientist’s spaceship crashes, Tim O’Hara rescues him. Tim invites the Martian (whose real name is Exigius 12½) to live with him, and passes him off as Tim’s “Uncle Martin.”

Bewitched (1964-72). Samantha is a beautiful witch who is married to advertising executive Darrin Stephens. They live in the suburbs, and often face challenges trying to conceal Samantha’s powers from the nosy neighbors and Darrin’s boss.

My Mother the Car (1965-66). David Crabtree’s deceased mother is reincarnated in a 1928 luxury automobile. She speaks only to him, through the car radio. He must conceal the car’s secret from the world, especially Captain Manzini, who is determined to acquire the antique.

I Dream of Jeannie (1965-70). Jeannie is a beautiful 2,000 year old genie who lives with astronaut Tony Nelson. Tony and his best friend Roger must conceal Jeannie’s existence from everyone else, especially the commanding officers at NASA.

Another theme of some sitcoms of the period is the family of freaks who do not know that they are freaks:

The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71). After the Clampetts accidentally strike it rich by discovering oil on the Ozark property, patriarch Jed moves them to Beverly Hills. They retain their rural dress and customs, and seem to have little or no idea how aberrant they are in urban California. Their innocent good nature keeps them (except for the half-witted skirt-chaser Jethro) out of trouble most of the time.

The Munsters (1964-66). The father looks like Frankenstein, his father-in-law is a vampire, and so on. Living with them is their niece Marilyn, who is an ordinary human college student, and whom the rest of the family considers to be a freak, but they are very nice to her. Marilyn apparently is unaware that the Munsters are different from everyone else.

The Addams Family (1964-66). A family of wealthy eccentrics with paranormal abilities and a strong taste for the macabre enjoys life in their mansion. Again, they have no clue how bizarre they are.

So in 1965-66, when there are only three national networks producing TV series, we have in a single television season five shows built around the concealment of character with a unique trait. (Or six, if you include the McHales’s Navy subplot), and three shows about extremely strange families who think they are normal.

So my question to the commenters is “Why?” Were these shows an unintentional avant garde, extolling the pleasures of non-conformity and the virtue of tolerance to Middle America? Except for “My Mother the Car,” all the shows were at least moderately successful for a while, and Beverly Hillbillies and Bewitched garnered top ratings. So was the American public subconsciously looking for validation for non-conformity? Or is there some other explanation?

Categories: Uncategorized0 Comments

Why Yankee Doodle called it “macaroni”

• November 19, 2011 6:20 pm

The question has bothered me for decades. We sang “Yankee Doodle” plenty of times at school, but nobody seemed to wonder why he would say that “a feather in his cap” was “macaroni.”

At last, I found the answer, in Thomas Wright’s book “Caricature History of the Georges” (1860), which examines political and social satire drawings during the reigns of England’s King Georges I, II, and III. A very interesting book, if you’re interested in English history. Despite what the title might suggest, most of the book is text, not pictures. The author notes that for a while in the late 18th century, magazines often did 3-word book reviews. So let’s call this book “clever, erudite, tory.”

On pages 258-61, we learn that during the reign of George II, “men of fashion” were called “beaux.” In 1749, “fribble” became the new term, and this persisted into the reign of George III. In 1772, things changed. Rich young men who had made the tour of the continent came back with new fashions of all kinds; thanks to the wealth pouring in from India, the time was one of extravagant frivolity. The young men formed a club which soon took the name of the unusual Italian dish which it served. For the gentlemen of the Macaroni Club, “it was their pride to carry to the utmost excess every description of dissipation, effeminacy of manners, and modish novelty of dress.” The Macaronis of 1772 “were distinguished especially by an immense knot of artificial hair behind, by a very small cocked-hat, by an enormous walking stick, with long tassels, and by jacket, waistcoat, and breeches, of every close cut.”

Then in 1773 the Macaroni fashion changed to “the elevation of the hair, and the adoption of immense nosegays in the bosom.”

So the mystery of Yankee Doodle is solved. He is an American rube and rustic. He naively thinks that a mere feather in his cap makes him an ultra-fashionable “macaroni.”

It turns out that I could have learned the truth by just looking up “Yankee Doodle” and “Macaroni” in Wikipedia. But at least I finally understand.

Categories: History0 Comments

Bleg: Recommended US history book for Con Law I?

• November 17, 2011 7:12 pm

Next semester I will teaching the Constitutional Law I class at Denver University. It’s the standard class that almost all 2d or 3d semester law students must take at all law schools:

This required introductory course examines the role of the United States Supreme Court and, in particular, the Court’s power in exercising judicial review in cases interpreting the U.S. Constitution. The course focuses primarily on two topics. First is the doctrine of Separation of Powers: examining the structure and interrelationship of the three branches of the federal government, Congress, the Executive Branch, and the federal judiciary. Second is the doctrine of Federalism: the relationship and power distribution between the federal government and state governments. In addition, all sections will devote part of the course to an introduction to at least one aspect of the large field of individual constitutional rights. The specific rights covered will vary by instructor. . . . Students who wish to gain a deeper understanding of these topics are strongly encouraged to take Constitutional Law (Advanced): Individual Rights.

My particular class will pay special attention to some topics of great modern relevance: the interstate commerce power and the N&P clause, since the Supreme Court will be hearing the most important case in decades on those topics. We will also get into some depth on the President’s war powers under Article II, since those were the subject of much debate under Bush, and remain so under the current administration–including the war with Libya.

I’ll be using Randy Barnett’s textbook, which is mostly chronological. One of the main purposes of the class is for students to learn how to practice constitutional law using originalism AND using living constitutionalism. The latter necessitates a chronological approach, since to counsel clients on how the Constitution might change in the future (or might change now), one must understand how the application of the Constitution has varied during different periods in American history.

In the class, I will explain some key facts in American history, for the benefit of students who may not have much history background. Some students, though, might want to do some additional reading to deepen their knowledge. So what American history survey book would commenters recommend for such students? I’d strongly prefer that the book be available in paperback, and not tremendously long, since first-year students have plenty of reading to do already.

FOLLOW-UP: Things are worse than I had feared. Several commenters mentioned some great books (e.g., Gordon Wood), but I want a survey that goes from no later than 1776 through most of American history. No textbooks for AP or college US History, although I wish my students had the time and the money for the Schlesinger textbook. No books that focus on a particular issue, even if it’s a broad one (e.g., Eric Foner’s book). I’m certainly not going to inflict Howard Zinn on my students. I read the 1st edition of People’s History almost as soon as it came out, and enjoyed it. But that’s definitely not the starting point for someone to learn the actual history of the United States; it’s a book for someone who already knows a lot of American history, and can discern the difference between some neglected stories that Zinn tells, and the incredible amount of chaff. Bill Bennett did so much damage to the Constitution during the Bush administration that I recoil from using his book in a constitutional law class. So in the realm of affordable survey paperbacks, we’re down to Brogan’s Penguin History and Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People. Based on Amazon reviews, each book is way too didactic for my purposes. Not that the distinguished authors are not entitled to their points of view; I just want something without such a heavy hand. At this point, I’m leaning towards telling students to buy Samuel Eliot Morrison’s Oxford History, which ends in 1963, but is available used for almost nothing, plus shipping. Or his more recent Concise History of the American Republic, also available used for very good prices.

Categories: Constitutional Law, History, Law schools0 Comments

Will the Necessary & Proper clause save Obamacare? Not if the Court follows McCulloch v. Maryland

• November 17, 2011 4:33 pm

Gary Lawson and I explain why, in an article published last week by Yale Law Journal Online.

In short, the Necessary and Proper Clause expressed the well-known agency law doctrine of principals and incidents. That is, the grant of power to an agent (and the federal government was an agent of the people, to exercise certain delegated powers) was considered to include incidental powers. (Unless the parties specified to the contrary.) To be an incidental power, a power had to be subsidiary to, inferior to, and “less worthy” (in the language of the time) than the principal power. So if A delegates to B the power to manage A’s farm for five years, B could lease part of the farm to C for a few years, but B could not sell the farm. The power to sell the farm is not an “incident” of the power to manage a farm. It is a power that is as great as the power to manage the farm.

Thus, the first half of Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion in McCulloch wrestles with the question of whether the power to establish a corporation (here, the 2d Bank of the United States) can be considered an “incident” of the enumerated congressional powers. This portion of the opinion is often expurgated from constitutional law textbooks. But not from Randy Barnett’s Constitutional Law: Cases in Context.

So is the power to order people to engage in commerce with certain corporations “incidental” to the enumerated power “to regulate Commerce . . . among the several States”? Lawson and I argue that the power to compel intrastate commerce is of at least equal “dignity” as the power to regulate voluntary interstate commerce. Thus, the individual mandate cannot be justified a “necessary and proper” to the exercise of the power to regulate interstate commerce.

Further, the word “proper” affirms the agency/fiduciary law rule that an agent must act reasonably, and when he is acting on behalf of several principals must treat the principals equally. So in Rooke’s Case, it was unreasonable that the entire costs of a water control project were imposed on a single landowner, when other landowners also benefited from the project. In Leader v. Moxon (1773) paving commissioners were unreasonable when they ordered a road repair that effectively buried the doors and windows of the plaintiff’s house, making plaintiff bear the entire burden of a project that was supposedly for the benefit of him and others. In the Founding era, government creation of a monopoly was the paradigm example of a government act that was not “proper,” because the monopolist was benefited to the detriment of everyone else.

In 1787, a consumer could at least choose not to buy the monopolist’s product. ”The conclusion is clear: if a commercial monopoly—which citizens may avoid by not purchasing the product monopolized—is constitutionally void as ‘improper,’ then far more ‘improper’ is a mandate for the benefit of political favorites, which none but other political favorites may avoid. . . . [C]oerced commerce with congressionally favored oligopolists is constitutionally improper and void.”

Thus, if the Supreme Court follows the original meaning of the Necessary and Proper clause, and McCulloch v. Maryland‘s accurate exposition of that meaning, the Court will not rule in favor of the individual mandate as a necessary and proper exercise of the power to regulate interstate commerce.

Categories: Constitutional History, Constitutional Law, Health Care, Necessary and Proper0 Comments

House passes interstate handgun carry reciprocity

• November 16, 2011 6:24 pm

By a vote of 272 to 154. (The vote on the motion to recommit was 161 to 263). On the final vote, 44 Democrats voted in favor, and 7 Republicans voted against. H.R. 822 now goes to the Senate. In the previous Congress, a broader bill on interstate carry was narrowly defeated by a filibuster led by Sen. Charles Schumer. Of course whether the bill ever comes up for a vote in the Senate is up to Majority Leader Harry Reid.

In September, I testified before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, in support of the bill. My testimony focused mainly on the Congress’s constitutional authority to pass the bill under the powers granted by section 5 of the 14th Amendment. Among the explicit purposes of the 14th Amendment was to give Congress the power to enact legislation protecting the right to interstate travel, which is one of the Privileges or Immunities of citizens of the United States. My written testimony is here. A video of the subcommittee hearing is here. And here’s short podcast on the subject, with Cato.

HT to Shall Not Be Questioned for coverage of the day’s voting, in which all hostile amendments were defeated.

Categories: Fourteenth Amendment, Guns, Right to carry0 Comments

Book review, “Election 2012: The Battle Begins”

• November 11, 2011 10:54 pm

Back in the olden days, readers interested in the history of a presidential race would have to wait until the year after the election to read a book about it. Theodore White created the genre of presidential campaign books with The Making of the President 1960. It was published in 1961. White wrote three more books in the series, and they are still great reading for people interested in the history of American politics. Although be forewarned, the 1964 and 1968 books are enormous.

There was once a time when it was considered unseemly for even the most ambitious candidates to announce before the calendar year of the election. That’s one reason that John F. Kennedy waited until Jan. 2, 1960, to formally announce. George McGovern broke the mold by formally announcing on Jan. 18, 1971, which turned out to be the right strategy for a long-shot who needed plenty of time to organize. Jimmy Carter studied the McGovern campaign assiduously, and used its tactics, including the very early announcement, to win his own long-shot race in 1976.

So now, with almost everyone practicing McGovernism, the presidential campaign has been going hard for much of the pre-election year. If you want to know the history thus far, the just-published Election 2012: The Battle Begins is a strong choice. It’s written by Tom Bevan and Carl Cannon, and published by RealClearPolitics.com, the world’s best political website. Election 2012 is e-book only, and costs just $2.99. The ideal reader might be someone who lives abroad, is very interested in American politics, and only gets the limited coverage available from the International Herald Tribune, or foreign papers. In the United States, readers who are so fascinated with politics as to want to read a history of the election the year before the election will probably already know most of what’s in the narrative. Yet even those readers will find interesting details about the behind-the-scenes strategizing and the battles within the campaign staffs, especially for Gingrich, Bachmann, and Pawlenty. And the story of how Huckabee looked very seriously at a run, and then backed away. Readers will also learn about the inside of the Romney campaign, but not about behind-the-scenes turmoil, because this time around Mitt’s campaign is as smooth and unflappable as is Mitt himself while on a debate stage.

Categories: Politics0 Comments
 

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