July 6, 2010
Over at Balkinization, Sandy Levinson points out that residents of Maryland will have the opportunity this fall to vote on a new constitutional convention for the state. Evidently a number of US States (Levinson mentions New York and implies there are others) have a similar clause allowing the public to vote on a new constitutional convention once per generation.
Levinson is in favor of a new constitution for Maryland, and I’m inclined to agree. The underlying WaPo article provides a much clearer justification than the blog post. In a nutshell, Maryland’s Constitution dates to the Reconstruction era, includes a vast number of amendments, some dealing with issues that can only be described as minutiae, and spans a word count nearly eight times that of the combined US Constitution + Bill of Rights. Levinson uses this particular issue as a springboard for a discussion of his belief that states have proven they require an fairly robust federal government to remain viable. I think that perhaps he overreaches here — the problems with, say, California’s Constitution, or New York’s, are fairly unique. The former is crippled by the ballot initiative system, while the latter suffers from gridlock due to disproportionate representation of its less populous regions.
Though Maryland’s Constitution is not as broken as either of these examples, I believe an opportunity to update a vast, unwieldly document reflecting all of the state of the art political thinking of 1867 would prove fruitful. I’ll throw a plug in here for unicameralism while I’m at it, but I won’t hold my breath on that.
August 7, 2007
The FISA amendments, (disgustingly titled the “Protect America Act”), which I discussed briefly yesterday, are still the big controversy today. Most of the buzz is pretty negative.
A New York Times editorial slammed PAA as “yet another unnecessary and dangerous expansion of President Bush’s powers, this time to spy on Americans in violation of basic constitutional rights.” Reason’s Julian Sanchez wonders if the country isn’t, “[l]ike Bill Murray’s hapless weatherman in Groundhog Day… locked in a perpetual September 12, 2001.” Obsidian Wings reminds Americans to “understand that FISA didn’t arise out of abstract policy debates. Congress enacted FISA in response to decades of well-documented, egregious abuses of secret, unchecked surveillance authority (generally in the name of fighting the enemy, who was then Communism).” TPM Muckraker also suggests that the Administration’s assurances of careful targeting should be taken with a grain of salt.
NRO Online’s Andrew McCarthy is apparently not a student of history. He argues that FISA allows judges to manage national security and that the law should be taken off the books altogether. He claims that the Constitution “empowers the chief executive to conduct warrantless surveillance of foreign threats.” Ignoring the facts altogether, he even states that “a judge on the FISA court outrageously ignored the FISA statute.” In fact, that isn’t true at all, which was, in theory, the reason an amendment was needed in the first place. Know-nothingism at its finest, ladies and gentlemen.
August 6, 2007
The big news today is, of course, the Jane Mayer piece in the New Yorker describing the secret CIA detention facilities used post-9/11. Some truly frightening stuff in there. Example:
Finally, [Rep Alcee Hastings] received some classified briefings on the Mohammed interrogation. Hastings said that he “can’t go into details” about what he found out, but, speaking of Mohammed’s treatment, he said that even if it wasn’t torture, as the Administration claims, “it ain’t right, either. Something went wrong.”
There’s much worse in there than that, too. Here‘s Marty Lederman’s pretty thorough discussion of the article.
On a related note, the Democrats capitulated to the Administration on an update to FISA. Jack Balkin is disgusted. TPM’s Greg Sargent responds by pleading with the Democrats to remember why they were elected. Orin Kerr isn’t as critical. I tend to agree with Balkin on this. Even if the amendment isn’t so bad on its face, the potential for abuse is enormous, and I remain unconvinced that this was the best (or even a particularly good) solution to the Administration’s FISA problems.
Democrats, Republicans, doesn’t seem to matter most of the time. All worthless. Being informed is such a drag.
July 28, 2007
Amitai Etzioni suggests over on TPM Cafe that the US should enact “duty to assist” or “Good Samaritan” laws that legally obligate individuals to assist others in distress. He argues that such laws would provide our society with moral grounding in uncertain times. He points to other states, including Israel, Japan, and several in Western Europe that have similar laws.
I am not persuaded. First, Etzioni relies far too heavily on anecdote and emotional appeal. He opens with a shocking story of an innocent woman stabbed in a convenience store who died of her injuries while others ignored her with callous indifference. (I suppose we are to infer she might not have died if she had received care, although Etzioni conspicuously fails to state it). He later suggests that those who don’t support such laws would reconsider if their child died as a result of similar indifference. This is simply bad form, particularly the “think of the children” argument. It is intellectually lazy and does not contribute anything substantive to the debate.
Second, I am with the libertarians on this one. I am fairly certain a number Constitutional arguments could be made against such a law. Even if they couldn’t, such a law would by necessity be incredibly vague and subject to a huge range of interpretations, some of which I find unappealing. Etzioni is not persuaded, because we have a number of other vague laws on the books, but I don’t buy that argument either. Simply put, I believe a sense of civic duty can and should be instilled by educators and family, and not the government.