Where is the Power to Suspend Habeas Corpus?

The Constitution’s Suspension Clause (Art. I, Section 9, cl. 2) limits when the writ of habeas corpus can be suspended. But the Constitution doesn’t seem to grant the federal government power to suspend the writ in the first place. Why not? And why limit a power never given?

In an Aug. 17 Wall Street Journal piece, constitutional law professor Nicholas Quinn Rosenkrantz infers that Congress has the sole suspension authority from the structure of the constitutional text. He writes:

“Since the Suspension Clause appears in Article I of the Constitution, which is predominately about the powers of Congress, there is a strong argument that only Congress can suspend the habeas writ.”

He concludes that when President Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ, he probably intruded on Congress’s prerogative, and thereby exceeded his constitutional authority. (Professor Rosenkrantz also gives Lincoln credit for trying to cure the constitutional defect.)

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Breakdown in Americans’ Respect for the Rule of Law?

Some commentators and compilers have sensed what they believe is a weakening of the rule of law in the United States.  I’ve documented an example in one state.

Conduct surrounding the George Zimmerman case provides additional cause for concern, including prejudicial comments by President Obama and rioting subsequent to acquittal.

To his credit, President Obama did express support for the verdict once it came in, although he inappropriately coupled it with promotion of his political agenda.

Adherence to the rule of law is critical to survival of a free society. This, in turn, requires adherence to five basic standards:

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Majority Wrong, Justice Thomas Right, in Arizona Immigration Case

NOTE: This is the first of several short commentaries on recent Supreme Court decisions.

The Supreme Court recently ruled that portions of Arizona’s immigration law violate federal statutes. In his dissent, Justice Thomas relied heavily on my own research.

The Independence Institute did not participate in that case. So how did it happen that I was cited? In 2010 the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law published my article on the original meaning of a constitutional provision relevant to the decision. The provision is Article I, Section 4—which the Court called the “Elections Clause,” but is more accurately entitled the “Times, Places and Manner Clause.” The Clause provides that the states may regulate the “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives,” but that Congress may override most of these regulations.

In the article, I discuss exactly what the Founders meant by the phrase “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections,” and how Congress’s power over its own elections should be interpreted.

The recent case involved whether Arizona’s requirement that voters show proof of citizenship when registering to vote violated federal law. The Court had to decide how widely to read a federal statute and how widely to read Congress’s authority under the Times, Places and Manner Clause.

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Myth-Busting: The “Roman Condominium” Myth

Much of my scholarly research is designed to set the historical record straight—essentially myth-busting.

For reasons I’ll explain another time, most legal writers are terrible historians. They tend to cherry-pick history to promote a case, and when there aren’t enough historical facts, they sometimes make them up.

My efforts to correct the record are best known in the realm of constitutional law, but my first big project of the kind was actually about condominiums.

In the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, legal writers were uncritically repeating the story that the ancient Romans invented condominiums, or at least used them widely. This story made no sense at all: Ancient writers don’t mention condominiums, and Roman law actually prohibited schemes whereby one person owned airspace above another person. (The word “condominium,” meaning “co-ownership,” is Latin, but it is of relatively modern, not Roman, coinage.)

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Federalism (“States’ Rights”) Get Short Shrift in Colorado Judicial Exhibit

I recently visited the new Ralph Carr Colorado Judicial Center—the huge and incredibly expensive building complex that now houses the Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. But even after spending $258 million, they couldn’t get one sign right. An exhibit there has the worthy purpose of educating the public about the rule of law.…

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Top Denver Post Columnist Exposes Weakness of Anti-TABOR Theory

Veteran Denver Post (and former Rocky Mountain News) columnist Vincent Carroll writes here about the overweaning ambition of those who support the anti-TABOR lawsuit. That lawsuit claims that because Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) imposes fiscal limits on the power of the state legislature—that is, restricts lawmakers’ power to tax, spend, and borrow— it violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee to each state of a “republican form of government.”

Mr. Carroll thereby indirectly supports a point made earlier in this blog, and supported by an II study: Because almost every state restricts the legislature’s financial powers in some way, the theory of the anti-TABOR lawsuit would threaten clauses in the constitutions of almost every state.

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New Evidence Suggests Obama’s “Recess Appointments” Are Not Valid

Litigation over President Obama’s “recess appointments” to the National Labor Relations Board is going to the Supreme Court. A similar battle is being waged among lawyers about whether the President’s appointments to that Board, and to the Consumer Financial Protection Board, are constitutional.

At stake is the legal validity of hundreds of administrative decisions and regulations.

There are two constitutional issues involved. President Obama, like earlier Presidents, maintains that when the Constitution allows him to appoint officials without Senate approval so as to fill vacancies during “the Recess,” the latter term includes breaks within a session of the Senate, not just formal breaks between sessions. In addition, he claims (like many others before him) that for the vacancy to “happen,” as that word is used in the Constitution, it is enough that the vacancy continue into a recess. It doesn’t have to be created then.

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Reject the Obamacare Medicaid Extension

Colorado’s legislature and governor have opted to endanger our state’s financial future—and the quality of health care—by yoking Colorado to Obamacare’s risky and expensive “Medicare expansion.”

This is one area in which Colorado could take a lesson from our sister state to the north, Montana.

Montana has a long history of what used to be “prairie socialism” and often has made bad fiscal decisions. But on this issue Montanans got it right.

I was in the legislative galleries in Helena last Friday, when the state stepped back from the brink.

Democrats and some Republicans were pushing for the state to join the Medicaid expansion, enticed by “free federal money.” So they amended a bill designed to keep the state free from the expansion to one chaining the state tothe expansion.

The rules of the state house of representatives generally provide that when the purpose of a bill is changed, it should go back to committee for review. So in a courageous move guaranteed to irritate the state’s “opinion leaders,” Speaker of the House Mark Blasdel decided to just that.

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Avoid Election-Day Registration

Carting uninformed, transient voters to the polls to vote for the political boss-man is a time-dishonored practice of demagogues everywhere. It has been proposed for Colorado, but it has no place here.

Some historical perspective: America has a long tradition of democratic governance. By the time our American Constitution was adopted, nearly all states had broadened their electorates greatly from colonial days. Property requirements were loosened. Several states allowed women to vote (formally in New Jersey, informally elsewhere). Free African-Americans cast ballots in at least five states.

This was all to the good. But the Founders also understood that democracy is not the same as ochlocracy (mob rule). They understood that, for democratic governance to work, the electorate must (1) be reasonably well informed, and (2) stand to lose personally as well as gain from the choices they make.  One of the Founders’ solutions—an imperfect one, to be sure—was to retain some modest property requirements. Several states also provided exemptions for people meeting other qualifications, such as gainful employment.

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New Issue Paper on the Interstate Threat of the anti-TABOR Lawsuit

As regular readers of this site know, a group of plaintiffs representing government interests has sued the State of Colorado, claiming that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) in the state constitution violates the U.S. Constitution. Even though the claim is an exceptionally weak one, last year a federal district court allowed it to proceed.

That ruling is now on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Although the plaintiffs’ immediate attack is on Colorado’s TABOR, the underlying theory of their lawsuit is far broader. Their theory is that in order for a state to comply with the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that a state have a “republican form of government,” its legislature must have unrestricted power to tax, spend, and borrow.

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