July 22, 2022

How the Anti-Abortion Movement Remade America

[Cross-posted from Commonwealth Club Podcast]

UC Davis Professor of Law Mary Ziegler is one of the world’s leading authorities on the U.S. abortion wars and the history of reproductive rights in this country. Since the leak of a draft of a Supreme Court majority opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade and the guaranteed right to an abortion, Ziegler has been one of the most sought-after experts on this issue.

Ziegler's timely new book Dollars for Life: the Antiabortion Movement and the Fall of the Republican Establishment, explores how the antiabortion movement remade the Republican Party and led to this current historic moment. She traces how the anti-abortion movement helped to revolutionize the rules of money in U.S. politics and persuaded conservative voters to focus on the federal courts. Ziegler offers a surprising new view of the slow drift to extremes in American politics and says it had everything to do with the strange intersection of right-to-life politics and campaign spending. Her previous books have explored the legal history of Roe v. Wade and the role of privacy rights in the abortion debate.

At a historic time that might mark a turnaround in abortion rights, The Commonwealth Club is pleased to host a true expert on the topic and this historic moment. You won't want to miss this important conversation. LISTEN to the episode.


Mary Ziegler

Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law; Author, Dollars for Life: the Antiabortion Movement and the Fall of the Republican Establishment

Vikrum Aiyer

Member, Inforum Advisory Board—Moderator

July 14, 2022

Systemic Racism in the U.S. Immigration Laws

[Cross-posted from ImmigrationProf Blog]

By Kevin R. Johnson

In 1998, the Indiana Law Journal published my analysis of race and the U.S. immigration laws.  The Journal just published my latest article on the topic.  (A teaser for the article can be found here.).  The article is based on, and inspired by, my remarks in April 2021 at the Jerome Hall Lecture at Indiana University Maurer School of Law

This Essay analyzes how aggressive activism in a California mountain town at the tail end of the nineteenth century commenced a chain reaction resulting in state and ultimately national anti-Chinese immigration laws. The constitutional immunity through which the Supreme Court upheld those laws deeply affected the future trajectory of U.S. immigration law and policy.

Responding to sustained political pressure from the West, Congress in 1882 passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, an infamous piece of unabashedly racist legislation that commenced a long process of barring immigration from all of Asia to the United States. In upholding the Act, the Supreme Court in an extraordinary decision that jars modern racial sensibilities declared that Congress possessed “plenary power”—absolute authority—over immigration and that racist immigration laws were immune from judicial review of their constitutionality.

The bedrock of U.S. immigration jurisprudence for more than a century and never overruled by the Supreme Court, the plenary power doctrine permits the treatment of immigrants in racially discriminatory ways consistent with the era of Jim Crow but completely at odds with modern constitutional law. The doctrine enabled President Trump, a fierce advocate of tough-as-nails immigration measures, to pursue the most extreme immigration program of any modern president, with
devastating impacts on noncitizens of color.

As the nation attempts to grapple with the Trump administration’s brutal treatment of immigrants, it is an especially opportune historical moment to reconsider the plenary power doctrine. Ultimately, the commitment to remove systemic racism from the nation’s social fabric requires the dismantling of the doctrine and meaningful constitutional review of the immigration laws. That, in turn, would open the possibilities to the removal of systemic racial injustice from immigration law and policy.

July 11, 2022

Deconstructing the Supreme Court's Climate Change

[Cross-posted from the Daily Journal]

By Richard M. Frank

The Supreme Court's recent climate change decision has been characterized by legal observers as "seismic" "transformational" and "a bombshell." All of those descriptions are apt.

The Court's 6-3 ruling holds that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lacks authority under the federal Clean Air Act to transition existing American power plants from fossil fuels to natural gas and, especially, to renewable energy sources. The decision will not have an immediate, dramatic effect. But long-term, the Court's ruling in West Virginia v. EPA, June 30, 2022 Daily Journal D.A.R. 6892, will severely cripple the federal government's ability to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions and fulfill President Joe Biden's 2021 pledge to the world community that the U.S. will meet aggressive GHG reduction goals. And the new, radical constitutional doctrine the Court majority announces in rejecting EPA's GHG emission regulations promises to severely hamstring a wide array of federal regulatory agencies beyond EPA, and effectively to transfer considerable authority from the Executive Branch to the federal courts.

The West Virginia case has its origins in efforts by the Obama Administration to curb GHG emissions from "stationary sources" such as power plants. President Barack Obama's EPA promulgated its "Clean Power Plan" (PP) in 2015 to reduce substantially GHG emissions from American power plants the second largest contributor to the nation's overall GHG emissions output (behind only the transportation sector). Invoking CAA section 111(d), EPA proposed a complex set of regulatory mandates: some designed to improve pollution control technology of individual power plants and, far more controversially, industrywide reforms "beyond the fence line" to incentivize transition of coal-fired power plants to natural gas and ultimately, renewable energy sources.

EPA's CPP never took effect. The power industry, coal companies and a coalition of 27 "red" states immediately sued to halt its implementation. Remarkably - and in an unprecedented action - the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 issued a "Shadow Docket" order preventing the CP from taking effect, before the lower federal courts even had an opportunity to consider its legality after full briefing and oral argument.

At that point, politics intervened. After the Trump Administration took office in 2017, it asked and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to hold the litigation in abeyance while the Trump EPA reconsidered the CPP. In 2019, the Trump Administration ultimately repealed the CPP, declaring that it exceeded EPA's legal authority under the CAA. In doing so, Trump's EPA advanced a novel constitutional doctrine long advocated by conservative scholars and law firms such as the Pacific Legal Foundation: the so-called "major questions doctrine." Under that theory, the Trump Administration argued, courts "expect Congress to speak clearly if it wishes to assign to an agency decisions of vast economic and political significance." The CPP, adopting an industry-wide approach to wean the power industry off its historic reliance on coal and natural gas in favor of renewable energy sources, presents such a "major question," asserted the Trump Administration. And, it maintained, in enacting CAA section 111(d) in 1970 Congress had not "spoken clearly" to delegate to EPA the regulation of GHG emissions in such a sweeping manner.

"Blue" states, including California, and environmental organizations promptly sued to challenge the Trump Administration's revocation of the CPP. Of critical importance, the red states that had previously challenged the Obama Administration's CPP intervened in the new lawsuit to help defend the Trump EPA's recission of the CPP. In early 2021 - on the last full day of Trump's term in office - the D.C. Circuit invalidated the Trump EPA's revocation of the CPP. It is from that ruling that the intervenor red states successfully sought review in the Supreme Court.

On the final day of the Court's just-concluded term, the Court ruled that the CPP was not authorized under the CAA. Chief Justice John Roberts majority opinion on behalf of the Court's 6-member conservative bloc first summarily rejected the Biden Administration's argument that certiorari had been improvidently granted: Biden's Solicitor General had advised the Court that it had no intention of restoring the CPP, and instead planned to develop its own regulatory program to reduce GHG emissions from U.S. power plants.

Turning to the merits, Chief Justice Roberts began by embracing the "major questions doctrine" that the former Trump Administration and its red state allies had advocated. West Virginia is, in fact, the first formal decision in Supreme Court history to explicitly adopt that principle. (The Court had alluded to the doctrine in a couple of earlier, per curiam orders issued in cases striking down the Biden Administration's COVID- prompted eviction moratorium and vaccination mandate for federal employees.)

Roberts proceeded to conclude that the federal government's efforts to comprehensively regulate GHG emissions from U.S. power plants have "vast economic and political significance;" that Congress, in enacting section 111(d) of the CAA, had not clearly indicated its intent to apply its delegated statutory authority to encompass industrywide power plant GHG reduction efforts by EPA; and that the relevant provisions of the CP therefore exceed EPA's statutory authority under the CAA and the majority's newly-minted major questions doctrine.

Justice Gorsuch penned a noteworthy concurring opinion, applauding the Court's support of the major questions doctrine and urging federal courts to apply it prospectively in a muscular fashion to curb perceived excesses of the federal administrative state." It will be interesting to see how many other members of the Court's conservative wing similarly embrace such an expansive application of the doctrine prospectively.

Justice Elena Kagan (joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor) issued a lengthy, pointed and to this observer - persuasive dissent. She castigated the majority's adoption of the major questions doctrine as an unprincipled creation by conservative justices who profess their belief in judicial restraint and a textual application of the Constitution. Kagan's dissent went on to analyze in considerable detail how and why EPA's interpretation of CAA section 111(d) is fully consonant with Congress' intent and delegated authority to EPA.

So, what are the short- and long-term implications of the Supreme Court's West Virginia v. EPA decision?

In the short term, it's back to the climate change drawing board for the Biden Administration. EPA was already exploring how to regulate GHG emissions from stationary sources under the CAA before last week's Supreme Court decision. President Biden has directed his EPA and Justice Department to confer on West Virginia's impact and return to the Oval Office with recommendations as to how to proceed. (One intriguing potential option is to utilize section 115 of the CAA; that provision allows EPA to regulate pollution emitted from U.S. sources that endangers public health and welfare in foreign nations. GG emissions would certainly seem to qualify.)

But let's be clear: West Virginia severely constrains the Biden Administration's regulatory options: the decision makes clear that EPA lacks the authority under CAA section 111(d) to regulate the power industry's GHG emissions on an industrywide, "outside the fence line" basis.

That leads to the related but important question: what about pursuing new climate change legislation from Congress? The short answer is that that's not going to happen in the foreseeable future. Climate change is only one of many issues on which Congress is hopelessly deadlocked and deeply factionalized. The justices, of course, know this as well as anyone.
So the majority's suggestion that Congress can simply resolve the issue by clarifying the CAA or enacting new climate change litigation is disingenuous.

Leaving aside the CAA and climate change, the majority's formal articulation and embrace of the major questions doctrine has profound, long-term implications for American constitutional and administrative law. It seems inevitable that the doctrine will be invoked in virtually every major litigation challenge to future federal regulatory initiatives - not just environmental programs, but also in public health, financial, civil rights, election, taxation and numerous other regulatory contexts. Among the biggest ambiguities created by West Virginia is what, exactly, makes a particular federal regulation sufficiently important, or "major," so as to trigger application of the doctrine? As Justice Kagan's dissent observes, the majority's option does not provide any real guidance.

Moreover, and especially in light of Congressional gridlock and political stalemate, the West Virginia decision significantly enhances the power of the federal judiciary at the expense of the Executive Branch. Without explicitly saying so, the case severely erodes separation of powers principles that the Constitutional framers considered so essential to the success of American democracy.

Finally, and ultimately most significantly, the West Virginia decision seriously undermines America's ability to reduce its disproportionately large share of global GHG emissions. As a result of the Court's decision, it's highly unlikely that the United States will be able to meet the ambitious GHG reduction goals President Biden pledged to meet at last year's global climate summit in Glasgow. That, in turn, greatly diminishes America's future ability to play a leadership role in the greatest environmental challenge of our time. And, worse still, it undermines the ability of the global community as a whole to prevent a climate catastrophe.

July 11, 2022

Constitutional Obligations as a Counter to Zero-Sum Thinking

[Cross-posted from The Hill]

By Alan Brownstein

The Constitution is a legal document that structures government and protects rights. Sometimes overlooked, however, is the reality that it is also a statement of values and principles on which the structure of government and the protection of rights is based.

These values and principles are not law — but they can suggest non-legal obligations that the government owes to its citizens or that citizens owe to each other.

Sometimes the obligation is stated explicitly as the foundation for the protection of a right. For example, a few months ago a racist killer influenced by white supremacist ideology and so-called “replacement theory” massacred Black Americans at a super market in Buffalo, N.Y. We know from bitter experience that white supremacy and replacement theory leads to violence and murder. We know this. Yet our constitutional system prohibits government from suppressing such pernicious speech.

The First Amendment generally prevents government from prohibiting speech that may influence individuals to commit crimes — even horrible crimes like the massacre in Buffalo. As the Supreme Court made clear in the seminal case of Brandenburg v. Ohio, this kind of speech, characterized as incitement, can only be prohibited if it will lead to imminent violence or unlawful conduct. This is a bedrock First Amendment rule today. The speech that warped the mind of the murderer in Buffalo cannot satisfy this incitement test because it did not immediately result in violence.

It is important to understand the reasoning justifying this meaning of incitement which protects such evil speech. The principle underlying the Brandenburg rule imposes an implicit obligation on the State and the people, a principle that requires us to counter evil counsel as loudly and forcefully as we can.

As Justices Holmes and Brandeis wrote in dissenting opinions that eventually led to the Brandenburg decision, dangerous speech could only by suppressed by government if the violence and other unlawful conduct it is inciting is imminent. If there is time to counter and refute evil counsel before it leads to harm, the constitutionally appropriate remedy for bad speech is good speech — not the prohibition of speech.

Thus, the foundation of this key free speech doctrine is grounded in the expectation that good people will not remain silent when they are confronted with evil speech.

It relies on the willingness of good people to speak up when there is time to do so and counter evil counsel to reduce the likelihood that bad speech will lead to unlawful acts or violence.

If good people are silent, evil speech cannot be effectively refuted.

Our free speech doctrine in a very real sense imposes a constitutional obligation on good people to speak up.

And that obligation falls with special weight on those of us who can speak the loudest and can be heard by the largest audiences. Government officials, among others, are in this category of speakers. Their official positions give them a microphone which extends the reach of their voice. The First Amendment doctrine about incitement prevents officials from silencing evil ideas — but the reasoning underlying that doctrine obliges them to speak up loudly against evil speech.

Other private speakers with loud voices — such as media and the clergy — are similarly obligated. And the average citizen’s voice, joining with others, needs to be heard as well.

Consider another principle underlying accepted constitutional law. The Fifth Amendment (made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment) explicitly requires the government to pay just compensation to the owner when it takes private property. But what justifies this compensatory requirement? The Supreme Court in Armstrong v. United States explained that the purpose of this provision was “to bar Government from forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole.”

This principle extends beyond compensating property owners for takings. It supports an implicit obligation to compensate — or at least mitigate — the costs incurred when the state furthers the public good in a way that disproportionately burdens individuals or a small group. Consider some examples. Government often accommodates religious exercise either as a result of constitutional mandates or as a discretionary political act. While the protection of religious exercise is particularly valuable to the individuals whose religious practices are being burdened, a strong argument recognizes that religious liberty is a public good. Our society in general benefits in important ways from our commitment to religious freedom.

Sometimes, however, accommodating religion imposes costs on identifiable third parties. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a major issue involved the cost to women employees who would lose valuable insurance coverage for medical contraceptives if employers were exempt on religious grounds from the regulations requiring them to provide such health insurance coverage to their employees. If, as I suggest, religious liberty is a public good, a theory of constitutional obligation would support the government (the public as a whole) assuming the cost of such coverage for the women employees denied insurance coverage to protect the religious liberty of their employers.

Or consider the baker who, for religious reasons, will not create a cake to celebrate the wedding of a same-sex couple. If we exempt the baker from the requirements of anti-discrimination laws in the name of religious freedom, does the state have an obligation to alleviate the cost to the victims of the baker’s discrimination? In this situation, monetary or material compensation may not be feasible. But there may be other ways for the government to mitigate the burden same-sex couples will experience. Perhaps the government could make available through web sites a list of the wedding cake bakers in the area who would welcome the patronage of same-sex couples.

A final example involves state laws banning abortion, which require pregnant women to carry a fetus to term and birth. Here, because the woman wants to terminate her pregnancy, she is not a private beneficiary of the state law. The state believes by prohibiting abortion it is furthering the public good. Obviously, however, this law imposes very substantial burdens on women, including physical, psychological, and economic costs. The state and public will not be able to come close to sharing all of these costs. But it can do some things. For example, in the case of a fetus who will be born with severely debilitating ailments, the state could take on the responsibility of providing top quality medical care, assistance, and support for these children after birth.

Constitutional obligations, while not law, are derived from constitutional principles. They have many virtues, not the least of which is that they move us — perhaps only slightly but to some extent — away from constitutional controversies being entirely a zero-sum game.