Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Texas has sued the EPA 21 times since President Obama took office in 2009"

That's a quote pulled from the following story in the Texas Tribune on a recent decision concerning the EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

- Click here for the article.
- Click here for the rule.

Pollution - nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide specifically - from Texas tends to float upwind and affect other states. The rule allows the EPA to regulate power plants here and elsewhere that causes such pollution - which of course raises objections here.

Texas sued the EPA and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered the rule be reconsidered, but also ruled that the EPA did have jurisdiction to issue such rules. This allowed each side to claim a victory.

The story also links to a list of all the lawsuits filed by the state of Texas against the EPA. Its a good way ti com to grips with the conflict between the national and state governments regarding pollution.

- You can peruse them here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

In the news: The Texas Supreme Court

The top civil court in the state has been active recently.


1 - Texas Supreme Court says city must repeal HERO or put it on ballot.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that Houston City Council must repeal the city's equal rights ordinance or place it on the November ballot. The ruling comes three months after a state district judge ruled that opponents of Houston's contentious non-discrimination ordinance passed last year failed to gather enough valid signatures to force a repeal referendum.

- Click here for the ruling. It contains a description of the process behind the lawsuit, which gives you a good look at the internal workings of the judiciary in Texas.

2 - Texas Supreme Court keeps eyebrows on fleek, brow puns ensue.

The state’s highest court ruled earlier this summer that eyebrow threaders don’t need 750 hours of cosmetology training to go forth and create perfectly groomed eyebrows.
The ruling in Patel vs. Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation sided with eyebrow threaders who argued that most of the 750 training hours does not apply to the health and safety of what threaders actually do. The court agreed that the licensing requirement violated their constitutional rights to earn a living without unreasonable governmental interference.

- Click here for the ruling.

Here are two views of the decision:

- Pro: Texas Supreme Court Strikes Stupid Licensing Law.
- Con: Texas Could Become an Even More Dangerous Place.

3 - Achieving Diversity on Texas Supreme Court Advisory Committee.

The Texas Supreme Court sought to achieve diversity in terms of demographics and law practices when it appointed some 50 lawyers to serve on its Supreme Court Advisory Committee (SCAC), according to its chief justice, Nathan Hecht.
But diversity was not the court's only consideration in choosing the lawyers who start serving on the SCAC this month, Hecht said.
Committee members "have to be experienced enough and skilled enough and wise enough to really see what is happening to the practice to make it more responsive to the people," Hecht said.

- What is the Supreme Court Advisory Committee?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Will there be a move to change the names of counties named after Confederates?

How many are there? How many are named after supporters of the union? I can think of Houston. 

I've been a little light on the posts recently

My - relatively old - lap top is not letting me insert text. For the time being I'll post the urls of stories you might find related to class material. Take em or leave em. 

Email me if you need assistance on anything. I check in on blackboard everyday and as far as I can tell everything is running smoothly  

Let me know if it's not. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

From the Texas Monthly: Widespread Political Corruption May Be Just A Pen Stroke Away

For 2306 students - I'll have a written assignment on this in a couple weeks.

The 84th legislative session passed a bill which changes how ethical violations - code or corruption charges - are prosecuted in the state. They will no longer be conducted in the Travis County's DA office, but rather in the home town of the accused. The bill was signed by the governor but needs to be ratified by the general population since it requires amending the Texas Constitution.

The author argues this will facilitate political corruption.

- Click here for the article.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Can He Win?

This is the study referred to in a previous post on the SuperPac supporting Ted Cruz's presidential race.

- Click here for the post.
- Click here for the study.

Its a great example of electoral strategy. The points they make are debate-able, but they lay their opinions on the line.

Some highlights:

- The 2012 election was winnable, but Romney was the wrong candidate and ran a terrible campaign.
- They focus on 5 states that were close and critiques the strategy in each state.
- Hillary Clinton is the likely Democratic nominee and will likely not attract as many African-Americans and Hispanics as Obama, but will increase turnout from single women.
- Wedge issues are central to increasing turnout.
- Moderate candidates do not win elections
- Cruz is the strongest candidate along each of the five wedge issues they define.
- Evangelical and white voter turnout has dropped.
- The primary election schedule favors conservative candidates.
- Cruz runs well in states which have their primaries early.

It's worth pointing out that they also give credit to the quality of the campaign Obama ran in 2012 and argue they are in the best position to replicate it.

Is gay marriage longer a wedge issue?

There are arguments that it isn't.

It didn't make the cut of the five issues Ted Cruz was argued to be able use to defeat Hillary Clinton.

Beyond that, it appears that a consensus has developed that, despite that fact that candidates had been able to use it successfully before, this is no longer the case. Republican candidates could once use it to divide Democratic voters. Those who saw gay marriage as dominant, might vote for the Republican on this one issue despite still being supportive of the party on other issues. As Democrats have become more solidly supportive of gay marriage, it has emerged more of a wedge issue for Republicans. The fact is that opposition comes mostly from older voters, this helps explain why it no longer resonates politically. Plus, the federal courts are driving most of the change, which removes it from the political sphere.

It shows how politics changes over time - at least in some areas.

For more:

- Wedge Issue No More: Opposing Marriage Equality Is a Political Loser.

Support for same-sex marriage has been on the upswing since 1996, according to Gallup. When the question was first asked, just 27 percent said “should be” in response to the question, “Do you think marriages between homosexuals should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriage?” Sixty-eight percent said they should not be recognized as valid. Today, the “should be’s” are at 60 percent, an all time high, and the “should not be’s” are at an all-time low, at 37 percent. In just 20 years, a third of the country has changed their mind on the question.
Support is increasing even in Republican circles, going from 16 percent to 37 percent in the Gallup poll. A Washington Post poll this year found higher support, 42 percent of Republicans said they supported same-sex marriage.
In news more pertinent to presidential candidates, support for same-sex marriage is a political winner, and, perhaps more importantly, opposition is a political loser. In a memo sent by Democracy Corpstoday, the 55 percent of 2016 potential voters say they are less likely to support a presidential candidate that opposes same-sex marriage.

Also - Tim Cook and the End of Gay Rights as a Wedge Issue.

Here's an argument that gay rights could emerge as a wedge issue, but instead of one that splits Democrats, could split Republicans:

- The Birth of the Left-Wing Wedge Issue.

Well, in 2016, same-sex marriage can be a wedge issue again, but this time, for our team. The numbers are now so decisive that surely in the key swing states with the bushels of electoral votes, the likely Democratic candidate can cast shame upon the head of her opponent. In Florida, support for gay marriage was 57 percenta year ago, and it’s probably a little higher now. In Ohio, support-to-opposition was 52-37 in 2012, and that’s surely higher now. In Virginia in 2013, support registered at 56 percent. The issue isn’t a loser in any important swing state, with the possible exception of North Carolina, which of course is just icing for the Democrats anyway.

From the Texas Tribune: Super PACs to Cruz: Focus on "Wedge Issues"

This is worth perusing. Its a look at electoral strategy, as well as the influence that funders can have on presidential candidates.

- Click here for the article.
- A related story in CNN.

Some of Senator Cruz's supporters are advising he focus on five specific issues that they believe will split support for Hillary Clinton. The issues are:

- "Common Core"
- "Immigration"
- "Future Not Past"
- "National Security"
- "Foreign Money."

- Click here for the power points.

They argue that Mitt Romney did an awful job campaigning in 2012 and that Jeb Bush is the candidate least likely to take advantage of these issues. One of the emerging stories this electoral season is the role outside groups in funding and organizing campaigns. This seems to be a good example of that trend.

I'll post separately on the power points.

Some related items and terms:

Ted Cruz: Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz (born December 22, 1970) is the junior United States Senator from Texas. Elected in 2012 as a Republican, he is the first Hispanic or Cuban American to serve as a U.S. Senator from Texas. He is the chairman of the subcommittee on the Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts, U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. He is also the chairman of the United States Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, U.S. Senate Commerce Committee.

Super PAC: Super PACs are a new kind of political action committee created in July 2010 following the outcome of a federal court case known as v. Federal Election Commission. Technically known as independent expenditure-only committees, Super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.

Wedge Issues: A wedge issue is a social issue, often of a divisive or controversial nature, which splits apart a population or political group. Wedge issues can be advertised or publicly aired in an attempt to weaken the unity of a population, with the goal of enticing polarized individuals to give support to an opponent or to withdraw their support entirely out of disillusionment. The use of wedge issues gives rise towedge politics. Wedge issues are also known as hot button or third rail issues.

Mitt Romney presidential campaign, 2012.

Ideological divisions in the Texas House, Texas Senate and the Texas Delegation to the U.S. House

I'll post the graphics contained in these three articles later - all are by Rice's Mark Jones.

But if you want a description of ideological polarization in Texas, click on these.

- What Makes Texans in Washington different.
- The 2015 Texas Senate, from left to right.
- The 2015 Texas House, from left to right.

Friday, July 17, 2015

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: The Center Did Not Hold

Rice University prof Mark Jones regularly analyzes the voting patterns of Texans in the U.S. Congress and in the Texas Legislature.

He see evidence of the same degree of polarization commonly seen nationwide. He makes the striking observation that there is no middle in Texas politics. This is a curious thing to say because most people in the United States - those who vote in general elections - are in fact moderate. But that's not what drives politics. Politics is driven instead by primary election voters, and they tend to be on either extreme of the political spectrum.

- Click here for the article.

Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, periodically engages in an exercise that graphically demonstrates the state of Texas politics.
Weighing every recorded vote they cast, he charts state and federal legislators from the most liberal to the most conservative. A glance at his latest rankings makes one thing strikingly clear — there is virtually no middle left in Texas politics.
Cleverly drawn political districts, closely fought party primaries and polarization among candidates, voters and political financiers have combined to drive moderates out of the state’s Legislature and its congressional delegation.

Being on the extreme of an ideological spectrum is the least dangerous place for most Texas politicians. Republicans brag if they’re on one end of that seesaw; Democrats do the same on the other end.
The middle, however, is perilous. And on the latest charts from the good professor, it is empty.

Though there is debate on this, the general argument is that this is the result of redistricting, and especially the practice of partisan gerrymandering.

That’s where redistricting comes in. The political districts from which all of these people are elected were drawn in a way that minimizes competition in November general elections. With a few exceptions — that 23rd Congressional District where Hurd and Gallego are set for a rematch is one — the parties have a very small chance of flipping seats in November.

The most dangerous challengers come from within the parties, during the primary elections. The voters in those elections, not surprisingly, are more likely to be either liberal or conservative and less likely to be either party’s version of a moderate.

A conservative Republican is better positioned in a Republican primary than a more moderate one. And that candidate in a Republican district ordinarily doesn’t have to worry about appealing to moderates in the general election — the district has more Republicans than Democrats in it by design.
Maps drawn to create November races where Republicans and Democrats are more evenly balanced would tend to favor moderate candidates over time — Republicans who could appeal to conservative Democrats and vice-versa.
These maps were drawn to protect Republican majorities in the Legislature and the congressional delegation, just as the maps drawn by Democrats 10 years earlier were intended to protect those majorities.
Instead of appealing to the middle in November, they appeal to liberals in the Democratic races in March and conservatives in the Republican primaries.
And the distances between the people who get elected grow.

This Day in National History: Lewis and Clark help form Missouri Fur Company

OK, this was actually for yesterday.

I've been interested recently in the interplay between the activities of the national government and business in the expansion of the nation westward. The Jefferson Administration was not only responsible for the Louisiana Purchase - and the Mississippi River system - but also early effort to explore it as well as lands all the way to the Pacific.

This story points out that Lewis and Clark - the men responsible for mapping out the land to the west, were also involved in developing ways to exploit it commercially. It involved the fur trade - which was to early America what the oil industry is now. There's lot's more to this story, but this is is pretty sweet in my opinion. It supports the idea that the design of the government established in the Constitution helped further the development of commercial interests in the nation.

- Click here for the article in
In September 1806, William Clark and Meriwether Lewis completed their epic journey to the Pacific Ocean, arriving back in St. Louis after more than two years in the western wilderness. Except for the difficult crossing of the Rocky Mountains, the expedition team had traveled by river. On the journey, they were overwhelmed by the abundance for beaver, otter, and other fur-bearing creatures they saw. The territory was ripe for fur trapping, they reported to President Thomas Jefferson.
Both Lewis and Clark recognized that sizeable fortunes could be made in fur trapping, and they were not averse to using their exclusive knowledge to gain a share of the profits. Two years after their return, Lewis and Clark helped organize the St. Louis Missouri River Fur Company. Among their partners were the experienced fur traders and businessmen Manuel Lisa, Pierre Choteau, and Auguste Choteau.
Lewis, whom Jefferson had already appointed to the governorship of Louisiana Territory, was presumably a silent partner, and for good reason. The new company planned to mix public and private interests in potentially unethical ways. During their earlier voyage west, Lewis and Clark had convinced an Upper-Missouri River Mandan Indian named Big White to go east and meet President Jefferson. Lewis had promised Big White that the American government would later return him to his people. Now the St. Louis Missouri River Fur Company proposed to use public money to mount a private expedition to take Big White home in the spring of 1809. Once Big White was home safely, however, the expedition would continue on to begin fur trading on the Yellowstone River, where it would enjoy a monopoly guaranteed by Governor Lewis.
In May 1809, the hybrid public-private expedition headed up the Missouri River. The men safely returned Big White to his home and inaugurated a fairly successful fur trading operation. Whatever questions there might have been about Governor Lewis’ conflicting interests in the company soon became moot: He either killed himself or was murdered on October 11, 1809, while traveling on the Natchez Trace in Tennessee. Clark continued to be involved with the company for several years, and no one ever raised questions about the ethics of his participation. Standards of behavior were often lax on the frontier, and it was not unusual for private and governmental interests to become confused. For all but the most critical observer, Clark’s actions would have been acceptable. The St. Louis Missouri River Fur Company the two men helped create endured until 1825 and was instrumental in furthering the exploration and settlement of the Far West.

On a related note, a movie is about to be released documenting some of the exploits of this period.

- Wikiepdia: The Revenant.
- Wikipedia: Hugh Glass.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

This Day in Texas History: The Red River Bridge War

This is a new one on me.

I guess Texas and Oklahoma almost went to war. And it had nothing to do with football. It was about who had access to each bank of the Red River and included concern that Texas was being invaded by Oklahoma.

Seems like we're always concerned about being invaded by someone.

- TSHA: Red River Bridge Controversy.
- Wikipedia: Red River Bridge War.
The Red River Bridge controversy between Texas and Oklahoma (sometimes called the Red River War) occurred in July 1931 over the opening of a newly completed free bridge, built jointly by the two states, across the Red River between Denison, Texas, and Durant, Oklahoma. On July 3, 1931, the Red River Bridge Company, a private firm operating an old toll bridge that paralleled the free span, filed a petition in the United States district court in Houston asking for an injunction preventing the Texas Highway Commission from opening the bridge. The company claimed that the commission had agreed in July 1930 to purchase the toll bridge for $60,000 and to pay the company for its unexpired contract an additional $10,000 for each month of a specified fourteen-month period in which the free bridge might be opened, and that the commission had not fulfilled this obligation. A temporary injunction was issued on July 10, 1931, and Texas governor Ross S. Sterling ordered barricades erected across the Texas approaches to the new bridge. However, on July 16 Governor William (Alfalfa Bill) Murrayqv of Oklahoma opened the bridge by executive order, claiming that Oklahoma's "half" of the bridge ran lengthwise north and south across the Red River, that Oklahoma held title to both sides of the river from the Louisiana Purchase treaty of 1803, and that the state of Oklahoma was not named in the injunction. Oklahoma highway crews crossed the bridge and demolished the barricades. Governor Sterling responded by ordering a detachment of three Texas Rangersqv, accompanied by Adjutant General William Warren Sterling, to rebuild the barricades and protect Texas Highway Department employees charged with enforcing the injunction. The rangers arrived on the night of July 16. On July 17 Murray ordered Oklahoma highway crews to tear up the northern approaches to the still-operating toll bridge, and traffic over the river came to a halt. On July 20 and 21 mass meetings demanding the opening of the free bridge were held in Sherman and Denison, and resolutions to this effect were forwarded to Austin. On July 23 the Texas legislature, which was meeting in a special session, passed a bill granting the Red River Bridge Company permission to sue the state in order to recover the sum claimed in the injunction. The bridge company then joined the state in requesting the court to dissolve the injunction, which it did on July 25. On that day the free bridge was opened to traffic and the rangers were withdrawn.
Meanwhile, a federal district court in Muskogee, Oklahoma, acting on a petition from the toll-bridge company, had on July 24 enjoined Governor Murray from blocking the northern approaches to the toll bridge. Murray, acting several hours before the injunction was actually issued, declared martial law in a narrow strip of territory along the northern approaches to both bridges and then argued that this act placed him, as commander of the Oklahoma National Guard, above the federal court's jurisdiction. An Oklahoma guard unit was ordered to the bridge, and Murray, armed with an antique revolver, made a personal appearance in the "war zone," as the newspapers labeled it. No attempt was made to enforce the Oklahoma injunction, but on July 24, with the free bridge open, Murray directed the guardsmen to permit anyone who so desired to cross the toll bridge. On July 27 Murray announced that he had learned of an attempt to close the free bridge permanently, and he extended the martial-law zone to the Oklahoma boundary marker on the south bank of the Red River. Oklahoma guardsmen were stationed at both ends of the free bridge, and Texas papers spoke of an "invasion." Finally, on August 6, 1931, the Texas injunction was permanently dissolved, the Oklahoma guardsmen were withdrawn to enforce martial law in the Oklahoma oilfields, and the bridge controversy was laid to rest. The bridge was dynamited on December 6, 1995, to make room for a new one.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How will the nuclear deal be handled in Congress?

According to the process established in S.615 - Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015.

- Click here for it.

The companion bill in the House was H.R.1191 - Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015.

- Click here for that one.

The Guardian describes the process here - or what we can expect from it. Much seems up in the air.

Some highlights: 

Can Congress delay the deal?
Yes. Under the terms of an oversight process agreed between US lawmakers and the White House in April, the president has to present all the details to Congress within five days of striking a deal. This must include a report from the secretary of state on how Iranian compliance will be verified.
The Senate and House of Representatives then have 60 days to scrutinise the deal and hold hearings, during which time the president cannot begin lifting sanctions on Iran. Obama may also then have to wait another 10-12 days before actually starting this crucial part of the process. In total, it could be up to eight weeks after the back-slapping in Vienna before anything can get going.
Can Congress block the deal?
In theory. Towards the end of the 60-day review period, both the House and Senate will probably vote on a resolution of approval or disapproval. The exact mechanism is unclear, but this is likely to require a simple majority in both chambers to pass – ie 51 of the 100 senators and 218 of the 435 representatives. Since many Republicans are opposed to the deal and currently command a majority in both House and Senate, it is quite possible that a joint disapproval resolution would pass.
The catch is that the president can veto any attempt to make such a resolution enforceable – and on Tuesday in his statement on the deal he vowed to do so. To override a presidential veto requires a second vote to be passed with a two-thirds majority in both chambers: a high hurdle that would have to include at least 42 Democrats in the House and a dozen Democratic senators – probably more, if some Republicans chose to back the administration.

In other words, Obama can stick to his deal as long as he persuades at least one-third of one chamber of Congress to vote with him over the course of the four votes. Conversely, his opponents have to persuade a significant number of Democrats to stand up against their president on the most important foreign policy question of his administration – four times in a row.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

For a look at the text of the proposed regarding Iran's nuclear program, click here.

For descriptions of its content, click on the following:

- Wikipedia: Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
- The Hill: What's in the Iran nuclear deal?

Ideological differences on the nuclear deal

2305 students have looked at ideology and how it helps us understand disputes over current events. It's worth considering these differences regarding the nuclear deal.

The simplistic view is that liberals are more likely to opt for diplomatic solutions for international conflicts and to do so in concert with other nations. This is sometimes called multi-lateralism. Conservatives are more likely to opt for the use of the military and to do so alone, even if other nations disagree. This is called unilateralism.

We can see this playing out already in conflict over the relative merits of the recently negotiated deal with Iran. It's a diplomatic solution worked out with other nations. No surprise then that the more liberal party - the Democrats - support it while the Republicans, being more conservative, oppose it.

For detail, click on these:

- Iran nuclear deal: Conservatives have opposed every diplomatic breakthrough for decades.
- A Very Good Deal—for Iran.
- Iran nuclear deal: US conservatives condemn agreement.
- Left rallies to protect Obama on Iranian nuclear deal.
- Iran nuclear deal a clear success.
- Liberals Bernie Sanders And Al Franken Stand With Obama In Support Of Iran Nuclear Deal.
- J Street vs. AIPAC: Main US pro-Israel lobbies disagree on Iran deal.
- Texas Republicans Pull No Punches in Assessing Iran Deal.

Why is the Iranian deal not a treaty?

A key feature of the nuclear deal is that it is not a "treaty" so it does not need a 2/3rds vote in the Senate in order for it to take effect. As a result of a deal made some time ago, all Congress - both the House and Senate - gets to do is pass a resolution supporting or opposing the bill. It can be vetoed, but even if it the veto is overridden, and I'm not sure about this right now, as a resolution, it does not carry much weight.

The point I want to emphasize here is that this is an executive agreement, not a treaty, so it does not fall under the process established under the Constitution. What is the difference between the two? Apparently the only distinction is what the president chooses to call it. Doing so then determines the role that the Senate plays in the deal.

The following Washington Post article discusses the rise of executive agreements:

- Here's the article: Can Congress stop the Iran deal?

. . . getting 67 senators to agree on complex international negotiations is difficult. So in the 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt figured out a workaround: He simply wouldn't call his international negotiations treaties. There, problem solved. His "executive agreements" could now unilaterally be approved by him and only him.

"When is a treaty not a treaty?" Stevenson said. "When it's not called a treaty." Otherwise: "There's no other difference."
Naturally, other presidents picked up on this politically convenient avenue. According to some statistics, executive agreements are now signed in the United States more than treaties -- by a ratio of 10-to-1. (Also: In the eyes of international law, there's no difference between the two.)
"That's the way the presidents have been since at least FDR," Stevenson said. "If they think they can get away with it, they'll do an executive agreement."
In the 1960s, Congress caught on to this sly move and passed a law requiring presidents to notify the legislative branch of all executive actions signed. But that didn't really stop presidents from making treaties and calling them by another name. It just meant they had to give Congress notice.

About the Iran Nuclear Deal and the President's Foreign Policy POwers

The recently announced deal over the Iranian nuclear program calls for some detail over the executive branch's role in establishing foreign policy. This touches on a variety of points made in 2305 over the semester.

Note: The following does not apply to the Iranian nuclear deal because the deal has been defined as an executive agreement, not a treaty. As such it does not require the approval of the Senate in order to go into effect.

The ability to negotiate treaties is a key part of presidential powers. Here's the relevant - and very brief - language in the Constitution. This is the treaty clause;

He shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur;

For background:

- The Heritage Foundation: Treaty Clause.
- The Founders' Constitution: Article 2, Section 2, Clauses 2 and 3.

The authors of the Federalist Papers argued that the need for a stronger footing in negotiating with foreign powers was a key reason for transitioning from a confederation to a republic. It was also argued that the president should have key control over those powers. In addition, to provide for efficiency in establishing and implementing foreign policy, the presidency should be singular - that is - headed by one person. The early Federalist Papers especially dealt with the issues associated with foreign affairs. How would the new - and weak - nation handle relations with foreign powers? Some links:

- The Federalist Papers.
- Federalist #2
- Federalist #70

The Supreme Court weighed in on the subject of the president's control over foreign affairs in 1936. They noted a huge distinction between foreign and domestic affairs and that the president had greater powers in the former than in the latter:

- Oyez: United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp.
- Wikipedia: United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp.
- PBS: United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp.

Nevertheless tension exists between the presidency and Congress regarding control over foreign power. The tension plays out especially between the president and the Senate since the House plays no constitutional role regarding treaties. It can indirectly by voting to deny funds for any endeavor included in the treaty. Notice that the Constitution states that the Senate must concur, not ratify treaties.

- From Treaties.

Each chamber contains standing committees focusing on foreign affairs, Each is weighing in on the proposed treaty.

- Committee on Armed Services.
- Committee on Foreign Affairs.

- Committee on Armed Services.
- Committee on Foreign Relations.

And for some general background - come of this you'll find in several sections on the class powerpoints:

- Foreign Policy Roles of the President and Congress.
- Who Makes American Foreign Policy?
- Federalism and Foreign Relations.
- Who Controls Foreign Policy: The President or Congress?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

From the National Journal: A PARTY DIVIDED The Republican establishment always rallies behind one candidate. But not this time. Results from an exclusive survey of RNC leaders.

GOVT 2305 11 week students might find this useful for addressing this week's written assignment asking who is in charge of the major parties - either one, your choice.

This focuses on the Republican Party and the process the Republican National Committee - and what is also loosely referred to as the Republican establishment - is going through to determine which of the announced candidates they will likely rally behind. Usually this is done early in the process. The large number of candidates this time makes it less likely they will be able to do so.

Remember that one doesn't have to have the backing of the "official" party in order to announce a run for the presidency. Ronald Reagan didn't. The candidate just needs a reliable source of funding and enough support from primary voters.

- Click here for the article.
These findings, and dozens of conversations with senior party officials, demonstrate a deep-rooted disagreement within the GOP's governing body that hasn't been visible in decades. A few outliers aside, RNC members overwhelmingly supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 primary. Several even formally advised his White House campaigns. The opinions of RNC members, which were collected anonymously to allow for candor, are instructive because they come from those individuals who literally write the GOP's rules and collectively embody a party establishment that prioritizes order and electability.
They are part of Republican tradition that has since 1980 promoted a "next-in-line" approach. From Ronald Reagan (lost the previous primary to Gerald Ford) to George H.W. Bush (Reagan's VP after losing the 1980 primary) to Bob Dole (lost to Bush) to George W. Bush (the former president's son) to John McCain (lost to Bush) to Romney (lost to McCain), the GOP has a definitive recent history of elevating those who have paid dues or are products of the D.C. Republican machine—or both.
That candidate was supposed to be Jeb Bush in 2016. A son and brother of the two most recent Republican presidents, Bush is armed with a dynasty-driven political network, an attendant behemoth fundraising operation, and restrained rhetoric aimed at appealing to the broadest possible cross-section of voters. Yet Bush clearly has not distinguished himself amid a talented field of Republicans, several of whom, including Walker and Rubio, are competing for those right-of-center supporters while simultaneously courting conservatives.

Detail and first reactions to the nuclear deal

I'll follow later today with more on foreign policy in general and the debate over who controls it, but here are a couple links with detail on the nuclear deal with Iran:

- NYT: Iran Nuclear Deal Is Reached With World Powers.
- VOX: The Iran nuclear deal: everything you need to know.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Waco Mammoth National Monument

This five acre site in Texas was one of three declared a national monuments last week by the president, and it appears to have been not only uncontroversial, but sought after by the city, along with a bi-partisan group of members of the Texas congressional delegation.

For background on the site - which I'd like to visit now - here you go:

- Obama signs Waco Mammoth National Monument declaration.
- Wikipedia: Waco Mammoth National Monument.
- President Obama to officially declare Waco Mammoth Site as national monument.

The last link takes you to a timeline that point out how the city of Waco was able to slowly get monument status for the park, which allows for additional funds for the park. The development of it of course adds to the reasons someone might want to visit Waco - and spend the night and eat at its restaurants and otherwise pump money in the local economy.

Some highlights from the timeline:

1978 - 1982 : Discovery.
I'm unclear who owned the land that the mammoths were found on. It was on the bed of the Bosque River.
2001 - 2004: Congress gets involved.
U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards authored a bill in May 2001, signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, that directed the National Park Service to conduct a "special resource study" to determine the feasibility of including the Waco Mammoth Site in the National Park System. Language inserted in a December 2004 appropriations bill by Edwards specifically directed the Department of the Interior to move ahead with the study. "Without the directive language in this bill, the Waco mammoth study might not have begun for three to five years, because of the backlog of park studies," Edwards said then. He also secured a $200,000 earmark the next year to assist in the ongoing preservation efforts.
2006: 'Most important step! 
In March 2006, the city and Baylor both pledged $100,000 toward the $1 million fundraising goal for the site following an $200,000 federal earmark for the project from Chet Edwards. "This is probably the most important step we've taken," said Ellie Caston, director of Baylor's Mayborn Museum Complex. She estimated that it might take up to a decade to get a National Park Service designation for the site. In September 2006, Texas' U.S. Senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, urged the Department of the Interior to make the site part of the park service.
2009 - 2010: Legislative logjam
In 2009, bills were introduced in the House and Senate by U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards and U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn to make the Waco site a national monument in the National Park System. The senators visited Waco to promote the project in April and Waco City Manager Larry Grothtestified in Washington to support the bill. But in 2010, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn held up the bill as the nation engaged in a national debate about government spending and the national debt. Although not a funding bill itself, Coburn objected to opening the door to any future spending that wasn't offset by cuts. The park service had estimated the federal cost of running the site at $345,000 a year. Some suggested forgoing any future federal funding in exchange for the designation. An eleventh-hour compromise bill by Cornyn led to Coburn dropping his hold, but the measure never came up for a vote before the session adjourned.
2011 — 2013: Legislative logjam II
Newly elected U.S. Rep. Bill Flores and U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn filed a new bill to make the mammoth site a national monument without any federal funding. “The thing that impressed me most is the way the city of Waco, Baylor University and local leaders got together to make this site what it is today,” said Flores in 2011. But National Park Service staff objected to the bill, arguing that separate provisions in the bill “contradict each other” by calling for the site to be in the national park system while also prohibiting federal funds to carry out its administration. After passing the House, a divided Senate never took up the bill, with the Interior Department making it clear that a federal funding ban would be a deal-killer. A grass-roots petition to the White House was scuttled by the 2013 federal government shutdown after garnering about 700 signatures.

2014 — 2015: Executive decision?
Attempting to bypass Congress, in 2014 the Waco City Council asked that the mammoth site be added to the National Park System by presidential order. With the nonprofit advocate National Park Conservation Association, the city lobbied the Interior Department to recommend the site be made a national monument under the Antiquities Act, designed to preserve cultural and scientific treasures. Waco leaders visited Washington and spoke directly with Interior and the park service, who were impressed with the proposed management model involving the city, Baylor and NPS. In April 2015, parks director Jon Jarvis called the mammoth site "a fantastic park" after coming away impressed from a Waco visit that featured a standing-room only crowd. Praising work done by the city, Baylor and the nonprofit Waco Mammoth Foundation, he said “The infrastructure looks like the National Park Service designed it ... When you drive in, the only thing missing is the arrowhead.”
April 21, 2015: Waco cedes mammoth site to park service
Following the visit by national parks chief Jon Jarvis, the Waco City Councilunanimously agreed to relinquish the core of the Waco Mammoth Site to the federal government on April 21, 2015, contingent on President Barack Obama making it a national monument. The resolution granted the five-acre dig site and all excavated bones to the National Park Service and allows an adjacent 108 acres to be part of the national park system while remaining under city ownership.

July 10, 2015: Finally! Waco Mammoth National Monument
With a stroke of President Barack Obama’s pen on Friday, July 11, 2015, the Waco Mammoth Site became the Waco Mammoth National Monument. “It was pretty special. He said it was so rewarding to see a group take this long to be able to come together for an effort like this," said mayor Malcom Duncan Jr. Now that the order has been signed, the city of Waco will work with the National Park Service, Baylor and the Waco Mammoth Foundation to form a partnership controlling the monument. The federal government will pay for a park ranger, who will begin in October, and will provide signs and research money. The city will continue to pay to maintain the park and retain the current staff. And most importantly: Duncan says he'll be contacting the proper officials to get signs placed on Interstate 35.

Summer 2 has begun

As of half an hour ago.

My email address is all over the place, so let me know quickly if you have questions for me, or if there are any glitches on Blackboard.

This site is used to point out how current issues apply to class material. I also provide some hints about what information might be useful for addressing the weekly written assignments.

Good luck.

Remember that this semester is very short, so don't get behind.

What is the Mountain States Legal Foundation?

The previous post mentions a court case challenging the constitutionality of President Clinton's decision to establish a number of national monuments during his term - as President Obama did last week.

The court case was filed by an interest group called the Mountain States Legal Foundation.

Interest groups are discussed in several sections in class. One of the ways such groups can have an impact on public policy is through the courts. A key strategy is to issue test cases, which simply attempts to force the Supreme Court use its power of judicial review to determine whether a law or executive action is in keeping with what the Constitution allows.

The Mountain States Legal Foundation has done so - so far unsuccessfully - against the Antiquities Act which has been used to restrict the ability of industry to have access to mineral resources in the west. They have been involved in a number of other court cases attempting to limit federal agency activity in the west.

Here's a bit from the Wikipedia Page on the group:

MSLF was incorporated in Colorado in 1977 by western business leaders concerned that advocates for constitutional liberties, property rights, and economic activity were not present during important legal battles. Initially created with funding by the National Legal Center and Joseph Coors, MSLF's first president was James G. Watt. On behalf of his corporate sponsors, Watt initiated lawsuits opposingaffirmative action, limiting safety inspection of businesses, and preventing the implementation of reduced utility rates for the elderly.

It's worth noting that James Watt was appointed Secretary of the Interior in President Reagan's Administration. This meant that for a period of time the interest group had control over the executive agency that implemented the laws that affected that group.

For more on the group:

- Their website.
- Huffington Post: Mountain States Legal Foundation.

For related topics:

- Agency - or Regulatory - Capture.
- Test Cases

The U.S. Constitution's Property Clause

Disputes about the constitutionality of the Antiquities Act center on the following part of the Constitution. This is known as the Property Clause:

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

This provides the constitutional authority for the act.

Here are links for background related to this clause:

- Heritage Foundation: The Property Clause.
- The Founders' Constitution: Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2.
- CRS: Federal Land Ownership: Constitutional Authority and the History ofAcquisition, Disposal, and Retention.
- University of Kentucky: Congressional Discretion under the PropertyClause.
- William and Mary: Proclamations, National Monuments, and theScope of Judicial Review under the Antiquities Actof 1906.

But questions remain about the interpretation of the clause.

The DC Circuit Court dismissed a case arguing that President Clinton violated the Constitution when he used the act to declare six national monuments.

- Click here for Mountain States Legal Foundation v. Bush.

As I can see it - there has yet to be an authoritative limit placed on the extent of this clause. This is important because, as you should be aware, the United States expanded rapidly after the Constitution was ratified. The federal government took control of lands that were not already states, and was the primary driver in efforts to grab additional lands to the west. These efforts included the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican-American War.

While lands became states over time, much of the land within it remains federal territory. Texas is different because since it was a sovereign nation for a few years, it owns the bulk of its public lands. Western states continue to try to expend their control - if not ownership - of these lands.

From The Hill: Obama to announce three new national monuments Friday

For out look at executive powewr: This is the latest example of unilateral executive action. Congress does not weigh in on the decision largely because they approved such action when they passed the Antiquities Act of 1906, a law that had been controversial over its history.

It's story fits within the broader story told in the sections on executive power which argues that the roots of expanded executive powers lies in the powers Congress granted the president during the progressive era. The controversy stems from the desire of environmentalists to use the law to protect scenic and historical land from development, and the industries that seek to do the developing.

- Click here for the story.

With the new sites in Nevada, California and Texas, Obama will have used his power under the 1906 Antiquities Act to create 19 national monuments, angering congressional Republicans almost every time and adding to what environmentalists see as a strong legacy of land conservation.

Rather than look at the details of this particular decision, we should look at the bill that authorized the president's actions and also try to determine how that bill - constitutionally - can confer such a power on the president. Let's start with a few links with background on the 1906 Antiquities Act:

- Wikipedia: Antiquities Act.
- TR Center: Antiquities Act of 1906.
The Highs and Lows of the Antiquities Act.

The Antiquities Act, passed in 1906, authorizes the president to single-handedly designate any federal public lands as national monuments.
Its creation was motivated by the looting of archaeological sites in the Southwest in the late 1800s. At that time, archaeologists realized that historical sites were being plundered and the artifacts disappearing into private collections or overseas museums.
The brief act — it's only four paragraphs long — was initially intended to protect just small archaeological sites, but it has since been interpreted to give presidents the power to set aside parcels of federal land of unlimited size and to restrict logging, hunting, grazing and mining on these sites.
Since 1906, 13 presidents, both Democratic and Republican, have used the authority of the Antiquities Act to proclaim 125 national monuments covering nearly 100 million acres of federal public lands. But such unilateral power has created fierce political brawls.

The specific law can be found in 16 U.S.C. 433.

Here's the relevant language:

The President of the United States is authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected. When such objects are situated upon a tract covered by a bonafide unperfected claim or held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government, and the Secretary of the Interior is authorized to accept the relinquishment of such tracts in behalf of the Government of the United States.

The president implements the law with the assistance of the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management. As far as I can see, there has been no judicial decision asserting that it is. I'll post separately on this subject because the court's have dismissed such cases, presumably affirming that it is constitutional.

Court challenges have stemmed from industries that have wanted access to the minerals on the land. Arguments have been made that president's have acted outside the bounds of what the law allows, but the courts have decided against industry. These are the two principal court cases on that point:

- Cameron v. United States (1920)
- Cappaert v. United States (1976)

It's worth pointing out - as an example of checks and balances - that Congress has twice responded to presidential use of the act to limit the scope of its powers:

The first time followed the unpopular proclamation of Jackson Hole National Monument in 1943. The 1950 law that incorporated Jackson Hole into an enlarged Grand Teton National Park also amended the Antiquities Act, requiring Congressional consent for any future creation or enlargement of National Monuments in Wyoming.[6]The second time followed Jimmy Carter's use of the Act to create fifty-six million acres (230,000 km²) of National Monuments in Alaska. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act requires Congressional ratification of the use of the Antiquities Act in Alaska for withdrawals of greater than 5,000 acres (20.2 km²)

If you are interested in this sort of thing, here's legal analysis of the case. This may be the most controversial laws you have never heard of.

Preserving Monumental Landscapes Under the Antiquities Act.
Environmental Law & Property Rights.
Extending the Scope of the Antiquities Act.
The Antiquities Actand How Theodore Roosevelt Shaped It.
- The Antiquated Act: Time to Repeal the Antiquities Act.

Should all states adopt unicameral legislatures?

This author argues so. His principle point is that bicameralism is inefficient and unnecessary. There is also the problem posed by conference committees where differences between House and Senate bills are hashed out in secret, but not without lobbyist input.

This applies to both 2305 and 2306's discussion of the legislative branch's principle of bicameralism.

- Click here for the article.

One reason a bicameral legislature makes sense at the federal level was illustrated by the Connecticut Compromise. One proposal at the 1787 Constitutional Convention was for the number of representatives and senators from each state to be determined by population. But small states like Delaware were concerned that they would have little voice in federal affairs under such a system. The compromise was that the number of House members would be based on population, but that every state, regardless of population, would have two senators. That distinction doesn't exist on the state level, where both lower- and upper-house districts are drawn based on population.
Every state except Nebraska has a bicameral legislature, but with the passage of time, it's a setup that has come to make less sense. Nebraska passed a ballot initiative to create a unicameral legislature in 1934. When it was implemented in 1937, the state's legislative costs were cut nearly by half.
But cost isn't the only reason for states to adopt unicameral legislatures. Under the bicameral model, differences between bills passed by the lower and upper houses are hashed out in conference committees whose meetings are not public. Conference committees include only a few legislators, and their deliberations can easily be influenced by lobbyists. A unicameral legislature promotes greater transparency.
Then there is the efficiency of the process, with legislation not having to make its way through two bodies and then a conference committee before arriving on the governor's desk.
For those who fear that unicameral legislatures would lead to rash decisions, Nebraska has safeguards in place. In addition to judicial review and the gubernatorial veto, the state requires that each bill have a public hearing, that there be a period of at least five days after introduction before a bill is passed, and that each piece of legislation deal with only a single subject.
Unicameral legislatures are hardly radical; virtually every American municipality has one. The legislatures of Canada's provinces also are unicameral.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

This day in Texas History: The Longview Race Riot of 1919

This seems related to the previous post below.

- Click here for this post from the TSHA.

I'm sorry to say that I'm unaware of this event - or the Red Summer it refers to. It's interesting to note that one of the factors leading to the conflict was a rumored interracial affair. In the wake of the gay marriage decision, some have revisited out history of laws against inter racial marriage and the Supreme Court decision that found them unconstitutional.

From the story:

The Longview Race Riot occurred during the Red Summer, as May to October of 1919 has been called. It was the second of twenty-five major racial conflicts that occurred throughout the United States during these months. In 1919 Longview, a rural cotton and lumbering community in Northeast Texas, had a population of 5,700; 31 percent were black. Racial tension was especially high immediately before the riot because two locally prominent black leaders, Samuel L. Jones and Dr. Calvin P. Davis, had urged black farmers to avoid local white cotton brokers and sell directly to buyers in Galveston. Then an article in the July 10 issue of the Chicago Defender, a sensationalistic nationwide black newspaper, described the death of a young black man, Lemuel Walters, in Longview. The article reported that Walters and an unnamed white woman from Kilgore, Texas, were in love and quoted her as saying they would have married if they had lived in the North. Walters, according to the article, was safely locked in the Gregg County Jail until the sheriff willingly handed him over to a white mob that murdered him on June 17.

And - of course - Wikipedia has a page on the Red Summer.

- Click here for it.

The riots are alleged to be tied into the end of WWI and fears of communism. Here's a taste:

The riots followed postwar social tensions related to the demobilization of veterans ofWorld War I, both black and white, and competition for jobs among ethnic whites and blacks. The riots were extensively documented in the press, which along with the federal government conflated black movements with bolshevism.

From the Atlantic: Most States Elect No Black Prosecutors

This article bridges 2305 and 2306. Related topics:

GOVT 2305: Civil Rights and the Equal Protection Clause, and Interest Groups
GOVT 2306: Local Government, Criminal Justice Policy, and Local Elections

The author argues that because most states elect their district attorneys - elections that in Texas are carried out at the county level - and because Whites are a majority in each state, as well as most counties, district attorneys are primarily White. This has consequences for the decisions that the criminal justice system makes regarding who gets prosecuted and who does not.

From the article:
Here are a few of the numbers, according to a report on elected prosecutors commissioned by the Women Donors Network and conducted by the Center for Technology and Civic Life, a nonpartisan group that grew out of the progressive National Organizing Institute:
- 95 percent of elected prosecutors are white;- 79 percent are white men;- three in five states have no black elected prosecutors;- 14 states have no elected prosecutors of color at all*;- just 1 percent of elected prosecutors are minority women.

This has consequences for who goes to trial and who does not:
In the U.S. legal system prosecutors may wield even more power than cops. Prosecutors decide whether to bring a case or drop charges against a defendant; charge a misdemeanor or a felony; demand a prison sentence or accept probation. Most cases are resolved through plea bargains, where prosecutors, not judges, negotiate whether and for how long a defendant goes to prison. And prosecutors make these judgments almost entirely outside public scrutiny.

Why does this matter?

This ought to be worrying in a democracy: Although trying to assemble a government that perfectly represents each minority population may be a recipe for disaster—ask Lebanon!—the magnitude of the disparity here should startle even jaded observers. At the federal, state, and local levels, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians hold elective office at rates lower than their percentages of the overall population, but even so, the gap among prosecutors is particularly large. There’s also little question that the U.S. justice system as it exists perpetuates and encourages huge racial gaps, leading to much higher incarceration rates for black men and serious social disparities in housing, education, employment, and beyond.

Which raises an important question regarding majoritarian democracy: If elected institutions do not have the same ethnic breakdown as the general population - if the majority is over represented - are the rights of minority populations in jeopardy? The author suggests that the answer is yes. This is central to the argument that the United States' governing system is systematically racist, that is, biased in favor of the majority due to winner take all electoral rules. Obviously this is an area of controversy. People are divided on the issue based on ideology. Liberals are more likely to see systemic racism at work, conservatives less likely.

Some important terms in the article:

These are related to the position of district attorney:

- Wikipedia: District Attorney.
- Wikipedia: Prosecutor.
- Texas Association of Counties: District and County Attorney.
- Texas District & County Attorneys Association.
- Harris County: Office of the District Attorney.

These are relate to the concept of systemic racism:

- Wikipedia: Institutional Racism.
- The Atlantic: Systemic Racism or Isolated Abuses? Americans Disagree.
- The Daily Beast: Supreme Court: Institutional Racism Is Real.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Who controls the Democrats? Who controls the Republicans?

For GOVT 2305 - 11 week students. Here are a few articles that ought to help with your most recently opened written assignment.

This groups highlights conflicts within the Republican Party:

- Outside Groups Eclipsing G.O.P. as Hub of Campaigns.
- Can’t Fire Him: Republican Party Frets Over What to Do With Trump.
- Donald Trump’s Comments Resonate With Some in G.O.P.
- The Koch brothers and the Republican Party go to war — with each other.
Tea Party Forces Still Control The Republican Agenda.
The GOP Is Dying Off. Literally.
- A Guide to the Billionaires Bankrolling the GOP Candidates.
- The GOP presidential primary: A brawl of billionaires?

Here are a few that do the same for Democrats:

- No, Liberals Don't Control the Democratic Party.
- Why Liberal Democrats Are Skeptical of Hillary Clinton, in One Paragraph.
- Who Controls the Democratic Party?
- The Real Party of the Rich: Democrats Have More Top Donors, Millionaires in Congress.
- Hillary Clinton’s Team Is Wary as Bernie Sanders Finds Footing in Iowa.
- Bernie Sanders calls Hillary Clinton ‘the candidate of the Democratic establishment’.
- Compromised to death.
- Jim Webb says Democratic Party has lost its way.

I'll add more soon. This is enough to ruin your weekend.

Who is in charge of the major parties right now?

For this week's written assignment for GOVT 2305 I asked students to pick either of the two major parties and try to determine who or what is in charge of them.

A key point made in the section on political parties is that they are decentralized (as is the entire governing system in the United States). There is no one dominant entity mandating what the party stands for, what tactics it pursues and what candidates they offer. There is instead ongoing competition between different groups to determine what policies parties will pursue of elected into office in an upcoming election.

These include:
- party identifiers
- primary voters
- contributors
- office holders
- interest groups
- county party officials
- state party officials
- the national party committees
- candidates for office

There is of course a different dynamic in each election season that makes certain groups stronger than others, at least temporarily. Take the Tea Party as an example. The goal for students is to try to figure what that dynamic is at this point in time. I'll post some relevant items soon. For now, general background about parties - this relates to class material so hopefully it helps make sense of it.

- Why Decentralize Power in A Democracy?
- The American Political Parties Are Breaking Down.
- How to fix our polarized politics? Strengthen political parties.
- Report: Wealthy 'Elite Donors' Fueling U.S. Politics.

From Reason: Is This Where Libertarians and the Gay Community Part Ways?

The author argues that the recent gay marriage decision marks a turning point in the alliance between the two groups. This illustrates the ways the groups can coalesce around certain issue and how those relationships can change over time.

- Click here for the article.

Areas of disagreement:
- Employment Nondiscrimination.
- Religious Freedom Exemptions.

Areas of agreement:
- Transgender Recognition.
- Adoption.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

From Reuters: The Echo Chamber: A small group of lawyers and its out-sized influence at the Supreme Court

For 2305 students looking for a topic related to the Supreme Court - a study challenging the idea that the Supreme Court treats all cases equally. It's tough to not read this and not be cynical about the idea that the U.S. is a democracy.

The study has three parts:

1 - The Elites: At America’s court of last resort, a handful of lawyers now dominates the docket.
The marble fa├žade of the U.S. Supreme Court building proclaims a high ideal: “Equal Justice Under Law.”
But inside, an elite cadre of lawyers has emerged as first among equals, giving their clients a disproportionate chance to influence the law of the land.
A Reuters examination of nine years of cases shows that 66 of the 17,000 lawyers who petitioned the Supreme Court succeeded at getting their clients’ appeals heard at a remarkable rate. Their appeals were at least six times more likely to be accepted by the court than were all others filed by private lawyers during that period.
The lawyers are the most influential members of one of the most powerful specialties in America: the business of practicing before the Supreme Court. None of these lawyers is a household name. But many are familiar to the nine justices. That’s because about half worked for justices past or present, and some socialize with them.
They are the elite of the elite: Although they account for far less than 1 percent of lawyers who filed appeals to the Supreme Court, these attorneys were involved in 43 percent of the cases the high court chose to decide from 2004 through 2012.

2 - The Firms: Elite law firms spin gold from a rarefied niche: getting cases before the Supreme Court.

A Reuters examination of about 10,300 court records filed over a nine-year period shows that lawyers at a dozen law firms, including Gibson Dunn, Sidley Austin and Jones Day, have become extraordinarily adept at getting cases before the Supreme Court. The news agency analyzed petitions filed by private attorneys, not those submitted by government lawyers or prison inmates and others who lack representation. Although the high court typically agrees to hear 5 percent of the petitions it receives from private attorneys, Reuters found that lawyers at the top dozen firms were successful 18 percent of the time.These firms were involved in a third of the cases the high court accepted, Reuters found. When the justices agreed to hear cases brought on behalf of Big Business, top firms were involved 60 percent of the time.
A slightly larger group – 31 firms – accounted for 44 percent of all cases the court accepted.
The domination of the Supreme Court docket by firms that commonly represent business interests has a direct, largely unseen effect on consumers seeking to sue corporations: These individuals must select from a much smaller and, in many instances, less successful pool of lawyers to handle their cases.
The reason: Many elite law practices won’t take those cases. The activities of the firms’ corporate clients are so broad, and their concerns so intertwined, that the lawyers point to disqualifying conflicts of interest – some specific, some general.

3 -  The Advocates: In an ever-clubbier specialty bar, 8 men have become Supreme Court confidants.

. . . an even smaller, more elite group of attorneys, including Clement, has come to dominate the final phase of a case: the oral arguments. That phase, a direct give-and-take with the justices, is an attorney’s last chance to sway the decision. A knack for connecting with the justices is crucial.
A Reuters analysis of high court records shows that a group of eight lawyers, all men, accounted for almost 20 percent of all the arguments made before the court by attorneys in private practice during the past decade.
In the decade before, 30 attorneys accounted for that same share.
In this ever more intimate circle, lawyers say, chemistry with the court is key. The October case was a milestone for the 48-year-old Clement: It marked the 75th time he had appeared before the high court, second most among active lawyers in private practice. The following week, at a party celebrating the feat, veteran attorney Lisa Blatt toasted Clement’s success.
“The justices love Paul,” Blatt declared. “They visibly relax when Paul stands up and they are smiling when he sits down.”

Textbook wars continue in Texas

For this week's written assignment for GOVT 2306.

A few items related to the controversy over what the State Board of Education wants students in Texas' K-12 public schools to learn about hostory and government.

- Houston Chronicle: New Texas textbooks downplay slavery in the Civil War.
- The Atlantic: Was Moses a Founding Father?
- Washington Post: Texas officials: Schools should teach that slavery was ‘side issue’ to Civil War.
- Washington Post: Texas board approves social studies standards that perceived liberal bias.
- Los Angeles Times: Do new Texas textbooks whitewash slavery and segregation?
- The Texas Tribune: Rod Paige Address State Board of Education.

Monday, July 6, 2015

From 538: Jim Webb Is Searching For A Bygone Democratic Party

In the section on political parties we discuss the evolution of parties and how they can shift on issues from time to time. The most recent shift - still ongoing - has involved moderate and conservative white southerners slowly distancing themselves from the party. In 2305 we point out this as the shift from the 5th to the 6th party eras.

The most recent evidence of this is the so far lackluster campaign of Jim Webb.

- Click here for the article.
. . . he’s a dying breed in the Democratic Party, where power is increasingly tilted toward liberals and especially nonwhite voters.
Webb, who served as secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration and later as a Democratic senator from Virginia, is one of the last of the moderate Democrats. His public statements and voting record in the Senate were quite centrist, and he even went so far as to defend the Confederate flag after the recent massacre of nine black people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Webb’s record appears to be considerably to the right of either of the two most recent Democratic presidential nominees, John Kerry and Barack Obama, not to mention either of the two top Democrats running for the 2016 nomination, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Here's the kicker:


From the NYT: Obama Plans Broader Use of Clemency to Free Nonviolent Drug Offenders

2305 students should be able to answer questions about the nature and extent of presidential powers. The Constitution highlights one such area:
. . . he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.
President Obama has used this power less often than his predecessors. The Department of Justice offers clemency statistics dating back to William McKinley

- Click here for them.
- Wikipedia also provides a list.

Out of almost 20,000 petitions for pardons and clemency he has granted just over 100.

Perhaps foreshadowing an initiative to reduce sentencing for people convicted of non-violent drug crimes he is allegedly preparing to provide clemency for a number of them.

- Click here for the NYT story.

Sometime in the next few weeks, aides expect President Obama to issue orders freeing dozens of federal prisoners locked up on nonviolent drug offenses. With the stroke of his pen, he will probably commute more sentences at one time than any president has in nearly half a century.

The expansive use of hisclemency power is part of a broader effort by Mr. Obama to correct what he sees as the excesses of the past, when politicians eager to be tough on crime threw away the key even for minor criminals. With many Republicans and Democrats now agreeing that the nation went too far, Mr. Obama holds the power to unlock that prison door, especially for young African-American and Hispanic men disproportionately affected.

For more:

- Wikipedia: Pardon.
- 538: Lame Duck President tend to offer more Clemency.

How do recent Supreme Court decisions affect 2305 topics?

This is a list of the court decisions GOVT 2305 - 5 week students wrote about this summer. Each decision allows the court to clarify - or update or modify or change - any number of topics we cover in class. Some of these topics might be on the final, so a look at these cases can also help you prep for the final.

You should also be prepared for questions related to the role of the courts in the governing process, controversies about that role, and the judicial process. Given the centrality of the judicial branch, you should be comfortable with questiosn about it.

Rodriquez v United States:
- Fourth Amendment
- procedural liberties
- unreasonable search and seizures

Hobbs v Holt:
- First Amendment
- substantive liberties
- religious freedom
- criminal justice

Young v. UPS:
- the equal protection clause
- the Civil Rights Act
- discrimination
- disparate treatment
- intermediate review

Yates v United States:
- strict and loose construction
- search and seizure

Glossip v Gross:
- eight amendment
- cruel and unusual punishment

North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v The Federal Trade Commission:
- regulatory agencies
- agency capture
- interest groups
- monopolies

EEOC v Abercrombie and Fitch:
- religious liberty
- the Civil Rights Act
- executive agencies
- disparate treatment
- discrimination

Michigan v EPA:
- regulatory policy
- the EPA
- strict construction

Walker v Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc.
- first amendment
- freedom of speech
- government speech
- private speech

City and County of San Francisco v Sheehan:
- mental disabilities
- fourth amendment
- warrantless searches
- qualified immunity

Johnson v. United States:
- due process rights
- procedural liberties
- strict construction