Friday, March 20, 2015

Taking on the Judiciary

In the New York Times, University of Chicago law professor and former Chief Justice John Roberts clerk William Baude argues that one way the president could get around a negative ruling in King v. Burwell, the pending ACA case, would be to say that the ruling only applies to the plaintiffs.  So, even if the court strikes down subsidies, it would only affect a few people.

Josh Blackman takes apart this claim by looking at the implications of it:
Imagine if, after Roe v. Wade, Texas had argued that the right to abortion applied only to Norma McCorvey (better known as Jane Roe), and other states continued to enforce their abortion laws. Or if Alabama finds itself unaffected by the Supreme Court’s upcoming same-sex marriage decision, which involves only bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. These cases are not class actions, which purport to bind non-parties. They sought relief only for specific plaintiffs in these states against what they claimed were unconstitutional laws. If the Justice Department’s reasoning in the lower courts is taken seriously — and if Baude is correct — then the Supreme Court should be treated no differently. The nine justices, Baude argues, have the “formal power” to “order a remedy only for the” parties before it, not the countless other couples awaiting their nuptials. The implications of this argument are frightening. The executive branches of the states and the federal government could concoct an infinite number of technicalities to explain why a Supreme Court decision is not binding on them. This breach of the separation of powers would trigger a dangerous race to the bottom, where one state after another would find ways to ignore the jurisdiction of the federal courts.
Blackman's remarks remind us of the importance of norms in maintaining a Constitutional balance of powers.  And the decay of those norms could lead to a radically empowered executive, one who is unbound by the courts and the Congress, as well as to a kind of procedural anarchy.

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