Tag Archives: human rights

Mexico files brief against Utah…federalism at issue?

Immigration is one of those issues that never seems to go away. While almost every policy can be debated, either passionately or with blithe calm, immigration seems to evoke a passionate and even angry response from people who are, otherwise, level-headed and even-tempered. Continue reading

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The Utah Compact on Immigration

If you care about immigration, an interesting thing happened a couple days ago. Some of Utah‘s leaders–religious, political, and secular–joined together to propose an a set of principles on to guid the immigration reform discussion. It is seen as an alternative to recent proposals such as those passed in Arizona and proposed for Utah by Utah state Rep. Steven Sandstrom.

Labeled a “Declaration of Five Principles to Guide Utah’s Immigration Discussion,” the document lays out simple and clear parameters for keeping the policy discussion on immigration both moral and constitutional policy. In full, it states:

FEDERAL SOLUTIONS Immigration is a federal policy issue between the U.S. government and other countries—not Utah and other countries. We urge Utah’s congressional delegation, and others, to lead efforts to strengthen federal laws and protect our national borders. We urge state leaders to adopt reasonable policies addressing immigrants in Utah.

LAW ENFORCEMENT We respect the rule of law and support law enforcement’s professional judgment and discretion. Local law enforcement resources should focus on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code.

FAMILIES Strong families are the foundation of successful communities. We oppose policies that unnecessarily separate families. We champion policies that support families and improve the health, education and well-being of all Utah children.

ECONOMY Utah is best served by a free-market philosophy that maximizes individual freedom and opportunity. We acknowledge the economic role immigrants play as workers and taxpayers. Utah’s immigration policies must reaffirm our global reputation as a welcoming and business-friendly state.

A FREE SOCIETY Immigrants are integrated into communities across Utah. We must adopt a humane approach to this reality, reflecting our unique culture, history and spirit of inclusion. The way we treat immigrants will say more about us as a free society and less about our immigrant neighbors. Utah should always be a place that welcomes people of goodwill.

Unsurprisingly, Representative Stephen Sandstrom was not sanguine when he heard about it, especially since one of the supporters, though not a signer, was the LDS Church, local to Salt Lake City, and a political behemoth in Utah politics in the few rare circumstances where it decides to weigh in (more than 80 percent of Utah lawmakers are LDS, and more than 60 percent of the state’s population is LDS). Sandstrom did not sound like he was going to back down, however unhappy he was about the LDS Church’s position.

“I kind of wish I’d been given more of a heads-up because it is taking aim at the bill I’m doing,” Sandstrom lamented Thursday. “My other thought was that I thought the church’s no-position was the best way to go and to let this be the purview of government.”

Among the other signers were former Govs. Olene Walker and Norm Bangerter, Salt Lake Chamber President Lane Beattie and Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute, as well as current attorney general Mark Shurtleff. I compact is available for signing online, and it expands upon the list of notables who support the Compact, including former US Senator Jake Garn, former US Representative Jim Hansen, Salt Lake County Councilman Joe Hatch, and Mayor Peter Corroon.

What does this mean for immigration proposals in the 2011 legislative session? Because of the broad support behind the Compact, as well as the weight of the LDS Church, immigration is about to get more interesting. This takes the issue out of a squarely partisan playing field and puts individuals into a position where they must consider why they support immigration reform. The nut at the heart of the Compact is three-fold–1) immigration policy should be moral; 2) immigration is the federal government’s purview, not the states’; and 3) immigration policy should be made on principles that have made America great–the free market and a free society.

One of the interesting effects of the Compact is that it defuses a lot of the anger mongering that the right has seen used to stir-up the base. Because of the moral, and religious, authority of the LDS Church, Utah Mormon conservatives will find themselves in the position of rethinking how they view immigration policy and the basis for those positions.

Last, I think it important to note that this does not mean that immigration should not be reformed. It’s clear as the statutory language in the Kurzban Immigration Law Sourcebook sitting on my desk is unclear that immigration needs reform. My hope is that the reform that comes, when it finally comes, does more good than harm.

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Give Iowa a try…

Map of USA with Iowa highlighted
Image via Wikipedia

Iowa judges are under attack for unpopular rulings that have permitted gay marriage in their state.  Unhappy about the rulings, and displeased that so few could overturn the will of the people, activists are looking to check the power of the judges by way of the ballot box. From the Wall Street Journal

[T]his year, conservatives in Iowa are waging a campaign to vote out of office three supreme court judges, who joined a ruling last year that Iowa’s law barring the recognition of same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

This isn’t the first time I’ve noted the action of one piece of our political “family” (executive, legislative, and judicial) acting against another to check its power.  Our constitution was written in such a way as to disperse power and spread it out, limiting the ability of any one group to tyrannize another. In this case, we see the people, the legislative function by which laws are usually made, acting to check the power of the judiciary.

Judges are intended to be independent so as to be free from political pressure.  This is to enable them to make decisions that are based solidly in the law and the constitution and to act as a restraint against the power of the majority to protect minorities.  However, even this power can be checked. Even when Supreme Court of the United States finds that a law of Congress is misbegotten and unconstitutional, the right to amend the constitution, however high that bar has been set, is still available .

On the state level, because justices are often selected by the executive, they usually have to stand for a “confirmation” vote periodically in order to retain their office.  Usually, because of the low levels of interest in the predominantly mundane work of the courts, few voters follow or even care about confirmation of a judge, and voter turnouts are often low.  In Iowa, voter anger is seeing to assuring that changes.

“We need to vote them off the bench to send a message across Iowa that we, the people, still have the power,” said Bob Vander Plaats, a Republican state politician who is leading the campaign. “Not only will it send a message here in Iowa, but it will send a message in California, in Arizona and across the country.”

The effort in Iowa, the Post reports, worries gay rights advocates and legal experts who say it is wrong to punish judges for unpopular decisions. But on the flip side, campaign advocates say they are simply exercising their democratic right to rein in a judiciary that has overstepped its authority.

Vander Plaats announced this month the creation of Iowa for Freedom, which has rented office space and hired six full-time staff members, who plan to wage a political campaign replete with mailers, phone calls and door-knocking, according to the Post.

While the judges have not, yet, said anything in their own defense, this does raise the question of independence of the judiciary.  Can a judiciary that must cater to the winds of political whim ever be completely, to say nothing of partially, independent and objective sufficient to provide a fair trial?  How can a judge provide a fair trial when he, or she, knows that the parties before them may, or likely will, work to support or oppose their next election?  The result would be that the politically and financially powerful will end up winning their cases, while minorities and poor will lose.

On the other hand, there must be some check against the power of the judiciary to set policy from the bench.  If the judiciary, by one decision, can change a law established by the will of the people, what does it matter that the people have spoken or that the legislature has acted?

Democracy and Judiciary: at odds over Proposition 8

US Federal Supreme Court
Image by riacale via Flickr

One of the interesting points about American government is the balance in the federal constitution between democratic and non-democratic institutions.  It is, as was intended, a series of checks and balances on the power of too much democracy.  The Congress, the most democratic of the countries institutions at the federal level, is limited by the power of the judiciary, which has the ability to declare laws made by the Congress unconstitutional.  And, of course, there’s the Presidency.  But that’s not the subject of our discussion.  Today we are talking about the balancing between the powers of democracy and the powers the limit democracy.

The Congress is there to represent the will of the people, one step removed from actual rule.  State legislatures, and assemblies, are the equivalent. In some states, the people are able to express their will even more directly in the form of a referendum on the ballot.  A friend of mine in Oregon tells me that the referendum process there is so out of control that the ballot, which is mailed out to every voter, is so full of different voter initiatives that it takes several hours to vote, if the voter actually reads all the material provided to educate them on the referendum. In Utah, right now there is a fight going on between the state legislature and one initiative group that is trying to push through an ethics reform package.   It can get very heated.  But that’s democracy.  Laws are proposed–either in the legislature or in the referendum process–and they are fought over and decided upon in a venue where majority rule of the people, either by representative or by public vote, establishes the law.

In order to prevent oppression of the minority, the constitution establishes a court system that is poised to prevent the majority from unjustly imposing its will upon the minority, what Alexis de Tocqueville called the “tyranny of the majority.”  The crafters of the constitution recognized that in transferring power from a king to the people there was the very real risk that the country would trade one tyrant for another, that of the masses.  In addition to filling the Constitution with various anti-majoritarian clauses to prevent the abuse of the minority by the majority, the founders established an independent judiciary whose job it was to check the power of the people.  When the masses were oppressive, it was the job of the judiciary to invalidate the law, to protect the minority against the unjust actions of the legislature or the people.

And this brings us up to Proposition 8 and Judge Walker’s ruling that the law is unjust to gays and lesbians who want to marry in the state of California, ruling that it violated several parts of the constitution.  He then decided that marriages should begin as soon as Wednesday August 18 at 5 PM.  Supporters of Proposition 8 appealed, and this afternoon a stay was granted until the 9th Circuit could rule on the appeal.

Strangely, this stay, while temporarily preventing gay marriages from beginning in California, was seen by some as a rule in their favor:

Loyola Law School professor Richard Hasen said Monday’s order was strategically advantageous for supporters of same-sex marriage, no matter how disappointed many couples may be. If

the panel had refused to place a hold on Walker’s ruling, the supporters of Proposition 8 were prepared to seek a stay from the Supreme Court. The court is believed to be divided on the question of gay marriage, with Justice Anthony Kennedy considered a swing vote. A vote on a hold might have pushed the justices into taking an early position on the question.

“I think there are strategic reasons why even the most ardent supporter of gay marriage could opt for a stay,” said Hasen, an expert on federal court stays. “The concern is that rushing things to the Supreme Court could lead to an adverse result [for supporters of gay marriage.] If this case takes another year to get to the U.S. Supreme Court, there could be more states that adopt same-sex marriage and more judicial opinions that reach that conclusion.”

Hasen said the hold “takes the heat” off Kennedy and takes the case “off the front burner for a while.”

In other words, the longer gay marriage can move through the courts, the longer it can avoid a potentially devastating ruling by the US Supreme Court.  As more states permit the marriage of gays and lesbians and as more courts overturn challenges to gay marriage, as recently happened in Massachusetts, the belief is that it will become more likely that the US Supreme Court will uphold Walker’s opinion.

But there are naysayers.  Edwin Meese, U.S. attorney general from February 1985 to August 1988,  believes that not only was Judge Walker’s opinion wrong, but it was very wrong and overturns the will of the people with out justification.  he says “Walker’s ruling is indefensible as a matter of law wholly apart from its result.”  The first place he attacks Walker’s opinion is in ignoring binding Supreme Court precedent.

Regardless of whether one agrees with the result, structurally sound opinions always confront binding legal precedent. Walker’s is a clear exception because the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken on whether a state’s refusal to authorize same-sex marriage violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment. In 1972, Baker v. Nelson, a case over whether Minnesota violated the Constitution by issuing marriage licenses only to opposite-sex couples, was unanimously thrown out on the merits, for lack of a substantial federal question. The Supreme Court’s action establishes a binding precedent in favor of Proposition 8. But Judge Walker’s ruling doesn’t mention Baker, much less attempt to distinguish it or accept its findings.

Indeed, this is a path that is often cited as taken by judges who are seeking to obtain a certain policy.  They see the justice in what they are trying to obtain as a result, and to that end, their opinions cite persuasive evidence to an end.

But Meese takes issue with Judge Walker’s evidence, as well:

Walker’s opinion pretends that the voluminous evidence introduced on the side of Proposition 8 does not exist. It neither acknowledges nor attempts to distinguish the writings of renowned scholars presented at trial in support of Proposition 8, including that of anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, history professor Robina Quale and social scientist Kingsley Davis. It ignores the writings of legal giant William Blackstone and philosophers John Locke and Bertrand Russell. It even refused to address the fact that Congress, in the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, defined marriage as the “legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”

Despite ample evidence introduced into the record that only a union of a man and woman can produce offspring (as if that needs proof), Walker’s opinion denied the relevance of that biological fact. That difference has been the main reason civilization recognized the uniqueness of marriage as between a man and woman, and why courts have repeatedly relied on that common-sense truth.

Despite voluminous evidence and common sense pointing to the contrary, the judge also declared that opposite sexes were never part of the “historical core of the institution of marriage”; “evidence shows conclusively that moral and religious views form the only basis for a belief that same-sex couples are different than opposite-sex couples”; traditional marriage is an “artifact”; and, also without reference to the monumental evidence to the contrary, that it is beyond “any doubt that parents’ genders are irrelevant to children’s developmental outcomes.”

And this returns us to the balance between democracy and the judiciary.  Even the judiciary, when acting outside of the law, can be tyrannical in imposing a law on the people that is either unjust, undemocratic, or not their right to impose.  Judge Walker, by Meese’s estimation, has claimed that Proposition 8 imposed a private morality on a small group of people–essentially claiming that the majority is tyrannizing the minority.  Meese does not agree.  Whether or not we want to allow gay marriage is up for debate, but it is not an issue for one man, he says:

Having ignored everything courts typically rely on in making sound judgments, Walker concluded that Proposition 8 was enacted “without reason” and demonstrates “a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples [and are] . . . not as good as opposite-sex couples.” Nothing in Proposition 8 supports such conclusions, particularly since California law grants same-sex couples all the benefits and protections that apply in traditional marriage.

People can differ on whether, as a matter of policy, states should allow same-sex marriage. The robust debate on that topic should not be short-circuited by judicial fiat.

Yet, according to the federal district court, Americans such as President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the majority of members of Congress and the 7 million Californians who voted for Proposition 8 are all bigots who have “no rational reason” to oppose gay marriage.

Immigration Debate: Federal or state purview?

The Constitution in Peril
Image by Renegade98 via Flickr

Recently, the local Deseret News has seen debate on its opinion page, and carried over in the Facebook-sphere, on the immigration issue, especially as it relates to whether immigration policy is the purview of states or the federal government, and in many respects, it returns to Constitutional interpretation by the political right (though I am not clear that it falls on party lines).  Two opinions in particular have debate it, and because one (“Immigration a matter for the federal government, which hasn’t delivered,” August 8, 2010) is in direct response to the other (“Border security not federal purview,” August 3, 2010), I’ve posted them below.

It’s an interesting discussion, and I believe it reflects, in many ways, a growing disenchantment with the expanding reach of the federal government in to the lives of American citizens.  However, the views expressed of the authors are their own, and I present them only as food for thought and consideration.  I do not blame the growth of the federal government on either party alone; indeed, much of what the Obama Administration has been able to accomplish has only been possible because of what the Bush Administration did during its eight year tenure.

The first opinion below is by Connor Boyack (he is found on Twitter as @cboyack), a blogger, communications coordinator for the Utah County Campaign for Liberty, “a 20-something web designerpolitical economist, and budding philanthropist.”

In the wake of Arizona’s immigration law and “the list” of 1,300 alleged illegal immigrants, people in Utah and around the country are debating the ever-present issue of immigration at a fever pitch. For all the resulting discourse, however, it seems that nearly everybody has assumed that federal immigration law is proper.

This view is mistaken, although understandable. More than a century of precedent has led Americans to believe that the power to regulate and restrict immigration is a federal one. Time, however, does not confer authority; if an individual health care mandate is unconstitutional today, yet still implemented, the passage of 100 years does not make it right.

It is an interesting exercise to ask supporters of federal immigration law where the government derives its authority on this issue. The varying responses given are as numerous as those offered by the U.S. Supreme Court over the years. One would think that if such a power existed, we could at least agree on what text in the Constitution applies.

A common citation of constitutional authority is Congress’ power to “establish a uniform rule of naturalization,” though both a colonial-era definition of the word naturalization, as well as a litany of quotes from framers of the document in question, clarify that naturalization has only to do with the specific process that makes an alien a citizen. The stretching of naturalization to somehow encompass an individual’s travel through and residence within the United States is without constitutional support.?

Some also point to Congress’ power to repel invasions, arguing that the flood of immigrants crossing the border invade our country, use our resources, burden our social welfare programs and bring with them gang violence and drug warfare. However, this supposed invasion is no orchestrated campaign by a distinct group; Juan’s peaceful and individual migration to America cannot reasonably be classified as being part of some coordinated effort to invade America.

James Madison argued in Federalist 43, in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, and in his Report of 1800 that the power to repel invasions only was meant for protection when a state was attacked by another state, or when the country was being subjected to a coordinated military strike. While some gang activity may possibly apply here, it is patently absurd to classify all migration as a legitimate and actual invasion.

Historically, the commerce clause was used to justify federal immigration law, but this dealt mainly with slavery or state-based migration taxes, and few would try to so twist this clause as to apply to the modern migration of individuals across our borders.

The last justification often used is a vague and boundless reference to the country’s sovereignty, where it is argued that the country must “secure its borders” as a matter of “national security” and that the power to do so comes as an inherent right of being a sovereign nation. Not only are the states the sovereign entities in our federal republic, but the federal government cannot legitimately act unless it has been delegated the power to do so by the states under the U.S. Constitution.

Federal immigration laws have no constitutional authority, and unless an amendment to the Constitution is ratified by the states to delegate that power, the states should retake and affirm their power to manage immigration within their borders. Given that “illegal immigrants” have violated federal immigration laws, which exist without proper authority, the proper action for those who support and uphold the Constitution is to advocate amnesty for those whose only crime is noncompliance with these illegitimate laws.

The response to Connor Boyack’s opinion piece was published in the same publication, the Deseret News, on Sunday, August 8, 2010.  It was co-written by Ben Lusty, an attorney in private practice in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Daniel Burton (he is found on Twitter as @publiusdb), an attorney in Utah and the Chair of the Utah Young Republicans.

We recently read the “My View” by Connor Boyack (“Border security not federal purview,” Aug. 2) with great interest, and feel it necessary to respond to Mr. Boyack’s extreme views. Were we to follow his logic, we would find our country crossed and conflicted with 50 separate immigration policies, creating uncertainty and jeopardizing freedom of movement. The federal government, despite its many faults and heretofore failure to act in this arena, is best situated to secure our borders and establish uniform immigration laws. We, too, are frustrated with the federal government’s immigration policy failures, and do not object to a state’s right to enforce existing federal immigration law. However, upending the constitutional infrastructure of the nation is no solution.

Mr. Boyack’s major flaw is his narrow-minded reading of the Constitution, especially Article I, Section 8, which includes a full grant of authority to Congress to establish rules of naturalization. Mr. Boyack argues, without citing evidence, that the framers understood this grant of federal authority absurdly narrowly and meant it only to empower Congress to grant citizenship to aliens, not as power to establish comprehensive immigration law.

Hundreds of years of Supreme Court precedent refute Mr. Boyack, but he blithely dismisses the constitutional authority of the judiciary with the aphorism that a hundred years of wrong precedent is still wrong. But Mr. Boyack’s way of thinking is illogical. How can Congress logically exercise its undisputed plenary power over naturalization if it lacks the authority to admit or exclude aliens from the country in the first place? What if Congress wants to grant citizenship to an individual that the state of California refuses to admit to the nation? We doubt the Founders were so shortsighted as to create such a painfully foreseeable crisis.

Further, Mr. Boyack’s analysis ignores other important constitutional language. For example, he largely ignores the commerce clause. Congress has authority to regulate interstate and international commerce, and there is no doubt that immigration affects national commerce. Moreover, Mr. Boyack completely ignores Article II of the Constitution. Article II grants the executive branch broad power to implement foreign and defense policy. Immigration affects both, but under Mr. Boyack’s vision, the states would seize this authority from the federal government.

More tellingly, Mr. Boyack has not accounted for Article IV, which provides that a properly ratified treaty is the supreme law of the land. States cannot have paramount authority to exercise control over immigration if the federal government can likewise enact a treaty with a foreign nation affecting immigration policy.

Mr. Boyack, wearing a guise of “originalism,” simply interprets away the plain meaning and clear intent of constitutional language, attempting to substitute the words of a few founders as definitive of the collective work of the founding generation. What Mr. Boyack posits is a radical interpretation — that states (all 50 of them) have the power to set their own immigration policy.

Despite our disagreement with Mr. Boyack’s interpretation of the Constitution, we agree with the majority of the population that the federal government has not effectively addressed immigration. Most people are not sensitive to the fine distinctions between federal and state power in our Constitution, but they do care about results, which the federal government has not delivered. We suspect that many advocates for enhancing the power of states at the expense of the federal government are more concerned with the failure of federal policy generally than with Constitutional jurisprudence.

The federal government is institutionally better situated than the states to deal with immigration. The question that Mr. Boyack fails to answer is whether we want 50 immigration policies. Therefore, based on reasons of pragmatism, law, and politics — the same reasons that the Founders came together at Philadelphia to “form a more perfect union,” we refute Mr. Boyack’s myopic view of state authority. Immigration policy is, by and in large, the purview of the federal government. What we do to bring about the changes in the federal government to resolve our immigration policy problems is another discussion altogether.