Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Observations on Constitutional Issues

Three interesting constitutional issues have been in the news recently and I thought I'd post a little on the subject... you know, say a few things that might be damaging to a later political career. Fun stuff.

First up, flag burning. I'm on record as believing this to be a horrible amendment. It's not that I think burning the flag is a celebrated activity which should be praised... it's more the fear and temptation of adopting "exception" clauses into the Constitution. You know, things like, "no illegal search and seizure... except if you did something bad, in which case the police can just turn our life in side out." Obviously a popular sentiment, right? I mean, the only people who would have anything to fear is those who are breaking the law. Thankfully a super majority of the Senate does not disagree with me, and the amendment will stay off the books for another year. Hopefully the 2006 elections will bring an end to all of this reckless constitutional gamesmanship.

Next up, the President has been pushing for line-item veto authority to help eliminate pork barrel spending from the Federal budget. First, let's all say in unison how much we hate pork barrel spending... and then quickly respond how our district's funding is actually critical and should be maintained. Thank god for hypocrisy. But less interesting than Congress' inability to withhold its own spending is this somewhat crazy idea that this law will pass Constitutional review.

The Supreme Court struck down an earlier attempt to grant the President a line-item veto in the 90's. The justices adopted a very formalist stance, saying the Constitution requires bicameralism and presentment, afterwhich the President's only options are to (1) sign, (2) veto, (3) do nothing and the law will go into effect in 10 days. It's an all or nothing, up or down, end of story.

The new line-item claims to fix those problems... but seems to be barking up the wrong tree. The articles I've read describe the biggest change between the 90's version and this one as allowing the Congress to re-vote on any items struck, requiring only a simply majority to reinstate (instead of just 2/3rds). Well, folks, that doesn't really get to the Supreme Court's issue. The President is given an entire bill and either likes it or dislikes it, there is no middle ground under the Constitution. Unless the Court's recent change is far more drastic then I'm lead to believe, this statute has no change of surviving review.

Last on the chopping block, signing statements. Recently the Senate Judicial Committee held hearings on the Bush Administration's use of signing statements, which are essentially executive decrees on how he will interpret the law. These are not unprecedented in American history, and for good reason. The President in charged with faithfully executing the laws, which means he or she must interpret and apply.

What this does not mean, if you ask me, is that the President may ignore laws. When signing the torture ban last year, the President said in conjunction, "I reserve the right to ignore this law as I see fit." That isn't interpretation, that's reading in a right not present in the law. How does he get away with it, you ask? The Administration claims the signing statements save the statute from being unconstitutional.

That's not gonna fly. If a statute is unconstitutional, the executive branch cannot save it by narrowing it's scope. This is basic rule of administrative law. Congress cannot act beyond it's authority, period. Laws which do so are unconstitutional both in areas where it has no authority AND those where it would if it had been more narrowly drafted. If the bar on torture is, in fact, an unconstitutional incursion on the separation of powers (as the President contends) then the whole act is invalid.

Senator Spector, the chairman, said it best ""There's a real issue here as to whether the president may, in effect, cherry-pick the provisions he likes and exclude the ones he doesn't like."

Friday, June 23, 2006

Missing the Point of the "Daily Show Effect"

The Washington Post is running an column today explaining the findings of two East Carolina University political scientists. They exposed one group of college students to just the Daily Show coverage of the 2004 elections and another group of college students to just CBS Evening News. To quote directly from the article:
The results showed that the participants rated both candidates more negatively after watching Stewart's program. Participants also expressed less trust in the electoral system and more cynical views of the news media, according to the researchers' article, in the latest issue of American Politics Research.
The article wonders if the Daily Show is somehow "poisoning democracy?"

Allow me to stand up for John Stewart and say he's not poisoning democracy, he's showing it for what it really is and his delivery is so perfect and the situation so absurd that people are getting the message. With any luck the reduced voter turn out will continue as my generation gets older until the powers that be wake up and realize that the farce has been uncovered.

The younger generation has access to more information, more analysis, more dirt than any generation in American history. I would expect that generation to use that knowledge to improve the system... but the first step is to identify and reject the flaws of the current one. The key question this column raises for me is whether political actors will now denounce Mr. Stewart and his show, or will they realize the errors of their ways and clean up the system?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Done and Done

Yesterday I turned in my last law school project, earning an additional two credits, and bringing my total credits earned to 135. Thus I have completed all law school graduation requirements and, presuming I passed all my classes this quarter, have earned by Juris Doctor degree!

For those who are into lists, here is a complete run down of the courses I took while at UW School of Law.

  • Secured Transactions
  • Problems in Professional Responsibility
  • Independent Advanced Writing
  • Nonprofit Corporations
  • E-commerce & Information Technology
  • IP Innovation Science Technology
  • Independent Study
  • Basic Income Tax
  • Administrative Law
  • Civil Procedure II
  • Antitrust Law & Policy
  • First Amendment
  • Evidence
  • Trademark & Unfair Competition
  • Technology & Public Policy Clinic
  • Copyright
  • Legal Protection of Computer Software
  • Drafting Technology Contract
  • Transmission of Wealth
  • Public Land Law
  • Federal Courts & System
  • Business Organization
  • Patents
  • Washington Constitutional Law
  • Property
  • Criminal Law
  • Basic Legal Skills
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contracts
  • Civil Procedure I
  • Torts

  • Update: with all grades posted, I'm proud (I guess) to announce I earned a 3.41 while in law school. Is that an amazing GPA for law school? No, it's about average. Most of my grades were a B+, with more A and A- grades than just plain old B grades, which is why I got that extra .01 over the 3.4 (which is the numerical value of a B+ grade).

    Monday, June 19, 2006

    Holy Constitutional Amendments Batman

    No, I'm not talking about the Flag Desecration Amendment or the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment. Actually, I'm not even discussing an actual amendment before Congress. What we've got here is a bonefide shadow amendment.

    Here's the scope... a bunch of folks (Rs and Ds) are going around trying to convince Legislatures to adopt a different distribution system for their Electoral College votes. Remember from civics class that every state gets two votes in the EC just for being a state and an additional vote for each representative in the House. To become President you need a majority of the EC or else the much despised 12th Amendment is activated and the killer robots come out of the Appalachians and replace all of our elected leaders. Most states (actually, it could be all states) deliver their electoral votes in a winner takes all strategy. Thus, if I were to win California by 52% I would receive all 55 electoral votes (of a total 538).

    The result of the system, as currently designed, encourages a candidate to do just enough to win a state and nothing more. Thus Washington State, who has voted D every time since Roland Regan in 1984 (where Mondale took only Washington, D.C. and his home state of Massachusetts), is rarely visited by either national party. The state is not "swing" and thus the votes are already secured to one party.

    Enter in our friends at the National Popular Election of the President and their crazy ideas about popular sovereignty. The idea is for states representing a majority of the EC votes to enter into a compact whereby they will award all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote. So, if a candidate wins 53% of the popular vote he is assured to win the Electoral vote because all of the states in the compact will assign their votes to him.

    It's clever, to be certain, but the website doesn't answer some of my questions... like, what does the system do when a candidate only wins a plurality, like Clinton in 1996? From the sounds of it, he wins, no questions asked. Hmmm...?

    Regardless of whether you think it's a good idea (and that's a whole other blog post) it certainly is a neat way of going about making changes to the Constitution without having to go through the big lengthy process. Given the current system favors small states, which hold more than the 1/3rd of the votes in the Senate to stop such an amendment, this seems like a good approach to accomplish the otherwise impossible.

    You can see their progress on their Wikipedia entry.

    Friday, June 16, 2006

    ... and then I turned 25

    The countdown is complete and the day has arrived. Today I am 25 years old, a quarter century, and yet still so very young. For the past three years I've been running around UW Law as one of a handful of students who came straight from their undergraduate education. On top of that, I took only four years to complete my undergrad, which is anything but the norm these days. Which makes me one of the youngest graduates in my class.

    Carry that little factoid three months into the future and you'll discover I'm on the path to being one of the youngest lawyers in the country. How's that for strange. The average age at the UW was 28 when we started in 2003, assuming a linear space-time continuum, the average age is now closer to 30. I have no idea what the average nationally is for law graduates, but given how many people take at least a year off between undergraduate and law school, not to mention all the folks going into law after 20 years in a different career, it's got to be higher than 25.

    What I find humorous here is that many of my friends and colleagues have said I'm "24 going on 40," in reference to my personality of professionalism (okay, that's probably an overly optimistic way of stating things). Whether positive or negative, my peer group tends to think of me as older than I really am.

    Let me say this to anyone who may be reading... I do not feel older than I am, I feel way young. My peers in law school have so much on me in terms of experience, wisdom, and skills that I worry every day about my employability. It's not that I'm not a smart guy, it's the simple fact that I've done so few things in my life compared to others.

    Not to say I would lead my life differently. I feel I've been incredibly lucky with my student government jobs, work opportunities, and political participation. I think I've done well for myself at the ripe age of 25. But I worry that an employer, when choosing between a 25 year old and a 30 year old, is going to give me enough credit to realistically bridge the five year gap.

    Monday, June 12, 2006

    Emerging from the Mayhem

    Today is the 12th of June... the last time I posted was April 16, which is just four days short of a two month hiatus. My deepest apologies for my sudden and unannounced disappearance. It has been a pretty stressful few months. And that's coming from me, a guy who almost never gets stressed.

    Here's a brief list of what I've been up to this past couple of months:
    • GPSS Spring Social
    • Compressed Courses finals
    • Deciding if I'm moving to California
    • Final S&A Fee Deliberations
    • GPSS Bylaw Review
    • End of the quarter assignments
    • GPSS summer hirings
    • GPSS elections
    • Advanced Writing Requirement
    • Meeting with California public policy folks
    • Full Length Courses Finals
    • Final ASUW Senate Meeting (I got a fancy award)
    • Preparing the Regent's Item for the S&A Fee Recommendations
    • Registering for the California Bar and BarBri Preparation Course
    • Graduation Ceremony Preparation (I was a banner carrier)
    • Meeting with the University AG to discuss S&A Fee Guidelines
    • Research Project (which was supposed to be done Winter Quarter)
    • June Regent's Meeting to Present S&A Fee Recommendations
    • University Wide Graduation Ceremony
    • Law School Graduation Ceremony
    • Attending the California Bar Review Course concurrent with school and finals
    So, I've been busy.

    As of today I have just three objectives between now and July 25 (the day of the Bar Examine).
    • Complete Research Project by June 16
    • Keep up Bar Review Schedule
    • Find gainful employment in the Santa Cruz area
    Which should continue to keep me busy.

    But I'm going to do my best to keep the blog up-to-date during the last few months of my legal education.