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North Carolina's Rightward Turn

June 10, 2015 Senator Jesse Helms looked right at the camera and named two of my neighbors as threats to the people of North Carolina. Their offense: They were gay. The year was 1984. After two terms as the furthest-right senator in Washington, Helms faced a formidable opponent—North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt. Helms...

Breaking the Law—and Blaming the Supreme Court

May 13, 2015 Executive overreach, now as always, is in the eye of the beholder. George Will, for example, has railed against “institutional vandalism of Barack Obama’s executive unilateralism.” But in his admiring profile of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, George Will says that Rauner has “a powerful voice and a plan to break...

from govexec

Are There Limits to Government Speech?

March 31, 2015 We the people love beef. Don’t believe me? Listen to the late Robert Mitchum, or whiskey-voiced cowboy star Sam Elliott: “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” Did you see Uncle Sam’s lips moving? The “what’s for dinner” campaign was the creation of an obscure federal panel called the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion...

from govexec

What Makes Indiana's Religious Freedom Law Different?

March 31, 2015 No one, I think, would ever have denied that Maurice Bessinger was a man of faith. And he wasn’t particularly a “still, small voice” man either; he wanted everybody in earshot to know that slavery had been God’s will, that desegregation was Satan’s work, and the federal government was the...

from govexec

Government of the Legislature, by the Legislature, for the Legislature

March 3, 2015 “If my fellow citizens want to go to Hell I will help them,” Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote to a friend in 1920. “It’s my job.” But what if our fellow citizens are already in hell, and vote to spring themselves? Are today’s Justices required to block the exit? That...

from govexec

The End of Public-Employee Unions?

February 20, 2015 Constitutional scholars sometimes like to commend courts for what they call “the passive virtues”—a reluctance to become involved in constitutional dispute, a reticence to announce new rules, a preference for standing by earlier decisions (“stare decisis”). Judges, too, like to cite what they call “the canon of constitutional avoidance,” a...

How America's History 'At War' Shapes the Battle Against ISIS

February 17, 2015 The last “declared war” the United States fought was against Panama in 1989-90. (America didn’t declare it; the Panamanian General Assembly did. It didn’t work out well for them.) To many Americans, the phrase “declare war” has a kind of magic meaning. Congress has the power under Article I, Section...

from govexec

Imperfect Union: The Constitution Didn't Foresee Divided Government

November 18, 2014 “The president is completely ignoring the will of the American voters, who turned out on Election Day and overwhelmingly elected people who wanted to change the direction of the country,” Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, complained Thursday to The New York Times. Barrasso...

Who Controls Foreign Policy – the President or Congress?

November 2, 2014 Americans don’t know whether their president should be more like Victor von Doom, whipping Congress into line, or like Jeeves the butler, murmuring respectfully, “Will that be all, sir?” The text of the Constitution provides remarkably little guidance on the question. Because disputes between the president and Congress usually are...

from govexec

Who Controls Foreign Policy: The President or Congress?

October 31, 2014 Americans don’t know whether their president should be more like Victor von Doom, whipping Congress into line, or like Jeeves the butler, murmuring respectfully, “Will that be all, sir?” The text of the Constitution provides remarkably little guidance on the question. Because disputes between the president and Congress usually are...