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Thoughts on Ashcroft (Gonzalez) v. Raich:

Despite my blogging hiatus, I cannot resist making a few quick comments about Raich.

(1) The five-member majority of the Court simply does not take federalism seriously. Justice Stevens writes that Congressional factual findings are required when there is a "special concern such as the protection of free of speech." Apparently, however, the Constitution's limitations on federal power--critical by any measure to the American system of government--are not a "special concern," or even especially important.

(2) Justice Scalia's concurrence, unlike Justice Thomas's dissent, does not address the original meaning of the Commerce Clause. This reflects a pattern with Scalia, apparent also in his affirmative action, First Amendment, and other opinions: he is much more likely to resort to originalist arguments when they can be used to undermine Warren Court precedents that conflict with his deeply held moral and political views than when such arguments would either undermine his political views or challenge precedents that are not on the social conservative (tempered, as in First Amendment cases, by Scalia's academic elitist solicitude (which I share) for freedom of expression) "hit list."

(3) I predicted the outcome of this case (and think it's remarkable and a testament to his talents that co-blogger Randy got Rehnquist and O'Connor to vote in favor of his clients) on the theory that wavering Justices such as Kennedy, who voted with the majority, would be affected by political trends apparent in the United States. When Kennedy voted with the majority in Lopez, congressional Republicans were making serious (albeit hamhanded) efforts to limit the federal government, and their rhetoric was even more strongly devolutionary. A decade later, the Republican Congress is vying with the Democratic Congresses of the 1930's and 1960's as the biggest supporter of increased federal power in American history. Scalia's vote was also likely affected by the sense that the Court should not expend political capital, especially with new Republican nominees soon to be voted on, on trying to limit federal power without any support from the political branches.

(4) There are essentially two strategies for those who are concerned with civil liberties for limiting the government's ability to abuse the rights of the public. One is the standard ACLU strategy of being a liberal supporter of broad government power, and then insisting that the government respect individual rights, especially constitutional rights, when using that power. The other strategy, followed by libertarians, is to try to limit the government's general power to begin with because the government cannot abuse power it does not have. The drug war provides a least one example of the superiority of the libertarian strategy. The drug war has run roughshod over the civil libertarian accomplishments of the Warren Court, leading to a weakening to various degrees of the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth amendments, not to mention a huge increase in the prison population, and the denial of the basic right to use relatively innocuous recreational drugs, even for medicinal or health purposes. Far better to have denied the federal government the power to regulate intrastate use of and sale of drugs to begin with, as, I recall, Justice Van Devanter advocated on Commerce Clause grounds way back in the "dark ages" of the 1920's.

(5) I was both amused and angered by Justice Stevens's paean to the democratic process as the appropriate avenue of relief for advocates of medical marijuana at the end of his opinion. Every Justice who joined Stevens's opinion voted to prohibit states from regulating homosexual sex in Lawrence and [if they were on the Court at the time] voted to limit the government's power to regulate abortion in Casey. Why was the democratic process not the appropriate avenue of relief for the victims of overzealous government regulation in those cases? It seems we do to some extent live under a system where the personal preferences of the Justices, having nothing to do with the history, text, or logic of the Constitution, dictate when the Supreme Court will or will not intervene to overturn particular regulations.