Below, this Article introduces the relevant case law by examining the recent case of United States v. Hill, a federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act prosecution of a battery committed on a gay fellow-employee at an Amazon Fulfillment Center. There follows a brief tour of the most crucially relevant Supreme Court Commerce Clause jurisprudence, with an emphasis on current doctrine.
In light of these materials, this Article then highlights a number of largely unsolvable problems in trying to delimit the scope of the Commerce Clause power. There is, merely to begin, the problem of the vagueness of legal language in general and of the key terms embodied in the Commerce Clause more specifically. The vagueness problem impairs attempts to clarify the meaning and bounds of the language of the Commerce Clause.
Until January 2018, under the border search exception, CBP officers were afforded the power to search any electronic device without meeting any standard of suspicion or acquiring a warrant. The border search exception is a “longstanding, historically recognized exception to the Fourth Amendment’s general principle that a warrant be obtained . . . .” It provides that suspicionless and warrantless searches at the border are not in violation of the Fourth Amendment merely because searches at the border are “reasonable simply by virtue of the fact that they occur at the border . . . .” The CBP, claiming that the border search exception applies to electronic devices, searched more devices in 2017 than ever before, with approximately a 60 percent increase over 2016 according to data released by the CBP. These “digital strip searches” violate travelers’ First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights. With the advent of smartphones and the expanded use of electronic devices for storing people’s extremely personal data, these searches violate an individual’s right to privacy. Simply by travelling into the United States with a device linked to such information, a person suddenly—and, currently, unexpectedly—opens a window for the government to search through seemingly every aspect of his or her life. The policy behind these searches at the border does not align with the core principles behind our longstanding First and Fifth Amendment protections, nor does it align with the policies behind the exceptions made to constitutional rights at the border in the past.
In order to protect the privacy and rights of both citizens and noncitizens entering the United States, the procedures concerning electronic device searches need to be rectified. For instance, the border search exception should not be applied to electronic devices the same way it applies to other property or storage containers, like a backpack. One is less likely to expect privacy in the contents of a backpack than in the contents of a password- or authorization-protected devices—unlike a locked device, a backpack can be taken, can be opened easily, can fall open, and also has been traditionally subjected to searches at the border. Moreover, there are many reasons why electronic devices warrant privacy.
In its landmark District of Columbia v. Heller decision, the Supreme Court announced that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right of the people to bear arms. Although Heller answered a long-standing question about the Second Amendment’s meaning, there remain issues to be settled. One of the most pressing—and the main topic of this Note—is the proper method of review and application of this individual right. Without guidance on these issues, several circuit courts have followed different approaches. Although opportunities to provide some clarity have come before the Supreme Court, so far, it has denied certiorari.
This Note will not opine on the merits of the individualist or collectivist approaches to the interpretation of the Second Amendment, as this question has been answered conclusively in Heller. Instead, this Note will provide a suggested framework for the application of this individual right to keep and bear arms, and will progress as follows. Part I will offer a contextual history of the Second Amendment. Part II will make the case for why clarity on this issue is so desperately needed and is punctuated by a discussion of the Second Circuit’s particularly troubling application of the right. Part III will offer a proposed framework that, if adopted by the Supreme Court, can resolve the questions posed in Part II. Part IV will apply the framework to California concealed carry regulations. Finally, Part V will apply the framework to a new California law that is likely to make its way to the Ninth Circuit soon, thus allowing the Supreme Court to clarify Second Amendment jurisprudence further.
We review every California constitutional amendment to date, distinguishing between legislatively proposed amendments and initiative amendments. We solve the enduring mystery of how many times the California constitution has been amended. We prove that the initiative process does not have a disproportionate effect on the amendment rate of the California constitution, and that the state legislature (not the electorate) is responsible for the vast majority of California’s constitutional changes. We also debunk the myths that California’s is the longest constitution in the world and that the state uses the initiative more than any other.
Next, we discuss the substantive constitutional issues the electorate’s direct democracy powers can raise. Critics frequently blame the initiative for many of the state’s woes, but we argue that direct democracy in California is a net social good. We show that while direct democracy’s cumulative quantitative and individual qualitative effects are indeed significant, they are not so severe that structural change is warranted. We identify one flaw in the initiative process that merits a solution. Recognizing, however, that any change is an unlikely prospect, we argue that the existing checks on the electorate are capable. Because direct democracy’s harms are adequately mitigated, there is no urgent need for fundamental change.
This Note examines the arguments made in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College, which allege that Harvard’s consideration of race is a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it is not narrowly tailored to a compelling interest of diversity. The complaint filed by Students for Fair Admissions (“SFFA”) came off the back of Justice Alito’s comments in his dissent in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (Fisher II), which proposed the possibility that Asian Americans may face discrimination in admissions. While this was an important inclusion of Asian Americans in the discussion, Justice Alito’s comments in Fisher II perpetuated the logical fallacy that Asian Americans are losing admission spots to African Americans and Hispanic Americans due to affirmative action, and may have encouraged the initiation of SFFA’s action against Harvard College. However, while the frustration experienced by many in the Asian American community over what feels like racial ceilings on Asian American admissions at elite universities is valid, these ceilings are the result of negative action aimed against Asian Americans, not the result of affirmative action. Prohibiting universities from considering race as part of a holistic admissions process will not eliminate the negative action felt by Asian Americans.
Richard Fallon has written another important book about American constitutional law. Indeed, it brings to mind Hilary Putnam’s definition of a classic: the smarter you get, the smarter it gets. Fallon presents a rich, thick description of our constitutional law and practice and an argument for how we may best continue and improve this practice. While intended to be accessible to a broad readership, Fallon’s arguments cut to the core of much current constitutional scholarship, even while urging us to move past many of these sterile debates. Most importantly, Fallon takes seriously his mission of speaking to the Court, as well as to the academy, and takes a real run at changing how the Justices decide cases and articulate their decisions. He accomplishes all of this in a startlingly concise book, running only 174 pages of text and 36 pages of notes and without even a subtitle.
Fallon sets out to explain the nature of constitutional law, the constitutional disagreements of cases, constitutional argument, and the nature of the legitimacy of Supreme Court decisions and, ultimately, the Court itself. That’s a tall order for a little book, but Fallon can make a claim to have accomplished his mission.
As decisions by—and appointments to—the Supreme Court have become increasingly divisive, many observers have renewed calls for reform. For example, we could replace lifetime tenure with non-renewable terms of eighteen years, such that one term ends every two years. That way, less would be at stake with each nomination, Justices could not time their retirements for partisan reasons, and appointments would be divided more evenly between Democratic and Republican presidents. Or we could establish a non-partisan, judicial nominating commission.
Concerns about the Supreme Court are not new, but increasing political polarization and partisan maneuvering over the two most recent Court appointments have accentuated tensions. With the legitimacy of the Court at stake, reform to depoliticize the Court seems essential. And whichever reform is promoted, it is generally assumed that implementation would require a constitutional amendment, legislation, or a change in Senate rules.
But the conventional wisdom is wrong. There is a sound argument to be made that Supreme Court reform is constitutionally required.
In the midst of growing debate and—according to widely publicized news accounts—growing evidence against President Donald Trump’s impeachment, esteemed former Harvard Law Professor and public intellectual, Alan Dershowitz, recently published The Case Against Impeaching Trump. In this brief, but passionate, defense of the President, Professor Dershowitz provides arguably the strongest legal argument against impeaching the Forty-Fifth President of the United States. Professor Dershowitz’s argument, while beautifully written, is largely a selectively applied textualist attempt to thwart the mounting evidence against President Trump and his administration.
In its recent decision in McDonnell v. United States, a case concerning corruption charges against the former Governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell, the Supreme Court faced a seemingly simple question of statutory interpretation: what constituted an “official act” for the purposes of the bribery statute, 18 U.S.C. § 201(a)(3). In reality, not only did it answer a question far more complicated, but also, it provided far more than a simple answer.
In its attempt to reinforce democracy, the Court failed. Instead, it validated a pernicious definition of access, in which paid-for access, pay-to-play schemes, and bribery are the norm. Specifically, in claiming that this maligned form of access was necessary for a functioning democracy, the Court endorsed political norms that are, in fact, corrosive to society: stratified access to politicians and by association, democratic institutions. The Court ignored the reality of pervasive and systemic inequality—ranging from political, economic, social, and racial—in contemporary American society and the effect that inequality has on access. However, the Court did not arrive there alone—the many amici filing on behalf of the petitioner blinded it—at least partially—to the aforementioned realities and public opinion.
This Article argues that the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America deserves a primary place in constitutional law, in federal judicial decision-making, and in the nation’s civic discourse. The Preamble does more than set forth general, vague aspirations. It epitomizes the particular purposes behind the adoption of the Constitution that were desperately needed to repair and replace the faltering Articles of Confederation. The Preamble’s words were specifically and methodically chosen, both in the Preamble itself and often within the body of the Constitution. Based on their prompt affirmative vote, all members of the Constitutional Convention, which drafted the version of the Constitution that was submitted to the thirteen states for ratification, readily embraced the Preamble. Some delegates stated explicitly that it should be used as the key to interpreting the Constitution, its meanings, intentions, purposes, and limitations. Indeed, it is doubtful that the Constitution would have been ratified without the text of the Preamble prominently standing at the top of the proposed document, and the Preamble occupied a dominant and valuable position at the head of constitutional analysis throughout the nineteenth century.
In 1905, however, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts. This case has been rarely discussed at any length and is only cited summarily. Perhaps somewhat unwittingly, the Court used language that has been understood to relegate the Preamble to a minor, insubstantial role: “Although that Preamble indicates the general purposes for which the people ordained and established the Constitution, it has never been regarded as the source of any substantive power conferred on the Government of the United States or on any of its Departments.” The Court then went on summarily to treat the Preamble as irrelevant to the case.