Monday, January 08, 2018

Supreme Court Rulings

If we're honest, most of us would probably admit that we treat the Supreme Court like referees in a football game--wise and unbiased when they rule the way we like, and completely wrong if not crazy when they rule the other way.  I admit to respecting the Court, and I even accept their "bad" decisions as the law of the land, even when I think they're grossly mistaken (e.g., Obamacare, Kelo, Roe v. Wade, etc.).

There are many people in this country, including a sitting senator from Colorado who should know better, disparaging the Attorney General for having the audacity to state that he will enforce federal law in this country, including marijuana laws.  You many not agree with the law--I wouldn't be too disappointed if Congress and the president legalized marijuana--but the Attorney General isn't the right target for such an outcry.  In fact, the author of this piece at Reason suggests that the Supreme Court deserves some of the opprobrium:
What gives the federal government the authority to target legal state pot? The answer is not the Constitution. This federal power grab is the product of two awful Supreme Court precedents.

In 1942 the federal government brought sanctions against an Ohio farmer named Roscoe Filburn. His crime? He grew twice the amount of wheat that he was permitted to grow under the terms of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938. That sweeping federal law, ostensibly passed as part of Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce, sought to raise agricultural prices by limiting the supply of crops.

Filburn defended himself from the feds by pointing out that his extra wheat never once entered the stream of interstate commerce. In fact, he noted, that extra wheat never even left his Ohio farm. He used it to feed his livestock and to make flour for use in his family's kitchen.

But the Supreme Court ruled against him on Commerce Clause grounds anyway. Filburn's extra wheat may not have crossed state lines, the Court conceded in Wickard v. Filburn, but it still had a "substantial economic effect" on the interstate wheat market. As a result, Congress had every right to regulate Filburn and other farmers in this manner.

Six decades later, in the case of Gonzales v. Raich (2005), the Supreme Court applied and extended the Filburn precedent by upholding the federal ban on marijuana, even as applied to plants that were cultivated and consumed by patients for their own doctor-prescribed use in states where medical cannabis was perfectly legal. "The [Controlled Substances Act] is a valid exercise of federal power," declared the majority opinion of Justice John Paul Stevens, "even as applied to the troubling facts of this case."

Writing in dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas spelled out the disastrous impact of the Wickard/Raich doctrine in plain English: "By holding that Congress may regulate activity that is neither interstate nor commerce under the Interstate Commerce Clause, the Court abandons any attempt to enforce the Constitution's limits on federal power."
Sometimes, the law is an ass.  But it's still the law.

So how do we fix this?


Anonymous said...

It weirds me out to see that Republicans and Democrats suddenly seem to switch sides on states rights vs federal intervention. It's almost like it's not about independence but the freedom to enforce the values you want. Hmmmm

Darren said...

It's not uncommon for the party out of power to champion federalism or "states rights", it's happened throughout our history.

As a constitutionalist, though, I try to come down on the side of the originally-understood meaning of the constitution rather than my own personal wishes. When those conflict, I'm man enough to admit that.