Monday, May 22, 2017

How the Supreme Court Denies Federalism and Liberty (Part II)

The 1937 case Steward Machine Company v. Davis the Court upheld the unemployment compensation provision of the 1935 Social Security Act. In Steward, the Court showed it had a broad interpretation of Federal government powers over the states. Both the Social Security Act and the unemployment provision were coercive just as was every entitlement act to follow in American history. For instance, if states opted out of entitlement laws, then they would never recoup the Federal tax monies paid by its constituents. Justice Cardozo wrote “the petitioner confuses motive with coercion” since “The states are at liberty, upon obtaining the consent of Congress, to make agreements with one another”. That may be true, but the federal government never takes advice from the states. There is a fine line between motive and coercion and that is precisely why laws should be constructed carefully. The Court also ruled that the Social Security Act were necessary and proper to promote the general welfare of the nation to fight the Great Depression. In his dissent, Justice McReynolds wrote “I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for making the federal government the great almoner of public charity throughout the United States”. Justice Sutherland correctly predicted that “encroachments upon other functions, will follow”. He also added “Imposing a tax that could be avoided only by contributing to a state unemployment compensation fund was effectively coercing each state to make law creating such a fund.” Steward marked the beginning of New Deal programs that were found constitutional by using the spending clause to promote the general welfare of the nation. The precedent for this decision was set in the 1935 case United States v. Butler. Although the decision invalidated many provisions of FDR’s 1933 Agriculture Adjustment Act, for some reason the Court felt compelled to provide an expansive interpretation of the spending clause as it pertains to the promotion of the general welfare of the nation. In fact, the Court suggested that Congress had powers not enumerated in the Constitution when using the spending clause. By 1938, FDR passed a new Agriculture Adjustment Act (AAA) and the Court in Wickard v. Filburn decided that a farmer could not grow more than what was allotted by the AAA because it would violate the commerce clause. Filburn was using the excess crops he grew to feed his farm animals and families, yet the Court decided that even this act violated the interstate commerce clause. So, it was legal for the government (under the AAA) to dictate how many acres of crops a farmer could grow; how much tonnage of crops could be harvested for sale; and how much of the crops can be used to feed your family and farm animals. If this does not violate the Tenth Amendment, then nothing will ever violate the amendment. In a similar case to Steward, in South Dakota v. Dole the Court held that Congress could withhold federal highway money if states did not raise the drinking age to 21. Liberals call the South Dakota ruling incentive, but conservative call it what it rightly is: coercion. Many individuals have been convicted of blackmail using similar types of “incentive” requests in exchange for money. Steward was a big shift in the Court who just two years earlier invalidated FDR’s National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) of 1933 in Schechter Poultry Company v. United States. This was a unanimous decision where the Court ruled that NIRA and FDR could not use the commerce clause for wage fixing, maximum work hours, and the right for unions to organize. The Court found NIRA violated the Tenth Amendment. The Court quickly changed its mind on economic regulations with West Coast Hotel Company v. Parrish in 1935. After Parrish the commerce clause began to grow in size and scope such as in cases like National Labor Relations Board v. Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation in 1937. By 1995, the Court finally tried to reign in the limits of the commerce clause in cases such as United States v. Lopez and in Bond v. United States in 2014.

The 1947 case United Public Workers v. Mitchell found that the Hatch Act of 1939 did not violate the First, Fifth, Ninth, or Tenth Amendments of the Constitution. The Hatch Act placed political activity restrictions on federal employees. The 1800s “Doctrine of Privilege” which claimed that “public employment was a privilege, not a right” and hence, restriction can be placed on employees. Justice Stanley Reed wrote the majority decision. Reed noted that in United States v. Wurzbach in 1930 the Court upheld the “Doctrine of Privilege” even though it violated rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The Ninth Amendment says “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage other retained by the people”. Liberals falsely claim that the Ninth Amendment guarantees rights not mentioned in the Bill of the Rights. The Ninth Amendment actually assures that nothing written in the Constitution can deny or cancel any of the Amendments. However, Justice Reed claimed that since the Ninth and Tenth amendments are “reserved” powers, rather than enumerated powers, and therefore, they carry less weight than say the First or Fifth Amendments. The Mitchell decision was upheld in 1973 in United States Civil Service Commission v. National Association of Letter Carriers. The Mitchell decision was only one of seven Tenth Amendments cases decided before 1965 and it was the only way to do so in a substantive way. Many legal scholars do not agree with Reed’s assessment of the Ninth and Tenth Amendment because it basically makes them meaningless compared to other Amendments. However, the fact that Reed uses the Ninth Amendment together with the Tenth Amendment it does overall strengthen the Tenth Amendment, but not to the degree of the first eight Bill of Rights amendments.

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