On Judge Jerry Smith’s “Homework Assignment” And Judicial Deference To The Legislature

Last Tuesday, a federal judge in the 5th Circuit, Jerry Smith, blasted a DOJ lawyer on an ObamaCare case in the wake of Obama’s comments on judicial activism. The Judge assigned the lawyer a three-page, single spaced homework assignment to draft a position on whether the judiciary has the legitimate right to overturn Unconstitutional legislation.

Everyone was up in arms over this, and to be honest, I frankly think it was pointless, in bad taste, and didn’t do anything but spin up a news cycle for about 24 hours. After reading a particular Popehat piece, I’m not all that surprised, but I’m certainly a bit dismayed that Jerry Smith decided that this was a necessary act.

Well, the homework assignment is here for all to see:

DOJ Letter to 5th Circuit re Judicial Authority

There’s a section in here that is particularly interesting. One aspect of this is an “F-U” to the judge, but points to something that I think is a bit unnecessary in Constitutional jurisprudence:

While duly recognizing the courts’ authority to engage in judicial review, the Executive Branch has often urged courts to respect the legislative judgments of Congress. See, e.g. , Nature’s Daily. v. Glickman, 1999 WL 158 1396, at *6; State University of New York v. Anderson, 1999 WL 680463, at *6; Rojas v. Fitch, 1998 WL 457203, at *7; United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 75i v. Brown Group, 1995 WL 938594, at *6.

The Supreme Court has often acknowledged the appropriateness of reliance on the political branches’ policy choices and judgments. See, e.g., Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New Eng., 546 U.S. 320, 329 (2006) (explaining that, in granting relief, the courts ‘·try not to nullify more of a legislature’s work than is necessary” because they recognize that’” [a] ruling of unconstitutionality frustrates the intent of the elected representatives of the people’”(alteration in the original) (quoting Regan v. Time, inc. , 468 U.S. 641, 652 (1984) (plurality opinion))); Turner Broadcasting System, inc., 512 U.S. at 665-66. The “Court accords ‘ great The “Court accords ‘ great weight to the decisions of Congress”‘ in part because “[t]he Congress is a coequal branch of government whose Members take the same oath [judges] do to uphold the Constitution of the United States.” Rostker v. Goldberg, 453 U.S. 57,64 (1981) (quoting Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. v. Democratic National Committee, 412 U.S. 94, 102 (1973)). These principles of deference are fully applicable when Congress legislates in the commercial sphere. The courts accord particular deference when evaluating the appropriateness of the means Congress has chosen to exercise its enumerated powers, including the Commerce Clause, to accomplish constitutional ends. See, e.g. , NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 301 U.S. 1, 32 (1937); McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 316, 408 (1819). See also Thomas More Law Center v. Obama, 651 F.3d 529, 566 (6th Cir. 20 11) (Opinion of Sutton, J.); Seven Sky v. Holder, 661 F.3d 1, 18-19 (D.C. Cir. 201 1) (Opinion of Silberman, J.)

So the Supreme Court should grant a great deal of deference to Congress, because Congress cares deeply about their Constitutional obligation!

Paging the folks over at Volokh:

Most of us know that when then-Speaker Pelosi was asked where the Constitution gives Congress the power to enact an “individual mandate,” she replied with a mocking “are you serious? Are you serious?”

Here are a few more pearls of constitutional wisdom from our elected representatives.
Rep. Conyers cited the “Good and Welfare Clause” as the source of Congress’s authority [there is no such clause].
Rep. Stark responded, “the federal government can do most anything in this country.”
Rep. Clyburn replied, “There’s nothing in the Constitution that says the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do. How about [you] show me where in the Constitution it prohibits the federal government from doing this?”
Rep. Hare said “I don’t worry about the Constitution on this, to be honest […] It doesn’t matter to me.” When asked, “Where in the Constitution does it give you the authority …?” He replied, “I don’t know.”
Sen. Akaka said he “not aware” of which Constitutional provision authorizes the healthcare bill.
Sen. Leahy added, “We have plenty of authority. Are you saying there’s no authority?”
Sen. Landrieu told a questioner, “I’ll leave that up to the constitutional lawyers on our staff.”

So some don’t care, and some just assume the authority exists but can’t cite it, and some make up new sections of text in the Constitution that don’t even exist. Deferring to Congress on whether or not legislation is Constitutional is like deferring to Philip Morris on whether cigarettes are good for your health.

  • tkc

    Does this count as crying intellectual foul? I was going to respond on that topic but this seems more fitting. When the government is so clearly wrong then people should cry foul.

    I think the court was grandstanding when it made the request for an explanation but it points out the reality that most of congress is clueless.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany

    tkc,

    Yes, in one way it does count. I gave a bit more color in the comments to the other thread:

    http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2012/04/08/quote-of-the-day-195/#comment-84434

    I’ll admit that point out that Congresspeople are often craven power-hungry asshats who’d trample the Constitution in muddy boots if it was the fastest way to get them to a glad-handing campaign fundraiser is “crying intellectual foul”. As I said in the other thread, sometimes it is incredibly gratifying to do so.

    I also think it’s factually true that Congress doesn’t give a great deal of thought to the Constitutional propriety of what it tries to do. I think that it is fair to call it for what it is.

    But yes, I certainly didn’t avoid letting emotion color the tone of this post, and in the grand scheme of things, that might have worked against me if I were trying to convince an ideological opponent like, say, Ezra Klein, that the Court shouldn’t defer to Congress as if Congressmen are actually upholding their oaths of office.