It is not the job of the court system to tell us what is right, or just; to make policy for us or govern our lives. But it is the job of the court system to police the basic rules of the road that keep our various elected officials, administrative agencies and lower courts from exceeding the powers the People, in the Constitution and laws, have entrusted to them. And today was a good day for the rule of law and a bad one for abuses of power:
1. The Supreme Court held 9-0, in an opinion by Justice Breyer, that President Obama abused his recess appointment power by unilaterally appointing members of the NLRB withouut asking the Senate. The Court split 5-4 on exactly how broad the recess-appointments power is, but all agreed that the President cannot just unilaterally claim that the Senate is in recess (for purposes of bypassing it) when the Senate itself (even Harry Reid) says that it is not in recess. That renders many of the NLRB’s acts over a period of years invalid (although proper appointments were eventually made). So much for Obama’s vaunted status as a Constitutional scholar; even his own appointees didn’t buy his nonsense.
Justice Breyer left some wiggle room, however, for future debates over exactly when the Senate is recessed:
Justice Scalia, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito, would have gone further in scaling back the recess power. Scalia reminds us of a favorite point of his, that separation of powers is the true backbone of Constitutional liberty:
2. The Court also held, in a 9-0 loss for Martha Coakley (now running for Governor of Massachusetts) that Massachusetts abused its power under the First Amendment by a blanket ban on protests within 35 feet of an abortion clinic. As Chief Justice Roberts observed, this ban was so draconian that it prevented women entering the clinic from being exposed to peaceable forms of persuasion:
Petitioners are not protestors. They seek not merely to express their opposition to abortion, but to inform women of various alternatives and to provide help in pursuing them. Petitioners believe that they can accomplish this objective only through personal, caring, consensual conversations. And for good reason: It is easier to ignore a strained voice or a waving hand than a direct greeting or an outstretched arm….Respondents point us to no evidence that individuals regularly gather at other clinics, or at other times in Boston, in sufficiently large groups to obstruct access. For a problem shown to arise only once a week in one city at one clinic, creating 35-foot buffer zones at every clinic across the Commonwealth is hardly a narrowly tailored solution.
Justice Scalia would again have gone further, noting evidence that the buffer zones were deliberately intended to discriminate against pro-life viewpoints:
This is an opinion that has Something for Everyone, and the more significant portion continues the onward march of abortion-speech-only jurisprudence.
3. Meanwhile, the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, by a 6-1 vote struck down former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s Big Soda ban in a challenge brought by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The court concluded that the agency that passed the ban was not entitled to create policy-making legislation (a common feature as well of President Obama’s agencies). A few key excerpts explain why unelected executive agencies (like courts) should not set policy:
Indeed. A good day for a government of laws, not of men.