The Writer’s Vocation

Carl Eric Scott has done Shep Melnick and, less directly, your correspondent the honor of an extended critique in a recent essay for the “Postmodern Conservative” newsletter. There is a great deal about it with which I disagree, but one point bears particular analysis. Melnick and I, Scott suggests, are being “anything but strategic” in criticizing Trumpism given that no conservative coalition is possible without Trump supporters. That may be so, and despite my rejection of Trumpism, I do not believe patriotic Americans can or should dismiss the voices of 74 million fellow citizens. But as to the charge of being anything … Continue reading The Writer’s Vocation

Christopher Scalia on Court-Packing

Christopher Scalia has an excellent piece at USA Today debunking the specious grounds of the Democratic attempt to expand the Supreme Court to 13 justices. The grounds are so implausible as to raise another question: Why bother with the pretense? That is not a rhetorical question, at least not entirely. Expanding or contracting the Court is one of the legitimate tools at Congress’ disposal for constraining judicial behavior of which it disapproves. For a variety of reasons, I would oppose expanding the Court. But I would endorse being open about the reasons for proposing it. The Court’s power is swollen … Continue reading Christopher Scalia on Court-Packing

Commemorating 9/14

President Biden has chosen an apt date, the 20th anniversary of 9/11, to complete the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. Congress should do its part by commemorating another anniversary—September 14, 2001, the date on which the AUMF for the inchoate “war on terror” was passed—by withdrawing that authority. The loose and hasty AUMF, which legislators like Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia have challenged—with signals of interest from the White House—has been used to justify military operations far removed from 9/11, al Qaeda, or Afghanistan. It has become a blanket authority for any operation nominally connected with terrorism. Repealing the AUMF—and … Continue reading Commemorating 9/14

Expanding the Court

UPDATE: I stand by the concerns about adjusting the size of the Court, but I suspect I was hasty in criticizing the six-month deadline. The membership of the Commission is excellent, and I wish it well. I’m leaving the post in place below. President Biden has announced a 180-day commission that will study reforms of the Supreme Court, including expanding its membership and limiting justices’ terms. There may be good reasons for some of these. The roadblock that conservative justices present to progressive priorities right now is not among them. Consequently, the most revealing and disturbing aspect of the Biden … Continue reading Expanding the Court

Thoughts on Voting

I have an essay at Law and Liberty today discussing the multiple controversies surrounding voting reforms proposed by both sides. I argue that voting reforms should not make voting harder for some groups than for others, nor should they create gratuitous obstacles for anyone. But those reforms should preserve voting as a fundamentally civic and therefore public act, at least in normal circumstances. That is not to question the secret ballot. It is to say that the civic hustle and bustle of voting can help induce contemplation of the common good in a way that simply putting a stamp on … Continue reading Thoughts on Voting

To Mitigate or to Resign?

Matt Bai has an excellent column at The Washington Post on the dilemma Dr. Deborah Birx faced during the Trump Administration, especially in the early days of the pandemic: Unvarnished truth would have made her unable to mitigate the worst impulses of the president and his yes-men, while her participation gave a scientific veneer to policies she now says may have killed hundreds of thousands of people. The dilemma is genuinely difficult, and casual condemnation of Birx is a bit too easy. But I think Bai (who treats the dilemma seriously) ultimately has it right: Birx should have resigned. The … Continue reading To Mitigate or to Resign?

Partisanship and War Powers

The decisive test case for the separation of powers is whether members of Congress will defend their branch of government even if a president of their own party occupies the White House. Might such a willingness be brewing? A story in The Washington Post reports that several Democratic members of Congress who pushed to reclaim legislative war powers under former President Trump are persisting under President Biden. The most encouraging explanation of their intentions came from Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, who promised “civil dialogue” with the White House on matters like repealing the post-9/11 Authorization for Use of … Continue reading Partisanship and War Powers

Honorable vs. Unhealthy Partisanship

The conventional wisdom is that partisanship fuels polarization. In the spring issue of National Affairs, I have an essay suggesting that honorable partisanship might actually provide a way out. On this reading, partisanship is a reflection of polarization. Polarization, in turn, reflects the fact that we have not persuaded one another of our ideas. Properly conceived parties can be vehicles for persuasion. By contrast, hopes for “post-partisanship,” which I trace to Hobbes and Bolingbroke, are rooted in discomfort with disagreement in politics. Honorable partisanship descends from Edmund Burke’s emphasis on partisanship as rooted in friendship, which in turn is based … Continue reading Honorable vs. Unhealthy Partisanship

Constitutionalism and the Common Good

At National Review, Dan McLaughlin recently had a compelling takedown of the new push for “common good originalism.” That brand of originalism received a fuller explication yesterday in a joint statement at The American Mind from Hadley Arkes, Josh Hammer, Matthew Peterson and Garrett Snedeker. I’ll try to write about this in more detail in essay form, but the essential complaint against originalism is that it has failed to produce conservative policy ends. Originalism’s focus on text and intent rather than natural law earns its defenders the dreaded epithet of “positivist,” which is loosely, and wrongly, deployed as a synonym … Continue reading Constitutionalism and the Common Good

Conflict, Cooperation and the Separation of Powers

Three distinguished scholars of the presidency—John A. Dearborn, Desmond S. King and Stephen Skowronek—published an intriguing essay at The New York Times this morning about taming presidential power. Their case is that constitutional combat between Congress and the President favors executive power. Instead, they write, Congress should “assert its capacity to engage the president and the executive branch in ways that foster cooperation in issues of governance.” The authors note that Congressional attempts to play hardball on the separation of powers have tended to trigger backlashes: Presidents have responded by asserting executive power, and their control over the executive branch, more stridently, and the … Continue reading Conflict, Cooperation and the Separation of Powers