Barack Obama is gunning for a confrontation with the Supreme Court, and Chief Justice John Roberts has signaled that he welcomes the fight. Last week, the chief justice described the president’s State of the Union condemnation of the Citizens United decision as “very troubling” and complained that the speech had “degenerated to a political pep rally.” Roberts was making an argument about etiquette--dissent was fine, he said, but Obama had somehow transgressed the boundaries of civilized discourse by delivering his attack to a captive audience.
We're living in a slow-motion constitutional crisis. The key questions of whether the president can torture people, declare a U.S. citizen an enemy combatant and remove him from the ordinary court system, or reinterpret law at the time of signing legislation (to name just three) were barely on the radar before six years ago. Voters fond of the Constitution’s limits on executive power and guarantees of civil liberties, then, need to take care in choosing the next president.
A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law by Antonin Scalia (Princeton University Press, 159 pp., $19.95) Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution by Jack N. Rakove (Knopf, 420 pp., $35) We are all originalists now. That is to say, most judges and legal scholars who want to remain within the boundaries of respectable constitutional discourse agree that the original meaning of the Constitution and its amendments has some degree of pertinence to the question of what the Constitution means today.
On December 14, 1994, a federal judge in Los Angeles enjoined the state of California from enforcing Proposition 187, which would deny health, education and welfare benefits to illegal aliens and their children. The case eventually may reach the Supreme Court; and Governor Pete Wilson has called on the justices to overturn a 1982 decision, Plyler v.