Legislative wisdom


S&W commemorative revolver

Within weeks of SCOTUS ruling Dick Heller had a II Am right to possess a pistol for self-defense, the District of Columbia informed him the right doesn’t extend to semi-auto pistols after it rejected his permit application for his 1911 .45, because the District considered such firearms to be too similar to machine guns.

Only someone who has shot neither would make such a foolish assumption.

After being denied a right to register his semi-auto handgun, Heller was successful in submitting a .22 revolver for registration. However, if Heller is successful in gaining a permit to keep his .22 revolver in his home, it will have to be disassembled and trigger-locked and/or kept in a safe. This requirement (although it does include an assembly exception while it is being used against an intruder in the home) seems to treat as dicta Justice Scalia’s admonition that the “District’s requirement … that firearms in the home be rendered and kept inoperable at all times … makes it impossible for citizens to use them for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional.” Dist. of Colum. v. Heller, No. 07-290, slip op. at 58 (June 26, 2008) (emphasis added).

Looks like it won’t be long before Heller II is foisted back upon the court system.

* * * UPDATE * * *

Looks like Dick Heller was equally displeased with the District’s new gun permit regulations, seeing as how he sued the District once again yesterday based, in part, on its disallowance of semi-auto handguns and its requirement that all firearms be kept disassembled and trigger-locked.

Thx to DC Dicta, the DCist, WaPo, and HotAir

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Ruh Roh

Austin has a long and tortured history with the perpetually-advertised transportation nirvana that is purported to be commuter/light rail.

Well, I have to admit enjoying a little grin reading in this morning’s Statesman that a cadre of officials from the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration in town to discuss granting waivers to operate commuter and freight trains on the same railroad with Capital Metro experienced a minor mishap.

The commuter railcar in which they were riding (at the blazing commuter speed of 5 mph) derailed briefly. Thankfully, no one was injured in the incident, save for maybe the reputation of Capital MetroRail (whose predictable motto is “All Systems Go”).

Thx to the Austinist and the Statesman

Officially incompetent

After the leaders of both houses of the Texas Legislature sent a very strongly-worded to the State Auditor in late February calling for review of TxDOT‘s “questionable accounting procedures,” including TxDOT’s projection of a $3.6 billion shortfall by 2015 without accounting for some $8 billion in already-approved road bonds, and its admission of $1 billion “error” in its budget forecasting, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission (the “Commission”)–charged with recommending every twelve years whether targeted state agencies should be done away with–unsurprisingly issued a stinging rebuke of TxDOT early last month:

Sunset staff found that this atmosphere of distrust permeated most of TxDOT’s actions and determined that it could not be an effective state transportation agency if trust and confidence were not restored …. Significant changes are needed to begin this restoration; tweaking the status quo is simply not enough.

In its report, the Commission called TxDOT “out of control” in pursuing its toll-road agenda. So disgusted with TxDOT was the Commission that it recommended abolishing altogether the five-member Texas Transportation Commission which oversees the agency and replacing it with a leaner executive structure composed only of the agency’s executive director and a single commissioner. The final major recommendation of the Commission was that TxDOT undergo sunset review again in just four years’ time, instead of the normal 12-year review cycle.

Thx to the Statesman

Little did I know twenty years ago when I first illicitly saw Predator that it was not just a classic action movie starring both the Terminator and Apollo Creed fighting an alien, but that it was also a veritable breeding-ground of future politicians.

Well, consider this. Not only have two of the cast gone on to be elected governor, now a third is considering a run for the Senate from Kentucky. Billy the tracker from Predator (Sonny Landham in real life) is gathering signatures so that he can challenge current Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell as an independant.

If he’s even half as tough in real life as he was in Predator, he’d have my vote.

Billy Bada$$Almost unrecognizable

Thx to Shenanigans

El Jefe

One might as well treat Justice Scalia‘s dissent from last week’s majority opinion in Boumediene v. Bush, Nos. 06-1195 & 06-1196 (June 12, 2008) as an addendum to his recent legal writing tome with Bryan Garner, largely and frustratingly unavailable here in Austin.

This is because it illustrates how to write a scathing yet persuasive dissent that will likely be viewed by future Justices and Court observers in much the same jurisprudential light as Justice Jackson‘s dissent from the majority opinion in Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 242 (1944) (Jackson, J. dissenting) is now seen, which famously rebuked the majority’s condoning of the internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during WWII.

Justice Scalia’s dissent is masterful both in its tone and its construction. Part I lays out the policy fallout from the decision (i.e., the practical, real-world implications). Part II excoriates the majority’s attempt to brazenly recast the governing precedent, Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763 (1950). Part III traces the juristic history of the writ of habeas corpus from its codification in 1679 Britain to the present day, and explains why the majority’s decision is such a stunning departure from the entirety of Western common law previously construing and defining the boundaries of the writ.

As far as the text itself, no paraphrasing can do it justice. Below are selected excerpts from the opinon.

The classic first sentence:

Today, for the first time in our Nation’s history, the Court confers a constitutional right to habeas corpus on alien enemies detained abroad by our military forces in the course of an ongoing war.

Boumediene, slip op. at 1 (Scalia, J. dissenting, joined by Roberts, C.J., Thomas and Alito, J.J.). And then, the meat of Part I:

The game of bait-and-switch that today’s opinion plays upon the Nation’s Commander in Chief will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.

Id. at 2. Talk about “plain language,” you can’t get much plainer than that.

During the 1995 prosecution of Omar Abdel Rahman, federal prosecutors gave the namesof 200 unindicted co-conspirators to the “Blind Sheik’s” defense lawyers; that information was in the hands of Osama Bin Laden within two weeks. In another case, trial testimony revealed to the enemy that the United States had been monitoring their cellular network, whereupon they promptly stopped using it, enabling more of them to evade capture and continue their atrocities.

Id. at 4-5 (citations omitted). After recounting the bromide four of the five-Justice majority in Boumediene previously offered in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557, 636 (2006) (Breyer, J., concurring in part, joined by Kennedy, Souter, and Ginsburg, J.J.)—namely that “[n]othing prevents the President from returing to Congress to seek the authority [for trial by military commission] he believes necessary”—Justice Scalia curtly observes:

Turns out they were just kidding.

Boumediene, slip op. at 5 (Scalia, J. dissenting, joined by Roberts, C.J., Thomas and Alito, J.J.).

What competence does the Court have to second-guess the judgment of Congress and the President on such a point? None whatever. But the Court blunders in nonetheless. Henceforth, as today’s opinion makes unnervingly clear, how to handle enemy prisonersin this war will ultimately lie with the branch that knows least about the national security concerns that the subject entails.

Id. at 6. Ouch.

It is both irrational and arrogant to say that the answer [to the question of “whether the Constitution confers habeas jurisdiction on federal courtsto decide petitioners’ claims”] must be yes, because otherwise we would not be supreme.

Id. at 18. Calling out his colleagues for their juristic arrogance. And from the final paragraph:

Today the Court warps our Constitution in a way that goes beyond the narrow issue of the reach of the Suspension Clause, invoking judicially brainstormed separation of-powers principles to establish a manipulable “functional” test for the extraterritorial reach of habeas corpus (and, no doubt, for the extraterritorial reach of other constitutional protections as well). It blatantly misdescribes important precedents, most conspicuously Justice Jackson’s opinion for the Court in Johnson v. Eisentrager. It breaks a chain of precedent as old as the common law that prohibits judicial inquiry into detentions of aliens abroad absent statutory authorization.

And the most sobering, bold, and blood-chilling line I think I may have ever read in a SCOTUS dissent, the last line cautions:

The Nation will live to regret what the Court has done today.

Let’s hope not.

* * * UPDATE * * *

For a fascinating examination of the Boumediene decision, see Professor John Yoo‘s op-ed in this morning’s Wall Street Journal. This article is all the more interesting because Justice Scalia cites in his dissent to a memo Professor Yoo authored while at the Office of Legal Counsel that relied upon the then-accepted interpretation of Eisentrager. See Boumediene, slip op. at 3 (Scalia, J. dissenting, joined by Roberts, C.J., Thomas and Alito, J.J.).

* * * UPDATED UPDATE * * *

It is humorous to note that Justice Scalia “sics” the Justice he has publicly acknowledged as the best writer ever to sit on the Court, Justice Jackson, for the former Justice’s use of the phrase, “cited to [x case],” instead of “cited [x case] to [y court].” Id. at 9. So strong is Justice Scalia’s dislike for this phrasing that he has stated its use makes the author sound “illiterate.”


Thx to Justice Scalia for his incomparable wit and eloquence.

President, Senator, Governor, GeneralWhat a lineage

Sixty-seven years ago today, Sam Houston‘s only surviving son–Andrew Jackson Houston–was sworn in to the U.S. Senate at the ripe old age of 87 to fill the vacancy left by the death of U.S. Senator Morris Sheppard.

Andrew’s father was sworn in as one of Texas’s first two senators almost one hundred years earlier.

Incidentally, General Houston’s colleague in the Senate was none other than the Republic’s first Chief Justice to actually preside over a session of the Texas Supreme Court: Thomas Jefferson Rusk. While Chief Rusk was, technically, Texas’s third Chief Justice, the first two Chiefs never actually convened a Court session during their eventful tenures (Texas’s first Chief Justice, James Collinsworth, committed suicide by jumping from a ship in Galveston Bay while on the ballot as a Republic presidential candidate). See James W. Paulsen, A Short History of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Texas, 65 TEX. L. REV. 237, 248-53 (1986).

While the father served in the Senate for some thirteen years from February 21, 1846, until March 4, 1859; the son’e tenure was fated to be much shorter, lasting only twenty-four days until he died on June 26, 1941.

Thx to Texas on the Potomac

The good guys

Because we’ve covered how some counsel for 9/11-affected insurers pursued a sanctionable and despicable course of conduct in order to avoid paying claims arising from the horrific attacks, we’re pleased to bring you a story of one law firm that has manifestly done the right thing by both its insurer clients and the country.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a fascinating couplet of articles chronicling Cozen O’Connor‘s groundbreaking lawsuit against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for tort liability arising from the sovereign’s alleged complicity in–and even direct support of–the 9/11 attacks

Part one of the series documents some of the key assertions in the suit “missed not only by the 9/11 Commission but also by Congress in its investigations”, including:

Senior Saudi officials and members of the royal family or their representatives served as executives or board members of the suspect charities when they were financing al-Qaeda operations. Overall, the Saudi government substantially controlled and financed the charities, the lawsuit alleges.

The charities laundered millions of dollars, some from the Saudi government, into al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups and provided weapons, false travel and employment documents, and safe houses.

Regional offices of the charities employed, in senior positions, al-Qaeda operatives who helped coordinate support for terror cells.

Part two details how the suit—brought under the auspices of the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA)—alleges the “Saudi government and members of the royal family engaged in conduct that breached the standards of normal government activities when they supported Islamist charities that funded extremist groups.” By acting outside the statutory standards of conduct the suit contends, the Saudi government and royal defendants made themselves liable under the FSIA.

The Cozen plaintiffs are currently awaiting a Second Circuit decision that will decide whether the earlier dismissal of Saudi government and royals as defendants was proper. However, “[e]ven if Cozen loses the appeal and the Saudis retain immunity, U.S. District Judge Richard Conway Casey ruled that there is enough evidence to proceed against several Islamist charities, banks, and alleged terrorism financiers named in the lawsuit.”

Thx to How Appealing and the Philadelphia Inquirer

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