Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Thomas Nails It. Again.

Here is the Supreme Court Opinion in the doctor assisted suicide case called Gonzales v. Oregon. (Warning: pdf file.)

By a 6-3 decision, the Oregon law was upheld and the Federal government was told that it could not interfere with a prescription to assist in suicide.

I happen to agree with this decision on Federalism, i.e., constitutional grounds. But this is essentially the same issue that was before the Court last year in the medical marijuana case, Gonzales v. Raich.

So imagine my initial confusion, having not paid close attention to the case, when I learned the line-up. The 3 justices who voted to uphold the Federal government's power were Thomas, Scalia and Roberts.

Now, Roberts wasn't involved in Raich, so no conclusion can be drawn from that. And Scalia's and O'Conner's votes seemed consistent. O'Conner voted to overturn the Federal intrusion in Raich, as she did in Oregon. Likewise, Scalia's dissent is consistent with his vote in Raich, which was to uphold the Federal power.

But what was up with the other justices -- those who upheld the Feds in the Raich opinion and defeated the Feds in Oregon? And what of Thomas? Did he switch sides as well?

Well, I was interested, so I read the opinion to find out. The correct answer is that Thomas is only one that got both opinions correct.

What makes these two cases seeminly inconsistent is that the issues on the table are not the same. The Federalism issue (i.e., the Constitutional issues) was not on the table in this new case. The only issue was Administrative law and the deference given to the Feds to enforce the Federal law. For those that have never heard of "Administrative Law" before, don't worry. You probably have more awake hours than those of us who have read the decisions cited in this opinion.

Last year, the issue was Congress' power to prohibit medicinal marijuana. Thomas (and O'Conner and Renquist) dissented on Federalism grounds. They said Congress' commerce clause power didn't go that far. Scalia surprisingly (to most conservatives I know, and to me) joined the majority for a 6-3 ruling. I agreed with the 3 dissenters.

Today, the Court decided, under the same Federal laws and regs, the doctor assisted suicide law. Now, keep in mind, there the issue before the Supreme Court was not "Federalism." This was NOT a constitutional law case -- it was actually a federal administrative law case citing to really boring but important adminstrative case law cases.

In today's opinion, Thomas filed a seperate dissent. It is short and sweet, and the only one who nails it. If you read it, you will understand why.

This is one example of why Thomas is a good justice. He applied the law correctly. He relied on the case he dissented from on the Constitutional issue, and though he clearly doesn't like the outcome (for constitutional reasons), he pointed out that the other 5 justices on the Court were inconsistent in their reading of the same Federal law in back to back terms.

The Court blew the Constitutional issue last term. They blew the administrative law question this term. The only justice who was right in both cases was Thomas.


At 8:09 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

Heh... :)

I probably should have asked you when I was pouring over this at 5:30 this morning. Scalia's dissent gave me a headache. But my initial take on Thomas' was:

...he neatly gores their collective oxes.

Thomas is the only justice on that Court who consistently gets it right. He is slow, careful, principled, and consistent. No fancy footwork, but then you don't need razzle-dazzle if you get to the right answer every time.

At 8:30 PM, Blogger Pile OnĀ® said...

He would have made a damn fine chief justice.

At 6:04 AM, Blogger Cassandra said...

You know Pile, that's very perceptive. I wouldn't have thought of that.

He listens more than he talks but I imagine he would be good at that sort of thing. A person like that often will let everyone else talk and then chime in with the answer once they've worn themselves out arguing because he doesn't feel like he has to have the floor: a good conciliator. And he has certainly shown he has the capacity to adhere to principle on his own.

He has always struck me as unusually centered and thoughtful when I've heard him talk.

At 9:57 AM, Blogger spd rdr said...

KJ, how can you portray Administrative Law as anything but a combination of wild roller coaster ride and bad hangover? I thriveon the "Chevron two-step." The mere mention of United States v. Mead makes my stone cold heart skip a beat. And Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass'n v. State farm Mut. Auto, Inc. Co.?" That's purely titillation, compared to full org*sm of Atchinson, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway co. v. Witchita Board of Trade."


For those of you who can stand it,there's a pretty decent article by Hebrew University law professor Yoav Dotan in the Fall 2005 edition of Administrative Law Review entitled "Making Consistancy Consitant." Prof. Dotan looks at the relevant Surpeme Court decisions to discuss the relative merits and pitfalls of agency deference afforded under Chevron as against holding agencies to a form of stare decisis for prior agency determinations. I couldn't put it down.

At 5:12 AM, Blogger Cassandra said...

Looking at the first paragraph above, it is now painfully apparent that I should have gone for that exciting career as a compliance officer.

At 9:50 AM, Blogger spd rdr said...

Is there anything sexier than a Compliance Officers speaking Sarbannes-Oxley?

At 1:13 PM, Blogger KJ said...

Although I aced my Admin Law class, which ought to be an advertisement for the pep properties of Diet Mountain Dew and Folgers, I am hesitant to even buy Chevron gas due to its prominant position in Admin Law jurisprudence.

At 5:03 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

Is there anything sexier than a Compliance Officers speaking Sarbannes-Oxley?

I was actually considering this at one time, sadly.... I used to work for a bank in northern California.

I can just see myself with my spiked heels, my pleather whip, and my stack of administrative regs... [crack!] heh.

At 5:06 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

Actually I don't imagine it's any worse than what I do now :)

My engineers already call me the dominatrix in reqts management meetings. It's gotten to be quite the joke. Well at least *they* think it's extremely funny. Why do I suspect I've lost control? :D


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