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Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Will The "New Federalism" Survive the New Court?

Randy Barnett :
"Perhaps because his illness prevented him from providing his strong personal leadership, in this the final year of the Rehnquist Court there are signs that his legacy may not endure. In Gonzales v. Raich both principles of state sovereignty and of enumerated powers were put to the test. Rehnquist was one of only three justices who were willing to say that Congress cannot magically transform the noncommercial possession of homegrown marijuana into "interstate commerce." The Chief joined the dissenting opinion written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Many who now lionize her when discussing her replacement omit mentioning her stalwart support of the New Federalism so strongly advanced by her fellow Arizonian and Stanford classmate.

Sometime this fall, two of the five votes that made up the Lopez and Morrison majorities will have been replaced. Only Justice Clarence Thomas will be left from the three Raich dissenters. As the new chief justice (assuming he is confirmed), will John Roberts assume the role of his mentor William Rehnquist — for whom he clerked — and lead the Roberts Court to enforce the Constitution's original plan of limited federal power? Will President Bush now look for a nominee to replace Justice O'Connor who is as committed to the New Federalism as she was? Given that so many of the New Federalism cases were 5-4, if either of the new justices adopts the mantra of "judicial deference" to congressional power, then Chief Justice Rehnquist's death, along with Justice O'Connor's retirement, may presage the second death of federalism. A judicial withdrawal from enforcing the original limits on the powers of Congress would undo the New Federalist legacy of William Rehnquist.

As the president now decides who next to nominate, he would uphold the Constitution by selecting a person with a firm and demonstrated commitment to the Rehnquist Court's New Federalism legacy. Only such a choice would continue the movement to restore the "first principles" of constitutionally limited government that William Rehnquist affirmed so eloquently. One can hardly imagine a sadder end to the tenure of William Rehnquist than that his most prized and important contribution to constitutional law is aborted by a conservative Republican president and a Republican-controlled Senate."
Read the entire piece.

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