Thursday, September 24, 2015

Senator Ted Cruz is a faux constitutionalist

Senator Ted Cruz is a faux constitutionalist. That’s a person who alleges allegiance to a constitution as they imagine or wish it to be, rather than as it actually is. Cruz’s constitutional argument against gay marriage is proof.

The logic of Cruz’s argument against the Supreme Court ’s  gay marriage decision in Obergefell v. Hodges goes like this: 

First premise: The U.S. Constitution established a federal government with limited powers and that powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states under the Tenth Amendment. 

This is largely true, but not completely. Under the Tenth Amendment, “powers not delegated to the United States . . . are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” (Emphasis added.)  This being said, I would agree with Cruz to the extent that marriage in 1791, when the Bill of Rights was ratified by the states, was a state prerogative with the following caveat. The Ninth Amendment states: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”—leaving open the issue of whether gay marriage is an unenumerated right.

Cruz’s second premise goes something like this:

The Supreme Court  exceeded its Article III authority in Obergefell by acting like a legislative body in deciding that state laws limiting marriage to one man and one woman were unconstitutional and that same-sex couples have the right to marry.

And Cruz’s third premise is that:

Under the Tenth Amendment, only the states have the power to determine who can marry. 

Accordingly, Cruz concludes that:

The Supreme Court erred in its Obergefell decision.

As a Harvard law grad who clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Cruz knows he’s wrong.

First, Article III of the Constitution expressly grants the judicial power of the United States to “one supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress” may establish. The 1803 landmark decision of Marbury v. Madison established the principle of judicial review in the United States. The essence of judicial review is that the judicial power includes the power of courts to determine whether laws—either federal or state—are consistent with or contrary to the Constitution. Laws which are contrary to the Constitution are unconstitutional and invalid. Politicians and judge-want-a-bees may disagree with specific Supreme Court rulings but Marbury is “settled law.” In other words, the Constitution itself—as part of the balance of powers—granted the courts the power of determining the validity of a law. Therefore, the exercise of that power by the courts is not a form of tyranny.

And second, Senator Cruz conveniently ignores Fourteenth Amendment which was ratified by the states in 1868. Among other things, the amendment prohibits states from depriving “any person of . . . liberty . . . without due process of law” or “equal protection of the laws.” The Supreme Court simply held the obvious in Obergefell that state laws prohibiting same-sex marriages while permitting opposite-sex marriages denied the plaintiffs both due process of law and equal protection of the law. [I wonder whether Senator Cruz would argue that the Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia was wrong. The Loving decision held that Virginia’s law prohibiting mixed-race couples from marrying violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.]

There is nothing to debate—the Fourteenth Amendment superseded the Tenth Amendment with respect to marriage. Marriage is a fundamental right which the states cannot prohibit without a “compelling interest” and the states have not asserted any compelling interest to either limit marriage to one man and one woman or to deny same-sex couples the right to marry.

It is my hope that Senator Cruz will bring his understanding of constitutional law up to date and quit demagoging to his political base. Otherwise, if Cruz were to be elected president, we could not expect him to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

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