Sunday, November 29, 2015

Citizens United: When Conduct is Speech

In his daily segment "This Day in Judicial Activism", Ed Whelan treats us to the case Rumsfeld v. FAIR. In Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court unanimously held that Congress had the power to require law schools to grant the military access to its campus for recruiting purposes. The schools had argued that the law was constitutional because it violated their first amendment rights to freedom of association and speech; they wanted to ban military recruiters because they disagreed with the military's don't ask, don't tell policy.

The Supreme Court correctly upheld Congress's power to pass the law, as Whelan notes. He writes:
Roberts makes short work of the Third Circuit’s [contrary] reasoning. The Solomon Amendment, he explains, “neither limits what law schools may say nor requires them to say anything.” Rather, it “regulates conduct, not speech,” as it “affects what law schools must do—afford equal access to military recruiters—not what they may or may not say.” 

This is sound analysis. The Solomon Amendment clearly regulated action not speech. As Congress had a clear prerogative to pass the restrictive provision on the law schools, the Supreme Court had no business overruling a duly enacted law based on a stretched reading of the First Amendment.

Which brings me to Citizens United. You know, the case in which the court's conservative majority concluded that conduct was actually speech, and struck down a duly enacted law based on a stretched reading of the First Amendment. Just as allowing a military recruiter onto your campus is conduct not speech, so is donating to a political campaign. 

Moreover, Citizens United is actually a much clearer case of judicial activism. The direct legal question in Citizens United only concerned a low budget anti-Hillary Clinton documentary. But the conservatives on the court jumped at the opportunity the case presented to take down tangentially related campaign finance laws they despised. If that isn't judicial activism, I'm not sure what is. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Those Successful Syrian Americans

Ethnic group A has been quite successful in America. They have integrated quickly into American life, and have succeeded in all walks of life. Members of this group have gone on to become CEOs and innovators, singers and actors, judges and politicians. Their median household income is more than $10,000 above that of the average American. This group, quite literally, is the definition of an American success story. Who is this group? Syrian Americans, of course.

Let's go through a list of renowned Syrian Americans for the fun of it:

Steve Jobs: A subject of endless biographies, a Danny Boyle/Aaron Sorkin movie just came out about him, and undoubtedly one of the people who has most shaped the 21st century. If you point out that his biological father was never a part of his life, fair enough. Considering Jobs' father earned a PhD in Political Science from Wisconsin in the 1950s though, I think its fair to say some of the Apple CEO's extraordinary drive and talent came from his father.

Mona Simpson: Steve Jobs' sister, and and an award winning novelist. More proof that Abdulfattah 'John' Jandali was the father of innovation.

Jerry Seinfeld- His mother is of Syrian Jewish descent. 

F. Murray Abraham- Academy Award winning actor, most famous for his Oscar winning role in Amadeus.

Wafa Sultan- A Syrian born Alawite Muslim, best known for her criticism of, wait for it....Islam. 

Paula Abdul/Teri Hatcher- Singer/American Idol judge and Desperate Housewives actress.

Mitch Daniels- Former governor of Indiana, past head of OMB, and current President of Purdue University.

Sam Yagan- A son of Syrian immigrants that I had never heard of, but damn is he impressive. In 1998, while an undergrad at Harvard, he started Sparknotes. Then he went off to Stanford to get an MBA, where he was valedictorian. Shortly thereafter, he cofounded OK Cupid. Now he's the CEO of 

So you owe your iPhone, your Macbook Air, your Seinfeld reruns, and maybe even your relationship to Syrian immigrants to the United States. 

Conclusion: Syrian people + American culture and institutions= MORE PLEASE

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fight ISIS by Accepting Syrian Refugees

Earlier this year, I traveled to Lebanon to interview Syrian refugees. The Lebanese hate ISIS every bit as much as the West; their have been a number of incidents where ISIS thugs kidnapped Lebanese soldiers and beheaded them. Last week of course, Lebanon was hit by an ISIS suicide bombing that killed 43. Even in the hostel I stayed out there was a plaque for Peter Kessig- a well liked frequent guest. Kessig was of course kidnapped by ISIS while trying to help Syrian children and decapitated on film.

The Syrians I interviewed were not afraid of ISIS, but rather Assad. One man had been beaten, imprisoned, and tortured by Assad's thugs. He was living without electricity or a job in Beirut. Without Lebanese papers, he was ineligible to receive for work authorization or any government benefits. 

Lebanon, unlike the US, actually is burdened by the influx of refugees. Whereas we are a country expressing grave concerns about 10, 000 potential refugees, Lebanon is a country of less than 4 million citizens with over a million refugees. Lebanon is now solidly over 25% Syrian refugee; the U.S. polity is disturbed about the possibility of a .003% Syrian refugee influx. 

Its worth noting the security checks Syrians must pass through. They must go throw two security checks before they even are permitted to interview with the consulate. Then they face two more checks where the CIA, FBI, NSA, and DOJ rigorously go through all their intelligence on the individual in question. If there is even a hint from their story that they may have cooperated with a terrorist group, the individual will likely fail the checks. Even after an individual has been placed with a resettlement agency, he still must undergo another thorough check. Materially aiding or abetting a terrorist organization is grounds for inadmissibility. This could potentially include giving a terrorist some rice with a gun pointed at your head (the rice is materially benefiting the terrorist). The background checks normally take between 18 and 24 months. If these checks do not qualify as thorough, its hard to know what could classified as such.

Finally, let me make two points that are often ignored.

First, many politicians bluster about being tough on ISIS. But one of the simplest and probably the must crucial step to fighting ISIS is to protect the Syrian and Iraqi men and women on the ground who have stood up to and fought against ISIS. Many potential Syrian refugees have literally gone to battle against ISIS. When their families are threatened or sometimes killed because they dared to stand up to ISIS and our response to them when they ask for asylum is "Well, sorry, we think you might be a terrorist," then that certainly is not going to help us get partners on the ground going forward. If you brag about how tough you are on ISIS, then you must want to reward those who helped us battle them. You are spouting nonsense if you claim otherwise.

Second, far fewer Americans than Europeans have gone off to fight for ISIS in the Middle East. Why? Because America is a multicultural society that has a long history of embracing immigrants and outsiders. We also are far more protective of freedom of religion- a law banning burqas per se would be unanimously ruled unconstitutional here. For these reasons, Muslims have integrated into the United States much more effectively than in Europe. If we turn our back on this heritage, we will face many of the same issues Europe is currently confronting.

Let me conclude by saying there are real security risks. We must not ignore that. But the costs of turning our back on Syrian refugees are much greater than the risks of offering a helping hand.