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Volume 20, Issue 36: September 5, 2018

  1. Kavanaugh, Controversy, and the Courts
  2. A Strategy for Replacing Obamacare
  3. Private Policing vs. Government Failure
  4. Three Cheers for California’s Soda Tax Moratorium
  5. The Beacon: New Blog Posts

1) Kavanaugh, Controversy, and the Courts

Only in recent decades have Supreme Court nominee hearings become hyper-partisan media spectacles. Indeed, for most of American history, no Senate committee ever held public hearings before deciding whether to confirm a president’s pick. One reason that confirming a justice for the high court has become so contentious is that many people have increasingly looked to the judiciary, rather than to state legislatures and Congress, to enact their favored policies, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow William J. Watkins Jr., author of Crossroads for Liberty: Recovering the Anti-Federalist Values of America's First Constitution.

“At one time, Democrats sought change through innovative legislative programs such as FDR’s New Deal,” Watkins writes in an op-ed at American Thinker. “Now they prefer to promote political and constitutional change through the courts.”

The fundamental problem here is that the judiciary was never designed to play an activist role; interpreting the nation’s laws is distinct from making them. One consequence of agitating for the courts to rule on matters of policy, is that it bypasses the hard but potentially constructive work of building a political consensus for legislative action. Thus, the democratic process—grassroots persuasion and coalition-building that yields signed legislation—atrophies. Genuine, organic cultural change gets the short shrift. “With law and politics blended,” Watkins continues, “control of the high court is a greater prize than majorities in Congress or the occupancy of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, hence the left’s desperate measures to keep a qualified jurist off the Supreme Court.”

Kavanaugh Hearings: When Law and Politics Become One, by William J. Watkins Jr. (American Thinker, 9/2/18)

The Key to Kavanaugh: Rolling Back the Administrative State, by K. Lloyd Billingsley (The Beacon, 7/12/18)

If Our Founders Sat on the Senate Judiciary Committee During Kavanaugh’s Confirmation Hearings, by Gary M. Galles (The Orange County Register, 8/27/18)

Crossroads for Liberty: Recovering the Anti-Federalist Values of America's First Constitution, William J. Watkins Jr.


2) A Strategy for Replacing Obamacare

Congressional Republicans have been famously weak on healthcare reform, having failed numerous times to keep promises they made before the 2016 elections to replace Obamacare with a better alternative. Their failure to address the Democrats’ pre-existing conditions argument is taking a political toll. One reason this is unfortunate is that in principle their inaction is easy to remedy, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman, author of A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America.

“There is a very simple answer to this problem: Any reform of Obamacare—including its complete abolition—must protect the sick,” Goodman writes in a recent column at Forbes. “Allow the states to ask for and receive a block grant of Obamacare funds and give them broad authority to reform their individual health insurance markets, provided that people with pre-existing conditions are protected.”

This step would go a long way toward undoing the harm that Obamacare has inflicted on the chronically ill, most of whom have seen their premiums rise and coverage reduced since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 went into effect. Indeed, half of all counties now have only one insurer. For many, Obamacare’s promise of access to the best healthcare providers has been proven empty. And even patients who qualify for a federal subsidy now face high deductibles and premiums far higher than those they paid to join pre-Obamacare-era risk pools. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who embrace genuine healthcare reform legislation that guarantees coverage for the chronically ill would be soothing Obamacare’s insults as well as its injuries.

Why the Pre-Existing Conditions Argument Is Killing Republican Candidates, by John C. Goodman (Forbes, 8/14/18)

A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America, by John C. Goodman


3) Private Policing vs. Government Failure

Few social problems take as much toll in troubled neighborhoods as out-of-control crime and inadequate policing. In response, local private-policing initiatives are one strategy that Americans have turned to successfully over the years, as Independent Institute Senior Fellow Lawrence J. McQuillan and Policy Researcher Nathaniel J. Bennett note in a recent op-ed for the Washington Times. “Today, private police forces, though largely unrecognized, are commonplace,” they write.

Just as groups such as the American Protective League came together to provide security from domestic bombers during World War I, and the Community Safety Patrol in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood thwarted criminal “marauders” in the mid-1960s, so private groups today are measurably reducing crime. The University of Pennsylvania Police Department has helped achieve a reduction of violent crime estimated between 119 percent and 153 percent compared to surrounding areas, McQuillan and Bennett report. But grassroots networks can also make a difference.

Social media increasingly plays a role in helping neighborhoods improve security. Watch groups facilitated by Twitter and Nextdoor, for example, “help residents avoid being targeted and enable them to pass information to private security or local police,” McQuillan and Bennett write. “Neighborhood civilian patrols, private law enforcement, and modern technology put citizens in control,” they continue. “Taking the law into their own hands does not mean vigilantism; it means bringing peace to their neighborhoods.”

Taking the Law into Their Own Hands, in a Good Way, by Lawrence J. McQuillan and Nathaniel J. Bennett (The Washington Times, 8/23/18)

To Serve and Protect: Privatization and Community in Criminal Justice, by Bruce L. Benson


4) Three Cheers for California’s Soda Tax Moratorium

California Gov. Jerry Brown recently toasted farewell to any new efforts to ban soda taxes at the local level until 2031. The legislation he signed in late June doesn’t roll back existing taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages in Berkeley and Oakland, but it does say that, for the time being, enough is enough. It’s a step toward honesty in local government because soda taxes actually do very little to promote health, according to Independent Institute Research Director William F. Shughart II.

In part that’s because soda taxes have been shown to induce consumers to buy other foods to help get their sugar fix. “It’s also clear that people quickly learn how to avoid a local soda tax,” Shughart and Strata Policy Analyst Josh T. Smith write in an op-ed for the Orange Counter Register. When consumers in Berkeley saw taxes push up the prices of their favorite sugar-flavored beverages, they began to shop for sodas in neighboring cities.

“Soda taxes are not an effective place to start fighting the obesity ‘epidemic,’” Shughart and Smith write. “Raising the financial penalty for buying soda slims consumers’ and local businesses’ wallets more than waistlines, all the while eliminating local economic activity.... In banning further soda taxes, California seems to be on the right track.”

The Moratorium on Soda Taxes Puts California on the Right Track, by William F. Shughart II and Josh T. Smith (The Orange County Register, 8/16/18)

Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination, edited by William F. Shughart II


5) The Beacon: New Blog Posts


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless