Tuesday, February 06, 2007
On this day:

Give these professors an "F"

It seems that whenever there is a proposal to raise taxes in Alabama, the most vocal cheerleaders are to be found at the state's major universities. One of the most obvious examples of this occurred back in 2003, when Alabama and Auburn set aside their athletic rivalry to issue what amounted to an institutional co-endorsement of the Amendment One tax increase package proposed by Governor Riley. At the time, some people questioned whether it was appropriate for state-owned institutions to be so heavily involved in a political campaign, but that criticism quieted down after voters dealt the measure a resounding defeat at the polls the following November.

It's neither surprising nor particularly upsetting that so many university faculty members and administrators support higher taxes. Like everyone else, they tend to advocate policies that they perceive to be in their best interests. Many of them also argue that a comprehensive reform of Alabama's tax code would serve the broader public interest. Some of those arguments are very reasonable, others less so, but in any event they contribute to a lively debate. That's a good thing, in my opinion, although I might think otherwise if the would-be tax-hikers were to be more successful at the ballot box.

Or if they were to mount an effort to circumvent the ballot box altogether. Which is exactly what some of them are doing.

A few distinguished professors from Alabama's universities now seek to impose by judicial fiat what they have been unable to accomplish through democratic processes. Last year, seven of them signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the plaintiffs in Knight v. Alabama.

In their brief, they argued that Alabama's tax code violates the U.S. Constitution, and that the federal courts should therefore step in to force the state to rewrite those policies, without regard either to the wishes of Alabama's citizens or to the established procedures for amending the state constitution. Luckily for Alabama taxpayers, their arguments were unanimously rejected by a three-judge panel on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, but it's worth noting for future reference just who these professors are:
Judge John L. Carroll, Dean and Ethel P. Malugen Professor of Law, Cumberland School of Law, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama;

Wayne Flynt, Distinguished University Professor, History, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama

Charles W. Gamble, Henry Upson Sims Professor of Law, University of Alabama School of Law, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Susan Pace Hamill, Professor of Law, University of Alabama School of Law, Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Professor Hamill was the primary author of the Brief Amici Curiae in Knight)

Harvey H. Jackson III, Professor and Head, Department of History and Foreign Languages, Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, Alabama

Norman Stein, Douglas Arant Professor of Law, University of Alabama School of Law, Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Professor

Howard P. Walthall, Sr., Cumberland School of Law, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama.
These seven professors have sided with a view of the U.S. Constitution that would open the door to permanent and direct federal oversight of tax policies in all fifty states, not just in Alabama. They advocate an unprecedented expansion of federal authority that finds no basis in the text or historical understanding of the U.S. Constitution. In fact, such a federal role was adamantly rejected by those who wrote and ratified the Constitution. If the plaintiffs in Knight and their distinguished friends were to succeed, the states would be relegated to little more than agents of the federal government when it comes to tax policy.

This matters not least because the states serve as crucial intermediaries between individual citizens and the national government. As Hamilton stated in Federalist 28:

Power being almost always the rival of power, the general government will at all times stand ready to check the usurpations of the state governments, and these will have the same disposition towards the general government. The people, by throwing themselves into either scale, will infallibly make it preponderate. If their rights are invaded by either, they can make use of the other as the instrument of redress.

Maintaining the proper constitutional balance between the federal government and the states is essential to the Republic's survival under the present Constitution. That these seven respected and influential professors of law and history would have us deviate so radically from that balance - while caring not a whit for the consequences - is really quite disturbing.