Learn Liberty

Category Archive: Law

  1. From Rags to Riches: The Cayman Islands Revolution

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    The rule of law, Hayek wrote, is “a rule concerning what the law ought to be”: It ought to be general and abstract; equally applied, with legal privileges for none; certain, not subject to arbitrary changes; and just. In this Learn Liberty Academy, Andrew Morriss sets sail to show how the law of the Cayman Islands conforms with Hayek’s ideals, how it got that way through astute political entrepreneurship, and how the world at large benefits from its legal wisdom. The benefits of Caymanian rule of law are so diffuse and far-reaching that we can even attribute the American poor’s high consumption of healthcare to it.  Embark on Morriss’s expedition — read, watch lectures, and discuss!

    Song credit: “Coconut Water” – Dan O’Connor

    Archival images courtesy of the Cayman Islands National Archive

  2. What’s Next in the Battle over NSA Surveillance?


    Edward Snowden’s leaks of National Security Agency (NSA) methods has sparked a national debate about the legality of such surveillance. This program, led by a constitutional law professor, joined by national security experts from across the political spectrum, will focus on the legality of surveillance. The program will explore the meaning of individual privacy, its relationship to individual freedom, and the constitutional and statutory limits on surveillance undertaken for national security purposes. It will also explore possible means of changing the current regime, including modifications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and its special court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).

    Learn Liberty Academy provides free, online educational programs so that anyone, anywhere can learn about the ideas that drive social change.

  3. Does the NSA Violate Your Constitutional Rights?


    Many Americans do not know what their constitutional freedoms are or why they were established in the first place. The freedoms Americans have are rare and fragile. They were put in place to protect people and ensure our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    Professor James Otteson explains the importance of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Prior to the Revolutionary War, King George III issued what are called general warrants. Essentially, this allowed government officials to seek out and look for any wrongdoing without probable cause. Such general warrants were carried out on anyone in America, including among the people that would come to be our Founders.

    The Founders instilled in the Constitution rules requiring warrants to have probable cause and limiting them to specific times, places, and people. Why is this important? Prof. Otteson says it’s important “because with unlimited authority, officials inevitably find wrongdoing.” Witch hunts always find witches. Constitutional protections like the Fourth Amendment are especially important for people who want to do things differently than the majority. These freedoms enable Americans to find their own paths to happiness as free and equal citizens.

  4. The Marriage Cases: Legal Challenges to Prop 8 and DOMA


    The 14th Amendment guarantees liberty and equal protection to every American. Do state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage violate that amendment? Is the federal government’s refusal to recognize a marriage that is legal in a state federal overreach? The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide the answers to these questions by the end of June 2013 in two cases related to same-sex marriage.

    Professor Dale Carpenter provides a brief explanation of the two cases before the Court. In 2008, California voters passed Prop 8, which bans same-sex marriage in the state. This law is being contested on the grounds that the equality principle is violated because opposite-sex couples have rights that are denied to same-sex couples. It is also contested on the grounds that every American has a fundamental right to marry. A similar case centers on the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996. This law limits federal recognition of same-sex marriages, thereby denying same-sex couples more than a thousand benefits otherwise available under federal law. This means that even when a couple is legally married according to the state, the federal government does not recognize the marriage.

    There are many possible outcomes in both cases. In the DOMA case, for example, Prof. Carpenter argues that “there is no legitimate federal interest in denying recognition to validly married same-sex couples.” He has submitted a brief to the Court asking it to strike down DOMA on federalism grounds. But will the justices agree? What do you think about these cases?

  5. SOPA and Three Ways to Think about Intellectual Property


    The controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the United States and the attempts to shut down the peer-to-peer music-sharing website Pirate Bay in Europe have brought the debate over intellectual property to the fore. Professor Stephen Davies explains the three different ways people tend to understand intellectual property. Intellectual property:

    - May be considered a natural right with the same qualities as physical property.

    May be considered a special type of property created by governments that is time limited.

    May be considered intellectually incoherent and dangerous.

    Professor Davies holds the third view of intellectual property. He argues that it is dangerous because it limits the way people are able to use their physical property. He suggests that patents and copyrights may actually work to stop or hinder innovation in many areas. Whichever view you hold, the debate is complicated and divides people from all parts of the political spectrum. The argument over intellectual property has widespread implications, and we are going to see a lot more of it in the years to come.

  6. Should Majorities Decide Everything?


    In this video, Professor Munger reminds us of the difference between democracy and majority rule. Democratic constitutions establish not only the process by which decisions will be made, but also the limits on kind of things can be voted on. This prevents the majority from deciding everything. He warns, however, that these limits on what can be decided democratically have been slowly eroded in American courts of law.

    One example of a weakening of limitations on democracy is the Supreme Court ruling in the 2005 case Kelo v. New London. When Miss Kelo refused a private real estate developer

  7. Should the Government Track Your Political Activity?


    Professor Brad Smith asks you to imagine the following scenario: at the height of the War on Terror, the government passes a second PATRIOT Act. This law would require you to report all your political activity to the government, including the campaigns you support. In addition, the government would then make a list of your political activity available to anyone

  8. US Prison Population: The Largest in the World


    The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world—more even than China or Russia. In fact, more people are in prisons in the United States than in all other developed countries combined. Professor Daniel J. D’Amico explains that as of 2010 over 1.6 million people were serving jail sentences in America.

    What does this say about the United States? Professor D’Amico suggests that “prisons are not what we think about when we think of America, and they shouldn’t have to be.”  According to D’Amico, a free country should not have 1.6 million people in prison, and a fiscally responsible country cannot afford to. As Prof. D’Amico points out, it is time for Americans to recognize that the U.S. criminal justice system is desperately in need of reform.


    Discussion Questions:

    1. What are the causes for the unusually high incarceration rate in the United States?
    2. Do you think prisons are an effective way of handling crime?
    3. What alternatives or reforms to the current prison system can you imagine for handling crime more effectively?
  9. How is the Affordable Care Act Different from Medicare?


    If Social Security and Medicare are constitutional, why isn’t the individual mandate from the Affordable Care Act also constitutional? Law professor Elizabeth Price Foley explains that the Social Security and Medicare laws are based on a different congressional power than the Affordable Care Act. Social Security and Medicare fall under Congress’s power to tax and spend on behalf of U.S. citizens, while the individual mandate is based on the power to regulate commerce.

    The question before the Supreme Court is whether the power to regulate commerce includes the power to compel people to participate in commerce. Is it within Congress’s constitutional authority to require individuals to buy health care if they do not want to do so?

    Professor Elizabeth Price Foley says Congress could have solved the problem of access to health care for the uninsured without using its commerce power. It could have simply invoked the same principle it used with Social Security and Medicare. If that had happened, the Affordable Care Act would not be in a case pending before the Supreme Court.


  10. Can the Federal Government Mandate Health Insurance?

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    Most states require individuals to possess insurance for their automobiles. So why can’t the federal government be able to set a similar requirement?

    According to Professor Elizabeth Price Foley, the Constitution outlines specific powers for the federal government. Any law Congress passes must be able to prove that it falls under these powers. States have different powers.

    The U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately decide whether the individual mandate for health insurance falls under the powers given to Congress in the Constitution. But just because the states have the power to establish mandates for health insurance or car insurance does not suggest that the federal government has the same power.

  11. Do We Need Government?


    Should government provide law enforcement? Most would argue that government is absolutely necessary for law enforcement. Prof. Edward Stringhman, however, argues that government may not even be necessary at all.

    To come to this conclusion, Prof. Stringham asks a few important questions. First, if something is really important, does it logically follow that government should provide it? Second, are markets capable of providing law enforcement and security in the modern world? Third, how are disputes currently settled between people of different countries?

    Looking at the first question, it doesn’t seem to be the case that important things must be provided by a government. For instance, think about food. Food is necessary for life, and yet, markets do an excellent job of providing food to consumers.

    Even if you’re convinced that markets can provide important things, you may think law enforcement and security are a special case that markets are incapable of providing in a modern world. However, markets already enforce private rules and provide security. Disney World, Las Vegas, and malls all have private rules that are enforced by private security.

    Accepting the arguments above, you may still be skeptical about market’s abilities to settle disputes between different systems of rules or law. This, in fact, was Ayn Rand’s primary reason for advocating a minimal state. Current interactions in the real world provide examples as to how markets resolve these disputes. Think about an international soccer game or international trade. In both instances, individuals are interacting across state boundaries, and are only subject to the jurisdiction of their own territory. In these situations, these individuals contract with the arbiters such as a soccer league or a private court to resolve disputes.

    Credits: This lecture was delivered in 2009 at the Metropolitan State College of Denver School of Business, as part of the Exploring Economic Freedom Lecture Series, directed by Prof. Alexandre Padilla. This video was produced and directed by Scott Houck, and edited by Adrienne Christy. Video production provided by the Educational Technology Center at Metropolitan State College of Denver. Video used by LearnLiberty.org with permission.

  12. An Economist’s Look at Intellectual Property Law


    Prof. Daniel D’Amico discusses several arguments for and against government enforcement of intellectual property, including trademarks, patents, and copyrights. He explores both moral arguments (deontological) and cost benefit arguments (consequential), dedicating most of his time to consequential arguments. He finds that, in general, intellectual property is difficult to enforce and is inherently an anti-rival good. As a result, he finds no compelling case for government established intellectual property law.