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Event (March 20, 2018): High on the Hog: Rethinking Earmarks and Congress

Congress approved a moratorium on earmarks in 2010 in face of accusations of wasteful spending and transactional politics powerfully invoked by the controversy over the “bridge to nowhere.” In the years since, Congress has suffered from an inability to solve hard problems. Numerous congressional reformers connect this gridlock in part to the absence of earmarks, which gave elected legislators “skin in the game” and an incentive to deliberate about bipartisan policymaking. Others argue that a return to earmarks will only complicate the legislative agenda and potentially further enhance the public’s skepticism about Congress and its members.

Please join AEI as a panel of scholars and experts discuss the merits and drawback of reintroducing, reforming, or avoiding congressional earmarking.


From the Bench: The Constitutional Statesmanship of Chief Justice William Rehnquist

Few justices in history have had as much impact as has William H. Rehnquist, the 16th chief justice of the Supreme Court, argued Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the US Court of Appeals, DC Circuit, in his Walter Berns Annual Constitution Day address. Serving the Supreme Court over 33 years, 15 as chief justice, Chief Justice Rehnquist was at the helm of major national events, presiding over the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton and keeping the Court intact during perhaps the single-most controversial moment in Supreme Court history, Bush v. Gore.

He was a scholar and a jurist and brought about a massive change in constitutional law and how we think about the Constitution, with an especially enduring impact on American law regarding criminal procedure, religion, federalism, unenumerated rights, and administrative law. Chief Justice Rehnquist sought to alter the debate about the proper role of judges and strove to make the Supreme Court more of an institution of law, where the Court’s power is to interpret and apply the law as written, informed by historical practice and not by its own personal and policy predilections. At his death, The New York Times said Chief Justice Rehnquist had “one of the most consequential tenures of Supreme Court history.”


Event (September 18): From the Bench: Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the Constitutional Statesmanship of Chief Justice William Rehnquist

Over more than three decades in service to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice William Rehnquist stressed the importance of constitutional structure to preserving individual liberty. Always emphasizing the role of the courts in maintaining that structure, Chief Justice Rehnquist redirected American law in key areas — most notably, federalism, congressional power, criminal procedure, and religion. Through his opinions, articles, and books, he demonstrated how to be a modern constitutional statesman, deserving commemoration and celebration.

Please join AEI for the sixth annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture, as Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the US Court of Appeals, DC Circuit, discusses the jurisprudence and legacy of the late Justice Rehnquist on the 230th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.


Event (May 8): Is Congress Broken?

The US Congress is regularly described as inefficient, ineffective, and polarized. How accurate is that description? Most reforms have sought to make Congress more open, responsive, and democratic. But have those reforms actually made Congress better at creating a governing consensus, overseeing the executive branch, and engaging in deliberation? What reforms might make Congress more effective, and what should be the standard for judging those reforms? Does the original constitutional design offer a better model for judging Congress today?

Please join AEI as a panel of scholars and experts discuss the state of Congress today and possible paths to reform.


Event (March 28): Going A-Courting: The Senate, the Presidency, and the Gorsuch Confirmation Process

The Constitution calls for the president to nominate Supreme Court justices, but requires “the advice and consent of the Senate” to appoint them. What standards ought to guide senators in giving that consent? How much deference should the Senate show to the president’s choice? Is there a meaningful distinction today between partisan politics and competing visions for how a justice fulfills his duties? How does the confirmation process exemplify both the distinct powers and responsibilities of the different branches and the coordination required for functional government?

Join AEI on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 for a conversation with Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, followed by a panel of experts, who will discuss the confirmation process of Judge Neil Gorsuch in light of these questions.


Event: Making citizens: A ‘Sputnik moment’ for civic education?

Did the 2016 presidential election represent a “Sputnik moment” for civic education? Voices on the right and left critiqued the recent election as proof of the failure of civic education — what the Founding Fathers and succeeding generations argued was the basic purpose of education. But if we revitalize civic education, we need to understand what has gone wrong and how current classroom, state, and national policies are shaping not just civic education, but the very principles of what it means to be a citizen capable of reflective self-government.

Please join AEI as a panel of educators and scholars discuss the state of civic education at the primary and secondary education levels and how our education system can become serious about making citizens once more.


Fifth Annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture with Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey: Terrorism and the Bill of Rights

The United States finds itself the target of terrorists who are incited by, and think their actions justified by, their religious beliefs. This has created a profound tension between the country’s commitment to religious freedom and the tools the government uses to provide its citizens security. Is the tension real? Does the Bill of Rights prevent the government from adopting measures necessary to keep our homes, places of business, and public spaces safe?

Please join us for the annual Walter Berns Constitution Day lecture as Michael B. Mukasey, former US district judge and US attorney general, explores whether Americans have had to surrender fundamental rights so their country can protect itself from Islamist terrorism.


AEI Event: The Court: Power, Policy, and Self-government

Judges must navigate between interpreting the Constitution and statutes, working within existing precedents and applying both bodies of law to particular cases. Striking this balance has policy consequences that render the Supreme Court a political branch in the public’s mind. As the heated debate over Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement demonstrates, the Court is no longer seen as the “least dangerous branch.”

How should justices address this tension in their decisions and opinions? Can the Court return to a narrower vision of its judicial duty? If not, what judicial philosophy best fits the reality of the Court’s role in a self-governing republic?

Join AEI for a timely discussion between Judge Brett Kavanaugh and The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot, followed by an expert panel on the Court’s challenges in carrying out its duty to “say what the law is.”


2015 Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture: The Magna Carta, Due Process, and Administrative Power

Magna Carta is important, argued Philip Hamburger of Columbia Law School recently at AEI, not so much for what it says, but for what it reveals about the enduring danger of absolute power and the repeated constitutional responses in common law countries of its substitute, rule under law. Not only does Magna Carta allow us to trace the ebb and flow of absolute power and the law, but it also allows a proper understanding of due process of law.

Where today due process is most often thought of as a procedural protection for happenings in court, Hamburger invoked Magna Carta to show that due process is meant to also apply to outside the court, specifically administrative tribunals within administrative agencies. Tracing the development of due process from Magna Carta’s Article 39 through a series of 14th century statutes to the Fifth Amendment in the US Constitution, Hamburger argued that the Constitution’s due process clause was designed primarily to be an obstacle to administrative or extralegal adjudication. The prevalence of administrative power today, he concluded, denotes a practical evasion of due process and an evisceration of the entire concept, and that poses the gravest threat to the Bill of Rights.


ICYMI: A Debate over Executive Power: Obama’s Immigration Decision

Did President Obama’s executive order on immigration exceed his constitutional authority? On Monday, January 12, AEI scholar Gary Schmitt took up the question with Ross Douthat and William Galston. The White House has claimed prosecutorial discretion as the basis for its decision, while critics, especially members of Congress, argue that the president is ignoring his core executive function of enforcing existing laws. Obama’s exercise of discretion raises the question of whether this is a reasonable interpretation of his constitutional obligation to faithfully execute laws or a violation of that duty.


ICYMI: ‘Brothers Forever’: A book forum and Memorial Day discussion featuring General John Allen (ret.)

Memorial Day challenges the American people to ask whether the sacrifices made in defense of the country entail any correlating duty on their part. On Thursday, May 22, 2014,  scholars gathered with author Tom Sileo and General John Allen, USMC (Ret.), at AEI to discuss this question in the context of “Brothers Forever,” a book […]


Constitution Day event re-cap

Happy Constitution Day! In honor of the 225th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787, on Thursday, the Program on American Citizenship hosted the first annual Walter Berns Constitution Day lecture: “Spending, public debt, and constitutional design: Remarks by Michael W. McConnell.”


Upcoming event: Spending, public debt and constitutional design

In honor of the 225th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787, the Program on American Citizenship will celebrate Constitution Day with a lecture by Michael W. McConnell, Richard & Frances Mallery Professor and director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School. This event is the first in a lecture series named for distinguished scholar Walter Berns.