Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Health Care and Federalism

"[The Congress shall have Power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;"
~Article I, Section 8, Line 3 of the U.S. Constitution
In 2010, the United States Congress passed landmark health care reform. Among the law's intentions is the closing of the "uninsured gap" that sees nearly 50 million Americans living without health insurance.

From the outset, this legislation has been controversial - not a single Republican voted for the law that President Obama signed in late March. Democrats have pushed for some version of national health insurance since the presidency of Harry Truman, and in recent decades, Republicans have stood staunchly against most attempts at reforming the national health care system.

What mostly divides the parties on the health care issue is a question of federalism: does the Constitution provide the power to Congress to regulate the health care industry?

More than 20 states (most with Republican governors or attorneys general) have joined various lawsuits against the new law. These suits take aim at the so-called individual mandate, a requirement that all Americans buy health insurance or pay a fee. Critics of the mandate claim the national government does not have the power to require individuals to purchase health coverage.

In the months since the suits were filed, judges in federal courts have ruled for both sides, likely foreshadowing an eventual decision by the Supreme Court.

This week, Judge Roger Vinson of Federal District Court in Pensacola, Fla., concluded that "It would be a radical departure from existing case law to hold that Congress can regulate inactivity under the Commerce Clause.” The plaintiffs that brought the case claim the mandate is an unprecedented effort to regulate inactivity because citizens would be fined for NOT participating in commerce (purchasing health insurance).

Whether Congress has the power under the commerce clause to require citizens to purchase health insurance will likely remain an issue for debate until the Supreme Court decides. For AP U.S. Government students, it's important to understand this issue as part of the ongoing debate over federalism.

PBS NewsHour covered the issue in some depth tonight:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Constitution and Guns

In the days following the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others in Tuscon, Arizona, gun control advocates and gun enthusiasts alike have called for changes to existing laws. Many want more extensive background checks required to purchase a gun, or for a ban on high-capacity magazines like the kind used by the shooter. Opponents of such measures have called for the expansion of the right to carry in public, arguing that if just one law-abiding citizen had been armed, the shooter could have been stopped before he hurt so many people. With opinions about guns so strongly held across the political spectrum, it seems unlikely any changes in law are in the offing.

Many supporters of the Right to Bear
Arms are inspired by the Minutemen
For AP U.S. Government, coverage of gun issues has historically been limited to discussions about the politics of local laws. The "Right to Bear Arms" has long been left out of those incorporated by the Supreme Court, and teachers and textbooks barely touched the subject. The 2008 version (11th ed.) of Wilson's American Government, for example, referred to guns only minimally and as a "selectively incorporated" right. But because of two landmark court cases and increased focus on the issue following high profile incidents like the shooting in Tuscon and the 2007 Virginia Tech killings, AP Gov-ers need to understand the 2nd Amendment and its implications.
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
Partly because of the ambiguous language of the 2nd Amendment, (does it suggest a right for individuals to own and carry arms, or a public right for armed militias, or both?) controversy swirled around guns through the latter half of the 20th century. But in 2008, the United States Supreme Court mostly settled the dispute in the case District of Columbia v. Heller. In his majority decision, Justice Antonin Scalia made clear the court's 5-member majority believe the amendment must be understood in its colonial-era context and that it thus "confers an individual right to keep and bear arms." And just two years later in McDonald v. Chicago (2010), the court clarified that the individual right to gun ownership must also be protected by the states, saying "the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the 2nd Amendment right." Though the Heller decision overturned a D.C. law that virtually banned the ownership of handguns, which SCOTUS found overly restrictive, both cases left open the possibility for some reasonable gun control restrictions.

Sep. 2010 Pew Poll
Still, the American public remains deeply divided over the right to gun ownership. In a summer 2010 Pew Research survey, half the public (50%) said it was more important to control gun ownership, while 46% said it was more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns. Also, as in many current political debates, a deep partisan divide separates views on gun control. Republicans strongly favor gun rights over gun control by a 70%-to-26% margin, while Democrats are almost as equally supportive of gun control over gun ownership by a 67%-to-30% margin. Independents mirror the nation as a whole, with 50% favoring gun control and 46% favoring gun rights. (PewResearchCenter)

With the parties and voters divided, it follows that the likelihood of a change in state and local gun laws is unlikely. Many also point to the power of interest groups like the National Rifle Association as an obstacle to change. Just three days after the Tuscon shooting, the New York Times Editorial Board wrote:
[to enact gun laws, lawmakers] will need to stand up to the National Rifle Association and its allies, whose lobbying power continues to grow... Having won a Supreme Court ruling establishing a right to keep a firearm in the home, the gun lobby is striving for new heights of lunacy, waging a campaign to legalize the possession of a gun in schools, bars, parks, offices, and churches, even by teenagers... It reflexively opposes even mild, sensible restrictions — but if there is any reason left in this debate, the latest mass shooting should force a retreat. Is there anyone, even the most die-hard gun lobbyist, who wants to argue that a disturbed man should be able to easily and legally buy a Glock to shoot a congresswoman, a judge, a 9-year-old girl?... Between 1994 and 2004, it was illegal to manufacture or import the extended clips as part of the ban on assault weapons. But the ban was never renewed because of the fierce opposition of the N.R.A.
The N.R.A. counters that they are a membership organization that represents majority American views: "We are all the people. Our effectiveness is a measure of our deep abiding love of freedom—especially that freedom that is uniquely guaranteed to citizens of the USA—the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. We represent all the people. That is why we win." (NRA Publications)

It's clear that the debate over guns will continue, but it is far less clear what will result. For now, AP Government students should be able to identify and explain the decisions in Heller and McDonald, and be able to defend and refute the arguments over N.R.A. influence on gun policy in this country.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Calling all AP US Gov Teachers: Collaborate!

We need you!
I am reinventing this blog as a collaborative space for teachers to help AP US Gov students around the country. The goal is to create a resource that helps students deepen their understanding of the American government and its political system. I believe that if we can get instructors and students collaborating, we can produce some very powerful learning results!

Will you join me in this goal?

I am looking for new and experienced AP Gov teachers who would like to write posts and contribute to a wiki. You don't have to consider yourself a "Master Teacher" to post and there's certainly no obligation to write something daily or weekly - just post when you are able. And if you already have a blog, I'd love if you would cross-post your work here.

The wiki will be a website where we all post resources for each other and our students. Using Google Sites, we can create a great knowledge repository!

Beginning mid-January 2011, my students will be Tweeting current event stories and resources using the hashtag #APGOV. Of course, I hope we can get other students around the country to do the same - the goal is to get students to create a Personal Learning Network for AP Gov that is much larger than their textbook and teacher!

I hope that you will join in this effort. Please simply leave an email where I can contact you in the comments section below, or Tweet me @mikegwaltney.

AP US Government Blog 2.0

After a 2 year hiatus, the AP United States Government & Politics Blog is back!

After teaching AP Gov for 11 years, I moved to a new school where I have spent most of my time teaching AP U.S. History and some political philosophy seminars. However, now I am beginning a new assignment with the Online School for Girls teaching AP U.S. Gov as a second semester course, and I can't wait to get started.

Look for the AP U.S. Gov Blog to go collaborative in 2011, with many teachers posting ideas and resources that are in use in AP classes around the country.

Friday, November 14, 2008

It really was about YOU

As has been said many times now, this recent campaign for president was the first to engage the public with the new medium of the internet. Though the Deane campaign of '04 is often seen as the beginning of this strategy, the Obama campaign used it like never before. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc., made this campaign more about YOU the voter than ever before.

Watch Joe Trippi (Deane '04 campaign manager), Gavin Newsom (S.F. Mayor) and Arianna Huffington ( discuss this development at the recent Web 2.0 conference:

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Passing the Torch to a New Generation

After gaining the youth vote in 1960, John F. Kennedy famously declared in his inaugural address that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.” This line was delivered partly because Kennedy himself seemed the face of a new generation, but also partly because he had won the youth vote 2 to 1 against his rival Richard Nixon.
Since George McGovern's loss to Nixon in 1972, the youth vote has been tiny - a mere blip on pollsters' computer screens. Any political scientist could tell you that the vote of people 18-29 is now always the smallest of any age group, and they'd further make the point that any politician who could galvanize that group and get them to come to the polls in large numbers would surely win an election. So now that the 2008 election is over, let 's look at the new numbers as provided by The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE):
Year Youth Voter Turnout Estimated by CIRCLE (18-29) Percentage change since previous election Number of young people who voted in nation
1996 37%
14.5 million
2000 41% +4 16.2 million
2004 48% +7 19.4 million
2008 52-53% +4-5 22.8 - 23.1 million
With a modest increase of 4 or 5 percentage points, young people came to the polls last Tuesday in larger numbers than in any election since 1972. Still, according to the NY Times exit poll data, young voters remained the smallest voting group, accounting for just 18% of the total vote, or the smallest percentage of the four age group categories (18-29, 30-44, 45-59, 60 & older).
But taken alone, this data is misleading. Try this for context: the increase in youth votes accounts for at least 60% of the overall increase in the number of votes [across all age groups], suggesting that this year’s election mobilized young people more than any other group. In other words, young people showed up in 2008.
We can take the youth vote impact even further - according to CIRCLE, young voters favored Barack Obama by more than 2 to 1. reports this morning that 66% of voters under age 30 preferred Obama while just 32% favored McCain—nearly four times the size of John F. Kennedy's lead with the group in 1960. Do the math on that and you find that Obama received 7.8 million more 18-29 year old votes than John McCain. Obama's total popular vote margin over McCain? 7.1 million.
From Politico: "In other words, never in post-war American politics have youth voted so differently than older generations as they did in 2008... Obama's lead with the group this year is easily the largest of any newly elected president in the era of modern polling."
At Coretta Scott King's funeral in early 2006, Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert Kennedy, leaned over to a fairly new Senator Obama and whispered, "The torch is being passed to you." "A chill went up my spine," Obama later told an aide. On Tuesday, the young voters of America ensured he'll have to run with the torch for the next four years - it had indeed been passed.
NY Times: