A Voice in the Wilderness In Defense of "Mere Conservatism"


The Plumb Line: Immigration (Part 1)

(Note: Read our Intro to the Plumb Line series here)


Obama Sues Alabama:
Investigating the Background Behind the New Law and its Lawsuit

By: Caitlin Doemner

On August 1 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the state of Alabama for its controversial new immigration law, which requires public schools to check students’ immigration status and criminalizes other immigrant-related activities.  Currently, children cannot be denied K – 12 educations regardless of their status as immigrants.  As a result of complaints that Hispanic families have begun pulling their children from school, the Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation, requesting detailed enrollment data from Alabama schools. The state’s education department advised noncompliance, but recently expressed a willingness to cooperate.

Coming on the heels of a year and a half of litigation against other states’ immigration laws, the Department of Justice’s request highlights key issues in the immigration debate: the tenuous balance between state and federal authority on enforcing immigration legislation, and the matter of providing public benefits, like education, to illegal immigrants and their children.

What the Constitution Says

The crux of the Justice Department’s lawsuits against Arizona, Alabama, and most recently, South Carolina, hinges upon the U.S. Constitution’s division of powers. Unfortunately, the Constitution’s actual verbiage regarding immigration, or naturalization, is extremely limited. In Article 1, Section 8, it says: “The Congress shall have Power…. To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization.”

free-copy-of-us-constitutionAmendment 14, Section 1 primarily addresses the rights of citizens, with only the last two clauses addressing everyone at large: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (emphasis added).

Historical Relationship Between Feds and States

Based on these sections, establishing immigration policy has generally been viewed as the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government, with state and local authorities given specified authority to enforce federal laws, especially criminal laws, but with limited power over civil infractions. For example, state and local law enforcement officers can arrest someone for the criminal offense of entering the country illegally, but cannot arrest someone solely for the lack of legal status because that is a civil violation.

The past decade, however, has seen increased cooperation between federal, state, and local law authorities regarding immigration enforcement.  After 2001, government opinion began to shift, with the Department of Justice stating in a press conference that enforcing immigration law, even civil provisions, is within the “inherent authority” of the states.

In 2008, the Bush Administration introduced one of the most expansive collaborations between feds and states—the Secure Communities program which relied on partnership between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, integrating databases and screening fingerprints of detainees for the purposes of building deportation capacity.

Recent Contentions

The tension between federal and state authority exploded onto the public stage in 2010 with the passage of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which made it a misdemeanor for aliens to be in Arizona without carrying the documentation required by federal law.  In July 2010, the Justice Department sued Arizona on the grounds that it infringed upon the federal government’s Constitutionally-granted authority over immigration and foreign policy. A U.S. District judge blocked the implementation of certain provisions of the law and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban, causing the Arizona governor to petition the Supreme Court to consider the case. Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s “business death penalty”, which seems to indicate an inclination to side with the states on the matter of enforcement.  Claiming that the lower courts have already addressed the provisions targeting undocumented immigrants, the Justice Department’s has requested that the Supreme Court leave the case alone.

ap_jan_brewer_arizona_immigration_jp_110509_wgAlthough Arizona was the first to pass such legislation, it was certainly not the last, with South Carolina, Georgia, and Colorado following close behind. In August, the DOJ sued Alabama for the controversial law it passed in June 2011 -- HB 56, reportedly the toughest law passed thus far and largely upheld by a federal district judge in September 2011.

Education for Illegal Immigrants

One of the key issues brought up by the Alabama law is the requirement that primary and secondary schools provide education to all children, regardless of their immigration status – a policy instituted in Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982). In Plyler v. Doe, the Supreme Court determined that the Fourteenth Amendment (see above) applied to undocumented aliens; and although a state may withhold benefits from individuals who elect to enter our territory in violation of our laws, children are not situated to bear the consequences of their parents’ actions. While the Court recognized that “public education is not a "right" granted to individuals by the Constitution… neither is it merely some governmental ‘benefit’ indistinguishable from other forms of social welfare legislation.”

The matter becomes more subtle, however, after a student has graduated from high school.  Even before his “oops” flub, Governor Rick Perry had begun declining in the polls. One of the issues which became a target on his back was his passage of Texas HB 1403 in 2001. The bill, now Texas law 54.052, offers in-state tuition rates to all students who have resided in Texas for the three years leading up to their graduation from high school (or GED) and have provided an affidavit indicating an intent to apply for permanent resident status as soon as able to do so.

California’s brand new Dream Act (AB 131, 2011) offers more benefits to undocumented residents. Not only are students who meet the above qualifications entitled to in-state tuition breaks, they are now able to apply for and obtain the same kind of publicly-funded financial aid available to U.S. citizens and legal residents.

The controversial matter of provided state-funded benefits for illegal immigrants is just one of the topics receiving national attention as a result of Alabama’s new law and the corresponding lawsuit.


Next week: Why Immigration is a Federal Issue and Immigrants Deserve Education


The Gang Breaks It Down: Part 1 (with Mollie Hemingway)

Part 1 of this week's episode of the Values And Capitalism podcast - The R.J. Moeller Show - starts off with a re-cap of R.J.'s trip to Washington D.C., a review of the movie J. Edgar, and a break-down of a Chris Matthews television appearance that you won't want to miss.

After that, R.J. was able to score an interview with one of his favorite writers: Ricochet.com editor Mollie Hemingway.

19721_medium_profileMollie is a columnist for Christianity Today and contributor to GetReligion.org.  Her writing on religion, economics and baseball has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Federal Times, Radio & Records and Modern Reformation. Originally from Colorado, she lives in Washington with her husband (Weekly Standard editor, Mark Hemingway) and two children. She enjoys combing flea markets to improve her vinyl record collection and believes that the designated hitter rule is the result of a Communist plot.

You can follow Mollie on Twitter at @MZHemingway!

We'll be posting Part 2 of "The Gang Breaks It Down" later in the week, so stay tuned!

As always, you can stream us live below, or find us on iTunes.



The Plumb Line: An Introduction

A new feature here at A Voice in the Wilderness begins today, and I have to admit that I'm pretty pumped about it.  We're calling it "The Plumb Line" and the basic idea behind it is this: a deeper inquiry into the facts and factors involved with some of the most important issues of our time.  It's nearly impossible to do or write anything without any trace of bias and presupposition, but we're hoping to tackle some relevant topics from a bevvy of angles and opinions so that you, the reader, can wrestle with them and come to more informed positions. We'll have guest contributors and hopefully spark some lively dialogue in the "Comments" section of each post.

The first contributor I'm happy to present is our friend Caitlin Doemner.  She wrote the introduction below, and tomorrow I'll posting her first piece (on Immigration).

Hey, I’m Caitlin and RJ has been nice enough to let me guest write for his blog. Coming from a background of English, philosophy, art and business, politics is a new foray for me and so I’ve decided to tackle it with as few presumptions as possible. The Project, as I tend to think of it, entails looking at particular issues in the public forum in four-part series.

First, I want to research a matter recently in the media and examine its historical and wider ideological context. I fear these articles might be rather dry, since my goal is mortal objectivity. Second, I want to construct the best liberal arguments I can find relating to the issue. I hate it when people attack sound bites; they almost inevitably end up employing strawmen fallacies. Third, I plan on responding with the best conservative arguments. And last, I will attempt to assimilate everything I’ve researched and share my own meager thoughts on the matter. DISCLAIMER: My opinions are admittedly fluid and I should not be held responsible for them after the date of publishing. I reserve the right to change my mind in light of new data, better logic, and the occasional supernatural intervention.

I am continually scouting for new topics, fresh perspectives, useful resources, and interesting conversations, so please send me your feedback.

Caitlin Cogan Doemner

Photo Caitlin 2We're excited to have Caitlin on-board and look forward to welcoming other contributors in coming weeks and months.


Charlie Brown’s Christmas Miracle

I came across this interesting piece at National Review Online and thought it more than worth sharing.  Basically, it is a recounting of what it took to get A Charlie Brown Christmas on the air.  There was plenty of controversy in 1965 surrounding the decision to broadcast something so blatantly Christian (with a passage from Luke read aloud by one of the characters, no less).

An excerpt:

Few headlines about network television make me giddy. Fewer still make me hopeful that all is good in the world. But back in August of 2010, I read the following headline from the media pages with great excitement: “Charlie Brown Is Here to Stay: ABC Picks Up ‘Peanuts’ Specials Through 2015.” The first of these to be made, the famous Christmas special, was an instant classic when it was created by Charles Schulz on a shoestring budget back in 1965, and thanks to some smart television executives, it will be around for at least another five years for all of us to see and enjoy.

What people don’t know is that the Christmas special almost didn’t happen, because some not-so-smart television executives almost didn’t let it air. You see, Charles Schulz had some ideas that challenged the way of thinking of those executives 46 years ago, and one of them had to do with the inclusion in his Christmas cartoon of a reading from the King James Bible’s version of the Gospel of Luke.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

As far back as 1965 — just a few years before Time magazine asked “Is God Dead?” — CBS executives thought a Bible reading might turn off a nation populated with Christians. And during a Christmas special, no less! Ah, the perils of living on an island in the northeast called Manhattan.

And here is the portion of the Charlie Brown special that was so controversial:

When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. We can not only vote in elections at the ballot box, but we can vote with our dollars, our TV-viewing decisions, and with an email or two to networks and their sponsors. There are some battles worth fighting, and defending the Christ in Christmas is perhaps one of them.


Newt: At His Best When On His Feet

Putting the obvious drawbacks to Newt Gingrich being the GOP's presidential nominee aside, the man is brilliant, articulate, and would pose a formidable opponent to President Obama in a nationally-televised debate.  I'll be writing more about Gingrich soon (and why I think he's the one to challenge Barack Obama in 2012), but for now enjoy some playfully combative remarks from Speaker Gingrich regarding his chances against Obama next year.

It's just Newt being Newt.


Thanksgiving Reminder from The Gipper

In a day and age when it often feels like we have very little to be thankful for when it comes to politics, it's important we remember just how lucky - how blessed and free - we truly are.

God, family, country: and in that order.  A thankful people are a happy people.  They are a brave and confident people, one ready to help the helpless and fight for causes and ideals that appear all but lost.

Americans aren't special: but our ideas, ideals, and values are.

Here to remind us of a few things we ought to be thankful for this Thanksgiving Weekend are two clips from President Ronald Reagan.

From 1985:

And this one, The Gipper's farewell address to the nation in 1989:

God bless you and your families. God bless America.

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Stanley Kurtz and Jacque Otto

We open this week's episode of the Values & Capitalism podcast - The R.J. Moeller Show - by chatting with National Review contributing editor Stanley Kurtz about his recent book, Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism.

radicalDr. Kurtz is also a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and contributes frequently to such publications as The Weekly Standard and Wall Street Journal.

After saying goodbye to Stanley Kurtz, R.J. chatted with fellow Values & Capitalism contributor: Jacque Otto.  Ms. Otto is a graduate of Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma and now lives and works in the D.C. area.  R.J. and Jacque talked about Occupy Wall Street, Jonah Goldberg, and her recent blog-post, "The Government and Hollow Men".  You can follow Ms. Otto on Twitter and find her on Facebook as well.

To partake in this delightful episode of the podcast, stream us live below or download the show on your iTunes.



Paul Rahe on The Constitution

Recent guest of The R.J. Moeller Show podcast Professor Paul Rahe was interviewed by friend-of-the-show Peter Robinson for Uncommon Knowledge last week.  Below is Part 1:

We love us some Paul Rahe here at AVITW, and so will you!


My Week In D.C.

I'm back from my physical, intellectual, and emotional journey to our nation's capital this week, and it's good to be home.  The primary purpose for my trip was to record an interview with Professor Walter E. Williams (George Mason University) so that the footage I collected from it could be turned into (at least) one Prager University "course" this winter.  It was a huge thrill and distinct honor to get to sit and chat with such a wise and learned scholar for an hour, and I know people are going to love the YouTube of it when it comes out.

The rest of my time in D.C. was spent with the good folks at AEI (specifically, my Values and Capitalism peeps).  I conducted 7 different interviews with 7 different scholars on 7 different subjects.  Those interviews will be featured on The RJ Moeller Show podcast over the next month or so, and I highly recommend you go through each of them as they are released.  I talked to environmental experts, Reagan scholars, and international trade (think: China) gurus.


I also was asked to sit in as a guest on AEI's Banter podcast with host Stuart James.  You can listen to our conversation right here.

All-in-all, it was a wonderful time and I'm blessed to have these opportunities. I don't take that lightly and am grateful for it.


Mr. Moeller Goes To Washington

So I'm in D.C. this week (on assignment for Dennis Prager...more on that in coming weeks), and thus will not be posting much here at AVITW, but I wanted to share with you a highlight reel of my trip so far.  This is a fair representation of my time in the nation's capital.  The black-and-white is simply for effect.

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What is “Mere Conservatism”?

The basic ideas, ideals, and values that generally define and characterize the central tenets of what today might be termed "modern conservative thought."

We believe that a proper understanding of history, economics, and theology leads to certain conclusions. Many of these are the same conclusions our Founding Fathers arrived at in constructing a "more perfect union."

All ideas and opinions are welcome; not all are correct.

Mere Conservatism Links:
 Econ Part I  |  Econ Part II
Intro  |  Theology  |  History

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RJ Speaking at Acton 2010

Rudy the Dog barks at "change"

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