The job and responsibility of the Attorney General, why judges should become more activist and mitigating the damage from the state’s recent minimum wage hike. These diverse topics were discussed by some prominent speakers at three recent Mackinac Center events.
At a speech in Midland, Attorney General Bill Schuette discussed what he views as the role of Michigan’s top lawyer. Specifically, his job is to interpret and enforce the State Constitution and its laws.
Recent controversial issues regarding affirmative action, pension obligations in the city of Detroit, same-sex marriage, and interpretations of the state right-to-work legislation and similar labor laws have involved the Attorney General’s office. With the Detroit bankruptcy being before a federal judge and affirmative action being recently argued in front of the Supreme Court, Michigan has been at the center of important case law.
While this has not always been the practice of other Attorneys General across the nation, Schuette said he is in charge of enforcing state laws whether he agrees with them or not.
Also involving legal issues, Institute for Justice (IJ) attorney Clark Neily discussed his recent book “Terms of Engagement: How Our Courts Should Enforce the Constitution’s Promise of Limited Government” in Bloomfield Hills. IJ is a libertarian public interest law firm that represents people fighting overreaching government policies.
While conservatives often have an aversion to “activist judges” – legal officials who strike down laws passed by people and legislators – Neily says it is also important to have judges intervene and overrule unjust legislation.
In a review of the book, Georgetown University law professor Randy Barnett writes, “In practice, the claim that laws and administrative regulations reflect the will of the public is often a fiction. In the economic sphere, regulations are more commonly the product of pressure from politically connected and well-established companies at the expense of upstart entrepreneurs. Because voters know little about these laws and their impact, they can’t hold their representatives accountable for enacting them, and the few affected individuals can hardly influence a general election.”
Many laws, particularly dealing with commerce, allow bureaucrats to restrict the rights of citizens for little reason and beyond what most people understand or intended. For example, across the nation, states have passed a myriad of laws dealing with licensing. In 1950, about one out of 20 jobs required a license while today it is about 1 in 3. States require licenses for things like hairbraiding, painting and giving health and nutrition advice, making it illegal to practice this safe work without giving time and money to the government. IJ represents many clients who are being oppressed by state and federal laws that Neily believes are clearly outside the bounds of what the Constitution allows governments to do.
At a June event in Lansing, Heritage Foundation senior labor economist, James Sherk discussed how the state should deal with the minimum wage. Michigan recently hiked its minimum wage to $9.25 per hour by 2018, which many Republicans defended as an action to ward of a ballot proposal that would have been even more economically destructive.
Basic economics shows that the value of someone’s labor is determined by what others are willing to pay for it, Sherk pointed out. Competition in the market forces businesses to pay the perceived value of their workers. If they pay more than the true value, they are harmed, while paying less encourages employees to jump ship to a different company.
“That’s why 97 percent of American workers make more than the minimum wage,” Sherk said. “It is not because businesses are just simply being generous.”
Sherk said the most harm from the policy affects low-skilled workers and society in the long term.
“The primary value of the minimum wage job is not the pay today, but the skills it generates for the future,” he said. “When you raise the minimum wage, you saw off the bottom rung that lets low-skill employees enter the workforce.”