Laurence Tribe: is taxing AIG punitive?


Yesterday, Laurence Tribe told me that if we were to enact a narrow tax law targeting AIG, it could pass constitutional muster if (among other things) "the aim of such a tax would be manifestly regulatory and fiscal rather than punitive and condemnatory." I thought this was curious -- it certainly seems like some lawmakers are saying punitive and condemnatory things about AIG -- and asked him to clarify. He responds:

Some perception of political retribution might be unavoidable, but that's not enough to render such a measure unconstitutional. It's well established that the impassioned remarks and subjective intentions of scattered members of Congress don't suffice to condemn as a purely punitive enactment an otherwise valid regulatory or tax measure. If the law were otherwise, it would be much too easy for lawmakers to doom laws with poison-pill remarks.

I don't know how to judge the likelihood of the Tribe's hypothetical in the last sentence, but the first point Tribe makes here seems like a good one: the intention of an individual lawmaker that support a bill is not synonymous with the bill's "legislative intent." Assuming Tribe is right on the attainder doctrine (and I have every reason to believe he is) , I think I was wrong in my original post.
Jump to comments
Presented by

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?

In a series of candid video interviews, women talk about self-image, self-judgment, and what it means to love their bodies

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air



More in Politics

Just In