Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Today's "read" is the video of former Justice O'Connor on "The Interview" segment of the Rachel Maddow Show. It raises ethics issues in an interesting way as well as gender in the Court and Bush v. Gore as not very "special" although also "important."
It starts at 5.35 below:
Monday, March 4, 2013
Jeffrey Toobin's profile of Justice Ginsburg, entitled The Heavyweight, is behind a paywall at The New Yorker, but news outlets are already reporting some material, including Justice Ginsburg's plan not to retire this year (or next).
Toobin characterizes Ginsburg as "reserved, noting that there "is some irony in Ginsburg’s reputation for reserve, because she is, by far, the current Court’s most accomplished litigator. Before Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., became a judge, he argued more cases than Ginsburg did before the Justices, but most of them were disputes of modest significance."
Worth a read - - - especially for those who like celebrity legal profiles.
Friday, March 1, 2013
While there is apparently no official copy of Bradley Manning's statement, The Guardian has published a copy of Manning's lengthy statement as transcribed by independent journalist Alexa O'Brien.
At this point I decided that it made sense to try to expose the SigAct tables to an American newspaper. I first called my local news paper, The Washington Post, and spoke with a woman saying that she was a reporter. I asked her if the Washington Post would be interested in receiving information that would have enormous value to the American public.
Although we spoke for about five minutes concerning the general nature of what I possessed, I do not believe she took me seriously. She informed me that the Washington Post would possibly be interested, but that such decisions were made only after seeing the information I was referring to and after consideration by senior editors.
I then decided to contact [missed word] the most popular newspaper, The New York Times. I called the public editor number on The New York Times website. The phone rang and was answered by a machine. I went through the menu to the section for news tips. I was routed to an answering machine. I left a message stating I had access to information about Iraq and Afghanistan that I believed was very important. However, despite leaving my Skype phone number and personal email address, I never received a reply from The New York Times.
Such revelations invite an obvious comparison between Bradley Manning's plight and that of Daniel Ellsburg, who revealed The Pentagon Papers and prompted the renowned First Amendment decision in New York Times v. United States (1971). Another comparison is to a Civil War prosecution, even as courts consider First Amendment claims resisting the government subpoenas of Twitter accounts.
But Bradley Manning's case is proving unique.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
As the Court - - - and the country - - - consider the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the constitutionality of the preclearance provision at issue in Shelby County v. Holder ConLawProfs might find useful the insights of Andrew Cohen, Atiba Ellis, Adam Sewer (on CJ Roberts), Adam Winkler or numerous others. But the observations of William Faulkner (pictured), Nobel Prize in Literature recipient who placed Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi on our (fictional) maps are also pertinent according to Joel Heller's excellent article, Faulkner’s Voting Rights Act: The Sound and Fury of Section Five, 40 Hofstra Law Review 929 (2012), and available on ssrn.
Joel Heller argues that pronouncements that 'The South has changed' fail to take into account the "ongoing burden of memory that Faulkner portrays so powerfully." Heller contends that the VRA's section 5 preclearance provision "does not punish the sons for the sins of the father, but keeps in check the uncertain consequences of a current ongoing consciousness of those sins." Heller uses Faulkner to effectively discuss various attitudes short of intentional discrimination that might nevertheless have racially discriminatory results. These include lawmakers shame and denial of the past accompanied by a devotion to the "things have changed" mantra that would prevent perceptions of racially problematic actions. Additionally, "local control" possesses a nostalgic power, even as the era being evoked was one of white supremacy.
While Faulkner did not live to see the VRA Act become law, Joel Heller's engaging article is definitely worth a read as the Court considers Congressional power to remedy discrimination in the Old/New South.
[image of William Faulkner via]
February 27, 2013 in Books, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Fifteenth Amendment, History, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Scholarship, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Entitled "After 50 Years, the Voting Rights Act's Biggest Threat: The Supreme Court," Andrew Cohen's extensive article just published in The Atlantic is a must-read for anyone following the Court's pending oral argument (on Wednesday, February 27) in Shelby County v. Holder.
Recall that the Court's grant of certiorari last November 9 put the Voting Rights Act (VRA) "in the crosshairs" of the Court - - - as we said at the time - - - noting that the VRA's constitutionality had been seriously questioned but ultimately evaded by the Court's 2009 decision in Northwest Utilities District of Austin v. Holder . The DC Circuit had upheld the constitutionality of the preclearance provisions of the VRA.
Andrew Cohen's article provides a terrific contextualize of the politics, including the Court's politics, that surround the constitutional controversy. Cohen writes that "racial polarization has intensified during the Obama Administration," with "'explicit anti-black attitudes'" around the country, "especially among Republicans," many of whom "sponsored and enacted some of the voter suppression laws of the 2012 cycle." Cohen also argues that the Court essentially "invited many of the state voter suppression efforts of the past three years" by its decisions, including not only Northwest Utilities District of Austin v. Holder, but also the 2008 decision in Crawford v. Marion County, upholding a voter identification statute. Cohen contends: "Having created the factual and legal conditions to undermine the federal law, the Court now is poised to say that it is weakened beyond repair."
Cohen concludes that the stakes in Shelby are very high:
If the Court strikes down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, this year especially, given the record of the past three years, the justices who do so will reveal a disconcerting level of disconnect from the realities of modern American politics as they were expressed in the near-unanimous renewal of the Act in 2006. And the partisan ruling they would issue in this circumstance would be even more brazenly ideological and untethered from precedent than the Citizens United ruling issued in January 2010.
Cohen's timely, provocative, and well-argued article is definitely worth a read and would be a great suggested reading for law students considering the issue.
February 23, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Fifteenth Amendment, History, Interpretation, Race, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
The First Amendment's relationship to what we call "academic freedom" can be fraught (here's one recent example), but in her compelling new book, Priests of Our Democracy Marjorie Heins provides doctrinal, historical, and political links between our understandings. Subtitled The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purges, the book takes as it centerpiece Keyishian v. Board of Regents (1967), a case that is oft-cited and just as often omitted from casebooks.
For ConLawProfs not teaching Keyishian - - - and this book will make you wonder why you are not - - - Heins' book illuminates important First Amendment doctrine and politics. Her history develops the parties, the lawyers, and the institutions involved in Keyishian with fascinating detail and readable prose. Her discussion of the larger anti-Communist "purges" is sharp and solid; it leads to considerations of the post 9/11 landscape.
And for ConLawProfs writing in the area, Heins' volume is an absolutely essential read.
Monday, February 18, 2013
In a particularly effective scene in a movie with many more of them, President Abraham Lincoln holds aloft a pen for emphasis and forcefully declares his intent to soon sign the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery. The problem is that presidents do not sign constitutional amendments. Abraham Lincoln, the best lawyer to ever serve as the nation's chief executive, undoubtedly knew this. He would not have declared his intention to sign an amendment that was not his to sign.
But Zelinsky's willing to cut screenplay author Tony Kushner some slack:
Mr. Kushner's liberties with the details of the Constitution served a legitimate artistic mission by graphically portraying Lincoln's personal commitment to the abolition of slavery. As the movie makes clear, the abolition of slavery via the 13th Amednment was not inevitable. Lincoln's commitment was decisive.
As Zelinsky points out, the alternative--in which Lincoln might have said "something along the lines of wanting Congress to promptly send the 13th Amednment to the states"--is "not the stuff on which Oscar nominations are made." Good point.
(Zelinsky also references another error: the movie's portrayal of Connecticut congressman as voting against the Thirteenth Amendment. In fact, Connecticut's representatives voted for it.)
But if the film committed errors, it also helped correct them--or at least one of them. According to The Atlantic Wire, a recent immigrant from India, Dr. Ranjan Batra, after seeing the movie, researched and determined that Mississippi never ratified the Thirteenth Amendment. Last week it did.
Today we celebrate "Presidents' Day" and ConLawProfs contemplating executive power might do well to consider the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) as a formative experience.
In his new article, Slavery, Executive Power and International Law: The Haitian Revolution and American Constitutionalism, available in draft on ssrn, ConLawProf Robert Reinstein argues that the "six administrations from George Washington through John Quincy Adams responded to the slave revolt and establishment of Haitian independence in ways that greatly expanded executive power."
Indeed, as Reinstein reminds us, the first sole executive agreements were made by Adams with regard to Haiti (predating the seizure of the schooner The Wilmington Packet by six months). Reinstein contends that the Haitian history is important because
Many of the most controversial questions presidents face in the modern era—whether to support regime change, use military force to protect American interests abroad, intervene in civil wars, arm foreign rebellions, form secret agreements with governments or belligerents, comply with obligations of international law—were first faced in the American reactions to the Haitian slave revolt.
Yet as Reinstein observes, the history also reveals conflicting executive interests, at times favoring domestic fear of a similar slave-revolt and at other times favoring geopolitical (and capitalist) interests. At the center - - - not surprisingly - - - is Thomas Jefferson, who vowed to reduce Haiti's charismatic leader Toussaint L'ouverture to "starvation."
But Reinsten also centers the Supreme Court's hostility to the establishment of the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere. Reinstein writes that as "Congress debated the first Haitian embargo bill, a Representative asked: “Have these Haytians no rights?”" Reinstein concludes that the "answer ultimately given by the United States government was unequivocal: “No.”"
An important - - - and oft-neglected - - - history of executive power as well as judicial power worth a read on Presidents' Day.
[image of Toussaint L'ouverture from a French engraving circa 1802 via]
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Justice Scalia's appearance at President Obama's Inauguration yesterday has been much remarked because of the Justice's hat.
As ConLawProf Kevin Walsh reports, the hat was a gift from the St. Thomas More Society of Richmond, commemorating Scalia's participation in a 2010 "Red Mass" and is a replica of More's hat as portrayed in his famous portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1527 (pictured right).
While Thomas More was celebrated in the play "A Man for All Seasons," a much less flattering portrait of him emerges in Hilary Mantel's award winning historical novel Wolf Hall, in which More is seen as distinctly unlawyerly, ungenerous, and perhaps pathological, especially as contrasted with the novel's hero, Thomas Cromwell.
As the late Christopher Hitchens noted, the genius of Wolf Hall wasin going beyond the Holbein portraits that defined the era, and revisioning, for example, the More portrait: "Now scrutinize the face of More and notice the frigid, snobbish fanaticism that holds his dignity in place." More, then, becomes a man who will not only burn books, but burn people. Hitchens also quotes Mantel's scene of the interrogation of More, after More has fallen out of favor. The character More says:
“You say you have the majority. I say I have it. You say Parliament is behind you, and I say all the angels and saints are behind me, and all the company of the Christian dead, for as many generations as there have been since the church of Christ was founded, one body, undivided—”
Monday, January 21, 2013
In a 1965 "Meet the Press" interview, Martin Luther King speaks about civil disobedience, nonviolent protest, and racial equality, responding to the queries from the interviewers.
Worth a watch on this MLK Day, 2013.
Monday, January 7, 2013
Pamela Karlan's "Democracy and Disdain" is the Forward to Harvard Law Review's annual Supreme Court issue for the 2011 Term and is a compelling - - - indeed, necessary and delightful - - - read. Karlan's central thesis, as the title aptly communicates, is that the Roberts' Court has little but disdain for the democratic process. By "Roberts' Court," of course, she means the five Justices who usually form the majority, including Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy.
The Roberts Court’s narrow substantive reading of enumerated powers maps fairly closely onto the contemporary conservative political agenda. To the extent that the conservative agenda gains popular acceptance, the Court may garner acclaim as a guardian of constitutional values. But if the public rejects that agenda, or remains sharply divided, the Court risks being perceived as simply another partisan institution. The Court’s current status rests in substantial measure on its having been on the right side of history in Brown v. Board of Education. Only time will tell whether the Court will retain that status given the choices the Roberts Court is making.
Karlan is adept at comparing the present Court to previous ones, not only including the Warren Court. Spoiler alert: When she quotes Justice Roberts, she might not be quoting the 2012 John Roberts but the 1936 Owen Roberts, a device she uses to especially good effect. Also to good effect is her usage of other justices, colloquies in oral argument, the occasional poet, and theorist. The writing is broad and engaging without being precious. It makes her analysis of the cases even more trenchant, situated in larger themes and trends.
Of course, not all ConLawProfs will agree with Karlan's views of the Court, including one subsection entitled "Protecting Spenders and Suspecting Voters," and another "Suspecting Congress." And Karlan's argument is hardly unique, as anyone who recalls Rehnquist Court scholarship, including the excellent 2001 article "Dissing Congress," by Ruth Colker and James J. Brudney can attest. And it is especially noteworthy that the Court did uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, a case that Karlan extensively discusses and more interestingly, situates within the Term's other less notable decisions.
But this is a must read article before beginning the new semester.
[image of Pamela Karlan via]
January 7, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Fifteenth Amendment, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, History, Interpretation, Race, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Scholarship, Separation of Powers, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Here's the transcription from the National Archives:
The Emancipation ProclamationWhereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
"That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States."
Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.
By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.
[pages of proclamation via]
Friday, December 21, 2012
ConLawProf Adam Winkler's book Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America published in 2011 has understandably receiving renewed attention.
One of the more interesting arguments Winkler makes is that the Black Panthers were the true pioneers of modern pro-gun advocacy, at a time when the National Rifle Association championed gun regulation.
Winkler's article for The Atlantic, The Secret History of Guns, also published last year and adapted from the book, is definitely worth a (re)read.
Monday, December 3, 2012
Should the Court take certiorari in at least one of the circuit cases challenging DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, as is widely anticipated, the government interest will be at issue. Courtney Joslin's article, Marriage, Biology, and Federal Benefits, forthcoming in Iowa Law Review and available in draft on ssrn, is a must-read on the "responsible procreation" interest that is often proffered. Joslin (pictured) argues that this interest is based on what she calls the "biological primacy:" an "underlying premise that the government’s historic interest in marriage is to single out and specially support families with biologically-related children."
Joslin's task is decidely not to assess the "fit" of DOMA's means chosen to this interest, under any equal protection standard, whether it be intermediate scrutiny as some, including the Second Circuit in Windsor have applied, or rational basis as the First Circuit applied.
Instead, Joslin interrogates whether this interest is factually true: "Has the federal government historically accorded special solicitude and protection to families comprised of parents and their own biological children?" She demonstrates that the interest is, at the very least, not a consistent one. She examines the "history of federal family-based benefits in two areas: children’s Social Security benefits and family-based benefits for veterans and active members of U.S. military," and demonstrates that in a "vast array of federal benefits programs, eligibility is not conditioned on a child’s biological connection with his or her parent."
From the early years of federal family-based benefits, Congress both implicitly and explicitly extended benefits to children who were biologically unrelated to one or both of their parents. This unearthed history exposes that responsible procreation is based on normative judgments about sexual orientation and gender, not history and tradition.
Indeed, although Joslin does not discuss Loving v. Virginia, her article is deeply reminiscent of the Court's reasoning in Loving when it essentially rejected Virginia's proffered rationale of "racial integrity," with Chief Justice Warren writing that the "fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy." Joslin's article should be required reading for anyone analyzing DOMA.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Second Circuit on Second Amendment: New York's Gun Licensing Limitation for Concealed Handguns Is Constitutional
In a unanimous opinion today, a Second Circuit panel in Kachalsky v. County of Westchester upheld New York's requirement that applicants prove “proper cause” to obtain licenses to carry handguns for self-defense under New York Penal Law section 400.00(2)(f).
Affirming the district judge, the panel interpreted the Supreme Court's controversial Heller v. District of Columbia 2008 decision, as well as the subsequent McDonald v. City of Chicago opinion holding that the Second Amendment right recognized in Heller was incorporated to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. (Recall that four Justices in McDonald ruled incorporation was through the due process clause, with Justice Thomas concurring in the result, but contending incorporation occurred through the privileges or immunities clause).
One of the issues left open by Heller and McDonald was the level of scrutiny to be applied to gun regulations. The plaintiffs, represented by Alan Gura, familiar from both Heller and McDonald, argued that strict scrutiny should apply. In rejecting strict scrutiny, the Second Circuit panel emphasized that the New York regulation at issue was not within the core interest protected by the Heller Court's interpretation of the Second Amendment - - - self-defense within the home - - - but was a limitation of concealed weapons permits to those who could demonstrate a "special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community or of persons engaged in the same profession." The panel also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the concealed carry permits were akin to prior restraint under the First Amendment. The court stated, "“We are hesitant to import substantive First Amendment principles wholesale into Second Amendment jurisprudence. Indeed, no court has done so.” (emphasis in original). Later in the opinion, the court provided an even more convincing argument:
State regulation under the Second Amendment has always been more robust than of other enumerated rights. For example, no law could prohibit felons or the mentally ill from speaking on a particular topic or exercising their religious freedom.
Recall that even the majority opinions in Heller and McDonald maintained that prohibiting felons or the mentally ill from possessing guns was consistent with the Second Amendment.
The Second Circuit decided that "intermediate scrutiny" was "appropriate in this case": "The proper cause requirement" of the New York law "passes constitutional muster if it is substantially related to the achievement of an important governmental interest."
The substantial (and indeed compelling) governmental interests were "public safety and crime prevention," as the parties seemed to agree. As to the substantial relationship, the court noted that the "legislative judgment" surrounding these issues was a century old and that the proper cause requirement was a "hallmark" of New York's handgun regulation since then. The court also noted that the law was not a ban, but a restriction to those persons who have a reason to possess a concealed handgun in public. New York did submit more current studies, and the court credited these even as it stated that the decision was clearly a policy one for the legislature. Heller did not, the court ruled, take such "policy choices off the table."
The Second Circuit's opinion is doctrinally well-reasoned, but also a deliberate engagement with the history of gun regulation. In the very beginning of its analysis, the opinion states
New York’s efforts in regulating the possession and use of firearms predate the Constitution. By 1785, New York had enacted laws regulating when and where firearms could be used, as well as restricting the storage of gun powder.
The court returns again and again to the history, in New York and elsewhere, even as it reiterates that history does not answer the question.
[image" The Knotted Gun," sculpture in NYC outside UN, via].
Friday, November 23, 2012
Prof. Juan Perea (Loyola Chicago and visiting Lee Chair at John Marshall) argues in his excellent piece Race and Constitutional Law Casebooks: Recognizing the Proslavery Constitution that con law profs, unlike historians, do a bad job with slavery. In particular, he says that law profs do a bad job even recognizing the pro-slavery origins of our Constitution, much less teaching them. He says that this neglect and dishonesty about so central a part of our Constitution prevents us all from critically examining how the pro-slavery nature of our Constitution influences contemporary doctrine and debates. And, importantly, he tells us what we can do about it.
Perea's piece, published in the Michigan Law Review, starts as a book review of George William Van Cleve's A Slaveholders' Union: Slavery, Politics, and the Constitution in the Early American Republic. But Perea moves quickly into an examination of how--or even whether--contemporary constitutional law instruction addresses anything at all about slavery--the issue that Van Cleve shows played a defining role in our constitutional beginnings. Perea surveys some of the top casebooks and concludes that they barely touch the issue. Even when they do, they pay only scant attention to it, apparently assuming either that it wasn't really that important to the framing and ratification, or that that the Reconstruction Amendments solved the problem. This lack of attention to so critical an issue is particularly vexing in a field that otherwise takes history and tradition so seriously.
Perea argues that the pro-slavery Constitution is reflected in structural racism, Court-crafted doctrine (perhaps most especially the Court's demand for proof of intent to show an equal protection violation, although there are dozens of doctrinal examples), the intentional use of race-neutral language in the law to produce a racially targeted harm, and the consistent sacrifice of black equality rights for the sake of political union. We may teach these things, and we may even teach them critically. But we mostly don't teach them as what they are: outgrowths of a pro-slavery foundational document.
Perea has some ideas about what to do about this. In short: say more. Casebooks should devote more attention to the pro-slavery Constitution, and to tie it to contemporary doctrine. Teachers should say more--much more--about it and teach it as part of our history, tradition, and doctrine. Until the casebooks catch up, Perea offers some suggestions and resources for integrating slavery into their classes.
The easiest way may just be this: Assign our students Perea's article.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
The relationship between Thanksgiving and the First Amendment's religion clauses, as well as to the economy, is a recurrent topic of constitutional conversation at this time of year.
President Obama's Thanksgiving Proclamation for 2012 includes several references to "God," such as:
"On Thanksgiving Day, individuals from all walks of life come together to celebrate this most American tradition, grateful for the blessings of family, community, and country. Let us spend this day by lifting up those we love, mindful of the grace bestowed upon us by God and by all who have made our lives richer with their presence."
The President has been criticized in the past for not including sufficient mentions of "God" in conjunction with Thanksgiving.
When President George Washington marked our democracy's first Thanksgiving, he prayed to our Creator for peace, union, and plenty through the trials that would surely come. And when our Nation was torn by bitterness and civil war, President Abraham Lincoln reminded us that we were, at heart, one Nation, sharing a bond as Americans that could bend but would not break.
The current President does not mention FDR, the president responsible for Thanksgiving being the second to last Thursday - - - rather than the last - - - for economic reasons. According to the National Archives:
In 1939, however, the last Thursday in November fell on the last day of the month. Concerned that the shortened Christmas shopping season might dampen the economic recovery, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a Presidential Proclamation moving Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday of November. As a result of the proclamation, 32 states issued similar proclamations while 16 states refused to accept the change and proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November. For two years two days were celebrated as Thanksgiving - the President and part of the nation celebrated it on the second to last Thursday in November, while the rest of the country celebrated it the following week.
Meanwhile, there is controversy about so-called "blue laws" banning the opening of stores on Thanksgiving day itself. Recall that the United States Supreme Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Earl Warren, rejected the First Amendment challenges and upheld a criminal conviction under a Sunday blue law in McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420 (1961).
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
It's refreshing to pick up a book that explores a topic like constitutional originalism with vim and vigor and a plain-spoken, jargon-less approach that appeals to--indeed invites--readers who are outside the technical academic debates. We ought to have more like this. If we did, we might have more meaningful public discussions about the virtues and vices of originalism, living constitutionalism, constitutional fidelity, or any other method of constitutional interpretation or construction--and why they matter.
The downside, of course, is that plain-spoken-ness can sometimes come at a cost to nuance, balance, completeness, and even honesty. This may be especially true when discussing constitutional interpretation and construction, an area so rife with nuance and indeterminacies. The danger (and perhaps an opportunity, for advocates of any particular approach) is in over-simplifying.
Adam Freedman's The Naked Constitution sets a standard for plain-spokenness and accessibility in the area of constitutional originalism. It's an extraordinarily well written--indeed, fun-to-read--page-turner that romps through the Constitution and the courts' treatment of it and delivers a plain-spoken argument for Freedman's brand of original-meaning originalism. (Just to be clear: Freedman argues that original meaning supports a narrow, strict reading of the text.)
But while Freedman's gift for clear, entertaining writing has all the potential to bring a serious constitutional debate to a broader public, it also trades on nuance, balance, and completeness in the text, history, and precedent. And because of the book's (unnecessary) partisanship, it's likely only to reinforce the ideas of Freedman's supporters, to alienate his detractors, and to divide readers. I don't think it'll do much persuading or advancing-of-the-originalism-debate on either side.
And that's OK. This book seems designed first as a political argument, only next as a constitutional one. It's red meat for conservatives, and it'll surely rile progressives. If you're looking for a lively, readable volume that will fuel your constitutional politics (whatever they are) this is for you. And the book's sheer breadth ensures that you're likely to learn something about constitutional originalism (or anti-living-constitutionalism), even if the book doesn't always tell the whole story.
Freedman takes aim at the usual suspects--a Congress bent on legislating ultra vires, a unitary executive constrained by independent agencies, unenumerated fundamental rights, a wall of separation between church and state, lack of priority to the rights of gun owners and property owners, an Eighth Amendment run amok, and a vacant Tenth Amendment. According to Freedman, these all share this common denominator: an activist judiciary that is unfaithful to the original meaning of the text.
But these usual suspects all share another common denominator: they're the bread-and-butter bogeymen of the new-style political conservatives. Freedman would say as much. Indeed, a good part of his book is devoted to showing that "liberals"--everyone from the ACLU, to the Ninth Circuit, to President Obama--support these constitutional over-reaches. That's too bad. It's distracting and divisive. And it's unnecessary.
The book's partisanship is unnecessary because there's an apolitical case to be made for original-meaning originalism (and against an unfettered living constitutionalism)--one that can use the same lively and accessible approach that Freedman uses here. But that case also has to be fair and balanced; it has to look at the complete original meaning, to acknowledge originalism's shortcomings, and to lodge originalist critiques of living constitutionalists honestly.
Freedman's book sometimes moves in this direction. It's especially strong when it identifies apparent absurdities in the doctrine, for example when it takes on the Court's gloss on the religion clauses: "In the contradictory world of the First Amendment, it is ridiculously easy to 'establish' a religion, but it's almost impossible to burden 'free exercise.'" That's overstated, but it raises a point.
But the book also too often sets up straws, picks at low-hanging fruit, and neglects the full original-meaning picture. As an example of the last, consider the book's treatment of federalism and the Tenth Amendment: the book neglects the bulk of the textual and original-meaning evidence supporting a robust federal government (over the states); and it turns the scant evidence of original meaning that it considers on its head. (See, for example, the discussion of the omission of the word "expressly" from the Tenth Amendment, on pages 290 to 291, arguing that the omission reinforces a limited federal government, and that CJ Marshall recognized this in McCulloch.) It also devalues the original meaning of the federalism amendments--thirteen through seventeen, and others.
In short, The Naked Constitution is more a political argument than a constitutional one--and consciously so. It's a terrifically fun read, but one that is likely only to solidfy positions, not to propel the public debate about originalism.
Freedman also created a companion podcast that's worth checking out.
Monday, November 19, 2012
As President Obama travels to Burma/Myanmar, becoming the first United States President to do so, most ConLawProfs will be recalling Crosby v. National Trade Council, decided by the Court in 2000. In an unanimous decision, the Court declared unconstitutional Massachusetts' 1996 procurement statute barring the state from doing business with almost any entity "doing business" with Burma. The Court held the state law was invalid under the Supremacy Clause because of a Congressional grant of authority to the President over any economic sanctions for Burma. The Massachusetts law thus undermined the diplomatic powers of the President.
The repressive history of Burma/Myanmar is essential to understanding the President's current diplomacy as well as Massachusetts' legislation in Crosby.
And essential to Americans seeking to understand Burma is the work of Emma Larkin. Widely regarded as one of the best books on Burma is Emma Larkin's Finding George Orwell in Burma. In the fascinating and well-written book published in 2006, Larkin - - - not her real name - - - writes of contemporary Burma and George Orwell's history in Burma, arguing convincingly that Orwell's novel 1984 was actually modeled on Burma and continued to be relevant. Earlier this year, Larkin wrote compellingly of the "Burma Spring" the popularity of former dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, both in an essay and in a lengthy review of Peter Popham's The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Obama argues that his visit is an "acknowledgment that the country is making progress toward reform." Read Emma Larkin's book, if you haven't already done so, to discover what this might mean.
Friday, November 16, 2012
What is the work of political intellectuals, public intellectuals, or even, constitutional law professors?
Stanley Aronowitz, who participated in a public conversation about such topics this morning, is the author most recently of Taking It Big: C. Wright Mills and the Making of Political Intellectuals. Mills, who died in 1962 and was once widely known, is undergoing a bit of a resurgence; Aronowitz' "intellectual biography" of Mills contributes to this trend.
Aronowitz describes Mills' critiques of academics as knowledge workers; observations that are especially relevant in our post-election assessments and the role of constitutional commentators:
[Their] Knowledge is dedicated to assisting the state to regulate, in the first place, the poor. Having forsaken theoretical explorations aimed at explaining social events, the disciplines of economics and political science have, with the exception of a small minority of practitioners, become policy sciences. Economists advise and assist governments and corporations to anticipate and regulate the “market,” raise and spend tax revenues, and help direct investments abroad as well as at home. Political science has virtually become an adjunct to the political parties and to the foreign policy establishment; its polling apparatuses are guides to candidates on how to shape their message and to whom to target their appeals.
But Aronowitz suggests that the work of C. Wright Mills is important because Mills’s questions of "what a new society based on principles of economic and social equality would look like" continues to endure "as an unfinished and neglected series of tasks."