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)
Sunday, February 17, 2013
The schedule includes an all-star line-up. Here's the description:
Originalism--the thesis that legitimate constitutional interpretation is bound by original meaning or intent--has emerged as an influential and controversial approach to how we interpret our Constitution. While some claim that constitutional interpretation and legitimacy require unearthing the original meaning or intent, others assert that tethering current citizens and interpreters to the comprehension of long-dead people is the antithesis of good and proper democratic government.
The Fordham Law Review is proud to present a symposium gathering a remarkable group of legal scholars, historians, and philosophers to discuss if, how, and why Originalism should inform constitutional analysis.
Friday, February 15, 2013
Sean Wilson (pictured) provides a compelling view of constitutional interpretation in his new book, The Flexible Constitution. His work is often Dworkian in tone, although Wilson distinguishes himself from Dworkin's interest in moral reasoning. Instead, Wilson writes that constitutional law problems are what "Wittgenstein described as aesthetical judgments - i.e. judgments that a connosseur would make" and Wilson stresses culture much more than morality. (p. 83).
Worth a special read is the book's Appendix, "The Philosophical Investigation," which provides a Wittigensteinian interrogation of the meaning of "the original meaning of the Constitution." This would be a terrific exercise for a Constitutional Interpretation or Jurisprudence seminar.
Monday, February 11, 2013
President Obama is finally wrapping himself in the Constitution, engaging conservatives in a constitutional dialogue, and moving to retake the Constitution for progressives, writes Simon Lazarus, senior counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center, in the New Republic.
Lazarus argues that President Obama's Constitution draws on the spirit of 1776 to promote a progressive agenda, and not one that mandates just small government. But President Obama's Constitution also "echoes that of the Reconstruction Congresses, which enacted the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments." In particular, Lazarus says that President Obama sees the Constitution as authorizing Congress "to prevent private interference with the exercise of individual rights"--restricting certain private acts, and not, as some conservatives would have it, only restricting government.
Thus, in addition to yoking contemporary progressive goals to the vision of the Revolutionary War generation, Obama's emergent constitutional canon appears bent on revitalizing a cornerstone of the Civil War era's more unequivocally progressive vision. Indeed, he seems already to have sparked an incipient dialogue around that prospect.
By engaging the right on the meaning of the Constitution, Obama has broken new ground. For progressives, he has sketched a fresh template for countering their adversaries' long-unanswered constitutional narrative.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
ConLawProf Louis Michael Seidman (Georgetown) shared a thumb-nail version of his "constitutional disobedience" at CBS Sunday Morning. Drawing on dead-hand, anti-democratic, and pragmatic arguments, he contends that constitutional disobedience has both a history (as when past presidents have acted against the Constitution) and a virtue (as when we might ignore election results that would allow a presidential candidate rejected by the majority of Americans to assume office). He also says that the better way to approach the document is as an inspiration, not a set of commands.
Here's his example from the gun control debates:
But what happens when the issue gets Constitutional-ized? Then we turn the question over to lawyers, and lawyers do with it what lawyers do. So instead of talking about whether gun control makes sense in our country, we talk about what people thought of it two centuries ago.
Worse yet, talking about gun control in terms of constitutional obligation needlessly raises the temperature of political discussion. Instead of a question on policy, about which reasonable people can disagree, it becomes a test of one's commitment to our foundational document and, so, to America itself.
For the full version, check out Seidman's new book, On Constitutional Disobedience (OUP).
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
President Obama's recent and frequent constitutional references--from those in his inaugural address to those related to his administration's gun control actions--is part of a larger strategy to promote administration policies, argues Sean Sullivan over at The Fix: "Put simply, he's fighting fire with fire." That's constitutional fire. And the fire he's fighting is the constant barrage of constitutional claims against his policies and actions. Sullivan:
When the Constitution has been brought up in the national political debate, it's typically been by the president's opponents, at least in recent years. . . .
What Obama is signaling [is] that he believes he can fight--and win--major battles on similar terms.
Sullivan says this much is clear: Obama isn't going to "let his opponents monopolize one of the nation's most revered documents in the highest-stakes political and policy debates."
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)
Friday, December 7, 2012
Revolution and Pragmatism? Aren't they oppositional concepts, and indeed, opposing realities?
Mark Kende (pictured) argues that we shouldn't be so sure. In his article, Constitutional Pragmatism, The Supreme Court, and Democratic Revolution, forthcoming in Denver University Law Review and available in draft on ssrn, Kende demonstrates that the usual conceptions of "pragmatism" are incomplete. He advances several types of pragmatic impulses that are consistent with the US constitutional revolution and subsequent jurisprudence such as "common sense,transitional, political, democratic, economic, empirical, common law,flexible, critical, and comprehensive pragmatism." He also discusses the types of constitutional pragmatism that are less consistent with revolution: prudential and efficiency-oriented pragmatism.
Kende aims to provide a typology of pragmatism, as a grounding for considering "constitutional pragmatism more intelligently, as well as see its complexity and ubiquity." For Kende, it is pragmatism - - - rather than originalism or living constitutionalism - - - that has the most descriptive, and perhaps prescriptive power.
Kende's article is an excellent intervention in the ongoing debates of constitutional interpretation.
Monday, December 3, 2012
Second Circuit On First Amendment Right to Promote Drug for Off-Label Use Without Criminal Consequences
In a sharply divided and long overdue opinion in United States v. Caronia issued today, a panel of the Second Circuit reversed a conviction relying primarily on the Supreme Court's 2011 decision in Sorrell v. IMS Health, Inc.
The conviction, according to the jury verdict, was for "Conspiracy to introduce a misbranded drug into interstate commerce in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 331(a) and 333(a)(2)." However, Judge Denny Chin, writing for the majority, emphasized that Caronia's statements - - - promoting the off-label use of the drug while he was as a pharmaceutical marketer - - - were the basis of the conviction: "Caronia was, in fact, prosecuted and convicted for promoting Xyrem off-label." Thus, because the majority rejected the government's argument that the statements were (merely) evidence of intent, the conviction raised a First Amendment issue. The panel then extensively discussed Sorrell, beginning with an explication of its two-step analysis:
First, the Court considered whether the government regulation restricting speech was content- and speaker-based. The Court held that it was; the regulation was therefore subject to heightened scrutiny and was "presumptively invalid." Second, the Court considered whether the government had shown that the restriction on speech was consistent with the First Amendment under the applicable level of heightened scrutiny. The Court did not decide the level of heightened scrutiny to be applied, that is, strict, intermediate, or some other form of heightened scrutiny.
[citations omitted]. The panel concluded "that the government's construction of the FDCA's misbranding provisions imposes content- and speaker-based restrictions on speech subject to heightened scrutiny," and then that "the government cannot justify a criminal prohibition of off-label promotion even under Central Hudson's less rigorous intermediate test." The majority seems especially troubled that the crime, at least as the court has constructed it, is "speaker-based because it targets one kind of speaker -- pharmaceutical manufacturers -- while allowing others to speak without restriction."
In a vigorous dissent, Judge Debra Ann Livingston stressed that speech acts are often evidence of intent and that "the majority calls into question the very foundations of our century-old system of drug regulation." She provides a literary analogy to refute Caronia's argument that he "merely discussed “a perfectly lawful practice: the use of a lawful drug, Xyrem, for off-label purposes.”
But the fact that a physician or a patient could legally use Xyrem for an off-label purpose is not enough to make out Caronia’s First Amendment claim. There might be no law forbidding the consumption of arsenic. But this would not endow Abby and Martha with a First Amendment right to offer arsenic-laced wine to lonely old bachelors with the intent that they drink it. See Arsenic and Old Lace (Warner Bros. Pictures 1944). And any statements Abby or Martha made suggesting their intent—even if all of the statements were truthful and not misleading—would not be barred from evidence by the First Amendment simply because arsenic might legally be consumed.
While Judge Chin's opinion could - - - taken to its logical conclusion - - - have a dramatic effect, it seems limited to the pharmaceutical arena.
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.
Friday, November 30, 2012
In an 41 page opinion and order in Sevick v. Sandoval, United States District Judge Robert Jones has rejected an equal protection challenge to Nevada's statutory scheme disallowing same-sex marriage.
The judge relied upon Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1972), in which the United States Supreme Court summarily dismissed an equal protection challenge to the Minnesota statutory marital scheme's exclusion of same-sex couples. While stating that the "present challenge is in the main a garden-variety equal protection challenge precluded by Baker," the judge was undoubtedly aware of Baker's problematic status (a case to be relegated to the dustbin of precedent, perhaps), and provided a full analysis, "so that the Court of Appeals need not remand for further proceedings should it rule that Baker does not control or does not control as broadly as the Court finds."
The judge's well-structured analysis begins with a discussion of the classification, considering the notion that the Nevada scheme makes no classification at all, as well as the notion that the scheme makes a gender classification, but settling for the widely accepted principle that the scheme makes a sexual orientation classification.
In determining the level of scrutiny to be applied, Judge Jones decides in favor of rational basis, noting his disagreement with the Second Circuit in Windsor involving DOMA. Supporting this conclusion, Judge Jones highlights the factor of political powerlessless and its relationship with the judicial role in a democracy. For example, Jones writes that "Any minority group can reasonably argue that its political power is less than it might be were the group either not a minority or more popular. That is simply an inherent aspect of democracy." Additionally, "Gross movements by the judiciary with respect to democratic processes can cause an awkward unbalancing of powers in a Madisonian constitutional democracy."
Moreover, Judge Jones rejects the heightened rational basis of Romer v. Evans and the Ninth Circuit precedent of Perry v. Brown, involving California's Proposition 8, because there is no animus in the Nevada scheme:
Because there has never been a right to same-sex marriage in Nevada, Romer and Perry are inapplicable here as to NRS section 122.020. That section of the NRS removed no preexisting right and effected no change whatsoever to the legal status of homosexuals when adopted by the Nevada Territorial Legislature in 1861. See Nev. Comp. Laws § 196 § 2, at 65 (1861–1873).
On this lowest standard of rational basis, the challenger must negate every conceivable basis - - - an exceedingly, if not impossible task, and Judge Jones not surprisingly finds that the challengers fail to meet their heavy burden. The "protection of the traditional basis for marriage," is a legitimate one for Judge Jones, and the exclusion of same-sex couples is rationally related to that interest. This is true even though Nevada has provided for a domestic partnership scheme for same-sex couples.
As the United States Supreme Court considers whether or not to decide the issue of same-sex marriage, either in the Proposition 8 posture of Perry v. Brown or one of the DOMA postures such as the Second Circuit case or First Circuit case - - - all of which invalidated bans on same-sex marriage - - - Judge Jones' opinion demonstrates that the constitutional issue of same-sex marriage remains a contested one, even in a state with otherwise permissive marital regulations.
[image "Little white chapel" in Las Vegas, Nevada, via]
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Daily Read: Thirteenth Amendment Scholars Supporting Matthew Shepard & James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act
Did Congress have power pursuant to the Thirteenth Amendment to pass the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009?
The question of the Act's constitutionality is before the Tenth Circuit in an appeal arising from the first prosecution under the Act. In Hatch v. United States, the defendant challenges 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(1), which provides:
Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person—
There seems to be little dispute that the three defendants admitted actions against the Native American victim, including branding the victim with a swatstika, fit within the terms of the statute. But did the statute exceed Congress' power pursuant to the Thirteenth Amendment, or does the statute violate equal protection as guarenteed through the Fifth Amendment?
On the Thirteenth Amendment issue, ConLawProfs William M. Carter, Jr., Dawinder S. Sidhu, Alexander Tsesis, and Rebecca E. Zietlow, have filed an amicus brief, available on ssrn, argue that the Thirteenth Amendment's enforcement clause gives Congress broad powers. They contend that the hate crime section should be analyzed under a defential rational basis standard, both because of its provenance in the Thirteenth Amendment and, perhaps most interestingly, because the statute does not make a racial classification.
This is a terrific read of engaged scholarship as well as a providing a great grounding for a class exercise or student project.
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.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
A "daily read" worth watching: Richard Posner (pictured) presented his lecture "How I Interpret Statutes and the Constitution" via video for Columbia Law Federalist Society's Madison Lecture Series on Judicial Engagement.
Posner speaks about originalism and living constitutionalism, proposing his own "middle-ground theory of interpretation that emphasizes common sense and analytic simplicity."
Thursday, September 27, 2012
The marvelous and brilliant South African writer Antjie Krog (pictured right) asks some important questions
This makes me wonder: which books are on the bedside tables of our ministers? How many book shelves had been built into the newly renovated presidential and ministerial houses? How many reading circles are in the parliamentary complexes? What novels are the captains of industry reading there in business class? What poetry volumes are in the judges' smart cases? What literary texts are to be found in doctors' waiting rooms, or on teachers' or parents' tables?
Why should a country read its writers?
Antjie Krog provides some answers in her speech at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, as published in The Guardian.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Here's one of the 12 questions in a "quiz" on textualism. It appears in the ABA Journal, by Bryan Garner as an "outtake" omitted from the controversial book co-authored with Justice Antonin Scalia, Reading Law.
A state constitution declares that superior court judges are to be elected by both branches of the legislature. The legislature enacts a statute allowing the governor to appoint a superior court judge to fill a vacancy. Is the statute constitutional?
As you try answering each question, identify not just the outcome but also the canons of construction that must be considered. Our answers are normative rather than descriptive. They are the answers of a textualist. Purposivists, consequentialists and hence some courts would reach different (and variable) results.
Apparently other types of constitutional interpretation, including evolutive, critical, or "living constitution" theories are beyond the ken. But in role as textualists, this question is one of the easier ones:
Answer: No, the statute is unconstitutional. The constitution specifies how superior court judges are to take office—not including gubernatorial appointment. The governing rule is the negative-implication canon. See § 10 [of Reading Law].
Most of the questions stress statutory construction, but as in the book, there is a conflation of constitutional and statutory interpretation. Garner promises an additional set of questions and answers will be forthcoming in the ABA Journal.
[image circa 1901 via]
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Writing in the New York Review of Books, for which he has become a not infrequent reviewer, former Justice John Paul Stevens has this to say about ConLawProf Sanford Levinson's new book, Framed: America's 51 Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance:
Framed, is a word that has more than one meaning. We often describe the men who drafted and ratified our Constitution as its “Framers” because they took action to design and create a new governmental structure. We seldom, however, acknowledge that their legal authority for engaging in that important enterprise extended only to the right to propose amendments to the Articles of Confederation, not to replace it. Even though Levinson disavows the idea that the title of his book was intended to suggest that the American people were somehow “framed,” in the more accusatory sense, by the unlawful work of the usually venerated “Framers,” that thought will occur to some readers.
Stevens has his share of disagreements with the book, but his conclusion is a "must read" endorsement:
Instead of reading like a brief in support of Levinson’s conclusions, Framed is a series of thoughtful and interesting essays discussing strengths and weaknesses of various structures established by our Constitution. The book offers an enlightening comparison of those structures with those adopted by states and foreign governments in dealing with similar issues. Many may disagree with Levinson’s arguments, but they will have to think hard about why they disagree. His book is well worth reading.
[image: Junius Brutus Stearns, "Washington at Constitutional Convention, 1787" circa 1856 via]
Friday, September 21, 2012
The very public disagreements between Antonin Scalia and Richard Posner are of interest to ConLaw because of their relevance to originalism as a constitutional theoretical perspective.
Recall that the book Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts, co-authored by Antonin Scalia and Bryan Garner, is largely devoted to the question of statutory interpretation, although there are constitutional references peppered throughout, including a passage directed at "living constitutionalism."
A review of the book in The New Republic by well-known Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner (pictured) was overwhelmingly negative and included this passage:
Scalia is a pertinacious critic of the use of legislative history to illuminate statutory meaning; and one reason for his criticism is that a legislature is a hydra-headed body whose members may not share a common view of the interpretive issues likely to be engendered by a statute that they are considering enacting. But when he looks for the original meaning of eighteenth-century constitutional provisions—as he did in his opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, holding that an ordinance forbidding people to own handguns even for the defense of their homes violated the Second Amendment—Scalia is doing legislative history.
Posner later adapted the argument even more bluntly:
Heller probably is the best-known and the most heavily criticized of Justice Scalia’s opinions. Reading Law is Scalia’s response to the criticism. It is unconvincing.
The discussion escalated, with Justice Scalia stating in an interview, ""To say that I used legislative history is simply, to put it bluntly, a lie."
Posner responded yesterday:
I had indicated what I meant by legislative history when I had said that in seeking the original eighteenth-century meaning of the text of the Second Amendment Justice Scalia had been doing legislative history. His quest for original meaning had taken him to a variety of English and American sources from which he distilled the existence of a common law right of armed self-defense that he argued had been codified in the Second Amendment. He may not consider such a historical inquiry to be an exercise of “legislative history,” because he defines legislative history very narrowly (and in the interview calls it “garbage”). His coauthor, Bryan Garner, does not define it so. Here is the definition of the term in Black’s Law Dictionary (9th ed. 2009), of which Garner is the editor: “The background and events leading to the enactment of a statute, including hearings, committee reports, and floor debates.” The “background and events leading to the enactment” of the Second Amendment are the focus of the Heller opinion.
Even if I accepted Scalia’s narrow definition of “legislative history” and applied it to his opinion in Heller, I would not be telling a “lie.” For Justice Scalia does discuss the “drafting history” (legislative history in its narrowest sense) of the Second Amendment. See 554 U.S. 598–599, 603–605.
So I would not have been lying, or even mistaken, had I said in my book review that in Heller Scalia “actually resorts” to “legislative history” in its narrowest sense (“drafting history”). But I did not say that.
One might ask whether or not the Constitution has a legislative history?
In a few months, the Court will likely decide whether the University of Texas may use racial preferences to redress generations of discrimination, and whether Congress may continue to insure that states with a history of voter suppression don't make it harder for minorities to vote. The relevant text and history of these two disputes will be contested and Posner would likely defer to politically accountable officials on both questions. Scalia will almost certainly vote to strike down these efforts to confront our racist past and then claim that neutral canons of constitutional interpretation require him to do so.
For the cynical, this leaves interpretative strategies and theoretical perspectives simply strategies to achieve desired outcomes. And perhaps that is the relevance of the dispute over legislative history.
Monday, September 17, 2012
From the 2012 Presidential Proclamation, declaring September 17, 2011, as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, and September 17 through September 23, 2011, as Constitution Week.
In the summer of 1787, delegates from the States gathered in Philadelphia to build a new framework for our young republic. Our Constitution's Framers represented diverse backgrounds, and on key issues, they were divided. Yet despite their differences, they courageously joined together in common purpose to create "a more perfect Union." After 4 months of fierce debate and hard-fought compromise, the delegates signed the Constitution of the United States.
For more than two centuries, the Constitution has presided as the supreme law of the land, keeping our leaders true to America's highest ideals and guaranteeing the fundamental rights that make our country a beacon of hope to all peoples seeking freedom and justice. Together with the Bill of Rights, our Constitution is the backbone of our government and the basis of our liberties. Even while retaining its structure, our founding document has grown with our Nation's conscience, amended over the years to extend America's promise to citizens of every race, gender, and creed.
Americans are defined not by bloodlines or allegiance to any one leader or faith, but by our shared ideals of liberty, equality, and justice under the law. We are a Nation of immigrants, built and sustained by people who have brought their talents, drive, and entrepreneurial spirit to our shores. Generations of newcomers have journeyed to this land because they believed in what our country stands for.
[image: "Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States" by Howard Chandler Christy, 1940 via]
Thursday, August 16, 2012
The case arose when Chappell, a former Fairfax County Sheriff employee was stopped for speeding, and, hoping to avoid a ticket, represented that he was a member of the Sheriff's Office. (Apparently, Chappell believed it would be a successful excuse; and apparently the officer who stopped Chappell thought it was sufficiently important to validate). The prosecution was in federal court: the offense occurred on the George Washington Memorial Parkway and involved a US Park Police officer; federal law makes the Virginia impersonation statute applicable to the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
At the center of the First Amendment argument - - - and of the disagreement between the majority and dissent - - - is the Court's June 28th opinion in United States v. Alvarez, the "stolen valor" case. The majority has a nice digest of Alvarez:
In Alvarez, a four-Justice plurality declared that false statements of fact do not by themselves fall outside of the First Amendment’s scope. Id. at 4-10. Applying exacting scrutiny, the plurality invalidated the Stolen Valor Act because there was not an adequate causal link between the Act and the government’s interest in protecting military honors and because the Act did not represent a sufficiently narrow means of securing that interest. Id. at 12-18. Moreover, in this context, simple counterspeech should suffice to achieve the government’s objectives. Id. at 15-17. Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Kagan, produced the majority for invalidating the statute. Concurring in the judgment, Justice Breyer reasoned that the Stolen Valor Act worked a disproportionate harm to protected speech interests relative to the government’s interests advanced by the Act. Id. at 8-10 (Breyer, J., concurring in the judgment).
The majority then states, "Significantly, no Justice thought it advisable to drape a broad cloak of constitutional protection over actionable fraud, identity theft, or the impersonation of law enforcement officers." This limitation of Alvarez for the majority is necessary to avoid "a treacherous scenario of falling statutory dominoes, placing numerous federal and state impersonation statutes at risk — all in the face of the Supreme Court’s strong signals to the contrary."
The majority also grounds its conclusion in constitutional principles counterbalanced with the First Amendment:
The police function serves a significant salutary purpose in protecting public safety, but it also possesses an oppressive potential in the curtailment of liberty. Courts over time have been required to superintend this balance through Fourth Amendment reasonableness doctrine and related measures. To strike down police impersonation statutes, however, would risk expanding the oppressiveness of the police function by adding to the legitimate number of officers an untold flock of faux policemen, all without any corresponding salutary benefit. This strikes us as a complete inversion of the traditional balance courts are charged with maintaining.
Judge James Wynn, in a dissenting opinion as lengthy as the majority's opinion, argued that the Court in Alvarez rejected "the notion that false speech should be in a general category that is presumptively unprotected." He criticizes the majority for "cherry-picking" language from Alvarez to support its conclusion that statutes criminalizing impersonation are constitutional. For Judge Wynn, the Virginia statute
does not require any act, does not require that the individual obtain anything of value, and does not include any showing of actual deception or harm. In sum, the provision in the Virginia statute before us, and under which Chappell was convicted, criminalizes mere false speech and is closer to the Stolen Valor Act than to the impersonation statutes discussed in Supreme Court dicta and relied upon by today’s majority opinion.
Both the majority and dissent also discuss what the majority terms the "lifeboat of the overbreadth doctrine." For the majority, this is no lifeboat at all: it calls some of Chappell's hypothetical applications - - - such as those attending costume parties - - - as "far-fetched." Judge Wynn finds such applications worth considering, again because the statute does not include an element of intent to defraud, as most impersonation statutes do. For example, Judge Wynn notes that the statute "would have covered Chappell, even if he had not attempted to avoid a ticket but instead expressed his remorse for violating a traffic law, stating, 'I am a police officer and should have known better.' "
With the ink on Alvarez barely dry, there are already important disagreements about its scope.
[image: "Speeding ticket" by Anna Palm deRosa circa 1900, via]