November 11, 2005
Weekly Top 10
Michael Lewyn, apparently not satisfied with his domination of the Weekly Top 10, has now grabbed the top four spots with the addition of his new article How Overregulation Creates Sprawl (Even in a City without Zoning).
1. (277) How City Hall Causes Sprawl: A Case Study, Michael Lewyn (George Washington University Law School)
2. (208) Suburban Sprawl, Jewish Law, and Jewish Values, Michael Lewyn (George Washington University Law School)
3. (208) How Overregulation Creates Sprawl (Even in a City without Zoning), Michael Lewyn (George Washington University Law School)
4. (184) Sprawl, Growth Boundaries and the Rehnquist Court, Michael Lewyn (George Washington University Law School)
5. (104) Home as a Legal Concept, Benjamin Barros (Widener University - School of Law)
6. (79) Efficient Trespass: The Case for 'Bad Faith' Adverse Possession, Lee Anne Fennell (University of Illinois College of Law)
7. (79) Property Rights in Spectrum: Taking the Next Step, Dale Hatfield (University of Colorado at Boulder) and Phil Weiser (University of Colorado at Boulder - School of Law)
8. (72) Testimony Before Pennsylvania House of Representatives State Government Committee Re: Eminent Domain, Benjamin Barros (Widener University - School of Law)
9. (55) Substituting Complements, Giuseppe Dari-Mattiacci and Francesco Parisi (Universiteit van Amsterdam - Amsterdam Center for Law and Economics, George Mason University School of Law)
10. (55) Leasing, Ability to Repossess, and Debt Capacity, Andrea L. Eisfeldt and Adriano A. Rampini (both from Northwestern University - Department of Finance)
November 10, 2005
Tom Blumer at BizzyBlog has an update on recent developments in New London, including election results that put two candidates from the upstart New London Party on the City Council. Hat tip: Todd Zywicki.
Georgia v. Randolph
On the general subject of Home as Castle, the Supreme Court recently heard argument in Georgia v. Randolph. Wife and husband were involved in a domestic dispute; wife gave police consent to search the house for drugs; husband then comes home and tells the police to stop the search; police continue to search anyway, and find straw with cocaine on it. I'm far from a Fourth Amendment expert, but it seems to me that the key fact is that the husband revoked consent to search; each person in a shared home may be presumed to be able to consent to a search of the house, but it seems to me that this presumption should be overridden when another resident of the home explicitly revokes the consent. If you are interested in the issue, you should check out the debate going on over at the Volokh Conspiracy between Orin Kerr and Tom Goldstein about the case; Goldstein argued for Randolph in the Supreme Court. Also, Dahlia Lithwick has a characteristically entertaining recap of the oral argument over at Slate.
November 9, 2005
More on Rybczynski on Bruegmann on Sprawl
If you are interested in the issue of sprawl, check out the comments to my earlier post on Rybczynski on Bruegmann on Sprawl.
Des Moines Restricts Sex Offender Residency
NPR has a story on Des Moines regulations that make almost the entire city off-limits to sex offenders. Neighboring municipalities are starting to pass similar laws, leaving some people with no place to live. Like private covenants against sex offenders, these regulations seem to be spreading rapidly throughout the country.
November 8, 2005
The Evolution of Home as Castle
The common-law cliche that a man's home is his castle has become a dominant part of the rhetoric of American property law. In its most common incarnation, the castle doctrine is used to convey the image of the home as a sanctuary from government interference. Interestingly enough, though, the castle doctrine had a radically different meaning when it was first introduced. I discuss this evolution and its legal significance at greater length in my article Home as a Legal Concept, but this post gives a summary of the high points.
The castle doctrine dates back to at least 1505, when it originated in cases involving the right to defend the home against invasion by other private individuals. In Seymayne's Case, decided in 1604, the court held that:
[T]he house of every one is to him as his castle and fortress, as well as for his defence against injury and violence, as for his repose; and although the life of a man is a thing precious and favored in law; . . . if thieves come to a man's house to rob him, or murder, and the owner or his servants kill any of the thieves in defence of himself and his house, it is not felony, and he shall lose nothing.
The court immediately went on to state, however, that "[i]n all cases where the King is party, the sheriff (if the doors be not open) may break the house, either to arrest or do other execution of the King's process."
Gradually, however, the castle doctrine started to be used as a rhetorical tool by those resisting government invasions of the home. Perhaps the most influential example of this usage was James Otis's argument in the 1761 Writs of Assistance Case, where he argued that the writ at issue was "against the fundamental Principles of Law" because "[a] Man, who is quiet, is as secure in his House, as a Prince in his Castle, not with standing all his Debts, and civil Process of any kind." As Leonard Levy noted, "Any fastidious legal historian must acknowledge that Otis's argument compounded mistakes and misinterpretations. . . . That Otis distorted history is pedantic; he was making history."
Two years after Otis argued in the Writs of Assistance Case, William Pitt made a powerful statement of the castle doctrine in a speech to Parliament:
The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail; its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storm may enter; the rain may enter; but the King of England may not enter -- all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!
This type of rhetorical use of the castle doctrine caused the doctrine to change meaning. As William Cuddihy put it, "A man's house is his castle (except against the government)" yielded to "A man's house is his castle (especially against the government." In its new form, the castle doctrine featured prominently in Revolutionary-War-era complaints about abuses of government power, and was an important intellectual foundation of the Fourth Amendment.
November 7, 2005
Rybczynski on Bruegmann on Sprawl
Over at Slate, Witold Rybczynski has a post on Robert Bruegmann's new book Sprawl: A Compact History. Here's a taste:
What this iconoclastic little book demonstrates is that sprawl is not the anomalous result of American zoning laws, or mortgage interest tax deduction, or cheap gas, or subsidized highway construction, or cultural antipathy toward cities. Nor is it an aberration. Bruegmann shows that asking whether sprawl is "good" or "bad" is the wrong question. Sprawl is and always has been inherent to urbanization. It is driven less by the regulations of legislators, the actions of developers, and the theories of city planners, than by the decisions of millions of individuals—Adam Smith's "invisible hand."
Using Superprecedent to Save the Commerce Clause
Warning: this post contains very little property-related content, though it does touch on the FHA.
The idea of superprecedent has generated a lot of commentary recently, and is likely to be a major topic in the Alito confirmation hearings. The basic idea seems to be that the Supreme Court should be even more reticent than usual about overturning a precedent if that precedent has been repeatedly affirmed and has become a settled part of the public understanding of a particular Constitutional issue. Although the issue is often discussed in the abstract, the focus of the debate has been on whether Roe v. Wade has achieved superprecedent status.
I have to say at the outset that I have some doubts about the entire idea of superprecedent -- the Justices take their oath to uphold the Constitution, and if they truly believe that a precedent is contrary to the Constitution, then they should vote to overturn that precedent, super or not. But I want to suggest a possible strategic use of the concept of superprecedent by those who (like me) believe that the Constitution actually means what it says when it created a federal system in which the federal government has limited and enumerated powers.
The modern Supreme Court has interpreted the power of the federal government to regulate interstate commerce so broadly that it has essentially written the Commerce Clause, and with it the idea of limited federal power, out of the Constitution. The idea of interstate commerce at the margins can be fuzzy, but at its core it really isn't a hard idea to understand. It also isn't hard for ordinary people to figure out whether a particular law passed by Congress constitutes a regulation of interstate commerce. Every year, I go over the text of the Fair Housing Act with my Property students and ask them whether Congress was regulating interstate commerce when it passed the FHA. Usually about 15% of the students raise their hands. I then ask those students if they had an undergraduate course in Constitutional Law; invariably they all did. To the other students, who have not yet had their minds polluted with the Court's Commerce Clause jurisprudence, the nature of the FHA is abundantly clear: it is a law prohibiting discrimination in local housing markets, not a regulation of interstate commerce.
The unfortunate result of reading the Commerce Clause to mean what it says is the conclusion that the FHA is unconstitutional. And so, of course, would be every other Civil Rights law passed by Congress that has had its constitutionality grounded by the Supreme Court in cases relying on the Commerce Clause. (Some Civil Rights laws have their constitutionality grounded in the Civil War Amendments, and so do not rely on the Commerce Clause for their constitutionality). These laws, quite plainly, were Civil Rights Laws, not regulations of interstate commerce. (I should note that this view is not based on a "strict constructionist" reading the Commerce Clause. I'm not sure that anyone on the planet is actually a strict constructionist as caricatured by many commentators, but in any event you reach the same result if you either rely on the plain language of the text or look to the very clear normative idea behind the Commerce Clause, i.e., that the federal government has limited powers).
I'm personally a fan of the FHA and the Civil Rights laws, and this result makes me uncomfortable. It also makes it impossible to have an intelligent discussion about the scope of the Commerce Clause. Advocates for reading the Commerce Clause to have actual meaning constantly have to deal with the "but that interpretation will lead to the invalidation of the Civil Rights laws" argument. On the more-federal-power-is-better side of the debate, the desire to protect the Civil Rights laws forces scholars to engage in herculean feats of analytic gymnastics to explain why their view does not drain the Constitutional text of any meaning whatsoever.
Here's where the idea of superprecedent might come in to save the day. Why don't advocates for a meaningful reading of the Commerce Clause say, "okay, the cases upholding the Civil Rights laws (including the FHA) are superprecedent. Can we have an honest debate about the limited scope of federal power now?" Indeed, the cases upholding the Civil Rights laws seem to be a very settled and uncontroversial part of the Constitutional landscape (at least as far as public reliance goes), and therefore would seem to have a stronger claim to superprecedent status than Roe v. Wade. (I think, by the way, that because public reliance is an important part of the idea of superprecedent, the scope of superprecedent status has to be somewhat fact specific. So no arguing for giving superprecedent status to the vacuous Wickard v. Filburn unless you're talking about regulating the sale of wheat).
Beyond promoting honesty in the Commerce Clause debate, giving these cases superprecedent status would force liberal commentators (most of the time I count myself in this category) to confront the differences between substantive due process issues and commerce clause issues. Personally, I am not willing to accept the proposition that either the federal or state governments could enact a law that, say, limited parents to having only one child. I'm also not willing to accept the proposition that the federal or state governments can prohibit a grandchild from living with his grandmother, which is why Moore v. East Cleavland is my favorite substantive due process case. (I hope that Judge Alito is asked about these fact patterns during his confirmation hearings. If he can't find the rights reflected in these positions in the due process clause, as conservative commentators like to say, maybe he could try looking at the Ninth Amendment or the Privileges and Immunities Clause). I recognize that these results require a normative interpretation of ambiguous constitutional text that as a practical matter may devolve into Constitutional law that is shaped by the policy preferences of the Justices of the Supreme Court. Accepting this type of judging in the context of the ambiguous Due Process Clause or the Ninth Amendment, however, does not mean that judges should be able to impose their policy preferences in the face of Constitutional text that, like the Commerce Clause, is far more clear in both its plain and purposive meanings. Combining superprecedent status for the Civil Rights laws with recognition that some of the Constitution's text isn't so indeterminate as to be devoid of meaning might, among other things, reduce the number of liberal commentators that seem to lose all sense of reason when confronted with a judicial nominee who actually tries to take the text of the Constitution seriously.
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