Individual liberties

  • March 23, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Suja A. Thomas, Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law; author of The Other Branch: Restoring the Jury’s Role in the American Constitution (forthcoming Cambridge University Press).  This post is based on her essay, Text-Bound Originalism (and Why Originalism Does Not Strictly Govern Same Sex Marriage).

    Many assume originalism has an important place in the debate about whether states can prohibit same sex marriage.  As the argument goes, the original public meaning of the Equal Protection Clause was the protection of African-Americans, so there is no constitutional barrier to states' prohibition of same sex marriage.  In deciding that states could prohibit same sex marriage, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recognized the relevance of this originalist interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause along with other arguments for permitting the prohibition of same sex marriage—all of which the Supreme Court will soon consider.

    But does originalism have a significant place in the interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause and thus in the same sex marriage decision?  Those advocating the use of originalism believe that originalism must strictly govern the interpretation of the Constitution.  Thus far in arguing for this originalist methodology, however, they have not acknowledged that the text of the Constitution explicitly requires the application of originalism for the interpretation of one provision in the Constitution—the Seventh Amendment.  In ignoring this textual inclusion of originalism and corresponding textual exclusion of originalism elsewhere, originalists have not shown why originalism should strictly govern other parts of the Constitution.

  • February 9, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Chris Edelson, Assistant Professor of Government, American University School of Public Affairs. Edelson is also author of Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror from the University of Wisconsin Press.

    The misstep Republicans took last month on legislation seeking to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy has exposed larger problems related to the party’s position on abortion.  The bill foundered when some House Republicans raised concerns about a provision that would create a “rape exception” to permit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but only for victims of rape who report the crime.  Republican House member Rep. Carlos Curbelo said he is “pro-life but . . . had concerns about the bill.”  Rep. Curbelo added that he believed the rape reporting requirement caused “a level of discomfort, especially with the females in our conference.”  Republican leaders in the House agreed with Curbelo and canceled a vote on the legislation, apparently based at least in part on concerns that Republican women in the House would vote as a bloc against the bill because of the wording of the rape reporting provision.

    This unexpected development highlights problems in terms of both logic and politics for Republicans when it comes to abortion and, more broadly, when it comes to women.  The Republican Party has taken a position that strongly suggests abortion is never justified, using language reminiscent of anti-abortion arguments that flatly describe abortion as murder.  The 2012 Republican Party platform declared that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.” That language does not seem to leave room for any exceptions – whether they might be for the health of the pregnant woman or for rape.  Logically, it makes sense for the party to take this stance.  If Republicans believe abortion involves the taking of an innocent life – and elected Republicans frequently make clear that they believe precisely this – then it would not make sense for them to support abortion under any circumstances (other than if the pregnant woman’s life is at risk).

    The problem is that polling shows most Americans reject this position and believe women who are pregnant as the result of rape should be able to get an abortion.  Relatedly, in 2012 when Republican senatorial candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock tried to explain why they believed abortion was only permissible in cases of “legitimate rape” (Akin) or that perhaps it is never permissible because pregnancy resulting from rape is “something God intended” (Mourdock), they ended up costing their party otherwise very winnable Senate seats.

    Republicans, of course, remember 2012 very well and have no interest in reminding the rest of the country of the cringe-inducing debate over how best to define rape.  Sen. Lindsey Graham recently suggested that the party needs to “find a way out of this definitional problem with rape” (although, as Joan Walsh observes, Sen. Graham risks stepping in the same trap as Todd Akin simply by alluding to a “definitional” question regarding rape.)  The revival of the rape definition discussion (most recently prompting philosophical musings by a Utah lawmaker about the ability of unconscious wives to have consensual sex) raises a larger problem for Republicans: It seems they just don’t trust women

  • January 28, 2015
    BookTalk
    Cases on Reproductive Rights and Justice
    By: 
    Melissa Murray and Kristin Luker

    by Melissa Murray, Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Berkeley Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice (CRRJ), University of California, Berkeley

    I must admit that for much of my academic career, I never thought of myself as someone who “did” reproductive rights.  When asked at dinner parties, I volunteered that I taught criminal law and family law.  When pressed ― “what on earth do those subjects have to do with each other?” ― I would explain that I was interested in the regulation of sex, sexuality and family formation.  Criminal law and family law, I would explain, were principal sites in which this sort of regulation took place.

    It was not until my colleague, Kristin Luker, a well-known sociologist and scholar of the abortion rights movement, nudged me to view my work more expansively that I began to see it fitting comfortably within the rubric of reproductive rights and justice.  As she reminded me, limitations on access to contraception and abortion are, by their very nature, efforts to regulate sex and sexuality by curtailing women’s efforts to control reproduction.  The legal regulation of reproduction is merely part of a broader story of efforts to discipline and regulate sex.

    My interest in reproductive rights and justice piqued, I joined Berkeley Law’s newly-formed Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice (CRRJ) as an affiliated faculty member in 2012 and assumed the role of Faculty Director in 2015.  Before its official founding, CRRJ hosted a meeting with staff from Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ) where we discussed the state of the field, including the availability of law school courses on reproductive rights and justice.  As I learned, although there was huge demand from students for such classes, many interested professors were reluctant to teach reproductive rights and justice courses because there was no casebook.  Because of the lack of a casebook, those willing to teach the subject were forced to compile their own materials ― a burdensome task, even for the most enthusiastic teacher.

  • November 4, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Lawrence O. Gostin, University Professor and Founding O’Neill Chair in Global Health Law at Georgetown University Law Center, and Eric A. Friedman, Associate at O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University Law Center.

    As fears of Ebola sweep the nation, several governors are instituting quarantine and other restrictive policies based on fear, not science. These appear to reflect political agendas and responding to the public’s clamoring for greater protection, expressed as an over-abundance of caution. But the rule of law stands precisely to prevent the state from depriving individuals of liberty based on irrational or exaggerated public fear. Legal standards on the state’s police powers to protect the public’s health and safety are well developed. Civil confinement of individuals who have not committed an offense is a massive deprivation of liberty that requires a clear justification beyond public fear. State statutes and constitutional law require sound scientific evidence of significant risk, reflecting a delicate balance between public health and civil liberties. Current quarantines (and calls for travel bans) are reminiscent of 19th Century views of walling off borders, which is impossible in a modern globalized world.

    The touchstone of the law is public health necessity. Imposed quarantines represent a significant burden on people’s liberty, leading courts and legislators to create a high standard that must be met for mandatory quarantines. States such as New York require that quarantines be “necessary” to protect the public’s health. New Jersey's quarantine law requires a quarantine to be “by the least restrictive means necessary to protect the public health.” Simply put, a quarantine that is at odds with public health and scientific knowledge is also at odds with the law.

  • October 8, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Ned Resnikoff reports for MSNBC on Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, a labor case that is being heard before the Supreme Court this morning. The case questions whether workers should be paid overtime for the time spent waiting on mandatory security checks.

    In The Nation, Zoë Carpenter reports that the debate over abortion access is headed to the Supreme Court.

    Mugambi Jouet writes for the New Republic on what Attorney General Eric Holder does not understand about the death penalty.

    In the blog for the Brennan Center for Justice, Victoria Bassetti argues that the recent spate of political scandals reveals the dangers of money in politics.

    Lyle Denniston offers for SCOTUSblog the latest updates on the decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to clear the way for same-sex marriages in Idaho and Nevada and the Supreme Court’s order to postpone the ruling.

    In Bloomberg View, Noah Felman takes a look at Tuesday’s oral arguments in Holt v. Hobbs, a case concerning whether a Muslim inmate could be forced to shave his beard.