Methods of interpretation

  • 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.

  • January 26, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Adam Winkler, Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law.

    *This post is part of the ACSblog King v. Burwell symposium.

    During oral argument in the Fair Housing Act case this past week, Justice Antonin Scalia explained how another high-profile case coming later this term—King v. Burwell—ought to be decided. The King case involves the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act. The challengers argue that the ACA does not authorize tax credits for people purchasing insurance on exchanges set up by the federal government rather than the states. They rely on a provision in the law that says such credits are available for insurance bought “through an Exchange established by the State.” Read in isolation, that provision would seem to suggest that the credits are available only on the 14 exchanges run by the states, not in the 36 states with exchanges run by the federal government.

    In the hearing in the Fair Housing Act case, however, Justice Scalia—whose vote is almost certainly necessary for the ACA challengers to win their case—elucidated why the ACA challengers should lose. The Court’s obligation in interpreting a statute, Scalia said, is to “look at the entire law,” not just “each little piece” in isolation. “We have to make sense of the law as a whole,” Scalia insisted. Whether or not something is allowed by a statute can only be determined “when all parts are read together.”

    Anyone who reads the “whole law” in the ACA case would easily conclude that credits are available on the federally run exchanges. Start with the basic objectives of the law. According to the authors of the law, “The Affordable Care Act was designed to make health-care coverage affordable for all Americans, regardless of the state they live in. Providing financial help to low- and moderate-income Americans was the measure’s key method of making insurance premiums affordable.” That basic goal would be completely undermined if federally run exchanges couldn't offer the tax credits.

  • November 14, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    In The Washington Post, E.J. Dionne Jr. considers whether the latest Supreme Court challenge to the Affordable Care Act, King v. Burwell, will force Justice Scalia to separate from his principles.

    John Harwood of CNBC asserts that “the justices have placed themselves in a political vise grip” by accepting to hear the legal challenge to Obamacare.

    At SCOTUSblog, Abbe R. Gluck also examines King v. Burwell and argues the case “is about the proper way to engage in textual interpretation.”

    In other Supreme Court news, Dahlia Lithwick asserts in The New Republic that there is not enough diversity of experience among the Supreme Court justices.

    At Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, Janai Nelson looks at the important role of race in the Alabama redistricting cases. The ACS panel discussion of the cases from earlier this week can be found here

  • September 8, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    In Salon, Gabriel Arana assesses the problems with the White House’s new immigration announcement.

    Ari Berman explains in The Nation how cuts to early voting in Ohio violate the Voting Rights Act.

    Erwin Chemerinsky, Faculty Advisor for the UC Irvine School of Law ACS Student Chapter, writes for the ABA Journal on how three decisions about bankruptcy law show how the Supreme Court’s use of reasoning is inconsistent.

    Slate’s Jamelle Bouie argues that those who deny racism are also the most likely to smear the reputation of African American victims. 

    Howard Mintz in the San Jose Mercury News interviews ACS Board of Directors member Mariano-Florentino Cuellar about his new position as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of California. 

  • February 7, 2014
     
    The New York Times editorial board cited an amicus brief in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores authored by Frederick Mark Gedicks, Faculty Advisor for the Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School ACS Student Chapter. The paper calls for the Court to recognize the Establishment Clause’s precedent in the lawsuit against the Obama administration. Gedicks also authored an ACS Issue Brief examining the challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception policy and laid out an argument against granting religious exemptions to for-profit corporations on ACSblog.
     
    Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, released a statement praising the Senate Judiciary Committee for its favorable report of Debo Adegbile to be the Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. In the statement, Ifill says Adegbile “has precisely the type of broad civil rights experience that is required at this pivotal moment in our country.”
     
    Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that required federal review of voting laws in states with a history of voter discrimination. Adam Ragusea of NPR reports from Macon, Georgia on the repercussions felt by the city’s minority voters.
     
    Human Rights Watch explores the legal and ethical implications of a growing trend among probation companies to “act more like abusive debt collectors than probation officers.”
     
    The Honorable Robert L. Carter is in the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s “Black History Month Spotlight.”