Originalism

  • June 26, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    For what seems like decades a conventional wisdom, built largely by a handful of Supreme Court correspondents, has held that Justice Antonin Scalia is the high court’s most brilliant, disciplined, albeit ideological, member. He is also, according to this conventional wisdom, deliciously witty.  

    But thankfully, the Web has altered the narrative by giving forums to an array of writers who have been quick to poke holes in an increasingly tiresome and shoddy line of reporting. (It should be noted, however, that longtime Supreme Court correspondent Linda Greenhouse is not among the gaggle that built the fawning picture of a straight-shooting justice with a jolly wit. Indeed Greenhouse has taken Scalia’s sloppy work to task on numerous occasions.)

    Moreover the aging Scalia is simply not helping to advance the conventional wisdom. Though in fairness, he hardly seems concerned with what reporters, bloggers think or write about him. His constituency is made up of right-wing politicos and activists. He’s the Koch brothers’ justice.

    With each passing high court term, Scalia seems to becoming wackier, more out-of-touch, increasingly shrill. And he’s being called out for his nuttiness with growing frequency.

    In a piece for Salon, Paul Campos, for instance, is not mincing words about the tottering justice. Scalia, Campos writes, “has in his old age become an increasingly intolerant and intolerable blowhard: a pompous celebrant of his own virtue and rectitude, a purveyor of intemperate jeremiads against the degeneracy of the age, and now an author of hysterical diatribes against foreign invaders, who threaten all that is holy.”

    Campos was referring to Scalia’s concurring, dissenting opinion issued in Arizona v. U.S. where a majority of the justices invalidated three provisions, and weakened a fourth, of Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law. In his opinion Scalia not only railed against alleged dangers undocumented persons pose to Arizona, but also ruminated about state sovereignty and took a shot at President Obama’s actions on immigration policy.

  • June 18, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    We likely shouldn’t be surprised by Justice Antonin Scalia’s “flip-flop,” as TPM puts it, on precedent supporting modern understanding of the Constitution’s commerce clause.

    TPM’s Sahil Kapur reports that in his forthcoming book, Scalia says the Supreme Court’s 1942 opinion in Wickard v. Filburn wrongly construed the scope of the commerce clause. As Kapur and many others have noted, including the Obama administration, Scalia cited Wickard in a 2005 opinion concluding that a law barring personal cultivation of marijuana for medical use was not beyond the scope of the commerce clause.

    In that case, Gonzales v. Raich, Scalia lodged a concurring opinion, citing precedent in holding, “where Congress has the authority to enact a regulation of interstate commerce, ‘it possesses every power needed to make that regulation effective.’”

    In an e-mail to TPM, constitutional law expert Adam Winkler wrote, “This is typical Scalia.”

    Winkler, a law professor at UCLA, continued:

    He respects precedents when they fit his conservative ideology and disregards them when they don’t. He claims that history should guide judges. But nothing about the history of the commerce clause has changed. What’s changed is the political implications of the commerce clause. When it’s being invoked for law and order conservatives, he favors Wickard. When invoked by liberals to support healthcare reform, he thinks Wickard is bad law.

    Once again, we see that Scalia’s orginalism is a charade.

    There is also the spectacle of oral argument, where Scalia not only revealed a wobbly understanding of the health care insurance system but affinity for the simplistic, but radically libertarian arguments lobbed against the Affordable Care Act’s minimum coverage provision. The minimum coverage provision is integral to the health care reform law, requiring those who can afford to do so to obtain a minimum amount of the health care coverage starting in 2014.

  • May 1, 2012

    by John Schachter

    Jonah Goldberg’s online tongue-in-cheek, ironic, satirical humor column on The Washington Post website this past weekend suffers from one major flaw: it’s apparently not intended to be tongue-in-cheek, ironic, satirical or humorous. Oh, well.

    Goldberg tackles, as he puts it, the “top five clichés that liberals use to avoid real arguments.” We’ll get to that part of the column in a moment.

    But first Goldberg opens by criticizing “mainstream liberals from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama -- and the intellectuals and journalists who love them” for claiming to be “dispassionate slaves to the facts; they are realists, pragmatists, empiricists.” Liberals, he claims, insist that “if only their Republican opponents weren’t so blinded by ideology and stupidity, then they could work with them.”

    Let’s take a look at the facts. (Yes, we know Goldberg and his ilk don’t like when – cliché alert! – facts get in the way of a good argument. Wasn’t it Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R-Ariz.) spokesman who, when challenged on a ridiculously inaccurate statement Kyl used in a floor speech, insisted that Kyl’s comments and statistics were “not intended to be a factual statement”? Should we at least give him credit for at least admitting this distaste for facts?)

    Despite ALL the evidence to the contrary, many Republicans continue to believe that President Obama was not born in the United States.Polling in March 2012 – nearly a year after the White House released the president’s long-form birth certificate, which should have ended, once and for all, the ridiculous “debate” – found that large percentages of Republicans in three key primary states still doubted the facts.

  • April 24, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    From time to time, perhaps once a decade, syndicated columnist George Will can say or write something that does more than trumpet right-wing talking points. A recent piece on the Supreme Court’s consideration of whether sentencing juveniles to prison with no chance of parole violates the Constitution is an example.

    Writing about cases involving juveniles who were sentenced to life in prison for crimes they committed when they were 14, Will says the judges involved had “no discretion to impose any other” sentences, and that such mandatory sentencing bars courts from taking into consideration our “society’s sense of cruelty.” This kind of thinking, however, as Will notes can undercut so-called originalism, a method of interpreting the Constitution favored by conservative judges. Toward the end of his column, Will writes that “even the ‘originalist’ Scalia, although disposed to construe the Constitution’s terms as they were understood when ratified, would today proscribe some late-18th-century punishments, such as public lashing and branding.”

    Instead of obsessively trying to figure out what the Constitution’s framers thought when they crafted the document, competent judges today consider societal developments, which are informed by science. In fact, Will writes that the high court “has accommodated what science teaches.” He cites high court opinions from 2005 and 2010 that took into account studies on the differences between youngsters and adults in limiting the use of the death penalty in cases involving juveniles.

    In 2005’s Roper v. Simmons, the justices relied in part on the differences between children and adults in concluding that the death penalty would not be imposed for crimes committed by those under 18, and later in Graham v. Florida that life sentences without parole would not be dealt to juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes.

    Will argues that the social science should be relied on by the high court in finding that teenagers committed of violent crimes, including homicide, should not be imprisoned forever. “Denying juveniles even a chance for parole defeats the penal objective of rehabilitation,” Will writes.

    In a March 13 guest post for ACSblog law professor Kristin Henning also notes that scientific research “on adolescent development bolsters the commonsense understanding that teenagers lack self-control, are vulnerable to environmental pressures, and have fewer life experiences on which to draw in evaluating the consequences of their actions.”

  • December 20, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The dominance of a conservative legal orthodoxy might not be as solid as portrayed by several panelists at a recent Brookings Institution event about the “Conservative Legal Movement and the Future of Liberal Jurisprudence.”

    Pamela S. Karlan, a distinguished law professor at Stanford Law School, explained why many perceive the conservative legal movement as dominating the narrative of the Constitution, while William E. Forbath, a distinguished law professor and professor of history at the University of Texas, focused on sharpening a liberal response to the conservatives’ narrative of the Constitution primarily meant to protect individual interests, such as private property. Forbath also examined the Constitution’s promise of economic security and equality.

    Karlan (pictured), an ACS Board member, took exception with the overall tilt of the Brookings event that conservative legal activists have outmaneuvered liberals in advancing legal theories. Karlan, however, also leveled criticism of liberals who are cowed into silence or into dubbing themselves progressives.

    But first Karlan noted the circumstances, with which conservatives have seized upon to advance their legal precepts.

    “Today it is tempting to tell a story about the rise of the conservative legal movement as the inevitable consequence of a combination of strong ideas pressed by charismatic public figures, backed by tremendous resources,” Karlan said. “To be sure, conservatives have very skillfully played the hand that they held. But contingency has played a major role too.

    “If you go to the Brookings’ website to look for its description of the conference today, you’ll see the description that says ‘the conservative legal movement has shown remarkable success at defining the terms of the debate over jurisprudence, while various visions of liberal theories of law that confront conservative orthodoxy have struggled to gain currency in the political sphere. Conservative legal theorists have coalesced around a relatively compact and politically effective set of ideas while their liberal critics have offered a diverse series of responses.”

    Continuing, Karlan said, “Now if some other public policy organization were to have held a conference in say 1968, it could have taken the same paragraph, swapped the words ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ and held a parallel discussion to the one were going to be holding today.”

    Conservatives Karlan maintained, “Have been as lucky as they’ve been smart.” A few tweaks to history, she said, and the landscape would likely look really different.