There is not very much written by Justice Antonin Scalia that has gone largely unnoticed. But thanks to Adam White (and this fine article of his), I recently read this obscure 1987 essay by the late Justice: “Teaching About the Law” in the Christian Legal Society Quarterly. As we are just over a month away from the beginning of the law school year, it is a propitious moment to share its ideas.
We are in something of a lull in the Zubik v. Burwell litigation, the complex of cases brought by several nonprofit organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, challenging the government’s contraception mandate and the particular “accommodation” it has offered these groups. At the end of March, the Supreme Court issued a rather peculiar order asking the parties to submit additional briefing on this question: whether and how contraceptive coverage may be obtained by petitioners’ employees through petitioners’ insurance companies, but in a way that does not require any involvement of petitioners beyond their own decision to provide health insurance…
The prospects for law and tradition are difficult to discern. This is in no small measure because the most frequent predictions about tradition’s future have little time for any traditions other than those of science and technology. And these generally are not presented as traditions but instead as repudiations of tradition—as simply rational responses to changing circumstances in the service of progress and present need. The prophets of the traditionless society never go quite so far as to strike out the traditions of science from their predictions.
In my last post, I explored the interpretive method of the majority opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway, describing it as traditionalist though with interesting connections to certain strands of originalism. In this post, I’ll take a look at another traditionalist decision, NLRB v. Noel Canning. As with the post on Town of Greece, the object is simply to individuate the opinion as distinctively traditionalist, not to defend it.
In my first post of this series on law and tradition, I said that though a judicial opinion might exhibit both originalist and traditionalist features, these are nevertheless distinct interpretive categories. In this post and the next, I will briefly explore the similarities and differences in two opinions decided by the Supreme Court in 2014—Town of Greece v. Galloway and NLRB v. Noel Canning—both of which are traditionalist but not (necessarily) originalist in method (though Town of Greece is complicated). My claim is not that these decisions are correct; only that each exhibits a distinctive interpretive approach that is intentional about maintaining coherence and continuity with very long-standing patterns of legal and cultural practices and that each determines constitutional meaning primarily on the basis of practices rather than principles.
The octocentennial of Magna Carta has presented an auspicious occasion for reflecting on exactly what we ought to be celebrating, if anything, about Magna Carta, an ancient document with a tenuous connection to our own time and place. Is Magna Carta the fountainhead of our most cherished rights and liberties? Or is it a document entirely of its own time—an unremarkable set of compromises between King John and a few of his rapacious barons—with next to nothing to say to us today? In this post, I’ll describe the responses of Professor Martin Krygier, one of the more penetrating writers on the…
I previously suggested that a traditionalist judicial decision is self-consciously so. It demonstrates a keen interest in the coherence and continuity of particular legal practices and authorities over long periods of time. It is intentional about retransmitting and re-cementing those enduring legal practices and authorities in its own decision. And its traditionalism emerges from a close reading of the opinion and from attending to the court’s understanding of its own role.
In this respect, consider the plurality opinion authored by Justice Scalia in Burnham v. Superior Court.
How might we distinguish the traditionalist judicial decision?
It is uncommon today for people to argue for the retrieval of the beliefs and institutions of prior periods once they have been set aside. Even those few who do are not usually sanguine about the odds of retrieval. Particularly in intellectual circles, it takes a certain degree of rash temerity to make such arguments—and to risk the label of traditionalism or even reaction—in light of the overwhelming intellectual prejudices in favor of progress.
Professor Richard Epstein has performed a welcome service in reminding us of the classical liberal case for the freedom of association. The classical liberal champions the primacy of rights as guarantors of the individual’s sovereignty to make free dealings with other sovereigns. He values rights as safeguards of the freedom to make moral and economic choices, to unite with others of like mind, and promptly to divest when the benefits of union are no longer perceived. He distrusts rights as claims for the imposition of obligations that override others’ sovereignty, reserving such mandates for special cases—force and fraud, as well…