Last month, a three-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit handed down an important decision in Tagami v. City of Chicago, the “GoTopless” case, a constitutional challenge to a Chicago public nudity ordinance that prohibits women, but not men, from appearing topless in public. The court upheld the ordinance by a vote of 2 to 1. The debate between Judge Diane Sykes, who wrote the majority opinion, and Judge Ilana Rovner, who wrote the dissent, offers fascinating insight into the role of tradition in constitutional law.
The late political scientist Samuel Huntington’s famous book The Clash of Civilizations (1996) argued that culture, not economics or ideology, was the key to understanding world affairs after the Cold War’s end. Different civilizations, he argued—he identified nine, including the Western, Orthodox, Islamic, Sinic, and Hindu—with different histories, religions, and values, were now reasserting themselves after a brief period of quiescence. These different civilizations would inevitably clash with one another and with liberalism, an ideology that presumed itself universal, but which was actually the product of one of those civilizations, the Western. To expect non-Western civilizations to reject their own cultures and adopt liberalism wholesale, he argued, was folly.
Don’t let references to “the dismal science” fool you. Classical liberal economics is actually a pretty optimistic way to look at life. Liberals maintain that markets create wealth, promote mutual gain, and unlock talents and resources in individuals and nations. And, they say, markets have political benefits. Since the Enlightenment, liberals have argued that markets promote civic pluralism by making people more reasonable and prudent; less given to political and, especially, religious enthusiasm; and eager to avoid divisive debates about deep commitments. That markets have these advantages is known as the doux commerce thesis. (That’s doux as in soft, or having a…
There is much to criticize about President Trump’s executive order on immigration, particularly the slapdash way the Administration drafted the order and announced it to the agencies responsible for implementing it. The Administration apparently bypassed the normal interagency review process, which checks orders for legality and advises on possible consequences. No doubt the Administration calculated that it couldn’t trust Obama holdovers not to create obstacles—a calculation that seems to have been correct in some cases. But lawyers do help sometimes, and it’s wise to listen even to bureaucrats on occasion. The normal interagency review could have avoided much of the confusion at airports over the weekend, which benefited no one, and which created a sense of disorder which will not help the Administration in the future. It would have been much better for the Administration to wait until its new team was fully in place, including its Attorney General, before taking legal action bound to inflame many people.
Last week, in an 8-3 vote, the UK Supreme Court ruled that the Government of Prime Minister Theresa May must seek new legislation before starting negotiations to leave the EU—the so-called Brexit. The Prime Minister had argued that, in light of last June’s referendum in favor of Brexit, and pursuant to the Crown’s sole authority to make and withdraw from international treaties, she could commence negotiations without further legislative action. But the court held that withdrawing from the EU would effect a change in domestic law and that, under the British Constitution, the government may not take such action without parliamentary authorization. The June referendum in favor of Brexit was not legally binding; a new statute would be necessary.
The ruling was not unexpected. May’s Government already had prepared draft legislation, which it presented to Parliament a couple days after the decision came down. The legislation seems very likely to pass in some form. Although the Government resisted having to go to Parliament, undoubtedly because of the possibility of delaying tactics and other obstacles, on balance it seems a good thing. In the long run, Brexit will be seen as more legitimate if Parliament formally votes on it, with members of the Government and the opposition going on record.
Last week, on January 16, America marked Religious Freedom Day. The day commemorates enactment of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom of 1786, a precursor of the First Amendment. Written by Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia statute disestablished religion in the commonwealth—“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever”—and prohibited civil penalties for the expression of religious belief—“all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion.” Jefferson saw the statute as one of his three great accomplishments; along with the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the University of Virginia, he directed that it be noted on his tombstone.