Erwin Chemerinsky is a left-of-center legal scholar and prolific author who is now Dean of the University of California’s Berkeley School of Hall, formerly known as Boalt Hall (named after a prominent 19th century attorney, John Henry Boalt, whose widow funded construction of the school’s initial building over a century ago). Berkeley’s law school was re-named—before Chemerinsky became Dean on July 1 , 2017—in part due to sensitivity regarding its namesake’s opposition to Chinese immigration and advocacy of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. I raise this because the issue of heightened “sensitivity”—frequently resulting in the removal or re-naming of historical memorials—currently roils higher education in a number of ways, including the suppression on campus of viewpoints considered to be objectionable.
Proponents of legal reform sometimes resemble the proverbial blind men inspecting an elephant. Depending on which part of the unfamiliar animal they are touching, the sightless examiners may think they are holding a tree trunk (leg), snake (trunk), rope (tail), spear (tusk), or fan (ear). The moral is that perspectives vary, producing widely disparate results.
Readers of Law and Liberty may have noticed that I am a fan of Justice Antonin Scalia (for example, here and here). I am also an admirer of Robert H. Bork, whom my colleague John McGinnis has described as “the most important legal scholar on the right in the last 50 years.” Bork was a pioneer in both the field of antitrust law (with his influential 1978 book The Antitrust Paradox) and constitutional law, as the father of what we now call “originalism.” In his seminal 1971 article in the Indiana Law Journal, entitled “Neutral Principles and Some First Amendment Problems,” and in his later best-selling books, The Tempting of America (1990) and Slouching Towards Gomorrah (1996), Bork eviscerated the “noninterpretive” theories of constitutional law that dominated the legal academy in the 1960s and 1970s.
Fans of the late Justice will treasure a new collection of his speeches.
Justice Antonin Scalia definitely had a way with words. Law students pore over his opinions not just for Scalia’s keen analysis but to delight in the verve of his prose—pungent, clear, combative, and always colorful. Scalia aficionados also savor his books and essays, which showcase his forceful rhetoric and deft pen. Alas, the body of Scalia’s judicial decisions and scholarship, although considerable, is finite. Fortunately, Scalia fans now have a treasure trove of new material to savor, in the form of a recently-released compilation of the late Justice’s speeches, entitled Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived.
Originalism is a two-way street. Judges wishing to interpret the Constitution in accordance with its original public meaning must not import into their decisions policy proscriptions not actually derived from the text and structure of that document. Just as important is that textualism and originalism require judges to give force to all provisions of the Constitution, and not pick and choose which clauses to enforce. Critics have accused the modern Supreme Court of inventing some rights the Framers never intended while ignoring other—express—provisions. Failing to give meaning to clear constitutional text is as great a judicial dereliction as making up bogus…
Proponents of “living constitutionalism” or other non-originalist theories of constitutional law sometimes argue that our now 230-year-old Constitution wasn’t designed for current social conditions. Prevailing attitudes on a variety of subjects have changed dramatically since 1787, critics of originalism say. Judges must be allowed to augment or update the Constitution to keep it “relevant.”
But the Framers themselves anticipated the need for periodic revision of our national charter, providing, in Article V, a mechanism for its amendment. That mechanism has been invoked 27 times, so far.
A recent prediction in this space turned out to be premature. In my post about the Seventh Circuit’s en banc decision in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College—which held that the word “sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964  includes “sexual orientation”—I forecast that the U.S. Supreme Court would grant cert and reverse the Seventh Circuit. For unknown reasons, the defendant-employer in Hively decided not to seek appellate review of the controversial ruling, foiling my prophesy. Instead, Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana will defend Hively’s employment-discrimination lawsuit on the merits.
What prompts a man to change his mind on a serious matter after 35 years, and should the reversal be met with pride (for eventually getting it right), or chagrin (for taking so long)? For reasons of vanity, I’m going to take a positive tack and choose the former.
“Wisdom,” Felix Frankfurter once remarked, “too often never comes, so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.” Allow me to explain.
Looking back at the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed by Congress in 1990, one has to be struck by the extent to which the ADA’s lofty sentiments have been overwhelmed by its adverse results. If it’s true that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the ADA is a veritable Autobahn of wishful thinking gone awry. Yet no one seems inclined to reroute the ill-fated traffic; some states are even widening the highway with additional lanes.