In response to: The Legal Turn
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.
I was talking about the Take Care Clause today and I realized that there was an important connection between the original meaning of two clauses I had never previously recognized: the Take Care Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. Most people don’t see much of a connection, but there is an important connection as to the original meaning: they are both about prohibiting executives from not enforcing the law. While the modern meaning of the Equal Protection Clause is that it protects against unequal laws, the probable original meaning is different. The Clause provides that no state shall “deny to any…
Aristotle teaches that justice is necessary where friendship has failed. His point is that the strictures of the law need only be imposed where ordinary, informal, face-to-face interactions collapse. Lawsuits—and, for that matter, laws—thus begin where comity and common sense end. That is worth keeping in mind as the first frontal constitutional challenge to the U.S. Department of Education’s attempt to impose a one-size-fits-all approach to transgender access to intimate facilities—bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers—works its way through the courts.
While many have celebrated the result in Obergefell v. Hodges, fewer have praised the craftsmanship of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion. That is as it should be because the opinion is longer on sentiment and empathy than legal analysis. And yet it is now as much a part of the United States Reporter as the most well-reasoned judgment. Thus, it is worth looking at its doctrinal implications, none of which are happy.
First, Kennedy consciously removes the historical constraints on the Court’s ability to declare new fundamental rights. Washington v. Glucksberg (1997), the most important modern substantive due process case, required fundamental rights to be deeply rooted in the history and tradition of America. Whatever else can be said about it, same-sex marriage does not begin to meet that test. Kennedy says correctly that some other substantive due process cases did not meet that test either (Roe comes obviously to mind). While Kennedy does not quite say that he is overruling Glucksberg altogether, its relevance has been gravely weakened. Justices seem free to look to their views on the nature of justice rather than history to discern new fundamental rights.
While some libertarians in the past have been enthusiastic about this development, it is unlikely the Court will use this power to pursue economic liberties. I think this development is likelier to revive claims that some other social rights, like the right to assisted suicide, are also constitutional ones.
Kennedy also gestured to the equal protection clause in his decision.
David Cortman showed remarkable poise and command last January when he made his first appearance before the Supreme Court. The case was Reed v. Gilbert, and he represented the cause of a small, fledgling church having no fixed site for its services. His masterful performance was recognized this week: victory, with a box score of 9 to 0. Cortman brought to the aid of this small congregation all of the dedication and resources of the Alliance Defending Freedom.
The seven articles and twenty-seven amendments to our national Constitution contain roughly 8,000 words. Of those, perhaps none have generated so much intense controversy as the fifty-two words placed inconspicuously in the second sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” In this sentence’s three prohibitions—the Privileges or Immunities, Due Process, and…
My post on the fact that the equality requirement did not apply to the federal government, which was expanding on Mike Ramsey's post, has generated some discussion. See these two posts on the Volokh Conspiracy by Will Baude and by Ilya Somin. One last point. One way that the equality requirement might apply against the federal government is through due process. The Due Process Clause was applied against the federal government in the 5th Amendment in 1791 and against the states in the 14th Amendment in 1868. Thus, if one can find an equality requirement in due process, one might…
In my last post, I started to discuss the arguments made by various academics who maintain that the original meaning of the Constitution clearly allows affirmative action. Their arguments are based on a set of federal statutes passed at the time of the 14th Amendment that are said to have provided race based benefits to blacks. In this post, I want to explain why I argue these statutes are weak evidence in favor of affirmative action.
There are two basic reasons why this evidence is weak. First, these statutes are federal statutes and therefore not subject to the 14th Amendment. Second, the statutes relied upon by the critics are not good evidence of race based action.
Let me start with the fact that the statutes are federal statutes. The Equal Protection Clause and the Privileges or Immunities Clause (the two provisions that might impose equality requirements) only applied to the states, not to the federal government. Thus, when Congress passed these laws there is no reason to believe that it was interpreting or implementing the 14th Amendment, because the Amendment did not apply to the federal government.
The critics reply that it is unlikely that a Congress that enacted the 14th Amendment would have violated the principles in that amendment when passing federal statutes. This seems like a potentially strong argument at first, but not upon examination. This argument assumes that the same rules ought to apply to the states and the federal government. But clearly the enactors of the 14th Amendment did not believe that, since they did not apply the Amendment to the federal government.
Understanding Congress’s actions in this area requires offering an explanation for why the 14th Amendment was applied to the states, but not to the federal government. In my view, the Amendment was applied to the states, but not the federal government, based on two considerations. First, Congress needed a strict limitation on the states to stop racially discriminatory actions, but did not need one as to the federal government, because the latter was thought to be more trustworthy regarding the treatment of minorities. Second, there was not full agreement on the content of the equality requirement. While people were willing to compromise on that requirement as to the states, because of the need for a constitutional restriction on the states, they did not feel the same need to compromise as to the federal government. Under this view, then, the fact that Congress might have passed laws that benefited (or harmed) blacks would not be indicative of the meaning of the 14th Amendment, because the Amendment neither applied to the federal government nor was intended to do so.