This post answers the question that ended my last one, which is how seriously to take something Justice Kennedy wrote about the Fourteenth Amendment in judicially promulgating a federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage. But the post also does more: it points toward a general framework for thinking about the relationship between the Constitution and constitutional law.
What could be more amusing, quaint really, in the minds of many than meeting in New York City for two days to discuss tradition and law?
I was saddened to read Judge Richard Posner’s vitriolic criticism of Antonin Scalia written in the New York Times with Eric Segall. Judge Posner’s scholarship was the most important contribution to law in the latter half of the 20th century. He reformed many areas of law through the application of economics and did so with clarity, wit, and panache. As Blackstone was the leading legal scholar of this time, so was Judge Posner during my first 25 years as a lawyer.
But being a scholar carries some obligations. And one of them in my view is the obligation of charity—to put the views you oppose in the best possible light before critiquing them. Or if that is not possible within the short space of an op-ed, at least not caricaturing them. I would think that also the obligation of one federal judge to another in the popular press.
And it is obvious from his vast body of work that Justice Scalia does not believe in deferring to the majority, when the Constitution actually prohibits what the majority wants to do. He emphatically does not, as the Judge Posner and Professor Segall claim, embrace “the model of the British Constitution” where the legislature once was the final word.
Justice Scalia rigorously enforces the First and Second Amendments in the Constitution and many other provisions as well, including many that defend the rights of unpopular minorities, like those accused of crimes, because they are in the Constitution.
Justice Antonin Scalia is criticized these days ostensibly not for the substance but for the style of his opinions. His writing is said to be disrespectful as when he critiques the Justice Kennedy’s opinion in Obergefell, the recent case on same-sex marriage. There he stated: “If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,” I would hide my head in a bag.” He also noted: “The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”
I cannot join in the criticism of his style. That is not to say I particularly warm to the all rhetoric of his dissent in Obergefell. It is not as powerful as that of his masterpiece in Casey, which also had harsh passages, but his disdain has a point. The value of an opinion is measured by the coherence of its reasoning. If someone’s opinion is as unreasoned as Kennedy vapidities about identity, it is worth pointing out with some virulence. What John Hart Ely famously said of Roe is true of Obergefell: it is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.
If Scalia believes (and I think he has reason to believe) that the many of the justices joining in Kennedy’s opinion were doing so for its result not for its reasons, they are not acting judicially. Ridicule in defense of the rule of law is no vice.
Leading up to Justice Kennedy’s fateful 5-4 decision, there was plenty of debate on both sides, and the proponents of same-sex marriage emphasized that they just wanted to be treated the same as heterosexual couples. They even coined the deceptively simple slogan, “Marriage Equality.” That was then.
Those of us who believe in the rule of law and limited government are understandably flummoxed by the conclusion of the Supreme Court’s 2014-15 term: in rapid succession, and generally by narrow margins, the Court “fixed” an internal defect in the ObamaCare statute (King v. Burwell); recognized so-called “disparate impact” claims under the Federal Housing Act (Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.); created a constitutional right to same-sex marriage and struck down contrary state laws (Obergefell v. Hodges); and re-wrote the “elections clause” of Article I, section 4 to allow non-legislative redistricting (Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission).
Many things will be said in the coming days about the Supreme Court’s holding in Obergefell v. Hodges, better known as the same-sex marriage case. I don’t think I can in general improve upon the dissents written by the four Supreme Court justices—who object to the sweeping and poorly reasoned argument offered by Justice Anthony Kennedy as the “reasoned judgment” of a “bare majority” of his colleagues. But I think I have something to add to the discussion regarding Kennedy’s understanding of his role as a Supreme Court justice.
I’m no expert in dignity or liberty. Listening to yesterday’s arguments I frankly got confused over just where and how marriage enters into the Fourteenth Amendment and screams for resolution by the Supremes. Nationalize me, please, appears to be the new form of constitutional argument. And so now, apparently, my first son may very well be permitted to marry my second son or daughter or both, or whatever. But I what I really love are appellate lawyers’ maneuvers, such as this: Justice Alito: Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax exempt status…