In addition to requiring instruction in US government and politics, Texas law requires undergraduates at state-sponsored colleges and universities to take a course “which includes consideration of the . . . constitutions of the states, with special emphasis on that of Texas.” I am pretty sure part of the department’s deliberation at Texas A&M University in favor of hiring me those many years ago touched on the fact that the statistical portion of my dissertation drew on a unique state-level data set that I developed. The main point of interest would not be the uniqueness of the data set, but rather that I dipped into state legislative records. That thin reed was sufficient to justify my habitual assignment to teach the state-mandated course in state government, a course most of the faculty in the department preferred to avoid.
With the US House of Representatives representing the people, and the US Senate representing the states (more so prior to the adoption of the 17th Amendment, but that’s another discussion), the US Congress is a recognizable extension of the “mixed-government” rationale for legislative bicameralism.
There is happy news from state supreme courts—more justices committed to correct methods of legal interpretation are being appointed. To name just two of the most recent additions: Rebecca Bradley of Wisconsin and Joan Larsen of Michigan as well as a still relatively recent addition, David Stras of the Minnesota Supreme Court All three have fine credentials. Stras and Larsen were professors before ascending the bench, and professors turned judges have often turned out to be the most influential of jurists.
The Federalist Society’s decision to establish chapters throughout the nation is in no small measure responsible for the flowering of state conservative jurisprudence. The Society was founded on law school campuses and then migrated to Washington, as some of its leaders took jobs in the Reagan administration. But creating a presence in the hinterlands then made it possible for lawyers of like mind to focus on the judiciary in their states. All too often, Republican governors had not paid much attention to judicial nominees’ stances on legal interpretation, believing that identification with the Republican party was enough to assure good decisions. But even Republican lawyers emerge from a legal culture that leans decidedly left, and the recognition and awards from that culture move judges to in that direction unless they come anchored in the right. The Federalist Society provides the merry fellowship that helps these jurists resist the temptation to drift.
The increase in the number of justices committed to fidelity to law on state benches has several good consequences.
I have just returned from the annual confab of the Midwest Political Science Association. The MPSA is not my favorite haunt (the folks there tend to like putting the science into political science), but I was delighted to be part of a panel discussion of the important new book by Emily Zackin, Looking for Rights in All the Wrong Places.