Tag: breyer

A Few More Points on McDonald

I still haven’t finished reading the full 214-page opinion, but a few points to add to the statement I made yesterday:

  • Justice Alito’s plurality opinion, joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Scalia and Kennedy, is a tight 45-page discussion of the history of the right to keep and bear arms and how it relates to the Court’s “incorporation” doctrine under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.  No excess verbiage, no policy arguments, and, notably, no denial or disparagement of the Privileges or Immunities Clause – just denying to take up the issue in light of the long line of Substantive Due Process incorporation.
  • Justice Thomas provides a magisterial 56-page defense of the Privileges or Immunities Clause, resurrecting a long-beleaguered constitutional provision.  While he doesn’t cite Keeping Pandora’s Box Sealed, Josh Blackman and I are proud to have tracked quite closely the arguments Thomas makes.  Note that without Thomas’s vote, there is no majority extending the right to keep and bear arms to the states.  That means P or I is relevant and enters the casebooks and Court precedent.
  • The dissents by Justices Stevens and Breyer, respectively (the latter joined by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor), rest almost exclusively on pragmatic arguments.  They seem to think that the right to keep and bear arms is an inconvenient part of the Constitution in our modern (particularly urban) age.  This may or may not be correct as a matter of policy or social science – the evidence I’ve seen seems to point against them – but it’s irrelevant to the legal analysis.  If the dissenting justices wish to propose a constitutional amendment, I would welcome the ensuing debate.  As it stands, however, their arguments are disturbingly devoid of principled constitutional interpretation.  Note also that neither dissent goes into privileges or immunities analysis, though Justice Stevens argues that the Clause’s meaning is “not as clear” as the petitioners (our side) suggest.
  • Relatedly, both Justice Stevens and Justice Breyer invoke but misunderstand the infamous Footnote Four of the 1937 Carolene Products case, which bifurcated our rights, privileging political rights over economic liberties and property rights and deferring to the legislative branches when at all possible.  One of the points Footnote Four made, however, was that enumerated rights have to have the strongest possible constitutional protection: “There may be narrower scope for operation of the presumption of constitutionality when legislation appears on its face to be within a specific prohibition of the Constitution, such as those of the first ten amendments, which are deemed equally specific when held to be embraced within the Fourteenth.”  The Second Amendment, then, if anything has to have at least as much protection as the right to privacy and other unenumerated rights.
  • Finally, it is startling that not only does a fundamental constitutional right hang by a one-vote thread, but its application to the states is similarly tenuous.  There but for the grace of God goes any right – and any limitation on government power.  As I said yesterday, “Thank God that vote is Justice Thomas’s.”

For more McDonald reaction, see Josh Blackman’s remarkable series of blogposts.

More on Property Rights (Plus Privileges, Immunities, Due Process)

Yesterday I blogged about the Florida property rights case, which I now consider the best unanimous opinion against my position I could ever imagine.  Although the property owners lost, four justices stood for the idea that courts no less than legislatures or executive bodies are capable of violating the Takings Clause (Fifth Amendment), while two others endorsed remedying such violations via Substantive Due Process (Fourteenth Amendment), and the remaining two didn’t express an opinion one way or the other.  For more on the case, see the blogposts of Cato adjunct scholars Tim SandefurIlya Somin, and David Bernstein.

An interesting side note involves Justice Scalia’s excoriation of Substantive Due Process (and Justice Kennedy’s use of it):

Moreover, and more importantly, JUSTICE KENNEDY places no constraints whatever upon this Court. Not only does his concurrence only think about applying Substantive Due Process; but because Substantive Due Process is such a wonderfully malleable concept, see, e.g., Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U. S. 558, 562 (2003) (referring to “liberty of the person both in its spatial and in its more transcendentdimensions”), even a firm commitment to apply it would bea firm commitment to nothing in particular.

The great attraction of Substantive Due Process as a substitute for more specific constitutional guarantees is that it never means never—because it never means anything precise.

Scalia also calls Kennedy’s method “Orwellian”  – after having said that Justice Breyer uses a “Queen-of-Hearts” approach “reminiscent of the perplexing question how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”  Really, this is classic Scalia, a delight to read (and you should, here).

The problem with what Scalia says, as Josh Blackman points out, is that the Court is about to release its opinion in the Chicago gun case, McDonald v. Chicago and, based on the oral argument, is about to incorporate the Second Amendment via Substantive Due Process.  If SDP is so bad, how can Scalia (endorsed by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito) use it to protect a “new” right? – particularly when the Privileges or Immunities Clause was created for just this purpose!  One answer is that, to Scalia, “babble” – his term for SDP – is still worth more than “flotsam” (his term for P or I), as I discuss here.  Another is that, to put it bluntly, Scalia is a results-oriented non-originalist, as Josh and I discuss here.

Speaking of Blackman-Shapiro collaborations, for the correct way to apply the right to keep and bear arms to the states, see our law review article called “Keeping Pandora’s Box Sealed.”  And Tim Sandefur, who authored Cato’s McDonald brief (read a summary here) just published a fascinating related article called “Privileges, Immunities, and Substantive Due Process.”  I haven’t read it yet but am very much looking forward to it. 

Tim also recently wrote a book defending economic liberties (which Justice Scalia also disparages in his Stop the Beach opinion), called The Right to Earn a Living: Economic Liberty and the Law.  I hear it makes for good beach reading.

Crocodile Tears? Liberals Lament Lack of Their Own on the Court

An interesting narrative has arisen among some on the left that the nomination of Elena Kagan shows what chumps Democratic presidents are.  That is, not only could President Obama have tapped a stronger “progressive” voice, but he – like President Clinton before him, and unlike Republican presidents – put avoiding political fights ahead of moving the Court left.  Since LBJ, Democrats have opted for a “moderate technocrat” like Stephen Breyer rather than a “lion” like William Brennan or Thurgood Marshall.  (Sonia Sotomayor was good and necessary for identity politics, the argument continues, but, let’s face it, she’s no liberal Scalia.)

Take this opening quote from a New York Times article that came out the day of the nominee’s announcement: “The selection of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to be the nation’s 112th justice extends a quarter-century pattern in which Republican presidents generally install strong conservatives on the Supreme Court while Democratic presidents pick candidates who often disappoint their liberal base.”  Or Dahlia Lithwick’s op-ed in Slate about how liberal law students are so many lost sheep because their ideological heroes are deemed unconfirmable and therefore not part of the nomination discussion.

Well.  A few things on this: First, even if the argument were true, it’s simply not statistically significant because we’re only talking four Democratic appointments (Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Clinton, Sotomayor and Kagan by Obama; poor Jimmy Carter had none, the same number George W. Bush would have had had he not been re-elected).  Second, if you line up the Republican and Democratic nominees in recent decades, it’s conservatives who are disappointed (need I even mention John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter, let alone Earl Warren and Brennan himself, all Republican nominees).  Third, to say that someone like Ginsburg – a push-the-envelope feminist and ACLU lawyer – is a moderate is to center the jurisprudential spectrum around the law faculty lounge.  And fourth, as David Bernstein details, it is people like Richard Epstein – and other Federalist Society regulars like Dan Troy, Miguel Estrada, John Eastman, Frank Easterbrook, Stephen Bainbridge, and Todd Zywicki (as well as Cato’s own Roger Pilon, Randy Barnett, and Ilya Somin) – who would be considered filibusteringly beyond the pale, much more than Lithwick’s vaunted American Constitution Society stalwarts.

In short, if anything it is Republicans who can rightfully be disappointed in their presidents’ nominees – though Kennedy’s seat was of course originally to have been filled by Robert Bork. More unfortunately, it is libertarian law students who can lament that their kind lacks representation on the High Court – though note that the second choice for Kennedy’s seat was Douglas Ginsburg (the last judicial martyr of the drug war).  And so, as the Court remains securely to the left of the American people, just today ratifying radical assertions of federal legislative and judicial power, Elena Kagan is poised to fit right into that jurisprudential “mainstream.”  Good for the left, bad for the Constitution.

Kagan on Military Recruitment

Elena Kagan has been getting a lot of flak  from the right for her position on military recruitment at Harvard. While the military’s don’t ask don’t tell policy is unjust, Harvard’s position on recruitment was also misplaced—and, were the question ever presented to my faculty, I’d vote against barring the military from recruiting at my law school for the same reasons as Ilya Somin.

But, although Harvard made the wrong call on recruitment (albeit one that, in fairness, is not attributable just to Kagan, but, reportedly, to an overwhelming majority of the Harvard law faculty), Kagan’s opposition to the Solomon Amendment, which conditioned federal funding on JAG recruiters’ access to campus, has much to recommend it from a libertarian standpoint, for the reasons put forward in Cato’s amicus brief  in Rumsfeld v. FAIR, the case challenging the Solomon Amendment (which you can download here). (Disclosure: I co-wrote the brief when I was at Cato. As I recall, this was a controversial position within Cato, and I’d guess that remains true today. Cato’s current legal shop might well take a different view were the question presented to it now.)

True, the Supreme Court rejected our position 8-0. But it’s not the first time, and will be not be the last, that the Court musters eight votes for what some libertarians think is a questionable outcome.

And for the record, my view on Kagan—while she’s, as Kagan would say, “not my people,” she’s a top-notch scholar, a great Dean (who was very fair to faculty conservatives and libertarians), by all accounts an outstanding teacher, and likely to fall somewhere on the liberal continuum to the left of Breyer and to the right of Stevens.  Could be worse!