Tag: substantive due process

Thomas Stays the Course, Scalia Returns to the Fold

A bit lost in last week’s legal news regarding a majority of states now suing over Obamacare, the House voting to repeal Obamacare, and the anniversary of Citizens United, was the first interesting Supreme Court decision of the term.  Most notably, Justices Scalia and Thomas continued their valiant struggle to limit the scope of the constitutional misnomer that is “substantive due process” doctrine.

The case was NASA v. Nelson, a suit challenging the background checks for perspective NASA contractors as violating an evanescent constitutional right to informational privacy. The Court ruled unanimously against the challengers, with Justice Alito writing for the majority that, regardless whether such a right exists, it was not violated by the government’s probing questions on sexual history and mental health.

Justices Scalia and Thomas rightly found problems with this essentially useless ruling. Scalia, joined by Thomas, concurred in the result but wrote separately to say that if a right doesn’t exist then the Court should just say so.  He would have simply held that there is no constitutional right to “informational privacy”:

I must observe a remarkable and telling fact about this case, unique in my tenure on this Court: Respondents’ brief, in arguing that the Federal Government violated the Constitution, does not once identify which provision of the Constitution that might be. The Table of Authorities contains citations of cases from federal and state courts, federal and state statutes, Rules of Evidence from four states, two Executive Orders, a House Report, and even more exotic sources of law….  And yet it contains not a single citation of the sole document we are called upon to construe: the Constitution of the United States….  To tell the truth, I found this approach refreshingly honest. One who asks us to invent a constitutional right out of whole cloth should spare himself and us the pretense of tying it to some words of the Constitution.

In the course of his typically entertaining opinion we see Scalia back to his old self, caustically lambasting the “infinitely plastic concept of ‘substantive’ due process” and suggesting that it is “past time for the Court to abandon this Alfred Hitchcock line of our jurisprudence.”

Indeed, the seemingly oxymoronic concept of substantive due process has received much attention as of late, particularly in last term’s groundbreaking case of McDonald v. Chicago. McDonald, remember, examined whether the individual Second Amendment right articulated in District of Columbia v. Heller applied to the states.  I previously blogged about McDonald here and here, for example.

McDonald came out the right way but for the wrong reasons.  Rather than enforcing the right to keep and bear arms against the states via the Privileges or Immunities Clause, as nearly all constitutional scholars of every ideological stripe contend should be the case, the Court chose to invoke substantive due process.  Even Scalia agreed with this perversion, because apparently 140 years of bad precedent overrides originalism or whatever other interpretive theory he claims to support.  

Justice Thomas, on the other hand, agreed with the principled approach favored by most scholars (and Cato’s own amicus brief) and wrote separately to advocate overruling the Slaughter-House Cases and reinvigorate the Privileges or Immunities Clause.  Curiously, Justice Thomas couldn’t resist filing a separate one-paragraph concurrence in Nelson, seemingly for the sole purpose of citing—and reminding Justice Scalia of—his McDonald concurrence.

After all, Scalia is often regarded as the font of originalism.  In reality, he has proven himself to be an originalist of convenience, accepting corrupt interpretations when the mood strikes him.  During oral arguments in McDonald, for example, Scalia mocked attorney Alan Gura for daring to make an originalist argument that would overturn an old precedent.  Why challenge the substantive due process doctrine, wondered Scalia, when “even I have acquiesced to it?”

Scalia’s faint-hearted originalism does a disservice to that jurisprudential method.  With his acerbic wit, infectious personality, and unrivaled rhetorical skills, Scalia has become the poster-boy for originalism.  In response, the academic elite—who overwhelmingly reject originalism—focus on every Scalia opinion, hoping to catch a glimpse of the true justice who uses originalism to hide decisions often based largely on policy preferences.

Indeed, given Scalia’s pointed and insightful prose, there is always an opportunity to hoist him by his own petard.  In McDonald, for example, it was Scalia who, to use his own Nelson lines, “invoked the infinitely plastic concept of ‘substantive’ due process,” which of course “does not make this constitutional theory any less invented.”  For more on this, see “Judicial Takings and Scalia’s Shifting Sands,” the law review article I recently published with my colleague Trevor Burrus—in which we criticize Scalia’s conflicting views on constitutional fidelity in two cases from last term, McDonald and Stop the Beach Renourishment.

Recall that originalism involves a jurist’s resisting personal biases by trying to maintain fidelity to the very document that gives him his job.  This highly textualist approach is what makes Justice Thomas arguably the most predictable justice in the history of the Court.  And in the law, predictability is a good thing.  Underscoring this point is the concern about Justice Scalia’s vote in the Obamacare litigation—because of his concurring opinion in the medicinal marijuana case of Gonzales v. Raich—while Justice Thomas’s vote is assumed to be in hand.  (Precisely because Scalia is somewhat outcome-oriented, however, I personally don’t share that concern.)

I just hope that going forward, Justice Scalia will have the same thing for breakfast that he did the morning NASA v. Nelson came down.

H/t to my sometimes collaborator Josh Blackman; head over to his spectacular blog to read more extensive analysis.  And thanks to Trevor Burrus for his help with this post.

Judicial Takings and Scalia’s Shifting Sands

Last term, the Supreme Court decided what could end up being an important precedent for protecting property rights – even as the Court ruled unanimously against the property owners in that particular case!  How is this possible?  Read the new article by Cato legal associate Trevor Burrus and me, “Judicial Takings and Scalia’s Shifting Sands.”

Here’s the background:  Seeking to restore beaches damaged by hurricanes, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection began dredging sand from the Gulf of Mexico ocean floor and transporting it to Florida’s gulf coast. The expanded area of the beach became state property, depriving beachfront landowners of their littoral rights. In reviewing the landowners’ lawsuit against the state, the Florida Supreme Court (SCOFLA, if you remember your Bush v. Gore trivia) departed from long-established state law principles protecting littoral property rights and held that littoral rights are an ancillary concept subsumed by the right of access. In so doing, the court effectively discarded 100 years of property law and rewrote the definition of property.

The U.S. Supreme Court had never formally addressed whether state court rulings eliminating formerly established property rights can effect a taking, or violate an owner’s due process rights, under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Cato joined the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center and the Pacific Legal Foundation on a brief supporting the landowners.

In June, Court finally decided Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection.  The decision waded through a jumbled mass of arcane waterfront law to reach a very simple and unanimous holding: the Florida Supreme Court did not subvert an existing property right to such an extent that its decision constituted a “judicial taking.”  The state won.  The property owners lost.  SCOFLA was vindicated.

Still, while all eight justices ultimately ruled for the state – Justice Stevens recused himself because his Florida property is subject to the renourishment program – six accepted the idea that judges can violate the Constitution by reinterpreting pre-existing property rights (albeit under two different theories), and the other two declined to reach the question.  Although the Stop the Beach Court found that SCOFLA had not departed from sufficiently established state property law to constitute a taking, the idea of a judicial taking – whether through the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause or the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause – is very much alive.

And that’s where our article in the Vermont Law Review picks up.  In this article, Trevor and I examine the background of the judicial takings doctrine, react to the Court’s decision here in light of Cato’s amicus brief, and contrast Justice Scalia’s views of Substantive Due Process as expressed in Stop the Beach with that in another high-profile case whose plurality opinion he joined, McDonald v. City of Chicago, to argue that the judicial takings doctrine is necessary to a robust constitutional protection of property rights.

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.

Scalia Can No Longer Call Himself an Originalist

As I blogged last week, the Supreme Court didn’t seem amenable to Privileges or Immunities Clause arguments in last week’s gun rights case, McDonald v. Chicago.  This is unfortunate because the alternative, extending the right to keep and bear arms via the Due Process Clause, continues a long-time deviation from constitutional text, history, and structure, and reinforces the idea that judges enforce only those rights they deem “fundamental” (whatever that means).

It was especially disconcerting to see Justice Antonin Scalia, the standard-bearer for originalism, give up on his own preferred method of interpretation – and for the sole reason that it was intellectually “easier” to use the “substantive due process” doctrine.

Josh Blackman and I have an op-ed in the Washington Examiner pointing out Scalia’s hypocrisy.  Here’s a choice excerpt:

Without the Privileges or Immunities Clause … the Court must continue extending the un-originalist version of substantive due process to protect the right to keep and bear arms. To give original meaning to the Second Amendment, it must ignore the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment!

Yet this is the line Scalia took last week: Instead of accepting the plain meaning of the Privileges or Immunities Clause—which uncontrovertibly protects the right to keep and bear arms—the justice chose a route that avoids disturbing a 140-year-old precedent rejected by legal scholars of all ideological stripes.

In 2008, Scalia wrote, “It is no easy task to wean the public, the professoriate, and (especially) the judiciary away from [living constitutionalism,] a seductive and judge-empowering philosophy.” But at the arguments in McDonald, he argued that while the Privileges or Immunities Clause “is the darling of the professoriate,” he would prefer to follow substantive due process, in which he has now “acquiesced,” “as much as [he] think[s it is] wrong.”

Put simply, if the opinion Scalia writes or joins matches his performance last week, he can no longer be described as an originalist (faint-hearted or otherwise).  A liberty-seeking world turns its weary eyes to Justice Clarence Thomas – who has expressed an openness to reviving the constitutional order the Fourteenth Amendment was designed to create – to convince his wayward colleague that the way to interpret legal text is to look to its original public meaning.

Read the whole thing.

NRA Shoots Itself in the Foot

I previously blogged about the NRA’s misbegotten motion, which the Supreme Court granted, to carve 10 minutes of oral argument time away from the petitioners in McDonald v. Chicago.  Essentially, there was no discernable reason for the motion other than to ensure that the NRA could claim some credit for the eventual victory, and thus boost its fundraising.

Well, having argued that petitioners’ counsel Alan Gura insufficiently covered the argument that the Second Amendment should be “incorporated” against the states via the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, the NRA has now filed a brief that fails even to reference the four biggest cases regarding incorporation and substantive due process.  That is, the NRA reply brief contains no mention of Washington v. Glucksberg (1997), Benton v. Maryland (1969), Duncan v. Louisiana (1968), or Palko v. Connecticut (1937).  (The NRA did cite those cases in its opening brief.)  What is more, it also lacks a discussion of Judge O’Scannlain’s magisterial Ninth Circuit opinion in Nordyke v. King (2009), which the Supreme Court might as well cut and paste regardless of which constitutional provision it uses to extend the right to keep and bear arms to the states!

I should add that the petitioners’ reply brief does cite all of those aforementioned cases (as well as the “Keeping Pandora’s Box Sealed” law review article I co-authored with Josh Blackman).  I leave it to the reader to determine whether it is Alan Gura or the NRA who is better positioned to argue substantive due process – or any other part of the McDonald case.

For more on the rift between the McDonald petitioners and the NRA, see this story in today’s Washington Post (in which I’m quoted, full disclosure, after a lengthy interview I gave the reporter last week).

(Full disclosure again: Alan Gura is a friend of mine and of Cato, and I suppose I should also say that I’ve participated in NRA-sponsored events in the past.)

Properly Extending the Right to Keep and Bear Arms to the States

I recently blogged about an interesting op-ed in which Ken Klukowski and Ken Blackwell of the American Civil Rights Union argue that the Supreme Court need not overturn The Slaughter-House Cases while “incorporating” the right to bear arms against the states.  (Josh Blackman fisked the article in more depth here.)   This piece was essentially a distillation of the ACRU’s amicus brief in McDonald v. City of Chicago, which ultimately argues, like Cato’s brief, that Chicago’s gun ban is unconstitutional.

It has come to my attention, however, that I mischaracterized one aspect of the Kens’ op-ed (sorry about that): while they are indeed against overturning Slaughter-House, the authors still seek to apply the Second Amendment right through the Privileges or Immunities Clause (like Cato and most libertarians), rather than through the Due Process Clause (like many conservatives and gun rights proponents).  This is the ACRU’s main argument, and it is based largely on Ken Klukowski’s recent law review article – indeed, the brief’s body cites Klukowski article some 20 times, often for propositions that find no further support in case law or academic literature.  (Josh has also provided a short critique of the ACRU brief/Klukowski article, so I won’t do that here.) 

In any event, this clarification gives me an opportunity to name and outline the five possible ways a justice could come down in the McDonald case:

  1. “Extreme Anti-Gun” – Affirm the lower court in its entirety, deciding that it correctly interpreted Supreme Court precedent, that reconsideration of this precedent is unwarranted, and therefore that neither the Second Amendment nor the right to bear arms it protects extends to people in the states (as opposed to in federal territories, like the District of Columbia).  I can’t imagine that any justice will vote for this way; even those who dissented in Heller generally support the selective incorporation of rights against the states.
  2. “Conventional Liberal” – Affirm the lower court in part but clarify that while the Second Amendment is indeed “incorporated” as against the states via the Due Process Clause, Chicago’s gun ban is still okay – possibly under a test weighing the individual right against the city’s interest in reducing gun violence. There may be one to four votes for this position: Justice Breyer likes balancing tests; Justice Stevens may feel that his hometown’s regulations are justified; and Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor may feel the same way about New York.
  3. “Conventional Conservative” – Reverse the lower court, “incorporate” the Second Amendment via the Due Process Clause – adopting an analysis akin to that of Ninth Circuit Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain in the Nordyke case – and strike down Chicago’s gun ban.  The NRA’s brief primarily advocates this position, as do many conservatives fearful of the Privileges or Immunities Clause.  There may be one to eight votes for this position: The “minimalist” Chief Justice Roberts may be hesitant to overturn longstanding precedent; Justice Scalia may decide that the devil he knows (substantive due process) is better than the one he doesn’t (privileges or immunities); Justice Kennedy may feel vested in his own expansive “fundamental rights” jurisprudence under the Due Process Clause (see my review of a book analyzing that jurisprudence); Justice Alito may share one or more of the above sentiments; and one or more of the aforementioned liberals may decide to “bite the bullet” and go along with this position.
  4. “Mend Slaughter-House, Don’t End It” – Reverse the lower court, overturn three old precedents – Cruikshank (1876), Presser (1886), and Miller (1894), which were decided at a time when none of the rights in the Bill of Rights was considered to apply to the states – “incorporate” the Second Amendment via the Privileges or Immunities Clause without touching Slaughter-House, and strike down Chicago’s gun ban.  This is the ACRU position, and while I don’t think it’s textually or historically supportable – a scholarly consensus across ideological lines holds that Slaughter-House was both wrongly decided and forecloses any significant application of the Privileges or Immunities Clause – it could emerge as a political “compromise.”  (If Justice O’Connor were still on the Court, I could maybe see her advancing this position.) 
  5. “Originalist/Libertarian” – Reverse the lower court, overturn Slaughter-House and the three aforementioned cases, extend the right to keep and bear arms to the states (which is technically distinct from “incorporating” the Second Amendment), and strike down Chicago’s gun ban.  This is Cato’s position – as well as that of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center on behalf of eight leading constitutional law professors from across the political spectrum – and there will be one and may be up to all nine of the justices here: Justice Thomas has long said that he’d like to revisit Slaughter-House in the appropriate case, and he surely led the push to grant a cert petition whose question presented called for briefing about the Privileges or Immunities Clause; any of the others who seriously grapple with the arguments in Alan Gura’s brilliant petitioners’ brief (and those of his amici, us included) will also have to go this way despite their various political qualms.

In short, I see at least five votes in favor of extending the right to keep and bear arms to the states, but it’s an open question as to whether the Court will do that via the Due Process of Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.   

Now, you may ask why, if I’m so confident that the fifth option above is correct, don’t all conservatives qua self-professed “originalists” gravitate towards it (and, conversely, why some liberals qua “living constitutionalists” do).  That’s an unlawyerly matter of policy preferences: as the Kens’ op-ed details, conservatives (and some libertarians), while wanting to extend Heller’s interpretation of the Second Amendment to the states, are wary of opening a Pandora’s Box of positive rights (health care, housing, welfare, etc.), as well as the perpetual culture-war bogeymen (abortion, gay marriage, pornography, etc.).  Liberal intellectuals, meanwhile, are holding their nose at having to extend gun rights because they feel that’s the only concession they have to make to achieve their utopic constitutionalization of the entire progressive agenda.

While libertarians share the conservative concern about positive rights – as well as legal, if typically not policy, qualms about courts’ handling of social issues (e.g., that Roe v. Wade is bad law even if some libertarians are pro-choice; that Lawrence v. Texas is good law but achieved through Kennedy-esque hand-waving rather than sound legal reasoning) – many of us see the benefits of being able to protect economic liberties and other natural rights.  For example, unlike conservatives, we generally like Lochner, the 1905 case that struck down on “liberty of contract” grounds a New York law limiting bakers’ hours.

Yes there’s a danger – particularly if President Obama gets to replace not only Justices Stevens and Ginsburg, but also Scalia and Kennedy – that overturning Slaughter-House will open the aforementioned Pandora’s Box, but: 1) that danger isn’t necessarily mitigated by somehow managing to use the Privileges or Immunities Clause without overturning Slaughter-House; 2) the danger is no different than under the current substantive due process doctrine; and 3) if we are to remain originalists not just in overturning Slaughter-House but in future jurisprudence, the progressives’ arguments fail, the danger is averted, and the Box stays sealed. Josh Blackman and I wrote our article, “Keeping Pandora’s Box Sealed: Privileges or Immunities, The Constitution in 2020, and Properly Extending the Right to Keep and Bear Arms,” in part to address the valid concerns (sketched in the Kens’ op-ed) about the consequences of truly reviving the Privileges or Immunities Clause.

While we won’t assuage the staunchest social conservatives – (adult) pornography is protected speech (but even more so is political advertising!) – we should mollify many faint-hearted originalists.  Anyone who thinks the Constitution is a “dead” document, whose text is to be interpreted according to its original public meaning, has to admit that the Privileges or Immunities Clause protects something more than what Slaughter-House said it did.

To see how all this works in greater detail, read our Pandora’s Box article, which I’ve previously discussed here , here, and here.  And again, Cato’s amicus brief is here; see also this law review article by its principal author, Cato adjunct scholar Timothy Sandefur.

Cato Files Brief to Extend Second Amendment Rights, Provide Protections for Privileges or Immunities

Last year, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court confirmed what most scholars and a substantial majority of Americans long believed: that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. Heller led to the current challenge to Chicago’s handgun ban, which raises the question of whether the Fourteenth Amendment protects that right against infringement by state and local governments. The Seventh Circuit answered the question in the negative, finding itself foreclosed by 19th-century Supreme Court decisions. The Supreme Court agreed to review the case – after Cato filed an amicus brief supporting the cert petition – and specifically consider whether the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause or its Privileges or Immunities Clause is the proper provision for incorporating the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms as against the states.

Now Cato, joined by the Pacific Legal Foundation, has filed a brief supporting those challenging the handgun ban – who are represented by Alan Gura, the lawyer who successfully argued Heller – and calling for an overruling of the Slaughter-House Cases, which eviscerated the Privileges or Immunities Clause in 1873. Slaughter-House narrowly circumscribed the rights protected by the Privileges or Immunities Clause, contrary to the intentions of the Amendment’s framers and in direct contradiction to the developments in legal theory that underlay its adoption.

We also argue that in addition to ignoring the history surrounding the Fourteenth Amendment, the Slaughter-House majority violated basic rules of constitutional interpretation. Finally, restoring the Privileges or Immunities Clause would not result in the demise of substantive due process because the idea at the core of that doctrine – that the Due Process Clause imposes something more than mere procedural limits on government power – was widely accepted when the Fourteenth Amendment was enacted and its authors rightly believed that the Due Process and the Privileges or Immunities Clauses would provide separate but overlapping protections for individual rights.

Again, go here to read Cato’s brief in McDonald v. City of Chicago.  Related, Josh Blackman and I have put up on SSRN our article, “Opening Pandora’s Box? Privileges or Immunities, The Constitution in 2020, and Properly Incorporating the Second Amendment,” which comes out in January in the Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy.  I will be blogging more about “Pandora” – and, of course, the McDonald case – in future.