Archive | Originalism

The Fiduciary Foundations of Federal Equal Protection

Does the federal government have to adhere to the equal protection of the law? President Andrew Jackson certainly thought so. He vetoed in 1832 the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States, and based his veto message on constitutional grounds–among them, that the Bank was special interest legislation, created not for good of the general public, but to enrich select interests. President Jackson wrote: “There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing. In the act before me there seems to be a wide and unnecessary departure from these just principles.”

This was the first use of the phrase “equal protection” in an American political document. Three and half decades later, the Fourteenth Amendment forbade States to deny to anyone the “equal protection” of the law.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bolling v. Sharpe that the D.C. public schools could not be racially segregated. The Court held that the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process clause makes the principle of equal protection applicable to the federal government. Bolling was a hastily-written opinion, and it shows. Over the years, Bolling has been derided for creating “reverse incorporation”–as a good result that is hard to defend intellectually, other than by conceding the Supreme Court the power to act as Platonic Guardians.

That view is challenged in a new article by Gary Lawson (BU), Guy Seidman (Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, Israel) and Rob Natelson (Independence Institute). Their article “The Fiduciary Foundations of Federal Equal Protection” The abstract explains:

that a federal equal protection principle is not only consistent

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Response to Prof. Rosenkranz: ArmS & the Man – or Arms & the People

Nick takes issue with my suggestion that the Second Amendment on its face bars laws restricting people to one gun, such as that currently proposed by Gov. Quinn in Illinois.

My (first) argument is not an originalist or purposivist one, but rather a purely textual one. The primary meaning of “arms” is plural. Nick argues the plural is used to go with “the right of the people.” The real “reason,” I think, the plural term is used is probably because that is how it was written in the English Bill of Rights (and the Magna Carta). The question is what are the consequences of those possibly unconscious decisions and associations for a textual reading of the Constitution.

Certainly the plural arms goes with the plural “people.” But both are independent drafting choices. For example, the right of the people could have been “to be armed,” which would leave out the plural. Or it need not have been written in terms of “the People.” Nick compares it the Fourth Amendment. I like that: is the “people’s” right to be secure in their “houses, papers, and effects” even arguably singular, or be restricted to one house, one paper, one effect? Could papers be limited to one piece of paper? It is not “people” that makes “papers” plural, it is the way people commonly use paper.

Turning to purpose, the Framers used a plural word; they certainly did not intend to rule out “one gun” rules, because as far as I know, they had never encountered such restrictions, and were more interested in gun minimimums than maximums. None the less, the plural has consequences. Nor are the consequences absurd (this still permits two-gun limits) though they may be undesirable from certain policy perspectives. Nor is the reading contradicted by substantial originalist […]

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“A Good Musket” and Bearing Arms

I’ve been discussing whether the right to bear arms is infringed by laws limiting people to bearing only one “arm”, as a proposal by Illinois Gov. Quinn seeks to do.

Perhaps the best evidence for a singular reading of “arms” is the Second Militia Act of 1792, section 1, which provides, in part, that a militia member must:

provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch with a box therein to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock./

(emphasis added).

These requirements, which track Colonial milita rules, do not purport to define or even regulate the right to bear “arms;” rather, it sets a minimum for the arms militiamen mush furnish at their own expense. Its about duties, not rights. Still, the relevant section of the Act concludes, after many further details, that “every citizen so enrolled, and providing himself with the arms, ammunition and accoutrements required as aforesaid” shall have certain immunities from suit.

The reference to “arms” raises the possibility that the term could apply to a single firearm. But event this inference is not clear. The militiamen had to have bayonets (their officers, swords), which might be part of “arms” rather than “accoutrements.” To my untrained eye, a late 18th-century bayonet would be an accoutrement, because it looks difficult to wield independently of the musket, unlike modern bayonets, which are attachable knives. However, my first, impressionistic take on contemporary usage is that bayonets were called “weapons,” suggesting they were part of arms. For example, “Attention was paid to inculcate the use of the bayonet, and a total reliance on that weapon.” Another officer recommended that “only by vigorous and persevering charges with that weapon that […]

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Is the Right to Bear Arms Plural?

Tomorrow, Illinois’ concealed carry laws will become ineffective, having been held unconstitutional by the Seventh Circuit several months ago. The Court kept the unconstitutional law on life support for a few months to give the legislature time to craft a replacement measure. Springfield responded, but now that bill has been vetoed by Governor Quinn.

If the legislature does not override or accept the Governor’s veto by tomorrow, Illinois will go from being one of the most restrictive states for gun regulation to one of the most open.

The Governor issued an “amendatory veto” – declaring what additions or changes he would make to the legislation. Several of these raise serious Second Amendment problem (the legislature’s bill was not free of these, but Quinn’s is much worse). Here I’ll examine just one, which is in tension with the constitutional text itself: limiting people to carrying only one gun.

Arms is a plural term, and the presumption should thus be that the right to bear them extends to more than one firearm. To be sure, “arms” is one of those terms where the plural can refer to the singular. But it is not one of those “sheep” words where there is no singular; arm, firearm, weapon or gun would all clearly indicate the singular, but those words were not used.

Johnson’s Dictionary, notes that grammatically arms lacks a singular form even when used singularly, but defines it as “weapons” rather than weapon, suggesting the dominance of the plural use.

The straight textual argument may be particularly relevant here as the Seventh Circuit struck down the Illinois gun ban using a straight reading of “bear arms” – bear means to carry, and thus the right must extend to carrying in public. Given that the Court held “bear” must be taken seriously, […]

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Jack Balkin on Fisher

Yale law professor Jack Balkin – a leading constitutional law scholar generally sympathetic to affirmative action – has an interesting post on Fisher v. University of Texas. Like me, Balkin believes that the decision will make it more difficult for universities to defend racial preferences in court:

Fisher distinguishes between two questions. The first is whether diversity is a compelling interest for a state university; the second is whether an admissions program that uses race to achieve educational diversity is narrowly tailored.

On the first question, the courts will generally defer to university officials’ belief that educational diversity is essential to the university’s educational mission.

However, on the second, question–whether the university’s use of race is narrowly tailored–courts will not defer to the university’s views. In particular, courts will not defer to the university’s judgment that no workable race-neutral alternative would achieve the benefits of educational diversity “about as well and at tolerable administrative expense….”

This is important news, even if you think that this view was implicit in previous caselaw. If a race-netural approach would achieve the benefits of educational diversity not exactly to the same degree, but “about as well and at tolerable administrative expense,” then the university may not use a race-based program. The judgement of adequacy of race-neutral alternatives will be made by a court, and although it will pay attention to the professional judgment of educators, the court will not simply defer to that judgment.

This means that universities will be pressed to prove that “ten-percent” plans and class-based or socio-economic-based affirmative action programs will not do approximately as well as programs that consider race as one factor. The question will not be only one of numbers, but also the kind of diversity produced and its effects on education. That question will be

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Profile of Judge Ed Korman

The New York Times has a nice profile of Judge Ed Korman, the judge who faced down HHS in the Plan B case. See Jonathan Adler’s posts, here, here, here, and here. Whatever one thinks of the merits, it takes great fortitude for a district judge to stand up to a recalcitrant administration. As for Judge Korman’s judicial philosophy: “I basically share Bork’s view that the Constitution should be interpreted based on the understanding of the framers of Constitution.” Korman is a first-rate judge. […]

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New Scholarship on Originalism and Discrimination

For a long time, the conventional wisdom among legal scholars has been that an originalist interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment would require courts to uphold laws that discriminate against women and laws banning interracial marriage. While these arguments were once advanced by defenders of sexism and Jim Crow laws, today they are usually used as justification for rejecting originalism itself rather than for rejecting court decisions such as Loving v. Virginia, which struck down anti-miscegenation laws. At the same time, most scholars have also argued that the original meaning of the Amendment permits states to adopt affirmative action programs.

Recent scholarship has called this conventional wisdom into serious question. In 2011, Northwestern law professor Steven Calabresi and Julia Rickert published an important article outlining an originalist case for striking down laws that discriminate on the basis of sex. More recently, both Calabresi (with Andrea Matthews) and David Upham have published originalist defenses of the result in Loving.

Just a few days ago, Michael Rappaport posted this paper questioning the conventional wisdom on originalism and affirmative action (which I myself questioned much less thoroughly here). It is not my view that the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment clearly requires courts to strike down all affirmative action programs. But the application of the original meaning to these programs is far from being as clear as the conventional wisdom suggests.

I don’t think the work of Calabresi and his coauthors, Rappaport, and Upham will definitively end the debate over originalism and discrimination. Critics of originalism will likely develop rebuttals to their arguments. But this new wave of scholarship does mount a strong challenge to the previously dominant conventional wisdom. […]

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How to Figure Out When Laws Banning Same-Sex Marriage Became Unconstitutional and Why the Precise Date May Not Matter

At today’s Proposition 8 oral argument, Justice Scalia asked Ted Olson, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, “when did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage? 1791? 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted?” The intuition behind Scalia’s question is that if a law would not have been unconstitutional on the day the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, it cannot be unconstitutional under that Amendment at all.

But the latter doesn’t necessarily follow from the former. Laws that are constitutional at Time X can easily be unconstitutional at Time Y if relevant factual circumstances have changed. This is true not only under “living Constitution” theories, but even under originalism.

I. Originalism and Changing Circumstances.

How could this be so? Whether a law violates the original meaning of the Constitution depends not just on the words of the text, but on relevant factual circumstances. For example, the Fourth Amendment bans “unreasonable” searches and seizures. Whether a search is reasonable depends at least in part on the state of technology, the likelihood that the search will catch a criminal, and other factual circumstances. As technology changes and our knowledge increases, a search that could be considered reasonable at Time A might not be reasonable at Time B, even though the meaning of the Fourth Amendment has not changed at all.

The constitutionality of sex discrimination is a particularly telling example. Steven Calabresi and Julia Rickert have shown that the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment constrains discrimination against women if that discrimination lacked a compelling rationale beyond a desire to subordinate them as an inferior “caste.” But 19th century understandings of biology and social science led most people to believe that a wide range of laws discriminating against women were constitutional because they were rational responses to fundamental differences between the […]

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Penn Symposium — Back to the Basics: Originalism and Textualism in Constitutional Interpretation Today

The University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law is hosting a very promising symposium on Friday, January 25. My colleague and co-blogger Randy Barnett will be on the first panel. I will be giving the keynote address. And the second half of the symposium is largely dedicated to (eviscerating) my work! […]

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The Trillion Dollar Coin and the Problem of Circulation

Everyone loves money. That is why they call it MONEY.” – David Mamet.

The trillion-dollar coin is a proposal to avoid the debt ceiling through a loophole in a federal statute that authorizes the U.S. Mint to coin platinum in any denomination. Platinum is reserved for commemorative issues, and the obscure statutory provision was certainly not intended by Congress to authorize the effective borrowing of a trillion dollars, but as a statutory matter, the trillion dollar coin may work.

I have not examined the matter too closely, but at least one constitutional question pops up here.

Congress is authorized to “coin money.” The proposed trillion-dollar coin is certainly a coin – but is it money? Money is created for circulation. As Justice Story put it in his Commentary on the constitution, the power to coin money is designed to “preserve a proper circulation of good coin of a known value.” Vol. 2, § 1118. That is why it is put into the convenient form of coins or bills. Specie never intended for circulation, one might argue, is simply not money.

The link between circulation and coinage has been noted by courts, though obviously nothing has been decided, at least as far as my brief inquiry revealed. Veazie Bank v. Fenno, 75 U.S. 533 (1869) (“It cannot be doubted that under the constitution the power to provide a circulation of coin is given to congress.”)

Let us turn to the dictionaries. “Money” is “metal coined for public use,” according to the 1788 edition of William Perry’s The royal standard English dictionary. This may lead to a debate about what a “public use” is, reminscent of the “general welfare” question in the Spending power. I would guess it means “use by the public,” a view supported by “Metal coined […]

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Robert Bork, RIP

National Review has posted an on-line symposium in honor of Judge Robert Bork, the great legal scholar and jurist who passed away today. Here is an excerpt from my contribution:

Judge Robert Bork was an outstanding legal scholar and jurist. It is often forgotten that he first became prominent thanks to his path-breaking work on antitrust law and economics in the 1960s and ’70s. In this area, he made major advances that have become conventional wisdom for scholars across the political spectrum….

Bork’s theories on constitutional law are far more controversial. Nonetheless, he undeniably made a major contribution to the defense of originalism. He played a key role in bringing it from the margins of legal thought to the center….

In his later years, Bork ran into two contradictions that bedevil conservative legal and political thought more generally. The first is the tension between originalism and judicial deference to the democratic process. In many cases, enforcing the original meaning of the Constitution requires imposing tight constraints on legislative and executive power…. Second, Bork advocated extensive government regulation and “censorship” (his word) of the culture, without considering the possibility that this form of government intervention is often prone to the same pitfalls that he had earlier identified in government economic regulation.

The controversy over his 1987 Supreme Court nomination and the continuing ideological divide over judicial review make it difficult to objectively assess Judge Bork’s legacy. In the long run, however, I think he will be remembered for his important contributions to legal thought — even by those who, like myself, disagreed with many of his conclusions.

I previously wrote about Judge Bork’s legal and political thought (mostly focusing on the differences between us) here and here, and in this 2008 article for a symposium on Bork’s work. Readers […]

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Rejoinder to Akhil Amar on the Application of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Government

I am grateful that Akhil Amar has taken the time to respond to my post criticizing his theory that the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment bans racial discrimination by the federal government as well as the states. Akhil makes some good points, but I think he continues to fall short on the central point at issue. Neither of his posts adequately substantiates his argument that the original meaning of the Citizenship Clause of Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment protects African-Americans and others born or naturalized in the United States against federal racial discrimination simply by virtue of guaranteeing them citizenship.

In his new post, Akhil explains that his argument only applies to federal government discrimination with regards to “civil rights” (e.g. – rights to property and freedom of contract) rather than political rights (e.g. – voting and participation in juries and the military). I know that he has distinguished between the two in previous work. However, in the quote from his new book that he included in his earlier post criticizing me, Akhil makes the sweeping statement that the Citizenship Clause of the First Amendment means that “Any law, state or federal, heaping disabilities or dishonor upon any citizen by dint of his or her birth status — because he was born black, or because she was born female or out of wedlock — violates a core principle of the Fourteenth Amendment’s opening sentence” [emphasis added]. I think a reasonable reader could be forgiven for assuming that by “any law” Akhil means “any law.” Laws excluding blacks or women from the franchise, jury service, or military service certainly seem like laws “heaping disabilities or dishonor upon any citizen by dint of his or her birth status.” Perhaps this very broad statement is qualified elsewhere in the […]

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Akhil Amar on the Application of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Government

I am grateful to Akhil Amar for his comment on my post challenging claims that the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment allows affirmative action because Congress, in the 1860s and 70s adopted programs that gave “racial preferences” to recently freed African-American slaves. In my earlier post, I pointed out that these were federal government policies, and that the part of the Fourteenth Amendment which includes the Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause and the Privileges or Immunities Clause), explicitly applies only to states.

Professor Amar rightly points out that the first sentence of Section 1 of the Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to all persons born or naturalized within the United States, applies to the federal government as well. I don’t deny this, and even added an update to my post, where I noted that “I have updated this post slightly to make clear that it is the text of Section 2 [I meant to say the latter part of Section 1] of the Fourteenth Amendment (which includes the Equal Protection Clause and the Privileges or Immunities Clause) that only applies to state governments. Some other parts of the Amendment (e.g. – [the first part of Section 1] which gives citizenship to all person born in the United States, and Section 3, which bans some former Confederates from serving in Congress) also constrain the federal government. But [the latter part of Section 1] is the provision relevant to affirmative action.” My original post was badly worded on this point; and I also briefly conflated the second part of Section 1 with Section 2, which foolish error is explained but not excused by the fact that I was very tired at the time I wrote the update). But the update (which I first added before Professor Amar’s post went up) […]

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Originalism and Affirmative Action

In this recent SCOTUSblog post on the upcoming Supreme Court case of Fisher v. University of Texas, David Gans and UCLA law professor Adam Winkler take conservative originalist opponents of affirmative action to task for ignoring originalism in their arguments against the constitutionality of racial preferences for minorities. They particularly single out Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, who have taken a hard line against affirmative action in their opinions, but have never provided any evidence that this position is consistent with originalism. Gans and Winkler also argue that originalism in fact supports the constitutionality of affirmative action because “[t]he same elected officials who wrote and endorsed the constitutional amendment guaranteeing the equal protection of the laws to all persons also enacted several measures embodying ‘racial preferences.’” The latter argument builds on the work of previous academic defenders of affirmative action, such as Yale law professor Jed Rubenfeld.

Gans and Winkler are right to criticize Scalia and Thomas for neglecting originalism in their affirmative action opinions. But they are wrong to assert that originalism clearly supports their own side of the affirmative action debate. Without exception, all of the nineteenth century “racial preferences” that they cite are federal laws, such as the Freedman’s Bureau programs intended to aid recently freed slaves. But the text of the latter part of Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, the provision at issue in affirmative action litigation, only applies to state governments: “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.” [emphasis added].

Beginning with the famous case […]

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