States' Rights:

Though widely acknowledged to be very smart, this Justice aroused deep and often vituperative ideological hostility. He was appointed by a President as part of the President's campaign to move the Court towards more judicial restraint -- and, in keeping with his general tendency of mostly deferring to government action, this Justice was willing to endorse considerable federal government authority under the Commerce Clause, for instance letting the government regulate the growing of things for personal consumption on the theory that such regulation was necessary and proper to the regulation of interstate commerce.

But the Justice also believed that there were important limits on federal authority: "The exercise of the commerce power may . . . destroy state sovereignty." If the power is read too broadly, "the National Government could devour the essentials of state sovereignty, though that sovereignty is attested by the Tenth Amendment."

Therefore, the Justice reasoned, Congress's power under the Commerce Clause must have judicially enforceable limits. In other opinions, he took similar views, stressing the Tenth Amendment as a limit on other Congressional powers, and finding in the constitutional structure limits to the federal government's ability to interfere with state government functions. This Justice was . . .

Sure, it's interesting that J. Douglas wrote those things, but I don't think I like the implicit game of 'gotcha.' Whenever someone brings up his wackier ideas, such as 'trees have standing to sue', then conservatives point out that he tended to write his opinions in 20 minutes and was too busy diddling the secretary to do serious research. But when he says something that we (including myself) agree with, then suddenly, Justice Douglas is brilliant. Kind of like when Republicans scoff at politically active yet brain dead celebrities - unless those celebrities are attending the Republican convention.
9.9.2005 4:44pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
The "implicit game" is "isn't this a surprising fact?" -- a game that I do like to play, because it's fun. Naturally, one can't infer that just because Justice Douglas believed it, it must be right. But, in a word, duh.

To the extent this post has a point (beyond just the fun fact), the point is simply that judicially enforceable constraints on states' rights aren't solely a conservative view. That doesn't make this the correct view -- it just makes it not solely a conservative view.
9.9.2005 4:54pm
frankcross (mail):
Forgive my cynicism, but these are mere honeyed words to make the decisions more broadly palatable. When did Justice Douglas reach a decision consistent with these views?
9.9.2005 5:00pm
It's only a "surprising fact" because Justice Douglas rarely showed a commitment to these beliefs when they conflicted with reaching his preferred outcome. The overall point (and one I believe I've seen professed here) is that an argument does not gain force based on the identity of the speaker.
9.9.2005 5:33pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
frankcross: Each of the opinions I quote was a dissent -- he wasn't trying to make a decision more broadly palatable; he was arguing for the opposite decision.
9.9.2005 6:31pm
Goodness. People do enjoy ascribing dark motives to Eugene's posts. Next he'll be branded as attempting to rehabilitate Benedict Arnold's reputation.
9.9.2005 7:27pm
frankcross (mail):
Ok, he was trying to make his dissenting argument more palatable. Did he ever vote these views?
9.9.2005 10:42pm
D.B. Carpenter (mail):
Yes, but back in the 1930s judicial restraint was seen as progressive because it allowed increased government regulation of the economy (while conservatives in the 1930s championed judicial activism to fight the growth of the regulatory state). That is, the quote is stunning only if one doesn't take into consideration the historical context. Most progressives from 1900-1950 were for judicial restraint every bit as much as someone like Judge Bork is for it today. Makes one think that politics rather than legal theory informs legal decisions, just like the realists and CLS folks said. Yikes, I didn't say that did I?
9.9.2005 11:02pm
Kind of like Thomas and Scalia justifying
Bush vs. Gore.
9.10.2005 1:21am
Gene Vilensky (mail) (www):

When will the Left get off of Bush v. Gore, huh? Look, your own judges brought this on themselves. As Alex Kozinski said in his debate with Stephen Reinhardt at the Yale Federalist Society a couple of years back, Bush v. Gore was straight up application of the Equal Protection clause. The legal left brought it on themselves. Why is it that when liberals apply it for their own ends it's this great protector of rights, etc. but when conservatives apply it, all of a sudden it's legislating from the bench? What do you propose should have happened? Should Palm Beach county have been allowed to divine votes by looking at finger print patterns?
9.11.2005 5:57am
Jim Copland:
Justice Douglas also famously dissented in an affirmative action case, DeFunis v. Odegaard, 416 U.S. 312 (1974) (dissenting from a ruling of mootness), and while much of his writing is a diatribe against the LSAT and objective standardized tests -- and he ultimately concludes that the Washington Law School affirmative-action admissions policy cannot be rejected as unconstitutional on the merits -- he does include the following very interesting dicta:

There is no constitutional right for any race to be preferred. The years of slavery did more than retard the progress of blacks. Even a greater wrong was done the whites by creating arrogance instead of humility and by encouraging the growth of the fiction of a superior race. There is no superior person by constitutional standards. A DeFunis who is white is entitled to no advantage by reason of that fact; nor is he subject to any disability, no matter what his race or color. Whatever his race, he had a constitutional right to have his application considered on its individual merits in a racially neutral manner.

The slate is not entirely clean. First, we have held that pro rata representation of the races is not required either on juries, see Cassell v. Texas, 339 U.S. 282, 286 -287, or in public schools, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1, 24 . . . .

The reservation of a proportion of the law school class for members of selected minority groups is fraught with similar dangers, for one must immediately determine which groups are to receive such favored treatment and which are to be excluded, the proportions of the class that are to be allocated to each, and even the criteria by which to determine whether an individual is a member of a favored group. There is no assurance that a common agreement can be reached, and first the schools, and then the courts, will be buffeted with the competing claims. The University of Washington included Filipinos, but excluded Chinese and Japanese; another school may limit its program to blacks, or to blacks and Chicanos. Once the Court sanctioned racial preferences such as these, it could not then wash its hands of the matter, leaving it entirely in the discretion of the school, for then we would have effectively overruled Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 , and allowed imposition of a "zero" allocation. But what standard is the Court to apply when a rejected applicant of Japanese ancestry brings suit to require the University of Washington to extend the same privileges to his group? The Committee might conclude that the population of Washington is now 2% Japanese, and that Japanese also constitute 2% of the Bar, but that had they not been handicapped by a history of discrimination, Japanese would now constitute 5% of the Bar, or 20%. Or, alternatively, the Court could attempt to assess how grievously each group has suffered from discrimination, and allocate proportions accordingly; if that were the standard the current University of Washington policy would almost surely fall, for there is no Western State which can claim that it has always treated Japanese and Chinese in a fair and evenhanded manner. See, e. g., Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 ; Terrace v. Thompson, 263 U.S. 197 ; Oyama v. California, 332 U.S. 633 . This Court has not sustained a racial classification since the wartime cases of Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 , and Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81 , involving curfews and relocations imposed upon Japanese-Americans.

Nor obviously will the problem be solved if next year the Law School included only Japanese and Chinese, for then Norwegians and Swedes, Poles and Italians, Puerto Ricans and Hungarians, and all other groups which form this diverse Nation would have just complaints. . . .

The argument is that a "compelling" state interest can easily justify the racial discrimination that is practiced here. To many, "compelling" would give members of one race even more than pro rata representation. The public payrolls might then be deluged say with Chicanos because they are as a group the poorest of the poor and need work more than others, leaving desperately poor individual blacks and whites without employment. By the same token large quotas of blacks or browns could be added to the Bar, waiving examinations required of other groups, so that it would be better racially balanced. The State, however, may not proceed by racial classification to force strict population equivalencies for every group in every occupation, overriding individual preferences. The Equal Protection Clause commands the elimination of racial barriers, not their creation in order to satisfy our theory as to how society ought to be organized. The purpose of the University of Washington cannot be to produce black lawyers for blacks, Polish lawyers for Poles, Jewish lawyers for Jews, Irish lawyers for Irish. It should be to produce good lawyers for Americans and not to place First Amendment barriers against anyone. That is the point at the heart of all our school desegregation cases, from Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 , through Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 . A segregated admissions process creates suggestions of stigma and caste no less than a segregated classroom, and in the end it may produce that result despite its contrary intentions. One other assumption must be clearly disapproved: that blacks or browns cannot make it on their individual merit. That is a stamp of inferiority that a State is not permitted to place on any lawyer.

If discrimination based on race is constitutionally permissible when those who hold the reins can come up with "compelling" reasons to justify it, then constitutional guarantees acquire an accordion-like quality. Speech is closely brigaded with action when it triggers a fight, Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 , as shouting "fire" in a crowded theater triggers a riot. It may well be that racial strains, racial susceptibility to certain diseases, racial sensitiveness to environmental conditions that other races do not experience, may in an extreme situation justify differences in racial treatment that no fairminded person would call "invidious" discrimination. Mental ability is not in that category. All races can compete fairly at all professional levels. So far as race is concerned, any state-sponsored preference to one race over another in that competition is in my view "invidious" and violative of the Equal Protection Clause.

9.11.2005 7:27pm