All the talk from the left about how absurd it would be for the Supreme Court to invalidate the ACA on commerce clause grounds has made me think about ridiculous Supreme Court reasoning. And when I say ridiculous reasoning, I mean just that; not that I necessarily even object to the outcome of the case, just that I have a hard time keeping a straight face if I have to explain the reasoning to my students.
The penumbras and emanations line from Justice Willioam O. Douglas in Griswold is a perennial favorite, but I think Douglas outdid himself two years earlier in Gray v. Sanders. This was an extremely important case, because it announced the “one person one vote” rule, which soon led the Court to order virtually every state in the union to redistrict its legislature. Moreover, this was hardly an “apolitical” decision, because it forced states to reduce representation for (conservative) rural areas in favor of (liberal) urban areas, consistent with the political interests of the Court’s majority.
So how did Douglas justify the one-person, one-vote principle, even though no (or maybe almost no) states complied with it previously, and even though the U.S. Senate is obviously not apportioned on that basis? “The conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Amendments can mean only one thing – one person, one vote.” I kid you not.
Readers favorite examples of similar addled reasoning are welcome in the comments.
UPDATE: I can’t pick out one or two lines, but I have to admit not being able to follow the “reasoning” of Justice Holmes in Federal Baseball Club v. National League, 259 U.S. 200 (1922), in which he acknowledges that baseball teams cross state lines to play exhibitions for the purposes of making money, but that this nevertheless does not constitute “interstate commerce” for the purposes of federal antitrust law.
Further UPDATE: Judging from the comments, quite a few VC readers don’t understand the distinction between criticizing a ruling’s reasoning, and criticizing a ruling’s outcome. For example, I think Douglas’s Griswold opinion was quite poorly reasoned, but I don’t have any problem with Goldberg or Harlan’s concurrences, which reached the same result.