Monday, June 6, 2016
[MOD note: Professor John Inazu has written the following response to Professor Mark Tushnet's three posts about John's new book, Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference]
Confident Pluralism, Expressive Association, and “Tone”
Mark Tushnet has a series of posts on Balkinization commenting on my new book, Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference. I appreciate Mark’s engagement with the book. And I appreciate the opportunity to offer this response as a guest post on Mirror of Justice.
Before I turn to Mark’s critiques, I’ll briefly situate the main arguments of the book. Confident Pluralism insists that our shared existence is not only possible, but also necessary. Instead of the elusive goal of unity, I suggest a more modest possibility: that we can live together in our “many-ness.” That prescription includes both a legal and a personal dimension. The two are interrelated. Silencing other viewpoints may begin with personal antipathy, but it ends with legal prohibition—a refusal to extend the protections of the law to one’s adversaries, and ultimately, an effort to turn the law against them.
The legal dimension of Confident Pluralism focuses on three areas: (1) protecting the voluntary groups of civil society through the rights of assembly and association; (2) facilitating and enabling dissent, disagreement, and diversity in public forums; and (3) ensuring that generally available government funding is not limited by government orthodoxy. The personal dimension of Confident Pluralism aspires toward tolerance, humility, and patience in three civic practices: (1) our speech; (2) our collective action (including protests, strikes, and boycotts); and (3) our relationships across difference.
Mark’s first post addresses my critique of the Supreme Court’s expressive association doctrine. His second post explores the implications of my constitutional argument for association with the oft-raised but important hypothetical of the racist restaurant. His third post criticizes the “tone” of my civic argument for tolerance, patience, and humility. I’ll comment first on Mark’s third post, which goes much more to the core of the book than his first two posts.
Tolerance, Patience, and Humility
Mark’s third post criticizes what he calls the “tone” of my book. He writes: “Most of [Confident Pluralism’s] argument appears to be directed at intolerant, arrogant, impatient secular liberals—although formally speaking, he addresses intolerant, arrogant, impatient religious conservatives as well.” Mark concludes his post by writing: “Tolerance, patience, and humility are good things, of course, but urging them only on secular liberals is not.”
I think the best response here is to leave it to other readers to decide whether my argument is slanted in the way Mark suggests. My hunch is that most readers, regardless of their ideological priors, will disagree with his characterization.
I do not mean to suggest that I wrote the book from a “view from nowhere.” I have all kinds of personal beliefs that affect how I think and how I see the world. Take, for example, the two most significant constitutional issues that I address in the book: the right of association and the public forum. Most of my views about associational autonomy lean conservative, and most of my views about the public forum (including public protest) lean liberal.
In the chapter focused on speech as a civic practice, my critique of the “hurtful insult” is directed mostly at conservatives and my critique of the “conversation stopper” is directed mostly at liberals (though it is not difficult to think of cross-cutting examples for each of these). And when it comes to the aspirations of tolerance, humility, and patience, I tend to think, and tried to explain, that conservatives are more likely to resist the aspiration of tolerance and liberals are more likely to resist the aspiration of humility—but that both are needed to pursue a more confident pluralism.
Throughout the book, I do my best to name hypocrisy or inconsistency when I see it. For example, when it comes to the expressive nature of for-profit corporations, I express disappointment with both progressives and conservatives: “Many progressives were quick to defend Mozilla’s moral expression (and that of large corporations like Apple in the debate over Indiana’s religious freedom law) but view Hobby Lobby’s claims less favorably. Conversely, conservatives who ardently defended Hobby Lobby were quick to critique Mozilla and Apple. Whatever conclusion we reach as a society about the expressive and moral claims of for-profit corporations, it ought to apply across the ideological spectrum.”
Mark’s post raises some specific examples that emerged mostly after I completed the manuscript. On the subject of recent religious liberty legislation, I agree with Mark that most proposed laws have been neither carefully drafted nor narrowly focused, an argument that I made last fall in an essay coauthored with Michael McConnell and Rick Garnett. With respect to the so-called bathroom laws, I have criticized the North Carolina legislation and I have pushed back on overly dismissive arguments by religious conservatives. I do think, however, that some of the policy implications of transgender laws in other facilities and other circumstances are more complicated than Mark suggests.
Mark assumes a polarized binary between “secular liberals” and “religious conservatives” that I do not adopt in the book. For example, Mark references a story about some hate mail I received after I wrote about protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Mark assumes that the letter came from a “religious conservative.” But nothing in the story hints at the sender’s religious disposition, or whether the sender is liberal or conservative. (Indeed, I know nothing about the sender except for his temperament and his apparent dissatisfaction with my writing.)
I worry that Mark has assumed a “culture wars” mentality that sees only two sides. The shortcoming of that approach is that it forces an alignment of contested issues with ideologies that oversimplifies the views of many if not most people in this country. There are secular liberals and religious conservatives. There are also secular conservatives and religious liberals and all kinds of other combinations in between. And many people hold views on individual issues that, once aggregated, would not fit neatly into any of these labels.
I wrote in the introduction to Confident Pluralism that the goal of the book “is not to settle which views are right and which views are wrong. Rather, it proposes that the future of our democratic experiment requires finding a way to be steadfast in our personal convictions, while also making room for the cacophony that may ensue when others disagree with us.” That goal does not mean we will be able to engage with everyone who disagrees with us. I am unlikely to respond to the person who sent me hate mail. But I do hope to engage meaningfully with many of the people whose paths I cross. That includes colleagues, near and far, many who disagree with me on contested cultural and legal matters.
In the best cases, those encounters allow us to discover common ground in spite of profound disagreement. That is, for example, what I hope my colleague, Marion Crain, and I accomplished in our article “Re-Assembling Labor.” It is also, I trust, why scholars as diverse as Jason Mazzone, Tabatha Abu El-Haj, Ash Bhagwat, Tim Zick, Rob Vischer, and Steve Morrison have taken a renewed interest in the First Amendment’s right of assembly—perhaps because they find common ground in a constitutional principle despite deep differences on other matters.
Let me turn now to some of the more granular doctrinal arguments in Mark’s first two posts, which address my critique of the Court’s expressive association doctrine. (I should note that the section on expressive association in Confident Pluralism summarizes a more extensive argument that I make in my first book, Liberty’s Refuge: The Forgotten Freedom of Assembly.)
Mark defends the Court’s distinction between “expressive” and “non-expressive” associations as one of the “second-order rules whose justification lies in the fact, or hope, that a system implementing those rules will actually achieve better compliance with the first-order norms than a system in which courts attempt to enforce only the first-order norms.”
There are two problems with Mark’s argument. The first is that we have little evidence that the second-order formulation actually parses the first-order norms better than an undifferentiated right of association. The Supreme Court first recognized a right of association in its 1958 decision, NAACP v. Alabama. The doctrine quickly destabilized around the Court’s attempts to distinguish between the NAACP (which it wanted to protect) and the Communist Party of the United States (which it did not want to protect). It is not clear how a second-order formulation would have better honored first-order norms given the Court’s disparate treatment of Communists and civil rights workers.
The Court first introduced the second-order formulation of expressive association (alongside a separate right of “intimate association”) in its 1984 decision, Roberts v. United States Jaycees. Since then, it has held that private civic groups (like the Jaycees) are expressive but unprotected against gender antidiscrimination norms, that the Boy Scouts are expressive and protected against sexual-orientation antidiscrimination norms, and that a skating rink is “non-expressive.” Lower courts have concluded that motorcycle clubs, fraternities, fight clubs, nudist colonies, and other groups are all “non-expressive.”
It’s hard to see how these distinctions hold up. As I argue in the book, the category of non-expressive association “obscures the fact that all associative acts have expressive potential: joining, gathering, speaking, and not speaking can all be expressive.” For this reason, “it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to police this line apart from the expressive intent of the members of the group. And many groups that might at first blush seem to be non-expressive could in fact articulate an expressive intent.” (I also note in the book, and in an article on Virtual Assembly, that the distinction between expressive and non-expressive becomes even more precarious once we consider its online applications.)
The second problem with Mark’s second-order argument is his assertion that “the Court’s distinction between expressive and non-expressive associations was motivated by a concern that ordinary commercial enterprises would invoke the right to justify policies of racial (and, later, other) discrimination.” I don’t think that’s right. The closest we get to that view is Justice O’Connor’s concurrence in the Jaycees’ case, a view that has never been adopted by a majority of the Court.
Even if Mark were right about the Court’s view, the two second-order formulations are not interchangeable—“commercial” is not an adequate proxy for “non-expressive.” Many commercial associations are “expressive” and some noncommercial associations are “non-expressive.” Hobby Lobby is expressive when it takes a position on birth control, and Delta Airlines is expressive when it threatens to boycott Arizona over the state’s religious freedom legislation. Conversely, both a gay social club and a Christian prayer group arguably fall short of the Court’s definition of “expressiveness,” even though both groups are clearly noncommercial.
One could, of course, adopt a pragmatic distinction between commercial and noncommercial associations. Andy Koppelman has called this view a “neo-libertarian” approach to the right of association, which he attributes to a diverse group of scholars including Michael McConnell, David Bernstein, Dale Carpenter, Richard Epstein, John McGinnis, Michael Paulsen, Nancy Rosenblum, and Seana Shiffrin. I find the distinction insufficient insofar as it leaves open the possibility of powerful monopolies emerging from within the noncommercial category. In Liberty’s Refuge, I propose a line between commercial and noncommercial associations that also accounts for the monopoly situation in the noncommercial context (a position for which Richard Epstein has criticized me).
In short, I agree with Mark about the pragmatic line-drawing; I just don’t think expressive association gets us there. But all of this is a bit beside the point when it comes to Confident Pluralism. The primary claim of the book with respect to the right of association—and the one that I wish Mark had focused on a bit more—is that current doctrine insufficiently protects the private groups of civil society—the very groups that we most need to live out confident pluralism.
The Racist Restaurant
Mark’s second post raises the oft-made but important hypothetical of the racist restaurant owner who appeals to the right of expressive association to exclude non-white customers. As I’ve already suggested, my own pragmatic view is that the right of association (or what I prefer to think of as the right of assembly) should not extend to commercial associations. That knocks out the different versions of Mark’s hypothetical, so let me turn to the harder case that I address in the book, the racist private school. Schools present a much harder and more interesting question than restaurants (in the latter example, I agree with Mark that antidiscrimination laws should prevail).
It seems in this instance that courts have made plausible distinctions on the level of social policy. When it comes to race-based discrimination against African Americans in the wake of widespread and damaging practices of the Jim Crow South, the schools have lost. When it comes to any other kind of discrimination (including other forms of race-based discrimination), the schools have typically prevailed. That is not to deny that people suffer real and tangible harms from discrimination on the basis of other characteristics, including gender and sexual orientation (which is one reason that I support a pragmatic line-drawing between commercial and noncommercial associations under which the former would not be protected under the right of association).
The Intended Audience of Confident Pluralism
In closing, I’d like to return to Mark’s third post and clear up one final point: it was never my intention to write to “intolerant, arrogant, impatient secular liberals,” any more than it was my intention to write to intolerant, arrogant, and impatient conservatives. The people who have already made up their minds and demonized “the other side” are unlikely to persuaded by my book, even if they happen to come across it. The people I am trying to reach are those who are predisposed to be more charitable to one another, even in the midst of deep and intractable disagreement. They are the people who are open to reasonable arguments, and willing to listen to different perspectives. To my good fortune, based on my interactions with him, Mark Tushnet is one of them.