Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What is the contribution of human positive law, fixed as posited, to the common good of a political community?

Patrick's #2 post on his Catholic judging, anti-McLaw paper invites attention to his actual paper itself, beyond the abstract. 

Until reading the paper, I had not paid sufficient attention to how it proceeds by weaving together an array of insights from a decade of Scarpa Conferences at Villanova Law. Although mention of this enterprise is at the center of the abstract, it is not until I read the paper that I appreciated how it is also at the center of this particular writing project.

The paper has seven parts, aptly titled Parts I through VI, followed by Part VII, Conclusion. As its title indicates, the paper is both about judging and about law. The two are related, of course, but they are also distinct.

For now, I'd like to focus on a single claim about an evil of textualism made at the end of Part VI, right before the beginning of the end of the paper. To understand this claim in context, though, it is useful to consider the three last paragraphs of Part VI together. Patrick writes:

I do not seek a perfect constitution. It would be a fool’s errand, because among us humans the good always is under construction (or destruction). I seek instead a constitution that optimizes legal and thus cultural conditions for constructing the good. Any constitution worthy of its supporters/subjects should assist those it rules by assisting them to perfect both themselves and the common good. (A point more or less clear already with Aristotle, but lost on modernity). To grasp this is to call for a constitution interpreted according to the common law method, with due modification, and this exactly because that method is isomorphic with the method of human intelligence itself, in that it is methodical and therefore potentially progressive and cumulative. Methodism with a small-c must be recovered and sustained if we are to escape McLaw.

Justice Scalia contended that our Constitution once was, and should again be, “rock solid.” Such would be McLaw: rock solid. Dynamic human intelligence, by contrast, is a rock on which to build exactly because it allows knowledge, both theoretical and practical, to “make [its] slow, if not bloody entrance.”

There are no cosmic guarantees that knowledge will make an entrance (we remain at liberty to elect nescience and evil), and meanwhile McWorld through its agent McLaw does violence to human potential, and specifically to our potency for social obedience to divine law, by attempting to stop history by the currently enacted rules (which fallible humans enacted fallibly). Textualism is an antidote that reduplicates but also radicates the evil: arbitrary fixity. One could do worse than the common law judge ridiculed by Scalia as “Mr. Fix-it.” For example, Judge Ronald McDonald, Mayor McCheese, the Hamburglar, and the rest of McWorld at play.

The "evil" here is "arbitrary fixity." Missing from this assessment is an acknowledgment of how some human positive law, fixed as posited, contributes to the common good of a political community. We have, for example, two houses of Congress, not one or three. We have one President, not two consuls. We have judges with life tenure, not fixed terms. Citizens of one state traveling into another are entitled to the privileges and immunities of citizens of that state, not to be treated as complete foreigners. The Constitution is to be amended in some ways, apparently to the exclusion of others. The Constitution is supreme law, not to be treated as foreign law by state judges. And we could add to this list, generated thus far by picking one (arbitrarily fixed?) feature from each of the first six Articles of the Constitution.

There is a sense in which we can describe these as "arbitrary" fixities. We reasonably could have chosen otherwise. But we needed to choose. And we continue to benefit as a political community by legal technology that treats those choices as fixed in place. Reason did not fully specify the choices to be made. But reason required that choices be made. And once made, the result of those choices need to be fixed in place in order to achieve the full benefits of the kind of constitutive choices made and promulgated through the constitutional text.

All of this is part of the straightforward natural law case for a particular kind of human positive law. It appeals is both Catholic and catholic.

I have not said anything yet in this conversation about judging. But I can at least observe that how to judge in accordance with the Constitution as law depends on what kind of law the Constitution is. This is one of the main points of the recent paper, Enduring Originalism, that Jeff Pojanowski and I have written. (Currently at 99 downloads ... free paper about the classical natural law foundations of positive-law originalism for the 100th downloader!)

As in this post, so in that paper, we do not say much about the activity of constitutional adjudication. But as we think through what we can and should say, we will have to think carefully about Patrick's proposed Methodism.


Walsh, Kevin | Permalink