Thursday, December 18, 2014
That’s the title of this report, though I would welcome more information from readers who may have it. The Supreme Court is that of the United Kingdom, and the case involves the issue of accommodation for objection to performing abortions on the basis of religious conscience. The statute interpreted by the Court is the Abortion Act of 1967, which provides that “no person shall be under any duty … to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection.” The issue before the Court was the scope of the statute: it was clear that the objecting midwives would be under no obligation to participate in abortions themselves, but it was not clear whether they could be compelled to supervise other staff who did participate in abortions. “Participate,” ruled the Court, demands a “hands on” role in the abortion, and any supervisory role was insufficiently “direct” to come within the statutory definition.
The midwives claimed that it would have been very easy to accommodate them, because the number of abortions on their ward was only a very small fraction of the work, supervision of which could readily have been assigned to others with no risk that anyone desiring an abortion would go without care. But that sort of compromise was unavailing to Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service: “[E]xtending this protection to tasks not directly related to the abortion would be to the detriment of women needing to end a pregnancy and the health care staff committed to providing that care. There are enough barriers in the way of women who need an abortion without further obstacles being thrown in their way.”
UPDATE: More information on the case and a link to the decision may be found at Religion Clause Blog.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
The more substantial novels of Charles Dickens represent a regrettably sizable hole in my reading, one which with time I hope to plug up. I've started with David Copperfield and am enjoying it greatly. The writing, as much or more than the story itself, is truly magnificent.
Unlike with some of Dickens's other work in which it is generally portrayed unflatteringly, the law and legal practice is not an absolutely central theme in David Copperfield, though it does show up from time to time. The ingratiatingly servile Uriah Heep has already been described poring over some legal treatises, and this detail is sure to resurface by and by. But the law does make something of an appearance when David, now a young man of 17 and at the urging of his aunt, selects the profession of "proctor."
I had not before known what a proctor was. Apparently the proctor was a special kind of solicitor who dealt with both ecclesiastical and admiralty matters, an unexpected pair! The position of proctor was merged with solicitor in the late 19th century. Here is a charming bit from Chapter XXIII about proctors and their practice (as relayed only slightly in jest by David's prepossessing friend, Steerforth):
"What is a proctor, Steerforth?" said I.
"Why, he is a sort of monkish attorney," replied Steerforth. "He is, to some faded courts held in Doctors' Commons--a lazy old nook near St. Paul's Churchyard--what solicitors are to the courts of law and equity. He is a functionary whose existence, in the natural course of things, would have terminated about two hundred years ago. I can tell you best what he is, by telling you what Doctors’ Commons is. It’s a little out-of-the-way place, where they administer what is called ecclesiastical law, and play all kinds of tricks with obsolete old monsters of acts of Parliament, which three-fourths of the world know nothing about, and the other fourth supposes to have been dug up, in a fossil state, in the days of the Edwards. It’s a place that has an ancient monopoly in suits about people’s wills and people’s marriages, and disputes among ships and boats.”
“Nonsense, Steerforth!” I exclaimed. “You don’t mean to say that there is any affinity between nautical matters and ecclesiastical matters?”
“I don’t, indeed, my dear boy,” he returned; “but I mean to say that they are managed and decided by the same set of people, down in that same Doctors’ Commons. You shall go there one day, and find them blundering through half the nautical terms in Young’s Dictionary, apropos of the ‘Nancy’ having run down the ‘Sarah Jane,’ or Mr. Peggotty and the Yarmouth boatmen having put off in a gale of wind with an anchor and cable to the ‘Nelson’ Indiaman in distress; and you shall go there another day, and find them deep in evidence, pro and con, respecting a clergyman who has misbehaved himself; and you shall find the judge in the nautical case, the advocate in the clergyman’s case, or contrariwise. They are like actors: now a man’s a judge, and now he is not a judge; now he’s one thing, now he’s another; now he’s something else, change and change about; but it’s always a very pleasant profitable little affair of private theatricals, presented to an uncommonly select audience.”
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Here is a new edition of a work by the brilliant historian, Christopher Dawson--The Gods of Revolution--first published in 1972. The book was Dawson’s last monograph, published posthumously with an introduction by Arnold Toynbee, with whom Dawson shared both a wonderfully sweeping methodological style and an interest in certain overarching religious themes--a style and a set of interests that quite went out of fashion in the work of many subsequent historians. The volume has been reissued by CUA Press with a new introduction by Joseph Stuart. In a college course in the intellectual history of western civilization many years ago, one of the required readings was the final part of Dawson’s book. I went back and looked at it, and have the following line highlighted: “And a free society requires a higher degree of spiritual unity than a totalitarian one, hence the spiritual integration of western culture is essential to its temporal survival.” Here is the publisher's description.
In The Gods of Revolution, Christopher Dawson brought to bear, as Glanmor Williams said, “his brilliantly perceptive powers of analysis on the French Revolution. . . . In so doing he reversed the trends of recent historiography which has concentrated primarily on examining the social and economic context of that great upheaval.”
Dawson underlines the fact that the Revolution was not animated by democratic ideals but rather reflected an authoritarian liberalism often marked by a fundamental contempt for the populace, described by Voltaire as “the ‘canaille’ that is not worthy of enlightenment and which deserves its yoke.” The old Christian order had stressed a common faith and common service shared by nobles and peasants alike but Rousseau “pleads the cause of the individual against society, the poor against the rich, and the people against the privileged classes.” It is Rousseau whom Dawson describes as the spiritual father of the new age in disclosing a new spirit of revolutionary idealism expressed in liberalism, socialism and anarchism. But the old unity was not replaced by a new form. Dawson insists the whole period following the Revolution is “characterized by a continual struggle between conflicting ideologies,” and the periods of relative stabilization such as the Napoleonic restoration, Victorian liberalism in England, and capitalist imperialism in the second German empire “have been compromises or temporary truces between two periods of conquest.” This leads to his assertion that “the survival of western culture demands unity as well as freedom, and the great problem of our time is how these two essentials are to be reconciled.”
This reconciliation will require more than technological efficiency for “a free society requires a higher degree of spiritual unity than a totalitarian one. Hence the spiritual integration of western culture is essential to its temporal survival.” It is to Christianity alone that western culture “must look for leadership and help in restoring the moral and spiritual unity of our civilization,” for it alone has the influence, “in ethics, in education, in literature, and in social action” sufficiently strong to achieve this end.
Friday, December 12, 2014
That is the title of an essay I have up at the Library of Law and Liberty. Here's the beginning:
In the second book of the sixteenth century novel by Rabelais, the voracious young giant Pantagruel, “large as life and much nosier,” is sent to Paris for his education. There he displays prodigious academic aptitude, mastering every conceivable subject with the greatest ease and besting the most able rhetoricians and philosophers in debate. So great is his reputation that he is summoned to adjudicate a law suit—a “controversy so involved and jurisprudentially abstruse that the highest court in the land found it about as clear as Old High German.” When the lawyers and jurists propose to give Pantagruel the relevant texts, writs, historical records, learned treatises, and legal authorities, he orders all of this “scribble-scrabble foolscrap” immediately burned. These materials, he scoffs, are “pure subversions of equity,” for “the law grew up out of the field of natural and moral philosophy.” After a perfunctory hearing and by the light of “philosophical and evangelical justice,” Pantagruel rules with swift panache, and his judgment is hailed as wiser than Solomon’s.
Pantagruel is coming for the Establishment Clause. He comes today bearing the standard of equality, and the manifestations of equality that he would have courts superimpose on the Constitution. In several disputes ostensibly involving the constitutional prohibition on “laws respecting an establishment of religion,” courts are interpreting this provision of the First Amendment to require adherence to a kind of pure principle of equality, or its close cousin, neutrality. And just as Pantagruelic justice beguiled Rabelais’ fictional Parisian intelligentsia, so, too, is the egalitarian justice of today’s courts extolled by the legal professoriate. Yet though certain forms of unequal treatment by the state on the basis of religion surely do create questions of constitutional dimension, we now face something like the obverse situation: courts so rigorously adhere to notions of egalitarian justice that the Establishment Clause is bloated to the point of collapsing of its own weight.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
I've been enjoying Professor Ronald Collins's series on Judge Richard Posner over at the Concurring Opinions blog. The Collins biography is extremely substantive and scholarly; it's not really the subject of this post at all. I'm more interested here in "Posner on Posner," which is basically a collection of interviews, reflections, bon mots, aphorisms, scattered wisdom about cats, opinionation about the virtues and vices of spicy food (or was it jurisprudence?), and so on. The latest installment is a smorgasbord of law professor queries about various scraps of miscellany, answered by Judge Posner in his genially efficient fashion. It's a fun little window on Richard Posner the man. It reminds me of the way that James Fitzjames Stephen used to produce regular victuals for the insatiably voracious Victorian English intelligentsia.
The Posner on Posner format, though, is such that I'm afraid folks might perhaps be misled to believe that when Judge Posner makes statements like, "I think the role of legal doctrine in judicial decisions is considerably overrated," that means that legal doctrine is likely actually to play very little role in his judicial decision making. Law professors like to ask questions about things like pragmatism, and the influence of law and economics and sundry other ideological precommitments on judging, how judging will change "in the future," and whether Posner reads any Lon Fuller. And, of course, Judge Posner is rather able at providing law professors with what they so much want to hear--interesting, provocative, sometimes perhaps a little shocking (not too much! The whiff of late Victorian England is indeed potent), always eminently Posnerian responses to these sorts of questions. Indeed, he's made something of an extrajudicial second career in writing great numbers of books whose theme is a tell-it-like-it-is forthrightness that shows the emperor in his resplendent nudity (and the repeated announcement of that theme, just in case you missed the last 19 times it was pressed, as something altogether novel coming from a judge). Professor Collins's series is certainly of a piece with this spectacularly prodigious extrajudicial output.
Still, if you really want to know what Posner the judge is like--and here one could substitute really anybody when writing as a judge--you might do better simply to read his opinions. Failing that, or for the sake of saving a little time, may I humbly submit that you read my piece with Kevin Walsh about the several ways in which Posner the judge is often altogether different from Posner the public intellectual who explains what it is like to be a judge. It's only after pursuing this sort of course that the differences between a judge and an explanation (even from the most able of judges) of 'what-it-is-like-to-be-a judge' (with apologies to Thomas Nagel) come into view--differences that for various reasons may run deep in Judge Posner's particular case.
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
You should take a look at Steve Smith's superb piece criticizing original meaning originalism and proposing something that he calls decisional originalism. More and more, I am coming to believe that original expected applications originalism has a lot more going for it than is commonly thought. Opponents as well as advocates (in fact, especially advocates) of original meaning originalism don't have much time for it. But Steve is on to something important in this short reflection. Note, also, the relevance of the method of common law reasoning for constitutional interpretation in Steve's presentation of decisional originalism, something that I also agree is regrettably sidelined today:
If original meaning does not avoid the authority and rationality objections that gave rise to originalism, is there some criterion that would better serve the originalists’ purposes?
Maybe. Or at least the foregoing discussion has already suggested a possibility. Constitutional interpretation might attempt to ascertain and follow the original constitutional decision. After all, authority exerts itself, and rationality manifests itself, in decisions. To be sure, once made, those decisions are expressed in words—words that have meanings. We necessarily use the words (among other things, such as the historical context) to try to understand and reconstruct the decisions. Still, if our goal is to respect the constitutional assignment of authority and to facilitate rational decision-making, then we should not care about either the words or their meanings for their own sakes. We pay attention to them, rather, for the purpose of ascertaining and following the enactors’ decisions.
This distinction between meanings and decisions is subtle, but it is not wholly unfamiliar. Back when lawyers and scholars took common law reasoning more seriously than perhaps they do now, even a legal realist like Herman Oliphant could intelligibly contend that what binds in a legal precedent is what the court decided, not what the court said. Stare decisis, not stare dictis. My suggestion is that a similar distinction might be employed in the context of constitutional interpretation. In common law reasoning, to be sure, the distinction may seem more manifest because there is no canonical statement of the decision, anyway. With constitutional provisions (and statutes) there is a canonical wording; but that fact, I think, need not dissolve the distinction between decision, on the one hand, and textual meaning, on the other.
Just how an approach focusing on the original decision would differ from one focusing on original meaning is a complicated question, about which I cannot say much in a short essay....
For now, though, two observations may be suggestive.
There should be no great difficulty in concluding that the Fourth Amendment “search and seizure” provision applies to wiretaps. That sort of invasion of privacy might well be seen as covered by the enactors’ decision even though telephones did not exist in 1789. We might imagine a conversation in which we explain to the Framers: “In the future, it will be possible for officials to invade people’s privacy electronically without physically entering their dwellings. Would your decision apply to that sort of thing?” And we might plausibly suppose that they would reply, “Of course.”
Suppose, however, that someone proposes that a constitutional provision be interpreted to do something we are reasonably confident the enactors did not contemplate and very likely would not have desired. Someone proposes, for example, that the due process clause be used to invalidate restrictions on abortion. Or that the equal protection clause be used to invalidate traditional marriage laws. And we are confident, perhaps, that the enactors of those provisions would have been startled to learn of these proposals, and would have protested, “Are you serious? Our decision had nothing to do with that sort of thing.” If such “interpretations” had been foreseen, the provisions almost surely would have been reworded to avoid the unwanted results, or would not have been enacted at all.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Today is the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address," delivered on this date in 1863. The address is short and most people have a dim recollection of the first few words of it. But on reading it again, I was reminded of one of its central messages--that the dead, and their efforts and sacrifices, consecrate and even redeem the living, if the living attend to and pursue the projects of the dead. The living must be dedicated to the projects of the dead, and must aspire to be worthy of the dead. A rather unfashionable message indeed in our own time:
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Saturday, November 15, 2014
In this post, I speculated about the possibility that the meaning of "establishment" might be illuminated by the English experience of the term before the Constitution's drafting. The idea would be to understand "establishment" not by reference to a fixed meaning traceable to the founding, but instead by reference to a general, but not limitless, range of meanings in use as a matter of the common law experience antedating the Constitution. That range might have a core and a periphery, and while the periphery, it is true, might change over time, any changes would be very gradual and always intimately connected with the historical common law meanings of establishment.
Our Center board member and my friend, Don Drakeman, helpfully points me to a different kind of common law evidence--uses of the term establishment in state courts after ratification of the Constitution. He argues that a shift was occurring in the meaning of the term during this period: from a narrow meaning limited to what Thomas Curry has called a meaning “modeled on the Anglican establishment in England,” to a broader meaning covering the issue of general assessments for funding churches. The former meaning would suggest a “sect preference” approach to the issue of establishment, while the latter would not.
In his book, Church, State, and Original Intent (at pages 216-229), Don describes the different post-First Amendment views in Massachusetts and New Hampshire circa 1800 about the meaning of establishment as expressed in three court cases—Avery v. Tyringham (1807), Barnes v. Falmouth (1810), and Muzzy v. Wilkins (1803).
Tyringham concerned Article III of the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution, the preamble of which at that time stated that “the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality; and [that] these cannot generally be diffused through a community, but by the institution of the public worship of God, and of public instructions in piety, religion and morality.” Based on that rationale, the Massachusetts Constitution goes on to authorize towns “to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of GOD, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality.” But Article III also provided that “no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law.” The opinion of Justice Theodore Sedgwick (who also served as a member of the First Congress that adopted the Establishment Clause) concluded that in these “strong and energetic” provisions “the religion of Protestant Christianity is established. Liberty of conscience is secured.” (emphasis in original) That interpretation suggests that the sort of explicit public support for Protestant Christianity contemplated by the Massachusetts Constitution does constitute an establishment, even though Massachusetts never had an expressly authorized or designated official church establishment.
In a later Massachusetts case, Barnes v. Falmouth (1810), Justice Theophilus Parsons considered whether the minister of an unincorporated church could share in taxes raised under Article III. Justice Parsons wrote that the case provided an occasion to “consider the motives which induced this people to introduce into the constitution a religious establishment, the nature of the establishment introduced, and the rights and privileges it secured to the people, and to their teachers.” Here is Don’s description of the opinion:
According to Chief Justice Parsons, the rationale for an establishment is based on the fact that “[c]ivil government…availing itself only of its own powers, is extremely defective”; accordingly, “the people of Massachusetts…adopted and patronized a religion, which by its benign and energetic influences, might cooperate with human institutions, to promote and secure the happiness of its citizens.” Fortunately, he writes, “the people were not exposed to the hazard of choosing a false and defective religious system. Christianity had long been promulgated, its pretensions and excellences well known, and its divine authority admitted.” In particular, “This religion, as understood by Protestants, tending, by its effects, to make every man…a better husband, parent, child, neighbor, citizen, and magistrate, was by the people established as a fundamental and essential part of their constitution.” Pointing out that there is “liberty of conscience” for all, “whether Protestant or Catholic, Jew, Mahometan or Pagan, the constitution then provides for the public teaching of the precepts and maxims of the religion of Protestant Christians to all the people.” It is, therefore, “the right and duty of all corporate religious societies, to elect and support a public Protestant teacher of piety, religion, and morality.” Unincorporated churches could not share in taxes raised under Article III, concluded Parsons; otherwise, which teacher to be supported depends “exclusively on the will of a majority of each society incorporated for these purposes.”
221-222. Don argues that Justice Parsons’s description of this arrangement as an “establishment” shows that some Massachusetts jurists believed that the town-by-town assessments for Protestant teachers were themselves believed to be establishments. It is an interesting question whether the assessments themselves, or instead the assessments only as part of the general, if unofficial, privileging of Protestant Christianity as the civic religion, is really what Justices Parsons and Sedgwick are describing as an “establishment.” The latter possibility might narrow the meaning of establishment somewhat: the privileging of Protestant Christianity by all of the means described by these Justices in the Massachusetts Constitution—including the assessment scheme—comes perhaps closer to the meaning of establishment as “official” privileging than does a meaning which considers assessments favoring religion alone as an establishment.
A third piece of evidence can be found right over the border among some Justices in New Hampshire, where, Don writes, “at about the same time, a distinguished jurist who was a member of the Second through the Fifth Federal Congresses made a point of saying that the Granite State’s town-based general assessment tax system for the support of Protestant ministers, which was quite similar to the Massachusetts approach, was clearly not an establishment of religion.” 223
The issue arose in the 1803 case of Muzzy v. Wilkins, where Chief Justice Jeremiah Smith “considered whether a Presbyterian was entitled to an exemption from the town taxes in support of the Congregational church under New Hampshire’s constitution, which empowered the legislature to authorize the towns of the state to make provision for public protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality.” According to Chief Justice Smith, the assessment system alone did not constitute an establishment: “No one sect is invested with any political power much less with a monopoly of civil privileges and civil offices. All denominations are equally under the protection of the law, are equally the objects of its favor and regard.”
Chief Justice Smith’s is that rare opinion where a judge actually provides a definition of an “establishment”: “A religious establishment is where the State prescribes a formulary of faith and worship for the rule and governance of all the subjects.”
This definition, it is true, is narrower than what can be discerned from the general approach in the two Massachusetts decisions. But New Hampshire’s state constitution at the time did not (so far as I know) contain the sort of language unofficially, but quite explicitly, privileging Protestant Christianity as was the case in Massachusetts. It might be that it was this general privileging (even if unofficial, and to include, in Massachusetts, state assessments) that was thought by both Massachusetts and New Hampshire jurists to constitute “establishment.”
At any rate, it would be worthwhile, as well as interesting, to explore the range of common law meanings of establishment before ratification of the First Amendment as well. As Don says in the book, it would probably be impossible to arrive at a single fixed meaning. But it might well be possible to reach consensus about a general range or spectrum of meanings, with core or uncontested meanings graduating outward toward peripheral or contested ones.
Dahlia Lithwick has written a column with a very odd fundamental claim:
[H]aving covered the Court for 15 years, I’ve come to believe that what we’re seeing goes beyond ideology. Because ideology alone would not propel the justices to effect such massive shifts upon the constitutional landscape, inventing rights for corporations while gutting protections for women, minorities, and workers. No, the real problem, I think, is that the Court as a whole has gotten too smart for our own good....
The result has been what Professor Akhil Reed Amar of Yale Law School calls the “Judicialization of the Judiciary,” a selection process that discourages political or advocacy experience and reduces the path to the Supreme Court to a funnel: elite schools beget elite judicial clerkships beget elite federal judgeships. Rinse, repeat. All nine sitting justices attended either Yale or Harvard law schools. (Ginsburg started her studies in Cambridge but graduated from Columbia.) Eight once sat on a federal appellate court; five have done stints as full-time law school professors. There is not a single justice “from the heartland,” as Clarence Thomas has complained....
A Supreme Court built this way is going to have blind spots. But right-wing legal and political groups—who are much better at the confirmation game than their equivalents on the left—have added a final criteria that ensures the Court leans strongly in their favor. They have succeeded in setting the definition of the consummate judge: a humble, objective, nearly mechanical umpire who merely calls “balls and strikes,” in Roberts’s insincere but politically deft phrasing. This lets conservatives sell nominees who are far more conservative than liberal nominees are liberal. A Democratic-appointed justice makes the short list by having her heart in the right place, but will be disqualified for heeding it too much.
Lithwick is hardly the first to observe that the Justices all attended elite law schools or that the Court is "cloistered" by comparison with past Supreme Courts. A majority of the members of the current Court--5--were, as Lithwick notes, for a time professors and deans at such law schools.
I'll make Lithwick a deal: in about 10 years' time (right about the time where we might, perhaps, be getting some retirements, that is), we'll all--left, right and center--make a concerted effort to get some lawyers "from the heartland" nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Or we'll do that for "war veterans," a category of Justice that Lithwick says she'd like to see on the Court. Or perhaps we'll just do it for lawyers from non-elite schools--solid, strong schools like St. John's University School of Law, with the kind of smart and highly capable lawyers whom I am privileged to teach (including in Constitutional Law!), and who have rich and rewarding lives in legal practice of various kinds. We could call it "the Progressive Court-Packing Plan" or "the Heart-Is-In-The-Right-Place Plan" or "the Real Life Plan." The cardinal rule of the Real Life Plan Deal is: no graduates of elite law schools; and absolutely, positively, never, ever, ever any law school professors.
Unlike Lithwick, I'm quite unsure just what sort of ideological mix we'd get on the Court by following the Real Life Plan. But I'll take that bet.