Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Justice Breyer and the "culture wars"

Orin Kerr has an interesting post, at the Volokh Conspiracy, comparing Justice Breyer's opinions in the school-voucher and gun-control cases.  In the former, remember, Justice Breyer concluded that, even conceding that the relevant legislature could reasonably have thought there were good policy reasons for school choice in Cleveland, the threat of "political divisiveness along religious lines" was too great, and so the voucher program was unconstitutional.

Contrast Breyer's Zelman dissent with his dissent in Heller. Here, the polarity of the culture wars has been reversed. And so has Justice Breyer's approach: Now he reasons that the possibility of a positive social impact of the law makes it constitutional. The political philosopher of Zelman is replaced with a careful and cautious social scientist who runs over pages and pages of statistics and scientific studies in Heller. So long as the legislature had a possible basis for thinking that restricting the constitutional right was a good idea, Breyer explains, the law should be upheld . . .

It's an interesting mirror image, I think. When the culture wars pointed one way, Justice Breyer thought that a "risk" of a "potentially harmful" adverse result was enough to strike the law down. When the culture wars pointed in the other direction, so did the burden of proof: now Justice Breyer must have his "confidence" in the reasonableness of the legislature "convincingly" "destroyed" before he would vote to strike down the law.

  To be clear, I'm not suggesting that Justice Breyer is alone in taking different approaches depending on which side of the culture wars the challenged law happens to fall. Plainly he is not. At the same time, I do think the contrast between these two dissents provides an unusually clear case of the difference.

All the more reason to think (as I've argued) that judges should not decide constitutional cases on the basis of predictions about "divisiveness".


Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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