Thursday, May 25, 2023
Here is a (short) paper of mine, "Justice Breyer and the Establishment Clause: Notes on 'Appeasement,' 'Legal Judgment,' and 'Divisiveness'":
Stephen G. Breyer served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
for nearly three decades. And yet, during his long career and
notwithstanding his wide-ranging interests, he never authored a majority
opinion resolving a dispute about the meaning of that Amendment’s
Establishment Clause. Nevertheless, Justice Breyer’s writings and record
regarding the no-establishment rule are distinctive in at least three ways.
First, there is the fact that he did not vote uniformly with his more
secularist colleagues in divided Establishment Clause cases. That is, he
often resisted the stricter applications of the no-establishment rule
endorsed by some of his colleagues. Next, he regularly rejected the
argument that such cases could or should be resolved by applying a
particular “test” and was unmoved by the lure of any grand unified theories
about the provision. His approach was consciously particularistic and
case-by-case; he saw church-state controversies as highly, inevitably
fact-bound, solvable only through a judicial-balancing exercise akin to the
proportionality review that is practiced in some other jurisdictions. And,
more often than any other justice in the Court’s history, he identified the
Clause’s primary purpose as the avoidance of “religiously based
divisiveness” and insisted that law-and-religion disputes should be decided
in the way most likely to promote this purpose.
This emphasis on the judicial management of strife, and his view that
judges charged with interpreting and applying the First Amendment are
authorized to invalidate those actions of political actors that are
determined or predicted to have excessive potential for conflict-creation,
are Justice Breyer’s signature Establishment Clause contributions. This
view, though, is mistaken and these contributions are regrettable.
Like the man says, "download it while it's hot"!