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.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Italian James Burnham

I want to call a little attention to this new monograph by Professor Lorenzo Castellani, L'ingranaggio del Potere ("The Gear of Power"). The book is Castellani
just published and it is in Italian. But it intervenes insightfully in debates about political power that ought to be of great interest to American and British scholars of administrative law, though its primary focus is on "Eurocracy." 

The book is a sweeping study (in just a few pages)--a history of ideas or, as he puts it in an early chapter, an analysis of the "real thing"--of how "competence" and "technical expertise" has come to dominate our political world. It helpfully contrasts the realms of "politics" and "policy." While we often think of these as united, or even one and the same, Castellani distinguishes them, locating the latter squarely as the province of the experts and not really about democratic politics at all. But policy has "hidden itself" well as derived from politics in modern democratic societies. The thesis: "In advanced modern societies, the principle of aristocracy has a much greater weight in the organization of those societies than we are commonly led to believe or admit. In contemporary democracies, this aristocratic element is based on competence--that is, on the specialized knowledge of individuals supplied and certified by the structure itself through educational institutions, programs of study, titles, exams, and competitions. This aristocratic-hierarchical principle exists together with the democratic-representative principle from which, in recent decades, it has progressively eroded significant spaces." (25)

If this sounds in some ways reminiscent of James Burnham's early work in The Managerial Elite, it is. Indeed, I think Castellani has taken on a good deal of Burnham. But the applications he sees in Burnham's work (and the work of others including Daniel Bell) for the "techno-democracies" that rule us now, and that are nevertheless the subject of such controversy, are fresh and insightful.

American publishers take note! This book deserves a good English translation. It has a lot to say to Anglo-American concerns today.

November 11, 2020 in DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink

Monday, October 12, 2020

Judge Barrett on Stare Decisis and Methodological Disagreement

I have an essay at First Things that lays out my understanding of what Judge Amy Coney Barrett has written about stare decisis and the fact of methodological disagreement in constitutional interpretation. The essay in part aims to correct this grossly misinformed and error-saturated piece published at Commonweal. But in much larger part, it tries simply to do justice to Judge Barrett's view in her scholarly work. A bit:

Judge Barrett’s principal writing on this problem can be found in Precedent and Jurisprudential Disagreement and Originalism and Stare Decisis, although she has discussed these matters in other places as well. Her view can be summarized as originalist but also committed to the presumption of stare decisis force for existing precedent. She has elaborated a comparatively “weak” or “soft” presumption in favor of stare decisis in constitutional cases, but it is important to be clear about just what that means. 

For Judge Barrett, the fact of methodological pluralism about fundamental issues in constitutional methodology (for example, in the disagreements between originalism and varieties of non-originalism) makes a comparatively soft stare decisis presumption attractive. This pluralism has implications for how judges view basic doctrinal error, because such error is likely to concern foundational methodological differences and deep jurisprudential commitments. In such situations, Judge Barrett writes, “stare decisis seems less about error correction than about mediating intense jurisprudential disagreement.” 

As to precedents where a judge has a deep disagreement about method, it is not realistic or desirable, Judge Barrett says, to expect the judge to abandon her commitments simply for the sake of preserving those precedents. That would be asking the judge to betray her core judicial philosophy, something that would do no favors to judicial legitimacy, perceived or actual. Nevertheless, “the preference for continuity disciplines jurisprudential disagreement,” requiring from judges who would abandon stare decisis “both reason giving on the merits and an explanation of why its view is so compelling as to warrant reversal.” If these very strong reasons and explanations do not exist, then “the preference for continuity trumps.” New coalitions of judges (and at the Supreme Court, it is groups of judges that count) who argue for new interpretations are put at “an institutional disadvantage” by stare decisis, but they are not categorically disabled by it. 

Judge Barrett’s “soft stare decisis” approach, in sum, accommodates the fact of methodological pluralism and deep substantive disagreement with the need for legal stability. The presumption favors existing doctrinal arrangements but permits challenges to them. To say that it is “soft,” therefore, is not at all to say that it encourages “constant upheaval” or wild unpredictability. To the contrary: Under a soft presumption of stare decisis force, “[t]he Court follows precedent far more often than it reverses precedent.” 

This view is very much in line with the Court’s current approach to the force of stare decisis. And it flows not so much from Judge Barrett’s originalism, but instead from her view that stare decisis poses a problem for all theories of constitutional interpretation. She is “soft” on stare decisis not because she is an originalist, but because people disagree in good faith about how to interpret the Constitution.

October 12, 2020 in DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Traditionalist Originalism

Here is the latest over at the Liberty Fund in my small efforts to play with what a fusionist interpretive approach to constitutional interpretation--integrating originalism and what I have called traditionalism--might look like and require. The occasion is a reply to some fine essays by Professors Randy Barnett, Jesse Merriam, and Ilan Wurman, who were responding to this piece on stare decisis.

I find these more extended exchanges useful. You get a chance to really talk to people a bit more, so to speak. Here's a little bit:

Originalists moved by Professor Barnett’s imperative [to align doctrine with original meaning] would be well-advised to attend to the difference between, on the one hand, an ancient and enduring cluster of precedents reflecting practices extending back to the founding (and even before it) and, on the other, a comparatively recent, one-off, “unmoored” (as Justice Thomas put it) decision that runs counter to such enduring practices. This distinction is important for at least two reasons, one theoretical and the other practical.

First, at least in cases where meaning is uncertain, old and enduring precedential lines carry greater epistemic weight about those meanings than do recent and isolated doctrinal innovations. Precedents proximate in time to the founding and repeatedly entrenched thereafter for centuries in subsequent doctrine and practice are more powerful evidence of permissible, even if not mandated, textual meanings, than precedents that do not share these qualities. True, they are not conclusive evidence. An ancient and enduring line of doctrine may have gotten it wrong, and wrong repeatedly, from the start. But for the many constitutional provisions where meaning is uncertain, and for situations in which there may be several interpretations that are not “demonstrably erroneous,” originalists concerned about epistemic warrant ought to grant such precedential lines a presumption of veracity.

Consider the bizarre and hubristic alternative: a world where early judicial interpretations, and the lasting and concentrated lines of precedent generated by them, are given no respect at all, or are even presumed to be wrong, and it is only the latest-arriving “knowledgeable scholars,” so much more distant in time and legal culture, who can see clearly and are owed epistemic deference. Judges evaluating practices close in time to the founding have access and insight that scholars who research original meaning today should acknowledge and respect. They are much more likely than we are to share in the political and cultural ethos of their own time. And where an early understanding has endured and been repeatedly reaffirmed for generations, thereby increasing its law-like properties, the respect we owe it likewise should increase.

Second, the justices whom originalists admire most do tend to invest ancient and enduring precedential lines with qualitatively different stare decisis force than recent, novel, and unmoored precedents. As I indicated in my first essay, this is something that judges inclined toward originalism have appreciated better than their scholar counterparts. I was therefore puzzled by Professor Barnett’s claim that “some justices” today may be eager to overrule D.C. v. Heller and Citizens United v. FEC, just as other justices of the Warren and Burger Court eras swept away ancient and longstanding precedents that obstructed their progressive political aims. That may be true, but I would not have thought that originalists would take these justices to be their models, let alone to vindicate Professor Barnett’s argument that Supreme Court justices “must be free” to vote as they like whenever they like, stare decisis notwithstanding.

Against Professor Barnett’s claim that Supreme Court justices “never have” treated stare decisis as especially powerful in the case of old and enduring precedents, I point back to my initial essay, where I described the considerable “buy-in” that already exists from the justices whom originalists admire and would like to win over—including Justice Thomas, Justice Gorsuch, and Justice Alito in their respective opinions in GambleMesa, and Ramos. If the Chief Justice can be shown the error of his “insidious” conception of stare decisis in June Medical, as Professor Wurman puts it, then perhaps he, too, might be persuaded to buy in.

In highlighting age, deep roots in common practice, and enduring continuity—that is, in emphasizing the jurisprudential traditionalism of constitutional law—these justices are telling originalist scholars something important about the virtue of stability in constitutional law, and about its nature. As Judge Amy Coney Barrett has indicated, Justice Scalia likewise long defended the “stare decisis” of American political and cultural traditions against the doctrinal innovations of judges (and scholars) entirely disconnected from, and sometimes even disdainful of, those traditions. “In an important sense,” Judge Barrett argues, “originalism can be understood as a quintessentially precedent-based theory, albeit one that does not look primarily to judicial decisions as its guide.” Justice Scalia is no longer on the Court, of course. But others may come who have been influenced by his legacy. Originalists have reasons to listen to what these judges are telling them.

September 30, 2020 in DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink

Friday, September 18, 2020

Jeffrie Murphy RIP

Jeffrie Murphy, a wonderful philosopher of criminal law and ethics, has died. One of the many things about which he wrote insightfully and with penetration concerned the relationship of retributivism and Christianity, as in his excellent book, Getting Even: Forgiveness and Its Limits (see the final Chapter 9) (2003). 

Here is a little something from his book chapter, "Some Second Thoughts on Retributivism," in the collected volume of essays, Retributivism: Essays on Theory and Policy (Mark D. White, ed. 2011), which shows both the power and the danger of Murphy's distinctive (and, to my mind, highly persuasive) account of retributivism:

I moved away from regarding desert merely as legal guilt and also from regarding it as merely owing a debt. But I still had very strong retributivist intuitions--and was even prepared to defend some degree of vengeance and, in the book Forgiveness and Mercy that I joint authored with Jean Hampton, to defend an emotion that I called "retributive hatred." Gradually I began to realize that what had always really drawn me to retributivism was some version of Kant's idea of punishing not just wrongdoing, but human evil--vile deeds performed by people of "inner viciousness." I learned that such a notion had even found its way into American homicide law where phrases such as "cruel, heinous, and depraved" and "flowing from a hardened, abandoned, and malignant heart" occurred in statutes and in sentencing guidelines. This appealed to me.

Such a strong notion of just deserts is, of course, in some ways a secular analogue to traditional notions of divine justice--the judgment that God will administer in the Last Assizes. Indeed, Michael S. Moore (the legal philosopher, not the maker of propaganda films) defends a robust version of retributivism very like the one that I am sketching here but claims that if he believed in God, he would not be so concerned to organize secular systems of criminal law around retributive values. As an atheist, however, he sees no other way to target moral desert in punishment and regards this value as too important to leave unrealized. This analogy with divine punishment is interesting; but it should, I now believe, alert us to some dangers in thinking of secular punishment along these lines. It is not for nothing that we often find ourselves condemning people who--as we put it--"play God," and even Scripture famously teaches, "Judge not that ye be not judged."

The Living Bible, that wonderful source of unintended theological humor, once rendered (if I recall correctly) that biblical recommendation as, "Don't criticize, and then you won't be criticized." But the true point of the passage is surely not a prohibition against making any critical moral judgments at all, but is rather a caution against making final judgments of deep character to declare any fellow human being as simply vermin or disposable garbage--evil all the way down--and a legitimate object of our hatred.

September 18, 2020 in DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

On Originalism and Stare Decisis

I have an essay on the difficulty of integrating them at the Liberty Law blog--more an effort to chew over what I take to be a problem than to offer a definitive resolution, though my tentative approach to the issue depends upon other methodological moves that I did not discuss at length in this piece.

There are many others who are more committed to originalism than I am, and even more who have thought much more deeply about the relationship of originalism and stare decisis. Among them are Professors Randy Barnett, Jesse Merriam, and Ilan Wurman, who will respond to the essay by and by. A bit from the end:

Again: why is stare decisis valuable in constitutional judging, and when is it especially so? These are the questions that originalists must ask. Some scholars have begun to do so. Professor Randy Kozel, for example, argues that stare decisis’s normative foundations in constitutional judging are rooted in the legal values of stability and “impersonality,” as contradistinguished from the changeability and passion of politics. As he puts it: “Calendar pages turn and political winds shift, but the law is still the law.” Impersonality is especially necessary given the welter of interpretive and methodological pluralism in constitutional law. So long as that pluralism exists (and that is likely to be a long time), Kozel contends that stare decisis will be normatively desirable as a constraint on judges.

Kozel is asking the right questions, and his normative account of stare decisis goes some distance to explaining its importance in constitutional law. An even thicker account would recognize not merely the fact of the problem of pluralism mitigated by the constraints of stare decisis, but that the central virtue of stare decisis is in promoting the law’s endurance. Such an account would internalize Kozel’s distinction between law and politics. It would pick up on the clues dropped by the justices in cases like GambleMesa, and Ramos that stare decisis is far more powerful when the Court confronts ancient, long-standing, and continuous precedents than it is when the precedent at issue is “unmoored” from the adjudicative firmament. It would prize stare decisis especially, as Justice Thomas recognized in his Mesa concurrence, when the historical sweep of judicial precedents is connected—moored, as it were—to political and cultural practices of similar age and endurance. It would acknowledge that these virtues of stare decisis may be just as powerful whether the rationales supporting them are “deliberated” (in the liquidated sense) or not, whether re-ratified in a way that seems compelling to present judicial and academic sensibilities and investments or not. The sheer endurance of any precedent is intimately connected to its lawlike properties, though common law, constitutional, and statutory precedents may have different time horizons for these purposes.

Stare decisis is not about following the most recent case. It is not, as Chief Justice Roberts wrongly claimed in June Medical, about simply “treat[ing] like cases alike” and voting for something today that one thought was wrong four years ago. It is instead, as Justice Thomas rightly countered in the same case, about “fidelity…which demonstrates ‘reverence to antiquity.’” It is about picking up the legal thread connecting a long and lasting line of cases. Where the Court confronts precedents of great age, endurance, continuity, and connection to similarly ancient and longstanding common, popular practices, the virtues of legal stability fostered by stare decisis are especially potent. Such precedents are also, as it happens, likely (though not certain) to be consistent with, even if not mandated by, the Constitution’s original public meaning. It stands to reason that stare decisis will exert a particularly strong gravitational pull on constitutional adjudicators in those circumstances. Indeed, for the Court, it already has. No “demonstrably erroneous” precedent—let alone an indelibly evil precedent—should ever survive, irrespective of its lineage. But for the considerable quantity of constitutional precedent that does not fall into this category, and with time, judges might use the deep-rooted traditions of law, politics, and culture, to integrate originalism and stare decisis.

September 1, 2020 in DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink

Friday, July 3, 2020

Moreland and Pojanowski, "The Moral of Torts"

Michael Moreland and Jeffrey Pojanowski have this very interesting paper, "The Moral of Torts"--part of a forthcoming book on Christianity and Private Law--that offers a natural law account of tort law (focusing in part on some sections of Thomas Aquinas's Summa). Among other things that I greatly appreciated about the chapter were the central position it ascribed to intentional torts and its criticisms of the ways in which some "internalist" accounts of tort law are a little shy about setting out normative criteria for what constitutes wrongfulness in tort law. Have a look.

July 3, 2020 in DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Trollope on a "learned profession"

From the third of his Barsetshire Novels, "Dr. Thorne." Of possible use in Professional Responsibility when the subject of "professionalism" and its many senses arises.

Then also, Dr. Thorne, though a graduated physician, though entitled beyond all dispute to call himself a doctor, according to all the laws of the colleges, made it known to the East Barsetshire world, very soon after he had seated himself at Greshamsbury, that his rate of pay was to be seven-and-sixpence a visit within a circuit of five miles, with a proportionately increased charge at proportionately increased distances. Now there was something so low, mean, unprofessional, and democratic in this; so, at least, said the children of Aesculapius gathered together in conclave at Barchester. In the first place, it showed that this Thorne was always thinking of his money, like an apothecary, as he was; whereas it would have behoved him, as a physician, had he had the feelings of a physician under his hat, to have regarded his own pursuits in a purely philosophical spirit, and to have taken any gain which might have accrued as an accidental adjunct to his station in life. A physician should take his fee without letting his left hand know what his right hand was doing; it should be taken without a thought, without a look, without a move of the facial muscles; the true physician should hardly be aware that the last friendly grasp of the hand had been made more precious by the touch of gold. Whereas, that fellow Thorne would lug out half a crown from his breeches pocket and give it in change for a ten-shilling piece. And then it was clear that this man had no appreciation of the dignity of a learned profession. He might constantly be seen compounding medicines in the shop, at the left hand of his front door; not making experiments philosophically in materia medica for the benefit of coming ages – which, if he did, he would have done in the seclusion of his study, far from profane eyes – but positively putting together common powders for rural bowels, or spreading vulgar ointments for agricultural ailments.

June 11, 2020 in DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink

Friday, May 1, 2020

Thoughts about equality and the church-closure issue

Over in this post at my other perch, I have some observations about what I perceive (anecdotally) as rising tensions in response to the Coronavirus-related shutdown orders and other government policies. It's not every day that a municipal Italian government threatens to shut down Mass, disperse the congregants, and force a mask on a priest (see the video). The words are in Italian, but I translate enough of the exchange to give a sense of the tension. There are tensions here in the US, too, and I talk about some of those as I've observed them, from a distance, in New York.

One of the things these conflicts has me thinking about is the psychologically powerful, but (in my view) highly problematic, pull or draw of equality as equal treatment. I'm not saying anything that hasn't been said by others, but I find it interesting to observe that something of what they have said is working itself out in especially high relief and in real time.

In the very beginning of the virus crisis, the fear of the unknown and the comparatively broad coverage of the shutdown orders combined to overwhelm considerations of equal treatment. Food stores were open, yes, and churches were closed, but the emergency seemed to be understood to require drastic and rough measures, and people were prepared for a time to accept unequal treatment for, as it were, the common good.

But as the crisis reaches a second stage--an emergency of a different kind, now a more chronic or enduring condition--and as discretionary government decisions are made both as respects relaxing the closures and prosecuting violations of rules, the powerful psychological draw of equality as equal treatment starts to assert itself. Discretionary decisions require discrimination, and it's at this point that considerations of unfairness become stronger in people's psyche.

The trouble is that resentments about unequal treatment depend upon other, deeper judgments about the nature and value of various kinds of human activities. These judgments are signaled by the use of terms like "essential" but they aren't really resolved by them. Partisans of one or another sort of human activity or way of life then develop arguments for distinguishing the truly essential from the less essential, but these are invariably thought to be spurious or worse by partisans of another sort of human activity or way of life. The arguments about equality really are only cover for other sorts of arguments that it would not be possible to resolve without the rhetorical appeal to equality. The real disagreements go not only to different ways of life, but to different conceptions of the good or goods of any particular human activity. Consider religious observance. If one's view is that all of the true goods of religious observance can be obtained individually, at home, in solitary prayer in front of a screen, then one will think that distinguishing between churches and liquor stores--treating the goods of the human activities that these places foster unequally--is perfectly justified. But if one's view of the true goods of religious observance is very different, then one will not accept these arguments.

All of this to say something that has been said before, I suppose (see, e.g., Westen in part), but that seems especially striking to me right now. Both the psychological power of equality and its problematic, often unspoken, dependence on much deeper and more fundamental assumptions about the differential value of human activity, will become more acute as the crisis enters its subsequent and more attenuated phases.

May 1, 2020 in DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink

Sunday, April 26, 2020

A Podcast on Church Closures and the Pandemic

My colleague, Mark Movsesian, and I have a short podcast reflecting on the problem of church closures and the coronavirus. We talk about some of the legal, cultural, and religious permutations of the controversy. One interesting feature of these cases is that the challenges from Christian groups have generally (at least so far) come from Evangelical, and not Catholic or Orthodox, churches. Mark and I speculate a little about why that might be. Have a listen!

April 26, 2020 in DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink

Thursday, February 13, 2020

St. John's CLR & JCLS Conference on History of Catholic Legal Education by Breen & Strang

Conference image

This evening and tomorrow, the St. John's Center for Law and Religion and the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies (which I'm honored to advise) are delighted to be hosting a conference on a forthcoming book by Professors John Breen and Lee Strang, A Light Unseen: A History of Catholic Legal Education in the United States

The conference will convene a "deans panel" and a "professors panel" to comment on various features of the book and the project, with responses from John and Lee. Participants include Deans Kathleen Boozang, Marcus Cole, Vincent Rougeau, William Treanor, and Robert Vischer; and Professors Angela Carmella, Teresa Collett, Rick Garnett, Jeff Pojanowski, and Amy Uelman. Our own Dean Michael Simons will be the master of ceremonies and Judge Richard Sullivan and Professor Margaret Turano will moderate. Our students have worked very hard to put this terrific event together.

Details and registration at this link. A happy fortuity that the conference coincides with this blog's anniversary.

February 13, 2020 in DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink