Monday, October 7, 2019
This past Saturday morning, I had the privilege to address the 2019 General Assembly of the Catholic Bar Association. This year's Assembly was held in St. Louis, and the title of my talk was "What Kind of Law Will It Take to Overturn Roe v. Wade in the Short Term?"
The location and setting brought to mind Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 492 U.S. 490 (1989). This case out of Missouri placed the constitutional law of abortion in the United States on the trajectory on which it has proceeded for the past thirty years. Doctrinally, one might attribute that significance instead to Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992). But the plurality decision in Casey was the product of momentum from Webster. It was in Webster that Justice O'Connor's undue burden standard broke away from the rational basis fold that Chief Justice Rehnquist was trying to nudge the Court toward, and it was in Webster that the rift between Justice O'Connor and Justice Scalia on the constitutional law of abortion became permanent.
Webster came about a couple years after two new Justices had recently been added to a Supreme Court with a Chief Justice publicly committed to judicial restraint. If that sounds familiar, it should. We are talking now, thirty years later, about the very kinds of variables that Court-watchers were talking about thirty years ago: when to distinguish versus to overrule; when to overrule sub silentio versus explicitly; when to construe statutes to avoid constitutional difficulties versus confronting the constitutional difficulties head on; what is "judicial statesmanship" and is it good or bad? And so on.
Tactically speaking, one desideratum for moving toward a stable, more pro-life equilibrium in the constitutional law of abortion in the United States would seem to be avoiding another Webster. By that I mean a narrow tactical "win" that presages a broader strategic defeat rooted in divisions over the pace and explicitness of displacing bad precedents with good ones.
In days to come, I hope to lay out in more detail some of the elements of my Catholic Bar Association approach. Just by way of preview, the recipe for overruling Roe v. Wade that I am working up has three main ingredients: (1) prenatal equal protection; (2) judicial incapacity for line-drawing with respect to relative values of prenatal and maternal life and health; and (3) Catholic guilt.
Wednesday, July 3, 2019
One of the most well-argued books I've recently read on the topic of abortion is Francis J. Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press 2007). Because of a project I'm working on this summer, my attention was drawn in particular to Beckwith's argument against resting the humanity of the unborn on human appearance after a certain point of development. (A version of Beckwith's arguments, which draw on John Jefferson Davis, Abortion and the Christian: What Every Believer Should Know, is available here.)
Beckwith is right to observe that the human body takes on a variety of forms over the course of life. An elderly person does not have the body of a teenager, a teenager does not have the body of an infant, nor does an infant have the body of an embryo. A healthy, developing embryo at a particular time looks just like a healthy, developing embryo is supposed to look at that time. In Beckwith's words, "the unborn at any stage of her development looks perfectly human because that is what humans look like at that time." We risk confusing appearance with reality if we rest human moral worth on a certain type of human appearance.
But let us not be too hasty in pushing aside the moral significance of a baby's obviously human appearance. In designing laws, it can be helpful to meet people where they're at. Consider the possible legal significance of the first three search results that popped up just now when I googled "pregnancy at twelve weeks":
A baby at twelve weeks gestational age has an obviously human body. If a baby has an obviously human body, isn't it reasonable for us as a people and for our government as a government to treat that baby as a human baby? And don't human babies deserve the equal protection of the laws?
I haven't mentioned anything yet about human personhood. For the moment, though, let's stick with the basic point that a baby with an obviously human body is obviously a human baby. Let's add in a couple other characteristics to the obviously human body, such as life and healthy normal development. Should the law truly be powerless to protect this human being?
It's around this point that people interject considerations that tease apart the categories of human baby and human person. In unselfconscious reversal of the normal charge that pro-lifers are trying to impose their religious views about human personhood, those who seek to deny the human moral worth of babies with an obviously human body tend to rely on a controversial metaphysical claim. There is some property or quality, these people argue, that a human being with an obviously human body must _also_ possess in order to be a human person. But why should we let a controversial metaphysical position of this sort displace the idea that human bodiliness--whatever its relation to "full humanity" might be--is enough to bring a human being within the protective reach of positive law?
Thursday, April 25, 2019
TCPA's content-based robocall ban survives in the Fourth Circuit because of severability; previously exempt debt-collecting robocallers apparently in new legal jeopardy.
In American Association of Political Consultants, Inc. v. FCC, the Fourth Circuit yesterday held unconstitutional an exemption from the federal ban on automated calls to cellphones. This exemption authorized automated calls that relate to the collection of debts owed to or guaranteed by the federal government. In an opinion joined by Judges Keenan and Quattlebaum, Judge King wrote that the exemption was content-based and failed strict scrutiny, but that it could be severed. The result is that the plaintiffs' political calls remain subject to the general ban.
The Fourth Circuit panel seems to have been tripped up in entanglements among standing, substantive constitutional law, and severability. As a matter of standing, the plaintiffs are injured by the ban, not the exemption for federal debt collections. As a matter of substantive constitutional law, the ban and its exemptions form a single unit for purposes of constitutional analysis. The challenge is to a content-based restriction on speech, not to the exemption itself. If this challenge succeeds, there is no work for severability to do in separating the ban from the exemption; the whole unit is unconstitutional. Severability would keep the rest of the TCPA intact, but the content-based ban should fall because of the exemption it contains.
The appropriate unit of analysis for unconstitutionality varies among various areas of substantive constitutional law. But for freedom of speech purposes, a speech prohibition and its exemptions are a single unit of analysis for purposes of determining whether the prohibition is content-based. Consider, for instance, the ordinance in Police Department of Chicago v. Moseley:
"A person commits disorderly conduct when he knowingly:
"(i) Pickets or demonstrates on a public way within 150 feet of any primary or secondary school building while the school is in session and one-half hour before the school is in session and one-half hour after the school session has been concluded, provided that this subsection does not prohibit the peaceful picketing of any school involved in a labor dispute . . . ." Municipal Code, c. 193-1 (i)
The proviso protecting picketing of schools involved in a labor dispute renders the ban content-based. There is not a first-step consideration of the proviso on its own followed by a second-step severability inquiry.
Another way of thinking about the Fourth Circuit's ruling on the robocall ban is by analogy to R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul. The ordinance in that case provided:
Whoever places on public or private property a symbol, object, appellation, characterization or graffiti, including, but not limited to, a burning cross or Nazi swastika, which one knows or has reasonable grounds to know arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender commits disorderly conduct and shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
As authoritatively construed by state courts, this ordinance extended only to fighting words, which are constitutionally unprotected. The ordinance was nevertheless subject to strict scrutiny because of its content discrimination ("on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, or gender") within the otherwise unprotected class. Similarly, a blanket prohibition on robocalls may be perfectly fine on its own, unconstitutional if exemptions from the prohibition render it content-based.
In any event, I'm guessing this is not the last we'll see of this issue. In addition to the plaintiffs in the Fourth Circuit case who are smarting from their Pyrrhic victory, I expect that robocallers in the Fourth Circuit may also be alarmed. "Severance" of the statutory provision making their conduct legal means that their robocalls will be subject to the general ban. That's not how this should have gone. But now that it has, it's going to take some more lawyer and judge time to sort things out.
Saturday, February 9, 2019
Several weeks ago, I began drafting a 15-year anniversary post that I never brought myself to finish. It was fairly negative in outlook, and I found ways to avoid attempting either to make the necessary arguments or to abandon them. Here's what I wrote:
We are fast approaching the fifteenth anniversary of the first post at Mirror of Justice.
It feels very different from the tenth anniversary. Then, there were many anniversary-reflection posts from MOJers old and new. These reflections varied in orientation but were largely hopeful.
Now, I expect there will be fewer. And the hope they have to offer will probably not be for the future of this particular group blog.
* * *
Is it time for Mirror of Justice to give up the ghost?
I ask explicitly and publicly in order to provoke honest answers from our contributors.
My answer is yes, for reasons that I aim to elaborate over my next few posts. But perhaps I am wrong.
Not completely inaccurate predictively, I suppose. There have been fewer anniversary posts at 15 than at 10, and they express appropriate uncertainty about the future. But while the posts have been less than confident about the best path forward for this particular blog, they have been more hopeful than I expected about the worth of continuing the undertaking.
I am particularly grateful for the anniversary posts by Greg Sisk and Susan Stabile. Greg writes, "As long as the blogosphere continues, something like the Mirror of Justice is needed. I pray for another fruitful 15 years." Susan "remain[s] convinced of the importance of the enterprise in which we have been engaged for the last fifteen years.
Howard Wasserman's gracious post at PrawfsBlawg was also most welcome."MoJ serves a particular and special message that is not easily replaced," he writes, "and so should continue."
These observations make me think I might have been wrong in my earlier private musings about the practical wisdom of ending this collective project any time soon.
Instead of speculating about the end of MOJ, then, I'll conclude this anniversary-week post with a few thoughts on the blog's beginning.
(1) From today's perspective, the inaugural MOJ post radiates an anticipatory defensiveness of a sort that now seems quaint: "The members of this blog group represent a broad spectrum of Catholic opinion." How nice.
(2) The group members all believe that "faith-based discourse is entirely legitimate in the academy and in the public square, and that religious values need not be bracketed in academic or public conversation." Too bad that needed to be said; perhaps we can better realize now how fragile were the foundations of the consensus position we were challenging even while we were accepting it as obviously legitimate in some way.
(3) "We may differ on how such values should be expressed or considered in those conversations or in public decisionmaking." Probably not as true now, which is all to the good.
Thursday, January 17, 2019
Rick's post about the sexual morality rules at the school where Karen Pence teaches brought to mind this TAC piece by Tim Carney in which Nicole Stelle Garnett's co-authored book with Margaret Brinig plays an important role. Read all three together. Here's an excerpt from Carney:
Sure enough, low trust helped to predict Trump support in the early primaries. The core group of Trump voters in the GOP primary ... were by far the mostly likely to say people mostly just look out for themselves.
In elite family-filled suburbs where most people have college degrees, trust actually tends to be high, regardless of stereotypes about gated driveways. Where do we find trusting middle-class or working-class communities? Where most people go to church.
And when the churches start emptying, the trust starts shrinking. Researchers Margaret Brinig and Nicole Stelle Garnett looked into what happened where Catholic schools shut down for reasons that didn’t appear to be low attendance. Maybe the pastor was transferred and not replaced. Maybe the building had to be demolished. These neighborhoods, shortly after the school shut down, saw increases in public drinking, drug dealing, and drug use. Graffiti, litter, and abandoned buildings became more prevalent.
Sunday, July 8, 2018
How to lose credibility by making a fair point in an unfair way, Michael Sean Winters on Amy Coney Barrett edition
Michael Sean Winters recently made a fair point in a snide and sloppy way. The end result was to illustrate a different point entirely.
The fair point-- better put here by Rick Garnett last fall--is that "it is not inappropriate for senators to question judicial nominees ... about (i) their understanding of the judicial role and (ii) their views about the relationship between a judge's religious commitments (if any) and his or her understanding of that role."
The point Winters actually illustrated, though, is that he cannot be trusted to fairly represent contemporary Catholic legal thought about American constitutional law.
Winters's post is a gallimaufry of ill-informed opinion about legal matters, en passant slimes of people and groups, and intramural Catholic posturing. It does not proceed analytically, but moves on to another point before it finishes developing the argument for a particular assertion. And sometimes there is no argument to be found. In what follows, I address two of Winters's main points as I can best reconstruct them and then explain why the framework he uses is unfortunate.
My two main points in response to Winters are (1) that Barrett's religious affiliation does not put the burden on her to counter a presumption that she lacks independence, and (2) that Winters does not understand originalism and textualism very well. As to the framework, it is regrettable that Winters uses Barrett's potential nomination principally as a vehicle for Catholic intellectual infighting.
1. Membership in People of Praise is not prima facie evidence of a lack of sufficient judicial independence.
In discussing how others have covered Barrett's membership in People of Praise, Winters writes that "it would be irresponsible not to ask questions about the independence we want in a judge, independence that membership in this group would seem to preclude." Take a look at that last clause. A fair reading is that Winters believes "membership in [People of Praise] would seem to preclude" Barrett's possession of "the independence we want in a judge."
This charge is very serious. Yet Winters offers precious little argument or evidence in support. It would be helpful to know if he actually believes it.
Winters offers no reason to think that People of Praise's distinctive beliefs and practices include distinctive beliefs about how Catholic faith informs one's performance of the judicial role. Indeed, Barrett's co-authored article on this issue written twenty years ago is a model of engagement with the Catholic intellectual tradition on this topic. (Incidentally, that article is about cooperation with evil in the death penalty context, not what Winters dismissively describes elsewhere in his post as "issues of pelvic theology.")
The most charitable reading may be that Winters was just being careless here. Perhaps he was making the narrower point that it's reasonable to inquire into the beliefs and practices of a religious group to which a nominee belongs.
A clue that this may be so comes in his first-person declaration: "I am not sure how similar Barrett's life is to 'millions upon millions' of her fellow Catholics: Some of what I know about the 'People of Praise' gives me the willies." This reminded me of Senator Feinstein's "very uncomfortable feeling" about Barrett (and Winters's scare quotes are a nice touch). Feinstein knows many Catholics, like her colleagues Richard Durbin and Tim Kaine, and she seems totally comfortable with them. Barrett, though, seemed different.
Nobody should have a problem with asking a nominee questions about her understanding of the relationship between her religious beliefs and practices and her judicial role. But it's much more of a problem--deplorable, one might say--for Winters to justify those questions by reference to his (or anyone else's) "willies."
2. Originalism and textualism are not "a kind of textual idolatry akin to Martin Luther's sola scriptura approach to the Christian faith, [or] a fundamentalist hermeneutic akin to the Rev. Jerry Falwell's understanding of how to interpret the Bible."
Winters is woefully underinformed about originalism and textualism. The principal merit of his hyperlinked source for defining originalism--a poorly sourced aggregation of content I've never heard of before--is that it may have shown up high in search engine results. I cannot get back into that source without registering, but I can at least report that Wikipedia's entry on originalism is much better.
Wikipedia, too, has its limits, of course. And there are deep theoretical debates about originalism, including arguments about just how representative of originalism Justice Scalia's constitutional law corpus may be. But Winters's assertion that "Scalia's theory has not even a passing similarity with our Catholic intellectual traditions" is easily falsifiable. For readings on the relationship between the Catholic intellectual tradition and originalism, I recommend Lee Strang, Originalism and the Aristotelian Tradition: Virtue's Home in Originalism, and my co-authored piece with Jeff Pojanowski, Enduring Originalism. Even better for those on a tighter time budget is Pojanowski's 7-pager, Why Should Anyone Be An Originalist? (Short answer: Because it's a practically reasonable way of achieving the kind of benefits that the positive law of a written Constitution offers.)
Strang, Pojanowski, and I are admittedly just a few legal scholars trotting out teleological reasoning in theoretical arguments about originalism's jurisprudential foundations. But as far as I'm aware, nobody has taken issue with the claim Pojanowski and I have made that "[f]ar from being a musty, sectarian artifact, the classical natural law tradition of reasoning about positive law’s moral purpose animated the framers’ understanding of our Constitution." The dispute, instead, is instead largely about whether that tradition "provides the most persuasive reason for continued adherence to that original law today."
And contrary to the impression conveyed by Winters (in which Scalia seized on originalism to combat "Blackmun's [sic] penumbras"), neither originalism nor textualism has a necessarily conservative or Catholic inflection. If any particular camp is ascendant in originalist legal theory today, it is probably the libertarians'.
There's much more I could say on these points. But better to save serious analysis for someone who first makes a serious effort to understand what he's trying to take on.
3. Winters's beef is much more with "the conservative Catholic legal establishment" than with Barrett herself.
When I studied for my Theology M.A. at Notre Dame two decades ago, most of my classes were in the Theology Department. But I also participated some in the intellectual life of the law school and took John Finnis's class on Aquinas there.
It was hard back then not to miss two big divides.
One was in the theology department itself, with respect to American Catholicism. Roughly speaking, this was a divide typified by Michael Baxter on the one hand and Richard McBrien on the other.
A second divide was between moral theologians in the theology department and people involved with the legal aspects of some of these issues in the law school. The divide was not neat, for I learned a lot about the intersection of morality and politics not only from Finnis but also, and more so with respect to American constitutional law specifically, from Cathy Kaveny (now at BC).
I mention these biographical notes because they shape the personal perspective I bring to Winters's post, which includes an awareness of the various fissures and tensions among Catholic intellectuals addressing the role of Catholics in American public life.
When understood as the latest volley in an ongoing intra-Catholic skirmish, one can understand why such skirmishing is so regrettable. Barrett is made to bear the brunt of attacks that ought to be aimed elsewhere.
And some of it is downright offensive. Consider, for instance, Winters's discussion of how Barrett "is a product of, and has been groomed by, the conservative Catholic legal establishment." Sure. When she hit it out of the park academically as a law student at Notre Dame, that was just her being groomed. Her impressive scholarship? Grooming also.
"Having been groomed" by the "conservative Catholic legal establishment," Winters writes, Barrett is "now the face of that establishment." It's too bad that's the way Winters sees it and wants others to see it.
Too bad is how I see it, anyway. And I bet I'm not far removed in this regard from the Catholic outlook that informs Persons and Masks of the Law.
Shouldn't we try instead to see Amy Coney Barrett's as the face of a real person with a history, intellect, and will of her own?
Wednesday, July 4, 2018
Like our law of slavery once was, abortion law in the United States today is a function of human positive law -- law that can be made and unmade by human will.
As a judicially constructed constraint on legislated protection of vulnerable human life, Roe v. Wade is particularly pernicious. With the upcoming change in the Supreme Court's composition, Roe probably will and definitely should be overruled even further than it already has been.
Recognition of this new likelihood is compatible with the observation that some of those trying to raise an alarm about "the reversal of Roe v. Wade" are engaged in disingenuous scaremongering. Abortion-friendly legal types have long known how election- and appointment-dependent their hold on abortion law has been, especially with respect to legal protections for life later in pregnancy. And that's where the upcoming judicial action will be.
* * *
Although many believe that our constitutional law of abortion is all about Roe v. Wade, they are wrong. Planned Parenthood v. Casey is much more important.
Casey is the 1992 decision in which a majority of the Supreme Court partially overruled Roe while a plurality purported to preserve its "central holding." To accomplish this feat, the plurality developed a new take on stare decisis that Justice Scalia accurately described in dissent as a "keep-what-you-want-and-throwaway-the-rest version."
The Casey plurality discarded Roe's trimester framework and acknowledged the permissibility of post-viability abortion prohibitions. In place of Roe, Justices O'Connor, Kennedy, and Souter substituted an "undue burden" standard of review for laws limiting pre-viability abortions.
The Justices have sparred over application of Casey's undue burden standard ever since. That is unsurprising given how unstable a legal standard "undue burden" is in the culturally and politically fraught context of abortion law.
The identity of the Justices applying it has been the single variable most predictive of the results this standard delivers. That is exactly why it's no good for the impartial administration of law and needs to go.
* * *
The most recent opinion for the Court in this area is Justice Breyer's in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt. By 5-3 vote (Garland's nomination was pending), the Court in Hellerstedt held unconstitutional some Texas health and safety regulations for abortion clinics. If Gorsuch had been on the Court together with any one of the potential nominees on President Trump's short list now, Whole Woman's Health would have come out the other way. The Supreme Court would have affirmed rather than reversed the decision under review. That decision would not have required overruling any more of Roe, just applying the undue burden standard from Casey more like the court of appeals did.
It is impossible to know what abortion-law case the Supreme Court will take up next. But it is reasonable to believe that the case's correct decision may require overruling Roe further than Casey did. If the Court decides to review the constitutionality of a state law prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, for example, the Court should abandon the line that Casey drew at viability.
This shift would not be avulsive. An unborn baby at twenty weeks gestational age is obviously as much a human being worthy of positive-law protection as one at twenty-four weeks gestational age.
* * *
Abortion-friendly activists are understandably uneasy these days. But their real concern should not be Roe's further demise. They should worry, instead, that the pro-life movement will continue to win hearts and minds for the principle of human equality that justifies judicial abandonment of Casey's viability line. And they can now expect the Supreme Court's unjust abortion opinions to erode at the same pace.
Monday, April 23, 2018
Last week, Professor Stephen Bainbridge wrote a post reflecting on mortality and reconciliation, "Thoughts on the Passing of a Friend and Colleague." Do yourself a favor; read and reflect:
[A]s a Catholic, a passing is a wake up call. First, to honor and remember the friend by praying for the repose of their soul. Second, to evaluate my own inner spiritual life and then seek Reconciliation. Third, to commit some act of charity in remembrance of the friend. Fourth, to bear up the living in love and prayer. To reach out to those we have wronged or who have wronged us and be reconciled.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
This Commonweal article about Augusto Del Noce is one of the most insightful I've read in a while. Tolle et lege! (HT: Richard Reinsch @Reinsch84). A snippet:
By insisting that the true fault line of contemporary history ran between those who affirmed man’s religious dimension and those who denied it, Del Noce offered an unusual perspective on Catholic participation in the public arena. He thought its focus should be neither on protecting the power of the institutional church, nor on some list of religiously neutral ethical concerns, but rather on a conception of human flourishing that reflects the religious dimension. This would include an idea of education that is not just utilitarian but respects the deeper human need for beauty and knowledge as ends in themselves; respect for work as an expression of the human desire to build and to serve, not just a tool at the service of profit and economic growth; love for what Simone Weil called “rootedness”—namely “the real, active, and natural participation in the life of the community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future”; a passion for freedom, not as empty self-determination, but as protection of the most specifically human sphere, which is precisely the religious dimension, the search for meaning. A Catholic political orientation based on the awareness of the religious dimension would also allow—and indeed require—us to struggle for justice, but the justice we struggled for would not be our invention, much less a convenient fiction. It would be a moral reality that we recognize inside and outside of ourselves and to which we must ascend.
Saturday, March 31, 2018
There has been some talk recently about a papal interview with a journalist. One of my favorite such interviews has been organized in God and the World. It is a conversation between then-Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, and Peter Seewald.
Here are two questions and answers appropriate for our meditation this time in the liturgical year:
14. The Cross
We are used to thinking of suffering as something we try to avoid at all costs. And there is nothing that many societies get more angry about than the Christian idea that one should bear with pain, should endure suffering, should even sometimes give oneself up to it, in order thereby to overcome it. "Suffering," John Paul II believes, "is a part of the mystery of being human." Why is this?
Today what people have in view is eliminating suffering from the world. For the individual, that means avoiding pain and suffering in whatever way. Yet we must also see that it is in this very way the world becomes very hard and very cold. Pain is part of being human. Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before everything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain.
When we know that the way of love---this exodus, this going out of oneself---is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature. Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people; he becomes hard and selfish.
Love itself is a passion, something we endure. In love I experience first a happiness, a general feeling of happiness. Yet, on the other hand, I am taken out of my comfortable tranquility and have to let myself be reshaped. If we say that suffering is the inner side of love, we then also understand why it is so important to learn how to suffer---and why, conversely, the avoidance of suffering renders someone unfit to cope with life. He would be left with an existential emptiness, which could then only be combined with bitterness, with rejection, and no longer with any acceptance or progress toward maturity.
What would actually have happened if Christ had not appeared and if he had not died on the tree of the Cross? Would the world long since have come to ruin without him?
That we cannot say. Yet we can say that man would have no access to God. He would then only be able to relate to God in occasional fragmentary attempts. And, in the end, he would not know who or what God actually is.
Something of the light of God shines through in the great religions of the world, of course, and yet they remain a matter of fragments and questions. But if the question about God finds no answer, if the road to him is blocked, if there is no forgiveness, which can only come with the authority of God himself, then human life is nothing but a meaningless experiment. Thus, God himself has parted the clouds at a certain point. He has turned on the light and has shown us the way that is the truth, that makes it possible for us to live, and that is life itself.