Panel on Traditionalism and Originalism at Georgetown Today

I’m down at Georgetown Law School today for a lunchtime presentation on “Dobbs and Bruen: History, Tradition, and Originalism,” hosted by the Georgetown Center for the Constitution. I’m looking forward to catching up with my old professors, Larry Solum and Randy Barnett, and to meeting and chatting with students about traditionalism and originalism at the Court.

At Notre Dame Next Week for Symposium on “Unconstitutional Conditions and Religious Liberty”

I’m looking forward to participating in this Notre Dame Law Review symposium on “Unconstitutional Conditions and Religious Liberty” next Monday, where I’ll present an early draft of a new paper, “Mysterizing Religion.” More soon on the latter. If any of our readers and/or listeners are in town, please do say hello!

Fall 2022 Reading Society Meeting: A Conversation with Tara Isabella Burton

Almost 30% of Americans today tell pollsters they have no religious affiliation. Yet the large majority of these “Nones” claim to be believers: they reject institutional religion, not faith. Drawing on her book, Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World, author Tara Isabella Burton will share her insights about the Nones: what they believe, why their numbers have grown, and the impact they will have on American life.

Date: Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Time: 6:30 p.m. (Pizza will be served)

Location: St. John’s University School of Law

The New Thoreaus: A Video of My Talk at UT Law

I had a wonderful time yesterday at the Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center at the University of Texas Law School, where I spoke about my draft paper on the New Thoreaus. I enjoyed meeting some students before my talk, and the talk itself. Excellent questions and a lot of fun. My thanks again to Steve Collis and the folks at UT for having me. A video of the talk is available below:

Movsesian in Texas This Week

I’m looking forward to traveling to the University of Texas this week, where I’ll present my draft paper, “The New Thoreaus,” at the Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center. The paper addresses the Rise of the Nones and what it means for the Free Exercise Clause. Details are available here. Center friends, stop by and say hello!

Podcast on the Situation in Armenia

Last Friday, I sat down (virtually) with Geoff Shullenberger to record an episode of “Compact Conversations,” Compact Magazine’s podcast series. Geoff and I discussed my recent essay in Compact on Azerbaijan’s invasion of Armenia–specifically, on how the West’s indifference to the invasion of this aspiring democracy by a dictatorship reflects a combination of hypocrisy, cynicism, and shortsightedness. Here’s the link. Listen in!

Why Armenia Stands Alone

Last week, an aspiring democracy–Armenia–was invaded by an authoritarian neighbor–Azerbaijan. The invasion threatens to reduce Armenia by half and start a new round of ethnic cleansing in the South Caucasus. And yet the West, so eager to defend Ukraine, has mostly turned a blind eye. The reason, I argue today in Compact, lies in a combination of hypocrisy, cynicism, and shortsightedness. Here’s an excerpt:

Yet the initial Western reaction to Azerbaijan’s aggression has been tepid, limited mostly to expressions of concern and calls for calm on both sides. American neoconservatives have generally been disgraceful, mocking Armenian losses and rooting for the Azeri dictatorship, mainly because they see Baku as a useful speartip against Iran and Russia. The Christian right in America, which one might think would feel affinity with the world’s first Christian nation, has remained silent.

Indifference doesn’t quite capture the Western posture. On the contrary, the West has been courting Azerbaijan in recent years, inking new gas deals and supplying millions of dollars in military assistance annually.

The contrast with the Ukraine crisis, another conflict in which an authoritarian state has attacked an aspiring democracy, is jarring. President Biden has described that war as part of an existential struggle “between democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression”—a grandiose framing shared by the hawkish usual suspects on the American right. The United States alone has committed a staggering $50 billion to Kiev since the Russian invasion, in the name of democracy, self-determination, and international borders. Blue-and-yellow flags fly everywhere. So why ignore Armenia?

The answer lies in a combination of hypocrisy, cynicism, and shortsightedness. The West’s indifference to Armenia reveals once more that its concerns for democracy are highly selective, operative only where the West sees its interests at stake. Here, the West has concluded that its interest lies in appeasing Azerbaijan, which can help supply gas to Europe and check Russia and Iran in the South Caucasus.

You can read the whole article here.

Movsesian to Appear at UT-Austin Later This Month

A programming note: later this month, I’ll present my paper, “The New Thoreaus,” at the Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center at the University of Texas School of Law. The paper discusses the increase in the number of unaffiliated believers–people who reject organized religion and follow their own spiritual paths–and whether the Free Exercise Clause should apply to them. Details are here. Very much looking forward to this. Center friends in Austin, please stop by and say hello!

“Traditionalism Rising” at the Volokh Conspiracy This Week

At Eugene’s kind invitation, I’ll have several posts this week at the Volokh Conspiracy excerpting and summarizing my new article, Traditionalism Rising. The first post is here, defining traditionalism and locating it in the Court’s 2021 term cases. Here’s a bit:

The piece builds on and extends a larger project about constitutional traditionalism developed in earlier papers (here and here), as well as in a broader research program, The Tradition Project, that my colleague (and Volokh co-conspirator) Mark Movsesian and I have pursued over several years at our Center for Law and Religion. I’ve been a dedicated reader of the Volokh Conspiracy since I was a law prof pup, so it is a pleasure for me to contribute something.

My posts will: (1) define traditionalism and locate it in the Supreme Court’s work this past term; (2) compare traditionalism and originalism, particularly what the paper calls “liquidated originalism”; (3) address traditionalism’s “level of generality” problem, the problem how to select the operative tradition; (4) offer several justifications for traditionalism; (5) consider the problem of traditionalism’s politics. Most of the material is excerpted or summarized from the article, but I invite readers to look at the piece for the full-dress argument. I welcome reactions to the paper, which is still a draft.

What is traditionalism? When people hear the word tradition connected to law, they sometimes think of judicial restraint, or deference, or minimalism (or “Burkeanism”), or some vaguer injunction to “go slow” or respect stare decisis and the interests served by it. Or they may think of approaches to particular clauses or parts of the Constitution—to the Due Process Clause, for example, or to Justice Frankfurter’s “tradition” approach to inherent executive power.

Traditionalism is different from all of these. Traditionalism is a unified approach to determining constitutional meaning and constitutional law with two central elements: (1) concrete practices, rather than principles, ideas, judicial precedents, legal rules, and so on, as the determinants of constitutional meaning and law; and (2) the endurance of those practices as a composite of their age, longevity, and density, evidence for which includes the practice’s use before, during, and after enactment of a constitutional provision.

“Traditionalism Rising”

The title of my new draft paper, developing work I’ve been at for the last 3-4 years, incorporating some of the decisions from this term, and setting out some justifications for this method of doing constitutional law. Here is the abstract:

Constitutional traditionalism is rising. From due process to free speech, religious liberty, the right to keep and bear arms, and more, the Court made clear in its 2021 term that it will follow a method that is guided by “tradition.”

This paper is in part an exercise in naming: the Court’s 2021 body of work is, in fact, thoroughly traditionalist. It is therefore a propitious moment to explain just what traditionalism entails. After summarizing the basic features of traditionalism in some of my prior work and identifying them in the Court’s 2021 term decisions, this paper situates these recent examples of traditionalism within this larger, longstanding interpretive method. Contrary to many claims, there is little that is entirely new or unexpected, other than the Court’s more explicit embrace of traditionalism this term than in the past. The paper then distinguishes traditionalism from originalism, focusing especially on what some originalists have called “liquidation.” Finally, it raises and considers one comparatively straightforward and two more difficult problems for traditionalism: (a) the problem of selecting the operative “level of generality” for any tradition; (b) the problem of tradition’s moral justification, offering possibilities based on the connection between enduring practices and (1) human desires, (2) virtues or legal excellences, or (3) natural law determinations; and (c) the problem of traditionalism’s politics.