I am quoted in this CNBC story on the Bladensburg Cross case up for oral argument next week. The author, Tucker Higgins, put together a nice piece (one tiny quibble: Town of Greece v. Galloway was not decided on the basis of the coercion approach…that part of the opinion did not command a majority) and was good enough to reference and link to this article of mine on religion and the Roberts Court from a few years ago.
“[T]here is an ambiguity in the book’s subtitle. “The man who made the Supreme Court” might signal Marshall’s outsized role in fashioning the Supreme Court in his own self-image. There are some biographies, as Kevin Walsh has noted in his review in these pages of another recent Marshall book, that read Marshall as a kind of Romantic hero—the American Werther or Cagliostro of the judiciary. But there is another, and perhaps better, interpretation of the subtitle: that distinctive features of Marshall’s character as a man subtly but powerfully influenced the Court’s development under his stewardship.”
At the First Things site today, I have a post on The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, the Maryland Peace Cross case, in which the Court granted cert last month. I argue that the Court could use the opportunity to get rid of the endorsement test in Establishment Clause cases. Here’s an excerpt:
Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to consider an important Establishment Clause case from Maryland, The American Legion v. American Humanist Association. The case, which presents a challenge to a Maryland cemetery’s use of a 40-foot cross as a public war memorial, gives the Court a chance to clarify its views on the constitutionality of state-sponsored religious displays. In particular, the case provides an opportunity for the Court to do away with the so-called “endorsement test,” which holds that a display violates the Constitution if a hypothetical, reasonable observer would see it as an endorsement of religion. Conservatives have criticized the endorsement test for decades, and with a new majority on the Court, they may finally have the votes to discard it. American Legion could turn out to be one of the most significant Establishment Clause cases in a long time.
American Legion is also the subject of a recent “Legal Spirits” episode Marc and I recorded. But you have already listened to that. Right?
At the Liberty Law site today, I have a post discussing the UK Supreme Court’s ruling this month in Lee v. Ashers Bakery, a wedding-vendor case from Belfast. The British case deals with several substantive issues that our own Supreme Court dodged earlier this year in Masterpiece Cakeshop. The British court’s president, Barbara Hale (left), wrote for a unanimous court:
Even though the issues do not line up exactly, Lady Hale’s opinion addresses many of the difficult questions that arise in the American context as well: whether denying services in connection with gay weddings is equivalent to denying services to gay persons; whether one should attribute certain kinds of commercial speech to the vendor or the customer; and whether the state’s interest in ending discrimination in public places overrides the religious convictions of persons who operate small businesses. The fight over these issues is still in its early stages, in Britain and America. This decision may provide guidance for the way forward.
Readers can find my post here.
I’m very pleased to be at The King’s College tomorrow in Manhattan, where I’ll be giving a response to Professor David Tubbs’s Constitution Day Lecture: “The Burdens of Constitutional Memory: Slavery, Segregation, and the Supreme Court.” The event is free though RSVP is requested. Hope to see any of the Center’s local readers and followers there!
Kevin Walsh and I have this year’s Supreme Court roundup at First Things: Kennedy’s Last Term. In the piece we cover some of the major decisions of the last term, including First Amendment cases (Masterpiece, NIFLA, Janus), cases concerning what we call “the influence of social, technological, and moral change on Supreme Court doctrine” (Wayfair, Carpenter, Murphy v. NCAA), and political gerrymandering/judicial limits cases (Gill, Benisek), as well as a short comment on Trump v. Hawaii.
Something from the conclusion:
What, then, should we expect from the post-Kennedy Court? Perhaps more of the same. There was not a single 5–4 decision this term in which Justice Kennedy joined with the more liberal wing of the Court. That has never before happened on the Roberts Court. And there were fourteen 5–4 cases in which Kennedy joined with the four more conservative justices to form a majority, including First Amendment cases such as Janus and NIFLA, separation of powers cases like Trump v.Hawaii, political process cases involving political and racial gerrymandering, and a range of statutory interpretation and business cases. This record suggests that, should Judge Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed, we ought to expect a fair amount of continuity rather than radical change.
But in other major areas—areas that happen not to have been addressed this term—the change may be more substantial. Consider, for example, the constitutional law of abortion. Here, Kennedy’s replacement might make a difference, particularly if there is a possibility that a Justice Kavanaugh might join with four colleagues in ending the regime of constitutional abortion law initiated by Roe v. Wade.
Social conservatives have been disappointed before. The Court’s first major abortion case after Justice Kennedy joined the Court was the 1989 decision Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, where it seemed there might be five votes to overrule Roe. Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote an opinion for four justices that purported to “modify and narrow” Roe, but Reagan-nominated Justice Sandra Day O’Connor went her own way, introducing the “undue burden” standard that has remained the law until today. Scalia, meanwhile, lamented that this missed opportunity to reverse Roe meant that “the mansion of constitutional abortion law, constructed overnight in Roe, must be disassembled doorjamb by doorjamb, and never entirely brought down, no matter how wrong it may be.” Scalia was farseeing. Four years later, in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, Kennedy joined with O’Connor and Justice David Souter to preserve what they called “the central holding” of Roe.
We are guardedly optimistic that Kavanaugh’s confirmation will eventually result in the rejection of Roe v. Wade. But nobody should expect a quick or complete demolition of constitutional abortion rights. Caution is in order because of both internal Court dynamics and external pressure on the institution.
The shift on the new Court should be measured not by the distance between Kennedy and Kavanaugh, but between Kennedy and Roberts. On a multi-member Court, the views of the median justice matter most in the close cases implicating the culture wars. And Roberts cares deeply about public perceptions of the Court’s legitimacy. The same concerns that motivate Roberts to embrace minimalism more broadly, as in the cases this term about partisan gerrymandering and sales taxes, will likely mean even greater caution in these hotter and angrier areas of constitutional law.
Neither should we forget that the result of overruling the Roe/Casey regime is no panacea. It would simply lift restrictions on state legislation. But that is hardly always desirable. We can surely expect some, perhaps many, states to follow the lead of Massachusetts, where legislators passed a NASTY (Negating Archaic Stereotypes Targeting Young) Women Act that repealed abortion restrictions that might in theory have come back into force if Roe/Casey were overturned. New York’s governor has made extensive abortion rights a rallying cry of his campaign for reelection.
Just as the damage done by Roe/Casey is not exclusively legal, neither will it be undone by legal means alone. The Court and dominant cultural opinion shape each other, and the arrow of influence runs in both directions. However much “the mansion of constitutional abortion law” may be dismantled, the constitutional rot at its foundation is the result of powerful cultural forces. Let us not put our trust in judges any more than princes, not only because they are fallible, but also because judges are meant to judge, not to save us from ourselves.
By Robert Delahunty* & Andrew Ratelle**
The past few weeks in the life of the Catholic Church in America are proof of a twelfth century English proverb that “often the end fails to equal the beginning.”
What began some fifteen or more years ago as a series of promised reforms, compounded with yet more promises, has made a full circle return to the point of origin. A prince of the Church has been caught yet again in deeply hypocritical, sinful, and, if not for statutes of limitation, tortious and even criminal behavior. But this time, a coterie of fellow bishops and peers is gathered about him, unable or unwilling to see where the line between charitable forbearance and public condemnation must be drawn. According to the New York Times:
Between 1994 and 2008, multiple reports about the cardinal’s transgressions with adult seminary students were made to American bishops, the pope’s representative in Washington and, finally, Pope Benedict XVI. Two New Jersey dioceses secretly paid settlements, in 2005 and 2007, to two men … for allegations against the archbishop.
And now comes the news of a Pennsylvania grand jury’s findings that in six of the State’s eight dioceses, bishops and other clerical leaders concealed at least one thousand identified cases of child sexual abuse for a period of over seventy years. The grand jury wrote:
“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability.” … “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.”
This is indeed “a spiritual crisis” that cuts deeper with every revelation. It is a “crisis” that goes much deeper than the episcopate seems competent or willing to handle.
The Catholic laity must assume far greater responsibility for the conduct of their bishops and priests, and the hierarchy must give them the tools to do so. Below, we outline a series of lay-led initiatives, ranging from least to most radical, for a project of reform. Most importantly, we recommend that the laity have a greater role in the appointment and removal of diocesan bishops.
The Failure of the Hierarchy
The unfolding story of Cardinal McCarrick’s decades of sexual predation is both dismal and familiar. But those disclosures are not the most dismaying part of the current crisis. What makes the McCarrick matter different is the unbelievable lameness of his fellow bishops’ excuses for their repeated failure to challenge him. Loyal Catholics have been driven to the conclusion that their Church’s hierarchy is utterly compromised. It has proven itself unfit to perform the urgent task of dealing with the rot that it has allowed to fester in its own ranks. The bishops— “good” and “bad” alike—have betrayed the faithful.
In addition to sexual abuse, there are two problems here. One problem is the continuing influence of “bad” bishops, willing to use their power to protect abusers, to promote them, and to marginalize those who would denounce them. The other problem is the silence (or at least the shrugging of the shoulders) of “good” bishops, unwilling to condemn the corrupt practices of their peers. This silence is not always intentional complicity, but it is close enough—a distinction with no real difference.
The American Church, it seems, has its own version of the Deep State, committed to obstructing genuine reform and to punishing those who question its authority.
For the Church to respond to this threat, the laity must now do what the bishops ought to have done years—decades—ago.
We are not talking only about the investigation and correction of priests and bishops who are guilty of sexual abuse. The Church has always had such priests, and canon law structures—though under-enforced—have long been in place to correct them. Clerical sexual abuse is the primary problem, but it is not the only one.
The real task ahead is instead to devise and implement processes, in which lay participation is extensive, that will police the bishops as they ought to have policed themselves. Investigation and punishment of abuses are not enough. It is essential to develop institution-wide remedies. The crisis in the Church is a structural or Continue reading
At the Law and Liberty Blog today, I have an essay on how a Justice Kavanaugh would likely rule in church-state cases. I argue he is likely to look a lot like Justice Kennedy, the person he would replace:
It’s always difficult to predict how a nominee would rule in cases once on the Court. The best evidence is the way he has ruled as a lower court judge—and even that evidence is imperfect, since lower court judges have a greater duty than Supreme Court Justices to follow the Court’s precedents. Although he has been on the DC Circuit for a dozen years, Kavanaugh has written only two opinions on the merits in church-state cases, one on establishment and the other on free exercise. (He has written one opinion dismissing an Establishment Clause challenge on standing grounds and joined a few church-state opinions other judges have written, but those opinions are less probative). On the basis of those two opinions, I think Justice Kavanaugh would likely be a centrist conservative in the middle of the Court—a Justice remarkably like the one he would replace.
You can read the whole essay here.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s scholarly writing repeatedly raises the now well-known umpire analogy and emphasizes the aspiration to judicial “neutrality.” I focus here on law reviews, and in particular some of his later pieces on statutory and constitutional rights interpretation, leaving the earlier separation of powers pieces to others.
For example, in his review essay, Fixing Statutory Interpretation, 129 Harv. L. Rev. 2118 (2016) (reviewing CJ. Robert Katzmann’s book on statutory interpretation), he wrote: “The American rule of law, as I see it, depends on neutral, impartial judges who say what the law is, not what the law should be. Judges are umpires, or at least should always strive to be umpires. In a perfect world, at least as I envision it, the outcomes of legal disputes would not often vary based solely on the backgrounds, political affiliations, or policy views of judges.” Likewise, in Two Challenges for the Judge as Umpire: Statutory Ambiguity and Constitutional Exceptions, 92 Notre Dame L. Rev. 1907 (2017), Kavanaugh said this: “I believe very deeply in those visions of the rule of law as a law of rules, and of the judge as umpire. By that, I mean a neutral, impartial judiciary that decides cases based on settled principles without regard to policy preferences or political allegiances or which party is on which side in a particular case.” And he has a third short piece, The Judge As Umpire: Ten Principles, in a recent issue of the Catholic University Law Review.
It’s a metaphor that has been used and criticized before. Perhaps the most prominent relatively recent example is in the confirmation hearings of CJ. John Roberts, who was also fond of the metaphor. But I think Judge Kavanaugh means something fairly specific by it, and that it has more concrete implications for the way in which he believes the prevailing methods of statutory and constitutional interpretation are flawed and should change.
Kavanaugh’s primary objection in this area does not involve the issue of textualism and purposivism. He is quite clear that he is a textualist, and he notes in his review essay that CJ. Katzmann also claims to be a textualist. Instead, his objection concerns the binary of clarity and ambiguity. He raises two problems (previously discussed by Professor Ward Farnsworth): (1) how clear must the text be to be deemed clear? 80% clear? 50% clear? Less? More? (2) how does a judge know what level of clarity a text actually has achieved? Because these threshold issues are indeterminate, the interpreting judge has too few rules for getting to the point where he can determine which of the two binaries–clear or ambiguous–to settle on. Kavanaugh argues that in consequence a judge’s predisposition toward textualism or purposivism does the work here. It orients the judge either toward or against finding ambiguity, and then it’s off and running with the substantive canons of interpretation.
Kavanaugh offers a solution this threshold issue: rather than forcing the judge to choose one of the two binaries from the get-go, he argues that the judge should offer her “best reading of the statute,” guided by some semantic canons and context. There are some problems with this proposal, in my view, primary among which is that I am uncertain that this sort of approach solves the issue of predisposition toward textualism or purposivism. An example: Kavanaugh does not care for the semantic canon, eiusdem generis, which holds that the last general term in a sequence should be interpreted in light of previous, more specific terms (“dogs, pigs, sheep, and other animals” should be read to include pigs and horses but not amoebas and tapirs). Kavanaugh says that “other animals” should instead mean any or all other animals, and to apply eiusdem generis allows a judge to, as Justice Kagan put it, take it upon herself to find the “common denominator.” But I’m not sure I agree on the merits, and at the very least I think this example illustrates some problems with Kavanaugh’s “best reading of the statute” approach, one which he agrees must make use of context.
The point of this post, though, is to connect his substantive comments to his larger umpire analogy. The trouble with the current binary regime of clarity/ambiguity is that it is does not offer judges sufficiently clear, basic rules for interpreting statutes. It does not stimulate judges to aspire to neutrality. It instead stimulates the opposite: a smuggling in, under the pretense of simply “finding” clarity/ambiguity, of the judge’s predispositions toward textualism or purposivism. And judges are also seen to be doing that smuggling by the general public.
Kavanaugh makes a parallel criticism of constitutional interpretation. Here, one of his primary targets is the tiers of scrutiny in the evaluation of individual rights as against government interests. The problem with the 1950s-era invention of the tiers of scrutiny (substantial burdens, compelling interests, rational bases, narrow tailoring, etc.) is that they are, at best, “rather indeterminate,” and at worst, “empty of real, determinate, objective meaning.” They offer no, or very little, transparent guidance to the judicial interpreter. At best, they are “mood-setters.” And the mood that they set is the mood the judge happens to be in about the right at issue. So that judges applying these standards are invited to smuggle in other reasons for ruling as they do. And they are seen to do so by all of the rest of us, since it is in the nature of the tiers to push judges in this direction.
Or consider the issue of exceptions to certain constitutional rights–the right to free speech, for example, or the right to keep and bear arms. Is it any surprise, says Kavanaugh, that the tiers of scrutiny can offer no help in resolving when to find such exceptions? Worse still, is it any surprise that when judges apply the tiers of scrutiny purportedly to find exceptions to constitutional rights, they are doing so in ways that are, and appear to be, non-neutral–non umpire-like? There are other judges who have made similar claims about the tiers (see, most recently, Justice Thomas’s dissent in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt). But one can see a critical unity in Kavanaugh’s objections to the prevailing methods of statutory and constitutional interpretation: both suffer from the same problems and need similar correctives.
Unlike in the statutory interpretation context, Kavanaugh does not offer a developed solution to this problem. But perhaps the most interesting part of his argument (to me, at least) is his view that it would be preferable to rely on historical and traditional limits on particular rights to find exceptions than to rely on the tiers of scrutiny to do so. He says: “At the moment, I do not have a solution to this concern. Requiring judges to focus on history and tradition, as Justice Scalia suggested, might establish a much clearer strike zone for these “exceptions” cases.” And his Second Amendment dissent in Heller v. DC (DC Cir 2011) suggested just such an approach. He also raised “history and tradition,” together with “precedent,” as important for his judicial method in his acceptance last night.
We’ll have to wait and see if and how these threads come together if he is confirmed.
To our readers, Mark and I wish you a happy Fourth of July!
An independence from Great Britain. And a dependence and reliance on one another, as Benjamin Franklin recognized in his hanging together/hanging separately quip, made at the signing of the Declaration of Independence. (I have privately wondered whether we might find some space for a “Dependence Day” somewhere in the American calendar…below is a book that might give the holiday creators some inspiration.)