New Paper on the Distance Between Constitutional Theory and Constitutional Judging

Former Forum guest Kevin Walsh and I have a new paper that examines the relationship of and the separation between constitutional theory and constitutional adjudication. The article is called, Judge Posner, Judge Wilkinson, and Judicial Critique of Constitutional Theory. There is a law and religion connection as well, as part of our discussion concerns cases decided by these judges involving perceived official favoritism of Christianity. Comments are most welcome, and I’ll try to have a bit more about the paper in the coming days and weeks. Here’s the abstract.

Judge Richard Posner’s well-known view is that constitutional theory is useless. And Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III has lambasted constitutional theory for the way in which its “cosmic” aspirations threaten democratic self-governance. Many other judges hold similar views. And yet both Posner and Wilkinson — in the popular press, in law review articles, and in books — have advocated what appear to be their own theories of how to judge in constitutional cases. Judicial pragmatism for Posner and judicial restraint for Wilkinson seem to be substitutes for originalism, living constitutionalism, political process theory, and so on. But both Posner and Wilkinson also deny that they are offering a theory at all. This is puzzling. How do these judges simultaneously reject constitutional theory yet seemingly replace it with theories of their own?

This Article answers that question — a question that must be answered in order to understand the present-day relationship between constitutional theory and constitutional adjudication. The perspectives of Judge Posner and Judge Wilkinson are particularly valuable because they have not only decided hundreds of constitutional cases but have also written extensively about constitutional theory. Drawing on a close reading of revealing slices of both their extrajudicial writing and their judicial opinions in constitutional cases, this Article makes three contributions. First, it brings to light agreements between Posner and Wilkinson that run far deeper than the heralded differences between them and that stem from their situated understanding of their judicial role. Second, it exposes the limited influence of judicial pragmatism and judicial restraint on these judges’ own constitutional jurisprudence even in those cases where one might expect constitutional theory to exert maximal influence. Third, it explains how judicial pragmatism and judicial restraint are best understood not as constitutional theories but as descriptions of judicial dispositions — character traits that pertain to judicial excellence — that can and should be criticized on their own terms.

Babie & Rochow, “Freedom of Religion under Bills of Rights”

Earlier this year, University of Adelaide Press published Freedom of Religion under Bills of Rights (UAP Jan. 2012) edited by Paul Babie (U. of Adelaide)  and Neville Rochow. The description follows.

How can a nation protect fundamental rights and freedoms, including religious freedom, within a liberal democratic context? The objective of the essays presented in this volume, taken as a whole, is to provide an overview of the principal models used to protect fundamental freedoms, and especially the right to freedom of belief, expression and practice of one’s religion, in major liberal democratic systems. While there is no effort made to be comprehensive about this, the book is clearly not simply about Australia — the chapters cover the range of methods typically used to protectsuch freedoms. This represents the significance of the volume: it prioritises no one approach. Rather, a range of viewpoints are presented in a comparative way in order to obtain insights, reveal strengths, weaknesses and differences of opinion, and to learn from the lessons of others, how religion might be and has been protected.

Putting the Legal in Religious Legal Theory

I just finished reading Samuel Levine’s essay RLT: A Preliminary Examination of Religious Legal Theory as a Movement, which considers the challenges facing the creation of a Religious Legal Theory (RLT) movement akin to Critical Legal Studies, Law & Economics and Empirical Legal Studies.  As Levine notes, the growing – and, to mind, successful – Religious Legal Theory conferences (the three annual RLT conferences thus far have been held at Seton Hall, St. John’s and Pepperdine) indicates that there is a conglomeration of research and scholarship revolving around some central concept captured by the label “religious legal theory.”

Among the challenges to the RLT movement detailed by Levine, I was most drawn to the tension between the pluralism embedded within RLT – it brings together different methodologies, disciplines and faith perspectives – and the need for a movement to advance a “foundation of meaningful concepts” in order to retain coherence, integrity and longevity.

As I’ve thought about this challenge, I’ve wondered whether RLT can do more to capitalize on the legal within religious legal theory.  By that I mean, further focus its efforts on the ways in which religion and religious life incorporates legal structures and norms.  This inquiry might itself be described as two-fold: to what extent does religious life mimic that of a legal system – and how might those similarities impact the nation-state’s treatment of religion.  As example, RLT might further explore the methods of authority, interpretation, and norm-creation within religious communities and compare those methods to compare to other legal structures.  Moreover, to the extent religion and law share important similarities, questions of accommodation, deference and enforcement might require considering religion alongside, for example, international law and foreign law where the nation-state has contemplated navigating the competing claims of conflicting legal norms.  Such an approach would incorporate insights of legal pluralism, international legal theory, political philosophy, and indigenous law into the RLT movement.

This is not to say that this isn’t already happening; to the contrary, there is growing amount of writing on this very issue – and probably more to come in light of the Supreme Court’s recent pronouncements in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC.  Some examples that come to mind – just to name a few – include Paul Horwitz’s work on First Amendment Institutions (here and here), Joel Nichols recent book Marriage and Divorce in a Multicultural Context, Ayelet Shacher’s book Multicultural Jurisdictions, Perry Dane’s work on church autonomy and legal pluralism (see, e.g., here and here), Rick Garnett’s work on religious institutions, (see, e.g., here and here), Chaim Saiman’s Jesus Legal Theory, and Mark Movsesian’s Fiqh and Canons: Reflections on Islamic and Christian Jurisprudence.

Consider this a pitch for more of the same and for moving this focus into the center of the RLT movement.

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