Sunday, February 14, 2016

Recess Appointments and the Scalia Vacancy

No semester teaching constitutional law ever goes by without a teaching opportunity taken from the front pages.  This post suggests how teachers can connect yesterday's unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia to the recess appointments clause of Art. II, sec. 2, cl. 3.  That clause was at issue in NLRB v. Noel Canning, which appears in Ch. 14.B.2.

The timeline:

Friday, February 12, 2016:  The Senate goes into intra-session recess scheduled to end on Monday February 22.  This gives legislators a break for the week containing the President's Day holiday (Monday February 15).

Saturday, February 13:  Justice Scalia dies.

Sunday, February 14:  Today.

If the President can lawfully make a recess appointment, the new justice would serve until the "end of [the Senate's] next session." At the latest, the session of the Senate will end when the new Congress takes office; according to the 20th Amendment this will occur on January 3, 2017 or another date set by statute.  (January 3, 2017 is a Sunday, so perhaps such a statute exists.) At the earliest, the session ends when both Houses of Congress agree to adjourn.  According to Art. I, sec. 5, cl. 4, neither house can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other.

So is a recess appointment allowed this week?  If Justice Scalia's concurrence in Noel Canning had prevailed, the answer would be an easy "no."  In his view, a recess appointment is allowed only during a recess that falls between two sessions of Congress, and not during an intra-session recess like this one.  Moreover, he believed a recess appointment was possible only if the vacancy begins during such a recess between sessions.  Since the vacancy did not occur within the right kind of recess, no recess appointment would be allowed.

The majority would reach the same result through a different route.  The majority view in Noel Canning does not require that the vacancy begin during a recess.  Nor does it prohibit recess appointments during intra-session recesses.  But to be constitutional, a recess appointment may only be made during a recess that is sufficiently long that the Senate's inability to timely confirm the nominee would pose a significant problem for effective governance.  The majority believed that such recesses must, as a matter of constitutional requirement, be more than three days long, and that a recess of ten days or less was presumptively not long enough to trigger the recess appointment power, although that presumption could be potentially be overcome.  It is hard to see how it could be overcome on these facts, since the Court is capable of operating with eight members for the coming week, after which time the Senate returns and can consider nominations under the usual process.

Thus, under either Noel Canning approach the President would not be able to appoint a new justice this week, since it falls within an intra-session recess of ten days and the vacancy occurs with nine days of recess remaining.

Going forward, either house of Congress can prevent any possible recess appointment by ensuring that no sufficiently long recess occurs.  The majority in Noel Canning made clear that the Senate is "in session" when it says it is, even in a pro forma session where no business is conducted.  Hence, the Senate could choose to bang the gavel once every two or three days and stave off recess appointments.  Or, as happened in Noel Canning itself, the House could refuse to give the Senate permission to adjourn for longer than three days, forcing the Senate once again to bang the gavel. 

Because Noel Canning has as a practical matter made recess appointments over the objection of either house of Congress impossible, the courts will not need to puzzle through a question not presented in that case:  namely, what does it mean for a recess appointee to finish a term at the "end" of the "next" session?  Assume the President actually makes a recess appointment in February 2016.  Assume Congress takes a one-month intra-session recess on August 1.  It then adjourns the entire session on December 1, 2016, allowing the new Congress to begin its session on January 3, 2017.  Does the recess justice's term end on August 1, September 1, December 1, or January 3?  Looks like we won't find out.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Strange Bedfellows #12: Closing Thoughts on The Science of Learning

In this guest blogging series, I’ve had fun identifying connections between canonical cases not ordinarily taught together.  But is it any more than a parlor game?

For a teacher with years of familiarity with the cases, it can be invigorating to rearrange the furniture—and students always benefit from an invigorated teacher.  The fear is that giddily wandering away from the orthodox doctrinal silos might create an obstacle for students who need to know and apply the orthodox solutions to problems.  I’m convinced that when handled properly, exposure to these strange bedfellows actually leads to better comprehension of the orthodox approach.  This is primarily because a semester with a healthy amount of unexpected (but valid) juxtapositions will inevitably take advantage of two strategies favored by researchers into the science of learning: interleaving distinct but related topics, and repeated exposures spread over time.

The silo approach (a unit on the Commerce Clause, followed by a unit on the Spending Clause, and so on) presumes that it would be unduly confusing for students to shift gears, hurting their comprehension. But studies show the opposite: interleaving the presentation of related but distinct topics results in better mastery of each topic. Learners understand the relationships among silos better, and also—perhaps unexpectedly—they understand each silo better.

In Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (2014), authors Peter Brown, Henry Roedinger, and Mark McDaniel describe a study that compared different methods to teach students how to identify works by different painters:
Researchers initially predicted that massed practice in identifying painters’ works (that is, studying many examples of one painter’s works before moving on to study many examples of another’s works) would best help students learn the defining characteristics of each artist’s style. Massed practice of each artist’s works, one artist at a time, would better enable students to match artworks to artists later, compared to interleaved exposure to the works of different artists. The idea was that interleaving would be too hard and confusing; students would never be able to sort out the relevant dimensions. The researchers were wrong. The commonalities among one painter’s works that the students learned through massed practice proved less useful than the differences between the works of multiple painters that the students learned through interleaving. Interleaving enabled better discrimination and produced better scores on a later test that required matching the works with their painters. The interleaving group was also better able to match painters’ names correctly to new examples of their work that the group had never viewed during the learning phase.
Similar results occurred in a study teaching people how to identify different families of birds, how to hit different kinds of pitches, and how to solve different kinds of math problems. These tasks strike me as similar to what we expect law students to do: transfer the knowledge gained through study of past cases to help identify, categorize, and resolve issues when they arise in previously unseen circumstances.

However, the studies showing the power of interleaving also reveal a cognitive illusion: students who learn interleaved material routinely underestimate their progress when compared to the silo method. This is largely because the advantages of interleaving tend to reveal themselves slightly later in time.  From Make It Stick:
The learning from interleaved practice feels slower than learning from massed practice. Teachers and students sense the difference. They can see that their grasp of each element is coming more slowly, and the compensating long-term advantage is not apparent to them. As a result, interleaving is unpopular and seldom used. Teachers dislike it because it feels sluggish. Students find it confusing: they’re just starting to get a handle on new material and don’t feel on top of it yet when they are forced to switch. But the research shows unequivocally that mastery and long-term retention and are much better if you interleave practice than if you mass it.
In my experience, students actually do not dislike the type of interleaving described in these blog posts and in my casebook, so long I am transparent with them about the logic. A few months into the semester they can feel the benefits of better comprehension and retention as they solve problems across silos. By the end of a semester, they know they are further ahead than they would have been, despite the initial feeling of unfamiliarity.

One advantage of interleaving is that it forces some delays and spreads given material over a larger stretch of time.  Instead of studying everything about the Commerce Clause in a one week silo, it is studied a bit at a time over several weeks or months. Repeated work with a topic over time, with enough lapse between exposures for a little forgetting to occur, improves a student’s ability to later retrieve and apply the knowledge.  This passage from Make It Stick describes some of the research:
For a vivid example [of the benefits of spacing out lessons] consider this study of thirty-eight surgical residents. They took a series of four short lessons in microsurgery: how to reattach tiny vessels. Each lesson included some instruction followed by some practice. Half the docs completed all four lessons in a single day. … The others completed the same four lessons but with a week’s interval between them.
In a test given a month after the last lesson, those whose lessons had been spaced a week apart outperformed their colleagues in all areas—elapsed time to complete a surgery, number of hand movements, and success at reattaching the severed, pulsating aortas of live rats. The difference in performance between the two groups was impressive. The residents who had taken all four sessions in a single day not only scored lower on all measures, but 16 percent of them damaged the rats’ vessels beyond repair and were unable complete their surgeries.
Why is spaced practice more effective than massed practice? It appears that embedding new learning in long-term memory requires a process of consolidation, in which memory traces (the brain’s representations of the new learning) are strengthened, given meaning, and connected to prior knowledge—a process that unfolds over hours and may take several days. Rapid-fire practice leans on short-term memory. Durable learning, however, requires time for mental rehearsal and the other processes of consolidation. Hence, spaced practice works better. The increased effort required to retrieve the learning after a little forgetting has the effect of retriggering consolidation, further strengthening memory.
In addition to Make It Stick, interested readers can consult two free online books about the science of learning:

Monday, June 29, 2015

Strange Bedfellows #11: Subsequent History Surprises

Most Constitutional Law classes discuss how the system can correct its mistakes.  If one branch or level of government errs, others can respond, pushing the substance of the law to a new equilibrium.  Teaching the subsequent history of anti-canonical cases is one good way to demonstrate this point. Constitutional amendments erased Dred Scott and Pollock, later court decisions overruled Lochner, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act made Geduldig largely irrelevant, and the Georgia Supreme Court held that the sodomy statute upheld in Bowers v. Hardwick violated the state constitution.  To show how SCOTUS does not always have the last word, my casebook includes short units called “Flash-Forwards” that tell the rest of the story (or at least some of it).  Once students are attuned to possibilities outside the courtroom, they can have a good classroom discussion about what a concerned citizen, legislator, or executive branch official might do in response to a troubling court decision.

It is less common to spend time on the subsequent history of cases that are canonical—the ones considered good law, never overruled.  As usually presented in casebooks, Cooper v. Aaron (1958), Palmore v. Sidoti (1984) and United States v. Carolene Products (1938) are all cases where the Court got things right, guiding the system to a proper equilibrium.  But in each of these cases, the victory promised in the canonical opinion played out differently on the ground, with the results for the prevailing party being less than advertised.  The subsequent histories of these canonical cases could in theory be as deserving of class time as the subsequent histories of anti-canonical cases—the basis for a discussion about the value of a court victory.

But I confess that I have not had the stomach to tell my students about some of them.  Which of these would you put into your casebooks, and which stories would you save for the teacher’s manual?

Cooper v. Aaron
The issue in Cooper was whether the Little Rock School District could postpone further compliance with a court-approved desegregation plan. The tumultuous experience with the Little Rock Nine during the 1957-58 academic year involved so much “chaos, bedlam and turmoil” (in the words of the trial court that granted a postponement in Cooper) to justify a cooling-off period.  SCOTUS unanimously disagreed. Desegregation must proceed as previously scheduled for 1958-59, and Governor Faubus and the segregationist legislature must get nowhere with their noises about not being bound by Brown v. Board of Education.  State obedience to SCOTUS’s interpretations of the US Constitution is “indispensable for the protection of the freedoms guaranteed by our fundamental charter for all of us.”  Score one for the federal judiciary.

Except that the desegregation plan did not proceed in the 1958-59 school year.  Instead, the legislature authorized the governor to shut down any school if “an efficient educational system cannot be maintained because of integration of the races.”  Using this power, the governor shuttered the four Little Rock high schools that were scheduled to desegregate, and the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the order.  Garrett v. Faubus, 230 Ark. 445 (1959).  The postponement that Cooper refused to authorize occurred anyway.

The end came not through direct enforcement of Cooper, but through the political process.  After a year without high schools, Little Rock began to rethink its commitment to segregation now that white families were personally experiencing the costs of maintaining it. In early 1959, an extreme segregationist who had joined the school board was removed from office through a recall election. The Little Rock Chamber of Commerce issued a statement urging the District to reopen its schools because continuing the controversy would be bad for business. The four closed high schools reopened in fall of 1959, and the desegregation plan slowly resumed.

This political process was no doubt affected by Cooper, but teaching Cooper as the end of the story paints a misleading picture.  With its surprising subsequent history taught as part of the case, Cooper works better as a demonstration of how complex the constitutional system can be, rather than as a demonstration of the supremacy of judicial interpretation.  As a result, Cooper strikes me as a case worth teaching with its subsequent history, or not at all.  It may well be worth it for the next few years, since a potentially significant story will be whether Obergefell (and perhaps the Obamacare cases) end up generating political backlash comparable to that following Brown.

Palmore v. Sidoti
By contrast, I have not had the heart to use Palmore v. Sidoti to teach a related lesson about the limits of litigation.

In Palmore, a Florida family court awarded custody of a girl to her father because the mother had entered into an interracial relationship.  The Supreme Court found this to be an invalid consideration: even if community prejudice might make a placement with the mother and her new husband stressful for the girl, the law cannot “directly or indirectly” give effect to private biases.  (That point is similar to the reasoning in Shelley v. Kraemer, as discussed in a previous post.)

SCOTUS reversed the custody ruling and remanded the matter to the Florida state courts to make a ruling untainted by invalid racial considerations, but by that time, the father had remarried within his race and moved to Texas with the daughter (as allowed by the Florida custody award). The state trial court in Tampa relinquished jurisdiction to Texas, and the decision to close out the Florida action was affirmed on appeal. 472 So.2d 843 (Fl. App. 1985).  I have been told that the Texas courts decided in unpublished opinions that it would be in the best interests of the child to remain with the father.

Assume for purposes of discussion that the Texas court considered only questions of family stability and not race. Nonetheless, one may wonder if the same result would have been reached had the Florida courts not originally removed the daughter from the house for constitutionally improper reasons; stability may have favored the mother in that alternate universe.  The subsequent history makes Palmore a story about the limitations of individual rights litigation, and not about its glorious aspirations. This could be a valuable discussion, but I have been loath to tell my students how all of a lawyer’s principled hard work may not ultimately benefit the client, who sometimes becomes a martyr with little to show for her Pyrrhic victory.

Carolene Products
After Carolene Products, the Filled Milk Act has been remembered in the Con Law canon as the paradigm of a law that has a rational basis.  Except that as of today, it officially doesn’t.

As explained in Geoffrey P. Miller, The True Story of Carolene Products, 1987 Sup. Ct. Rev. 397 (1987), the Act was held to be irrational in Milnot Co. v. Richardson, 350 F.Supp. 221 (S.D. Ill. 1972), a case brought by the Carolene Products Company’s successor corporation. The government did not appeal.  As a result, filled milk is now readily available online. No semester is complete without me drinking a can of filled milk while my students clutch their stomachs and gasp in fear for my nutritional safety.  (Your students will never forget Carolene Products after that bit of show and tell!)

It’s been a hard choice, but I have chosen to keep the demise of the Filled Milk Act a secret from my students—it would cause too much cognitive dissonance.  Yet it makes a potentially valuable exploration of how constitutional judgments can change—and whether they should.  In Carolene Products (the famous one), Justice Stone said that “the constitutionality of a statute predicated upon the existence of a particular state of facts may be challenged by showing to the court that those facts have ceased to exist.” Evidently they did.  The later invalidation of the Filled Milk Act can potentially be an interesting counterpoint to Shelby County v. Holder (2013), which similarly found that changed facts made a statute unconstitutionally irrational.

I’d be interested to know if you dare to share these subsequent histories with your students.  And if there are other similar stories we should consider teaching.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Strange Bedfellows #10: Why So Serious? (or, Thoughts on Fire-Breathing Dissents)

A few blockbuster cases remain for SCOTUS to decide this term, and given the current make-up of the Court, this means a high likelihood of fire-breathing dissents.  Teachers — and particularly casebook authors — need to decide which lessons, if any, to draw from these dissenting opinions.  For myself, I always like to spend some time on at least a few throughout the semester, for what they teach us about the substance of the law and about the art of advocacy.

The substantive lesson comes in large part from considering which cases provoke verbal fireworks and which do not.  At the outset, constitutional law is more likely than other legal subjects to provoke heat, and within the Con Law canon some topics provoke more flame wars than others.  The flamer is trying to signal that something important is happening, so a suitable question for the class can be “why are they so upset?”  This is especially valuable when a case that seemingly involves low stakes provokes what seems like a rhetorical overreaction, as in Caperton v. Massey Coal (2010) (judicial recusal) or BMW of North America v. Gore (1996) (punitive damages).

The advocacy lesson is equally important.  The rhetoric in court opinions is worth teaching to law students not as literary criticism for its own sake, but as a model of lawyerly writing.  Since we tend not to assign actual briefs to our students written by lawyers, their main exposure to persuasive legal writing takes the form of opinions written by the lawyers on the bench we call judges.  When an opinion exhibits a style that deviates from the mean, it can be a good opportunity to discuss whether it was effective, and whether students should pursue a similar tone in their own submissions.  My students may just be telling me what I want to hear, but they usually say that bluster turns them off—even though really good bluster can be pretty exciting.  Good opinions for this kind of discussion include Justice Scalia’s dissents in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1993) and US v. Virginia (1996), and Justice Blackmun’s self-involved hand-wringing in Casey and DeShaney v. Winnebago County (1989).

As a casebook author, I faced the question of how much to leave in.  For Caperton (discussed in an earlier post in this series), I retained almost all of the dissents of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia, largely because both strive for Biblical stature in way that skeptics might consider borderline clownish.  To demonstrate that the majority's constitutional rule (mandating judicial recusal when there is an objectively perceivable probability of bias) would be unworkable, Chief Justice Roberts posed a list of forty questions that would need to be resolved in future cases.  Think forty days and forty nights, or forty years in the wilderness.  Most casebooks seem to edit down the list; you get the point pretty quickly.  But I decided to keep the whole thing (four pages worth)—because it is revealing to ask students during class how many of them actually read all forty.  The honest ones will admit they skipped it, just as I did the first several times I read the opinion.  The overblown Roberts dissent presents a good opportunity to discuss when less is more.

As for Justice Scalia’s Talmud-quoting dissent in Caperton, I kept it largely for his last sentences, which were these:  “The relevant question, however, is whether we do more good than harm by seeking to correct [state courts] through expansion of our constitutional mandate in a manner ungoverned by any discernable rule.  The answer is obvious.” (emphasis added)  Anytime somebody tells you the answer to a contested legal question is obvious, or that a question answers itself (as in the inexplicable Goesaert v. Cleary (1948), discussed in an earlier post), it’s time to reach for your revolver.

When it first appeared on PrawfsBlawg, the post you see above was followed a few days later by this one.


June 29, 2015

The Most Dangerous Precedent (or, A Silly Extravagance)

In today’s concurrence to Glossip v. Gross, Justice Scalia identifies a precedent that “has caused more mischief to our jurisprudence, to our federal system, and to our society than any other that comes to mind.”

The villain is Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86 (1958), which held that it was unconstitutional to strip a native-born American of his 14th-Amendment-provided citizenship as punishment for briefly deserting his military post while serving in Morocco in 1944.  (“He had been gone less than a day and had willingly surrendered to an officer on an Army vehicle while he was walking back towards his base.”)  The mischief arises from a passage frequently quoted from Chief Justice Warren’s plurality to the effect that the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause “must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

Let’s leave aside that the Trop language is a tolerable paraphrase of Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349 (1910), which rejected an originalist approach to the Eighth Amendment to hold that fifteen years of hard labor for falsifying a public document was unconstitutional.  Has Trop caused more mischief “to our society” than any other case that Justice Scalia can think of?  Even if you disagree with the Trop language, at worst it means that a handful of persons can successfully challenge an extraordinary criminal sentence, and that a larger handful can make colorable but unsuccessful challenges to theirs.  This is worse for society than any other case that the justice has decried?  Than the decisions mandating a right to abortion, to sodomy, to same-sex marriage, or to coeducation at the Virginia Military Institute?  No, society is most harmed by jurisprudence that prevents the government from getting as close as it possibly can to the very edge of cruel and unusual punishment.

In a post from last week, I argued that some fire-breathing dissents can be worth teaching in an introductory Con Law class.  But now that Justice Scalia has declared, in his Obergefell dissent, that one should expect “separate concurring or dissenting opinions to contain extravagances, even silly extravagances, of thought and expression,” I need to add a note of caution.  A silly extravagance like the overblown attack on Trop v. Dulles can teach students lessons that I would prefer not to impart: that it’s more important to sound good than to be correct (long live truthiness); that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds; that picking your battles is for suckers; and that once you’ve risen to a prominent place in your profession, nobody can stop you from phoning it in.  These lessons may have bits of truth to them, but I’d rather focus on others.

(Apologies for shooting fish in a barrel, but since we're talking about the quality of legal prose on this blog...)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Strange Bedfellows #9: The Frame Game

The Con Law canon contains many opportunities to teach how the choice of frame greatly can affect the outcome of a case.  In many cases, an advocate’s first and most important task is to convince the judge properly fill in the blank in the following sentence:  “This is a case about ____.” 

My favorite example is Johnson v California (2005), where a prisoner objected to a state department of corrections policy to house inmates with cellmates of the same race.  The majority filled in the blank by concluding that “This is a case about race,” which meant that strict scrutiny applied.  The dissenters filled in the blank by concluding that “This is a case about prisons,” which meant that a standard much more deferential to governmental decisions would apply.  Nothing in existing law forced the court to choose one frame or the other, making Johnson a great opportunity to explore methods of persuasion with students. What would you say to convince the judge to use your frame instead of your opponent's?

The frame game inevitably reveals itself in many canonical substantive due process cases, but it can also be woven into discussions of cases arising under many different doctrines.

Framing can be a battleground in equal protection cases where the court must decide which groups to compare against each other.  Goesaert v. Cleary, 335 U.S. 464 (1948), sometimes taught as an example of the bad old days, involved a frame that strikes most modern students as bizarre.  A Michigan statute would grant bartender’s licenses to two kinds of applicants: (a) a man or (b) a woman who is “the wife or daughter of the male owner” of a tavern.*  For Justice Frankfurter, writing for the majority, the statute distinguished between two classes of women: those who are close relatives of bar owners and those who are not.  The legal question was whether Michigan was “play[ing] favorites among women without rhyme or reasons.” Frankfurter tipped his hand that his choice of frame controlled the outcome, saying: “To ask whether [the state may distinguish] wives and daughters of owners of liquor places and wives and daughters of nonowners, is one of those rare instances where to state the question is in effect to answer it.”  Indeed.  The dissent asked a different question: could the state justify discrimination “between male and female owners of liquor establishments?”  The dissenters answered that question (in the negative) in two quick paragraphs.

* (As noted in an earlier post, alcohol pops up Con Law teaching more often than one might expect.) 

Other, even crazier, frames are possible on the Goesaert facts.  The statute discriminated against corporations who own taverns, because they are not  "male owners" capable of having a "wife" or a "daughter."  The state is facilitating cheaper labor for certain sole proprietors, but owners who exercise their Citizens United right to assemble in the corporate form must hire from a slightly smaller and hence more expensive all-male labor pool.

All disparate impact cases are a variation on the frame game.  Did the law in Geduldig v. Aiello (1974) classify along the lines of male v. female or, as the majority thought, “pregnant women and non-pregnant persons?”  Did the law in Personnel Administrator v. Feeney (1978) classify between veterans and non-veterans, or between men and women?

The frame game is inescapable in substantive due process cases where the task is to define the relevant unenumerated right.  Did the terminally ill plaintiffs in Washington v. Glucksberg (1997) seek to enforce “a right to commit suicide which itself includes a right to assistance in doing so” or “the right to a humane death” or “freedom from pain and indignity”?  Did the biological father in Michael H. v. Gerald D. (1989) seek “parenthood” or “parental rights [of] the natural father of a child conceived within, and born into, an extant marital union [to which he is not a party]?”  And as we await a result in Obergefell v. Hodges, one can ask whether the couple in Loving v. Virginia (1967) sought the right to enter into “marriage” or into “interracial marriage.”

Finally, one may consider an often explicit choice among legal frames, with the most common nominees in individual rights cases being freedom and equality.  This is likely to arise in Obergefell, which is a case about the freedom to marry and about equality among marriages.  While abortion rights were framed as a matter of freedom of reproductive choice in Roe v. Wade (1973), pro-choice advocates also argue that legal abortion is necessary for women to have the same options as men.  In many such cases, the frames would not necessarily generate opposite answers; this is seen in an earlier post about jury selection cases, where the right of a juror to be seated correlates with the right of the defendant to a representative jury.  In these situations, students can develop the lawyering skill of choosing which frame to emphasize.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Strange Bedfellows #8: Precedential Floors and Ceilings

The strange bedfellows presented so far in the series have been pairings of cases that reveal something interesting or unexpected about the substance of constitutional law.  But as we all know, courses in Constitutional Law are required at most schools only in part for their substance.  Since the substance is subject to (comparatively rapid) change, much of the value in the course is in how it can teach the set of legal skills necessary when dealing with a controlling text that where “majestic generalities” predominate.  The next few posts looks at cases that could be taught together (or at the very least, linked together orally if not taught the same day) for their similarities of legal reasoning.

A recurring issue in any young area of law—and US Constitutional Law is young when compared to the common law topics like contracts and property—is how to reason from sparse precedents.  Specifically, in an area with only a handful of decisions on point, do those precedents represent a ceiling or a floor?

The question is presented unusually cleanly in Caperton v. Massey Coal (2012), which asked whether an elected judge violated procedural due process by failing to recuse himself from a case where one of the litigants had spent millions on advertising to put that judge into office.  Two earlier SCOTUS decisions involved the due process ramifications of judicial recusal.  Tumey v. Ohio (1927) found that it violated due process for a judge sitting without a jury to decide cases under a system where his compensation would be greater if he convicted than if he acquitted.  (As it happens, this structure was also part of the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, but the due process implications were not explored at the time.)  In re Murchison (1955) found that a due process violation where a judge tried a criminal contempt charge that occurred before him during an atypical grand jury proceeding.  For the Caperton majority, these two cases represented a floor: due process might require recusal in other settings as well.  For the Caperton dissenters, the two cases were a ceiling: “Until today,” wrote Chief Justice Roberts, “we have recognized exactly two situations in which the Federal Due Process Clause requires disqualification of a judge.”

 In Ingraham v. Wright (1978), the plaintiff secondary school students argued that their public school district’s use of corporal punishment amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.  All of the previous SCOTUS decisions decided under the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause involved criminal defendants objecting to their sentences or the methods by which the sentences were carried out.  For the majority, the precedents represented a ceiling, indicating that the Clause would protect no more than the criminal defendant, and hence offer nothing to a public school student.  For the dissenters, the precedents were a floor: they meant that, at least, cruel and unusual punishments could not be inflicted on criminal defendants, but perhaps others were protected against them as well.  (Ingraham is an excellent showcase for a number of other methods of interpretation, including disagreements over the meaning of text, history, consequences, values, and constitutional structure; for this reason I have had good success starting my courses with it, and now my casebook.)

Similar floor/ceiling debates occur in canonical cases involving other constitutional topics, such as the state action doctrine—Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison (1974)—and substantive due process—Moore v. East Cleveland (1977) and Michael H. v. Gerald D. (1989).

Once you have sensitized students to how different judges can approach precedential ceilings and floors, you can then see a very similar contrast of interpretation with regard to the text of the Constitution itself, particularly with regard to enforcement of unenumerated principles.  If the two precedents from Caperton are a ceiling, limited to their facts, then perhaps Bill of Rights should be read the same way: as precise enumerations of narrow principles without Griswold-style penumbras that form a subterranean rational continuum.  And the same could be said for the various Art. I, §10 limitations on state commerce regulation: they mean only what they say (no duties of tonnage, no non-essential imposts on imports or exports), and do not contribute to a larger rule against state laws that impose burdens on interstate commerce in unenumerated ways.

Sure enough, one often sees exactly this combination: Justice Scalia opposes broad applications of the dormant commerce clause doctrine and substantive due process, and frequently reads precedents narrowly as well.  The reverse combination is usually true for Justice Breyer.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Strange Bedfellows #7: Liberty Lists

To enumerate rights or not to enumerate them?  Federalist Noah Webster, arguing against the need to include a Bill of Rights in the proposed constitution, asserted that a person sleeping on his right side has a natural law right to roll over and sleep on his left side, but we aren’t going to write such minutiae into the Constitution. Moreover, if that right was constitutionally enumerated, it would imply that those not enumerated—say, the right to wear a hat—were not protected.  The latter problem was supposed to be put to bed by the Ninth Amendment (“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”)  Enumerate away!

The story’s not quite that simple, as the disagreement between plurality and dissent in this week’s Kerry v. Din shows.  But as a teaching tool, it can be useful to compare and contrast the decision to enumerate rights in the constitution with the decision to enumerate rights in court opinions. In a selection of cases, the Supreme Court has sought to provide sample enumerations of unenumerated rights as a way of indicating the scope of American freedom.  These "liberty lists" have arisen most prominently in the 20th and 21st centuries with regard to the Due Process Clause, but decisions from before the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment offered other lists that were claimed to flow from the Privileges And Immunities Clause of Art. IV and the structural meaning of citizenship itself.

Issues worth studying when comparing these various liberty lists are how their contents have (or have not) changed over time; when they are used as opposed to when they are not; and whether the amount of detail in the list correlates to a win for the individual claiming an unenumerated liberty.  The punch line at the end of a capacious list is most often “We protect a huge range of liberties, including yours” (as in Meyer v. Nebraska) but it can also be “We protect a huge range of liberties, but not yours” (as in Board of Regents v. Roth).

The most famous early liberty list is Corfield v. Coryell, 6 F. Cas. 546, 552 (C.C.E.D. Pa. 1823), a trial court opinion rendered by Justice Bushrod Washington while riding circuit.  The question was whether New Jersey had violated Art. IV, section 2 by wrongly failing to extend to a citizen of another state a “privilege and immunity” available to New Jersey citizens.
The inquiry is, what are the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states? We feel no hesitation in confining these expressions to those privileges and immunities which are, in their nature, fundamental; which belong, of right, to the citizens of all free governments; and which have, at all times, been enjoyed by the citizens of the several states which compose this Union, from the time of their becoming free, independent, and sovereign. What these fundamental principles are, it would perhaps be more tedious than difficult to enumerate. They may, however, be all comprehended under the following general heads: Protection by the government; the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right to acquire and possess property of every kind, and to pursue and obtain happiness and safety; subject nevertheless to such restraints as the government may justly prescribe for the general good of the whole. The right of a citizen of one state to pass through, or to reside in any other state, for purposes of trade, agriculture, professional pursuits, or otherwise; to claim the benefit of the writ of habeas corpus; to institute and maintain actions of any kind in the courts of the state; to take, hold and dispose of property, either real or personal; and an exemption from higher taxes or impositions than are paid by the other citizens of the state; may be mentioned as some of the particular privileges and immunities of citizens, which are clearly embraced by the general description of privileges deemed to be fundamental: to which may be added, the elective franchise, as regulated and established by the laws or constitution of the state in which it is to be exercised.
The majority opinion in The Slaughterhouse Cases (1872) applauded Corfield’s list, saying that the rights protected by the Art. IV Privileges And Immunities Clause embrace “nearly every civil right for the establishment and protection of which organized government is instituted.” The punch line is that the right sought in Corfield—to engage in oyster farming in state waters on equal terms with a state resident—was not fundamental, the breadth of the Corfield list notwithstanding.

Crandall v. Nevada, 73 U.S. 35 (1867), involved a state law imposing a tax on exit from the state, a law found unconstitutional because it interfered with the ability of US citizens to travel to and access federal facilities.  Crandall was decided before the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified; it reached its conclusion based on general principles that Slaughterhouse called “implied guarantees of the Constitution.”  Just by being a US citizen, one automatically enjoyed the Crandall rights:
[The citizen] has the right to come to the seat of government to assert any claim he may have upon that government, to transact any business he may have with it, to seek its protection, to share its offices, to engage in administering its functions. He has the right of free access to its seaports, through which all operations of foreign commerce are conducted, to the subtreasuries, land offices, and courts of justice in the several States, and this right is in its nature independent of the will of any State over whose soil he must pass in the exercise of it.
Once attention shifted to the Due Process Clause as the textual home for most of the unenumerated rights, two frequently-quoted lists appeared in majority opinions. Allgeyer v. Louisiana, 165 U.S. 578 (1897), generally viewed as the first SCOTUS case to invalidate a state statute for violating an unenumerated right under a substantive due process theory, described it this way:
The “liberty” mentioned in that [Fourteenth] amendment means, not only the right of the citizen to be free from the mere physical restraint of his person, as by incarceration, but the term is deemed to embrace the right of the citizen to be free in the enjoyment of all his faculties; to be free to use them in all lawful ways; to live and work where he will; to earn his livelihood by any lawful calling; to pursue any livelihood or avocation; and for that purpose to enter into all contracts which may be proper, necessary, and essential to his carrying out to a successful conclusion the purposes above mentioned.
Described this way, the right reached the ability to purchase life insurance from an out-of-state company. A reformulation of the list, this time emphasizing non-economic rights, appeared in Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923):
While this court has not attempted to define with exactness the liberty thus guaranteed [by the Due Process Clause], the term has received much consideration and some of the included things have been definitely stated. Without doubt, it denotes not merely freedom from bodily restraint but also the right of the individual to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.
The right to send one’s children to a private school to learn the German language fit comfortably in this list.

An interesting contrast to the Allgeyer and Meyer liberty lists is the formula from Bolling v. Sharpe (1954), the companion to Brown v. Board of Education that used reverse incorporation to find that the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause should be binding on the federal government.  Here, the Court offered no list (only a principle), and then concluded that the asserted right fit within that principle.  It is not widely remembered today, but Bolling may offer the most expansive (or is it the most circular?) definition of liberty of any SCOTUS opinion.
Although the Court has not assumed to define “liberty” with any great precision, that term is not confined to mere freedom from bodily restraint. Liberty under law extends to the full range of conduct which the individual is free to pursue, and it cannot be restricted except for a proper governmental objective. Segregation in public education is not reasonably related to any proper governmental objective, and thus it imposes on Negro children of the District of Columbia a burden that constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of their liberty in violation of the Due Process Clause.
So who might lose under a modern application of the liberty lists?  For one, the untenured college professor in Board of Regents v. Roth. After quoting the Meyer list, and citing Bolling for the proposition that “in a Constitution for a free people” the meaning of liberty “must be broad indeed,” the court proceeded to find that no liberty was implicated when the professor’s one-year contract was not renewed.  For another, the alien children held in immigration detention centers in Reno v. Flores, 507 U.S. 292 (1993).  They might have thought they did not need to rely on a liberty list, given the universal agreement that “freedom from bodily restraint” was protected.  The majority concluded that this right was not implicated by the facts of the case—only “the alleged right of a child who has no available parent, close relative, or legal guardian, and for whom the government is responsible, to be placed in the custody of a willing-and-able private custodian rather than of a government-operated or government-selected child-care institution.”  Turns out that one isn’t on the list.

And now, in Kerry v. Din, a plurality would hold that a US citizen with a foreign spouse has no liberty interest in that spouse receiving a visa to enter the country (not even enough of a liberty interest to trigger procedural due process).  Justice Scalia’s opinion for a three-justice plurality offers its own liberty list that is limited to what Lord Coke perceived within the Magna Carta.  The opinion goes on to expressly rejects the entire American judicial tradition of liberty lists:
To be sure, this Court has at times indulged a propensity for grandiloquence when reviewing the sweep of implied rights, describing them so broadly that they would include not only the interests Din asserts but many others as well. For example: "Without doubt, [the liberty guaranteed by the Due Process Clause] denotes not merely freedom from bodily restraint but also the right of the individual to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a home and bring up children, [and] to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience" Meyer v. Nebraska (1923). But this Court is not bound by dicta, especially dicta that have been repudiated by the holdings of our subsequent cases.