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.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Strange Bedfellows #6: Streams of Commerce

Those of us who also teach Civil Procedure are familiar with the “stream of commerce” concept within the constitutional law of personal jurisdiction. Under circumstances that the Supreme Court has notoriously failed to make clear, an entity that manufactures and sells a product in one state may be subject to personal jurisdiction to the courts of another if the product causes injury after traveling there through “the stream of commerce.”  Less well remembered is that the “stream of commerce” once had a significant role to play in the law of the Commerce Clause. These two streams of commerce are customarily taught under different pedagogical silos, but may have something to say to each other.

During the Lochner era, SCOTUS cases involving the commerce power attempted to draw a line between transactions deemed to have “direct” impact on interstate commerce (which Congress could regulate) and those with only “indirect” interstate impact (which Congress could not regulate). Conversely, the federal government was allowed to impose regulations on interstate commerce that affected local commerce, so long as their impact was “indirect.” In appropriate cases, SCOTUS was willing to see “direct” impact when purely in-state activities took place within a stream of commerce that would predictably flow to other states.

The metaphor was introduced in Swift & Co. v. United States, 196 U.S. 375 (1905), which upheld an antitrust injunction against price-fixing in the meat industry. Even though the agreement to fix prices occurred within the boundaries of one state, that transaction had a significantly plain impact on the interstate flow of goods as to justify federal regulation.  As Justice Holmes opinion said:
When cattle are sent for sale from a place in one state, with the expectation that they will end their transit, after purchase, in another, and when in effect they do so, with only the interruption necessary to find a purchaser at the stock yards, and when this is a typical, constantly recurring course, the current thus existing is a current of commerce among the states, and the purchase of the cattle is a part and incident of such commerce.
This ruling was only ten years after SCOTUS had ruled in United States v. E.C. Knight Co., 156 U.S. 1 (1895) that federal antitrust laws could not reach the purportedly local activity of operating a sugar refinery.  The tension between the two rulings was fairly obvious.  In both cases, an economic combination (monopolization in E.C. Knight, price fixing in Swift) affected customers in other states with regard to their purchase of a commodity food item, yet only one could be federally regulated.  After decades of back and forth over where the “stream of commerce” began and ended, NRLB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel, 301 U.S. 1 (1937) put the entire framework to rest:
We do not find it necessary to determine whether these features of defendant’s business dispose of the asserted analogy to the “stream of commerce” cases. The instances in which that metaphor has been used are but particular, and not exclusive, illustrations of the protective power which the government invokes in support of the present act. The congressional authority to protect interstate commerce from burdens and obstructions is not limited to transactions which can be deemed to be an essential part of a “flow” of interstate or foreign commerce.
Now consider the stream of commerce as used in modern personal jurisdiction decisions.  World-Wide Volkwagen v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286 (1980), said in widely quoted dicta:  “The forum State does not exceed its powers under the Due Process Clause if it asserts personal jurisdiction over a corporation that delivers its products into the stream of commerce with the expectation that they will be purchased by consumers in the forum State.”  The opinion did not cite to any Commerce Clause decisions, but instead to a well-known Illinois Supreme Court decision—Gray v. American Radiator & Standard Sanitary Corp., 176 N.E.2d 761 (Ill. 1961)—that did not use a riparian analogy, but noted that goods had passed from one state to another “in the course of commerce.”  The image of a stream helpfully captured the idea for a jurisdictional context.  If a person poured poison into a river in one state, knowing that it would be carried downstream and cause injury in another state, personal jurisdiction in the second state ought to be proper. So too for pouring injurious items (like malfunctioning automobiles or radiator parts) into the stream of commerce.

Since World-Wide Volkswagen, SCOTUS has not been able to clearly articulate when a manufacturer has a legitimate “expectation” that its goods will be purchased in the forum state, and hence whether it has been properly introduced into a stream of commerce that predictably flows there.  Fractured decisions in Asahi Metal Industries v. Superior Court, 480 U.S. 102 (1987), and J. McIntyre Machinery Ltd v. Nicastro, 131 S.Ct. 2780 (2011), have left confusion about how the concept should be applied.

The stream of commerce under the Commerce Clause is not regularly taught, since it has been successfully interred.  The stream of commerce remains a live topic in Civil Procedure.  Some useful comparisons can nonetheless be made.

Both lines of “stream of commerce” cases involve a similar problem: when should a person’s local activity, having effects elsewhere, give rise to legal consequences outside the home state? Both also involve line-drawing problems: where should the stream of commerce be declared to begin and end? In both settings, the stream of commerce concept seems to have been introduced as a way to soften an otherwise draconian rule that prevented the government from taking action desired by the political branches.  And in both settings, the concept has been an unreliable guide to deciding concrete cases.  In response to the doctrinal confusion, Justice Kennedy’s plurality opinion in Nicastro sought to inter the stream of commerce metaphor, but unlike Jones & Laughlin, there was no majority willing to take that step.  If Justice Kennedy’s view in Nicastro prevails, the stream of commerce concept would be banished from personal jurisdiction because a conservative court perceived that it allowed governments to do too much—contrasting with Jones & Laughlin, where the stream of commerce was be banished from the Commerce Clause because a newly liberal Court perceived that it forced government to do too little.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Strange Bedfellows #5: One-Off Decisions (or, Thoughts on Plyler, Windsor, and Shelley v. Kraemer)

Whatever the outcome later this month of Obergefell v. Hodges (state-level bans on same-sex marriage), the decision is certain to refer heavily to US v. Windsor (2013) (federal ban on same-sex marriage).  For its part, however, Windsor struck me as a descendent of a precedent it nowhere cited or discussed:  Plyler v. Doe (1982).

Plyler invalidated a Texas statute denying public education to non-citizen children residing in the US unlawfully.  The statute’s classification was sort of, but not really, based on alienage, which made it sort of, but not really, suspect.  Free public education for youth was sort of, but not really, a fundamental right.  The law threatened to create an economic underclass, which is sort of, but not really, wealth discrimination (which is sort of, but not really, a suspect classification in any event).  There was no explicit finding of legislative animus against a disfavored class, although it seemed to be in the mix.  Adding all of these not-quite factors together, the majority concluded that the statute violated equal protection, because “the discrimination contained in [the statute] can hardly be considered rational unless it furthers some substantial goal of the State.”  The dissent complained that “by patching together bits and pieces of what might be termed quasi-suspect-class and quasi-fundamental-rights analysis, the [majority] spins out a theory custom-tailored to the facts of these cases.”

When teaching Plyler, I present it as a glimpse into an alternate universe where the sliding-scale approach favored by Justices Marshall and Stevens had taken hold, so that without regard to rigid categories, the more important the right or the more questionable the classification, the stricter the scrutiny.  But it’s only a glimpse. Plyler has had little impact outside its factual setting: it remains a controlling precedent for laws that target undocumented aliens, but has not had any broader influence on equal protection or fundamental rights methodologies.  Yet upon reading Windsor, I felt as if I was reading Plyler 2.0.

The majority in Windsor portrayed federal DOMA as a statute that sort of, but not really, shifted control over marriage policy from states to the federal government.  Marriage was spoken of in grand terms, but its role as a fundamental right was not really the basis of the opinion.  The opinion implied that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was objectionable, but not really suspect.  These various sort-of considerations allowed the majority to conclude that the statute was motivated by animus, obviating the need to undertake the usual examination of legislative means and ends.  The dissenters decried the result and also criticized the majority for offering “rootless and shifting” justifications: for coloring outside the lines.

Time will tell if Windsor heralds a revival of Plyler’s approach to equal protection.  If it is not, then Plyler remains one of the one-offs among the canonical Con Law cases—good teaching decisions whose results are in no real danger of being overruled, but whose reasoning never shaped the mainstream. 

The most prominent of the one-off decisions is Shelley v. Kraemer, which held that judicial enforcement of racially restrictive real estate covenants violates equal protection.  Almost all instruction on Shelley includes discussion of why its approach to state action didn’t ultimately carry the day; not every instance of contract enforcement is treated as state action subject to the Equal Protection Clause. For what it’s worth, Shelley makes more sense to me if viewed less as a state action decision but as a precursor to Brown v. Board of Education (if formally neutral law like “courts should enforce contracts” may violate the Equal Protection Clause, then so may a formally neutral segregation law) and Palmore v. Sidoti (1984) (the child custody case most often quoted for the notion that “private biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give them effect”).  Viewed in that frame, Shelley is not the one-off that its reputation suggests.

I’d be interested to hear other nominees for one-off decisions, whose reasoning we are unlikely to see again, but that are nonetheless part of the current Con Law canon.  My other suggestion is the Spending Clause holding from NFIB v. Sebelius.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Strange Bedfellows #4: Jury Selection All Over The Place

Jury selection appears often in the Con Law canon.  The first SCOTUS case to find a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, Strauder v. West Virginia (1879), involved a statute that included only white men in the jury pool.  Hoyt v. Florida (1961), an anti-canonical case usually taught as an example of the bad old days before sex classifications were deemed (quasi-) suspect, involved a law that excused women from the jury pool.  Batson v. Kentucky (1986) involved a prosecutor’s peremptory strikes on the basis of race, but it tends to be taught in Criminal Procedure courses.  Its progeny Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete (1991) applied Batson to peremptory strikes in civil cases; it is taught more often in introductory Con Law courses than is Batson, because it is conceptualized as a case about the state action doctrine.  More recently, the first US Court of Appeals decision holding sexual orientation to be a (quasi-) suspect classification (included in my casebook) arose in the civil Batson context, after a gay man was peremptorily stricken from a jury deciding an antitrust claim against a manufacturer of HIV medications.  SmithKline Beecham v. Abbott Labs, 740 F.3d 471 (9th Cir. 2014).

These decisions are often taught and presented in casebooks as if jury selection just happens to be the factual setting in which a legal question (usually involving equal protection) just happens to arise. This is a lost opportunity, because the jury trial can be worthy of independent consideration in a Con Law survey course.  Even if not taught together on the same day or same unit, it can be valuable to use such cases to emphasize the jury as an institution of constitutional dimension.

Trial by jury is one of the few individual rights enumerated in the original constitution (in Art III, §2), and then reiterated and expanded in the 6th and 7th Amendments. Strauder considered jury service so important that it described ineligibility in terms usually associated with the badges and incidents of slavery: statutory exclusion from the jury pool “is practically a brand on them, affixed by the law, an assertion of their inferiority, and a stimulant to racial prejudice.”

Conversely, jury service can be seen as a badge or incident of citizenship. The jury allows ordinary citizens to control the workings of the judiciary in a way not possible for the legislative or executive branches.  Although Art. III judges are not selected through popular election, the jury makes the courtroom a site of self-government in action. This deep connection between jury service and voting explains why in most jurisdictions, one is eligible for jury service only if one is eligible to be an elector (voter).  Indeed, in 1887 the women in the state of Washington lost their statutory right to vote as a result of a criminal defendant’s challenge to the practice of seating women on the jury.  See The History of Women’s Jury Service in Washington (2005).

Cases involving jury selection can be a useful opportunity to consider the role of chance in the law.  I like to begin my Civil Procedure courses by identifying four main ways one might resolve private disputes: (a) negotiated agreement, (b) binding decision by third parties; (c) violence; and (d) chance.  Our system privileges voluntary agreement; it provides a judicial system as a backstop if agreement does not emerge, in hopes of avoiding reliance on violence and chance.  But just as the system cannot entirely eliminate violence (those judgments are ultimately executed through the threat of incarceration), it does not entirely eliminate chance, either.  Among the main ways the luck of the draw affects litigation is in the assignment of a judge, the summoning of a jury pool, and the selection of a petit jury.  In these settings, chance is tolerated, even if it might predictably result in deviations from the mean in any given case.  Chance has constitutional implications as well, as seen in the majority’s reasoning in Washington v. Davis (1976). Because we allow the occasional all-white jury as a natural consequence of a jury system that involves random selection, there must obviously be no constitutional bar to facially neutral government policies with racially disparate impact.

Finally, viewing jury selection as an independent constitutional topic can help show how any one case might involve more than one individual right—and indeed, how multiple constitutional guarantees can interact with each other to create an entire ecosystem of rights. As the Batson cases recognize, jurors have a right (as well as an obligation) to serve, while litigants have a right to trial by a representative jury.  The combination of these two principles were ultimately needed to overrule the holding in Hoyt, which rejected an Equal Protection Clause challenge to a statute that excused all women from jury service.  Hoyt’s reversal involved two steps. The first nail in Hoyt’s coffin was Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522 (1975), which held that a similar law violated the Sixth Amendment right to trial by a fair cross-section of the community; this defendant-centered case effectively overruled the result in Hoyt without addressing its equal protection reasoning. The right of women to serve as jurors as a matter of equal protection was finally announced in J.E.B. v. Alabama, 511 U.S. 127 (1994), which held that an attorney’s use of peremptory strikes to eliminate women violated Batson.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Strange Bedfellows #3: Alcohol All Over The Place

For a topic that supposedly is not part of the standard Con Law curriculum, federal alcohol prohibition—and its repeal by the 21st Amendment—appears remarkably often in the typical syllabus. 

The two alcohol-related cases most firmly established in the canon and reproduced in whole or in part in virtually every Con Law casebook are South Dakota v. Dole (1987) (allowing Congress to condition receipt of federal highway funds on states raising their drinking ages to 21) and Craig v. Boren (1976) (adopting intermediate scrutiny for sex-based classifications under equal protection, in a case where state established different drinking ages for males and females).  Other alcohol cases sometimes taught in Con Law or related electives include Wisconsin v. Constantineau (1971) (invalidating on procedural due process grounds a statute allowing police to forbid sales of alcohol to problem drinkers), Larkin v. Grendel’s Den (1982) (invalidating on Establishment Clause grounds a zoning ordinance that gave veto over liquor licenses to nearby churches); 44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island (1996) (invalidating state liquor advertising laws under the commercial speech doctrine), and Granholm v. Heald (2005) (invalidating under the dormant commerce clause doctrine a state law forbidding interstate direct-to-consumer wine sales while allowing similar intrastate sales).

Although alcohol is a ubiquitous feature of fact patterns across many different doctrines, it tends not to be a focus of Con Law teaching.  One can understand why: food and beverage law is a niche practice that need not be studied by all law school graduates, and it is not tested on the bar exam.  As a result, the 18th and 21st Amendments can be safely treated as a source of constitutional trivia.  Did you know that the 18th Amendment is the only amendment to be repealed in full?  Did you know that the 21st Amendment was the only amendment that required ratification through state conventions rather than state legislatures?  Did you know that the 21st Amendment, like the 13th, has no state action requirement and can be directly violated by private individuals?  (On the latter point, see Laurence Tribe, “How to Violate the Constitution Without Really Trying,” in William Eskridge & Sanford Levinson, Constitutional Stupidities, Constitutional Tragedies (1998).)

One might ask what a unit in a Con Law class would look like if it foregrounded the 21st Amendment, instead of leaving it at the margins.

Section 1 of the Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment, returning the Constitution to its pre-prohibition state, but Section 2 seeks (somewhat inartfully) to guarantee the power of a state to stay dry if it wishes: “The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.”  Does this represent no more than a federal ban on individuals violating state liquor bans (essentially constitutionalizing the similar federal statute upheld in Clark Distilling Co. v. Western Maryland Railway (1917))?  Or does it mean, as Justices Brennan and O’Connor argued in their Dole dissents, that Section 2 is designed to give states broader control over alcohol policy?  Under this reading, the textual references to transportation and importation connote a broader control.  One can ask similar questions about the 19th Amendment: perhaps it should have been read to guarantee a wide range of equal rights for women—as argued by the majority in Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923) and the dissenters in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937)—instead of limited to its text, as occurred in practice. 

Students would readily see the pattern of the modern alcohol cases:  a state relying on a 21st Amendment argument will always lose.  To harmonize two arguably competing provisions of the Constitution, the Court routinely gives the 21st Amendment a narrow reading, where it essentially means that states may regulate alcohol so long as they do not violate any other provision of the constitution, be it enumerated rights (like equal protection, due process, religion, speech) or unenumerated structural concepts (like the dormant commerce clause), and subject to override by federal laws enacted under the commerce power that have preemptive effect.  But must the harmonizing always come at the cost of the 21st Amendment?  Take Craig v. Boren, which privileged the Equal Protection Clause over the 21st Amendment.  Given that Section 2 of the 21st Amendment was enacted decades after the Equal Protection Clause—and given the canon of construction that a later, narrower enactment should control over an earlier, more general one—perhaps the harmonization should operate in the other direction, so that a state may not discriminate on the basis of sex unless it is in the course of exercising its reserved power over alcohol.  That approach is legally possible, but unpalatable to our heirarchy of values.  Sex equality is simply more important than alcohol regulation, and so is freedom of speech, religion, and so on. But how is the importance of a constitutional value recognized, and should that be the business of the courts?

In a unit focusing on the 21st Amendment, the 5-4 decision in Granholm v. Heald would have special pride of place, since it explains how the language of Section 2 was designed specifically to interact with the Supreme Court’s then-existing dormant commerce clause doctrine.  If Granholm is taught as an example of the dormant commerce clause in a unit without a focus on alcohol, it would likely be drastically edited down to size.  But the case’s clash of values—and of interpretive methodologies—breathes more freely when one thinks about Granholm as an alcohol case as well as an interstate commerce case.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Strange Bedfellows #2: Eugenics All Over The Place

It’s well known that Buck v. Bell (1927) and Skinner v. Oklahoma (1942) are the leading SCOTUS cases on the constitutionality of eugenic sterilization laws.  But the legacy of the eugenics movement appears elsewhere in the Con Law canon—including such greatest hits as Loving v. Virginia (1967), Washington v. Davis (1976), and Cleburne Living Center (1985).

To best see the connections, it helps to know some of the history of intelligence testing.  Researchers in the early 20th century attached a number of terms, intended to be clinical, to levels of intellectual development considered abnormally low.  The two original terms were idiot and imbecile.  An idiot was pre-verbal, with no more intelligence than an infant.  An imbecile could use language, but had the intelligence only of a pre-pubescent child.  Later researchers became concerned that there was a class of adults who could speak and function above the imbecile level, but should still be categorized as abnormally stupid.  They might be good for factory labor, but they tended to be "immoral" and prone to "criminality."  These were the morons.  When Oliver Wendell Holmes, speaking of Carrie Buck’s genealogy, said that “three generations of imbeciles are enough,” he misspoke: at best, the allegation was that Carrie Buck was one of generations of morons.  And she wasn’t one of those either.  See Paul Lombardo, Three Generations, No Imbeciles, 60 NYU L. Rev. 30 (1985).  The blanket category for idiots, imbeciles, and morons was feeble-minded.

The quest to develop reliable tools to measure intellectual ability led to a number of tools still used today.  Some of these involve advanced statistics (as explained in Stephen Jay Gould’s 1981 book The Mismeasure of Man) but one of them is known to us all: the multiple choice test.  Psychological researchers were so convinced of the value of the technique that they convinced the US Army during WWI to give the new multiple-choice intelligence tests to draftees as a method of deciding who should be promoted to positions of command.  The officers were never convinced that the results would be valid for that purpose, but the researchers continued to hype the results, including at Congressional hearings.  Their alarming conclusion:  the United States was “a nation of morons.”

Their conclusions were based on draftees’ responses to questions like these:

The Orpington is a kind of:
A. fowl
B. horse
C. granite
D. cattle

An air-cooled engine is used in the:
A. Buick
B. Packard
C. Franklin
D. Ford

Why is beef better food than cabbage? Because
A. it tastes better
B. it is more nourishing
C. it is harder to obtain

Researchers at the time did not recognize that their questions tested culture, not native intelligence.  An extremely bright draftee raised in poverty on a farm in the 1910s might be forgiven for not poring over the advertising copy for cars he could never afford and committing their features and brand names to memory.  Yet many were convinced that the nation would be better off if we could extirpate from future generations the morons who failed this and similar tests.

The nation’s flirtation with eugenics appears fleetingly on the surface of Cleburne and Loving.  In Cleburne, a city denied a zoning variance to a group home that fit within the city code’s definition of a “hospital for the insane or feeble-minded.”  As Justice Marshall’s carefully-researched dissent explained, this term was drawn from a Dallas zoning ordinance from 1929, during the thick of the eugenics movement.  473 U.S. at 467 n. 19.  The opinion in Loving indicates that Virginia’s then-existing statutory ban on interracial marriage was found in the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, a law “passed during the period of extreme nativism which followed the end of the First World War.”  The eugenic sterilization law upheld in Buck was passed by the Virginia legislature during the same legislative session, and for the same purpose: to ensure that future generations of Virginians would fit the current generation’s vision of genetic adequacy.

The connection to eugenics appears nowhere on the surface of Washington v. Davis, but to my mind it is equally strong.  That case challenged the Washington DC police force’s reliance on Civil Service Test 21 as part of its application process, even though the test was not validated to measure competence as a police officer and had disparate impact on the basis of race.  The opinion does not describe Test 21 in any detail. 

My casebook includes some of the questions, which bear an obvious similarity to the WWI intelligence tests:

Of the following reasons, the one that best explains the continued sale of records in spite of the popularity of the radio is that the:
A) records make available the particular selections desired when they are desired
B) appreciation of records is more widespread than appreciation of radio
C) collection of records provides an interesting hobby
D) newest records are almost unbreakable
E) sound effect of records is superior to that of the radio.

Laws restricting hunting to certain regions and to a specific time of the year were passed chiefly to:
A) prevent people from endangering their lives by hunting
B) keep our forests more beautiful
C) raise funds from the sale of hunting licenses
D) prevent complete destruction of certain kinds of animals
E) preserve certain game for eating purposes

PROMONTORY means most nearly:
A) Marsh
B) Monument
C) Headland
D) Boundary
E) Plateau

Such questions are about as well-suited for the task of selecting police officers as the question about the Orpington (it’s a kind of chicken) was suited for selecting military officers.  Next time you get pulled over by the highway patrol, be sure to use “promontory” in a sentence; the officer will sense a kinship and let you off with a warning.  Although Test 21 was never used as a tool for shaping genetics, the DC Police Department shared a eugenicist’s assumption that a unitary form of intelligence can be detected and precisely ranked as a basis for making important life decisions.

Scores on employment tests also appear in the facts of Griggs v. Duke Power (1971), Personnel Administrator v. Feeney (1979) and Ricci v. DeStefano (2009), but the opinions do not describe the questions asked.  If anyone knows the contents of those tests, please share them!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Strange Bedfellows #1: Levels of Scrutiny (or, Thoughts in Carolene Products, Skinner, Korematsu, and Barnette)

For those accustomed to the silo method, this collection of cases will seem really weird.  “Barnette is a First Amendment case! Skinner is a fundamental rights case!  Hirabayashi and Korematsu are equal protection cases! Carolene Products is an economic substantive due process case! They don’t belong together!” Actually, they teach extremely well together, because each deals with the central question of choosing the appropriate level of judicial scrutiny.  Do some types of cases deserve more intense judicial review than others?

In the spring of 1937 the reasoning of the Lochner era came crashing down, and with it the Supreme Court’s commitment to skeptical review of economic legislation (whether that review involved the Commerce Clause, the Due Process Clause, or other areas of doctrine).  Carolene Products (1938) is part of that story, announcing a very deferential form of rational basis review for economic regulation, but including a footnote suggesting that courts might choose to be more stringent in individual rights cases.  Rather quickly—within the next six years, in fact—the Court had to decide if it was really going to adopt a two-level approach.

Reading Skinner (1942), the Internment Cases (1943 and 1944), and Barnette (1943) as part of this same question helps make sense of the choices made in those decisions.  Barnette, in particular, loses much of its power if it is saved purely for a First Amendment discussion.  The bulk of Justice Jackson’s opinion is devoted not to First Amendment reasoning, but to the propriety of the Court ever enforcing individual rights.  In stirring language, the majority concluded that judges were required to enforce the bill of rights vigorously.  Justice Frankfurter’s dissent is premised on the notion that the Constitution does not award the Supreme Court “greater veto power when dealing with one phase of ‘liberty’ than with another.” It's a case about judicial review that only happens to involve freedom of speech and religion.

Skinner (a eugenic sterilization case) is the first appearance of the term “strict scrutiny” and hence is a natural for any exploration of the rise of different levels of scrutiny.  The debate between the majority’s choice of an equal protection framework and the concurrence’s preference for a due process framework can be explained in part because the majority wanted to apply a stricter scrutiny, and felt that the Equal Protection Clause, rather than the Due Process Clause, made it possible.

My casebook also includes the Japanese Internment cases as part of this debate.  In Hirabayashi (upholding a curfew applicable to persons of Japanese ancestry), the Court expressly looked only for a rational basis behind the law.  Korematsu, a year later, expressly said that racial classifications are “immediately suspect” and subject to “most rigid scrutiny.”  That decision is widely viewed as a misapplication of strict scrutiny, but its choice of that frame was momentous.

In my experience, students make the connections quite readily. The interleaving of multiple doctrines (speech, due process, equal protection) as a way to explore a larger legal concept (levels of scrutiny) poses no problems.  In particular, it does not harm their later ability to properly cite the right case for the right principle in an exam.  Given that these cases all arose in the same historical time frame, there are huge benefits in combining them into a single unit.

Guest Blogging: Strange Bedfellows

In June 2015, I spent a month as a guest blogger on PrawfsBlawg.com.  That series of posts is reproduced here.


Thanks to the PrawfsBlawg for welcoming me as a guest for June 2015!

Early summer is a good time to think broadly about how we structure the courses we teach, before the daily and weekly deadlines start to constrain our choices.  In that spirit, I will devote this month’s guest posts to the theme of Strange Bedfellows in the Constitutional Law Curriculum: cases that are not ordinarily taught together, but could be.

For many courses that rely on the case method, case selection can be a major outlet for a teacher’s creativity.  When teaching, say, the intentional tort of battery or the proper operation of Rule 11, one can find good vehicles from literally thousands of cases from dozens of jurisdictions.  This is less of an option for US Constitutional Law, which by its nature largely devoted to teaching a single text interpreted through a canon of famous (and infamous) cases.  If a Con Law teacher isn’t entirely happy with the facts or reasoning of Brown v. Board of Education as a teaching vehicle, it can’t simply be replaced with another opinion that better matches the teacher’s pedagogical goals.

The major creative choice in this course is to decide which relationships to emphasize among a basically fixed set of cases.  The usual approach structures the course into a series of doctrinal silos—e.g., begin with judicial review, then move to powers of Congress explored one at a time, then individual rights explored one at a time—with the cases assigned to the best-fitting silo.  Among the problems with this approach is that almost all of the important Constitutional Law cases involve more than one silo.  US v. Windsor (the DOMA case) is about Congress’s power over marriage and about fundamental rights and about equality and about the proper role of the judiciary and about methods of constitutional interpretation.  If we reduce our reliance on the silos, a case like Windsor (and virtually any other really important canonical case) contains many opportunities for comparison among cases that aren’t ordinarily conceptualized together.

The inspiration for this blogging project came while working on my new casebook, An Integrated Approach to Constitutional Law (out now!  don’t delay!).  The writing process made me realize that I am by nature a lumper, not a splitter.  I hope you will enjoy reading about some differently-structured lumps.