For my co-authored textbook Firearms Law and the Second Amendment, I’ve been doing a series of podcasts on each chapter. Now available is the podcast for Chapter 4, which covers the Philadelphia Convention, the ratification debates, the creation of Bill of Rights, and St. George Tucker’s contemporaneous exposition of the original meaning of the Second Amendment. The podcast is 45 minutes. Here are the links for Aspen Publishers web page for the textbook, and the Amazon page. It’s also available from BN.com (Barnes & Noble).
Archive for the ‘Originalism’ Category
If Somin is correct, his argument provides support for one of the core arguments of “Semantic Originalism,” that the success conditions of constitutional communication can be met if we assume that the communicative content of the constitutional text consists of the conventional semantic meanings of the words and phrases as combined by shared understandings of syntax and grammar. Any additional communicative content must be delivered by the publicly shared context of constitutional utterance. If Somin is right, then that context is relatively information poor.
Somin does not argue that the public was generally ignorant of conventional semantic meaning–and this seems unlikely, since shared semantic understandings of some sort are required for linguistic communication to succeed.
Solum’s point has a lot of merit. The public need not know as much if all that originalist theory requires of it is an understanding of “conventional semantic meanings of the words and phrases” in the Constitution. I made a related point in my article when I noted that political ignorance is less of a problem for the original meaning of parts of the Constitution that are clear and unambiguous (pp. 24-26). I also suggested that the challenge posed by public ignorance may counsel in favor of literal rather than figurative interpretations of constitutional text, since low-knowledge voters are more likely to be aware of the former (pp. 44-45).
However, semantic meaning is not a panacea for the problem of ignorance. In many important cases, the semantic meaning of parts of the Constitution is ambiguous enough to allow more than one plausible meaning (e.g. – with terms such as “liberty,” “property,” and “equal protection of the laws”). Many of our most important constitutional disputes involve broad phrases like these, to which different people can attach widely divergent meanings, all of them linguistically plausible. In such cases, widespread public ignorance makes it difficult or impossible to pin down an original meaning. Many low-knowledge voters may have been unaware of the dispute and/or had no clear view on how to resolve it.
My paper on “Originalism and Political Ignorance,” currently under submission to law journals is now available on SSRN. Here’s the abstract:
Original meaning originalism may now be the most popular version of constitutional theory in the legal academy. The methodology has been endorsed by at least two Supreme Court justices and well-known scholars from across the political spectrum.
Original meaning is usually interpreted as focusing on the public understanding of the meaning of a constitutional provision at the time of ratification. This makes it essential to try to determine what the public actually knew and understood about the meaning of specific parts of the Constitution at the time they were enacted. If most of the public knew little or nothing about the constitutional provision in question, it may be difficult or impossible to determine its original meaning.
The evidence of extensive public ignorance on even very basic political issues suggests that such situations might well be quite common. Yet none of the rapidly growing literature on original meaning has so far grappled with the reality of widespread public ignorance.
This article begins the task of filling the gap in the literature. Part I describes the ways in which various theories of original meaning implicitly depend on assumptions about public knowledge. The problem is most severe with respect to determining the original meaning of provisions that are relatively vague and open-ended and least so when it comes to those that are more clear and precise. However, many of the most important disputes in constitutional law involve the former. The available empirical evidence on political ignorance suggests that the public may well have been poorly informed about many constitutional issues at the time of ratification. Indeed, political ignorance is actually rational for most voters.
In Part II, I consider several possible solutions to the challenge posed by political ignorance. These include relying on the perceptions of political elites, looking to contemporary coverage of constitutional issues in the popular media, and assuming that the public divined an original meaning after all, by relying on “information shortcuts.” Each of these approaches has some merit, but all also have important shortcomings. Part III briefly considers two ways in which originalists could respond to the challenge of political ignorance by modifying their theories: adopting a presumption in favor of literal over figurative interpretations of constitutional text, and leaving more issues to be resolved by construction rather than interpretation.
Political ignorance is not a terminal problem for originalism, and certainly does not discredit the theory completely. But it is an important issue that both originalists and their critics need to pay more attention to.
(1) Discussion of SDP continues over at Cato Unbound. Too many interesting posts there to pick out one, so just start from Tim Sandefur’s lead essay and keep reading.
(2) Professor Michael McConnell and Nathan Chapman have posted an article on SSRN, Due Process as Separation of Powers. The article cautions against “resorts to originalism to support modern due process doctrines,” finding that modern due process doctrines bear little similarity to the scope of the requirement of “due process of law” when the Fourteenth Amendment was enacted. On other hand, and contrary to standard originalist critiques emanating of SDP and its antecedents going back to Edward S. Corwin in the 1910s, the authors acknowledge that “due process of law” was understood to protect a (in their view very limited) category of substantive rights, in particular vested property rights.
I don’t agree with everything in this paper–in particular, I think the authors give short shrift to the influence of abolitionist constitutional thought. The authors correctly note that before the Civil War, the (expansive, rights-oriented) abolitionist understanding of due process of law was not “adopted by more than a fringe,” but they fail to seriously grapple with the extent to which the Radical Republicans who drafted the Fourteenth Amendment after the Civil War were influenced by abolitionist thought. (I’m not sure how great the influence was, but it can’t be dismissed by reference to the state of constitutional law in 1860; the abolitionists were, after all, among the primary ideological victors of the war).
In any event, it’s a very valuable contribution to the debate over the meaning of the Due Process Clause, both in 1868 and today.
Today’s Ninth Circuit decision striking down California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage is unpersuasive because it claims that the law fails to meet even minimal “rational basis” scrutiny. Eugene Volokh does a good job of explaining why. But there is an alternative constitutional rationale for striking down same-sex marriage bans that avoids this problem. Proposition 8 is an example of sex discrimination, and must be evaluated under the higher standards of scrutiny applied to gender discrimination by the Supreme Court.
Although the sex discrimination argument has been advanced by several academic advocates of gay marriage, nonacademics tend to be skeptical because the same-sex marriage bans seem to be targeted against gays, not men or women. Hostility towards gays is certainly part of the motivation for bans on same-sex marriage. But that does not prevent these laws from qualifying as sex discrimination. In terms of the way the law is actually structured, a same-sex marriage ban in fact discriminates on the basis of gender rather than orientation. And it is perfectly possible to discriminate on the basis of sex even if the motivation for doing so is something other than sexism.
Consider the hypothetical case of Anne, Bob, and Colin. If same-sex marriage is forbidden, Anne is allowed to marry Colin, but Bob cannot do so. This is so even if Anne and Bob are identical in every respect other than gender. Bob is denied the legal right to marry Colin (and all other men) solely because he is a man. Denial of a legal right solely on the basis of gender is the very essence of sex discrimination.
By contrast, sexual orientation actually has no effect on the way the law operates. Anne is still allowed to marry Colin, even if one of them happens to be gay or lesbian. Bob is denied that right regardless of his sexual orientation. There are actually lots of real world cases where gays or lesbians have entered into opposite-sex marriages, such as the famous example of former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey, a closeted gay man who was married to a woman for many years. McGreevey’s marriage was not illegal, even if his actions were morally dubious.
All of this simply underscores the reality that a ban on same-sex marriage discriminates on the basis of gender rather than orientation – even if the motivation for the discrimination is hostility towards gays and lesbians. Under the Supreme Court’s approach to sex discrimination, any “statutory classifications that distinguish between males and females” are subject to heightened judicial scrutiny. A ban on same-sex marriage pretty obviously “distinguish[es] between males and females.”
Although a ban on same-sex marriage qualifies as sex discrimination, it is not automatically unconstitutional. Since the 1970s, the Supreme Court has taken the view that laws that discriminate on the basis of sex do not violate the Constitution if they can pass “intermediate scrutiny,” which requires them to be “substantially related” to an “important state interest.” If opponents of same-sex marriage are right to claim that Western civilization will fall into deep decline if the practice is allowed, that would be enough to pass the test. Ditto if they can show that same-sex marriage somehow inflicts severe harm on children. But any such arguments would be subject to detailed judicial scrutiny. They would have to be backed by real evidence, and could not pass muster just by being minimally plausible, as under the “rational basis” test.
Some originalists might reject my argument on the grounds that sex discrimination itself is not really banned by the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. I criticized such arguments in this post. For a much more comprehensive rebuttal, see this important recent article by Steven Calabresi and Julia Rickert.
A more moderate originalist critique of my position might hinge on the idea that the framers of the Amendment would not have thought of a same-sex marriage ban as sex discrimination. But it is not hard to figure out that a law under which a legal right is dependent on gender discriminates on the basis of sex. The Framers surely thought that this was justifiable sex discrimination. But that does not mean that it isn’t sex discrimination at all. If asked whether marriage laws circa 1868 limited the right to marry on the basis of gender, most people at the time would surely have said yes. And, as in the case of occupational discrimination against women, the Framers’ view that this form of sex discrimination is constitutionally permissible hinged on dubious factual assumptions that we are not bound by today.
In sum, a ban on same-sex marriage easily qualifies as sex discrimination and is therefore subject to heightened judicial scrutiny. Whether it could withstand such scrutiny is a question I leave to others, though I am skeptical about its chances.
UPDATE: Many commenters seem to be assuming that, in order for a law to qualify as sex discrimination, it has to be motivated by hostility to men or women. Not so. As the Supreme Court puts it, a law can qualify as unconstitutional sex discrimination so long as it is a”statutory classification... that distinguish between males and females.” Similarly, a racial classification counts as racial discrimination for constitutional purposes even if the motives behind it are benign.
It is also not true that a ban on same-sex marriage avoids qualifying as sex discrimination because it affects members of both genders. It still denies rights to both men and women solely on account of their sex. The fact that Bob cannot marry Colin solely on account of gender is not somehow “balanced” by the fact that Anne is similarly forbidden to marry Carol. Similarly, a law banning interracial marriage still qualifies as race discrimination even though both blacks and whites are barred from marrying members of the other racial group.
Earlier this month, I posted on Steven Calabresi and Julia Rickert’s new paper, “Originalism and Sex Discrimination.” Published in the Texas Law Review, this article makes an originalist argument that gender discrimination, such as the exclusion of women from VMI, is unconstitutional.
This is an important article, which has already received notice from Lawrence Solum and Jack Balkin, among others. It was also subject to a lengthy critique by Ed Whelan on NRO’s Bench Memos in five parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Calabresi and Rickert have written a response to Whelan which I am posting here. It begins below and the continues after the jump.
[UPDATE: Ed Whelan has a brief rejoinder here.]
Steve Calabresi & Julia Rickert Response to Ed Whelan
We recently posted an article on SSRN entitled “Originalism and Sex Discrimination,” which has now been published in the Texas Law Review. We argue in our article that the Fourteenth Amendment outlaws all systems of caste from the Black Codes to European feudalism to the Indian Caste system. We also argue that after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 giving women the right to vote, it was constitutionally correct to read the Fourteenth Amendment’s ban on caste as outlawing sex discrimination with respect to civil rights. Our position is that originalists reading the text of the Fourteenth Amendment today need to synthesize it with the text of the Nineteenth Amendment. We believe that the political right to vote which the Fifteenth Amendment extends to men of any race, and which the Nineteenth Amendment extends to women of all races, is at the apex of the Constitution’s hierarchy of rights while civil rights, which the Fourteenth Amendment protects form the base of the pyramid. Children, aliens, and former felons have civil rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, but they do not have the political right to vote. No group, however, in our opinion can be granted political rights without also acquiring civil rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.
In five posts on National Review, Ed Whelan, who is one of the most acclaimed conservative legal thinkers and activists of his generation, disagrees with our view. Whelan agrees to assume along with us that the Fourteenth Amendment outlaws systems of caste, as a matter of original meaning, but he disagrees with us that traditional laws that banned married women from owning property, entering into contracts, or working as lawyers or bartenders set up a system of caste even if the Fourteenth Amendment bans systems of caste. Whelan also argues that the Nineteenth Amendment ought not to be read synthetically with the Fourteenth because doing so renders the Fourteenth Amendment superfluous. Whelan makes many additional arguments which we will try to address below, but this is the gist of his argument.
Last week, I noted the important new article by Stephen Calabresi and Julia Rickert making an originalist case for the unconstitutionality of sex discrimination. In short, they argue that the 14th Amendment is best understood as prohibiting caste legislation, not just racial discrimination, and that it must be read in light of subsequent amendments, the 19th Amendment in particular.
It is generally accepted that the Supreme Court’s sex discrimination jurisprudence cannot be reconciled with an originalist interpretation of Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment. Originalists and non-originalists alike accept that the original intent of Section One was to preclude racial discrimination against blacks, and that there was no intent to prevent sex discrimination by state entities. Nor did the original public meaning of Section One embody a rule that would prevent state governments from engaging in sex discrimination.
In an important new paper, forthcoming in the Texas Law Review, Northwestern law professor Steven Calabresi and Julia Rickert argue that the conventional originalist view on sex discrimination is wrong, and that the Supreme Court’s sex discrimination decisions (if not their rationales) are largely consistent with a true originalist understanding of Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment. Specifically, they argue that Section One is best understood as a prohibition on caste legislation and that the meaning of the Amendment must be considered in light of subsequent constitutional amendments, the Nineteenth Amendment in particular. Thus understood, Section One prohibits state-sponsored gender discrimination and can even justify the Court’s decision in the VMI case.
This article is Lawrence Solum’s “Download of the Week,” and with good reason, as it is sure to prompt significant discussion and debate. As Solum would say, “Download it while it’s hot!”
The American Revolution took place because of various abuses of the rights of Americans by the British government. So when we seek to understand the rights of citizens in the nation that was created by that Revolution, one useful guide is looking at the negative example of what the Americans were revolting against. For example, Justices have looked at the revolution-provoking use general warrants (Henry v. United States, 1959), unrepresentative government as exemplified by (but not limited to) taxation without representation (Texas v. Johnson, 1989, Rehnquist dissenting), and violation of the right to trial by jury, via use of vice-admiralty courts (Parklane Hosiery v. Shore, 1979, Rehnquist dissenting).
More broadly, as the 2d Justice Harlan wrote in his oft-quoted dissent in Poe v. Ullman, when the Court is “supplying of content” to constitutional ”liberty,” the Court should have “regard to what history teaches are the traditions from which it developed as well as the traditions from which it broke.”
Can commentators supply some additional examples, either regarding specific issues, or general Poe-like rules? Citations to Supreme Court cases are welcome, but also welcome are citations to other sources who are regarded as guides for constitutional understanding–such as Abraham Lincoln, or influential commentators.
Over the summer, I wrote a piece about the Supreme Court’s decision in the “violent videogames” case (Brown vs Entertainment Merchants Assn) for the forthcoming Cato 2011 Supreme Court Review. The Center for Constitutional Studies at Cato is having a kickoff event for the publication this coming Thursday (starting at 1030 AM), and I’ll be speaking there on the first panel about the Court’s evolving First Amendment jurisprudence.
VC’ers might be particularly interested in (though doubtlessly some will be angered or annoyed by) what I had to say about Justice Thomas’ thoroughly remarkable — though not in a good way — dissenting opinion in the case, one that, in my opinion at least, exposes the underlying flaws of the strict “originalist” position in constitutional law better than any other text:
Justice Thomas’ dissenting opinion expresses the hard-headed and uncompromising originalism for which he is well known:
When interpreting a constitutional provision, “the goal is to discern the most likely public understanding of [that] provision at the time it was adopted.” McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U. S. ___, ___ (2010) (slip op., at 25) (Thomas, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). Because the Constitution is a written instrument, “its meaning does not alter.” McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n, 514 U. S. 334, 359 (1995) (Thomas, J., concurring in judgment) (internal quotation marks omitted). “That which it meant when adopted, it means now.” Ibid. (internal quotation marks omitted). . . .
As originally understood, the First Amendment’s protection against laws “abridging the freedom of speech” did not extend to all speech. . . . In my view, the “practices and beliefs held by the Founders” reveal another category of excluded speech: speech to minor children bypassing their parents. The historical evidence shows that the founding generation believed parents had absolute authority over their minor children and expected parents to use that authority to direct the proper development of their children. It would be absurd to suggest that such a society understood “the freedom of speech” to include a right to speak to minors (or a corresponding right of minors to access speech) without going through the minors’ parents. . . . The founding generation would not have considered it an abridgment of “the freedom of speech” to support parental authority by restricting speech that bypasses minors’ parents.
In support of this latter proposition—which, more or less, ends the constitutional inquiry for Justice Thomas—he relies, inter alia, on Wadsworth’s “The Well-Ordered Family” of 1712, Cotton Mather’s “A Family Well-Ordered” (1699), “The History of Genesis” (1708), Locke’s “Some Thoughts Concerning Education” (1692), Burgh’s “Thoughts on Education” (1749), along with a number of more recent scholarly studies focused on child-rearing practices during the Founding period.
That is originalism on steroids, and, to my eye, rather poignantly illustrates the weakness of the approach. I understand, and am sympathetic to, the notion that the meaning of a constitutional provision should be informed by the meaning given to it by those who drafted and ratified it. But can that really mean that we will look to the child-rearing principles of Cotton Mather and John Locke to define, for all time, the scope of the constitutional protection for free speech? Even assuming that Justice Thomas (or anyone else) can reconstruct the sociology of the eighteenth century to definitively support the notion that parents possessed “absolute authority” over their children, and that “total parental control over children’s lives” was the governing societal norm—what then? The question in this case is not “do parents have absolute authority over their children?” The question in the case is, rather, “how does what the state did here relate to (a) the authority of parents over their children, (b) the power of the state to protect the well-being of children, and (c) the constitutional protection for ‘the freedom of speech’?” That’s a hard question in 2011, and it would have been a hard question in 1791, because it involves categorization: Is this, actually, a case about the authority of parents over their children? Or is it a case about the extent of the state’s power to protect minors? The scope of the First Amendment rights of video game manufacturers? Or the scope of the First Amendment rights of minors? Nothing in Justice Thomas’s historical research tells me, or can possibly tell me, how people in the eighteenth century would have answered those questions. Let me put it this way: I know enough about discourse in the late eighteenth century to know that if you had walked into a bar in, say, Richmond, or Boston, or Philadelphia, in 1791 and made any of the following statements, you would have gotten a nice little argument going:
• “The government has just decreed that children can’t attend religious services. Can it do that?”
• “The government has just decreed that all schoolbooks must include endorsements of John Adams’s candidacy for the Presidency, and a defense of the Alien and Sedition Act. Can it do that?”
• “The government has just decreed that adults may not sing to children who are not their own. Can it do that?”
Justice Thomas believes that all of those questions can be answered in the affirmative—and,more importantly, that “eighteenth century society” would have answered all of those questions in the affirmative. (Indeed, he believes the former precisely because he believes the latter). His belief is misplaced, in my opinion. No amount of historical research can tell us what “the answer” to any of those questions would have been—in 1791, 1891, or 1991—because there is no “answer” that “society” can give to those questions. They’re contested and contestable propositions, depending on (among other things) how you characterize what the government was doing: helping parents or usurping their role, for example. . . .
In any event, if you feel like dropping in on the Cato event (perhaps to defend Thomas’ position!), you’re of course invited to do so.
[UPDATE: Chris Lund points out that Thomas' originalism is not always so crude as he expresses it here. In Citizens United, he joined Scalia's concurrence, which contained this paragraph:
The Framers didn't like corporations, the dissent concludes, and therefore it follows (as night the day) that corporations had no rights of free speech. Of course the Framers' personal affection or disaffection for corporations is relevant only insofar as it can be thought to be reflected in the understood meaning of the text they enacted-not, as the dissent suggests, as a freestanding substitute for that text . . . The Amendment is written in terms of “speech,” not speakers. Its text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals-and the dissent offers no evidence about the original meaning of the text to support any such exclusion.
A good deal more sensible than the position Thomas takes in Brown]
The Seventh Circuit’s decision in Ezell v. Chicago is a tremendously important case for Second Amendment doctrine. The key rules from Ezell: use originalism from both 1791 and 1868 to determine if an activity is within the scope of the Second Amendment right. If it is, apply First Amendment doctrine, and make the standard of review more stringent when the activity is closer to the core of the right, and when the government is prohibiting rather than regulating. Generally speaking, when looking for guidance, look to Eugene Volokh.
As the above rules apply to the case at bar: The right to practice with firearms is an important ancillary to the core of the Second Amendment right, so Chicago’s ban on firing ranges is subject to not-quite-strict scrutiny.
Here’s how the Ezell court set forth the above standards.
The Second Amendment is like the First Amendment, in that a temporary deprivation of the right may constitute irreparable harm:
[F]or some kinds of constitutional violations, irreparable harm is presumed. See 11A CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT ET AL., FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE § 2948.1 (2d ed. 1995) (“When an alleged deprivation of a constitutional right is involved, most courts hold that no further showing of irreparable injury is necessary.”). This is particularly true in First Amendment claims. See, e.g., Christian Legal Soc’y, 453 F.3d at 867 (“[V]iolations of First Amendment rights are presumed to constitute irreparable injuries . . . .” (citing Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373 (1976))). The loss of a First Amendment right is frequently presumed to cause irreparable harm based on “the intangible nature of the benefits flowing from the exercise of those rights; and the fear that, if those rights are not jealously safeguarded, persons will be deterred, even if imperceptibly, from exercising those rights in the future.” Miles Christi Religious Order v. Twp. of Northville, 629 F.3d 533, 548 (6th Cir. 2010) (internal alteration and quotation marks omitted); see also KH Outdoor, LLC v. City of Trussville, 458 F.3d 1261, 1272 (11th Cir. 2006). The Second Amendment protects similarly intangible and unquantifiable interests. Heller held that the Amendment’s central component is the right to possess firearms for protection. 554 U.S. at 592-95. Infringements of this right cannot be compensated by damages.
When a law is “alleged to infringe Second Amendment rights,” there is a two-step inquiry, beginning with the question “Is the restricted activity protected by the Second Amendment in the first place? See Eugene Volokh, Implementing the Right to Keep and Bear Arms for Self-Defense: An Analytical Framework and a Research Agenda, 56 UCLA L. REV. 1443, 1449.”
To answer the first question, look to original meaning from both 1791 and 1868:
The answer requires a textual and historical inquiry into original meaning. Heller, 554 U.S. at 63435 (“Constitutional rights are enshrined with the scope they were understood to have when the people adopted them, whether or not future legislatures or (yes) even future judges think that scope too broad.”); McDonald, 130 S. Ct. at 3047 (“[T]he scope of the Second Amendment right” is determined by textual and historical inquiry, not interest-balancing.). McDonald confirms that when state- or local-government action is challenged, the focus of the original-meaning inquiry is carried forward in time; the Second Amendment’s scope as a limitation on the States depends on how the right was understood when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified. See McDonald, 130 S. Ct. at 3038-42.
Courts should follow the Supreme Court’s lead and treat “original public meaning as both a starting point and an important constraint on the analysis. See Heller, 554 U.S. at 610-19; McDonald, 130 S. Ct. at 3038-42. ” [fn. 11].
Footnote 11 offers some examples of what the court apparently sees as the generally correct approach to the original public meaning inquiry:
11 On this aspect of originalist interpretive method as applied to the Second Amendment, see generally AKHIL REED AMAR, THE BILL OF RIGHTS: CREATION AND RECONSTRUCTION 215-30, 257-67 (1998); Brannon P. Denning & Glenn H. Reynolds, Five Takes on McDonald v. Chicago, 26 J.L & POL. 273, 285-87 (2011); Josh Blackmun [sic, Blackman] & Ilya Shapiro, Keeping Pandora’s Box Sealed: Privileges or Immunities, The Constitution in 2020, and Properly Extending the Right to Keep and Bear Arms to the States, 8 GEO. J.L. & PUB. POL’Y 1, 51-57 (2010); Clayton E. Cramer, Nicholas J. Johnson & George A. Mocsary, “This Right Is Not Allowed by Governments That Are Afraid of the People“: The Public Meaning of the Second Amendment When the Fourteenth Amendment Was Ratified, 17 GEO. MASON L. REV. 823, 824-25 (2010); Steven G. Calabresi & Sarah E. Agudo, Individual Rights Under State Constitutions When the Fourteenth Amendment Was Ratified in 1868: What Rights Are Deeply Rooted in American History and Tradition?, 87 TEX. L. REV. 7, 11-17, 50-54 (2008); Randy E. Barnett, Was the Right to Keep and Bear Arms Conditioned on Service in an Organized Militia?, 83 TEX. L. REV. 237, 266-70 (2004); David B. Kopel, The Second Amendment in the Nineteenth Century, 1998 BYU L. REV. 1359; Stephen P. Halbrook, Personal Security, Personal Liberty, and “The Constitutional Right to Bear Arms”: Visions of the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, 5 SETON HALL CONST. L.J. 341 (1995).
If the plaintiffs lose on the “scope” question, then the case is over and the government wins. If the alleged law does apply to something within the scope of the Second Amendment right, the court must apply judicial review. “[T]he rigor of this judicial review will depend on how close the law comes to the core of the Second Amendment right and the severity of the law’s burden on the right. See generally, Volokh, Implementing the Right to Keep and Bear Arms for Self-Defense, 56 UCLA L. REV. at 1454-72 (explaining the scope, burden, and danger-reduction justifications for firearm regulations post: Heller); Nelson Lund, The Second Amendment, Heller, and Originalist Jurisprudence, 56 UCLA L. REV. 1343, 1372-75 (2009); Adam Winkler, Heller’s Catch-22, 56 UCLA L. REV. 1551, 1571-73 (2009); Lawrence B. Solum, District of Columbia v. Heller and Originalism, 103 NW. U. L. REV. 923, 979-80 (2009); Glenn H. Reynolds & Brannon P. Denning, Heller’s Future in the Lower Courts, 102 NW. U. L. REV. 2035, 2042-44 (2008).”
The right to arms includes the right to practice with arms: “The right to possess firearms for protection implies a corresponding right to acquire and maintain proficiency in their use; the core right wouldn’t mean much without the training and practice that make it effective. The Ezell court pointed to the Supreme Court having “quoted at length from the ‘massively popular 1868 Treatise on Constitutional Limitations’ by judge and professor Thomas Cooley: ‘[T]o bear arms implies something more than the mere keeping; it implies the learning to handle and use them . . . ; it implies the right to meet for voluntary discipline in arms, observing in doing so the laws of public order’.” In addition, “‘No doubt, a citizen who keeps a gun or pistol under judicious precautions, practices in safe places the use of it, and in due time teaches his sons to do the same, exercises his individual right.’ (quoting BENJAMIN VAUGHAN ABBOTT, JUDGE AND JURY: A POPULAR EXPLANATION OF THE LEADING TOPICS IN THE LAW OF THE LAND 333 (1880)).”
So what exactly is the standard of review?
“The City urges us to import the ‘undue burden’ test from the Court’s abortion cases...but we decline the invitation. Both Heller and McDonald suggest that First Amendment analogues are more appropriate, see Heller, 554 U.S. at 582, 595, 635; McDonald, 130 S. Ct. at 3045, and on the strength of that suggestion, we and other circuits have already begun to adapt First Amendment doctrine to the Second Amendment context, see Skoien, 614 F.3d at 641; id. at 649 (Sykes, J., dissenting); Chester, 628 F.3d at 682; Marzzarella, 614 F.3d at 89 n.4; see also Volokh, Implementing the Right to Keep and Bear Arms for Self-Defense, 56 UCLA L. REV. at 1449, 1452, 1454-55; Lund, The Second Amendment, Heller, and Originalist Jurisprudence, 56 UCLA L. REV. at 1376; Winkler, Heller’s Catch-22, 56 UCLA L. REV. at 1572.
So “we can distill this First Amendment doctrine and extrapolate a few general principles to the Second Amendment context. First, a severe burden on the core Second Amendment right of armed self-defense will require an extremely strong public-interest justification and a close fit between the government’s means and its end.” This amounts to what the court calls “not quite ‘strict scrutiny.’” Or it could be called strict scrutiny light. A “an extremely strongly” state interest, rather than a “compelling one”; and “a close fit” rather than “narrowly tailored.”
For “laws restricting activity lying closer to the margins of the Second Amendment right, laws that merely regulate rather than restrict, and modest burdens on the right may be more easily justified. How much more easily depends on the relative severity of the burden and its proximity to the core of the right.” The Ezell court does not elaborate the doctrine for deciding lesser cases, because the instant case involves a prohibition very close to the core.
The “plaintiffs are the ‘law-abiding, responsible citizens’ whose Second Amendment rights are entitled to full solicitude under Heller . . .The City’s firing-range ban is not merely regulatory; it prohibits the ‘law-abiding, responsible citizens’ of Chicago from engaging in target practice in the controlled environment of a firing range. This is a serious encroachment on the right to maintain proficiency in firearm use, an important corollary to the meaningful exercise of the core right to possess firearms for self-defense.”
In short, the Second Amendment is part of normal constitutional law. The standard of review is not the absolutist “What part of ‘shall not be infringed’ don’t you understand?’” Nor is the standard “reasonableness” as a euphemism for “rational basis so long as all guns are not banned”; nor the weak “undue burden” standard that was invented for one particular unenumerated right which is an extreme outlier in the weakness of its basis in history, tradition, and other sources for unenumerated rights. Intermediate scrutiny does apply sometimes, as with the First Amendment, and, also as with the First Amendment, stricter scrutiny applies at other times. As with much of the rest of 21st century constitutional law, the interpretive methodology includes both originalism and a practical analysis which some persons would call “living constitutionalism.”
Time magazine managing editor Richard Stengel has penned a cover essay about the Constitution, One Document, Under Siege. My Independence Institute colleague Rob Natelson wrote a response addressing some of the many illogical or inaccurate claims therein.
Stengel: “The framers . . . gave us the idea that a black person was three-fifths of a human being, that women were not allowed to vote and that South Dakota should have the same number of Senators as California, which is kind of crazy.”
Answer: The three-fifths compromise was a way of resolving a particularly thorny political difficulty; it was not an anthropological statement. In fact, the framers did recognize—repeatedly—the personhood of African-Americans. Nor did they “give us the idea” that women couldn’t vote; this was left up to the states, and in 1787 women DID vote, formally or informally, in some states. That may be one reason the Founders deliberately left the Constitution gender-neutral. (See p. 63 in my book, The Original Constitution.)
Whether equality of states in the Senate is a good idea is a matter of opinion, but enough very sane people think so to disqualify the idea from being “kind of crazy.”
For Natelson’s point about personhood, see Federalist 54, explaining that the Constitution recognizes that slaves are “moral persons,” not mere property. That’s why Madison was careful to refer to them as “persons.” In New Jersey, women had the formal right to vote until the legislature changed the law in 1807.
Stengel: “Your doctor’s stethoscope was made in one state and was shipped to and sold in another.”
Answer: Yes, and Congress may regulate the stethoscope sale. But the Constitution, properly understood, generally does not permit Congress to regulate what the physician does with the stethoscope, and certainly not how he is paid for his services.
Stengel: “There is an old Latin phrase, inter arma enim silent leges, which roughly translates as “in time of war, the Constitution is silent.”
Answer: I included this because ignorance of Latin and of the Founders’ latinate English has led to many constitutional misinterpretations, and because the mangled, ungrammatical version Stengel uses suggests that he got it from Star Trek (Deep Space Nine) rather than from Cicero.
The phrase is actually “Silent enim leges inter arma.” One reason the Founders were better qualified to address constitutional issues than Mr. Stengel is that they HAD read Cicero, and in Latin.
Incidentally, the correct translation is “For laws are silent amid arms.”
A recent Yale Law Journal Online article by Northwestern law professor Andrew Koppelman argues that the Obamacare individual mandate is obviously constitutional, especially in light of how McCulloch v. Maryland construed the Necessary and Proper clause. Bad News for Mail Robbers: The Obvious Constitutionality of Health Care Reform (April 2011).
Gary Lawson (Boston Univ.) and I partially agree:
Professor Koppelman evidently believes that the constitutionality of the individual mandate begins and ends with McCulloch v. Maryland. He is absolutely right about that. He simply has the wrong beginning and ending.
Professor Koppelman gets the beginning wrong because he starts his analysis in the middle of the McCulloch opinion instead of where John Marshall began. Chief Justice Marshall‘s famous discussion in McCulloch of the causal connection required by the word “necessary” was preceded by a seven-page analysis of the constitutionality of a federal corporation under the Necessary and Proper Clause. Those seven pages dealt with an issue that Marshall recognized had to be addressed before he decided whether a corporation was a causally “necessary” (or otherwise “proper”) means for implementing federal powers. The threshold question was whether the power to incorporate was incidental or principal.
Our article, Bad News for Professor Koppelman: The Incidental Unconstitutionality of the Individual Mandate, elucidates the original meaning of the Necessary and Proper clause, which Chief Justice Marshall considered so important, but which professor Koppelman overlooked:
The Necessary and Proper Clause incorporates basic norms drawn from eighteenth-century agency law, administrative law, and corporate law. From agency law, the clause embodies the venerable doctrine of principals and incidents: a law enacted under the clause must exercise a subsidiary rather than an independent power, must be important or customary to achievement of a principal end, and must conform to standard fiduciary obligations.
From administrative law, the Necessary and Proper Clause embodies the closely-related principle of reasonableness in the exercise of delegated power, which independently requires conformance with a similar set of fiduciary norms, including the norms of acting only within delegated jurisdiction and of treating all persons subject to a public agent‘s power impartially.
Evidence from eighteenth-century corporate law – and the Constitution was widely recognized in the founding era as a type of corporate charter – confirms these conclusions about the meaning of the phrase “necessary and proper for carrying into Execution . . . .”
The power to order someone to purchase a product is not a power subordinate or inferior to other powers, such as the power to regulate voluntary commerce. The power to compel commerce is at least as significant – or, in eighteenth-century language, as “worthy” or of the same “dignity” – as the power to regulate insurance pricing and rating practices. It is therefore not incidental to other powers exercised by Congress in the PPACA and must be separately enumerated if it is to exist.
Second, the doctrine of principals and incidents and the principle of reasonableness both embody the fiduciary norm that agents exercising delegated power must treat multiple principals subject to those agents’ power impartially. Interpreting the Necessary and Proper Clause to allow Congress to force private dealings with preferred sellers of products fails that basic fiduciary norm, as illustrated by founding-era concerns about Congress invalidly using the Necessary and Proper Clause power to create monopolies.
“A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes
Many commenters on the Thirteenth Amendment, the draft, jury service, and compulsory road work post argued that the plain language of the Thirteenth Amendment makes the draft unconstitutional. (I think my coblogger Ilya argued something similar in a series of posts in 2007.) I think this question helps illustrate an important difference between two approaches to ambiguous text: an approach that tries to limit its focus to the text itself, and an approach that looks at the text as it was originally understood (which I will label “originalism” for purposes of this post). As between the two, I think originalism is generally preferable, whether or not one thinks that either should also be supplemented by other approaches, such as a focus on precedent. Let me briefly explain why.
1. Let’s begin with the Seventh Amendment, my favorite illustration of this question. The Seventh Amendment says that “In suits at common law ... the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.” Now “common law” can mean several things. It can mean judge-made law (or, if you prefer, judge-found law, though that’s a legal fiction) as opposed to statutes. It can mean a particular body of law that was once made by judges, even if now it is codified in statute, as opposed to law that was originally created by a legislature. It can mean Anglo-American law as opposed to European civil law, which is derived from Roman law. Or it can mean law that is sufficiently linked to the sort of law historically enforced in common-law courts as opposed to the sort of law historically enforced in so-called courts of equity.
Today, in my experience, “common law” tends to bear the first meaning (judge-made law). That’s how I’ve seen it most often used. But it’s clear that at the time of the Framing the phrase “Suits at common law” referred to the last meaning, which is to say law historically enforced in common-law courts (which usually called for payment of damages) as opposed to the now largely long-defunct separate courts of equity (which is where injunctions and similar remedies came from). So which meaning should we use?
Here’s my thinking: If we’re appealing to the text of the Seventh Amendment, it must be because we think the enactment of that text should have legal significance. We’re not just appealing to abstract principles of right and wrong, or to the broad structure of the Constitution. (Rightly or wrongly, much of the discussion of the freedom of speech, equal protection, and the like does make such appeals; but I assume here that we’re confronting an argument based on the constitutional text, not on general constitutional theory.) Rather, we think the Seventh Amendment should be followed because it’s law.
Why is it law? Because it was enacted through the proper legal channels by people who had the legal authority to enact it, and because we choose to continue to accept those people’s actions as authoritative. (Again, we could dismiss those actions as no longer binding on us; but if we’re arguing about the text as it was adopted, as opposed to constitutional or moral theory more broadly, we must think the actions of the adopters were indeed in some measure important to us.)
And if we’re going to apply the Seventh Amendment because in 1791 enough states ratified it to make it part of the Constitution, it makes no sense to apply it in a way that’s completely different than how it was understood at the time — for instance, by applying it only to judge-made tort doctrines and not statutory ones — simply because this definition has become more common since 1791, and because the original definition is largely unknown to all but lawyers. That would be more a constitutional pun, I think, than a sensible form of constitutional interpretation.
I should acknowledge that there is a significant alternative to an originalist view of the text, and it is a view that focuses on the text as understood in light of the actual practices of the legal system today. The theory here is that the Constitution derives its force from the continuing consent of the governed, and that if our legal system — crafted as it is by elected officials and those appointed by elected officials — over time accepts some new meaning of a term, then that meaning becomes part of the constitutional framework.
But whether that might be true for some provisions, it isn’t true for the Seventh Amendment. The legal system continues to treat “Suits at common law” as referring to suits of the sort that would have been brought in common-law courts during the Framing era, largely because of the influence of originalism on the courts that have interpreted this particular provision. And certainly there’s no broad public understanding to the contrary.
2. I’d say the same about the Thirteenth Amendment. Bans on slavery and “involuntary servitude” existed in America from 1787 on, beginning with the Northwest Ordinance and then getting enacted in various state constitutions. As best I can tell, those bans were never generally understood as casting constitutional doubt on mandatory military service — which was the norm even in peacetime, in service in the state militia — or on jury duty. By the time the Thirteenth Amendment was enacted, “involuntary servitude” had an established legal meaning, and that was a meaning limited to conditions that were more akin to traditional slavery and less to the duties of citizenship such as military service or jury service. Maybe this approach was morally unsound, or even illogical, as some have argued. But when the ban on involuntary servitude was made part of the Constitution, it was not understood as being a ban on all involuntary work.
At CNN, Politico, National Review Online’s “The Corner” blog, and at the Susan B. Anthony List website, you can read the developing controversy over some Republican presidential candidates’ refusal to sign the SBA Lists’ “2012 Pro-Life Citizen’s Pledge.”
Signers thus far are Bachmann, Gingrich, Pawlenty, Paul, and Santorum. The items on the pledge are:
FIRST, to nominate to the U.S. federal bench judges who are committed to restraint and applying the original meaning of the Constitution, not legislating from the bench;
SECOND, to select only pro-life appointees for relevant Cabinet and Executive Branch positions, in particular the head of National Institutes of Health, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Health & Human Services;
THIRD, to advance pro-life legislation to permanently end all taxpayer funding of abortion in all domestic and international spending programs, and defund Planned Parenthood and all other contractors and recipients of federal funds with affiliates that perform or fund abortions;
FOURTH, advance and sign into law a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion.
Of the candidates who have refused to sign, Mitt Romney objects because the wording of the demand to cut on federal abortion funding could be construed to stop federal aid to many hospitals; further, he refuses to make pro-life a litmus test for his executive branch appointments, as long as the appointees are willing to abide by (President) Romney’s own pro-life views. Herman Cain says he would “sign” the pain bill, but will not take the pledge to “advance” the bill, because “Congress must advance the legislation,” and he must have ”respect for the balance of power and the role of the presidency.”
Thus, of the announced candidates, we have only Gov. Gary Johnson who might have constitutional scruples about the federal pain bill.
The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which has been enacted in several states, requires that physicians provide a woman who is at least 20 weeks pregnant, and who is seeking an abortion, with information to obtain informed consent about the pain that the fetus will feel during the abortion.
The PCUCPA is probably constitutional under Planned Parenthood v. Casey, since it does not ban pre-viability abortions, and the lower courts have not generally found other informed consent laws for abortion to be an “undue burden,” as Casey defines that term.
However, a federal PCUCPA is plainly unconstitutional under the “original meaning” of the Constitution, which judges appointed by SBA Pledge signers would presumably uphold. The federal version of PCUCPA is S. 314, introduced by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.). After the definitions section of the proposed statute, the bill states: “Any abortion provider in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, who knowingly performs any abortion of a pain-capable unborn child, shall comply with the requirements of this title.”
Federal abortion control under the purported authority of congressional power “To regulate Commerce...among the several States” is plainly unconstitutional under the original meaning of the interstate commerce.
Even under the lax (but non-infinite) version of the interstate commerce power which the Court articulated in Lopez, a federal ban on partial-birth abortion is dubious, as Glenn Reynolds and I argued in a Connecticut Law Review article. Indeed, in the 5-4 Supreme Court decision upholding the federal ban, Gonzales v. Carhart, Justices Thomas and Scalia, who voted in the majority to uphold the ban as not violating the Casey abortion right, concurred to point out “that whether the Act constitutes a permissible exercise of Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause is not before the Court. The parties did not raise or brief that issue; it is outside the question presented; and the lower courts did not address it.”
In other words, if the attorneys who challenged the federal ban on partial-birth abortions had been willing to raise all plausibile constitutional claims, instead of losing the case 4-5 they probably could have won 6-3, by assembling a coalition of 4 strongly pro-abortion-rights Justices, plus Scalia and Thomas on the commerce issue.
When we get beyond Lopez, and truly look at original meaning, then the unconstitutionality of the federal PCUCPA is obvious. In Gibbons v. Ogden, Chief Justice Marshall explained that “health laws of every description” are outside the scope of the federal commerce power. The statement has been cited with approval by other Supreme Court justices at least 20 times. As Wickard v. Filburn observed, the Marshall opinion in Gibbons “described the Federal commerce power with a breadth never yet exceeded.” Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111, 120 (1942). (For more on Marshall’s views about federal health control, see this article by Rob Natelson and me.)
Marshall’s opinion in Gibbon may be considered the outer boundary of any originalist interpretation of the interstate commerce power. What doctors tell patients before providing abortions is obviously not interstate commerce, all the more so since the vast majority of patients do not cross state lines to obtain abortions.
Yale’s Jack Balkin makes the argument that in the original meaning, “commerce” means “intercourse,” and thus the original meaning allows a vast amount of federal regulation of intra-state, non-economic activity. Rob Natelson and I explained the errors in this theory in an on-line article for the Michigan Law Review.
Presumably the Republican signers of the SBA pledge would not assert that the appointment of judges who accept Balkin’s “commerce = intercourse” theory of original meaning would comport with President’s pledge to appoint judges who would follow original meaning. All of the Republican presidential candidates have said that the Obamacare individual mandate to purchase expensive congressionally-designed health insurance from the congressionally-favored insurance oligopoly is unconstitutional. Balkin’s intercourse theory, however, would support the constitutionality of the mandate.
The signing of the SBA pledge by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) is particularly disappointing, since Paul has usually made a point of being scrupulous about federal powers. Indeed, Paul was the sole “pro-gun” Representative who voted against the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a federal statute which outlawed lawsuits, in federal and state courts, against the manufacturers, wholesalers, and lawful retailers of firearms for guns which were lawfully sold and properly functioning. Paul’s argument was that the law exceeded the federal power to regulate interstate commerce; I disagree, since the undisputed original purpose of the interstate commerce power was to empoower Congress to act against state barriers to interstate commerce. The anti-gun lawsuits were plainly an effort to use fanciful tort theories to damage the entire national market in firearms, by imposing on that market many restrictions which had been considered and rejected by Congress and the state legislatures.
Thus, in regard to the anti-gun lawsuits, Paul’s scruples were mistaken, in my view, but he deserves credit for being sincerely scrupulous. I wish that he, and the rest of the Reublican presidential field, kept their constitutional scruples intact regarding federal anti-abortion legislation.
While the federal PCUCPA does not invoke section 5 of the 14th Amendment as a basis for the legislation, it is possible to construct an argument that some federal anti-abortion laws could be based on that power. However, it’s hard to base such an argument on the original meaning of the 14th Amendment, since there is not a shred of evidence in the 1865-68 history of the creation and ratification of the 14th Amendment (nor in the immediate post-ratification period, nor for nearly a century after ratification) that anyone imagined that the 14th Amendment empowered Congress to enact abortion-control laws, or guaranteed abortion rights.
So if a Republican who signs the SBA pledge is elected President, and he or she adheres to item 1 in the SBA pledge, appointing judges who adhere to the Constitution’s original meaning, then those judges will uphold state versions of the PCUCPA while declaring unconstitutional a federal PCUCPA.