Tagged: Constitutional Law

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Unto the Breach: An interview with the all too candid Dean Erwin Chemerinsky

We should realize that this is an emperor that truly has no clothes. For too long, we have treated the Court is if they are the high priests of the law, or at least as if they are the smartest and best lawyers in society. Erwin Chemerinsky (2014)

I am very pleased to interview Dean Erwin Chemerinsky in connection with his eighth book, The Case Against the Supreme Court (Viking, 2014) – this in addition to the 200-plus scholarly articles he has published. One of those articles was the foreword to the Harvard Law Review’s 1988 Supreme Court Term issue. His first scholarly article was published 36 years ago, this when he was associated with the D.C. firm of Dobrovir, Oakes, & Gebhardt. Today, Chemerinsky’s casebook, Constitutional Law, is one of the most widely read law textbooks in the country.

Dean Erwin Chemerinsky

Dean Erwin Chemerinsky

Unlike most academics, he also has a practitioner’s flare for the law, having argued five cases in the Supreme Court, among other courts. Last year, National Jurist magazine named Dean Chemerinsky as the most influential persons in legal education while the Anti Defamation League honored him for his commitment and contributions to freedom and education. And in 2007, Douglas Kmiec labeled him as “one of the finest constitutional scholars in the country.”

True to his reputation, Dean Chemerinsky’s new book invites us to think – and think hard – about some of our gospel “givens” about the Court, its members, its procedures, and its future.

Thank you Dean Chemerinsky for taking the time to answer my questions, and congratulations on the publication of your latest book.

* * * *

Question: For someone who argues cases before the Supreme Court and who writes on and teaches about the Court, yours is a rather provocative title. Why did you choose it?

Chemerinsky: The title captures the thesis of the book. As I reflect on it, I realize that the Supreme Court has often failed, often at the most important times and at its most important tasks. I think that this is a conclusion that both conservatives and liberals can agree to and need to realize. The Supreme Court’s decisions on race, its rulings in times of crisis, its decisions during the Lochner era are powerful examples where I think liberals and conservatives would agree that the Court did great harm to society. That is the foundation of the case against the Supreme Court. I want to see the Court made better and the impetus for thus must be recognizing that there is a need for reform.

Go here for Dean Chemerinsky’s oral argument in the Supreme Court in Tory v. Cochran (2005).

Question: You write: “I discovered in my own mind I have been making excuses for the Court. The Supreme Court is not the institution that I once revered.” What brought about this change of heart for you?

Carrie Buck

Carrie Buck

Chemerinsky: One semester I was teaching Buck v. Bell (1927), the Supreme Court decision that upheld Virginia’s eugenics law and where Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes infamously declared “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” After class, I realized that I had been making excuses for the Court in class. I did some research and realized that 60,000 people were involuntarily surgically sterilized as a result of the Court’s decision and the eugenics movement. As I thought about it, I realized that I often was making excuses for the Court in my teaching and writing.

Question: Like many others (both conservative and liberal), you fault Justice Holmes for his “offensive and insensitive” opinion in Buck v. Bell. Fair enough. What is often overlooked, however, is that Justice Louis Brandeis (one of the most humane defenders of civil rights and liberties) joined that opinion. Why? Does that give you any reflective pause? How do you explain that?

Chemerinsky: As always, the explanation must be complex rather than simple. It was at a time when progressives were defining themselves, in part, by urging deference to government as a way of criticizing the Lochner era decisions. It was at a time when the eugenics movement had great support in society. It was at a time when the Court had begun to protect non-textual rights concerning autonomy (e.g., Meyer v. Nebraska (1923) and Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925)), but had not gone far in this direction.

Does this give me reflective pause? Buck v. Bell was tragically wrong when it was decided and it is inexcusable that the Court allowed states to surgically sterilize people who had done nothing wrong.

[Re Brandeis: For a critical take on his civil rights/civil liberties record, consider David Bernstein, “From Progressivism to Modern Liberalism: Louis D. Brandeis as a Transitional Figure in Constitutional Law,” Notre Dame Law Review (2014)]

Question: You maintain “the Supreme Court’s legitimacy is not fragile.” That cuts against the conventional wisdom, certainly the prudential wisdom. Please explain to us why you think this so.

UnknownChemerinsky: The Court’s legitimacy is the product of all that it has done over 200 years.   Over this time, it has firmly established its role.  I agree with what John Hart Ely wrote in Democracy and Distrust (1980) that the Court’s legitimacy is robust. Some such as Felix Frankfurter and Alexander Bickel argued that the Court must be restrained to preserve its fragile legitimacy. Brown v. Board of Education (1954) shows the fallacy of that position. Nothing the Court has done has been more controversial or done more to enhance its institutional legitimacy. There are virtually no instances in American history of people disobeying the Court and those that occurred, such as in defiance of desegregation orders, only enhanced the Court’s legitimacy.

No single decision (or group of decisions) will seriously affect the Court’s legitimacy. I remember after Bush v. Gore hearing people say that the decision would damage the Court’s legitimacy. I was skeptical of such claims and I was right. The Court’s approval rating was the same in June 2001, six months after the decision, as it had been in September 2000, three months before the ruling. It had gone down among Democrats and up among Republicans. It is why I strongly disagree with those who believe that Chief Justice John Roberts changed his vote to uphold the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act case so as to preserve the Court’s credibility. He knew that whatever the Court did would please about half the country and disappoint about half the country.

Go here for a 2014 video interview with Dean Chemerinsky discussing his new book.

Question: You are critical of the Court’s unanimous ruling in Hui v. Castaneda (2010). There the Court, per Justice Sonia Sotomayor, held that public health service officers and employees could not be sued for Bivens actions for violating citizens’ constitutional rights if the violation was committed in the course of their government duties. The plaintiff can only sue the federal government, not the employees. There were no separate opinions in the case. Given the vote, how do you explain your claim that the Court got it wrong? Bias? Poorly argued? The law clerks’ fault? Or what?

Francisco Castaneda testifying before Congress

Francisco Castaneda testifying before Congress, 2007

Chemerinsky: In Hui v. Castañeda, a prisoner had a lesion on his penis. Francisco Castañeda was suffering enormously and the symptoms got worse and worse. But still the public health service workers refused to let him see a doctor. By the time they let him see a doctor the cancer had spread all over his body. His penis was amputated, but he died a short time later. It was egregious deliberate indifference. But the Court unanimously ruled that the existence of a statute protecting public health workers from suit barred a constitutional claim. This seems wrong: a statute should not bar a constitutional claim.

Why did the Court come to this conclusion? I think this case reflects a much larger trend of the Supreme Court favoring the immunity of government and government officers over remedies for injured individuals. It is reflected in the expansion of sovereign immunity, the growth of absolute and qualified immunity, and the evisceration of Bivens suits.

Go here to read Francisco Castañeda’s testimony before Congress, Oct. 4, 2007; see also Gabriel Eber, “Remembering Francisco Castañeda,” ACLU website, May 5, 2010

Question: You write of the need for scholars to look “cumulatively at the Court’s decisions” re race, civil liberties, economic regulations, school desegregation, effective counsel, labor law, consumer protection, and governmental immunity. Is it really possible to look at the Court through such a broad lens? And if so, what might it tell us that we already do not know?

Chemerinsky: My concern is that the narrower the focus, the easier it is to make excuses for the Court. Any institution will make decisions that we later regard as mistakes. Virtually everyone today believes that Dred Scott (1856) and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and Korematsu v. United States (1944) were tragically wrong. But focusing on each creates the view that they are isolated errors. If they are seen as part of a larger pattern, it becomes clearer that there is a strong case against the Supreme Court. It then becomes clear that there is a need for reforms.

Absent extraordinary circumstances, the docket for October Term 2014 is now complete, and it has the potential to be one of the most momentous in history. – Erwin Chemerinsky (Jan. 27, 2015)

Question: You find merit in Texas Governor Rick Perry’s idea for a proposed constitutional amendment limiting each Justice to an 18-year term. Think of it, had such a rule been in place, Holmes could not have written his is dissent in Gitlow v. New York (1925), Brennan would not have authored his majority opinion in Texas v. Johnson (1989), and we would never have read Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014). Two questions: (1) Does that concern you? And (2) Isn’t it always an iffy matter to push for constitutional amendments concerning the Court? Read More

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45 FAN (First Amendment News) — Neuborne & Corn-Revere debate judicial campaign solicitation case

Burt Neuborne

Burt Neuborne

A libertarian and a liberal walk into a bar; the libertarian orders a shot of Kentucky Knob Creek while the liberal orders a glass of Napa Valley Merlot. True, they both like alcohol, but one prefers it with kick. If the metaphor holds true, Professor Burt Neuborne is the Merlot man and First Amendment lawyer Robert Corn-Revere is the strengthened spirits man.

The two seasoned First Amendment experts recently debated one another in a National Constitution Center podcast titled “Should elected judges be allowed to ask for donations?” Amicus briefs were submitted by both men in the Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar case (Neuborne et al here and Corn-Revere here). The friendly and illuminating podcast was moderated by Jeffrey Rosen, the President and CEO of the Center. Here are a few excerpts of that exchange:

This is kind of a mutual admiration society, although we are on different sides in this case.  — BN

Neuborne: “They were very careful in the White case to say that judicial elections may well be different because of the nature of what a judge does. . . . [O]nce [a] judge is elected, [he or she ] is expected to be absolutely impartial and not to tilt toward his political supporters and not to engage in the kind of behavior that we expect, and indeed want, congressional people to do. If you are elected as a congressman, you made promises to the electorate; you made pledges that you’re going to carry out certain policies. . . . Promises by a judge would make it very difficult for people who are appearing before that judge to think that the judge was in any way impartial. . . . We don’ t want the judge to lock himself or herself into a position that interferes with the mandate of judicial impartiality.”

“. . . You have to let judges raises enough money to be able to have a real campaign. . . . They have to be allowed to raise a significant amount of money and do real real elections. But the question is, how do they do it? Are they going to raise the money in a way that gives rise to an assumption . . . . that they are somehow bound to the people who gave them the money? . . . . The question is, in order to stop that from happening, can the States . . . . say that the judge can’t personally ask for money, people who support him can ask for money, but he can’t or she can’t personally ask of money, because that would threaten the integrity and impartiality of the process . . .”

Robert Corn-Revere

Robert Corn-Revere

Corn-Revere: “Once you make the choice to use popular elections certain things follow from that, and none of them are very easily addressed. . . . [When] you make judges into [political] candidates [who] are asking for people’s votes, they are not above the political fray. . . . [T]he judges . . . have to be able to talk about issues and have to be able to raise a certain amount of money. The question is whether or not having a direct fundraising appeal [actually] undermines that interest [in impartiality] . . . [In all of this, once judges run for office,]  then First Amendment [principles] override [the] kinds of restrictions the State seeks to impose [here].”

The question before the Court was: are these restrictions effective? . . . The opponents argued once you . . . allow judges to send a thank you note in response to individual contributions . . . and also to instruct their committees about who to approach, the additional ban on direct solicitations is ineffective . . . JR

Neuborne:  “. . . The argument is that the Florida statute is so honeycombed with exceptions that it doesn’t really advance the interests it is said to advance. . . . The question is: Is there something special about personal solicitation — which either puts more pressure on a lawyer [who might appear before the judge], or puts pressure on a litigant, or makes the public think that the judge would be more disappointed if you don’t respond to a personal solicitation or more grateful if you did respond to a personal solicitation — than this kind of backdoor solicitation by a proxy? I think reasonable people can differ over that. . . . I would argue that the stakes here are so high . . . that I would defer to Florida’s judgment that they want to have a risk averse prophylaxis . . . .”

Corn-Revere: “. . . . I think Burt’s summary of the problems of [with Florida’s law] was so succinct and so persuasive that I can’t believe we’re on different sides of the case. . . The difficulty is [that the Florida canon] only prohibits candidates from saying ‘please,’ it is does not prohibit them from saying ‘thank you.’ Hell, they can even host a barbecue for everyone who contributed to their campaign. If you look at the specific goals that [the Florida canon] seeks to address — first, preventing quid pro quo corruption . . .  — [and if you consider what it permits candidates for judicial election to do,] nothing in [the canon] addresses [that] quid pro quo corruption issue. The second interest — promoting impartiality and bias — again, once . . . you’re part of the political fray, you’re going to face those problems. The only issue . . . that [the canon] even attempts to address is the protection against coercion . . . . [But in this case there was no such problem with that.]”

“My view of the First Amendment is that it works in the opposite way [from what Burt suggested]; that it is the government’s burden   to demonstrate not only that there is a sufficient interest in restricting speech in any given instance, . . . but it also has to demonstrate that the means that it has chosen are narrowly tailored to address that interest and do in fact address that interest. That’s where I think [Florida’s canon] falls down.”

There is much more, and I urge everyone to hear the entire podcast, which you can find here.

 Aside: On February 3rd The New Press will release Professor Neuborne’s Madison’s Music: On Reading the First Amendment 

→ See also Jacob Gershman, “First Amendment Rights of Judges in the Spotlight,” WSJ, Jan. 27, 2015 (“In California, the state’s highest court has decided that judges there will no longer be allowed to belong to nonprofit youth organizations that discriminate on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation or other criteria, effectively barring membership to the Boy Scouts of America.”)

Mary Beth & John Tinker file amicus brief in Supreme Court in 1- case 

Mary Beth Tinker

Mary Beth Tinker

“The need to prevent disruption of the school environment cannot justify restricting students who engage in peaceful symbolic speech simply because others may take boisterous exception.” — Amicus brief on behalf of Mary Beth & John Tinker.

* * * *

The case is Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School DistrictThe issue in the case is whether the Ninth Circuit erred (opinion here) by allowing school officials to prevent students from engaging in silent, passive expression of opinion because other students might react negatively to the message, thereby incorporating a heckler’s veto into the free speech rights of students, contrary to Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969).

The American Freedom Law Center is representing the petitioner with Robert Jospeh Muise as counsel of record.

Mary Beth Tinker and her brother John have filed an amicus brief in the Court with Robert Corn-Revere as counsel of record. Eugene Volokh and Ronald G. London and Lisa Beth Zycherman are also listed as counsel for amici curiae.’

Adam Liptak

Adam Liptak

Liptak Speaks at Cornell Law School

New York Times Supreme Court correspondent Adam Liptak recently spoke at Cornell Law School to give the Frank Irvine Endowed Lecture. The title of his remarks was “A New Deal for the First Amendment?”

As reported in the Cornell Chronicle, “Liptak mentioned another possible consideration in applying the law: If judging is, as he phrased it, “weighing competing interests” and “putting a thumb on the scale” in favor of marginalized speech, then should a deciding factor in applying the First Amendment be the relative power of the speaker? Though Liptak did not have an answer to this question, an audience member raised the possibility that a power-based consideration could lead to influential organizations, like major newspapers, being censored.”

Liptak was also quoted as saying: “‘I practiced First Amendment law for 14 years, and I drank the Kool-Aid,” he said, describing his previous faith in the amendment. ‘Over the years, many important decisions have been made using it, including allowing protestors near funerals and decriminalizing flag burning.’ However, he added, ‘there is something troubling we should think about: economic regulations being struck down on the basis of free speech.'”

Chemerinsky reviews three new First Amendment books  Read More

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FAN 44.1 (First Amendment News) — Professor William Van Alstyne weighs in on Citizens United

UnknownIn yesterday’s FAN column I posted the comments of thirteen noted First Amendment lawyers and scholars concerning their views of Citizens United, this on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the case. One of those who read that column was Professor William Van Alstyne, Perkins Professor of Law, Emeritus, Duke Law School and currently emeritus at the William and Mary School of Law.

As many know, Professor Van Alstyne’s writings on constitutional law and First Amendment have been widely cited by judges and scholars alike. In the free speech area his numerous works include The American First Amendment in the Twenty-First Century (with Kurt Lash, 5th ed., 2014) and his Interpretations of the First Amendment (1990). His scholarly articles in this field include: “Academic Freedom and the First Amendment in the Supreme Court of the United States: An Unhurried Historical Review,” Law & Contemporary Problems (1990), “First Amendment Limitations on Recovery from the Press — An Extended Comment on the Anderson Solution,” William & Mary L. Rev. (1983), “First Amendment and the Suppression of Warmongering Propoganda in the United States,” Law & Contemporary Problems (1966), and “The Judicial Trend Toward Student Academic Freedom,” University of Florida L. Rev(1967).

Though unsolicited, I was happy to receive Professor Van Alstyne’s comments on Citizens United; those comments are set out below:  

Professor Nadine Strossen’s comments assuredly had by far the more straightforward, compelling and convincing observations re the First Amendment importance and consistency of Citizens United than many  earnest but mistaken critics of the case. No doubt there will continue to be lamentations regarding Citizens United, but it is also correct that there has been no seismic (or even significant) adverse consequences from the Court’s well-articulated explanation of its First Amendment explanation in the case.

Indeed, from a sobering review of the case and of all that one might well consider in thinking about our distinguished First Amendment (the oldest and also the strongest in the entire world), I believe that many (perhaps even most) who favor the opposite outcome will eventually come to regret their support for upholding a government’s dictate restricting what citizens may spend of their own funds to convey their view of a law or of a candidate.

“Levelling down” in this fashion was devastatingly dealt with decades ago by Kurt Vonnegut (a staunch defender of civil liberties) in his five-page wonderful short story, “Harrison Bergeron.” I commend it to the premature, immature, and First Amendment misguided critics of Citizens United.  I hope that some, at least, will take a few moments to read the opinion before joining in the polemics of those who are (like all us in one or another particular way) sometimes unable to see the very special importance of our very special First Amendment. Why? Because they view law from the mote of an obscuring political zeal, blissfully unaware of  a deadly hurricane virtually blotting out the azure blue of freedom’s sky.

2010 State of the Union Address
2010 State of the Union Address
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FAN 44 (First Amendment News) Citizens United: it was 5 years ago today — 13 First Amendment lawyers & scholars offer differing views

“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections,” [President Obama] said of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which allowed corporations to donate to political candidates. Justice Samuel Alito then shook his head and whispered, “not true.” — Tessa Berenson, Time (2015)

On this day five years ago the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, handed down its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (transcripts here and here & audio file — argument and re-argumament —  here).

As you will see, the comments below span a wide rhetorical range. On the one hand, some view Citizens United as “one of the worst decisions in the history of the United States Supreme Court” (Geof Stone), while others argue that the Court in Citizens United “reaffirmed and applied core First Amendment principles” (Joel Gora). See below for the full spectrum of views.   

Speaking of money and speech, the Court now has before it a First Amendment challenge to a panhandling law — Thayer v. City of Worcester (distributed for Conference of Jan. 9, 2015).

Before proceeding to the comments, I thought it might be useful to provide a few hyperlinked historical facts about the case. 

The documentary that prompted the litigation

Hillary: The Movie

The Petitioner

The Lawyer for the Petitioner in the District Court

Three-Judge District Court per curiam opinion here

The Lawyers who argued the case in the Supreme Court 

  1. Theodore B. Olson (argued the cause for the Appellant)
  2. Floyd Abrams (on behalf of Senator Mitch McConnell, as amicus curiae, in support of the Appellant)
  3. Malcolm L. Stewart (Deputy S.G., Department of Justice, argued the cause for the Appellee)
  4. Elena Kagan (Solicitor General, Department of Justice, reargued the cause for the Appellee)
  5. Seth P. Waxman (on behalf of Senators John McCain et al. as amici curiae in support of the Appellee)

Five Years Later — Lawyers & Scholars Offer Comments 

Floyd Abrams: “Academics, it seems fair to say, are overwhelmingly critical of the Citizens United ruling. If they were irate about  Buckley v. Valeo (1976) — formerly their consensus choice as the worst Supreme Court ruling since Dred Scott (1856) — they are apoplectic about Citizens United.  At the core of the both rulings is the now familiar proposition first uttered by the Supreme Court in Buckley  and repeated with approval in Citizens United that “the concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment.” If one accepts that notion, as I do, the ruling in Citizens United follows naturally and a documentary-like movie that castigated Hillary Clinton when she last sought the presidency must be protected by the First Amendment. If one does not, one naturally enough can join the four Citizens United dissenters in concluding that it is constitutional to impose criminal penalties for the airing of that film on television. For me, that was not a difficult choice five years ago and it is not one today.”

See here re brief filed by Mr. Abrams in Citizens United; see also his “Citizens United and Its Critics,” Yale L.J. Online (2010)

Mr. Jan W. Baran

Mr. Jan W. Baran

Jan W. Baran: “The Court was correct to protect political speech by all citizens and groups, including corporations and unions. Current so-called reform efforts, including proposals to amend the Constitution, prove that the First Amendment is all that stands between political freedom and government control of speech. Contrary to President Obama’s dire predictions, corporations are not distorting political debate and foreign money (which is illegal) has not flooded campaigns. It is the Obama re-election committee that became the first campaign to raise and spend $1 billion.  So much for campaign money distorting the system.”

 See here re brief filed by Mr. Baran in Citizens United.

Robert Corn-Revere: “Citizens United is like a political Rorschach Test. But when divorced from its many critics’ policy preferences, it is a pretty straightforward First Amendment case that concludes there are constitutional difficulties with making political speech a federal crime.  And, along the way, the Court reached a number of important (and usually overlooked) constitutional findings. One key conclusion is that “[w]e must decline to draw, and then redraw, constitutional lines based on the particular media or technology used to disseminate political speech from a particular speaker.” The Court observed that “[t]he Framers may have been unaware of certain types of speakers or forms of communication, but that does not mean that those speakers and media are entitled to less First Amendment protection than those types of speakers and media that provided the means of communicating political ideas when the Bill of Rights was adopted.” This fundamental constitutional principle is increasingly important as we witness seismic changes in the global media environment. And it is just one of several important pillars of the case.”

Number of articles about Citizens United in the 27 months following the decision 

New York Times         1100

Washington Post        327

USA Today                  220

Wall Street Journal    195

 This count includes columns and opinion pieces but not blog posts.

 Source: Douglas Spencer & Abby Wood, Indiana L. J. (2014)

Allen Dickerson: “Citizens United has become a symbol onto which politicians and commentators project their own hopes, agendas, and insecurities. But cutting through the rhetoric, the case asked a simple question: on what principled basis could the government ban a nonprofit’s documentary while permitting corporate newspaper endorsements? The Court, correctly, said ‘none.’ Nevertheless, legislatures and regulators continue to draw distinctions between different types of speech, and different types of speakers, and the result is a level of bureaucratic complexity average Americans cannot hope to navigate. Five years after Citizens United showed us our error, burdened by a national debate that yields more heat than light, we continue to avoid the difficult task of reforming that troubling approach to political engagement.”

Professor Joel Gora

Professor Joel Gora

Joel Gora: “The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was a landmark of political freedom. By striking down government bans on political speech by labor unions, corporations and non-profit organizations, the Court reaffirmed and applied core First Amendment principles. These include the concepts that protecting political speech against government censorship is at the core of the First Amendment’s mission, that the government cannot be empowered to decide which people or groups can speak about government and politics, what they can say, or how much they can say, and that democracy requires as much information as possible from diverse and antagonistic sources.”

“Embodying these principles, the Citizens United decision has had a number of salutary consequences. It has provided doctrinal support for further easing of campaign finance limits on political speech and association.  Second, the rejection of such limits has turned attention properly to more positive efforts to address our admitted campaign finance system difficulties. Finally, although the predicted tsunami of corporate spending “drowning our democracy” never materialized, the Court’s decision has helped spark an increase in overall political funding which has helped make our elections more competitive and the electorate better informed. All in all, I submit, a good day’s work for political freedom and democracy.”

 See here re brief coauthored by Professor Gora in Citizens United.

Richard Hasen: “After five years, it has become clear that Citizens United is only part of the problem. If the Court reversed it tomorrow (something I am not expecting), we would still have Super PACs funded by very wealthy individuals, loads of undisclosed money coming through 501(c)(4)’s and other organizations, and an increased ability for those with economic power to transform it into political power. It is time to rethink first principles — which is my current book project. Stay tuned.”

→ See Professor Hasen’s Legislation, Statutory Interpretation, and Election Law (ch. 13, 2014) re his comments on Citizens United

Forthcoming Book

Elizabeth Price Foley, Defending Citizens United: How Campaign Finance Laws Restrict Free Speech (Praeger, Oct. 31, 2015)

Alan Morrison: “The fight with the Court over Citizens United should not be over whether corporations have rights to make political expenditures, but whether the Court’s ruling in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) that there can be no limits on independent expenditures and that there are no constitutional or other values that can even be considered in assessing that ruling. Here are some examples.  The pre-Buckley decision in United States v. O’Brien (1968), recognized that the right to political protest could be overcome by the Government’s interest in enforcing its selective service laws. In Burson v. Freeman (1992), the Court upheld a law prohibiting the core political activities of soliciting votes and distributing of campaign materials within 100 feet of a polling place.  And cases like Ward v. Rock Against Racism (1989), would surely support an ordinance that banned sound trucks from blaring at more than 100 decibels at midnight.  Post Citizens United, the Court summarily upheld the law that bans all contributions and independent expenditures solely because the plaintiffs were neither U.S. citizens nor permanent resident aliens.  Bluman v. FEC (2012). (See also here.)”

 See here re brief coauthored by Mr. Morrison in Citizens United.

Professor Tamara Piety

Professor Tamara Piety

Tamara Piety: “Citizens United legitimated the notion that corporations (and capital) are embattled, “disfavored” speakers entitled to the special solicitude of the courts’ counter-majoritarian power, as if they were a discrete and insular minority which lacked access to the political process, rather than a force that is very nearly constituent of it. It relies on an implied (and specious) syllogism: if discrimination against people is bad, and corporations are people, then “discriminating” between corporations and natural persons, or between types of corporations, is likewise bad. This reasoning animates Hobby Lobby (2014) and is echoed in Sorrell v. IMS Health (2011), with “marketing” standing in for “corporation” and “speech” for “people.” This line of argument has destabilized much corporate and regulatory law.  For its proponents, Citizens United has been fabulously successful; but that success has come at some political cost. Citizens United has tarnished the Court’s public image. It seems likely that the decision will be cut back, but how and from which direction is difficult to predict.”

→ See Professor Piety’s Brandishing the First Amendment (2012) re her comments on Citizens United

Ilya Shapiro: “Citizens United is one of the most misunderstood high-profile cases ever and it’s both more and less important than you might think. It’s more important because it revealed the unworkability of our current system of campaign regulation. It’s less important because it doesn’t stand for half of what many people say it does. By removing limits on independent associational speech—spending on political advertising by people unconnected to candidates and parties—it weakened the government’s control of who can speak, how much, and on what subject. That’s a good thing. After all, people don’t lose their rights when they get together, whether it be in unions, non-profit advocacy groups, private clubs, for-profit enterprises, or any other form.”

 See here re brief coauthored by Mr. Shapiro in Citizens United; see also his op-ed “Citizens United Misunderstood, USA Today, Jan. 20, 2015

Professor Geoffrey Stone

Professor Geoffrey Stone

Geoffrey Stone: “Citizens United may well turn out to be one of the worst decisions in the history of the United States Supreme Court. As Oliver Wendell Holmes recognized almost a century ago, the American political system depends upon the reasonable functioning of the “marketplace of ideas.” It has always been clear that that “marketplace” is imperfect. But until now, it was generally able to reflect the views of the majority of the American people. With its decision in Citizens United, the Supreme Court has unleashed forces that seriously threaten to corrupt and distort that “marketplace” in ways that stand the First Amendment on its head and endanger the future of American democracy.”

See Professor Stone’s article “Citizens United & Conservative Judicial Activism,” U. Ill. L. Rev. (2012)

Nadine Strossen: “From President Obama,  in his  State of the Union Address the following week, to major media outlets, the vast majority of Citizens United’s critics misstate its holdings. Almost never mentioned are the crucial facts that it protects the rights of non-profit corporations and unions to spend their own money on their own messages; too often asserted is the falsehood that it permits wealthy for-profit corporations (or anyone, for that matter) to make unlimited contributions to candidates’ campaigns.”

See here re Professor Strossen’s comments on Citizens United

Fred Wertheimer: “The ideologically driven Citizens United decision has left the nation’s campaign finance and political system in shambles. It is one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever made. The Court ignored the country’s history, its own jurisprudence and the need to protect America’s system of representative government against corruption – a need recognized by the Founding Fathers. Citizens United will not stand the test of time. It will end up in the dustbin of history.”

 See here re brief coauthored by Mr. Wertheimer in Citizens United.

Larry Tribe on Citizens United

Forthcoming: The working title is “Dividing Citizens United: The Case v. The Controversy.” The piece will appear in Constitutional Commentary.

Adam Winkler: “Citizens United is one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions in a generation. Yet the decision is widely misunderstood by the public. From Occupy Wall Street to the White House, Citizens United has inspired critics who insist that corporations are not people. Yet the Supreme Court did not rely on corporate personhood in Citizens United. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion never refers to corporations as people and nothing in the reasoning of the opinion turns on personhood. Justice Kennedy instead insists corporations are “associations of citizens” whose rights derive from the natural people who make up the firm. This is a problematic formulation that hides the corporation and allows the Court to avoid asking hard questions about what rights corporations as such should have. Justice Kennedy’s approach equates a business corporation with a voluntary membership organization like the NAACP, both equally entitled to assert the rights of its members.”

“Corporations are people under corporate law. That was their original purpose. And corporations must have some constitutional rights, such as the right to property and due process. Yet they shouldn’t have all the same rights as people, such as the right to vote or hold office. Constitutional doctrine would be improved if instead of hiding the corporation, we recognized that corporations are indeed people — and then asked which rights these corporate people ought to have.”

See here re Professor Winkler’s “Three Misconceptions in Citizens United

__________________

Event: Citizens United v. FEC after Five Years Read More

3

FAN 43.1 (First Amendment News) Two Upcoming Events on First Amendment & Elections

This week there will be two events in Washington, D.C. concerning elections and the First Amendment. One is on the Williams-Yule judicial elections case, and the other is on the Citizens United case.

Speaking of Citizens United, my FAN post for this Wednesday will be devoted to the case, this on the occasion of its fifth anniversary. Among other things, the post will contain comments on the case from noted First Amendment scholars and lawyers.  

Heritage to host event on judicial campaign solicitation case

Tomorrow the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. will host an event titled “Judicial Elections and the First Amendment — Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar.” (The Williams-Yulee case will be argued tomorrow.)

The event will feature:

Hans A. von Spakovsky,  a Senior Legal Fellow at Heritage, will host and moderate the event.

Here is a description of the upcoming event:

On January 20, the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments in Lanell Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar. At issue is whether a ban on solicitation of campaign donations by judicial candidates in state elections in Florida violates the First Amendment rights of the candidates. Does Florida have a compelling interest in imposing such a ban to preserve the appearance of impartiality of its judges? Is it necessary to ensure judicial independence and maintain public confidence in the judicial system? Does this ban on solicitation violate the First Amendment rights of candidates to engage in political speech and political activity? Does the soliciting of campaign donations involve core political speech? In a post-argument briefing, two First Amendment experts who filed amicus briefs in the case, along with the former Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, will discuss these issues as well as the oral arguments conducted that morning before the Supreme Court. Moderating the panel will be a former FEC commissioner.

→ For more information, go here.

 __________________

Event: Citizens United v. FEC after Five Years

This coming Wednesday the Center for Competitive Politics is sponsoring a conference on Citizens United.

LocationCato Institute


Agenda

9:00 AM: The Story Behind the Lawsuit

  • Michael Boos, General Counsel, Citizens United
Interviewer: TBA

9:20 AM: The Impact on Parties in the age of Citizens United: Are changes needed?

  • Joel Gora, Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School
  • Neil Reiff, Founding partner, Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, P.C.
  • Peter J. Wallison, Arthur F. Burns Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

10:20 AM: Should liberals support Citizens United?

Interviewer:
 Stuart Taylor, Jr.Author, freelance writer and a Brookings Institution nonresident senior fellow

  • Ira Glasser, former Executive Director, ACLU
  • Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel, ACLU
  • Wendy Kaminer, Author, lawyer, social critic and contributing editor of The Atlantic

11:20 AM: Beyond Citizens United: the future of campaign finance jurisprudence

  • Bobby R. Burchfield, Partner, McDermott Will & Emery LLP
  • Richard H. Pildes, Sudler Family Professor of Constitutional Law, New York University School of Law
  • Bradley A. Smith, Chairman and Founder, Center for Competitive Politics, Judge John T. Copenhaver Visiting Endowed Chair of Law at the West Virginia University, former FEC Chairman
Interviewer:
  • Matea GoldThe Washington Post
15

FAN 42.1 (First Amendment News) High Court denies cert in 2 campaign finance cases

Earlier today the Supreme Court issued its orders. Those orders included a denial of cert. in Stop This Insanity Inc Employee Leadership Fund et al  v. Federal Election Commission and in Vermont Right to Life Committee, et al v. Sorrell [ht: Ilya Shapiro]

THE COURT’S 2014-15 FREE EXPRESSION DOCKET

Review Granted

  1. Elonis v. United States (argued on 12-1-14)
  2. Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar (to be argued 1-20-15)
  3. Reed v. Town of Gilbert (argued on 1-12-15)
  4. Berger v. American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (license plate case) (no date set for OA)
  5. Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans (license plate case) (no date set for OA)

Review Denied

  1. Pregnancy Care Center of New York v. City of New York 
  2. City of Indianapolis, Indiana v. Annex Books, Inc.
  3. Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc. v. United States 
  4. Mehanna v. United States
  5. Stop This Insanity Inc Employee Leadership Fund et al  v. Federal Election Commission
  6. Vermont Right to Life Committee, et al v. Sorrell
Posner
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The Complete Posner on Posner Series

The Posner on Posner series began on November 24, 2014 and ended with the Afterword on January 5, 2015. Below is a hyperlinked list of all the posts.

 Table of Contents

  1. The Maverick – A Biographical Sketch of Judge Richard Posner: Part I
  1. The Maverick – A Biographical Sketch of Judge Richard Posner: Part II, The Will to Greatness
  1. The Man Behind the Robes — A Q & A with Richard Posner
  1. The Judge & Company – Questions for Judge Posner from Judges, Law Professors & a Journalist
  1. On Legal Education & Legal Scholarship — More questions for Judge Posner
  1. On Free Expression & the First Amendment — More questions for Judge Posner
  1. On Privacy, Free Speech, & Related Matters – Richard Posner vs David Cole & Others
  1. On Judicial Reputation: More questions for Judge Posner
  1. Posner on Same-Sex Marriage – Then & Now
  1. Posner on Case Workloads & Making Judges Work Harder
  1. The Promethean Posner – An Interview with the Judge’s Biographer
  1. Afterword: Posner at 75 – “It’s My Job”

→ Forthcoming: Richard Posner (Oxford University Press, Spring, 2015) by William Domnarski.

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FAN 42 (First Amendment News) Tribute to Al Bendich (1929-2015) — the ACLU lawyer who made the difference in the HOWL & Lenny Bruce cases

Al Bendich, April 5, 2013

Al Bendich, April 5, 2013

Some people make a difference in their lives; some people actually add to the bounty of freedom we call ours; and some people are so modest as to go quietly into the dark of their eternal night. Albert Bendich was one of those rare few. Sadly, Al died this past Monday.

Liberty in America is better off because of Al and what he did as a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. He gave legal life to poetry and lawful voice to comedy . . . and more.

To know him was to like him — calm, mild mannered, soft spoken, and kind to a fault. But if you wanted to see sparks of passion — the ones that revealed the fire burning within him — all you had to do was start up a conversation about free speech. When it came to that, this lifetime defender of free expression became quite animated, but always with the composure of a learned lawyer who knew not only the law but also its history and the grand principles underlying it.

“I can’t think of anything more rewarding than fighting for matters of fundamental principles necessary to the preservation of democracy,” said Bendich in 2009. “The ACLU,” he added, “is absolutely necessary in that process. Without it we’d be going backward instead of trying to maintain our position and maybe inch a little bit forward.”

Al Bendich was a true inspiration to everyone in the ACLU community. . . From his time as staff counsel at the ACLU of Northern California, to his days as a teacher, and then a career in music and film with his colleague Saul Zaentz, Al’s passion for the Constitution and his country was a constant. — Abdi Soltani, Executive Director, ACLU of Northern California

The People vs Poetry 

Turn the clock back to 1957. On June 3rd of that year San Francisco police arrested Shig Murao, the manager of City Lights Bookstore, for selling HOWL and Other Poems to an undercover officer. Thereafter, City Lights’s publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti was arrested for publishing HOWL. (See here and here for accounts of the arrest and what followed).  The case, People v. Ferlinghetti, went to trial.

The trio of defense counsel: the famed and flashy criminal defense lawyer Jake Ehrlich, the talented and knowledgeable public-interest lawyer Lawrence Speiser, and a recent Boalt Hall law graduate, Al Bendich (Speiser and Bendich were ACLU lawyers).

Here is how Nadine Strossen, the ACLU’s past President and a friend of Al’s, described what happened next:  “When Al Bendich worked on the landmark HOWL case, he was a very new lawyer, and the Supreme Court’s Roth decision, defining the obscenity exception to the First Amendment, was a very new decision. The HOWL case was one of first impression — the first actual application of Roth to an obscenity prosecution. Accordingly, Al’s brief in the case played a key role in shaping the law on point.”

“All free speech advocates,” she added, “are eternally indebted to Al for brilliantly managing to construe the Roth obscenity exception as narrowly as feasible, and persuasively explaining why it didn’t encompass HOWL. The brief had a palpable impact on the judge’s historic, speech-protective opinion, which in turn has had an ongoing positive impact on law and literature alike.”

Here is a passage from that brief:

Would there be any freedom of the press or speech if one must reduce his vocabularly to vapid and innocous euphemisms? An author should be real in treating his subject and be allowed to express his thoughts and ideas in his own words. Al Bendich (brief in People v. Ferlinghetti, 1957)

When it was all over, poetry prevailed.

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 10.56.30 PM

It was a new day in First Amendment America. HOWL could be sold in City Lights Bookstore and elsewhere. And all of this from a ruling by a San Francisco municipal court judge (Clayton W. Horn) who wrote a remarkable opinion that drew heavily on the work of a young ACLU lawyer named Al Bendich. Incredibly, it was the last time that a poem was the target of prosecution in an American court.

Even so, censors returned to the scene. Decades later, in 2005, Congress raised limits on the fines for indecency on the broadcast airwaves. That enabled the F.C.C. to charge up to $325,000 for every violation of its standards. And those standards barred reading HOWL on broadcast radio or television. “It seems like déjà vu all over again,” said Al.

Comedy on Trial

Imagine being busted for being a tad too colorful in telling jokes (many of them by way of social commentary) in a comedy club . . . in San Francisco . . . in the 1960s. Well, it happened to Lenny Bruce — no joke! The infamous comedian was hauled away from using indecent words during his performance at a club in North Beach in 1961 (see The Trials of Lenny Bruce).

The prosecutor was Hell bent on putting the “filthy” comedian behind bars for words spoken to adults at a joint called The Jazz Workshop where the likes of Thelonious Monk and others performed. No one was offended, no one complained, and no children were in the audience. Never mind. Bruce’s choice words violated sections 176 and 205 of the Municipal Police Code (unlawful presentation of an “obscene, indecent, immoral, or impure” performance) and section 311.6 of the California Penal Code (“lewd or obscene” words used in “any public place”). Now Lenny Bruce would have to face the music — and it wasn’t free-spirited jazz.

Al Bendich & Lenny Bruce at Bruce's 1961 SF obscenity trial

Al Bendich & Lenny Bruce at Bruce’s 1961 SF obscenity trial

Bruce had been looking around for a powerhouse mouthpiece, preferably someone who was “hip” to First Amendment law. Predictably, Al Bendich’s name came up. They met, they spoke, and soon enough Al agreed to defend the comedian on First Amendment grounds. So they went to trial.

The Judge? None other than Clayton Horn, the same judge who followed Bendich’s counsel and ruled in favor of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Given the Horn-Bendich connection, things looked quite promising for Lenny. Ever the contrarian, Bruce demanded a jury trial. It was insanity. Still, Bendich preserved and thanks to several brilliant legal maneuvers was successful in securing a not guilty ruling.

photoHere is the kicker: the jury wanted to convict Bruce but ruled otherwise solely because of the precise jury instructions given to them by Judge Horn. Said one juror afterwards: “We hate this verdict, but under the instructions there was nothing we could do but give the ‘not guilty’ verdict.”

And who drafted those instructions? Yes, it was that same ACLU lawyer. Bendich had done it again; he had beaten back the forces of censorship. Now norm-breaking poetry and speak-your-mind comedy were safe in San Francisco.

* * * * 

There is, to be sure, more to Al Bendich’s life story than those two landmark First Amendment cases. There is, for example, his many years as counsel for Fantasy Records. And there is also his work on behalf of the constitutional rights of gays (see here, circa 1960), the poor, and the criminally accused.

My last conversation with Al Bendich was about the death penalty. His opposition was deep and passionate. His abiding sense of justice stemmed from multiple sources – his brilliant intellect; his commitment to the constitution and finally, his life experience.

He also spoke with his characteristic humility, but great pride, about his role in litigating one of the  most influential  cases establishing the unconstitutional conditions doctrine for recipients of public benefits, Parrish v. Civil Service Commission. In Parrish the California Supreme Court ruled in the 1960’s that predawn “bed raids” of recipients was a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights, and that the government could not condition continued receipt of public assistance on the forfeiture of constitutional rights. — Dorothy M. Ehrlich, Deputy Executive Director, national ACLU

Remember the First Amendment lawyers 

We think of First Amendment law as synonymous with judge-made law. We know the names of the judges — Holmes and Brandeis, Black and Brennan, etc. — who penned the famous opinions. But what of the lawyers who, like Al Bendich, argued those cases and advanced novel and persuasive arguments? Regrettably, too often they receive too little credit for the work they do. We must do more to remember them, to learn from them, and to share their life stories with new generations of lawyers eager to defend civil rights and civil liberties.

Now he stands tall in the memorial ranks of other First Amendment lawyers — the likes of everyone from Walter H. Pollak to Ephraim London to Stanley Fleishman to Bruce J. Ennis and beyond. They were, after all, the ones who helped to shape the law in ways to make the impossible possible. In the process they gave new and vibrant meaning to the First Amendment.

Farewell 

“Al Bendich contributed so much to the strong protection of free expression in the United States,” said Robert Corn-Revere, a noted First Amendment lawyer. “He had the vision and courage to defend speech that many people found to be unacceptable. I hope this sad occasion will at least move us to remember — and to celebrate — his accomplishments.”

With Al in 2013

With Al in 2013

On a personal note: Al was a dear friend. A year or so ago I was with him in Seattle with David Skover, whose law school hosted a conference at which Al spoke (see video here). And then there was the time when David and I spent a wondrous evening in San Francisco with Al and his wife Pam — chatting away for hours on everything from Alex Meiklejohn to Citizens United to Humanitarian Law ProjectDespite a few differences of views, Al picked up the tab (fancy wine and all). The sparkle in his eye, his gentle grin, his soft tone, and the way he spoke with such an admirable commitment to freedom — I remember it all as I write this.

In my mind’s eye I venture to City Lights Bookstore and see Al and Lawrence Ferlinghetti there — the lawyer and the poet — talking about the need for more insurgent poetry. And I imagine the tall poet leaning over to Al and saying: “Poetry is a radical presence constantly goading us.” Al smiles. “Ah yes, and remember,” he adds, “one of the reasons we have a First Amendment is to safeguard that radical presence.”

One final thought: If you believe in the work that Al Bendich did, if you believe in freedom for radical poets and ribald comics, and if you care about free speech in America, you can do something — exercise your First Amendment rights / help to protect the rights of others (even if you disagree with them) / and support the American Civil Liberties Union (go here to donate) or whatever group (liberal, conservative, or libertarian) that supports the principle of free speech for all.

Farewell Al.

Postscript: See also Michael Tigar, “Al Bendich, Mentor, Lawyer, Friend” (1-8-15)

Posner
0

Posner on Same-Sex Marriage: Then and Now

. . .  I disagree with contentions that the Constitution should be interpreted to require state recognition of homosexual marriage on the ground that it is a violation of equal protection of the laws to discriminate against homosexuals by denying them that right. Given civil unions, and contractual substitutes for marriage even short of civil unions, the discrimination involved in denying the right of homosexual marriage seems to me too slight (though I would not call it trivial) to warrant the courts in bucking strong public opinion . . . . — Richard Posner (2005)

At various points [in oral arguments in the same-sex cases], Judge Posner derided arguments from the Wisconsin and Indiana lawyers as “pathetic,” “ridiculous,” and “absurd.” – David Lat (2014)

This is the ninth installment in the “Posner on Posner” series of posts on Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner. The first installment can be found here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, the fifth here, the sixth here, the seventh here, and the eighth one here.

Following the fourth installment in the Posner on Posner series of posts, someone commented on a point Judge Posner made in response to a question posed to him by Professor Kathryn Watts. That comment is set out below. Following it are excerpts from Judge Posner’s 1997 Michigan Law Review essay critiquing Professor William Eskridge’s The Case for Same-Sex Marriage: From Sexual Liberty to Civilized Commitment (1996). Accompanying them are some excerpts from Judge Posner’s opinion Baskin v. Bogan (7th Cir., Sept. 4, 2104, cert. denied and cert denied sub nom., 135 S. Ct. 316) in which he struck down two state laws banning same-sex marriage.

judgeposner_2010All of this is offered up duly mindful what Judge Posner said in a July of 2014 interview: “I’ve changed my views a lot over the years. I’m much less reactionary than I used to be. I was opposed to homosexual marriage in my book Sex and Reason (1992) [see here re those arguments], which was still the dark ages regarding public opinion of homosexuality. Public opinion changed radically in the years since. My views have changed about a lot of things.”

Of course, those comments from his 2014 interview with Joel Cohen were rendered before the Baskin case came before his court. Since the same-sex marriage cases are not  before the Supreme Court for review, I did not ask the Judge to comment on the matter.

That said, I begin with the online commentators remarks and will thereafter proceed to offer some excerpts:

  1. from Posner’s Sex and Reason (S&R)
  2. his Michigan Law Review essay (MLR)
  3. his Baskin opinion (BB), and
  4. some excerpts from the petition (CP) filed by the Attorney General of Indiana in Baskin since it references Judge Posner’s Michigan Law Review Essay and does so in support of its arguments for reversing the Seventh Circuit’s ruling.

Before offering any excerpts, however, I offer a historical sketch of the legal context in which Judge Posner found himself when he first wrote his book and law review essay and thereafter when he wrote his Baskin opinion.  

(Note: Some of the links below will open in Firefox and Chrome but not in Safari.)

Praise for Posner: On Judges Educating the Public

LGBT (12-3-14)Judge Posner, I am thinking you will probably read comments so I am taking this opportunity to reach out to you and sincerely thank you for your decision on the Wisconsin & Indiana cases on Gay Marriage. Your ruling was a Tour de Force (!) that got quoted & re-quoted all over the gay blogosphere. The lawyers and other Judges will remember other things you did, but the PUBLIC will remember your decision in the Gay Marriage cases. This will be the opinion that will be cited in the History books. And what was REALLY GREAT is how fast you turned it around. It was oral arguments, then BAM! . . .”

“How wrong you are when you say in your interview, ‘it’s unrealistic for judges to try to educate the general public. I don’t think the general public is interested in anything about judicial opinions except who won the case.’ Not in the Gay Marriage cases; the interest is not simply that we won, but WHY we won. Your words have been copied and pasted all over the gay blogosphere. I know that there is one gay website that gets 30 million hits a year, just that one site. Trust me your opinion was read by millions. It wasn’t simply who won, but WHY the gays won. It was validation to them, they read it and felt validated. You told them they were Equal, and that raised a lot of emotions. Tears were shed, a lot of them. People were commenting how they were reading your opinion and crying, it was very emotional for many, many people. Your opinion will most certainly go down in the history books on the history of the Gay Rights Movement. And I thank you deeply for it.”

______________________

The Historical Backdrop

UnknownTurn the clock back to 1992, the time when then Judge Posner published Sex and Reason. That was before the Hawaii Supreme Court’s seminal ruling in Baehr v. Lewin (1993) in which it ruled that denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples violated the equality of rights provision of the state constitution unless the state could demonstrate a compelling interest for such discrimination. And the year before Posner published his Michigan Law Review essay (when Eskridge taught at Georgetown), President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law. Recall, that law permitted the states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages and remained on the books until Section 3 of the Act was declared unconstitutional by a 5-4 margin in United States v. Windsor. In 1999 Vermont Supreme Court took the lead in ordering the state legislature to establish laws permitting same-sex marriages (Baker v. Vermont was the case). In 2000 the Vermont legislature enacted just such a law, making Vermont the first state in the Union to recognize same-sex marriages.

 As for guidance from the Supreme Court, recall that Romer v. Evans (a rather confusing opinion by a divided Court) was handed down in 1996 and Lawrence v. Texas in 2003.

Different Domains: Scholarly Opinions vs Judicial Opinions 

If pursued with characteristic Posnerian relentlessness, [several of his] premises [in Sex and Reason] could yield radically pro-gay policies. But Posner does not press his analysis and, instead, neglects his stated first principles. His treatment of gaylegal issues tends to collapse into well-meaning ad hoc-ness.

[R]epealing sodomy laws and outlawing overt discrimination against bisexuals, gay men, and lesbians are easy cases for a rationalist, libertarian analysis. But a tough-minded cost-benefit analysis [such as the one Posner employs] would not stop with the easiest cases. Recognizing the same constitutional right to privacy for same-sex intimacy as is accorded different-sex intimacy, ending the military’s exclusion of bisexuals, gay men, and lesbians, and requiring states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples are conclusions that are scarcely less compelling under Posner’s first principles. Yet Posner himself rejects or avoids these latter conclusions. And he does not even discuss other issues of profound importance to lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities.                        – William Eskridge (1992)

Professor William Eskridge

Professor William Eskridge

One does not have to defend Richard Posner’s early views on same-sex marriage to concede the obvious: it was a different legal world. Still, a new legal order was emerging as evidenced by two noteworthy pieces by Professor William Eskridge: First, his 1992 Yale Law Journal review essay of Sex and Reason, and second, his 1993 Virginia Law Review article, “A History of Same-Sex Marriage.” And then there was Professor Robin West’s critical 1993 Georgetown Law Journal review essay on Sex and Reason.

 Richard Posner, an intermediate appellate judge, was not then a part of that emerging order. As a jurist he yielded, so he asserted, to the dictates of judicial modesty. While such dictates understandably restricted the direction of his judicial opinions, they need not have dictated the direction of his scholarly opinions in which he often demonstrated a unique cerebral bravado and a willingness to be a maverick in forging creative arguments. Moreover, in his capacity as a public intellectual and legal scholar, Posner was quite outspoken in refuting the critics of his work. See, e.g., his “The Radical Feminist Critique of Sex and Reason” (1993) article. In all of this, it is important to note that Posner nonetheless: (1) favored decriminalizing homosexual sex; (2) endorsed contracts of cohabitation for same-sex couples; and (3) was fine with legislative enactments legalizing same-sex marriage.

Thus, prior to the oral arguments in Baskin v. Bogan and the opinion in that case, what Posner had written in Sex and Reason and in his Michigan Law Review essay gave a meaningful degree of legal legitimacy to the campaign to oppose same-sex marriage. As late as 2004, Posner’s arguments were reproduced in a collection of essays (edited by Andrew Sullivan and first published in 1997) on same sex-marriage. And then there is his 2005 statement quoted at the outset of this post. It took nearly 17 years after the Michigan Law Review essay was published before Judge Posner expressed any significantly different views, first in a 2014 interview and then in a 2014 judicial opinion. Why so long?

A pragmatic reformer is concerned with what works and therefore cannot ignore public opinion or political realities just because the things he wants to change are not rooted in nature but instead are “mere” constructs. — Richard Posner (1995)

Safe Harbor Read More

Posner
1

On Judicial Reputation: More Questions for Judge Posner

Successful people often are insecure (though they may hide their insecurity behind a facade of bluster); it is what drives them to success. – Richard Posner (1994)

We are experts in self-presentation, in acting a part to further our aims and interests. We have, all of us, a public relations strategy.  Richard Posner (May 5, 2011)

I have never yearned for greatness!  Richard Posner (November 26, 2014)

This is the eighth installment in the “Posner on Posner” series of posts on Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner. The first installment can be found here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, the fifth here, the sixth here, and the seventh one here.

In Judge Richard Posner’s The Essential Holmes, he echoed a line from Oliver Wendell Holmes concerning John Marshall. This is that line: “A great man represents a great ganglion in the nerves of society, or to vary the figure, a strategic point in the campaign of history, and part of his greatness consists in his being there.”

Holmes’s resort to the word “ganglion” (meaning a swelling, or mass of nerve cell bodies, or a nerve cell cluster) is rather opaque — his use of the term is not readily apparent. But to tease the Holmesian metaphor out a bit, part of a judge’s greatness depends on a willingness and ability to successfully affect or change the nerve center of a society. In other words, a true capacity to alter something central. The alternative Holmesian account of greatness hinges on a combination of strategy and timing (or one might say Fortuna). That is, judicial reputation depends on a special ability to seize the perfect moment and act boldly – the case of John Marshall, circa, 1803, comes immediately to mind.

Surprisingly, to talk with Richard Posner one might assume from what he says in his all-too-causal manner that he has little or no interest in greatness or judicial reputation as it pertains to him. Strange from a man who has written on book on judicial reputation (not to be confused, he tells us, with judicial greatness) and who in so many ways seems to have a will for greatness. But don’t believe it, he admonishes us emphatically: “I have never yearned for greatness!”  

According to Judge Posner, Cardozo was a highly reputed jurist and Holmes was a great jurist. But what of Posner? Silence. Apparently, he doesn’t care to discuss it. Why? Perhaps because as a maverick jurist (and he is surely that), he cannot appear to seek public approval. And yet, if one were to invoke his own criteria for measuring judicial reputation, Judge Posner would rank quite high. (See e.g., Ronald Collins & David O’Brien, “Gauging Reputations, National Law Journal, pp. 13-14, April 1, 1991, and Lawrence Cunningham, “Cardozo and Posner: A Study in Contracts,” William & Mary Law Review (1985).) Fine, he might say, brushing it off with a disinterested look. And what of his legal legacy? Of that he claims to care not: “I have absolutely no interest in my posthumous reputation,” he assures us.

So there you have him: a great jurist (or should I say a highly reputed jurist?) who really does not care a bit about being seen as great. Speaking of that subject, see Richard Posner, “The Hand Biography and the Question of Judicial Greatness,” 104 Yale Law Journal 511, (1994).

All that said, in what follows, Judge Posner says a few things about these matters in connection with various American jurists.

Note: Some of the links used below will open in Firefox and Chrome but not in Safari.

____________________________________

Max Lerner

Max Lerner

Question: In his book Nine Scorpions in a Bottle (1994), the late Max Lerner asserted: “There is no recipe for judicial greatness. Yet, if hard-pressed, I should settle for someone with a flexible mind, a compassion for the walking wounded, a refusal to be cowed by power, a capacity to live with the contradictions of life and to separate the permanent from the transient.” And then he added: “That is what I should call a passionately judicial temperament, and only a few have had it.” Before we turn to your own particular views on the subject, what is your opinion of Mr. Lerner’s recipe (albeit tentative) for judicial greatness?

Posner: [As for Lerner’s formula for greatness, I find it] a little puffed up. Forget greatness. A very good judge is a judge who is well educated and intelligent, hard working, willing to write his own opinions, curious about the real-world activities, transactions, and institutions out of which the cases he hears arise, collegial, and aware (so far as anyone can be aware) of his limitations and of the influences that play on him as a result of his upbringing, ideology, career, and temperament.

Posner on the Criteria for Judicial Greatness

For one thing the criteria of judicial greatness are contested. Some might insist that a judge’s greatness consists in the “rightness” of his decisions as judged by the test of time. I think that this is too demanding a standard. Most judicial decisions, even of the agreed-to-be-the-greatest judges, like most scientific discoveries, even of the universally acknowledged greatest scientists, usually are superseded and in that sense eventually proved “wrong.” I believe that the test of greatness for the substance of judicial decisions, therefore, should be, as in the case of science, the contribution that the decisions make to the development of legal rules and principles rather than whether the decision is a “classic” having the permanence and perfection of a work of art. . . Creativity is .  . . one possible criterion ofjudicial greatness. Another . . . . is the gift of verbal facility that enables a familiar proposition to be expressed memorably, arrestingly, thus enforcing attention, facilitating comprehension, and, often, stimulating new thought (in which case the expressive dimension of judicial greatness merges with the creative). [Source here]

Question: Almost a quarter-century ago you called on scholars to pay considerably more attention to “critical judicial study” by way of quantitative analysis of judicial reputation, influence, and achievement. Do you think that call has been heeded?

Posner: A little, not a great deal.

UnknownQuestion: The quantitative analysis you employed in Cardozo: A Study in Reputation (1990) turned largely, and understandably so, on a judge’s reputation within the legal community. But greatness surely extends beyond the confines of that domain and into the larger public realm. How is judicial reputation to be gauged at that macro level? And how does that pursuit of greatness differ, if at all, from one confined to the legal community?

Posner: No one outside the legal profession (with the intermittent exception of politicians) is interested in judges other than Supreme Court Justices. I don’t think it’s healthy for judges to worry about what lay people think of them.

Question: Most judges, you contend, “would rather be regarded as sound than as original, as appliers of the law rather than inventors of it. Judges find it politic to pretend that they are the slaves of the law, never its masters and the competitors of legislators.” If a judge takes that creed of moderation seriously, is such a jurist likely to be heralded as great?

Posner: As I said earlier, forget greatness. The judges who adopt the pretense will be respected by many other judges and applauded by legislators, who don’t like the idea of judges making law, though judges to make a great deal of law.

Question: You have suggested that “rhetorical power may be a more important attribute of judicial excellence than analytical power.” Why? And should that be so?

Posner: The analytical issues presented by cases are rarely complex or difficult, though lawyers and judges and law professors try to make them seem so. The insights of the excellent judges tend to be the result of intuition, experience, and temperament rather than of analysis, and the rhetorical power in which they are expressed are important to the persuasiveness and reception of the insights.

None of the [current Justices] has any empirical, technical background. They’re just humanities majors. Richard Posner, Oct. 23, 2014, University of Chicago Law School remarks.

Question: In terms of his position in American law, what single trait do you think best helps to explain Chief Justice John Marshall’s revered and lasting reputation?

Posner: He had a great deal of common sense and government experience, and he wrote forcefully and lucidly.

Justice Joseph Story

Justice Joseph Story

Question: By the time he died in 1845, Justice Joseph Story published twenty-one books after his three-volume Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, which was a major legal work for its time and long afterwards. And he authored some important opinions such as Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee (1816), Swift v. Tyson (1842), and Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842). And yet, today the man and his work seem to be largely forgotten. Why do you suppose that is?

Posner: I don’t know. I’ve never read anything by him. Prompted by your question, I read his opinion in Swift v. Tyson. I thought it was well written, though not as well written as Marshall’s opinions.

[RC: Consider Bernard Schwartz, “Supreme Court Superstars: The Ten Greatest Justices” (1995) (ranking Story as second greatest Justice.]

Question: I was struck by how much the reputational stock of some of the judges and scholars you listed in Tables 1-4 of your Cardozo book has dropped since you published that work in 1990. Is judicial reputation thus akin, at least in some general way, to the rise-and-fall celebrity stardom of, say, the Michael Jackson variety? If so, how does a judge best secure a reputation that lasts over generational time?

Posner: The decline is experienced by almost all judges, simply because law changes as society changes, and the old cases cease to have any relevance. Well-written opinions have the best survival chances, because the quality of the writing is independent of the currency or importance of the issues.

Question: The filaments of Holmes’ thought, you maintain, included “Nietzschean vitalism.” Tell us more about that and why you think it important. Read More