In the discussions surrounding the recent Supreme Court appointments, it seems that the big judicial no-no is to “legislate from the bench.” Orin Kerr has an interesting post about the ambiguity of this phrase as used by the White House. What exactly does “legislating from the bench” mean?
Currently, the phrase “legislating from the bench” means little more than “I know it when I see it.” Despite being thrown about rather vaguely and carelessly, the notion of not legislating from the bench appears to be based on a particular approach toward constitutional interpretation, one that I will call the “principled conservative process-based approach.” By “process-based,” I am referring to conservatives who seek to articulate an approach toward judging–a method–not just a set of results they desire for particular cases.
So what is the method? As I understand it, the method involves a combination of at least three elements: (1) a reluctance to stray beyond the constitutional text or a commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to original intent or a combination of both; (2) a posture of judicial deference toward the Legislative and Executive Branches, as well as other government institutions; (3) a respect for precedent and a Burkean view toward making radical changes in the law.
Far too often, the conservative process-based approach is thought and spoken about with Roe v. Wade in mind. But I wonder what applying the conservative process-based approach would have meant for some of the other famous Supreme Court cases of the past century. Consider the following cases: