Author: Gerard Magliocca

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Formal Bills of Rights vs. Instrumental Ones

Below the fold I will post the Introduction of my revised paper, which I’m tentatively calling “The Bill of Rights Reconsidered.”  (It’s not a great title, but it’s good enough for now.)  As some readers may recall, last year I drafted a paper that focused on how Franklin D. Roosevelt elevated the status of the Bill of Rights in the 1930s.  Once I decided to turn this project into a book, I realized that my draft was inadequate.  It noted that most people did not call the first set of amendments a bill of rights until the 1890s, but did not offer an explanation for that curious fact.  I also did not explain why the terminology starting changing around 1900.  Those were pretty significant holes, but now I think that I have got them covered.

A theme of the paper is that our understanding of a bill of rights moved from a formal definition in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to a practical one in the twentieth and twenty-first.  Alexander Hamilton anticipated this change in Federalist #84, which I think has been misread for a long time.  (More on that later this week.)

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William Jennings Bryan and the Bill of Rights

91px-W.J._Bryan_cropI’ve made an interesting discovery about the history of the Bill of Rights that I want to share.  In prior posts, I’ve noted that people did not start commonly calling the first set of amendments a bill of rights until around 1900.  One step in that direction was when Congress created a territorial government for the Philippines in 1902 and gave some of the guarantees of the first set of amendments to that colony (though the Act did not call this part of a bill of rights, the Supreme Court did in 1904).  More broadly, the Court’s cases on Puerto Rico and the Philippines define the bill of rights in the modern sense more often (though they did not speak to the importance of the bill of rights in the way that we do).

In observing all of this, my initial thought was that there might be a connection between the transformation of the bill of rights and colonialism.  The acquisition of colonies was controversial at the time, and extending basic rights could have been a way to satisfy critics and quell the rebellion that was ongoing in the Philippines.  But is there any evidence  that people cared about this issue then?

I think so.  A month after William Jennings Bryan was nominated for president by the Democratic Party in 1900, he gave his acceptance speech in Indianapolis.  (In those days, presidential candidates did not accept their nomination at the convention.)  Most of Bryan’s speech was an attack on imperialism, and he stated his line of attack this way:

There is no place in our system of government for the deposit of arbitrary and irresponsible power. That the leaders of a great party should claim for any president or congress the right to treat millions of people as mere “possessions” and deal with them unrestrained by the constitution or the bill of rights shows how far we have already departed from the ancient landmarks and indicates what may be expected if this nation deliberately enters upon a career of empire.

Why is this important?  As far as I can tell, this is the first time that any major presidential candidate said anything about the bill of rights as we understand that term.  Moreover, Bryan made the issue that Congress addressed two years later–colonies could not be governed without the protection of (at least part of) the bill of rights.  Bryan, in essence, made the definition of the first set of amendments as a bill of rights into a significant political issue.

 

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“Unpublished” Supreme Court Orders

Supreme Court watchers are expressing some consternation about the Court’s willingness to take significant steps in recent cases (same-sex marriage, abortion, and voting rights) without explanation.  This is especially true with respect to granting or denying stays, though in the same-sex marriage cases that concern extends to the denial of certiorari.  What in blazes is going on here, they ask?  Doesn’t the Court owe us some explanation?

I wonder if the Justices should consider an option used in the circuit courts–an unpublished order–to provide more transparency in these situations.  One can understand why the Court would not want to use a published opinion to explain a decision about a stay (which is only a preliminary or tentative act) or the denial of certiorari (as that would set a precedent without the benefit of full briefing and argument).  I can, though, imagine doing so through an order that says “this may not be cited as precedent” if the Court felt an explanation was necessary.  Granted, people would still try to cite these orders (as a law clerk, I often saw attorneys citing unpublished orders), but a norm could develop that would make these statements non-binding.

Most of the discretionary actions that the Court takes would not warrant an explanation (certiorari denials, petitions for rehearing, original habeas petitions), but there is the occasional exception.  Right now only a dissenter can open a window into what goes on with respect to these important choices.  I’m not sure that is always good enough.

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One More Thing on Redistricting . . .

The Court has held that a state can use a referendum as part of its redistricting process.  See Davis v. Hildebrandt, 241 U.S. 565 (1916).  In Davis, a referendum was used to reject a redistricting plan drawn up by the Ohio Legislature.  Thus, one cannot say that Article One, Section 4 prohibits states from using a referendum to limit the Legislature in this context.  Maybe the Legislature must be the one to draft the redistricting plan–the difference in the Arizona case is that the Legislature is not permitted to draft anything.  But clearly the Legislature does not have the exclusive power to redistrict or the final say over redistricting.  Is drafting really so different?

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The Law of the Land

I thought I would flag the fact that Akhil Amar has a new book coming out that is available for pre-order on Amazon.  Here is the summary of The Law of the Land:  A Grand Tour of Our Constitutional Republic:

From Illinois to Alabama, and from Florida to Utah, our laws and legal debates arise from distinctive local settings within our vast and varied nation. As the renowned scholar Akhil Amar explains, Abraham Lincoln’s argument against the legality of succession can be traced to his Midwestern upbringing, just as a close look at the Florida legislature and state Supreme Court reveals the fundamental wrongness of the Bush v. Gore decision.

Amar profiles Alabama’s Hugo Black, the dominant constitutional jurist of the twentieth century, and California’s Anthony Kennedy, the powerful swing justice on the current Court. He probes Brown v. Board of Education, and explores the divisiveness of the Second and Fourth Amendments. An expert guide to America’s constitutional landscape, Amar sheds new light on American history and politics and shows how America’s legal tradition unites a vast and disparate land.

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More on Arizona State Legislature–Reply to Mike Ramsey

The always insightful Mike Ramsey has posted about my posts about the Arizona State Legislature case.  I thought I would offer a couple of further comments.

In several places the Constitution clearly says that only “the Legislature” can do something.  For the regulation of congressional districts, though, the Constitution says that “[T]he Times, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.”  I submit that this is not clear as Mike suggests.  Why is that?  Because governors have always had the power to veto redistricting plans (as the Supreme Court held in Smiley v. Holm and as the practice was going back to the Founding), whereas they have not had the power to veto, for example, ratifications of constitutional amendments under Article V.  As a result, Article I, Section IV must mean “prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof” consistent with the lawmaking process set forth in the state constitution.

Does this principle include a state constitution that drastically reduces the Legislature’s role in an unprecedented way?  I’m not sure.  The Arizona scheme may go too far given the text and the Court’s holding in Holm, but I don’t see an originalist ground to object.  Were the Framers opposed to state referenda for regulating elections?  I doubt that you can find any evidence for that.  In that sort of vacuum, I think it is relevant to point out the policy implications of saying that the remedy for partisan gerrymandering lies only with the legislature doing the partisan gerrymandering.  That is not, as Mike says, “purely an argument from policy.”  Moreover, Congress could have exercised its Article I, Section 4 powers to bar independent commissions mandated by a state constitution for redistricting.  It has not done so.  A judicial decision doing so would (as I said in my last post) create a “Dormant Elections Clause,” which I do not think is consistent with any original understanding.

All of this leads me to the conclusion (albeit marginally) that the Arizona plan is constitutional.  What would change my mind?  Probably learning something relevant about the history of state regulation of redistricting or the reasons behind the Framers’ choice to give Congress and state legislatures joint ownership over this power.  So we’ll see what the briefs have to say.

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Vaccination Negligence

I thought I’d offer some thoughts on an issue that is starting to get attention:  Should parents who choose not to vaccinate their children against standard childhood illnesses (measles, mumps, whooping cough) be held liable if their child makes someone else’s child sick with one of these diseases?  For purposes of this discussion, let’s make two assumptions.  First, the choice not to vaccinate was not made for religious reasons.  (That presents a more complex problem.)  Second, there is no contributory negligence (in those jurisdictions) or significant comparative negligence (in jurisdictions that bar recovery when plaintiff is more negligent than defendant) by the parents of the sick child.

The most plausible factual scenario goes something like this.  Plaintiff’s child is too young to be vaccinated fully against a disease or cannot be vaccinated for some unavoidable reason.  This child is exposed to defendant’s child, who is old enough for full vaccination but was not given vaccine and is a host for the disease.  The choice not to give vaccine is made because of concern about the risks that vaccines pose, the belief that they increase the chance of becoming autistic, or some other non-religious reason.Now the question that will generate the most controversy is whether parents are negligent for not vaccinating their child under these circumstances.  I want, though, to focus on how the causation issue would play out.  How would a plaintiff show that exposure to defendant’s child was the cause of the disease?

Here we face an ironic problem.  One thought behind vaccination is “herd protection.”  The idea is that if everyone in a given population who can be inoculated is inoculated then it is far less likely that those who cannot get vaccinated will get sick.  (You can argue that those who are not vaccinating are free riding on those who do.)  When it comes to legal liability, though, herd protection favors those who choose not to vaccinate.  The more children there are like that, the harder it will be for a plaintiff to show but-for cause with respect to any individual child.

How should courts deal with that?  Is the answer that these claims should be viable when a plaintiff can prove that only one child could have exposed his or her child to measles?  Or should we shift the burden of proof to defendants?  Is this a Summers v. Tice situation (at least if we could narrow culpability to a few children)  That question depends, in part, on how bad we think not vaccinating is.  Generally the more egregious the wrong, the more likely we are to extend the scope of causation to hold the wrongdoer liable.

Anyway, I’m sure this will be litigated at some point, and it’s a topic to watch.

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More on Redistricting

Another way of looking at the Arizona State Legislature case is that the Constitution should be read to limit the freedom of states to take decisions that affect the structure or composition of the national government.  This rationale is advanced in some of the cases that discuss different uses of the word “legislature,” so let’s explore some examples.

1.  The ratification and proposal of constitutional amendments.  Article Five provides that Congress gets to decide how a constitutional amendment is ratified (either through state legislatures or conventions).  Article Five also specifies that only state legislatures may petition Congress for a second constitutional convention.  In neither instance may a state choose another method (say, by giving the Governor a role, using the initiative process, etc.)  Why?  I suppose because these are national (rather than local) decisions and thus the nation gets to choose the means.

2.  The election of Senators prior to the Sixteenth Amendment.  Only state legislatures could pick senators.  A state could not write its constitution to use another method.  Senators, of course, are national officials.

3.  The creation of new states from existing states.  Article Four says that this cannot be done without the consent of the relevant state legislatures.  Creating new states, of course, has a profound effect on the national government.

Why do I bring these up?  You could say that congressional redistricting is an example of a state action that directly affects the composition of Congress.  As a result, the Constitution’s statement that this “shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof” does limit a state’s ability to use some other method like an independent body.  On the other hand, Article One, Section expressly gives Congress the power to override a state decision of this sort.  As a result, you could say that if Congress does not prohibit what a state does in this regard then the Constitution should not be read to impose an independent barrier.  in other words, there is no “Dormant Elections Clause.”

Just food for thought.

 

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Upcoming Talk in DC

I’ll be giving a talk on John Bingham to The Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia on Tuesday, December 16th.  If you are interested in attending, here is the information.

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The Same-Sex Marriage Cases

Just a quick thought about the Court’s certiorari denials today.  All eyes now turn to the Sixth Circuit, where a case is pending that could produce an opinion upholding same-sex marriage prohibitions.  Depending on when that opinion comes down, the Supreme Court could resolve the constitutional issue this Term.  Or perhaps next Term.

Or not. The Sixth Circuit rarely misses an opportunity to go en banc.  If the panel opinion is taken en banc, then who knows when that opinion would reach the Justices.  Perhaps the losers in the Sixth Circuit will not request en banc review (I don’t know if the Sixth ever goes en banc sua sponte), but that is far from clear.

Bottom line–don’t expect a Supreme Court decision on this until 2016 at the earliest.  That might be bad news the Republican presidential nominee, who may have to take an unpopular stand saying no to same-sex marriage into the general election.