Category: General Law


Happy Constitution Day!

On this solemn anniversary I ask that the American people rejoice in the wisdom of their Constitution.  I ask that they guarantee the effectiveness of each of its parts by living by the Constitution as a whole.  I ask that they have faith in its ultimate capacity to work out the problems of democracy, but that they justify that faith by making it work now rather than twenty years from now.  I ask that they give their fealty to the Constitution itself and not to its misinterpreters.  I ask that they exalt the glorious simplicity of its purposes, rather than a century of complicated legalism.  I ask that majorities and minorities subordinate intolerance and power alike to the common good of all.  For us the Constitution is a common bond, without bitterness, for those who see America as Lincoln saw it, ‘the last, best hope of earth.’  So we revere it, not because it is old but because it is ever new, not in the worship of its past alone but in the faith of the living who keep it young, now and in the years to come.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Constitution Day Address (1937)


Alexander Hamilton on a Bill of Rights

105px-Hamilton_smallWhat was the original understanding of a bill of rights?  This is one of the questions that my next book will address.  A useful source is Federalist #84, in which Hamilton defended the Constitution against the criticism that it lacked a bill of rights.  Most people know this essay because of his claim that a bill of rights was dangerous because it implied the existence of powers not enumerated.  But Hamilton also said a good deal about what a bill of rights was that gets overlooked.

First, Hamilton attacked Anti-Federalists in New York as hypocrites for lamenting the absence of a federal bill of rights given that the New York Constitution did not have one.  In his description of that fact, Hamilton wrote that “the constitution of New York has no bill of rights prefixed to it.”  The word prefix is critical, because all of the state bills of rights in 1788 came at the start of those constitutions.  Madison wanted something similar in one of the amendments that he proposed in 1789, but Congress rejected a prefix in favor of a suffix.  This partly explains why nobody called the first set of ratified amendments a bill of rights at the time.

Second, Hamilton dismissed the importance of state bill of rights by calling them “aphorisms . . . which would sound much better in a treatise of ethics than in a constitution of governments.”  The upshot, however, is that “aphorisms” were what people in 1788 expected in a bill of rights.  Once again, the first set of amendments lacked those abstract statements, which is why people did not consider it a bill of rights.

Finally, Hamilton anticipated the modern argument that the first two points should not matter.  He said that the Constitution was “in every rational sense, and to every useful purpose, A BILL OF RIGHTS.”  Hamilton went on to explain that the purpose of a bill of rights was to “declare and specify the political privileges of the citizen” and “to define certain immunities and modes of proceeding, which are relative to personal and private concerns.”  While he conceded that someone could say that the Constitution did not go far enough in both respects, the mode of setting forth these guarantees was “immaterial” and “rests merely on verbal and nominal distinctions.”  In other words, who cares whether the bill of rights is a prefix or contains general aphorisms like “All men are born free and equal?”

The answer is that most people in 1791 did care about these formalities.  So did most people in 1868, though John Bingham was a notable exception.  It was only around 1900 that people started adopting Hamilton’s pragmatic view, though the reasons for that change are complex.


Local Government and Global Urbanization

The world’s future looks to be an urban one. The United Nations estimates that by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities. The planet’s urban population will increase from about 2.5 billion to over six billion, with ninety percent of that growth estimated to occur in Africa and Asia.  The growth of these cities, particularly in the developing world, will undoubtedly present a host of new challenges for local governments.

ranchos-de-caracas-810983-mEd Glaeser, one of the most important and interesting urban thinkers today, recently authored a great essay in City Journal about the rise of mega-cities in poor and developing countries, cities like Kinshasa, Caracas (pictured) and Lagos. His essay provides much food for thought about how these cities emerged, the issues they will confront, and how they can draw on the American experience with urbanization for some solutions.

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31.1 (First Amendment News) Proposed amendment to 1st Amendment fails — A brief history of it all

We must preserve our Bill of Rights including our rights to free speech. We must not allow officials to diminish and ration that right. We must not let this proposal become the supreme law of the land. – Senator Chuck Grassley, Sept. 10, 2014

Text of First Amendment on stone tablet facing Pennsylvania Avenue -- the Newseum, Washington, D.C.

Text of First Amendment on stone tablet facing Pennsylvania Avenue — the Newseum

It’s over now, the campaign to amend the First Amendment. The Democratic-led effort died in the Senate yesterday by a vote of 54-42. Thankfully, the constitutional theatrics have ended and the 1791 text remains safe, at least from any Article V threat by lawmakers.

Not surprisingly, reports Burgess Everett writing in Politico, “Senate Republicans unanimously rejected a constitutional amendment sought by Democrats that would allow Congress to regulate campaign finance reform. . . . The failure of the proposal followed a surprising result on Monday, when the measure advanced past an initial filibuster despite broad GOP opposition to the measure.”

“Grassley and two dozen other Senate Republicans voted to advance the bill,” added Everett, “to blunt Democrats’ plans to hold a second round of campaign-flavored Democratic votes on proposals aimed at raising the minimum wage, overturning the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, chipping away at gender pay disparities and reforming the student loan system.”

After the vote, Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said: “Today, Senate Republicans clearly showed that they would rather sideline hardworking families in order to protect the Koch brothers and other radical interests that are working to fix our elections and buy our democracy.” Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) had a quite different view: “The proposed amendment would restrict the most important speech the First Amendment protects, core political speech. It’s hard to imagine what would be more radical than the Congress passing a constitutional amendment to overturn a dozen Supreme Court decisions that have protected individual rights. Free speech would be dramatically curtailed.” (See also text of Senator Grassley’s floor statement.)

Looking back: Justice Stevens takes the stage 

The constitutional campaign movement got a big boost last April when Justice John Paul Stevens proposed an amendment to the First Amendment. Remember, he did so in his book Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the ConstitutionHis proposed amendment provided:

Neither the First Amendment nor any other provision of this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the Congress or any state from imposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns.

On April 30, 2014, Justice Stevens testified before a Senate Rules Committee at which he read a statement in defense of his proposed amendment.

Looking back:  The Leahy hearing  Read More



My springboard today is a post about the AALS (Am. Assn of Law Schools) asking whether law schools really need the AALS and perhaps that law schools can cut from their budget their annual fee to it. My accounting supports this view.

First, my own use of the AALS, then an accounting if its pursuits. The central themes in the AALS annual meetings are never about anything relevant to my scholarship, bankruptcy and securities, and they are at an inconvenient time of the year for me, so I miss most annual conferences. As a new teacher, however, I recall obtaining some value from going to one of the AALS new teacher conferences.

From my glance at the central themes of the 15 meetings at the AALS website (appended below) I restate their focus as dealing with a changing world and producing desirable legal change with a constant underscoring of the centrality of diversity.

Deal with change, produce desirable change, and maintain pluralism? If those were truly the central themes of the conferences, I should be elated. It sounds exactly right, no? Why are we all so jaded about the AALS?

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Cognitive Biases, the Legal Academy, and the Judiciary

It’s a pleasure to be here at Concurring Opinions.  I would like to thank Dan, Sarah, and Ron for inviting me.  During my visit, I hope to talk a bit about my core research areas of land use and local government law (including why you, who are statistically unlikely to be interested in either land use or local government law, should be interested), but also about other issues such as the current state of the legal academy and the legal profession, often using land use or local government law to examine these broader issues.

On Cognitive Biases

On that last note, recently ran a great piece by Katy Waldman regarding how the human brain processes information, observing that people have a predilection to believe factual claims that we find easy to process.  Waldman synthesizes the results of several interesting studies, including one eye-opening study that identifies three persistent cognitive biases that humans possess.  As Waldman summarizes these biases: “First, we reflexively attribute people’s behavior to their character rather than their circumstances.” Second, “we learn more easily when knowledge is arranged hierarchically, so in a pinch we may be inclined to accept fixed status and gender roles.” And third, “we tend to assume that persisting and long-standing states are good and desirable, which stirs our faith in the status quo absent any kind of deep reflection.” The studygreen-lizard-1427838-s attributes these biases to the basic human need, rooted in the primitive recesses of our lizard brain (pictured), to manage uncertainty and risk.

While Waldman argues that there is some relationship between these biases and conservative political beliefs, what struck me about these findings is how well the biases describe judicial behavior.

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The Supreme Court and the Bill of Rights

As part of the research for my next book, I want to correct something that I said earlier.  I’ve written that the Supreme Court did not call the first set of amendments a bill of rights until 1893.  Turns out that is not quite right.  It was 1897.

For eighteenth and nineteenth century Americans, a bill of rights was something that you put at the beginning of a constitution and that declared general principles in the style of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (for example, “All men are by nature equally free and independent . . .”).  Since the constitutional amendments ratified in 1791 did not look like that, hardly anybody called it a bill of rights.  Justice Story (riding circuit) said in the 1830s that the first set of amendments were “in the nature of a bill of rights,” and a few people did use that lukewarm formulation after that.  In 1893, the Supreme Court repeated this for the first time, but there was a difference between “a bill of rights” and “in the nature [meaning just sort] of a bill of rights.”  I had not picked up on that distinction until recently.

Thus, the first Supreme Court decision that used the modern terminology was Robertson v. Baldwin, an 1897 case which said that “[t]he law is perfectly well settled that the first 10 amendments to the constitution, commonly known as the Bill of Rights . . . “


Originalism and Irrationality

A thought that occurred to me as I was reading Judge Posner’s opinion on same-sex marriage concerns the relationship between originalism and rational basis review.  Here are my questions:

1.  What is the originalist basis for saying that any irrational law is unconstitutional?  Are there Founding-era cases or authorities that support that proposition?  How about cases from the late 1860s?

2.  If not, then rational basis review must be an exception to originalism.  After all, a court undertaking that inquiry does not ask whether a law was rational given the perspective of 1787, 1791, 1868, etc.  Instead, judges are asked to decide whether a law is rational now.  How is that exception justified?



CJ Katzmann speaks at NYU Law on new statutory interpretation book

Dean Trevor Morrison and Chief Judge Robert Katzmann

Dean Trevor Morrison and Chief Judge Robert Katzmann at N.Y.U. Law School

Robert A. Katzmann, Chief Judge of the Second Circuit, visited New York University Law School last evening to speak on his new book Judging Statutes (Oxford University Press, 2014).

The book grew out of a Madison Lecture Katzmann delivered at the Law School on October 18, 2011. Adam Liptak, of the New York Times, heard the lecture and urged the Judge to expand it into a book.

The format for the well-attended event was an interview by Dean Trevor Morrison followed by questions from the audience. Dean Morrison asked a series of questions concerning statutory interpretation — questions ranging from the importance of presidential signing statements to discerning congressional intent of omnibus legislation covering a vast array of topics sans much, if any, legislative record.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was among those attending the event at which the Chief Judge autographed books.

 Chief Judge Katzmann was also recently interviewed by Brian Lamb on C-SPAN.

→ On Tuesday September 23rd, the Chief Judge will speak at Georgetown Law School. Here is the schedule for that upcoming event:

4:30 – 5:00 p.m.

  • William M. Treanor, Dean, Georgetown University Law Center
  • Robert A. Katzmann, Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit

5:00 – 5:30 p.m.
 Panel Discussion

  • M. Douglass Bellis, Senior Counsel, Office of the Legislative Counsel, U.S. House of Representatives
  • Adam Liptak, Supreme Court Correspondent, The New York Times
  • David Vladeck, Professor, Georgetown University Law Center


  • David S. Mao, Law Librarian of Congress

 See also Jeffrey Toobin, “Will Textualism Kill Obamacare?,” The New Yorker, Sept. 3, 2014.


FAN 30. 3 (First Amendment News) Senate votes to begin debate on proposed amendment to First Amendment

This from Susan Ferrechio  writing in the Washington Examiner:

“The Senate voted Monday to begin debate on an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would grant Congress and the states the power to imagesregulate campaign finance.The measure cleared a procedural hurdle by a vote of 79-18. It was authored by Democrats, who had anticipated it would be blocked by GOP opposition. But Republicans voted to move ahead with debate, turning what was supposed to be a Democratic messaging bill against the Democrats.”

 This from Ramsey Cox writing for The Hill:

“The Senate on Monday advanced a constitutional amendment meant to reverse two recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign spending.Republicans are likely to vote against the amendment when it comes up for a final vote, but by allowing it to proceed, ensured that it will tie up the Senate for most of the week.More than 20 Republicans joined Democrats in the 79-18 vote advancing the amendment, well over the 60 votes that were needed. The amendment is almost certain to fail, as it would need to win two-thirds support to pass the Senate, and then would still need to move through the House and be ratified by two-thirds of the states.”

“‘We should have debate on this important amendment,’ Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said before voting for cloture. ‘The majority should be made to answer why they want to silence critics.’ Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he would gladly debate the issue for as long as Republicans require because the amendment is necessary to keep ‘dark money’ out of politics.”

→ This from Burgess Everett writing for Politico:

“Several Senate Republicans joined Democrats on Monday to advance a constitutional amendment that would give Congress and the states greater power to regulate campaign finance. But the bipartisanship ends there. Many of the Republicans only voted for the bill to foul up Democrats’ pre-election messaging schedule, freezing precious Senate floor time for a measure that ultimately has no chance of securing the two-thirds support necessary in both the House and Senate to amend the Constitution. The legislation needed 60 votes to advance and Democrats took a cynical view of the 79-18 tally.”

“Ahead of the vote, [Senator Bernie] Sanders and other pro-reform Democrats like [Senators] Al Franken of Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Tom Udall of New Mexico held a rally on the Capitol grounds with amendment supporters and supporting groups like People for the American Way, Common Cause and Public Citizen. The crowd was a solid mix of reporters and demonstrators with signs reading “Democracy is not for sale.”

For commentary, see:

→ Tom Udall & Bernie Sanders, “The Threat to American Democracy,” Politico, Sept. 7, 2014

→ Geoffrey Stone, “The Rift in the ACLU Over Free Speech,” Huffington Post, Sept, 8, 2014 (see also here re ACLU controversy)