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Originalism in Noel Canning, Part I

One striking aspect of Noel Canning is the unexpected role that original meaning plays. The majority emphasizes historical practice and the policies embedded in the relevant constitutional provisions; the concurrence urges a sharp focus on original meaning. Yet the majority opinion comes very close to reflecting what we know about the original meaning of the Recess Appointments Clause, while the concurrence has little basis in the evidence on original meaning.

Let’s start with the “recess” issue. In a forthcoming article, I demonstrate that the evidence cuts overwhelmingly against the notion that the original meaning of “recess” (or “the recess”) was limited to “inter-session” breaks. The majority fails to cite some useful evidence on this point, but its analysis is sound. It recognizes that ratification-era dictionaries do not distinguish between intra- and inter-session recesses and that the word “recess” was used broadly to refer to all types of legislative breaks. Also, historical practice has long reflected an understanding that “recess” applies to both intra-session and inter-session breaks.

The concurrence claims there is “strikingly little support” for the assertion that “the recess” was used to refer to intra-session breaks. But by my count, nine ratification-era constitutions use the term without limiting it to inter-session breaks, as do many state legislative enactments. There are executive-branch examples as well, such as when the Governor of New Jersey sent a message to the legislature in 1754 referring to a coming intra-session break as “the Recess.” Thomas Jefferson’s 1801 Manual of Parliamentary Practice and Blackstone’s Commentaries also use “recess” in a broad sense. In fact, there is virtually no evidence that “recess” or “the recess” was restricted to inter-session recess. The usage examples put forward to support that position usually refer to particular recesses that happen to have been inter-session. Of course, the fact that inter-session recesses were called “the recess” does not mean that other recesses weren’t also called “the recess.” As we have seen, they were.

Beyond the usage examples, a bit of analysis carries the point further. In the ratification era, New Jersey enumerated its sessions annually. During an annual session, the legislature might hold multiple work periods, which it called “sittings.” Sittings were separated by recesses that modern observers would call “intra-session” breaks. This practice looks a lot like the contemporary Senate’s, except that the New Jersey legislature had an official name for its intra-session work periods—sittings—and the modern Senate does not (colloquially, senators call them “work periods”). By contrast, Massachusetts called each sitting a new “session” and often had multiple sessions in a single year. As a result, in modern parlance an identical break would be “intra-session” in New Jersey and “inter-session” in Massachusetts. Given this variation in state practice, it seems unlikely that the Constitution adopts any particular definition of “recess” or “session.” How could we know whether it adopted that of New Jersey or Massachusetts? Wouldn’t the ratifiers in each state have viewed the Clause differently?

The concurrence ignores virtually all of this evidence. It dismisses New Jersey’s usage in a footnote without any clear explanation.

The next question regarding “recess” is how to cabin the term so that it doesn’t extend to, say, lunch breaks. There are a few possible responses. One is to take the Constitution at face value and hold that because it doesn’t set a limit, the courts needn’t worry about generating one. It is not obvious that the courts must limit recesses rather than permit the political branches to negotiate the term, constrained by the political process and the ballot box.

A similar response is to recognize that the Senate controls the “Rules of its Proceedings” and therefore can define its recesses, within reason, to protect itself from executive encroachment.

A final response is to identify features of breaks that make them constitutionally significant “recesses.” Both the majority and the concurrence take this route in Noel Canning. The concurrence decides that inter-session breaks count and intra-session breaks do not, despite scant textual or historical support for that position. The majority decides that three days is too short, borrowing arbitrarily from the Adjournments Clause, and nine days is presumptively too short, noting that in practice recess appointments have rarely been made during shorter breaks.

In my view, a better and likely more faithful position is that recesses are breaks between Senate work periods—times when senators take a break from the ordinary course business for a week or more. Here, I rely less on evidence of original meaning—we simply don’t have enough evidence to be confident that any particular meaning was correct—and more on reasoning about what information the Framers had before them and what fits with their purposes. Oddly, people tend to miss that the Framers could not have predicted future Senate practice and therefore could not have written the Recess Appointments Clause with an expectation of annual sessions. In fact, there were divergent views on what the Senate would do. Some thought it would rarely meet; others thought it would remain in session almost continually. We also lack a record of what anyone thought the Senate would call its work periods or how it might enumerate them. What the Framers surely knew, though, was the practice of state legislatures. The “work period” concept accommodates both the Massachusetts session and the New Jersey sitting. It is also the most obvious, know-it-when-you-see-it candidate for what constitutes a recess of significance as opposed to a mere lunch break or weekend. In fact, unlike those insignificant breaks, senators have long referred to the times between work periods as “recesses,” often with more specific names like the “August Recess” and the “Easter Recess.” Most important, breaks between work periods are times when senators might not be readily available.

The majority’s nine-day presumptive minimum comes close to this “work period” view, although it arrives there by relying on historical practice. The convergence may not be coincidental. A break between work periods is essentially a week or more off, which means a minimum of nine days. Perhaps, then, historical practice reflects the work period view in action—and perhaps original meaning and historical practice have been in harmony, not conflict.

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President Pro Tempore

As a follow-up to a prior post, I want to point out a constitutional oddity.  Article I states that the House of Representatives “shall choose their Speaker and other Officers” and that the Senate “shall choose their other officers, and also a President pro tempore.”  For much of our history, the Speaker of the House has been a strong political figure.  The President pro tempore of the Senate, by contrast, has never been important in the Senate.  Why did the office remain impotent, I wonder?

The Twenty Fifth Amendment also makes the President pro tempore (along with the Speaker) the officers who must receive communications regarding presidential disability. Now it is easy to see why you wouldn’t want the Vice-President to a responsible person (conflict-of-interest), but why not the Majority Leader?  By the 1960s, which is when the XXV Amendment was ratified, it was perfectly clear that the Majority Leader was the true leader of the Senate.  Worse still, the Majority Leader is still not in the line of presidential succession–the President Pro Tempore is.  It’s a weird setup.

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What Berkshire Hathaway Teaches About Hobby Lobby

Eleven years ago tomorrow, the abortion issue led Berkshire Hathaway, the huge conglomerate Warren Buffett built and now owned by one million different shareholders, to end its shareholder-directed charitable contribution program. Under the program, Berkshire’s board earmarked an amount for charitable giving and then let the company’s class A shareholders designate the charities to which their share went. In twenty-two years, the program distributed $197 million to thousands of different charities.

Berkshire terminated the program on July 3, 2003 because activists boycotted products of one of its subsidiaries to protest giving to organizations they opposed on religious grounds: some designated Planned Parenthood, which facilitates a woman’s choice to abort an unwanted pregnancy, while others gave to Catholic Social Services, which opposes abortions.

Berkshire stood for neither position, of course, because it is a business organization whose mission is to increase its intrinsic economic value, which has nothing to do with religion. Berkshire’s board chose to terminate the program because the boycotts hurt Berkshire’s business and its personnel while offering shareholders only a slight convenience and tax advantage.

The scenario speaks to the debate that erupted this week between foes in the abortion debate thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case. The issue in that case, narrower and more technical than accompanying rhetoric suggests, was whether the word persons in a federal statute about religious freedom includes corporations owned by a small number of people with a specific set of religious beliefs. If so, then regulations implementing Obamacare cannot require them to fund birth control devices in conflcit with their religious beliefs.

A majority of the Court concluded that closely-held corporations are persons for the purpose of the statute because they are readily seen as merely a convenient legal form through which individuals do business. The dissent complained that only individuals can have religious beliefs and therefore corporations, whether closely held or otherwise, aren’t persons for purposes of the federal law.

The Berkshire example is instructive on both opinions. Buffett has always boasted that Berkshire, though using the corporate form, adopts a partnership attitude. The shareholder charitable contribution program epitomized this attitude. It gave the decision to the owners, as is done in partnerships and closely held corporations, not the board, the practice in public corporations. Those owners, moreover, were the class A shareholders, a subset of Berkshire’s shareholder body made up of people with larger and older stakes—including hundreds who really were Buffett’s original partners.

Berkshire shareholders, class A and class B, readily agree on a wide variety of business and ownership topics. For example, in a vote earlier this year on the company’s dividend policy, 98 percent ratified the existing—and unusual—no-dividend practice. But put a question about hot-button religious or political  issues of the day such as abortion and expect deep divisions.

Berkshire’s shareholders may be able to act like partners or closely-held shareholders on business issues while the charitable giving program proved they were unable to do so on others. For the Court in Holly Lobby, this perspective supports the majority’s holding about the nature of close corporations while validating the dissent’s appetite for a sharp boundary between them and the typical business organization.

Lawrence A. Cunningham is the author of the upcoming Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values and editor of The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America. He teaches business-related courses at George Washington University Law School.

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President Fred Vinson

93px-Fred_m_vinsonFred Vinson is one of the more obscure Chief Justices and is widely seen as a mediocre member of the Court.  He was appointed by President Truman in 1946 (the last Chief Justice from the Democratic Party) and served until he died in 1953.  As Carlton Larson pointed out in this terrific piece a few years ago, Vinson would be viewed very differently if he had written Brown, which he almost surely would have he had not died when he did.  Vinson penned the opinions in Shelley v. Kramer, Swett v. Painter, and McLaurin v. Oklahoma striking down racial segregation, and there is no reason to think that he could not have in Brown (though whether it would have been unanimous is another question).

What I didn’t know until recently is that Truman really wanted Vinson (a former Congressman and Treasury Secretary) to succeed him as President.  He tried to talk Vinson into running in 1952, and with Truman’s backing Vinson would have been a formidable candidate for the Democratic nomination.  Vinson declined, though, partly for health reasons and partly because he felt that a Chief Justice should not reenter politics.

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FAN 21.1 (First Amendment News) — Group Launches Litigation Campaign to Challenge Campus Speech Codes

L to Rt: Paul Gerlich & Erin Furleigh (Iowa St. U.), Robert Corn-Revere (DWT), Greg Lukianoff (FIRE) & Isaac Smith (Ohio U.)

L to Rt: Paul Gerlich & Erin Furleigh (Iowa St. U.), Robert Corn-Revere (DWT), Greg Lukianoff (FIRE) & Isaac Smith (Ohio U.)

July 1, 2014, National Press Club, Washington, D.C. Today, two powerhouses — one a free speech activist, the other a noted First Amendment lawyer — joined forces to challenge campus free speech codes that run afoul of the First Amendment. Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and Robert Corn-Revere, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine (DWT), announced that the group and the law firm would work together in a litigation campaign to change the free speech culture on many campuses across the nation.

“Unconstitutional campus speech codes have been a national scandal for decades. But today, 25 years after the first of the modern generation of speech codes was defeated in court, 58% of public campuses still hold onto shockingly illiberal codes,” said Lukianoff. “For 15 years, FIRE has fought for free speech on campus using public awareness as our main weapon, but more is needed. Today, we announce the launch of the Stand Up for Speech Litigation Project, an expansive new campaign to eliminate speech codes nationwide.”

“We at Davis Wright Tremaine,” said Corn-Revere, “are honored to be asked to participate on the important work of helping to safeguard First Amendment and due process rights of America’s college campuses as part of FIRE’s Stand Up for Speech Litigation Project. It is a privilege to represent the courageous young women and men, and the faculty members, who have opted not to follow the path of least resistance, but instead have chosen to challenge the exercise of arbitrary and illegal authority. These are acts of civic virtue . . . .”

→ The DWT litigation team will include input from two seasoned First Amendment lawyers — Ronnie London and Lisa Zycherman.

Text of T-shirt banned at Ohio University.

Text of T-shirt banned at Ohio University.

The litigation campaign was launched to challenge speech codes at public institutions on behalf of students, student groups, and faculty members. Four lawsuits were filed today in federal district courts:

  1. Ohio University — Smith v. McDavis et al 
  2. Iowa State University — Gerlich & Fuleigh v. Leath et al
  3. Chicago State University – Berry & Bionaz v. Chicago State University Board of Trustees
  4. Citrus College — Sinapi-Riddle v. Citrus Community College et al

Three of the student plaintiffs in the lawsuits — Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh (Iowa State Univ.) and Isaach Smith (Ohio Univ.) — took part in the press conference. Mr. Smith and his group, Students Defending Students, were told by Ohio University officials that they could not wear certain T-shirts (see photo above) because such actions would violate a school policy that prohibits any “act that degrades, demeans, or disgraces” another student, in this case women. “I’m tired of having my university work so hard to stop people from speaking,” said Mr. Smith.

Ronald London (DWT)

Ronald London (DWT)

Over at Iowa State University the fight centered around another objectionable T-shrt, this time one that purportedly violated a school owned trademark (see here).  “I feel bad and I don’t think I should feel bad about it,” Ms. Furleigh complained about censorship against her and her group, the NORML chapter at ISU. “Our university administration has prevented us from even putting the word marijuana on our designs,” Furleigh added.

Lisa Zycherman, DWT lawyer

Lisa Zycherman (DWT)

The challenges concern:

  1. restrictions on the design of T-shirts for campus organizations at Ohio University and Iowa University,
  2. engaging in expressive political activities outside a “free speech zone” while seeking signatures for an anti-NSA petition at Citrus College, and
  3. retaliation against professors for statements on a blog, purportedly in violation of Chicago State University’s broad cyberbullying policy.

→ Starting with Doe v. University of Michigan in 1989, there has been a virtually unbroken string of victories in court challenges to various college campus speech codes.

Meanwhile, Mr. Corn-Revere and his DWT team await a decision in another campus speech case he argued in the 11th Circuit on June 13th of this year — Barnes v. Zaccari. 

stairway-to-heaven-1319562-m
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FAN 21 (First Amendment News) — Looking Back on the 2013-2014 Term & on The Roberts Court’s Overall Free Speech Record

What a term it has been for the Roberts Court and free speech – Election campaign laws, union dues, government employee speech, abortion clinic buffer zones, and a presidential protest case. Also set out below are some related First Amendment events that occurred this Court Term along with a list of new books on free speech. Further down are some facts and figures concerning the Roberts Court’s overall record on free speech.

Disorder in the Court: Recall, too, that back in May there was a disruption inside the Court: “I arise on behalf of the vast majority of the people of the United States who believe that money is not speech,” the protester said, “corporations are not people and that our democracy should not be for sale to the highest bidder.” Before he was arrested, Noah Newkirk of Los Angeles also got in a few more words of protest: “overturn Citizens United” and “the people demand democracy.” Even more incredible, it was captured on video and released on the Web.

35 Cases: This Term the Roberts Court decided five First Amendment free expression cases along with three related free speech cases. The Justices also denied review in a campaign finance case while granting review in “true threats” case. All in all, the Roberts Court has now decided 35 free speech cases on First Amendment grounds.

→ “In Group Bias”: And then there was the empirical study by Professors Lee EpsteinChristopher M. Parker, & Jeffrey A. Sega entitled “Do Justices Defend the Speech They Hate? In-Group Bias, Opportunism, and the First Amendment.”

Amending the 1st?: While much of this was going on, Justice John Paul Stevens released a book urging, among other things, that the First Amendment be amended. In the same vein, a Senate subcommittee first heard and then voted in favor of an amendment to the First Amendment.

→ New Books: Here are some of the new books that were published during this Court Term:

  1. Lee Levine & Stephen Wermiel, The Progeny: Justice William J. Brennan’s Fight to Preserve the Legacy of New York Times v. Sullivan
  2. Ronald Collins & David Skover, When Money Speaks: The McCutcheon Decision, Campaign Finance Laws, and the First Amendment
  3. Shaun McCutcheon, Outsider Inside the Supreme Court: A Decisive First Amendment Battle
  4. Robert Post, Citizens Divided: Campaign Finance Reform and the Constitution
  5. Robert E. Mutch, Buying the Vote: A History of Campaign Finance Reform (2014)
  6. Richard Fossey & Todd A. DeMitchell, Student Dress Codes and the First Amendment: Legal Challenges and Policy Issues (2014)
  7. Laurence Tribe & Joshua Matz, Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court & The Constitution (2014)

→ Law Review: A Harvard Law Review Symposium on free speech was published recently.

→ Flashback: Cass Sunstein on the 50th Anniversary of NYT v. Sullivan

“[A]mid the justified celebration, we should pay close attention to the dark side of New York Times vs. Sullivan. While it has granted indispensable breathing space for speakers, it has also created a continuing problem for public civility and for democratic self-government. . . . False accusations are hardly new. But New York Times vs. Sullivan can claim at least some responsibility for adding to a climate of distrust and political polarization in the U.S.” [Source: here]

→ The Play’s the Thing: Arguendo, a play about Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc. was performed earlier this year. 

Remember: This year we also lost a noted First Amendment figure with the passing of Professor George Anastaplo.

Supreme_Court_US_20102013-14 Term: First Amendment Cases

  1. [JR: 5-4]          McCutcheon v. FEC
  2. [RBG: 9-0]      Woods v Moss
  3. [SS: 9-0]         Lane v. Franks (commentary)
  4. [JR: 9-0]         McCullen v. Coakley
  5. [SA: 5-4]         Harris v. Quinn (symposium)

→ Here is the lineup of Justices writing majority opinions this term in First Amendment free expression cases:

  • Chief Justice Roberts             McCutcheon v. FEC   (vote: 5-4) &
  •                                                McCullen v. Coakley   (vote: 9-0)
  • Justice Ginsburg                    Wood v. Moss              (vote: 9-0)
  • Justice Sotomayor                 Lane v. Franks            (vote: 9-0)
  • Justice Alito                           Harris v. Quinn            (vote: 5-4)

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ROUNDUP: Law and Humanities 06.30.14

Jessica Silbey (Suffolk Law School) and Megan Slack are publishing an important new piece , The Semiotics of Film in US Supreme Court Cases, in the forthcoming collection Law, Culture, and Visual Studies (Springer, 2014). It’s of interest to law and film scholars, entertainment lawyers, First Amendment scholars, and law and humanities folks generally. Here’s the abstract.

This chapter explores the treatment of film as a cultural object among varied legal subject matter in US Supreme Court jurisprudence. Film is significant as an object or industry well beyond its incarnation as popular media. Its role in law – even the highest level of US appellate law – is similarly varied and goes well beyond the subject of a copyright case (as a moving picture) or as an evidentiary proffer (as a video of a criminal confession). This chapter traces the discussion of film in US Supreme Court cases in order to map the wide-ranging and diverse ­relations of film to law – a semiotics of film in the high court’s jurisprudence – to decouple the notion of film with entertainment or visual truth. This chapter discerns the many ways in which the court perceives the role of film in legal disputes and social life. It also illuminates how the court imagines and reconstitutes through its decisions the evolving forms and significances of film and film spectatorship as an interactive public for film in society. As such, this project contributes to the work on the legal construction of social life, exploring how court cases constitute social reality through their legal discourse. It also speaks to film enthusiasts and critics who understand that film is much more than entertainment and is, in practice, a conduit of information and a mechanism for lived experience. Enmeshed in the fabric of society, film is political, commercial, expressive, violent, technologically sophisticated, economically valuable, uniquely persuasive, and, as these cases demonstrate, constantly evolving.

Download the full text from SSRN at the link.

law culture

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Quorum vs. Unanimous Consent

Here’s an obscure question that I’m wondering about.  The Constitution requires each House of Congress to have a majority for a quorum.  Now picture the following scene:

Senator X stands up in an empty chamber immediately after the Senate is gaveled into session.  She says to the Chair “I request unanimous consent that” something be done.  The Chair responds, “Without objection, so ordered.”  Action taken.

In that circumstance, isn’t the quorum rule being ignored?  Only two senators are there.  Is a quorum presumed unless someone objects and asks for a quorum call?  If so, that’s stretching the Constitution pretty far.  I suppose each chamber gets to decide what counts toward a quorum, as the House famously decided under Speaker “Czar” Reed that present members who refused to answer a quorum call should be counted, but should that extend to absent members?  Put another way, is the quorum rule an affirmative defense that some Senator must raise lest it be waived?

UPDATE:  A sharp-eyed reader points out that Tom Goldstein talked about this on Friday and said that a quorum is presumed.  (Thanks for telling me.)  The next question, then, is why is that constitutional?

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FAN 20.5 (First Amendment News) — Move to Amend First Amendment Continues

imagesAccording to a June 26, 2014 Bloomberg BNA news story by Nancy Ognanovich & Kenneth P. Doyle:

“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) priority list for Senate action in July includes plans to schedule votes on a constitutional amendment to protect the authority of Congress to regulate campaign finance, as well as a separate campaign finance disclosure measure—known as the DISCLOSE Act—that failed in previous years, aides said. . . .”

Vote in Subcommittee: “The proposed campaign finance amendment to the Constitution was approved by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights June 18th on a 5-4, party-line vote. The measure was set to be considered June 26th by the full Judiciary Committee, but was held over.”

Substituted language: “The subcommittee adopted a substitute to Sen. Tom Udall’s (D-N.M.) proposed amendment (S. J. Res. 19) offered by panel Chairman Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). The measure would allow Congress and the states to set ‘reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others,’ and would further permit Congress and the states to prohibit campaign spending by ‘corporations or other artificial entities.’”

See also this op-ed by Josh Blackman: “Democrats are Trying to Rewrite the First Amendment,” American Spectator, June 25, 2014

→ For earlier coverage of this proposed constitutional amendment, see:

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Thoughts on Noel Canning

I was pleased with the Court’s decision last week, though that just means that it came out the way that I would have decided it.  Here are a couple of observations going forward:

1.  All Noel Canning does is clarify the bargaining terms between the parties.  The Senate can now block all recess appointments by holding pro forma sessions.  A motion to hold that sort of session, though, can be filibustered.  Moreover, any Senator can turn a pro forma session into a real one by just showing up and insisting on being recognized by the chair.  Thus, a normal majority in the Senate cannot block recess appointments without cutting deals with the other party and with the President.

2.  The House can prevent the Senate from taking a recess by objecting.  This will only happen, though, if Congress is divided in its party loyalties.  While this is true now, that alignment is pretty rare.  It did not happen at all between 1933-1980, for example, though it did happen from 1981-1986 & 2001-2002 before recurring in 2011.  Still, that’s 12 years out of the last eighty or so.

3.  Somebody should write that Article about the President’s adjournment power in cases where the two Houses cannot agree on a recess.  Since the President has never exercised this authority, originalism reigns supreme!

We’ll see what Hobby Lobby has to offer in the morning.