Saturday, November 22, 2008

Like 'Em Or Hate 'Em....


Whatever your personal position on cases like Heller and Roe, today George Will does a pretty good job of explaining how those decisions lead to cases that require judges to substitute their policy preferences for actual interpretation and application of the Constitution. In terms of Roe,
Parental consent? Spousal consent? Spousal notification? Parental notification? Waiting periods? Lack of funding for nontherapeutic abortions? Partial-birth abortion procedures? Zoning ordinances that exclude abortion facilities? The court has tried to tickle answers for these and other policy questions from the Constitution.
In terms of Heller,
Now the court must slog through an utterly predictable torrent of litigation, writing, piecemeal, a federal gun code concerning the newfound individual right. What trigger locks or other safety requirements impermissibly burden the exercise of this right? What registration requirements, background checks, waiting periods for purchasers, ballistic identifications? What restrictions on ammunition? On places where guns may be purchased or carried? On the kinds of people (e.g., those with records of domestic violence) who may own guns? On the number of gun purchases in a month?
Where do I disagree with Will? While he, as a pundit, has fully embraced the notion that conservatives favor judicial restraint, the reality is quite different. Heller is not an exceptional ruling following a history of conservative deference to constitutional language and state and federal legislatures, it's a continuation of an activist history masquerading behind claims of "originalism" or "textualism". For the most part, political partisans either don't pay attention to the other side's judicial excesses, or simply don't care about their own. Will's column suggests that he falls into the former category, but now that he is aware of the issue it's up to him to demonstrate how much he actually cares about judicial activism that advances his own political agenda.
It has been said that the most important word in the Supreme Court's lexicon is not "liberty" or "equality" or even "justice," it is "five." But whereas in baseball a tie goes to the runner, in controversies about the constitutionality of legislation, a tie between serious arguments should, Wilkinson says, tilt judicial judgment to the democratic side - the legislature.
Except if the subject is campaign finance reform? Seriously, when it's your own ox that's being gored, it's really difficult to take a step back and say, "We should defer to the legislature," as opposed to, "Those judges are gutting the Constitution and stripping this right of any meaning." Moreover, whatever the right, there's a point where that will be true. Then what? Do we simply check to see whether or not the legislation under review includes "findings" that nominally support the legislation? Legislatures figured that game out a long time ago.

Will closes,
So, regarding judging, too, conservatism is a house divided. And as Lincoln said (sort of), a house divided against itself is really interesting.
And Will raises interesting issues that, unfortunately, aren't likely to be resolved at any time during the next two centuries of constitutional litigation.

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