The traditional, historically focused method, he says, reposes discretion in judges as well. Historical analysis can be difficult; it sometimes requires resolving threshold questions, and making nuanced judgments about which evidence to consult and how to interpret it.Details
In sum, there are at least two ways the Court in Bond can accommodate federalism without undermining national foreign policy. It can construe ambiguous treaties not to reach purely local conduct. And it can require Congress to make a plausible showing that federal regulation of local conduct is needed to prevent material breach of treaty obligations. Either approach would allow Bond to win the case without undermining national treaty power.Details
At NRO, Ed Whelan comments (unfavorably) on Judge Richard Posner’s new book Reflections on Judging (Harvard University Press 2013).Details
In The New York Times, Linda Greenhouse has an anti-originalist column A Tree Grows in Canada — with some interesting Canadian history. As she explains, the British North America Act (effectively Canada’s original constitution) provided for “qualified persons” to be appointed to the Senate. When a woman, Judge Emily Murphy, sought appointment, she was rejected because (it was said) women did not qualify as “persons.” As Greenhouse continues the story:
Judge Murphy and four other Alberta women, who were to become known as the Famous Five, formally petitioned the federal government, which then put a question to the Supreme Court of Canada: “Does the word ‘Persons’ in Section 24 of the British North America Act include female persons?”
The Supreme Court said no, on grounds that would warm the heart of some current members of the United States Supreme Court. Whether it would be desirable for women to be eligible for senatorial appointment was beside the point, Chief Justice Frank Anglin wrote in his opinion. What mattered was what the drafters of the 1867 statute intended, and the words they wrote had to “bear today the same construction which the courts would, if then required to pass upon them, have given to them when they were first enacted.”
Based on this, Greenhouse doesn’t understand originalism, and neither did Chief Justice Anglin (about whom I otherwise know nothing). The decision is silly, and no modern originalist would follow it, nor would it warm anyone’s heart on the current Court. It’s possible (even likely) that the drafters of the Act only had only men in mind as Senators. But they did not write “men,” as they easily could have. (Voting laws of the time typically referred to “male” citizens, for example). They wrote “persons.” In 1867, I cannot imagine that in any ordinary legal language, in Britain or Canada, “persons” meant “only male persons.” A word in a statute should be given its ordinary public meaning, regardless of subjective intentions harbored by its drafters.Details
At the National Constitution Center’s “Constitution Daily” blog, Doug Kendall and Tom Donnelly (Constitutional Accountability Center): Big Battles Brewing over the Constitution’s Original Meaning. From the introduction: For decades, debates over the Constitution divided along familiar lines. Progressives professed faith in a “living Constitution,” while conservatives claimed fidelity to originalism. In recent terms, however, this dynamic…Details
At Concurring Opinions, Marco Simons (EarthRights International) has this post on the Daimler v. Bauman case (argued at the Supreme Court 10/15): Is There a Constitutional Right to Corporate Separateness? Mr. Simons and I have been on opposite sides of some cases in the past, but I think there is something to his originalist argument here: The Ninth Circuit…Details
In the New York Times, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz: Obama and the Debt (arguing that refusing to raise the debt ceiling “would violate [a] ‘fundamental principle’ of the Constitution” and that the President “in times of national crisis, can invoke emergency power to protect the Constitution” by, in this case, borrowing on his own authority.)
(Thanks to Michael Perry for the pointer).
I have some comments, none of them complimentary. So I’ll start by saying that Professor Wilentz is a great historian and everyone should, at minimum, read his Bancroft-award-winning The Rise of American Democracy: From Jefferson to Lincoln (W.W. Norton, 2006).
Now for the comments:
1. Wilentz asserts the meaning of Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment, chiefly by looking at drafting and ratifying history, prominently quoting Republican leader Benjamin Wade, and referring to the beliefs and motivations of other principal drafters. In sum, this is the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. Apparently Sean Wilentz is an originalist!
But wait, I thought historians denied the very foundations of originalism, claiming that history cannot be used to establish fixed meanings. Is there actually some deep split among leading historians regarding the use of history? (See alsohere, in which the great historian Joseph Ellis appears certain of the historical meaning of the Second Amendment). Or do historians’ doubts about the coherence of originalism only apply when it’s done by law professors, or by conservatives?
2. Professor Wilentz’s history doesn’t show what he thinks it shows.Details
Regarding this post, Seth Barrett Tillman writes:
There is a new view that the President has authority to sell newly issued government debt, absent congressional authority (i.e., Congress’s raising the debt ceiling).
Professor Epps, Dorf, and Buchanan et al. may be right or they be wrong about the constitutional point. (Disclosure: My own view is that they are wrong.) But it does not matter if they are right or wrong. The Constitution is not the relevant body of law.
The relevant body of law is fiduciary duty law. No trustee, director, or officer of a primary dealer (the organisations which actually buy newly issued federal debt) would touch debt issued by the President absent either (1) congressional consent, or (2) Supreme Court approval of the practice. Any such purchase by a primary dealer would be clear violation of its fiduciary duty of care to its stockholders. Full stop. Ex hypothesi, Congress will not have consented: that’s why the President’s action would be unilateral. Likewise, judicial approval could only happen (long) after the Treasury sells the debt. To sell the debt, the Government would have to agree to an astronomical premium, and that would leave the government much worse off than not selling debt at all.
Epps, Dorf, Buchanan and other make an interesting theoretical point (like some which I have made!), but wholly impractical point (ditto). The President cannot sell debt on the credit of the United States absent congressional authority. It is a matter of private law, not public/constitutional law.
Very well put. And it reminds me of a further point regarding Section 4 that I intended to make yesterday. Far from supporting a unilateral presidential power to issue debt, Section 4 points the opposite direction. It says (emphasis added):Details