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What Would AMK Do?

[ 4 ] February 13, 2012 |

With respect to how Kennedy is likely to rule on the Prop 8 case, a few additional points. First, in response to Murc here, I should make it clear what I’m not arguing, namely that Reinhardt’s opinion will somehow be able cleverly manipulate Kennedy into supporting a position he’s not otherwise inclined to go along with. As I said when similar claims were made during the Kagan nomination hearings, I regard arguments that Kennedy can be manipulated to support liberal positions as roughly on a par with arguments that Evan Bayh and Ben Nelson can be made to vote like Paul Wellstone based on arguments that rely on terms such as “bully pulpit” or “mandate.” Rather, my argument is simply that Reinhardt’s holding is one that, based on his past writings, Kennedy is likely to agree with, and hence less likely to vote to overturn and create a terrible precedent. “Manipulation” per se has nothing to do with it. Mazzone believes that this is about manipulation because he thinks that Reinhardt’s analogies to Romer are invalid, but I think he’s wrong about that. At any rate, Kennedy will make up his own mind, which is another reason why it made sense for Reinhardt not to go well beyond Romer and declare a broad right to same-sex marriage; if this is what Kennedy believes he’s free to do so anyway.

As for how much we can read into Lawrence and Romer, here’s another way of putting the argument I made here. Kennedy has demonstrated, in several cases, a willingness to vote to strike down the death penalty as applied in certain narrow ways: in cases of people under 18, people with severe mental disabilities, or in cases of sexual assault. It would be very foolish, however, for a litigator to assume that because he’s willing to strike down applications of the death penalty that are rare even in the minority of states that use the death penalty with any frequency he would therefore be willing to endorse the Marshall/Brennan theory that the death penalty is obviously unconstitutional. Kennedy is more likely to endorse a broad national right to same-sex marriage than is he is to rule that the Eighth Amendment makes any application of the death penalty unconstitutional. But, still, to be confident that he will do so based on Romer and Lawrence is deeply problematic. These cases, whose direct national impact was very modest, are a lot more like Roper v. Simmons than they are like Roe v. Wade (which would be the clearest equivalent to declaring a national right to same-sex marriage.)

There’s a final argument, made by Mazzone and also by the great Pam Karlan, that Kennedy is very concerned about his legacy and won’t want to be seen as being on the wrong side of history. Well, maybe. It’s certainly possible that Kennedy would like to see himself as being on the forefront of an important extension of civil rights that will broadly accepted very soon. It’s also possible that Kennedy has no interest in being a pariah among has valued conservative colleagues in support of social change he believes is inevitable anyway. And it’s possible that he’s aware of conservative complaints that he’s susceptible to the “Greenhouse Effect” and wants to show his backbone in a high-profile case. There are a million different essentially unfounded narratives one can create when one plays the armchair psychologist. What I do know is that his past decisions indicate that Kennedy is much more likely to uphold a narrow decision striking down Prop 8 than a broad one, and both 9CA was sensible to act accordingly. Particularly since that if Kennedy is in fact ready to go beyond a narrow ruling nothing in Reinhardt’s opinion can or would stop him.

Comments (4)

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  1. dan says:

    To me, it seems the question should be whether Kennedy sees Prop 8 as an infringement on the judiciary’s right to resolve contentious issues, in which case he would affirm.

  2. West of the Cascades says:

    Whether Prop 8 ultimately is constitutional will be dictated by whether Justice Kennedy hits the snooze button or spills coffee on Scalia the morning of the conference – at least that’s Matt Bors’s analysis: http://mattbors.com/blog/2011/10/05/scotus-flow-chart/

  3. rea says:

    his past decisions indicate that Kennedy is much more likely to uphold a narrow decision striking down Prop 8 than a broad one

    Generally speaking, appellate judges are more likely to uphold a narrow decision than a broad one (and properly so–the judicial power is to decide cases, not formulate broad general rules).

  4. mds says:

    There’s a final argument, made by Mazzone and also by the great Pam Karlan, that Kennedy is very concerned about his legacy and won’t want to be seen as being on the wrong side of history.

    That presupposes that this would work to progressive benefit, without considering that Kennedy, while no doubt concerned about his legacy, is both self-important and extremely stupid.

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