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It’s Time For Everyone’s Favorite End of Term Activity, Supreme Court Mad Libs

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swiss-army-knife

How many bad analogies and metaphors and cliches can be crammed into a blog post? Can we learn something from bad arguments about the Supreme Court? Let’s find out!

I wrote in a book review once that the basic distinction between Right and Left when it comes to the Constitution is “rules vs. tools”: Conservatives see the Constitution as a set of rules that must be followed, while liberals see it as a box of tools that can be used to put their policies into effect. And if you have to use a chisel as a screwdriver or bang in nails with a pair of pliers, it’s no problem as long as the thing gets built.

It’s amazing at this late date that people can write such utter crap with a straight face. Where is the clear “rule” mandating that “the equal sovereign dignitude of the states trumps the powers explicitly granted to Congress under the 15th Amendment“? Where does it say that “states must use uniform vote counting methods if not doing so might result in the election of a Democratic president in 2000 but not in any other case?” When was the text of the Eleventh Amendment changed from “another State” to “any State?” Where exactly is the “anti-commandeering” clause of the Constitution? I could go on like this but you get the idea.

This principle turns the 14th Amendment into a Swiss Army knife and the Commerce Clause into a roll of duct tape.

So, it turns out that re-stating the metaphor doesn’t make it any more coherent.

They devise new uses for dusty old buggy whips like the 13th Amendment,

What’s funny about this is that Schwarz almost certainly considers himself an “originalist.” And yet the new scholarship about the 13th Amendment is based on historical analysis. There is good evidence that the contemporary limitation of slavery to only chattel slavery does not reflect the understanding of many at the time of the founding, and there is also good evidence that 13th Amendment was read much more broadly in 1865 than it is 2015. I’m not an originialist or a believer in grand constitutional theory, so I don’t believe that these are knock-down arguments. But the fact that conservative originalists not only have no interest in this scholarship but feel free to contemptuously dismiss it should tell you something.

and even the forlorn Third Amendment was pulled out of the back of a drawer somewhere to be cited in Griswold v. Connecticut (and is now being invoked by the Left and the Right to oppose NSA surveillance).

This is the slightly more sophisticated sounding SCORCHING HOT TAKE on Griswold, used in lieu of the more famous one (“durr, he said ‘penumbras and emanations,’ durr.”) And, yet, if you read the citation of the 3rd Amendment in context in makes perfect sense:

The foregoing cases suggest that specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance. Various guarantees create zones of privacy. The right of association contained in the penumbra of the First Amendment is one, as we have seen. The Third Amendment, in its prohibition against the quartering of soldiers “in any house” in time of peace without the consent of the owner, is another facet of that privacy. The Fourth Amendment explicitly affirms the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The Fifth Amendment, in its Self-Incrimination Clause, enables the citizen to create a zone of privacy which government may not force him to surrender to his detriment. The Ninth Amendment provides: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

The Fourth and Fifth Amendments were described in Boyd v. United States as protection against all governmental invasions “of the sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of life.” We recently referred to the Fourth Amendment as creating a “right to privacy, no less important than any other right carefully an particularly reserved to the people.”

Douglas’s perfectly straightforward point is that many of the individual protections in the Bill of Rights are based on the underlying principle that the state cannot be omnipresent in private homes and in individual lives. (It’s true that he does not defend this point extensively here, but this is because he already did so four years before, and cites this opinion at the end of the “penumbras” sentence. Both the Douglas and Harlan opinions in Griswold should be read as summaries of arguments they made in much more extensive detail in Poe v. Ullman.) This principle was obviously highly relevant to this case, concerning the constitutionality of a statute banning the private use of contraception. And the 3rd Amendment — forbidding the state from using private residences to house military personnel except with legislative authorization during wartime — is plainly relevant to this structural analysis. It wouldn’t make sense to say that the 3rd Amendment standing alone would make the Connecticut’s uncommonly silly law unconstitutional, but Douglas doesn’t say that it does. One can agree or disagree with the conclusions Douglas reaches, but this kind of structuralist argument is a widely-used form of constitutional interpretation, and only hacks think it can be dismissed by repeating a 3-word phrase or mischaracterizing its use of the 3rd Amendment.

And they think nothing of turning the strictest rules on their heads, so that “shall not discriminate on account of race” means “must discriminate on account of race”

I’m not sure what copy of the Constitution Schwarz is using; mine does not contain the former phrase. It does most assuredly guarantee the equal protection of the laws, but I see nothing in this phrase that specifically proscribes every affirmative action program. (Oh, and what I said about originalism.)

and “freedom of speech” requires restricting speech. What, you thought these provisions actually mean what they explicitly say?

Leaving aside all the question-begging, he has a point — I don’t recall the “bong hits 4 Jesus” or “but Islamic! 9/11!” exceptions to the First Amendment either. I wish conservatives would stop trying to turn the First Amendment from a cinder block into one of those cabinets of tools they sell at the Home Depot.

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