The New Liberal Constitutional Agenda
Very interesting post from Mark Tushnet. It’s worth reading the whole thing and I won’t go through every point, but I’ll excerpt a few:
A jurisprudence of “wrong the day it was decided.” Liberals should be compiling lists of cases to be overruled at the first opportunity on the ground that they were wrong the day they were decided. My own list is Bakke (for rejecting all the rationales for affirmative action that really matter), Buckley v. Valeo (for ruling out the possibility that legislatures could develop reasonable campaign finance rules promoting small-r republicanism), Casey (for the “undue burden” test), and Shelby County. (I thought about including Washington v. Davis, but my third agenda item should be enough to deal with it.) Others will have their own candidates. What matters is that overruling key cases also means that a rather large body of doctrine will have to be built from the ground up. Thinking about what that doctrine should look like is important – more important than trying to maneuver to liberal goals through the narrow paths the bad precedents seem to leave open.
Agreed 100%, and a minimalist, sub silentio ruling of Shelby County would be particularly inappropriate. Also glad to see he’s included Casey — Roe‘s trimester framework was infinitely superior, and the rejection of “diversity” being the only acceptable rationale for affirmative action. My own additions to the list would start with San Antonio v. Rodriguez and McKleskey v. Kemp.
The culture wars are over; they lost, we won. Remember, they were the ones who characterized constitutional disputes as culture wars (see Justice Scalia in Romer v. Evans, and the Wikipedia entry for culture wars, which describes conservative activists, not liberals, using the term.) And they had opportunities to reach a cease fire, but rejected them in favor of a scorched earth policy. The earth that was scorched, though, was their own. (No conservatives demonstrated any interest in trading off recognition of LGBT rights for “religious liberty” protections. Only now that they’ve lost the battle over LGBT rights, have they made those protections central – seeing them, I suppose, as a new front in the culture wars. But, again, they’ve already lost the war.). For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That’s mostly a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking a hard line (“You lost, live with it”) is better than trying to accommodate the losers, who – remember – defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. Trying to be nice to the losers didn’t work well after the Civil War, nor after Brown. (And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.) I should note that LGBT activists in particular seem to have settled on the hard-line approach, while some liberal academics defend more accommodating approaches. When specific battles in the culture wars were being fought, it might have made sense to try to be accommodating after a local victory, because other related fights were going on, and a hard line might have stiffened the opposition in those fights. But the war’s over, and we won.
Yup. Tushnet has made the point about Brown in more detail, but the amount of attention given to the non-accusatory tone and nominal unanimity of Warren’s opinion has always puzzled me. Given that the vast majority of southern politicians declared Brown constitutionally illegitimate and resisted any implementation of it for a decade, we can safely declare the causal impact of Brown being 9-0 instead of 8-1 and not overruling Plessy explicitly as being less than trivial.
Also see Tushnet’s follow-up on how some people have misread the “hard line” comment.
Finally (trigger/crudeness alert), fuck Anthony Kennedy. I don’t mean that liberals should treat him with disrespect. But defensive-crouch liberalism meant not only trying to figure out arguments that would get Kennedy’s apparently crucial vote (not so crucial any more), but also trying to milk his opinions – and more generally, obviously conservative opinions – for doctrines that might be awkwardly pressed into the service of liberal goals. (Think here of how liberal constitutional scholars treated Kennedy’s [truly silly] concurring opinion in Parents Involved [“You can deal with the consequences of segregated housing patterns by locating new school construction carefully” – in districts that are closing rather than building schools], or his “views” about affirmative action, or recasting the Court’s federalism cases as actually good for liberals.) There’s a lot of liberal constitutional scholarship taking Anthony Kennedy’s “thought” and other conservative opinions as a guide to potentially liberal outcomes if only the cases are massaged properly. Stop it. (See agenda items 1 and 3 for how to treat those opinions.)
Replacing Anthony Kennedy as the median vote of the Supreme Court with a liberal — preferably one that can actually write coherent opinions — is in itself ample justification to pull the lever for Democrats for President and Senate in 2016.