Author Archives: Marc O. DeGirolami

“Catholic Midwives Must Supervise Abortions, Supreme Court Decides”

That’s the title of this report, though I would welcome more information from readers who may have it. The Supreme Court is that of the United Kingdom, and the case involves the issue of accommodation for objection to performing abortions on the basis of religious conscience. The statute interpreted by the Court is the Abortion Act of 1967, which provides that “no person shall be under any duty … to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection.” The issue before the Court was the scope of the statute: it is clear that the objecting midwives would be under no obligation to participate in abortions themselves, but it was not clear whether they could be compelled to supervise other staff who did participate in abortions. “Participate,” ruled the Court, demands a “hands on” role in the abortion, and any supervisory role was insufficiently “direct” to come within the statutory definition.

The midwives claimed that it would have been very easy to accommodate them, because the number of abortions on their ward was only a very small fraction of the work, supervision of which could readily have been assigned to others with no risk that anyone desiring an abortion would go without care. But that sort of compromise was unavailing to Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service: “[E]xtending this protection to tasks not directly related to the abortion would be to the detriment of women needing to end a pregnancy and the health care staff committed to providing that care. There are enough barriers in the way of women who need an abortion without further obstacles being thrown in their way.”

UPDATE: More information on the case may be found at Religion Clause Blog.

FURTHER UPDATE: A thorough statement of the case and arguments at Frank Cranmer’s blog.

The Proctor: A Legal Note from David Copperfield

The more substantial novels of Charles Dickens represent a regrettably sizable hole in my reading, one which with time I hope to plug up. I’ve started with David Copperfield and am enjoying it greatly. The writing, as much or more than the story itself, is truly magnificent.

Unlike with some of Dickens’s other work in which it is generally portrayed unflatteringly, the law and legal practice is not an absolutely central theme in David Copperfield, though it does show up from time to time. The ingratiatingly servile Uriah Heep has already been described poring over some legal treatises, and this detail is sure to resurface by and by. But the law does make something of an appearance when David, now a young man of 17 and at the urging of his aunt, selects the profession of “proctor.”

I had not before known what a proctor was. Apparently the proctor was a special kind of solicitor who dealt with both ecclesiastical and admiralty matters, an unusual combination! The position of proctor was merged with solicitor in the late 19th century. Here is a charming bit from Chapter XXIII about proctors and their practice (as relayed only slightly in jest by David’s prepossessing friend, Steerforth):

“What is a proctor, Steerforth?” said I.

“Why, he is a sort of monkish attorney,” replied Steerforth. “He is, to some faded courts held in Doctors’ Commons–a lazy old nook near St. Paul’s Churchyard–what solicitors are to the courts of law and equity. He is a functionary whose existence, in the natural course of things, would have terminated about two hundred years ago. I can tell you best what he is, by telling you what Doctors’ Commons is. It’s a little out-of-the-way place, where they administer what is called ecclesiastical law, and play all kinds of tricks with obsolete old monsters of acts of Parliament, which three-fourths of the world know nothing about, and the other fourth supposes to have been dug up, in a fossil state, in the days of the Edwards. It’s a place that has an ancient monopoly in suits about people’s wills and people’s marriages, and disputes among ships and boats.”

“Nonsense, Steerforth!” I exclaimed. “You don’t mean to say that there is any affinity between nautical matters and ecclesiastical matters?”

“I don’t, indeed, my dear boy,” he returned; “but I mean to say that they are managed and decided by the same set of people, down in that same Doctors’ Commons. You shall go there one day, and find them blundering through half the nautical terms in Young’s Dictionary, apropos of the ‘Nancy’ having run down the ‘Sarah Jane,’ or Mr. Peggotty and the Yarmouth boatmen having put off in a gale of wind with an anchor and cable to the ‘Nelson’ Indiaman in distress; and you shall go there another day, and find them deep in evidence, pro and con, respecting a clergyman who has misbehaved himself; and you shall find the judge in the nautical case, the advocate in the clergyman’s case, or contrariwise. They are like actors: now a man’s a judge, and now he is not a judge; now he’s one thing, now he’s another; now he’s something else, change and change about; but it’s always a very pleasant profitable little affair of private theatricals, presented to an uncommonly select audience.”

What is an Advertisement Without “Moral” or “Political Content”?

In respect of Mark’s post below on the endorsement test and the NYC subway, our friend, frequent reader, and sometime guest here at the Forum, Professor Perry Dane, rightly notes that the MTA’s disclaimer policy purports to include only those advertisements with “religious,” “moral,” or “political content.” In response, Mark makes the factual observation that he has not seen similar disclaimers on other advertisements with such distinctively “moral” or “political content.”

But he need not work from memory. Isn’t the ad one with “moral content”? Is it not endorsing a certain viewpoint with attendant moral underpinnings? Aren’t ads advocating “doubtful cosmetic treatments” and “consumer fantasies” also promoting various moral outlooks and perspectives?

Perhaps one could elaborate a well-worked out theory of the distinction between the “moral,” the “political,” the “religious,” and…everything else that really doesn’t fall into these categories, though I’d like to see just where the lines are drawn. But I suspect that the MTA doesn’t have such a theory at all. Instead, it probably believes that doubtful cosmetic treatments and liquor delivery services aren’t “moral” in the way that counts for endorsement purposes. And it’s probably correct about that. One more reason to dislike the endorsement test.

Allitt on Europe and Cultural Difference

In reading this old review in the University Bookman by the historian Patrick Allitt of a rather grim book by Thomas Molnar, I came across the following lines about European unity (circa the late 1990s) and the relationship of aspirations to unity and the realities of historical and cultural difference. They reminded me of a few of the themes that emerged in our conference on international religious freedom this summer:

The idea of a united Europe, [Molnar] believes, is itself an American notion, even though it has fired the imagination of “Europeans” like Jacques Delors with all-but-evangelical intensity. Although I have my differences with him, this is a point where I find Molnar convincing: the idea of a united Europe is no more than an idle fantasy, contradicted at every point by history, and advocated at present only by businessmen and their political cronies who anticipate large profits. The European Community has homogenized, standardized, and centralized its affairs, chipping away at local traditions, undermining regional authorities, always advancing with its soothing rhetoric about peace, goodwill, and efficiency, and favoring the mild curiosity of tourism over the heroic self-discipline of cultural creation. But “Europe” has never been able to still ancient animosities, many of which still smolder beneath the civil surface. What’s more, it has only to glance a degree or two eastwards to remember some hard truths. Eastern Europe, though also prey to “Atlantic” delusions, is both literally and figuratively further from the great waters and a standing denial of “European” dreams. Swept first by the barbarian invasions, later by the Ottoman Empire, and more recently by the Nazis and the Soviet Union, fraught with fanatical hatreds of the sort which exploded the idea of Yugoslavia, let alone European unity, it promises to act the part of Banquo’s ghost at all Atlantic feasts.

Dawson, “The Gods of Revolution”

This is a new edition of a work by the brilliant historian, Christopher Dawson,Dawson final sketch.indd first published in 1972. The book (Dawson’s last monograph, a short work published posthumously with an introduction by Arnold Toynbee) is The Gods of Revolution, reissued by CUA Press and with a new introduction by Joseph Stuart. In a college course in the intellectual history of western civilization many years ago, one of the required readings was the last chapter of Dawson’s book. I went back and looked at it, and have the following line highlighted: “And a free society requires a higher degree of spiritual unity than a totalitarian one, hence the spiritual integration of western culture is essential to its temporal survival.” The publisher’s description follows.

In The Gods of Revolution, Christopher Dawson brought to bear, as Glanmor Williams said, “his brilliantly perceptive powers of analysis on the French Revolution. . . . In so doing he reversed the trends of recent historiography which has concentrated primarily on examining the social and economic context of that great upheaval.”

Dawson underlines the fact that the Revolution was not animated by democratic ideals but rather reflected an authoritarian liberalism often marked by a fundamental contempt for the populace, described by Voltaire as “the ‘canaille’ that is not worthy of enlightenment and which deserves its yoke.” The old Christian order had stressed a common faith and common service shared by nobles and peasants alike but Rousseau “pleads the cause of the individual against society, the poor against the rich, and the people against the privileged classes.” It is Rousseau whom Dawson describes as the spiritual father of the new age in disclosing a new spirit of revolutionary idealism expressed in liberalism, socialism and anarchism. But the old unity was not replaced by a new form. Dawson insists the whole period following the Revolution is “characterized by a continual struggle between conflicting ideologies,” and the periods of relative stabilization such as the Napoleonic restoration, Victorian liberalism in England, and capitalist imperialism in the second German empire “have been compromises or temporary truces between two periods of conquest.” This leads to his assertion that “the survival of western culture demands unity as well as freedom, and the great problem of our time is how these two essentials are to be reconciled.”

This reconciliation will require more than technological efficiency for “a free society requires a higher degree of spiritual unity than a totalitarian one. Hence the spiritual integration of western culture is essential to its temporal survival.” It is to Christianity alone that western culture “must look for leadership and help in restoring the moral and spiritual unity of our civilization,” for it alone has the influence, “in ethics, in education, in literature, and in social action” sufficiently strong to achieve this end.

Lumen Christi Conference: “The Vocation of a Christian Law Professor,” January 2, 2015

I’m pleased to announce the annual conference co-sponsored by the Lumen Christi Institute and the Law Professors’ Christian Fellowship this year is titled, “The Vocation of a Christian Law Professor.” The conference speakers are Professor Barbara Armacost of the University of Virginia School of Law and Dean Robert Vischer of the University of St. Thomas School of Law. The conference will occur on Friday, January 2, from 4:00-5:45 pm at the University Club of Washington, D.C., with a reception to follow.

More details can be found here.

Fried, “The Middle Ages” (Lewis trans.)

Out this month from Harvard University Press is a new English translation of The Middle Agesthe eminent German medievalist Johannes Fried’s monumental work, The Middle Ages. The publisher’s description follows.

Since the fifteenth century, when humanist writers began to speak of a “middle” period in history linking their time to the ancient world, the nature of the Middle Ages has been widely debated. Across the millennium from 500 to 1500, distinguished historian Johannes Fried describes a dynamic confluence of political, social, religious, economic, and scientific developments that draws a guiding thread through the era: the growth of a culture of reason.

Beginning with the rise of the Franks, Fried uses individuals to introduce key themes, bringing to life those who have too often been reduced to abstractions of the medieval “monk” or “knight.” Milestones encountered in this thousand-year traversal include Europe’s political, cultural, and religious renovation under Charlemagne; the Holy Roman Empire under Charles IV, whose court in Prague was patron to crowning cultural achievements; and the series of conflicts between England and France that made up the Hundred Years’ War and gave to history the enduringly fascinating Joan of Arc. Broader political and intellectual currents are examined, from the authority of the papacy and impact of the Great Schism, to new theories of monarchy and jurisprudence, to the rise of scholarship and science.

The Middle Ages is full of people encountering the unfamiliar, grappling with new ideas, redefining power, and interacting with different societies. Fried gives readers an era of innovation and turbulence, of continuities and discontinuities, but one above all characterized by the vibrant expansion of knowledge and an understanding of the growing complexity of the world.

Pantagruel Comes for the Establishment Clause

That is the title of an essay I have up at the Library of Law and Liberty. Here’s the beginning:

In the second book of the sixteenth century novel by Rabelais, the voracious young giant Pantagruel, “large as life and much nosier,” is sent to Paris for his education. There he displays prodigious academic aptitude, mastering every conceivable subject with the greatest ease and besting the most able rhetoricians and philosophers in debate. So great is his reputation that he is summoned to adjudicate a law suit—a “controversy so involved and jurisprudentially abstruse that the highest court in the land found it about as clear as Old High German.” When the lawyers and jurists propose to give Pantagruel the relevant texts, writs, historical records, learned treatises, and legal authorities, he orders all of this “scribble-scrabble foolscrap” immediately burned. These materials, he scoffs, are “pure subversions of equity,” for “the law grew up out of the field of natural and moral philosophy.” After a perfunctory hearing and by the light of “philosophical and evangelical justice,” Pantagruel rules with swift panache, and his judgment is hailed as wiser than Solomon’s.

Pantagruel is coming for the Establishment Clause. He comes today bearing the standard of equality, and the manifestations of equality that he would have courts superimpose on the Constitution. In several disputes ostensibly involving the constitutional prohibition on “laws respecting an establishment of religion,” courts are interpreting this provision of the First Amendment to require adherence to a kind of pure principle of equality, or its close cousin, neutrality. And just as Pantagruelic justice beguiled Rabelais’ fictional Parisian intelligentsia, so, too, is the egalitarian justice of today’s courts extolled by the legal professoriate. Yet though certain forms of unequal treatment by the state on the basis of religion surely do create questions of constitutional dimension, we now face something like the obverse situation: courts so rigorously adhere to notions of egalitarian justice that the Establishment Clause is bloated to the point of collapsing of its own weight.

If you really want to know what Judge ___ is like, read his opinions

Forgive me for a post not particularly law-and-religion related, but certainly law-related.

I’ve been enjoying Professor Ronald Collins’s series on Judge Richard Posner over at the Concurring Opinions blog. The Collins biography is extremely substantive and scholarly; it’s not really the subject of this post at all. I’m more interested here in “Posner on Posner,” which is basically a collection of interviews, reflections, bon mots, aphorisms, scattered wisdom about cats, opinionation about the virtues and vices of spicy food (or was it jurisprudence?), and so on. The latest installment is a smorgasbord of law professor queries about various scraps of miscellany, answered by Judge Posner in his genially efficient fashion. It’s a fun little window on Richard Posner the man. It reminds me of the way that James Fitzjames Stephen used to produce regular victuals for the insatiably voracious Victorian English intelligentsia.

The Posner on Posner format, though, is such that I’m afraid folks might perhaps be misled to believe that when Judge Posner makes statements like, “I think the role of legal doctrine in judicial decisions is considerably overrated,” that means that legal doctrine is likely actually to play very little role in his judicial decision making. Law professors so like to ask questions about things like pragmatism, and the influence of law and economics and sundry other ideological precommitments on judging, how judging will change “in the future,” and whether Posner reads any Lon Fuller (or enjoys the filmography of Lon Chaney). And, of course, Judge Posner is rather able at providing law professors with what they so much want to hear–interesting, provocative, sometimes perhaps a little shocking (not too much!), always eminently Posnerian responses to these sorts of questions. Indeed, he’s made something of an extrajudicial second career in writing great numbers of books whose theme is a tell-it-like-it-is forthrightness that shows the emperor in his resplendent nudity (and the repeated announcement of that theme, just in case you missed the last 19 times it was pressed, as something altogether novel coming from a judge). Professor Collins’s series is certainly of a piece with this spectacularly prodigious extrajudicial output.

Still, if you really want to know what Posner the judge is like–and here one could substitute really anybody when writing as a judge–you might do better simply to read his opinions. Failing that, or for the sake of saving a little time, may I humbly submit that you read my piece with Kevin Walsh about the several ways in which Posner the judge is often altogether different from Posner the public intellectual who explains what it is like to be a judge. It’s only after pursuing this sort of course that the differences between a judge and an explanation (even from the most able of judges) of ‘what-it-is-like-to-be-a judge’ (with apologies to Thomas Nagel) come into view–differences that for various reasons may run deep in Judge Posner’s particular case.

Smith on “Decisional Originalism”

You should take a look at Steve Smith’s superb piece criticizing original meaning originalism and proposing something that he calls decisional originalism. More and more, I am coming to believe that original expected applications originalism has a lot more going for it than is commonly thought. Opponents as well as advocates (in fact, especially advocates) of original meaning originalism don’t have much time for it. But Steve is on to something important in this short reflection. Note, also, the relevance of the method of common law reasoning for constitutional interpretation in Steve’s presentation of decisional originalism, something that I also agree is regrettably sidelined today:

If original meaning does not avoid the authority and rationality objections that gave rise to originalism, is there some criterion that would better serve the originalists’ purposes?

Maybe. Or at least the foregoing discussion has already suggested a possibility. Constitutional interpretation might attempt to ascertain and follow the original constitutional decision. After all, authority exerts itself, and rationality manifests itself, in decisions. To be sure, once made, those decisions are expressed in words—words that have meanings. We necessarily use the words (among other things, such as the historical context) to try to understand and reconstruct the decisions. Still, if our goal is to respect the constitutional assignment of authority and to facilitate rational decision-making, then we should not care about either the words or their meanings for their own sakes. We pay attention to them, rather, for the purpose of ascertaining and following the enactors’ decisions.

This distinction between meanings and decisions is subtle, but it is not wholly unfamiliar. Back when lawyers and scholars took common law reasoning more seriously than perhaps they do now, even a legal realist like Herman Oliphant could intelligibly contend that what binds in a legal precedent is what the court decided, not what the court said. Stare decisis, not stare dictis. My suggestion is that a similar distinction might be employed in the context of constitutional interpretation. In common law reasoning, to be sure, the distinction may seem more manifest because there is no canonical statement of the decision, anyway. With constitutional provisions (and statutes) there is a canonical wording; but that fact, I think, need not dissolve the distinction between decision, on the one hand, and textual meaning, on the other.

Just how an approach focusing on the original decision would differ from one focusing on original meaning is a complicated question, about which I cannot say much in a short essay….

For now, though, two observations may be suggestive.

There should be no great difficulty in concluding that the Fourth Amendment “search and seizure” provision applies to wiretaps. That sort of invasion of privacy might well be seen as covered by the enactors’ decision even though telephones did not exist in 1789. We might imagine a conversation in which we explain to the Framers: “In the future, it will be possible for officials to invade people’s privacy electronically without physically entering their dwellings. Would your decision apply to that sort of thing?” And we might plausibly suppose that they would reply, “Of course.”

Suppose, however, that someone proposes that a constitutional provision be interpreted to do something we are reasonably confident the enactors did not contemplate and very likely would not have desired. Someone proposes, for example, that the due process clause be used to invalidate restrictions on abortion. Or that the equal protection clause be used to invalidate traditional marriage laws. And we are confident, perhaps, that the enactors of those provisions would have been startled to learn of these proposals, and would have protested, “Are you serious? Our decision had nothing to do with that sort of thing.” If such “interpretations” had been foreseen, the provisions almost surely would have been reworded to avoid the unwanted results, or would not have been enacted at all.