Author Archives: Marc O. DeGirolami

We the People: What the Public Thinks About Originalism

The following is a post by Center friend and supporter Don Drakeman.

As part of a lively debate about originalism and same-sex marriage (at the Volokh Conspiracy site between Orin Kerr and Ilya Somin), Larry Solum has suggested that there is “no good empirical data on public beliefs about originalism.”  I can’t add to the substantive debate, but I have some empirical data about what the public believes about originalism.  Readers can decide whether it is good or not.

In 2012, I commissioned a YOUGOV survey of 1000 Americans specifically on the topic of originalism.  Most surveys have simply asked voters to choose between the Constitution’s original meaning and a more modern, living Constitution approach. Over time, the public has generally split about 50-50 on that point, with a majority periodically flipping from  one side to the other.  In my Originalism 2012 Survey, 60% chose the understanding of the Constitution at the time it was originally written, with 40% picking “what the Constitution means in current times.”

But here’s the interesting part. I asked the “current times” respondents what the Supreme Court should do with evidence of the original meaning.”  I expected that most would say that it should be either irrelevant or, or merely historical background.  Yet, only 3% said that the Court should ignore it, 18% opted for it to be used only as historical background, and an impressive 79% said that the Supreme Court should “consider it as one of the various factors that should be considered in making the decision.”  So, all in, over 90% of Americans think that the original meaning is at least relevant to the Supreme Court’s decision, with half or more considering it determinative.

That strikes me is as a pretty powerful reason for us to think hard about what the original meaning really is. Many of the debates among originalists center on exactly where we should be looking for that meaning.  I asked the public that question. Offered a series of possible sources, a majority of the public said “yes” or “maybe” to all of these four possibilities: Dictionary definitions; how average voters at the time of ratification understood it; how hypothetical, well-informed ratifiers would have understood it; and the understanding of the framers.  When asked which of these is the most important in the event of a conflict, 66% picked “what the Constitution’s framers intended it to mean.”

Whether the public’s views are important is an interesting question for debate. (For what it’s worth, I believe that they are.) For today, however, I simply wanted to point out that we do have some empirical data, and it speaks pretty clearly.

Details of the Originalism 2012 Survey (along with why I think it is important) can be found here:http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2448431

The Libertas Project: Year Two

I am delighted to post a notice for two workshops this summer that are part of the excellent Libertas Project, spearheaded by my friend Michael Moreland of Villanova Law School and supported generously by the Templeton Foundation. I was pleased to serve as a moderator (together with Zachary Calo) at the workshop on religious freedom last year, and will do so again this July joined by Zak and Rick Garnett. I have posted details below, but please contact me (or any of the conveners) if you have an interest in participating.

Libertas Project

The Libertas Project at Villanova University School of Law is seeking applications for participation in its 2015 summer workshops on religious and economic freedom. The project will seek to bring together concerns about religious freedom and economic freedom in a framework that situates both topics amid a larger conversation about freedom, law, and virtue. The Libertas Project aspires to broaden the academic and public appreciation for religious freedom as a human good, while also bringing the insights of religion to bear on conversations about economic freedom as an essential component of a free society. A more detailed description of the project’s inspiration and goals is below. The Libertas Project is made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

To address these issues of religious and economic freedom, the Libertas Project will host a series of summer workshops at Villanova University School of Law. Each workshop will be comprised of approximately 20 participants drawn primarily from law but also welcoming scholars from related fields (philosophy, political science, religion, business, and economics, for example) as well as judges, policymakers, and journalists. The workshops will be structured around a set of common readings on each topic with group discussions, break-out sessions, and meals in order to foster scholarly networks and collaborative projects among the participants.

The dates for the 2015 summer workshops are July 6-8 on religious freedom and July 13-15 on economic freedom. Participants in the workshops will each receive an honorarium of $1500.

The workshop moderators will be Richard Garnett (University of Notre Dame), Marc DeGirolami (St. John’s University), and Zachary Calo (Valparaiso University) on religious freedom and Thomas Smith (Villanova University) and Mary Hirschfeld (Villanova University) on economic freedom.

The workshops will take place at Villanova University School of Law. Villanova is located 12 miles west of Philadelphia, the fifth-largest city in the United States and the second-largest city on the East Coast. The campus is situated on Philadelphia’s suburban Main Line, and Villanova is easily accessible by train, plane, car, or regional public transportation.

Due to limited travel funds, participants are asked to obtain travel funding from their home institutions, but travel scholarships are available.

To apply, please submit a brief statement of interest (and specifying whether you are interested in the workshop on economic freedom or religious freedom) with a current c.v. to the project leader, Michael Moreland, Vice Dean and Professor of Law at Villanova University School of Law (Moreland@law.villanova.edu) by March 1, 2015.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

The Libertas Project addresses two topics related to freedom in the context of law and religion in American public life: religious freedom and economic freedom.

Religious freedom and economic freedom, though rarely treated together, illustrate both some of the shortcomings and the possibilities of American intellectual life, most especially in American law and legal scholarship. One of the challenges faced in American legal scholarship and political theory on religious freedom is the reduction of religious freedom to constitutional law, with little engagement with theological arguments or empirical research on religion in American public life. The leading casebooks and materials on law and religion – even those most sympathetic to religious views – often contain little engagement with theological sources. The American legal discourse on religious freedom is dominated by an understanding shaped by the constitutional framers and then worked out in U.S. Supreme Court doctrine. While important, such a focus omits what is often genuinely important about religious freedom and why it is worthy of constitutional protection in the first place. In addition to understanding the constitutional tradition, lawyers and policymakers also need to understand religious questions as they arise across theological traditions as well as in the history of political thought and practice.

At the same time, public discourse about economic freedom tends to avoid engagement with religion, resulting in an unnecessarily cramped view of the possibilities for mutual illumination between economic and religious aspirations. In some contemporary schools of thought, human beings are understood solely in terms of narrow economic motives. But if religion can be understood as a school for the cultivation of right desire for the benefit of individuals and the common good, putting religious traditions in conversation with economic theory and practice is critical to the effort to raise the most important questions about the meaning and purpose of economic activity: How does the cultivation of an entrepreneurial spirit liberate human capital for human prosperity in a good society? How does such a society manage risk and reward? How are economic motivations better understood when we place them in theological and social contexts? What is the relationship of the entrepreneurial spirit to the meaning of justice and equality? What resources might religious traditions bring to bear on the meaning of economic freedom?

The Libertas Project seeks to bring together legal, theological, and philosophical approaches in search of innovative answers to difficult legal and policy questions about human freedom, both economic and religious. With law students, legal scholars, and legal practitioners as one of the primary audiences, the insights produced by the project will inspire in current and future lawyers and policymakers a renewed commitment to both moral character development and free markets. The combination of economic freedom and religious freedom promises a society of responsible persons working toward the common good. In sum, the Libertas Project seeks to foster a greater understanding of the ways religious and economic freedom can bring about the development of character that advances the prosperity and health of the good society.

Holt v. Hobbs Podcast

Mark and I have recorded a podcast on this week’s Supreme Court decision in Holt v. Hobbs, the prison beard case. We discuss the facts, the holding, and broader implications for RFRA and religious liberty.

 

When Doesn’t a Religious Accommodation “Detrimentally Affect Others”? And a Few Other Holt v. Hobbs Thoughts

Not too much to add to Rick Garnett’s analysis of Holt v. Hobbs. A short and precise opinion from Justice Alito. Here are just a few other questions and comments about the opinion and concurrences:

1. Rick quotes Justice Ginsburg’s one-paragraph concurrence, which states that she only joins the Court’s opinion “on th[e] understanding” that the accommodation here “would not detrimentally affect others who do not share petitioner’s belief.” I guess she felt she had to use the occasion to say something pejorative about Hobby Lobby, which she also quotes. It seems she has bought the line pressed by those who claim that the Establishment Clause prohibits third-party burdens, yet she articulates the standard that they champion rather expansively. There may be a big difference between arguing that the Establishment Clause prohibits religious accommodations that impose “significant burdens on identifiable third parties” (if memory serves, this was the standard favored by academic defenders of this argument) and arguing that the Establishment Clause prohibits religious accommodations that “detrimentally affect” anybody who doesn’t share the claimant’s religious beliefs. I don’t believe the former is a correct reading of the Establishment Clause. But the latter formulation seems a good deal broader. What constitutes a “detrimental effect” under that approach? Might symbolic harms count? I don’t see why they wouldn’t. And as Justice Alito points out, Arkansas made no argument that an exemption was not feasible as a matter of cost or other resources (“the Department has not argued that denying a petitioner an exemption is necessary to further a compelling interest in cost control or program administration”). Had the Department made an argument about cost control (with evidence, which was seemingly in short supply on its side), would any evidence of increased cost (no matter how small) not only been enough to find against the claimant as a RLUIPA matter, but actually have triggered an Establishment Clause violation had the prison accommodated the inmate? Suppose I am a prison inmate who thinks 1/2 inch beards are beautiful as a fashion statement, or because I come from a long line of bearded ancestors and it is important to me to observe the tradition (not so far from the truth in my case, other than the bit about being a prison inmate). Am I not “detrimentally affected” by the inequality of treatment that results from Holt’s accommodation, but not mine? Surely I am. It seems to me that this sort of standard, as well as its more careful academic progenitor, strikes at the heart of these religious accommodation statutes.

2. Following from that point, the heart of these statutes (as Rick also notes) is to provide “very broad protection for religious liberty” or “expansive protection for religious liberty,” as the Court says right at the start of the opinion. This case was an easy one according to that standard, even with a thumb on the scale of deference toward prison administrators, which the Court reaffirms (it rejects “unquestioning deference” but it acknowledges the “respect” that is due the prison administrators’ “expertise”). Should not Hobby Lobby, in which there was no such presumptive deference or “respect” accorded to the government, also have been an easy case according to that standard? Should it at least have been as easy, in light of the absence of deference toward the government in the latter? And yet Holt was unanimous while Hobby Lobby split 5-4.

3. The breadth of protection for religious freedom contemplated by the statutes (RFRA and RLUIPA) and affirmed by the Court was notable, but so was the rigor with which the least restrictive means portion of the analysis was applied. In Holt, the prison argued that its concerns about the shaving of facial hair and escape were unique because of the particular sort of prison it operated, and that its rule was therefore the least restrictive means of securing against the possibility of escape. But the Court rejected that argument for the simple reason that the prison had not done enough to distinguish itself from other prisons that allow facial hair and that had managed these concerns. Other prisons, that is, whose situation was analogous to the Arkansas prison (even if not identical) used less restrictive means to achieve their security interests. The Court looked to the variety of less restrictive means on offer out there in the national universe, and found that the Department should have used one or more of those. This is perhaps a useful elaboration of the least restrictive means test. Unless the government can prove that its burden is truly unique, the Court will look to analogous (even if not identical) solutions to similar problems reached by other governmental entities. If those other solutions seem to have worked without an imposition on religious freedom, then the government has not used the least restrictive means.

Another Unanimous Roberts Court Law and Religion Opinion

The Supreme Court today handed down Holt v. Hobbs, the RLUIPA case involving an Arkansas prisoner who complained of a state prison policy disallowing him to grow a beard in accordance with his understanding of his religious obligations.

The opinion was unanimous, with two separate, short concurrences by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor. I’ll save analysis for a later moment (it was a rather straightforward application of RLUIPA in Justice Alito’s majority opinion, though with some interesting language about the individual components of the test).

For now, though, I’ll just note the fact of another unanimous opinion in this area from the Roberts Court. Holt v. Hobbs continues to follow the Roberts Court pattern of either unanimity or 5-4 outcomes in law and religion jurisprudence, as I discuss in greater detail at Part II of this article. The figures are now four unanimous law and religion decisions as against six 5-4 law and religion decisions. The article speculates about a few reasons that we might be seeing this particular voting pattern, contrasting it with the patterns of Supreme Courts past.

Mark and I will have a podcast on the decision in a few days.

The Ideological Fragmentation of Public Law

I am recently back from the annual AALS meeting, during which I attended some of the offerings of the annual “shadow” Federalist Society Conference as well. Both meetings had several worthwhile programs. One of the most interesting features of both conferences was the extent to which political and ideological fragmentation has become more ordinary and prevalent in public law disciplines. I found this to be quite comforting. In this post, I want to explain why, and to describe some of what I saw at the two conferences in this respect. But first, some thoughts on law and religion as a discipline today.

For some time now, I have believed that the political and ideological divides among legal academics in the law and religion field have been growing. They have now reached cavernous dimensions. Paul Horwitz argues in this (superb) piece that law and religion scholars have been in a state of general consensus about free exercise/accommodation issues until extremely recently, but I see things a little differently. The disagreements about free exercise have been manifest at least since I have been studying and writing in the area–about a decade now and probably longer than that. But Paul is right that they have increased dramatically even within that period.

Paul is also right that there was a period of such consensus. But it was a much earlier time. It was the period when, for example, giants including Kent Greenawalt and Doug Laycock and Vince Blasi and Jesse Choper came of scholarly age, the period when Leo Pfeffer’s views were dominant in this area, and only a few outliers arguing for non-preferentialism like James O’Neill existed. One could be a liberal nel vecchio stile and with great complaisance in those days, but still support exotic religions (traditional Christian religions were never really on the agenda), confident in the view that the “great minds” of the past—Jefferson and Madison (Marshall, Adams, and so many others were rarely mentioned)—were on board in spirit. One bought one’s bona fides to argue for relatively expansive free exercise protections (it was the ‘60s and ‘70s, and people should be free to follow their stars and make themselves into whatever they wanted) with iron separationism when it came to establishment. But the bottom line was that one’s Establishment Clause views always drove the boat then, as, it seems to me, they do now. Free exercise in that period was an afterthought—a concession to the unusual and the strange. Sort of like the way many discuss the nature of excuses in criminal law. One is excused for one’s conduct because, notwithstanding its wrongfulness, one makes a concession to human weakness by allowing that one is not blameworthy for that conduct. That’s how religion was perceived—as basically somewhere between odd and wrongful, but not culpable, and therefore excusable conduct which should be accommodated where possible for those in need of such ministrations.

That period is dead. It has been dead since long before Paul or I started writing about these matters. For those who followed in the wake of the liberal consensus, what happened was—again, beginning from an ever-hardening view of what the Establishment Clause demanded—the end of the ‘60s and ‘70s with its taste for exoticism and weird pluralism. In its place arrived a new zest for notions of equality, nondiscrimination, leveling, and so on. To argue for “pluralism” full stop and for its own sake today is something of an anachronism (this comes through nicely in the column Paul reacts to today by Frank Bruni). Exactly what is there of worth about pluralism as an intrinsic good? In the interim from then to now, sexual equalities of various sorts have gone mainstream (they were not so when the earlier consensus reigned; at least one liberal law and religion scholar of the ancien regime only began to support gay marriage in the last decade or so). Equalities of other kinds have taken center stage.

The illusion of consensus could be maintained, for a time at least, but only until the new egalitarian mandarins were challenged. Those challenges have come in the abortion context and other substantive due process areas. With some exceptions, the challenges have largely failed. But they had never come from the religion clauses proper (or their statutory analogues). Now they have. And they have made manifest the instability of the former consensus and the fact of its breakdown over many years. To invoke religious freedom is no longer to appeal to a commonly recognized constitutional freedom; it is to whistle to your favorite mangy dog.

The consequence today is that increasingly, law and religion scholars share far less common ground than they did 40 years ago. Outside their own political/ideological constituency, they have much more work to do to convince one another of their arguments. Indeed, the fact that some scholars squarely within the liberal consensus are now felt to be raving right-wingers is itself a marker of the fragmentation and polarization of the legal academy. Doug Laycock may be many wonderful and admirable things; but conservative is not one of them. These movements within (and also outside) the legal academy sometimes–perhaps oftentimes—make it feel like legal scholars have less and less to say to one another. On occasion, I have felt this to be an unfortunate feature of law and religion scholarship–exhausting and depressing. More work feels political; less work feels scholarly; and so it goes. One begins to long for other sorts of work.

But the panels that I attended last week at the AALS and Federalist Society Conferences began to persuade me of two things. First, ideological fracture is a more general development in public law in the legal academy. Second, that fracture–and all that it brings–has positive as well as negative features.

Continue reading

Interesting Law and Religion Case Before the Supreme Court Next Week

The Supreme Court’s January calendar begins next week with argument in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, a law and religion case that has gotten very little attention. The case relates to some of the issues that Mark Movsesian and Perry Dane have been talking about involving the New York City subway regulations concerning advertising. I found Perry’s phrase, “mental maps,” to be useful in thinking through the categories that we use to divide up both meanings and the motivations for expressing certain meanings. This case tests our mental maps.

It seems that the Town of Gilbert has a complex set of regulations governing the display of signs. It categorizes signs into five groups: political signs, ideological signs, “qualifying event” signs, homeowners’ association temporary signs, and real estate signs. Different rules regarding the size, duration, and location of the sign (among other variables) apply depending on the category of sign that one wishes to display.

The petitioners in the case are representatives of the Good News Community Church, a small Christian church that “holds services on Sundays, where attendees worship and fellowship together, learn biblical lessons, sing religious songs, pray for their community, and encourage others whenever possible.” Good News depends on signs to advertise its presence and invite people to join.

The Town has classified Good News as the sort of organization entitled to “qualifying event signs.” A “qualifying event sign” is a “temporary sign intended to direct pedestrians, motorists, and other passersby to a ‘qualifying event.’ A ‘qualifying event’ is any assembly, gathering, activity, or meeting sponsored, arranged, or promoted by a religious, charitable, community service, educational, or other similar non-profit organization.”

By contrast, a “political sign” is a “temporary sign which supports candidates for office or urges action on any other matter on the ballot of primary, general and special elections relating to any national, state or local election.”

And an “ideological sign” is a “sign communicating a message or ideas for non- commercial purposes that is not a Construction Sign, Directional Sign, Temporary Directional Sign Relating to a Qualifying Event, Political Sign, Garage Sale Sign, or a sign owned or required by a governmental agency.”

The petitioners’ basic complaint is that by lumping the Church in with organizations entitled only to a “qualifying event” sign, the Town is engaging in viewpoint discrimination against it, because it is only entitled to a tiny sign of very limited duration that can only be displayed in limited locations. The Town’s justification for this highly reticulated set of requirements and classifications? “Safety and aesthetics.” Also of interest is that at some point in the procedural history (which looks rather involved), the Town amended certain locational requirements for “qualifying events signs,” replacing them with a requirement that “qualifying events signs” must “relate to events in the Town of Gilbert.” That requirement does not apply to political or ideological signs. The Church claims that this amendment was made specifically to target it for unfavorable treatment.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see how the argument goes. Here is an interesting contrast contained in the Petitioners’ Brief:

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“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 delivery.com 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.