Tag Archives: Originalism

Center Sponsors Successful Joint Colloquium with Villanova Law School

Here’s an article, from the St. John’s Law School website, on the inaugural session of the Joint Colloquium in Law and Religion, which the Center hosted with Villanova Law School this semester. The Joint Colloquium, which featured leading law and religion scholars, used innovative “virtual classroom” technology to allow students and faculty at both schools to participate simultaneously through a synchronous video link.


Joint Colloquium with Michael Walzer

From the article:

Michael Walzer (Institute for Advanced Studies) discussed the ethics of war in classical and contemporary Jewish law. Legal historian Sarah Barringer Gordon (University of Pennsylvania) explained how the availability of the corporate form empowered African-American congregations in the early national period. Kristine Kalanges (Notre Dame University School of Law) explored the relationship between Islamic law and contemporary ideas about constitutionalism and human rights. Kent Greenawalt (Columbia Law School) and Donald L. Drakeman (Cambridge University) both presented papers on Originalism. Greenawalt argued that factors other than the original understanding inevitably will and should play an important role in constitutional interpretation. Drakeman offered a methodological middle ground, one that takes account of both original intent and original meaning. Steven D. Smith (University of San Diego School of Law) critiqued the standard account of American religious freedom, and asked whether religious freedom in America today is suffering a decline.

The virtual classroom enriched the discussions by allowing for a fruitful exchange between participants at the two host schools. After the speakers presented their papers, students had the opportunity to ask questions and present their own insights and opinions on the issues.

This was our first experience with virtual classroom technology, and it was highly successful. You can read more about the joint colloquium, and view a photo gallery, here. Thanks to everyone who made it possible, and see you next time!


Joint Colloquium on Law and Religion

This semester, the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s and Villanova Law School are teaming up to host the Joint Colloquium in Law and Religion. The course invites leading law and religion scholars to make presentations to an audience of selected students and faculty. The schools will be connected in real time by video link so that students and faculty at both schools can participate in a virtual classroom experience. At St. John’s, the colloquium will be hosted by Mark Movsesian and Marc DeGirolami, the Director and Associate Director of the Center. Vice Dean and Professor Michael Moreland will host at Villanova.

The following speakers have confirmed:

January 27, 2014 (at St. John’s)
Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study
The Ethics of Warfare in the Jewish Tradition

February 10, 2014 (at Villanova)
Sarah Barringer Gordon, University of Pennsylvania Law School
The African Supplement: Religion, Race, and Corporate Law in the Early Republic

February 24, 2014 (at St. John’s)
Kent Greenawalt, Columbia Law School
Original Understanding: What is Relevant and How Much Does It Matter?

March 17, 2014 (at St. John’s)
Donald L. Drakeman, Cambridge University
Which Original Meaning of the Establishment Clause is the Right One?

March 31, 2014 (at St. John’s)
Kristine Kalanges, Notre Dame Law School
Transcendence and the Just Order

April 14, 2014 (at Villanova)
Steven D. Smith, University of San Diego Law School
Topic TBD

For more information, or if you would like to attend any of the sessions, please email one of the colloquium’s organizers:

Marc DeGirolami | degirolm@stjohns.edu
Mark Movsesian | movsesim@stjohns.edu
Michael Moreland | moreland@law.villanova.edu

McGinnis & Rappaport, “Originalism and the Good Constitution”

The importance and influence of originalism as a theory of constitutional interpretation cannot be overstated. Originalism demands a response, and it has been uniquely successful in generating responses (whether sanguine or skeptical) from constitutional scholars as well as the broader public. In recent years, originalism has enjoyed renewed prominence in both the courts and the scholarly community. So-called “new originalism” has come on the scene, garnering a few unexpected adherents. And originalism’s influence has certainly increased on the Supreme Court in the last decade. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine an opinion on, for example, the Recess Appointments Clause in the upcoming Noel Canning case that does not discuss originalist methods and reach conclusions consistent with originalist interpretive theory. That prediction could not have been made in previous eras.

The influence of originalist thinking on the interpretation of the Constitution’s religion clauses has been perhaps less powerful than in other areas (Michael McConnell’s work is a notable exception, and there are a few others). In part this is due to complex and difficult disagreements among scholars about the meaning and scope of the Free Exercise Clause (see, for example, the old debate between McConnell and Philip Hamburger, reflected in the dueling opinions by Justices O’Connor and Scalia in City of Boerne v. Flores). In part it is due to the radical expansion of the coverage of the Establishment Clause in Supreme Court caselaw beginning in the 1940s (see Donald Drakeman’s book, among other treatments) well beyond its original meaning. Nevertheless, there is a distinct possibility that originalist analysis will play a prominent role in the interpretation of the Establishment Clause in the upcoming Supreme Court legislative prayer case–at least in some of the opinions.

All of this is just a little background for what looks to be an extremely Originalism and the Good Constitutionimportant new book on originalism by two of the most acute proponents of originalism (specifically, original methods originalism, which the authors usefully compare against the constitutional construction of another new originalist, Larry Solum) writing today: Originalism and the Good Constitution (HUP 2013) by John McGinnis (Northwestern) and Michael Rappaport (University of San Diego). The book is a must-read for anyone interested in constitutional interpretation (even for–especially for–those of us who are not originalists). For some of my own thoughts about originalism in constitutional interpretation, see the second half of this paper. The publisher’s description follows.

Originalism holds that the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted according to its meaning at the time it was enacted. In their innovative defense of originalism, John McGinnis and Michael Rappaport maintain that the text of the Constitution should be adhered to by the Supreme Court because it was enacted by supermajorities—both its original enactment under Article VII and subsequent Amendments under Article V. A text approved by supermajorities has special value in a democracy because it has unusually wide support and thus tends to maximize the welfare of the greatest number.

The authors recognize and respond to many possible objections. Does originalism perpetuate the dead hand of the past? How can following the original meaning be justified, given that African Americans and women were excluded from the enactment of the Constitution in 1787 and many of its subsequent Amendments? What is originalism’s place in interpretation of the Constitution, when after two hundred years there is so much non-originalist precedent?

A fascinating counterfactual they pose is this: had the Supreme Court not interpreted the Constitution so freely, perhaps the nation would have resorted to the Article V amendment process more often and with greater effect. Their book will be an important contribution to the literature on originalism, which is now the most prominent theory of constitutional interpretation.

How the Supreme Court Found the Wall

Many Americans know that the Supreme Court has stated that the Framers intended the Establishment Clause “to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State.’” A smaller number know that the Court was quoting a letter from President Thomas Jefferson to Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut–a bit of bad history, since Jefferson’s  idiosyncratic views did not fairly reflect the consensus on church-state relations at the time of the Framing. A still smaller number know that the metaphor of the wall goes back even further, to Roger Williams, who adapted it from the Book of Isaiah.

But hardly anyone knows the very interesting story that historian and sometime CLR Forum guest Don Drakeman (Church, State, and Original Intent) tells in a recent paper. In “Why Do We Think the American Framers Wanted to Separate Church and State?,” delivered at Oxford’s Rothmere American Institute last month, Don explains that Chief Justice Morrison Waite (above) first used the metaphor in Reynolds v United States (1878), a case involving a ban on polygamy. According to Drakeman, Waite came upon the metaphor more or less by accident. Waite happened to live next door to the eminent American historian George Bancroft, for whom Jefferson was a hero. Waite consulted Bancroft about the case, and Bancroft advised that, if Waite wanted to know the Framers’ views on establishment, he should consult Jefferson:

The Chief Justice then went to the library and skimmed through the index to Jefferson’s collected works. There, he discovered an 1802 letter, in which Jefferson said that the First Amendment built a “wall of separation between church and state.” This statement had been buried for nearly 80 years until Chief Justice Waite unearthed it and cemented it into the foundations of church-state jurisprudence. Bancroft, by the way, got a thank-you note, but no visible credit for creating the Jeffersonian First Amendment.

So much for good originalism. Indeed, so much for ex parte communications about a pending lawsuit! But there it is. Don’s essay is a delight. Check it out here.

Drakeman on Original Intent, Original Meaning, and Religious Liberty

I’ve enormously enjoyed Don Drakeman’s posts, and had questions for the readership here (and for Don!) about this post involving original meaning and original intent.  Don raises a number of points that I’ve been having a hard time wrapping my mind around with respect to the contemporary discussion of new (or new new) originalism.  First, are there still advocates (besides Don) of the utility of original intent originalism floating about?  I think there are (Larry Alexander comes to mind, and I have a memory of something on this by Steve Smith, too) but they seem to be grossly (and increasingly?) outnumbered by original meaning originalists.  I should also note that Don, from my reading of his work, is not exclusivist about original intent.  He simply thinks it might be useful evidence to consider.  Second, is what Don says about the equivalence between the substantial underdeterminacy of original meaning originalism and original intent originalism accepted by original meaning originalists (see Don’s example about the varying interpretations of establishment in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and for more examples, see his book)?  There may, of course, be reasons to opt for original meaning over original intent (though the hypothetical time-traveling law professor analogy presents its own problems), but isn’t Don right that mitigating the problems of underdeterminacy surely is unlikely to be one of them?

Calabresi and Salander on Religion and the Equal Protection Clause

Here’s an important new paper,  Religion and the Equal Protection Clause, arguing that the Fourteenth Amendment independently forbids state action that discriminates on the basis of religion, even without incorporation of the First Amendment’s Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. Steve Calabresi (Northwestern) and a student co-author defend this novel claim by looking to the Fourteenth Amendment’s original meaning. They also reference trends in foreign constitutional and international human rights law. (Originalism and comparative constitutionalism – there’s an unusual combination). The wide-ranging and provocative paper also argues that public education, as currently funded, is unconstitutional. Here’s the abstract:

This article argues that state action that discriminates on the basis of religion is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Doctrine even if it does not violate the Establishment Clause or the Free Exercise Clause as incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment. State action that discriminates on the basis of religion should be subject to strict scrutiny and should almost always be held unconstitutional. We thus challenge the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez in which a 5 to 4 majority of the Court wrongly allowed a California state school to discriminate against a Christian Legal Society chapter on the basis of religion. We defend our argument that the Fourteenth Amendment bans Continue reading

Review of Judge Wilkinson’s Book

Perhaps not centrally related to law and religion (though not disconnected from it either), but here is my review of Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III’s book, Cosmic Constitutional Theory: Why Americans Are Losing Their Inalienable Right to Self-Governance, over at The New Republic.  I have the rough sense that my take is generally more positive than what I’ve seen from other legal academics and commentators, but perhaps you will let me know.

Bradley (ed.), “Challenges to Religious Liberty in the Twenty-First Century”

Here is a terrific collection of essays edited by Gerard V. Bradley (Notre Dame), Challenges to Religious Liberty in the Twenty-First Century (CUP 2012).  The contributors are CLR Forum guest Steve Smith and our friend Rick Garnett, as well as José Casanova, Tom Farr, Daniel Philpott, Christopher Tollefsen, William Inboden, Professor Bradley, and my old mentor and dear friend, Kent Greenawalt.  The publisher’s description follows.

Almost everyone today affirms the importance and merit of religious liberty. But religious liberty is being challenged by new questions (for example, use of the niqab or church adoption services for same-sex couples) and new forces (such as globalization and Islamism). Combined, these make the meaning of religious liberty in the twenty-first century uncertain. This collection of essays by ten of the world’s leading scholars on religious liberty takes aim at these issues. The book is arranged around five specific challenges to religious liberty today: the state’s responsibility to prevent coercion and intimidation of believers by others within the same faith community; the U.S.’s basic moral responsibilities to promote religious liberty abroad; how to understand and apply the traditional right of conscientious objection in today’s circumstances; the distinctive problems presented by globalization; and the viability today of an ‘originalist’ interpretation of the First Amendment religion clauses.

New and Old Originalisms, Taxes, and the Establishment Clause

Not the most common threesome, it’s true, but united in this interesting piece by Joel Alicea and Donald Drakeman, The Limits of New Originalism.  For those that don’t know Drakeman’s work, you should check out his terrific Church, State, and Original Intent (here are some thoughts I wrote up about the book).  

The new piece argues that the “new” originalism faces an important problem when originalist materials point toward “two or more equally persuasive original public meanings.”  The authors focus on what would ordinarily be a relatively obscure tax case from 1796 – Hylton v. United States — which involved the constitutionality of a federal tax on carriages.  The case was actually cited fairly extensively by CJ Roberts in his NFIB opinion for the discussion about the direct taxation issue (see pp. 40-41).  The tax was resisted by Hylton, a Virginia businessman, and other Southerners who believed that it was inequitable because of the greater prevalence of carriages in the South (the strategy used to get to the Supreme Court at all is pretty neat too).  The case pitted Hamilton against Madison (who had argued against the tax’s constitutionality) and the issue was whether this new tax should be characterized as a direct tax or an excise tax, and “what to do when the best evidence of contemporary usage points in two directions.”  The arguments advanced by lawyers for and against the government proceed through all of the accepted new originalist sources — dictionaries, ordinary or customary usage before the framing of the Constitution (of many sorts), resistance to the “foreign Lexicons” of “consolidated” as opposed to “confederated” governments, commentaries, poems (do see Andrew Marvell’s verse on the excise tax as a “thousand eye[d]” “monster” — eat your heart out, Argus!), ratification materials, congressional debates, and so on.

Continue reading

Classic Revisited: Eliade’s “The Sacred and the Profane”

Today’s classic revisited is one in the sociology and history of religion, Mircea Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, first published in 1957 (the first edition pictured at right).  The field of religious studies, unlike theology, is a comparatively new one – beginning in earnest in the 19th century and heating up only in the 20th.  One connection to law is the ‘definition-of-religion’ issue: how can we find an essence or core of what religion is – and so what the scope is of the constitutional commitments against its establishment and to its free exercise.  The issue appeared in some of the Supreme Court’s mid-twentieth century conscientious objection to military service opinions, which, while not strictly about the Constitution (they were statutory interpretation decisions), confronted the Court with the problems of how to distinguish a religious reason of conscience from a different sort of reason, and whether to do so at all.  But there are other less obvious and so far unexplored connections to law, particularly constitutional law. 

The eminent and supremely cultivated theorist and historian of religion Mircea Eliade, Romanian by birth, taught at the University of Chicago after a turbulent early life.  Together with Joachim Wach and others, Eliade made Chicago the heart of the academic study of religion in the mid-late-20th century, and to this day it retains some of the preeminent figures in religious studies (J.Z. Smith, Martin Riesebrodt, and Jean Bethke Elshtain, among many others).

Though Eliade never had any particular influence on the Court (a treatise of his was cited in the majority opinion in the Lukumi Babalu decision, as well as in a handful of 2d and 3d circuit decisions), his ideas about the nature of religious experience are extremely interesting and possibly deserve further study by legal scholars and courts — including by those  interested in the psychology of originalism.  One of Eliade’s crucial ideas was that the conceptions of “sacred” and “profane” time differ fundamentally.  In sacred time, every time that we engage in a ritual or a ceremony, it serves to reactualize the “mythic beginning” which is “indefinitely recoverable, indefinitely repeatable.”  (69)  Sacred time is therefore cyclical; while profane time is linear.  That “beginning” is not to be found in a historical moment because no time can precede “the appearance of the reality narrated in the myth.”  (72)  It is in this way that sacred time (and, we might say, sacred legal time) creates fissures or what Eliade called moments of “hierophany” in the humdrum linearity of profane time, in which a (legal) “beginning” is recalled and reactualized in (legal) ritual.

Eliade’s writing (laced in part with the writing of Freud and Jung) has not penetrated the constitutional discourse, but it has something worthwhile to offer.