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The Next Roberts Court: Affirmative Action

Posted in Clairvoyance, Law and Politics by Mike Sacks on August 23, 2010

Michael Kirkland of UPI wrote yesterday about Fisher v. University of Texas, the affirmative action case currently before the Fifth Circuit.  I noted this case in a link at the top of my last post, and had originally gone on to discuss it, but I decided to keep that post focused on the abortion laws in Nebraska.  Now’s as good a time as any to continue my thoughts on the hot buttons that may reach the Court in the next election cycle, and how the Court may handle them:

Affirmative action in higher education is the remaining hot-button issue on which Kennedy and O’Connor disagreed, but has yet to be tested since Alito joined the Court.  When O’Connor sided with the liberal bloc in determining that the University of Michigan Law School’s race-conscious admissions policy survived strict scrutiny in 2003′s Grutter v. Bollinger, Kennedy dissented.

Although Kennedy is not hostile to affirmative action itself, he believes the Grutter majority watered down the Court’s strict scrutiny standard formulated in Justice Powell’s concurrence in 1977′s Bakke, which approved of a narrowly tailored use of race to achieve the compelling state interest of holistically diverse student bodies in higher education. In other words, Kennedy approved of the use of race, but would give higher-ed affirmative action schemes more searching review than the Grutter majority had demonstrated.  As he concluded in his Grutter dissent:

If the Court abdicates its constitutional duty to give strict scrutiny to the use of race in university admissions, it negates my authority to approve the use of race in pursuit of student diversity. The Constitution cannot confer the right to classify on the basis of race even in this special context absent searching judicial review. For these reasons, though I reiterate my approval of giving appropriate consideration to race in this one context, I must dissent in the present case.

Whether or not Kennedy believes that UT’s consideration of race for applicants beneath its top-10% auto-admit program satisfies his application of strict scrutiny, what is certain is that his application of strict scrutiny will supersede Grutter as precedent.

If Kennedy rejects UT’s policy, he will be the limiting agent on the conservative bloc in the Roberts Court’s first foray into higher-ed affirmative action.  Dependent on Kennedy for the fifth vote to invalidate UT’s race-conscious admissions policy, the conservative bloc could not go the whole Thomas and strike down all consideration of race.  After all, Kennedy, in giving the conservative bloc its fifth vote in 2007′s Parents Involved, refused to sign onto Roberts’s opinion declaring that the “way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”  This maximalist statement was certainly not only meant for public high school admissions schemes.

Nevertheless, Kennedy’s accepting UT’s policy will have the same constitutional effect as his rejecting it.  In any scenario (assigning the majority opinion to himself and strong-arming the liberal bloc into joining him lest he change his vote; assigning the majority opinion to himself and losing his majority, thereby writing for himself in a 4-1-4 decision; assigning the majority opinion to a justice he believes to be simpatico who manages to keep him in the fold; assigning the majority opinion to another justice unwilling to revisit Grutter, compelling Kennedy to write for himself), Kennedy will bury–or, at the very least muddy–Grutter.

The justice to watch, then, will be the Chief.  In Parents Involved, he showed his hand.  He wrote more aggressively than he had written in Wisconsin Right to Life,  in which he refused to follow Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas towards striking down the same provision of the McCain-Feingold Act that he ultimately voted to put out of its misery this past year in Citizens United.  By making his antipathy to affirmative action so clear in Parents Involved, then, the Chief does not leave himself the same room to backpedal on affirmative action as he had given himself to press onward with campaign finance.

Yet might he want to cast his lot with Kennedy in Fisher?   Roberts’s best case scenario for effectively ending affirmative action is to work with Kennedy to make its scrutiny impossibly restrictive rather than stand on the sidelines calling for affirmative action’s immediate demise.  Roberts can better retain control over his Court’s direction by placing himself in the position to put his own stamp on Kennedy-dominated jurisprudence and placing seeds of doubt within the opinion that at present will be within Kennedy’s boundaries but in the future could be used, should the Chief have a majority, to bring upon affirmative action’s demise.

But I don’t think this will happen.  I take the Chief’s position in Parents Involved at face value.  He will stand firm in his opposition to affirmative action, extending his antagonism to its use in higher education.  In doing so, he will be mindful of his own words in his Citizens United concurrence, where he stated that

if adherence to a precedent actually impedes the stable and orderly adjudication of future cases, its stare decisis effect is also diminished. This can happen in a number of circumstances, such as when the precedent’s validity is so hotly contested that it cannot reliably function as a basis for decision in future cases.

Kennedy had hotly contested the Court’s approval of campaign finance restrictions since he had joined the Court, refusing the entire way to give any weight to disagreeable precedent.  Ultimately, that resulted in the Court’s overturning not only 2003′s McConnell, the most recent facial affirmation of campaign finance rules, but also 1990′s Austin v. Michigan, the case of original sin for Kennedy and his Citizens United majority.

Having provided the justification for such principled intransigence on disagreeable lines of precedent, Roberts might rather dig his heels in and argue that the problem is not simply Grutter, as Kennedy will suggest, but Grutter‘s very root, Bakke.  This position will not prevail with the current court, but if elections work in Roberts’s favor, he will be able to cite his own hot contestation–in which he and Alito will have joined Scalia and Thomas’s decades of protest–in striking down affirmative action well before Justice O’Connor’s suggested 25-year sunset provision in Grutter.

Nebraska Stands Down…For Now

Posted in Clairvoyance, Law and Politics by Mike Sacks on August 18, 2010

Just a few days ago, it seemed as though in the next few terms the Court would be facing down an unavoidable phalanx of hot-button issues: gay marriage, health care, affirmative action, illegal immigration, and abortion.  Today, however, the phalanx may have lost a horseman: the inevitable big abortion case became, well, evitable–kind of.

Back in April, the Nebraska legislature passed a new law, LB 594, that required pregnant women seeking abortions to be screened for a litany of risk factors to determine whether the women would suffer from mental or physical problems following an abortion.  In July’s Planned Parenthood v. Heineman, Judge Laurie Smith Camp of the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska found the bill to create “substantial, likely insurmountable, obstacles in the path of women seeking abortions in Nebraska,” and issued a temporary restraining order in enjoining the legislation from coming into effect.

Today, the AP reports that the Nebraska Attorney General has chosen not to appeal:

“It is evident from the judge’s ruling (to temporarily block the law from taking effect) that LB594 will ultimately be found unconstitutional,” she said. “Losing this case would require Nebraska taxpayers to foot the bill for Planned Parenthood’s legal fee.”

“We will not squander the state’s resources on a case that has very little probability of winning.”

While the district court’s TRO will now become a permanent injunction, a severability clause in LB 594 allows the rest of the legislation to stand.

Nevertheless, there remains separate bill, LB 1103, which provided for the headline-grabbing ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy–without regard to the woman’s health–on the theory that fetuses can feel pain at that gestational point.  The provision, says the AP, “is scheduled to go into effect on Oct. 15, but a legal challenge is possible from Bellevue abortion doctor LeRoy Carhart.”

Yes, that’s the same Carhart from the partial-birth abortion cases of 2000 and 2007, in which the Court sided first for Carhart in striking down a Nebraska law, and then, with Justice Alito’s replacement of Justice O’Connor, sided against Carhart in upholding a virtually identical federal law.

If Carhart does bring suit, then the hot-button phalanx lives.  The question then will be how the Roberts Court will dispose of these cases if docketed.  Might we see a return of the 2006-07 Court, which stacked the docket with ideological blockbusters and pushed the issues rightward?  Or will we see a continuation of the Court’s past two terms, in which it preserved its political capital for one major gain while finding compromises on issues too explosive to touch.  Political factors may determine which Roberts Court we shall see: will the Court be supported by a Republican-controlled Congress?  Will these cases come during the 2012 Presidential campaign or after the election?

After much talk, including my own, of this term’s rise of the Roberts Court, we may be in for another incarnation sooner than imagined.

CORRECTION: This post originally stated that the two abortion restrictions discussed were part of the same Nebraska bill.  That was incorrect.  The post has been edited accordingly.  Thanks to my professor and mentor, Ken Jost of CQ Researcher, for calling my error to my attention.

Quick Prognostication

Posted in Clairvoyance, Law and Politics by Mike Sacks on August 13, 2010

Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog explains why he believes Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal will be named the official Solicitor General.  I agree with his analysis, but want to extrapolate a bit more: Katyal will be named SG with the specific purpose of priming him for a Supreme Court seat.

Now here comes my march of the “ifs”:

The said seat will not be open for quite some time.  Justice Ginsburg, likely the next justice to retire, has no plans to do so for at least another five years.  Assuming that Ginsburg remains healthy and that President Obama wins reelection, I also assume that Obama would replace Justice Ginsburg with a woman.

Whether or not Ginsburg proves to be the final retirement under Obama, if Katyal wants to leave the SG’s office before another Court vacancy, then I expect he will be nominated to a federal court of appeal.  Doing so will bolster his position as a future SCOTUS nominee, even if Justice Kagan’s nomination straight from the SG’s office has proven federal judgeships unnecessary for a nominee’s confirmation.

If a fourth vacancy comes up before the 2016 election, then Katyal will be the pick.  By age and political allegiance, Justice Breyer would be the most likely justice to voluntarily leave the bench during the Obama administration, especially if the country’s in a Republican mood leading into 2016.  Doing so would leave room for Katyal, Breyer’s former clerk, to be a reliable successor while also becoming the Court’s first Indian-American justice.

Further, if there is no fourth vacancy under Obama and a Republican becomes president in 2016, Katyal, who is now only 40 years old, will be able to spend eight years building his reputation as a judge and still be young enough for a nomination in 2024.  Then again, by 2024, Clarence Thomas would be the oldest justice at 76–hardly retirement age for justices these days.

So instead, Katyal’s placement as SG with an eye towards SCOTUS relies on the biggest “if” of all: the departure of Justice Scalia or Kennedy a) during a Democratic administration and b) before the retirement of Justice Breyer.  This comes loaded with all sorts of assumptions, the most reasonable being a Democratic presidency beyond 2016–itself a far from a reasonable assumption.  That said, in such an instance, Katyal could be the all-around perfect pick to thwart the full-on thermonuclear confirmation war expected to occur should either Scalia or Kennedy leave their seat–and the Court’s ideological balance–in Democratic hands.

Goldstein’s explanation of Katyal’s credibility from both the left and the right could serve just as well for a SCOTUS nomination as it does for an SG appointment:

Katyal is the Acting Solicitor General, having served as the Principal Deputy Solicitor General throughout the Administration.  In the Clinton Administration, he served as National Security Advisor in the Department of Justice.  He then was a very well known academic (focusing on national security questions) who also practiced before the Court.  He was among a handful of lawyers who formed an advisory body to Barack Obama during the campaign.  Katyal’s work before the Court was very highly regarded, including his victory in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.  (Another disclosure, I was co-counsel inHamdan, but my role was relatively minor.)  Katyal’s reputation has been sterling, both within the Office of Solicitor General and in his interactions with the broader Department of Justice and the government generally. [...]

Katyal has broad support in the Republican legal establishment that should smooth the confirmation process.  My intuition when I decided to write this piece was actually the opposite:  that Katyal’s representation of Hamdan would present an obstacle to his nomination and confirmation.  (Verrilli has somewhat similar issues, given that (like me) in private practice he generally appeared on the left-leaning side of cases.) But it turns out that conservatives have recognized that Katyal’s role in Hamdan was entirely appropriate and that he has an exceptionally strong record on national security questions.  He not only worked on national security issues for the government prior to Hamdan, but as an academic supported the use of national security courts (with Jack Goldsmith), and he subsequently represented the Obama Administration in successfully arguing against both the challenge to rendition in the Arar case and the claim that habeas corpus rights should be extended to detainees held at Bagram Air Force Base (drawing criticism from the left and the New York Times editorial page).  For conservatives rejecting criticism of Katyal’s work in Hamdan, see this piece by the Wall Street Journal editorial page; this piece by Reagan Solicitor General Charles Fried; and these articles quoting Ted Olsonand Richard Epstein.

Barring an actual conservative nominee or an indefinite hold on any nominee until the Republicans take back the White House, Katyal could be the best, most palatable nominee the Republicans could hope for from a Democratic administration.

Of course, a lot happens between election years and Supreme Court vacancies.  Nominations themselves are entirely dependent upon political timing.  But I would be surprised if the White House hasn’t discussed the very scenarios I outline above when talking about Katyal.

Obscenity: One More Shot in February

Posted in Clairvoyance by Mike Sacks on August 13, 2010

Thanks to a mistrial at the Ninth Circuit in 2008, there may be one more chance for a nationwide thawing of the Court’s nearly forty-year-old obscenity jurisprudence.

The government’s prosecution of Ira Isaacs in 2008 centered around Isaacs’s distribution of bestial and scatological pornography.  But in June of that year, as the trial was pending, the LA Times reported that Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit, sitting by designation as the district court judge for Isaacs’s case, maintained a porn server of sorts on his computer.  Although the content on Kozinski’s server was a far cry from the extreme nature of Isaacs’s material on trial (NSFW), the public controversy compelled Kozinski to declare a mistrial.

The Isaacs case is now set for a February 2011 trial in the Central District of California.  But the legal landscape for obscenity has changed since 2008 in a way that makes Supreme Court review of this case far more likely than it would have been had no mistrial been declared in the first place.

As Rhett Pardon of XBIZ Newswire reported yesterday:

The introduction of national community standards were put in play after an appeals panel last year found it more logical for obscenity prosecutions.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a CAN-SPAM case — U.S. vs. Kilbride, 584 F. 3d 1240(9th Cir. 2009) — that a national community standard to define Internet obscenity is more appropriate than a local one.

Attorney Roger Jon Diamond, Isaacs’ attorney, said that it’s to his advantage to be open to a national community standard using the Miller test, despite the fact that local community standards of the Central District of California would be beneficial.

U.S. prosecutors are advocating a local community standards instruction.

Isaacs was charged with two counts of using a common carrier and interactive computer service for interstate commerce in obscene films.

“Because the videos were from the Central District, you are looking at jurors from the Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties who typically are liberally minded,” Diamond told XBIZ.

But Diamond noted that using a national community standards could create a legal maneuver that could benefit Isaacs.

“If the government were to press for a national community standard, they might have a problem finding an expert witness on the matter, because there are none,” he said. “And we could move for a dismissal.”

Some months ago, I wrote about the circuit split created when the Eleventh Circuit refused to follow the Ninth Circuit away from local community standards, and suggested that this split made the issue ripe for Supreme Court review.  No party, however, petitioned the Court over either judgment.  Then, in a case in the D.C. District Court this summer, a deeper split looked possible–the judge had refused to follow Kilbride in a published denial of defendant’s motion to dismiss [693 F.Supp.2d 25]–but the judge ultimately threw the case out before it went to the jury.

Isaacs’s case, then, may be the last Bush-era obscenity prosecution that can lead to a relaxation of the Court’s 1973 Miller test to determine what speech may be classified criminally obscene and therefore left unprotected by the First Amendment.  Although it is not entirely clear whether Kilbride will govern the Isaacs case–Kilbride applied only to Internet obscenity, whereas Isaacs is being prosecuted for Internet and common carrier transmission of obscenity–if the district court decides Kilbride applies to the mails as well as the Internet, then that will be an even stronger blow against Miller than Kilbride itself was.

Still, it’s hard to believe that any jury will not find Isaacs’s movies to be plainly patently offensive and crystal-clear appeals to the prurient interest, whether the jury uses national or local community standards.  To get a sense of the content of the material on trial, just read their titles: “Gang Bang Horse — ‘Pony Sex Game,’” “Mako’s First Time Scat,” “Hollywood Scat Amateurs No. 7.”

In Kilbride, neither the defense nor the prosecution had incentive to appeal: the prosecutors got their conviction (albeit under the federal anti-spam statute rather than anti-obscenity statutes) and the defense successfully chipped away at the Miller test.  In the Isaacs case, however, I see no way Isaacs avoids conviction unless the judge declares obscenity laws altogether unconstitutional or, as in the D.C. trial, throws the case out.  With a conviction comes incentive to appeal.  With an appeal comes a Ninth Circuit judgment affirming, if not broadening, Kilbride‘s deviation from Miller, further reinforcing the circuit split, while upholding Isaacs’s conviction.  And with an affirmation comes a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court asking for reversal by questioning the ability of any community standards, whether national or local, are sufficient First Amendment safeguards against the criminalization of protected speech.

I can’t imagine the current Court bringing all obscenity within First Amendment protection, let alone letting Isaacs walk.  But I can imagine the Court affirming the use of national standards as perfectly clear enough to gain a conviction in line with contemporary standards patently offended by bestiality or scatological porn.  That way, the Court can have it both ways: a more lenient standard of determining obscenity less susceptible to prosecutors’ unjust forum-shopping, but a standard not so lenient as to provoke headlines that the Court sympathizes with peddlers of uber-extreme pornography.

Retired Justices as Recusal Subs, Redux

Posted in Law and Politics by Mike Sacks on August 9, 2010

Bob Barnes of the Washington Post revisits the possibility of rotating retired justices onto the Court when an active one recuses him- or herself:

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) is pondering whether a change is needed. He’s considering legislation that would allow a retired member of the Supreme Court to replace a justice who has recused himself — or herself — in a particular case.

This would avoid the court potentially splitting 4 to 4 on a case and, Leahy hopes, encourage justices to recuse themselves more often when there is an appearance of partiality.

This idea was first publicized by the National Law Journal soon after Justice Stevens, upon announcing his retirement, suggested the idea to Leahy.  I wrote then about the possible political motivations and jurisprudential consequences:

This seems to me a politically loaded suggestion.  There has already been much talk about Kagan’s potentially high recusal rate over the next few terms as the Court continues to hear cases that her office had briefed in the lower courts.  On divisive issues, Kagan’s absence would lead to 5-3 victories for conservatives or ideological deadlocks at 4-4.

I cannot imagine that the GOP members of the Judiciary Committee will agree to this plan.  If Kagan does not recuse herself on a case in which a conservative may be obligated to do so, two of the substitutes–Souter and Stevens–would be a fifth vote on the left.  It is not inconceivable that these two retired ringers could cut away at the Roberts Court’s business-friendly precedents, as the Court sometimes goes shorthanded on cases concerning corporations in which justices may own stock.

O’Connor, too, exited the Court to the left of Anthony Kennedy on campaign financechurch-and-stateabortion, andaffirmative action cases – all issues that have been cut back since Alito succeeded her.  However, recusals on these cases are less likely.  That is, unless some advocacy group somehow finds a not-too-distant relative of Justice Scalia who is an abortion doctor in Nebraska that is willing to be a named plaintiff in a federal case.

Barnes’s article today echoes my sentiments:

at some point, theory steps aside and reality sets in. “It’s an interesting idea,” said James Sample, a Hofstra law professor who has specialized in studying judicial recusals. “The challenge is that it’s so difficult to divorce discussion of the proposal from the individual justices who might end up replacing the recused justices.”

In other words, the bench currently consists of Stevens, O’Connor and retired justice David H. Souter, all of whom are to the left of the court’s dominant conservatives.

It is as unlikely to think Republicans would think it is a good idea to put them back in the lineup, Sample said, as it is to think Leahy would be as keen on the idea if the available replacements were, say, former chief justices William H. Rehnquist or Warren E. Burger.

Justice Elena Kagan

Posted in Justicespotting by Mike Sacks on August 7, 2010

It’s official.  Video here.

Marriage, Not Gay Marriage – says Judge Walker

Posted in Case Reports, Law and Politics by Mike Sacks on August 4, 2010

I’m speed-reading through the Prop 8 case decision that just invalidated the ballot measure as violating the 14th Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.  Judge Walker framed his decision not as creating a new right to gay marriage, but rather a vindication of the institution of marriage itself:

Plaintiffs do not seek recognition of a new right. To characterize plaintiffs’ objective as “the right to same-sex marriage” would suggest that plaintiffs seek something different from what opposite-sex couples across the state enjoy —— namely, marriage. Rather, plaintiffs ask California to recognize their relationships for what they are: marriages. (p. 114)

And because the Supreme Court has long held that marriage is a fundamental right, and holds that California’s domestic partnership alternative for same-sex couples is no substitute for that fundamental right.  Walker then applies strict scrutiny to the plaintiffs’ claims and concludes that Prop 8 violates the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, largely because he held in the findings of facts that the defense’s witnesses were “unreliable and entitled to essentially no weight”:

As explained in detail in the equal protection analysis, Proposition 8 cannot withstand rational basis review. Still less can Proposition 8 survive the strict scrutiny required by plaintiffs’ due process claim. The minimal evidentiary presentation made by proponents does not meet the heavy burden of production necessary to show that Proposition 8 is narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest. Proposition 8 cannot, therefore, withstand strict scrutiny. Moreover, proponents do not assert that the availability of domestic partnerships satisfies plaintiffs’ fundamental right to marry; proponents stipulated that “[t]here is a significant symbolic disparity between domestic partnership and marriage.”  Accordingly, Proposition 8 violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

On the Equal Protection front, Walker did not assign a heightened level of scrutiny to gays and lesbians, abiding by the Supreme Court’s refusal to cast equal suspicion on classifications based on sexual orientation as those based on gender or race.  But sexual orientation’s rational basis review, which started as a dodge by Justice Kennedy back in Romer v. Evans and continued by Justice O’Connor in her Lawrence v. Texas concurrence, now seems to be as protective as intermediate and strict scrutiny.  Rational basis review is supposed to be the most forgiving of acts of discrimination–if one gives even a hypothetical justification in defense of a discriminatory law or practice, that law or practice would always be deemed constitutional.  Higher levels of scrutiny were left for “officially” illegitimate identity-based classifications.

But now, the Court, in avoiding the anointment of a new suspect classification for fear of bringing the Clinton/Bush era culture wars into the courtroom, has made its imprimatur irrelevant.  If you enact a law or institute a practice that tells a distinct and traditionally maligned group of Americans that they are unequal citizens, then you are irrational.  Hypothetical justifications are now inadmissible opinions unworthy of deference.  And when this case reaches the Supreme Court, the justices’ reliance on rational basis review will no longer be a peevish dodge or refusal to stratify suffering; it will be an honest reckoning of an America that no longer tolerates intolerance.

Walker provides an example of this leveling of rational basis and heightened scrutiny by collapsing sex and sexual orientation discrimination into each other:

Having considered the evidence, the relationship between sex and sexual orientation and the fact that Proposition 8 eliminates a right only a gay man or a lesbian would exercise, the court determines that plaintiffs’ equal protection claim is based on sexual orientation, but this claim is equivalent to a claim of discrimination based on sex.

In doing so, he also pulls out a nugget from Justice Ginsburg’s Christian Legal Society opinion that some seized on several weeks ago as a gay marriage “time bomb” in dicta:

Indeed, homosexual conduct and attraction are constitutionally protected and integral parts of what makes someone gay or lesbian. Lawrence, 539 US at 579; FF 42- 43; see also Christian Legal Society v Martinez, 561 US __, 130 SCt 2971, No 08-1371 Slip Op at 23 (“Our decisions have declined to distinguish between status and conduct in [the context of sexual orientation].”) (June 28, 2010) (citing Lawrence, 539 US at 583 (O’Connor, J, concurring)). [my emphasis]

Just for the sake of it, though, Walker does explicitly intimate his belief that even though he is applying rational basis, strict scrutiny is appropriate:

The trial record shows that strict scrutiny is the appropriate standard of review to apply to legislative classifications based on sexual orientation. All classifications based on sexual orientation appear suspect, as the evidence shows that California would rarely, if ever, have a reason to categorize individuals based on their sexual orientation. FF 47. Here, however, strict scrutiny is unnecessary. Proposition 8 fails to survive even rational basis review.

This note, however, is more evidence that levels of scrutiny collapse when one recognizes animus-driven actions for what they are.  More searching review may come in time for less overtly hostile acts and practices, but hopefully by that time, there will be no more suspect classes and only suspect actions.

A jurisprudence of rights as opposed to identities appeals to Justice Kennedy, whether or not American society has caught up to his ideal.  Kennedy might not have liked to watch this case at first, but he will most certainly enjoy being in the center of the action once Perry v. Schwarzenegger gets to the Court.  As opposed to his more conservative brethren, he sees rights as robust vessels rather than narrow privileges.  For this reason, Walker’s Due Process analysis broadly reading the right of marriage will be Kennedy’s reasoning of choice, while we can count on Scalia to see such a robust reading as leading, at the very least, to unions between all consenting adults no matter how many or how closely related.

But for unanimity’s sake, Kennedy, or maybe a justice or four in the liberal bloc, would be well-advised to latch onto Walker’s Equal Protection analysis as well.  Under this analysis, Scalia has already accepted gay marriage as an legal inevitability, per his Lawrence concurrence:

This reasoning leaves on pretty shaky grounds state laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples. Justice O’Connor seeks to preserve them by the conclusory statement that “preserving the traditional institution of marriage” is a legitimate state interest. Ante, at 7. But “preserving the traditional institution of marriage” is just a kinder way of describing the State’s moral disapproval of same-sex couples. Texas’s interest in §21.06 could be recast in similarly euphemistic terms: “preserving the traditional sexual mores of our society.” In the jurisprudence Justice O’Connor has seemingly created, judges can validate laws by characterizing them as “preserving the traditions of society” (good); or invalidate them by characterizing them as “expressing moral disapproval” (bad).

Of couse, gaining Scalia’s vote–even in an exasperated concurrence–is wishful thinking.  But at least the Court’s putative majority in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, — U.S. — (2013) will take pleasure in quoting him, as Walker did in his Finding of Fact 21(c) on page 61 of his 136-page opinion:

Lawrence v Texas, 539 US 558, 604-05 (2003) (Scalia, J, dissenting) (“If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is ‘no legitimate state interest’ for purposes of proscribing that conduct * * * what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising ‘the liberty protected by the Constitution’? Surely not the encouragement of procreation, since the sterile and the elderly are allowed to marry.”)

Nevertheless, there always does remain the chance that this putative majority may turn to mush in the face of a federal right to same-sex marriage, whether or not Walker’s framing survives the Ninth Circuit’s go-round.  And as I wrote after the Massachusetts DOMA cases:

The question now, however, is whether Justice Kennedy, the author of both Romer and Lawrence and the putative fifth vote in a gay marriage case, is willing to extend his sexual orientation discrimination jurisprudence the same way he has expanded his death penalty jurisprudence.  In other words, is recognizing a federal constitutional right for same-sex marriage more akin to sheltering juveniles from life without parole for non-homicide crimes, or is it more like deeming the death penalty at all times unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment?  If the former, the Perry plaintiffs can take heart.  If the latter, Perry may fail to gain Kennedy’s approval, and Gill and Mass v. HHS will become the preferred precedents in the fight for marriage equality.

We must remember that even though Kennedy likes his rights robust, he has also become the limiting agent to the abortion right he helped preserve in Casey.  But there is a difference between the gay rights Kennedy has helped protect in Romer and Lawrence and the abortion rights he has since restricted since Casey: gay marriage, unlike abortion, has no dauntingly actual life-or-death element.

Yet as a matter of political consequence, a critical mass of states has not yet come to pass on gay marriage.  With only a handful of states and the District of Columbia recognizing same sex marriage, Perry may be more Roe than Loving, and I imagine that every member of the Court will have that in mind when considering the case.

What is certain is that same-sex marriage is gestating in the states, however few have so far endorsed it.  The question, then, will be whether Kennedy sees Walker’s opinion as a new birth of freedom for a class long robbed of its dignity, or as a grisly killing of viable progress throughout the states’ slow and steady political processes.

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