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A Legacy Diminished: President Obama and the Courts

Abstract

A central concern for any U.S. presidential administration is its relationship with the federal judiciary. For an administration, this relationship is potentially legacy making or breaking in two ways. First, what is the imprint that the administration leaves on the judiciary? Will a president have the opportunities and institutional capacity to change the political balance of the federal judiciary? Second, how will the judicial branch respond when the administration’s policy plans are, as many inevitably will be, challenged in the court system? Will the administration’s policy preferences be preserved and its agenda advanced, or will court decisions stymie important initiatives and restrict that agenda? This paper examines these questions with regard to the Obama administration’s record. The Obama era saw new levels of diversity in terms of judicial nominees and the courts did sometimes uphold key aspects of the Obama administration’s program to the chagrin of conservative opponents. Yet, with the benefit of two years hindsight, the evidence suggests that the Obama administration’s legacy with regard to both the central questions addressed in the paper was a diminished one. The administration’s capacity to reorient the federal bench was thwarted by the legislative branch, notably obstruction in Senate, with the consequences of that frustration highlighted by the rapid actions taken by the Trump administration and Senate Republicans in 2017-18. Furthermore, on balance, the decisions made by the federal judiciary on matters of significant concern to the Obama White House weakened rather than strengthened the administration’s legacy.

Open access
Politics and Constitutional Law: A Distinction without a Difference?

Abstract

This article examines the relationship between Politics and Law in U.S. Supreme Court decision-making. It argues that three major developments in recent decades have combined to undermine the Court’s status as a legal and judicial institution, and instead define it as political actor, motivated by ideology and the personal policy predilections of the Court’s Justices. The first of these elements is the increasingly political and partisan nature of the Supreme Court appointment process, as witnessed by the recent Gorsuch and Kavanaugh nominations. The behaviour of the President and Senators in these controversial appointments conclusively demonstrates that the country’s leading politicians view the Court as primarily a political body rather than a legal one. The second element of the assault on the Court’s status as a judicial institution is the rise in influence of the behaviouralist school of Supreme Court analysis. Beginning with the work of academics such as Glendon Schubert, the behaviouralists employed new methods and theories in an attempt to debunk the Legal Model of Supreme Court decision-making and to replace it with what is known today as the Attitudinal Model. It forcibly argues that Supreme Court Justices are political in intent and decision, with legal language and arguments being no more than judicial camouflage to disguise their true nature. This applies equally to both conservative and liberal justices. The article identifies the third element of the assault on the status of the Court as a legal institution as coming from Originalist scholars, activists and judges who accuse liberal Justices of having abandoned traditional interpretive methods in favour of redefining the language of the Constitution to suit their progressive political agenda. Originalists acknowledge that their own interpretive methods may lead to results deemed unacceptable to contemporary Americans, but argue that it the duty of the political branches of government, not the courts, to modernise policy and practice. This article concludes that while Originalism has genuine appeal as a theory of interpretation, it is nevertheless both impractical and undesirable. Moreover, rather than returning the Court to the Legal Model, the Originalist campaign has only served to persuade many that the Attitudinal Model is an accurate one. However, the article also argues that the break with Originalism by the Warren Court over segregation has developed into a wholesale change in the Court’s role in American government, one that ill-becomes the unelected judiciary in a representative democracy. It is argued here that the best way to restore the legal and judicial identity of the Court would be a return to the emphasis on ‘judicial role’, once championed by great jurists such as Learned Hand, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Louis Brandeis and John Harlan II. Judicial modesty and restraint would distinguish the Court from the political branches of American government. The Court should decide less and only where the case for a decision of unconstitutionality is very clear and very compelling.

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A Template For Enhancing The Impact of The National Academy of Sciences’ Reporting on Forensic Science

Abstract

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS), established in 1863, is the United States’ leading science and technology think-tank, with an active commitment to advising government. Over the last 150 years, the NAS has, both independently and in conjunction with the federal government, investigated and reported on various issues of importance, ranging from space exploration and biosecurity, to STEM education and immigration. Due to growing concerns about particular disciplines (and specifically their application in legal proceedings), one issue the NAS has reported on between 1992 and 2009 is forensic science. Specifically, the NAS has published six reports commenting on the status of forensic science evidence in the USA, namely DNA Technology in Forensic Science (1992), The Evaluation of Forensic DNA Evidence (1996), The Polygraph and Lie Detection (2003), Forensic Analysis: Weighing Bullet Lead Evidence (2004), Ballistic Imaging (2008), and Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward (2009). The response of stakeholders (including from political, legal, and academic spheres) to these reports has varied, ranging from shifts in practice and full acknowledgement, to considerable struggles to effectuate systemic reform. Using the different experiences of two reports – Forensic Analysis: Weighing Bullet Lead Evidence (2004) and Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward (2009) – as a vehicle, this article suggests how the NAS can strengthen the impact of its forensic science reporting, and how stakeholders can better harness the expertise of the NAS.

Open access
Declaration of War: A Dead Letter or An Invitation to Struggle?

Abstract

The Constitution’s declaration of war requirement, superficially straightforward but actually full of ambiguities, originated in a fear of presidential usurpation and recklessness. Yet Congress has responded to political incentives and has declined the assertive role assigned to it. The check on usurpation and recklessness has eroded almost to the vanishing point.

Open access
Normative and Institutional Dimensions of Rights’ Adjudication Around the World

Abstract

The implications of incommensurability for rights’ adjudication tend to be overlooked in much of contemporary constitutional theory. This paper criticizes the dominant “one right-answer” approach to conflicts of rights, and develops an alternative approach that is better suited to constitutional rights’ adjudication in contemporary pluralistic legal orders. It is submitted that the normative reasons for having courts undertake the value-choices implicit in constitutional rights’ adjudication, and for preferring certain legal methodologies over others, must reflect the role of courts in resolving social disputes in the light of specific aspects of the economic, social, and legal life of the polities in which those courts operate. It is further argued that any theory that builds from this approach needs to answer two inter-related questions: when is constitutional rights’ adjudication by courts appropriate, and how rights’ adjudication should be pursued.

Open access
Sanctuary Cities: A Study in Modern Nullification?

Abstract

Since Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States, the sanctuary movement has gained prominence as a form of resistance to federal immigration policy. Sanctuary cities and states have attempted to frustrate the Trump administration’s immigration agenda by refusing to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE’s) efforts to remove aliens illegally residing in the United States. Academics, pundits and politicians have compared this resistance and non-cooperation to “nullification,” a doctrine typically associated with the South Carolina Nullification Crisis of the 1830s and the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798.

This article rejects comparisons between the sanctuary movement and nullification as false equivalencies and explains why the sanctuary movement is not a form of modern nullification. Rather, it suggests the movement is better understood as being similar to “interposition”—a doctrine related to, but distinct from, nullification. In doing so, this paper will clarify the meaning of nullification and interposition by analyzing the developments of these doctrines. Part 1 of this article discusses the historical, theoretical and practical aspects of South Carolina-style nullification, and compares these to that of the sanctuary movement. Part 2 explores the development of nullification and interposition more broadly, with a particular focus on the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798. Finally, Part 3 directly compares the sanctuary movement, nullification and interposition, and it connects the movement to the “anti-commandeering” doctrine articulated by the Supreme Court in the 1990s.

Open access
Secularizing a Religious Legal System: Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction in Early Eighteenth Century England

Abstract

The early eighteenth-century English ecclesiastical courts are a case study in the secularization of a legal system. As demonstrated elsewhere, the courts were very busy. And yet the theoretical justification for their jurisdiction was very much a matter of debate throughout the period, with divine-right and voluntaristic conceptions vying for precedence. Placed in this context, the King’s Bench decision in Middleton v Crofts (1736) represented an important step in the direction of limiting the reach of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and did so on grounds that undermined divine-right justifications of the ecclesiastical court system as a whole.

Open access
Solving Child Statelessness: Disclosure, Reporting, and Corporate Responsibility

Abstract

Statelessness affects around 10 million people globally, many of whom are children. Many public law initiatives to diminish and eradicate statelessness exist, yet the problem persists. This article explores the potential for the private law to contribute to a solution to this problem, leading to increased awareness of the plight of stateless children among the public, investors, governments, and multinational corporations. In doing so, the article examines the role of the private law in regulating the use of so-called “conflict minerals” in the United States and internationally. It recognizes the contribution made by conflict minerals legislation towards finding an effective solution to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The article proposes, amongst other initiatives, a legislative solution to the enduring problem of child statelessness, adapting provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street and Consumer Protection Act which requires corporate reporting and disclosure in relation to international supply chains of public limited companies in respect of conflict minerals, and applying them instead to the causes of child statelessness.

Open access
Adventures in Higher Education, Happiness, And Mindfulness

Abstract

This Article recounts my unique adventures in higher education, including being a Princeton University freshman mathematics major at age 14, Harvard University applied mathematics graduate student at age 17, economics and finance faculty at multiple schools, first-year law student at the University of Chicago, second- and third-year law student at Stanford University, and law faculty at multiple schools. This Article also candidly discusses my experiences as student and professor and openly shares how I achieved sustainable happiness by practicing mindfulness to reduce fears, rumination, and worry in facing adversity, disappointment, and setbacks. This Article analyzes why law schools should teach law students about happiness and mindfulness. This Article discusses how to teach law students about happiness and mindfulness. Finally, this Article provides brief concluding thoughts about how law students can sustain happiness and mindfulness once they graduate from law school.

Open access
Constitutional Coup? The Case that Promulgated a New Constitution for Montana

Abstract

This Article examines one of the most important state court cases ever decided. In Montana ex rel. Cashmore v. Anderson, the Montana Supreme Court exercised its original jurisdiction to order, by a 3-2 margin, that the state’s original constitution be replaced with one the people apparently had failed to ratify. In doing so, the court yielded to interest groups that favored replacing the original state constitution with an instrument based on radically different premises. Political threats may have caused the swing justice to vote for the new constitution, but even if that did not occur, the case represents a striking example of the failure of the rule of law. The Article also proposes reforms that may reduce the chances of a recurrence.

Open access