By ED WHELAN
November 29, 2021 12:30 PM
As President Reagan’s White House counsel and as Attorney General, Ed Meese was a leading architect of the modern conservative legal movement. In this Washington Post op-ed, Meese soundly observes that the question whether that movement can be judged to be a “success” will turn on whether the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (to be argued on Wednesday) overrules Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey and “return[s] the issue of abortion where it belongs, to the people” in our fifty states.
Roe has stood for years as the prime example of disrespect to our Constitution’s allocation of power and the proper judicial role. It has been the focus of criticism from judges and legal scholars including Robert H. Bork, Alexander Bickel, William H. Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia. And for good reason. To them and the legal movement they inspired, Roe’s judicial supremacy misconceived the Constitution, ignored the lessons of history and encouraged unaccountable government.
And the 1992 case that preserved Roe’s “essential holding,” Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, showed that Roe and subsequent abortion case law are not governed by the ordinary principles of stare decisis, the notion that the court should not abandon its precedents without strong reason.
Subsequent abortion case law has only compounded this judicial willfulness. There is a separate “law of abortion,” as Roe’s author, Justice Harry A. Blackmun, put it, that distorts or ignores ordinary legal rules so to preserve constitutionalized abortion. With that, many other areas of law — from free speech, religious liberty, voting laws, to mundane matters of civil procedure — have been turned into proxy wars over abortion, because Roe and Casey prevent the court from honestly confronting their lacking basis in the Constitution. In short, constitutionalized abortion epitomizes judicial supremacy because it rests on nothing else.
By ED WHELAN
November 30, 2021 8:00 AM
1979—President Carter nominates This Day Hall of Famer Stephen Reinhardt to a seat on the Ninth Circuit.
1987—In the aftermath of the Senate’s defeat of the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork and of Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg’s decision not to proceed with his intended nomination, President Reagan nominates Ninth Circuit judge Anthony M. Kennedy to fill the seat vacated by retired Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr.
1989—By a vote of 4 to 3, the Florida supreme court concocts a categorical rule that police violate the Fourth Amendment when they conduct drug searches by boarding intercity buses and questioning passengers. In her melodramatic majority opinion (in Bostick v. State), Justice Rosemary Barkett posits that the “intrusion upon privacy rights caused by the [practice] is too great for democracy to sustain,” and she equates the police conduct with methods employed by Nazi Germany.
On review, the Supreme Court (in Florida v. Bostick) rejects Barkett’s rule by a 6 to 3 vote (with Marshall, Stevens, and Blackmun in dissent). Justice O’Connor’s majority opinion determines that the same totality-of-the-circumstances inquiry that governs whether “encounters that take place on a city street or an airport lobby” constitute a seizure “applies equally to encounters on a bus.”
On remand, Barkett again concludes that an unlawful seizure occurred. This time, though, she is in dissent.
By ED WHELAN
November 29, 2021 8:00 AM
2004—Objecting to governing law on homosexuals in the military, many law schools restricted the access of military recruiters to their students. In response, Congress enacted the Solomon Amendment, which provides that in order for a law school and its university to receive federal funding, the law school must offer military recruiters the same access to its campus and students that it provides to the nonmilitary recruiter receiving the most favorable access.
In FAIR v. Rumsfeld, a divided panel of the Third Circuit rules that the Solomon Amendment violates First Amendment speech guarantees by “requir[ing] law schools to express a message that is incompatible with their educational objectives.” According to the majority opinion of Judge Thomas Ambro, the message that law schools are supposedly being required to express is that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is permissible, and the means by which law schools are supposedly being required to express that message is by giving military recruiters the same access to students they give other recruiters.
On review, the Supreme Court will unanimously reverse, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts. Roberts makes short work of the Third Circuit’s reasoning. The Solomon Amendment, he explains, “neither limits what law schools may say nor requires them to say anything.” Rather, it “regulates conduct, not speech,” as it “affects what law schools must do—afford equal access to military recruiters—not what they may or may not say.” Because Congress could directly require that law schools provide access to military recruiters, it can impose the same requirement as a condition of government funding.
2016—Having earlier found North Carolina’s legislative districts to be the product of an unconstitutional racial gerrymander, a three-judge panel in the Middle District of North Carolina (in Covington v. North Carolina) orders the state to hold a special election in the fall of 2017, smack in the middle of the two-year term of the legislators elected in November 2016. In addition to cutting the legislators’ terms in half, the court order would also suspend the candidate-residency requirements in the state constitution for legislative candidates in the special election.
Six weeks later, the Supreme Court will block the panel’s order, and in June 2017, in a summary per curiam ruling, the Court will vacate the order. The Court chastises the panel for “address[ing] the balance of equities in only the most cursory fashion,” and it says that it lacks “confidence that the court adequately grappled with the interests on both sides of the remedial question before us.”
By ED WHELAN
November 28, 2021 8:00 AM
1975—President Gerald Ford nominates Seventh Circuit judge John Paul Stevens to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by retired Justice William O. Douglas.
Not long before his death at the end of 2006, Ford will rashly state that he is “prepared to allow history’s judgment” of his presidency to rest exclusively on his appointment of Stevens—and that he specifically agrees with Stevens’s extreme positions on the Establishment Clause. But Ford’s actions belie his words, for (as this essay of mine explains) his own funeral ceremony at National Cathedral that he so carefully planned could never have taken place as it did—and probably could not have occurred at all—if Stevens’s radical secularist misreading of the Establishment Clause were governing law.
2016—In what Fourth Amendment expert Orin Kerr will critique as yet another “very unpersuasive” opinion, magistrate judge James Orenstein rejects the government’s application for a search warrant on the spurious ground that the target of the search had consented to the search. Orenstein, Kerr observes, is “a leader in the Magistrate’s Revolt, a small group of federal magistrate judges who have often come up with unexpected theories to reject court-order applications in computer search and surveillance cases.”
By ED WHELAN
November 26, 2021 8:00 AM
2019—In Doe v. Trump, federal district judge Michael H. Simon (District of Oregon) issues a nationwide preliminary injunction prohibiting the Trump administration from implementing a presidential proclamation that restricts entry of immigrant visa applicants on the ground that they would burden the American health care system. A divided Ninth Circuit panel will reverse Simon’s ruling a year later.
By ED WHELAN
November 25, 2021 8:00 AM
2021—Happy Thanksgiving! Be grateful that the secular activists in the judiciary weren’t dominant when George Washington was president, or we’d never have this great, and deeply religious, American feast. In the words of Washington:
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness”:
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
2013—In a wild administrative ruling (In re Fonberg), the three-judge Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit Executive Committee concludes that an unmarried court employee with a same-sex domestic partner is entitled to federal marital benefits. This, alas, is not the first time that Ninth Circuit chief judge Alex Kozinski has exercised his non-judicial administrative authority to carry out a sneak attack on marriage.
By ED WHELAN
November 24, 2021 8:00 AM
2004—A New Hampshire law, enacted in 2003, generally requires that abortionists provide 48 hours’ advance notice to parents of minor daughters who have arranged to undergo abortion. The law provides for various exceptions to the notice requirement but does not set forth an express exception for hypothetical instances in which compliance with the notice period would threaten severe damage to the minor’s health. In Planned Parenthood v. Heed, a First Circuit panel invalidates the law in its entirety because it lacks a health exception.
On review, the Supreme Court will rule unanimously (in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood) that the First Circuit erred in failing to consider whether narrower relief, such as enjoining enforcement of the law only in instances that presented a severe health risk, was appropriate.
By ED WHELAN
November 23, 2021 8:00 AM
1998—Purporting to be “mindful that a solemn act of the General Assembly carries with it a presumption of constitutionality that is overturned only when it is established that the legislation ‘manifestly infringes upon a constitutional provision or violates the rights of the people,’” the Georgia supreme court instead shows itself eager to continue its supposed legacy of being a “pioneer in the realm of the right of privacy.” To that end, in Powell v. State, it concocts a state constitutional right to consensual sodomy: as it puts it, the laws may not criminalize “the performance of private, unforced, non-commercial acts of sexual intimacy between persons legally able to consent.”
Never mind that the supposed right recognizes, and is limited by, state authority to establish an age of consent (and to bar consent in cases of adult incest), and that the case before it involved a 17-year-old who, as it happens, testified that the defendant—her aunt’s husband—had sodomized her “without her consent and against her will.” (The jury verdict of acquittal on two charges indicates that her testimony did not convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt).
A concurring justice praises the majority opinion as “inspired”—perhaps, but by what?—and laments that some might criticize the opinion rather than “engag[e] in constructive ideological discourse.”
Justice Carley, in dissent, argues that the precedent on which the majority relies “clearly interprets the constitutional right of privacy as subject to compliance with this state’s criminal statutes.” He faults the majority for “acting as social engineers rather than as jurists” and for “judicially repeal[ing] laws on purely sociological considerations.”
M. Edward Whelan III
Distinguished Senior Fellow and
Antonin Scalia Chair in Constitutional Studies
Ethics and Public Policy Center
1730 M Street N.W., Suite 910
Washington, D.C. 20036