Constitutional Law

Adam M. Samaha

Observers have suggested that adding sources of interpretation tends to increase interpreter discretion. The idea is embedded in a quip, attributed to Judge Harold Leventhal, that citing legislative history is like “looking over a crowd and picking out your friends.” Participants in debates over interpretive method have applied the idea to the proliferation of other sources as well, including canons of construction and originalist history. But the logic of “more sources, more discretion” has escaped serious testing. And predicting the effect of source proliferation is not a matter of logic alone. The empirical study of how information loads affect behavior has grown dramatically in recent decades, though almost without notice in legal scholarship on interpretive method.

This Article tests the logic and evidence for “more sources, more discretion.” The idea turns out to be incorrect, without more, as a matter of logic. Adding sources tends to reduce the chance of discretion using a simple model of interpretation. This starter model depicts judges as aggregators of source implications, and it draws on basic probability theory and computer simulations to illustrate. The analysis does change if we allow judges to “spin” or “cherry pick” sources, but without much hope for limiting discretion by limiting sources. Of course, judges will not always behave like machines executing instructions or otherwise follow the logic of these models. Thus the Article goes on to spotlight provocative empirical studies of information-load effects, develop working theories of interpreter behavior, and present new evidence.

After emphasizing that interpreters might ignore additional information at some point, the Article tests three other theories. First, an extended dataset casts doubt on an earlier study that linked a growing stock of precedents to increased judicial discretion. Adding to the pile of precedents seems to have no simple pattern of effect on discretion. Second, existing studies indicate that increasing information loads might prompt judges to promote the status quo, and new data suggest that this effect depends on the type of information added. The number of sources cited in appellant briefs appears to have no effect on judges’ willingness to affirm—in contrast with the number of words and issues presented, which may have opposing effects. Third, an expanded dataset supports an earlier finding that judges who face a large number of doctrinal factors might weight those factors in a quasi-legal fashion. This time-saving prioritization does not seem to follow conventional ideological lines.

With simple intuitions in doubt, thoughtful work remains to be done on the effects of source proliferation. Observers interested in judicial discretion have good reason to look beyond source proliferation to find it. And observers interested in institutional design have good reason to rethink the range of consequences when information is added to our judicial systems. 

Richard Diggs

Political gerrymandering has been a feature of our republic since the early days of the United States. The majority of states in the U.S. allow state legislators to draw the district lines for legislative elections. Legislator-led redistricting is plagued with legislator conflict of interest, producing elections that are spectacularly uncompetitive and rampant with partisanship. In the process, the interests of voters are in conflict with the party and individual interests of legislators, threatening the legitimacy of our republican form of government. The results are often incumbent entrenchment in “safe seats” and overt partisan-based district manipulation. While not necessarily indicative that the will of the people is being usurped by the ambitions of legislators, one must inevitably ask, are voters choosing their legislators or are legislators choosing their voters? Until recently, the Supreme Court has taken a “hands-off” approach to remedying the negative effects of the partisan gerrymandering that occurs in states employing legislator-led redistricting. In Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the Supreme Court upheld Arizona voters’ right to transfer redistricting authority from state legislators to an independent commission of citizens via ballot initiative. This Note argues that the delegation theory applied by the Court in the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission decision, and the authority of voters to be the supreme regulators of the political market, is supported by the Framers’ vision of political competition and accountability as articulated in The Federalist Papers.

Trevor W. Morrison & Julie B. Ehrlich
Jessica A. Clarke

Courts routinely begin their analyses of discrimination claims with the question of whether the plaintiff has proven he or she is a “member of the protected class.” Although this refrain may sometimes be an empty formality, it has taken on real bite in a significant number of cases. For example, one court dismissed a claim by a man who was harassed with anti-Mexican slurs because he was of African American rather than Mexican ancestry. Other courts have dismissed sex discrimination claims by LGBT plaintiffs on the ground that LGBT status is not a protected class. Yet other courts have dismissed claims by white people alleging they were harmed by white supremacist violence and straight people alleging they were harmed by homophobic harassment. This Article terms this phenomenon “protected class gatekeeping.” It argues that protected class gatekeeping is grounded in dubious constructions of antidiscrimination statutes, and that its routine use prevents equality law from achieving its central aim: dismantling sexism, racism, homophobia, religious intolerance, and other such biases. While past scholarship has identified certain forms of protected class gatekeeping, it has not recognized the scope of the problem or addressed the progressive intuitions that underlie it. Critical examination of protected class gatekeeping is of pressing importance as legisla-tures, courts, and legal scholars debate new statutory language and doctrinal frameworks for discrimination claims. 

Trevor W. Morrison & Julie B. Ehrlich