Constitutional Law

Charles B. Straut
Much work has gone into making sense of Justice Kennedy’s famously unconventional use of the rational basis test in Lawrence v. Texas. But why did invalidating state sodomy bans require any doctrinal innovation? Shouldn’t Lawrence have been an easy case under already-existing law? After all, legislation must serve a secular purpose to meet the Establishment Clause test laid out in Lemon v. Kurtzman, and the bans had no rationale but a pan-Abrahamic homosexuality taboo. So hadn’t the bans been unconstitutional since Lemon—that is, some thirty years before Lawrence?
 
Until Lawrence, there was an anomaly at the heart of the Lemon test: Courts took morality enforcement for granted as a secular purpose, irrespective of whether that morality had any nonreligious rationale. This prevented the Lemon test from reaching one of the areas that needed it most: so-called “morals legislation.” Hence Lawrence is in effect an Establishment Clause case despite purporting to sound in due process. For the rule of decision it applied in invalidating the bans for lack of a secular purpose is none other than the familiar first prong of the Lemon test: Legislation must do more than codify creed.
 
In reaffirming that religious belief never suffices as a basis for legislation, Lawrence gave Lemon the breadth it always should have had. When it applied the secular purpose requirement to morals legislation, Lawrence vindicated the cultural choice implicit in the First Amendment’s nonestablishment rule—our precommitment to a legal system grounded in reasons that are open to all Americans.
 
Jarret A. Zafran

Our Government derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, generally measured through our elections. When incumbent powers create structures and rules for our politics that entrench the status quo and limit voter control, however, the legitimacy of that consent is tested. For more than fifty years, and in spite of the “political question doctrine,” the Supreme Court has adjudicated challenges to franchise restrictions, gerrymandering, ballot access provisions, and more. In doing so, the Court utilizes doctrinal frameworks that focus on harms to individual rights and not on structural harms to the competitiveness, accountability, and responsiveness of our politics. This myopic view leaves systemic entrenchment and political lockup largely untouched. Scholars have identified these doctrinal deficiencies, but have not suggested an alternative textual basis for judicial intervention in these cases. This Note offers a potential solution in the Guarantee Clause. It argues that the Clause embodies a promise of popular sovereignty in the states. I contend that the Guarantee Clause can and should be revived to unburden the courts from the deficiencies of existing doctrine and provide a textual basis for addressing the problems of political malfunction.

Caleb A. Seeley

With the rise of the internet and computer storage, the loss and theft of individuals’ private information has become commonplace. Data breaches occur with increasing regularity, leading some to question if the current statutory and regulatory schemes properly incentivize the maintenance of adequate security measures amongst federal agencies. This Note argues that inadequate data security practices by government agencies implicate the constitutional right to informational privacy. While the Court has previously upheld intrusive personal information collection programs, the Privacy Act, which plays an essential role in the Court’s decisions, has been weakened significantly by recent interpretation of its damages provision. Given this change in the effectiveness of the statutory protection of private data, lawsuits alleging a violation of the constitutional right to informational privacy might succeed and could help incentivize optimal levels of data security amongst government agencies.

Alok K. Nadig

Being queer—like deviating from the norm in any way—can be socially disabling. So why not turn to disability law for redress? After a nationwide same-sex marriage ruling from the Supreme Court, many are devoting more attention to the current absence of uniform, federal employment discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. As Title VII has grown friendlier to claims made by LGBT individuals, people are debating the merits of cognizing anti-LGBT bias as sex discrimination in the law. Meanwhile, the Equality Act, introduced in Congress in 2015, would ban discrimination on the basis of LGBT status throughout the country. But while vital, Title VII and the Equality Act could leave a gap through which queer people whose identities are not legible within the gender binary and are not politically stable as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are left out. This Note argues that LGBT people should challenge their current exclusion from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) through constitutional litigation to fill this gap. Through its disavowal of traditional identity politics, the ADA offers an additional comparative advantage that has transformative potential for queer plaintiffs: Its foundation on the social model of disability topples the LGBT rights movement’s historic emphasis on respectability to enable unrestrained self-determination.

Kristen Loveland

Dignity has been associated with death in two very different areas of constitutional jurisprudence: assisted suicide and the death penalty. This Note seeks to analyze what the concept of dignity means in these two contexts: who is the subject of dignity and what are dignity’s requirements? It argues that assisted suicide foregrounds the subjective dignity of the individual; what dignity involves is largely, though not wholly, a question of what an individual considers a dignified way to die. By contrast, the subject of dignity in death penalty jurisprudence is the collective and not the individual. Inasmuch as the jurisprudence claims to speak to the dignity of the individual, that dignity is objective and extends no further than collective dignity’s reach. As a result, what constitutes dignity in execution is almost wholly determined by what appears dignified to society. This Note ends by critically assessing how the two constitutional areas that link death and dignity may fruitfully inform each other. It suggests that assisted suicide’s individualistic dignity includes not just a right to decide how to die, but also a responsibility to collective society to consider how the nature of that suicide may impact collective dignity. In turn, in the death penalty context, states and courts should import subjective individual dignity considerations and reconsider whether their invocation of “dignity” in fact reflects a collective valuation of dignity or merely assuages social sensibilities by masking the reality of death.

Samuel E. Schoenburg

On his first day in office, President Obama called for the closure of the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Near the end of Obama’s tenure, the prison remains open. This Note suggests a previously undiscussed path for the President to transfer most detainees from Guantánamo, despite congressional opposition, using a robust and exclusive executive tool: the pardon power. By granting conditional pardons to eligible Guantánamo detainees, the President could unilaterally move many to the mainland United States for continued, if limited, detention, and transfer others for repatriation elsewhere. In addressing the Guantánamo problem, this Note argues that pardons have been used and should be viewed as a crucial complement to presidential war powers. The Note concludes that granting clemency for Guantánamo detainees is not only legally defensible, but also consistent with constitutional structure, original understanding, and historical practice since the Founding.

Jon D. Michaels

The theory and reality of “administrative separation of powers” requires revisions to the longstanding legal, normative, and positive accounts of bureaucratic control. Because these leading accounts are often insufficiently attentive to the fragmented nature of administrative power, they tend to overlook the fact that internal administrative rivals—perhaps as much as Congress, the President, and the courts—shape agency behavior. In short, these accounts do not connect what we might call the old and new separation of powers. They thus fail to capture the multidimensional nature of administrative control in which the constitutional branches (the old separation of powers) and the administrative rivals (the new separation of powers) all compete with one another to influence administrative governance.

This Article, the first to connect novel insights regarding administrative separation of powers to old—and seemingly settled—debates over the design and desirability of bureaucratic control, (1) characterizes the administrative sphere as a legitimate, largely self-regulating ecosystem, (2) recognizes the capacity of three rivals—politically appointed agency heads, politically insulated civil servants, and members of the public—to internally police the administrative process, and (3) recasts judges, presidents, and legislators as custodians of the administrative arena tasked with preserving a well-functioning, rivalrous administrative separation of powers.

Aaron Tang

Labor laws in twenty-two states permit government employers to compel all employees to pay “fair share fees” to support a union’s collective bargaining activities, even if the union advocates policies to which some workers are ideologically opposed. Thousands of collective bargaining agreements include provisions to this effect, and hundreds of thousands of objecting workers are forced to pay such fees each year.

At its core, this practice implicates a significant tension between two important principles: the First Amendment’s objective of protecting individuals from compelled support of unwanted messages, and labor law’s concern with fostering the collective benefits of worker representation. When confronted with a challenge to fair share fees nearly forty years ago in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court held that labor law takes precedence, such that the First Amendment intrusions produced by fair share fees are constitutionally justified. Twice in the past four years, however, the Supreme Court has indicated that it is poised to reverse course and strike down fair share fee clauses under the First Amendment, overruling Abood in the process. And on the last day of the 2014 Term, the Court granted certiorari in a case presenting just that opportunity.

In this Article, I challenge the conventional wisdom that public sector union financing implicates an inevitable trade-off between First Amendment principles and labor law’s core objectives. There is a simple alternative to the fair share fee union financing model that would permit public employers to pursue their broad interests in effective workplace representation without sacrificing the individual expressive interests of objecting employees: In lieu of fair share fee clauses, government employers can negotiate provisions under which they reimburse a union for its collective bargaining costs directly. Such an approach would free objecting workers of the compulsion to support an objectionable message and ensure that unions have the financial security they need to zealously represent worker interests. Moreover, the government can implement this alternative in a cost-neutral fashion, reducing future wage raises or gratuitous benefits to offset the added costs of union reimbursement.

But this government-payer alternative is not just a theoretical solution to what has been widely understood as an intractable debate—it has doctrinal significance, too. For once identified, the government-payer workaround becomes part of the constitutional analysis itself. That is to say, under First Amendment doctrine, the government’s ability to reimburse a union for its bargaining costs directly is a less restrictive alternative that renders fair share fees unconstitutional by comparison.

This Article explores the theoretical and doctrinal consequences of the government-payer alternative to fair share fees. In doing so, it proposes an answer to a longstanding puzzle in the Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence regarding the proper standard of scrutiny for compelled fees—a puzzle that the Supreme Court has explicitly recognized yet left unresolved. The Article concludes by offering a few observations concerning the impact of the government-payer alternative for the future of public sector labor unions and the First Amendment more broadly.

Steven D. Marcus

A discriminatory school district is sued, placed under court supervision, remedies the discrimination, and is released from court supervision. What next? There is a growing, and worrisome, trend towards the resegregation of schools following their release from supervision. While the problems of resegregation have recently drawn attention among social scientists and journalists, the procedural hurdles to litigating a claim of resegregation remain largely unexamined. Indeed, certain procedural hurdles could greatly impede litigation to challenge resegregation. This Note examines the defense of preclusion in the resegregation context, and concludes that in two categories of cases—pre-1966 class actions, and post-1966 “implied” class actions—school districts cannot rely on preclusion to defeat an action challenging resegregation. The first category, pre-1966 class actions, were filed before the 1966 Amendments to Rule 23, which provide greater procedural protections to ensure adequate representation. The second category, implied class actions, were filed after the 1966 amendments, never formally certified as class actions, but informally treated as such by courts. Because many pre-1966 class actions and post-1966 implied class actions do not provide the procedural protections to satisfy the constitutional requirement for adequate representation, judgments releasing school districts from court supervision cannot properly bind future plaintiffs challenging resegregation.

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