Constitutional Law


Judicial Governance and Judicial Independence

The Honorable Anthony J. Scirica

Madison Lecture

This Lecture examines judicial independence, judicial accountability, and judicial governance. I discuss the role the current system of judicial self-governance plays in ensuring both accountability and independence—two sides of the same coin. Yet, two recent legislative proposals threaten not only decisional independence but also the institutional independence of the judicial branch itself. The first calls for an inspector general for the federal judiciary and the second proposes to regulate Supreme Court recusals. This Lecture discusses how the inspector general and Supreme Court recusal bills would lead to significant changes in the way the judiciary functions, and concludes these changes would nonetheless be insignificant compared to the threat they pose to the decisional independence of the federal judiciary.

Botnet Takedowns and the Fourth Amendment

Sam Zeitlin

The botnet, a group of computers infected with malicious software and remotely controlled without their owners’ knowledge, is a ubiquitous tool of cybercrime. Law enforcement can take over botnets, typically by seizing their central “command and control” servers. They can then manipulate the malware installed on private computers to shut the botnet down. This Note examines the Fourth Amendment implications of the government’s use of remote control of malware on private computers to neutralize botnets. It finds that the government could take more intrusive action on infected computers than it has previously done without performing a search or seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Most significantly, remotely finding and removing malware on infected computers does not necessarily trigger Fourth Amendment protections. Computer owners have no possessory interest in malware, so modifying or removing it does not constitute a seizure. Additionally, even if the government’s efforts cause some harm to private computers, this will rarely produce a seizure under the Fourth Amendment because any interference with the computer will be unintentional. Remotely executing commands on infected computers does not constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment unless information is returned to law enforcement.

Free Exercise, Inc.

Thad Eagles

A New Framework for Adjudicating Corporate Religious Liberty Claims

Do corporations deserve religious liberty protection? This question came to the forefront in the series of contraception mandate cases, leading to a circuit split and the controversial Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. This Note looks past that debate to the potential effects of business regulation on individuals and develops a framework for considering corporate religious liberty claims that accounts for those individual burdens. Part I provides relevant back- ground information to understand the contraception mandate issue that led to Hobby Lobby. Part II demonstrates that regulatory burdens that fall on secular, for-profit corporations can nonetheless burden their individual owners by putting them to the choice of either disobeying the dictates of their religion or facing adverse financial consequences. Part II continues by showing that nothing in corporate law requires ignoring this burden and points to ambiguities in the Hobby Lobby majority opinion that may prevent courts from properly recognizing and focusing on this important burden. Part III answers the questions left open by the Hobby Lobby majority and suggests a framework for considering which corporations should be able to bring religious liberty claims. This framework is aimed at protecting individuals from the burden of being unable to enjoy the benefits of the corporate form without having to violate their religious beliefs.

Behavioral War Powers

Ganesh Sitaraman, David Zionts

A decade of war has meant a decade of writing on war powers. From the authority to start a war, to restrictions on fighting wars, to the authority to end a war, constitutional lawyers and scholars have explored the classic issues (war initiation, prosecution, and termination) through the classic prisms (text, history, and function) for a new generation of national security challenges. Despite the volume of writing on war powers and the urgency of the debates in the context of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, war powers debates are widely seen as stagnant. We introduce a new set of perspectives into the war powers literature. Over the last four decades, behavioral psychologists have identified persistent biases in individual and group decisionmaking. The behavioral revolution has had a significant impact on legal scholarship—primarily in law and economics—and has also influenced scholars in international relations, who increasingly write about psychological biases and other decisionmaking challenges. These insights, however, have yet to be applied in the war powers context. This Article brings the behavioral literature into the conversation on war powers, showing how lessons from behavioral psychology are relevant to decisions on war and peace. It outlines a variety of psychological biases that bear on decisions about war and peace, applies these lessons to a variety of war powers debates, and discusses broader institutional design strategies for debiasing decisionmaking. The lessons of psychology provide new functional perspectives on classic war powers debates: the authority of Congress versus the President to initiate wars, the scope of presidential authority to use force, the ability of Congress to restrict the conduct of war, the War Powers Resolution and the termination of wars, and the role of the United Nations. Some of the decisionmaking biases point in conflicting directions, so there are no simple answers or tidy solutions. But understanding where important decisions risk going wrong is the first step in figuring out how to make them go right.

Enabling State Deregulation of Marijuana Through Executive Branch Nonenforcement

Bradley E. Markano

In an apparent victory for federalism, the Obama Administration has set out a policy of deference to state marijuana regulations, even when state laws conflict with federal prohibition. Critics of this policy have alleged that the executive is unconstitutionally leaving portions of federal law unenforced, effectively legalizing a drug that is still classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic. But in reality, current executive branch guidelines for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion are limited, vague, and largely unenforceable. Instead, the real risk is not that current federal nonenforcement policy will effectively legalize marijuana, but that the policy will fail to induce the reliance necessary for states to serve as effective laboratories of experimentation. This concern can be addressed, to an extent, by requiring that U.S. Attorneys use their enforcement authority in a more formal, transparent, and reliable fashion. However, constitutional limits on executive power mean that deregulation is likely to remain imperfect until a legislative solution is enacted.

Due Process Disestablishment: Why Lawrence v. Texas is a First Amendment Case

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.


Alexandra Bursak

Preclusion law is notoriously convoluted. Courts have made no secret of their distaste for the doctrine, describing it variously as “conflicting,” “inconsistent,” “breeding confusion,” and ultimately “not very well liked.” Though the Supreme Court has consolidated issue and claim preclusion into a single coherent whole, this Note argues that the merger of res judicata and collateral estoppel in our modern preclusion law is incomplete. These different preclusions are motivated by different rationales: Res judicata protects private closure of parties, while estoppel began as a defense of judicial interests and expanded to forward systemic ones. Though private and systemic interests may often align, this alignment is not inevitable. In the case of public rights, failure to keep these doctrines distinct has undermined judicial ability to offer closure. Attention to the differences in historic preclusion doctrines ultimately provides a direction for modernization in the form of intervention.

Referees of Republicanism: How the Guarantee Clause Can Address State Political Lockup

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.

Once More unto the Breach: The Constitutional Right to Informational Privacy and the Privacy Act

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.

Ably Queer: The ADA as a Tool in LGBT Antidiscrimination Law

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.