How, and how much, does the Constitution protect against political entrenchment?
Judicial ineptitude in dealing with this question—on display in the modern Court’s
treatment of partisan gerrymandering—has its roots in Luther v. Borden. One hundred
and sixty years after the Luther Court refused jurisdiction over competing
Rhode Island state constitutions, judicial regulation of American structural democracy
has become commonplace. Yet getting here—by going around Luther—has
deeply shaped the current Court’s doctrinal posture and left the Court in profound
disagreement about its role in addressing substantive questions of democratic fairness.
While contemporary scholars have demonstrated enormous concern for the
problem of the judicial role in policing political entrenchment, Luther’s central role
in shaping this modern problem has not been fully acknowledged. In particular,
Justice Woodbury’s concurrence in Luther, which rooted its view of the political
question doctrine in democratic theory, has been completely ignored. This Note
tells Luther’s story with an eye to the road not taken.
Democracy and Law
How, and how much, does the Constitution protect against political entrenchment?
In this Note I argue that the Federal Election Campaign Act’s $5000 limitation on
individual contributions to political committees should be removed. I advance two
main arguments. First, in light of recent campaign finance decisions, the limitation
appears to be unconstitutional as it imposes a limit on First Amendment rights
without being tailored to the government’s interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption.
Second, eliminating the contribution limitation will have previously unrecognized
normative benefits. Smaller PACs representing a variety of viewpoints will
be more able to compete with established corporate and union PACs, and the
volume of accountable political speech may increase as more money is channeled
through PACs to candidates’ hands.
The Partisan Price of Justice: An Empirical Analysis of Campaign Contributions and Judicial Decisions
Do campaign contributions affect judicial decisions by elected judges in favor of their contributors’ interests? Although the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. relies on this intuition for its logic, that intuition has largely gone empirically untested. No longer. Using a dataset of every state supreme court case in all fifty states over a four-year period, we find that elected judges are more likely to decide in favor of business interests as the amount of campaign contributions received from those interests increases. In other words, every dollar of direct contributions from business groups is associated with an increase in the probability that the judge in question will vote for business litigants. Surprisingly, though, when we disaggregate partisan and nonpartisan elections, we find that a statistically significant relationship between campaign contributions and judicial decisions in favor of contributors’ interests exists only for judges elected in partisan elections, and not for judges elected in nonpartisan ones. Our findings therefore suggest that political parties play an important causal role in creating this connection between campaign contributions and favorable judicial decisions. In the flurry of reform activity responding to Caperton, our findings support judicial reforms that propose the replacement of partisan elections with nonpartisan methods of judicial selection and retention.
The world in which we live, a world in which law pervades the practice of democratic politics—from advance regulation of public assemblies to detailed rules governing elections—is the product of a particular period of American history. Between 1880 and 1930, states and municipalities increased governmental controls over the full range of nineteenth-century avenues for democratic participation. Prior to this legal transformation, the practice of democratic politics in the United States was less structured by law and more autonomous from formal state institutions than it is today.
Exposing this history challenges two core assumptions that drive the work of contemporary scholars who write about the law of the American political process. First, a study of the nineteenth-century mode of regulating politics belies the existing literature’s assumption that law must extensively structure democratic politics. Second, this account of democracy in nineteenth-century America serves as a reminder that elections, political parties, and voting, while critical to democracy, are not the whole deal. It thereby challenges law of democracy scholars to move beyond the existing literature’s narrow conception of democracy as elections and to consider more broadly the practice of democracy in America.
Critics have accused transnational regulatory networks (TRNs) such as the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision of being undemocratic, but they rarely step back and ask if democracy is the right criterion for evaluating regulatory networks. Such critics often point to the seemingly robust checks of domestic administrative law and argue that similar mechanisms should constrain TRNs. However, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, a significant banking regulator in the United States, is not democratic. Using the Federal Reserve Board as a case study, this Note challenges critics’ claims that there is such a wide gulf between domestic and global procedures.
On February 21, 2012, members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot stormed the historic Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow and performed a “punk prayer” to protest the policies of Vladimir Putin’s government. The band members’ subsequent arrests and prosecutions set off a global firestorm of criticism. While some critics focused on the disproportionate sentences handed down by the court following the band’s convictions, or the meaning of justice meted out by an unjust regime, the mainstream reaction was by and large one of disbelief at such an apparently egregious crackdown on free speech. This Note argues that such criticism largely missed the mark by casting the Pussy Riot affair in terms of free speech, despite the likelihood that the punk rockers would have faced a similar fate even under American free speech law—a tradition of protected speech more robust than any other. Instead, criticism of the injustice perpetrated by the prosecutions is better aimed at the inadequate procedural protections of a Russian judiciary in desperate need of reform. As Russians are already aware of the deficiencies in their judicial system, they would likely be much more amenable to international criticism that acknowledges that the Pussy Riot prosecutions did not trample on free speech rights but were nonetheless unjust due to the lack of procedural safeguards accorded to the band members. Such an approach, by more accurately criticizing the real issues Russia’s fledgling democracy faces, promises to further Russia’s development by keeping lines of communication open between the Russian electorate and the West.
Voters in twenty-four states may propose and enact legislation without any involvement from representative branches of government. In recent decades, voters have used popular lawmaking to eliminate groups’ liberty and property interests on topics such as marriage, education, public benefits, and taxes. This Article contends that these deprivations undermine principles historically associated with procedural due process, thus raising serious questions about the constitutionality of initiatives that eliminate groups’ protected interests.
The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause embodies principles of fairness that include deliberation, dignity, and equality. The historical salience of these principles is evidenced in colonial charters and state constitutions, the Federalist Papers, antebellum cases interpreting state due process clauses, antebellum cases governing popular lawmaking, and legislative debates leading up to the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification. These principles should inform the doctrine’s approach to defining procedural fairness.
When deprivation of liberty or property is at stake, the republican system of representative government protects these principles of fairness better than most contemporary plebiscites. Indeed, in a series of vastly understudied cases in the decade leading up to the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification, at least eight state courts expressed normative doubts about popular lawmaking. While these cases were not premised on due process clauses, these courts nonetheless invoked principles associated with due process and republicanism when questioning popular lawmaking, providing some evidence of the dominant understanding of these terms during that era.
What is more, the requirement of due process of law, at a minimum, prohibits deprivations of liberty or property that violate other constitutional provisions. There is an enduring debate about whether the initiative process violates the non-justiciable Republican Form Clause. This Article seeks in part to inform that debate. And if, in fact, the initiative process violates the nonjusticiable Republican Form Clause, initiatives that deprive individuals of liberty or property violate the justiciable Due Process Clause.
The Speech or Debate Clause of the United States Constitution protects legislators from being questioned at trial about their legislative acts. This protection shields legislators from being prosecuted or sued based on those acts and also sometimes protects them from having to testify about those acts at trial. While this protection is important in certain circumstances to safeguard the independence and proper functioning of the legislature, it can also be problematic when plaintiffs need to prove an invidious legislative purpose to challenge a law. This is especially the case in the redistricting context, where the standards to analyze both racial and partisan gerrymandering claims require information regarding legislative intent. Yet a close look into judicial interpretations of the Speech or Debate Clause, and the legislative privilege that stems from it, finds a conflicting set of opinions regarding when such protections should and should not apply. This confusion has made it difficult for courts to address legislative privilege questions properly and may lead courts to protect and uphold redistricting legislation more than is warranted. This Note surveys Supreme Court and lower-court Speech or Debate Clause opinions to develop a straightforward and consistent framework for addressing all Speech or Debate Clause disputes and then applies that framework to the questions that arise during redistricting litigation.
Sunrise Lawmaking and Democratic Constitutionalism
“Sunrise amendments”—constitutional provisions that only take effect after a substantial time delay—could revolutionize American politics. Yet they remain undertheorized and unfamiliar. This Article presents the first comprehensive examination of sunrise lawmaking. It first explores a theoretical puzzle. On the one hand, sunrise lawmaking resuscitates the possibility of using Article V amendments to forge “a more perfect union” by inducing disinterested behavior from legislators. On the other, it exacerbates the “counter-majoritarian difficulty” inherent in all constitutional lawmaking. When one generation passes a law that affects exclusively its successors, it sidesteps the traditional forms of democratic accountability that constrain and legitimate the legislative process. The Article accordingly argues that while sunrise lawmaking holds considerable promise, it should be confined to “democracy-enhancing” reforms that increase future generations’ capacity to govern themselves. With this normative framework in place, the Article turns to the question of how time delays have actually been used in American constitutional history. It identifies six different instances of sunrise lawmaking in the U.S. Constitution. It argues that several of these illustrate how sunrise lawmaking can enhance the democratic character of American government, but at least one offers a cautionary tale of how temporal dislocation in constitutional lawmaking can have pernicious consequences.
Of all the agencies of executive government, those that police—that employ force and engage in surveillance—are the most threatening to the liberties of the American people. Yet, they are the least regulated. Two core requisites of American constitutionalism are democratic accountability and adherence to the rule of law. Democratic accountability ensures that policy choices are vetted in the public arena and have popular support; the rule of law requires that those choices be constitutional as well. Legislative enactments governing policing are few and far between. Although police departments have internal rules, these rules are rarely made public or publicly debated. When it comes to regulating policing, we rely primarily on ex post judicial review, which at best ensures policing practices are constitutional (though it often fails on this score), and does nothing to assure democratic accountability or sound policymaking.
This Article argues that it is fundamentally unacceptable for policing to remain aloof from the ordinary processes of democratic governance. All police practices—such as use of drones or other surveillance equipment; SWAT, Tasers, and other means of force; checkpoint stops, administrative inspections, and other warrantless searches and seizures—should be legislatively authorized, subject to public rulemaking, or adopted and evaluated through some alternative process that permits democratic input. In addition to spelling out the ways in which the ordinary processes of governance can be utilized to regulate policing, this Article fills in substantial gaps in the existing literature by analyzing why this has not been the case in the past, and explaining how, within the existing framework of administrative and constitutional law, courts can motivate change. It also directs attention to the manifold questions that require resolution in order to move policing to a more democratically accountable footing.