Political Theory


The Promise of Mancari: Indian Political Rights as Racial Remedy

Addie C. Rolnick

In 1974, the Supreme Court declared that an Indian employment preference was
based on a “political rather than racial” classification. The Court’s framing of Indianness
as a political matter and its positioning of “political” and “racial” as
opposing concepts has defined the trajectory of federal Indian law and influenced
common sense ideas about what it means to be Indian ever since. This oppositional
framing has had specific practical consequences, including obscuring the
continuing significance of racialization for Indians and concealing the mutually
constitutive relationship between Indian racialization and Indian political status.
This Article explores the legal roots of the political classification doctrine, its
ongoing significance, and the descriptive limits and normative consequences of the
ideas that it contains. Specifically, this Article argues that the political classification
doctrine constructs race as an irrelevant matter of ancestry and Indianness as a
simple matter of civic participation. This Article suggests a new framework for considering
Indian issues and federal Indian law that draws on a more robust and
realistic understanding of both race and Indianness to acknowledge the cyclical
relationship between Indian racialization and Indian political status.

Changing the People: Legal Resolution and American Democracy

Tabatha Abu El-Haj

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.

The State as Witness: Windsor, Shelby County, and Judicial Distrust of the Legislative Record

Bertrall L. Ross II

More than ever, the constitutionality of laws turns on judicial review of an underlying factual record, assembled by lawmakers. Some scholars have suggested that by requiring extensive records, the Supreme Court is treating lawmakers like administrative agencies. The assumption underlying this metaphor is that if the state puts forth enough evidence in the record to support the law, its action will survive constitutional scrutiny. What scholars have overlooked, however, is that the Court is increasingly questioning the credibility of the record itself. Even in cases where the state produces adequate evidence to support its action, the Court sometimes invalidates the law because it does not believe the state’s facts. In these cases, the Court treats the state like a witness in its own trial, subjecting the state’s record and the conclusions drawn from it to rigorous cross-examination and second-guessing.

In this “credibility-questioning” review of the record, the Court appears to be animated by an implicit judgment about the operation of the political process. When Justices consider the political process to have functioned properly, they treat the state as a good faith actor and merely check the adequacy of its evidence in the record. But when Justices suspect that the democratic process has malfunctioned because opponents of the law were too politically weak or indifferent to challenge distortions in the record, they treat the state as a witness, suspecting bias in its factual determinations supporting the law.

In this Article, I both support and critique this new form of review. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I argue courts should engage in credibility-questioning review of the record when the political process has malfunctioned. Public choice and pluralist defect theory imply that the record supporting a law is more likely to be distorted in contexts of democratic malfunction. But for reasons of institutional legitimacy and separation of powers, I argue courts should limit credibility-questioning review to contexts where there is actual proof of democratic malfunction.

Due Process, Republicanism, and Direct Democracy

Fred O. Smith, Jr.

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.

Developing a Speech or Debate Clause Framework for Redistricting Litigation

Christopher Asta

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.

Political Powerlessness

Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos

There is a hole at the heart of equal protection law. According to long-established doctrine, one of the factors that determine whether a group is a suspect class is the group’s political powerlessness. But neither courts nor scholars have reached any kind of agreement as to the meaning of powerlessness. Instead, they have advanced an array of conflicting conceptions: numerical size, access to the franchise, financial resources, descriptive representation, and so on.

My primary goal in this Article, then, is to offer a definition of political powerlessness that makes theoretical sense. The definition I propose is this: A group is relatively powerless if its aggregate policy preferences are less likely to be enacted than those of similarly sized and classified groups. I arrive at this definition in three steps. First, the powerlessness doctrine stems from Carolene Products’s account of “those political processes ordinarily to be relied upon to protect minorities.” Second, “those political processes” refer to pluralism: the idea that society is divided into countless overlapping groups, from whose shifting coalitions public policy emerges. And third, pluralism implies a particular notion of group power— one that (1) is continuous rather than binary, (2) spans all issues, (3) focuses on policy enactment, and (4) controls for group size, and (5) type. These are precisely the elements of my suggested definition.

But I aim not just to theorize but also to operationalize in this Article. In the last few years, datasets have become available on groups’ policy preferences at the federal and state levels. Merging these datasets with information on policy outcomes, I am able to quantify my conception of group power. I find that blacks, women, and the poor are relatively powerless at both governmental levels; while whites, men, and the non-poor wield more influence. These results both support and subvert the current taxonomy of suspect classes.

Administrative Collusion

Neomi Rao

How Delegation Diminishes the Collective Congress

This Article identifies a previously unexplored problem with the delegation of legislative power by focusing not on the discretion given to executive agencies, but instead on how delegations allow individual congressmen to control administration. Delegations create administrative discretion, discretion that members of Congress can influence through a variety of formal and informal mechanisms. Members have persistent incentives for delegation to agencies, because it is often easier to serve their interests through shaping administration than by passing legislation. To understand the particular problem of delegation, I introduce the concept of the “collective Congress.” Collective decisionmaking is a fundamental characteristic of the legislative power. The collective Congress serves an important separation of powers principle by aligning the ambitions of legislators with the power of Congress as an institution. Although members represent distinct interests, the Constitution allows members of Congress to exercise power only collectively and specifically precludes them from exercising any type of individual or executive power. Delegation, however, provides opportunities for individual legislators to influence administration and poses a serious separation of powers concern by fracturing the collective Congress. This insight undermines the conventional view that delegations will be self-correcting because Congress will jealously guard its lawmaking power from the executive. Instead, members of Congress will often prefer to collude and to share administrative power with the executive. As a result, delegation destroys the Madisonian checks and balances against excessive delegation. This structural failure suggests a need to reconsider judicial enforcement of the nondelegation doctrine and to implement political reforms to realign Congress with its collective power.

Professor Ronald Dworkin

Jeremy Waldron, Lewis A. Kornhauser, The Honorable Stephen Breyer, T.M. Scanlon, Rebecca L. Brown, Liam Murphy, Robert B. Silvers, Thomas Nagel

Last year, the NYU community lost an intellectual giant in Professor Ronald Dworkin. The school and the Law Review joined together to honor Professor Dworkin’s writings, ideas, and of course, his legendary colloquia. Academics, philosophers, and judges gathered to pay tribute. In the pages that follow, we proudly publish written versions of those tributes.1 The ceremony closed with a short video clip of one of Professor Dworkin’s last speeches, titled Einstein’s Worship. His words provide a fitting introduction:

“We emphasize—we should emphasize—our responsibility, a responsibility shared by theists and atheists alike, a responsibility that we have in virtue of our humanity to think about these issues, to reject the skeptical conclusion that it’s just a matter of what we think and therefore we don’t have to think. We need to test our convictions. Our convictions must be coherent. They must be authentic; we must come to feel them as our convictions. But when they survive that test of responsibility, they’ve also survived any philosophical challenge that can be made. In that case, you burnish your convictions, you test your convictions, and what you then believe, you better believe it. That’s what I have to say about the meaning of life. Tomorrow: the universe.”

Fifty Years Later

N.Y.U. Law Review Editorial Board

In April 1957, the English legal philosopher H.L.A. Hart, Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford, delivered the annual Oliver Wendell Holmes Lecture at Harvard Law School. Hart’s topic was “Positivism and the Separation of Law and Morals,” and he intended his lecture, offered at a “law school deeply influenced by the [legal] realism of Holmes and the sociological jurisprudence of Roscoe Pound,” to be provocative as well as informative. The focus of Hart’s lecture was a core tenet of traditional legal positivism—that there is no necessary connection between law and morality. This was a proposition that would later be defended in detail in Hart’s masterwork, The Concept of Law, published in 1961. Hart’s lecture sought to explain, clarify, and elaborate the positivist account of the relation between law and morality, while at the same time defending legal positivism against the accusation that it was complicitly silent on the evil of oppressive legal regimes.