Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Post by Cass Sunstein

In my dialogue with Bruce Ackerman, I will be arguing for the importance of focussing quite narrowly on the Constitution in 2020 -- the founding document as it is interpreted in courts. I will be urging that it is important to resist, on democratic grounds, the idea that the document should be interpreted to reflect the view of the extreme right-wing of the Republican Party. This idea, sometimes masquerading under the name of originalism or strict construction, represents a form of judicial hubris; it is bad history and bad law. It should be exposed and rejected as such.

For 2020, what should be asserted instead is a form of judicial minimalism, one that also gives the democratic process wide room to maneuver. The appropriate path is not charted by Roe v. Wade; it is charted instead by West Coast Hotel, upholding minimum wage legislation, and Katzenbach v. Morgan, allowing Congress to ban literacy tests. Moderates and liberals should not want the Supreme Court to march on the road marked out by the Warren Court. They should celebrate instead rulings that defer to Congress and that invalidate legislation rarely and only through narrow, unambitious rulings, akin to the Court's recent decision in the Hamdi case.

Minimalists insist on a democratic conception of the free speech principle and also on procedural safeguards for those deprived of their liberty. But they reject any Citizen's Agenda if it is understood as part of constitutional law proper.

In other words, it is exceedingly important to distinguish between the Constitution in 2020 and what would be good in 2020. UnlIke Ackerman, I do not favor "a political coalition that will ultimately be in a position to name Supreme Court justices who will repudiate The Slaughterhouse Cases, and give constitutional meaning to the 'privileges' and 'immunities' of citizenship that make sense in the twenty-first century."

One qualification is that the United States does not only have a Constitution; it also has a set of constitutive commitments, beyond mere policies but without a formal constitutional status. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Second Bill of Rights was an effort to establish several such commitments, including, above all, decent opportunity and minimal security. I will briefly discuss the value of seeing the Second Bill of Rights as part of the nation's self-definition in 2020 -- though not of seeing it as part of our formal constitution. The insistence on the Second Bill of Rights is best regarded as part of democratic deliberation, not as part of constitutional law.

-- Cass Sunstein