SBA Statement in Support of BLM and Against Racial Injustice

Logo of Student Bar AssociationTo Our Peers, Professors, And Administrators:

Marquette University Law School Student Bar Association writes to you today to address the tragedy that we as a community and a country have faced in the last three weeks. Not one of a pandemic, but rather the state-sanctioned murders of Black Americans. Namely, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pop, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others. Their deaths are not novel, and we would be remiss to categorize them as such. Their deaths are the tragic manifestation of a long-standing system of racial oppression that continues to unjustly claim the lives of Black Americans.

We want to be loud and exceptionally clear: SBA believes Black Lives Matter. We are an anti-racist organization, and we condemn every form of racism. We stand in solidarity with the members of the Black Law Student Association, the Black community of Marquette University, and the Black community around the world.  (more…)

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The Costs of Janus v. AFSCME

Photo of statue depicting a bust of Janus, the two-headed Roman God.On April 10 I participated in a panel discussion sponsored by the Law School Chapter of the Federalist Society.  The presentation was entitled “Lawyers, Plaintiffs, and Professors, Oh My!: Janus v. AFSCME.”  The other panelists were Adjunct Professor and Director of the Law Library Elana Olson, Alumnus Daniel Suhr from the Liberty Justice Center , and Mark Janus, the name plaintiff in the case of Janus v. AFSCME.  What follows are my prepared remarks.

In June of 2018 the United States Supreme Court held, in the case of Janus v. AFSCME, that it is a violation of the First Amendment for State and public sector unions to assess mandatory agency fees to non-consenting employees.  The majority of the Court held that forcing non-union workers to contribute money to support non-political activities which benefit all workers violates the Free Speech rights of non-consenting employees.

In so holding, the Court overruled a precedent of over 40 years, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a 1977 case that had upheld the practice against a First Amendment challenge.

Opposition to labor unions and collective bargaining rights is a policy choice held by many political conservatives today, but it was not always the position of the Republican Party.  One of the early icons of the conservative political movement in the United States, Whittaker Chambers, was himself a union member at times in his career, he was supportive of the labor movement, and his wife and many of his relatives were union members.

This icon of political conservatism in the 1950s and 1960s supported collective bargaining rights so much, that when the parent of the conservative National Review Magazine gave an award named after Whittaker Chambers to our guest Mark Janus, in recognition of his participation in the Janus v. AFSCME litigation, the family of Whittaker Chambers objected to their father’s name being associated with the case. (more…)

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On Originalism and the First Amendment

Political cartoon from 1888 showing little demons with names like "garbled News," "Paid Puffery," and "Boastful Lies" emerging from the mouth of a printing press.
The Evil Spirits of the Modern Daily Press (Puck Magazine 1888)

On October 18, 2018, I participated in a presentation entitled “Free Speech and Originalist Jurisprudence” at the University of Wisconsin-Stout along with Professor Alan Bigel (UW-Lacrosse).  The event was part of Free Speech Week sponsored by the Center for Study of Institutions and Innovation.  What follows is a copy of my prepared remarks.

“In December 1783, George Washington gave a toast at a dinner celebrating the formal dissolution of the Revolutionary Army.  He did not use his toast to offer a tribute to individual liberty.  Nor did he sing the praises of limited government.  Instead, his toast was a simple expression of what he hoped the future would bring to our new nation. He raised his glass and he said: “Competent powers to Congress for general purposes.”

I wrote that in a 2012 blog post, and I received an immediate and angry response from a lawyer who denied that George Washington ever said such a thing, and who rejected the idea that George Washington ever supported a powerful national government.  This well documented historical fact did not fit within the reader’s understanding of the original intent of our U.S. Constitution — and therefore the reader simply could not believe that the quotation could be accurate.

The response of this reader reflects the fact that, for many persons, originalism is primarily a culturally expressive theory – a theory that expresses a culture that reflects conservative political views, moral traditionalism, and a tendency towards libertarianism. (Jamal Greene, Nathaniel Persily & Stephen Ansolabehere, “Profiling Originalism,” 111 COLUMBIA L. REV. 356, 400-402 (2011)).

However, originalism as a theory was not invented in order to provide a vehicle for cultural expression.  Instead, the goal of originalism is to provide an interpretive method for objectively defining the meaning of the U.S. Constitution.

Originalism is an interpretive theory that understands a legal text to retain the meaning it had at the moment when it was enacted or ratified, until such time as the law is amended or repealed. (Chris Cooke, “Textualism is Not Strict Constructionism is Not Originalism,“leastdangerousblog.com, July 8, 2018).  It holds that the discoverable public meaning of the U.S. Constitution at the time of its initial adoption should be regarded as authoritative for purposes of later constitutional interpretation. (Keith Whittington, “Originalism: A Critical Introduction,” 82 FORDHAM L. REV. 375, 377 (2013)).

There is an abundant historical record supporting the conclusion that the United States Constitution was promoted by a core group of political leaders in order to strengthen the national government, and that the Constitution was understood by the people during the ratification debate to do just that.

In rejecting this historical record, the lawyer who responded to my blog post revealed that he was more devoted to his favored myth of original meaning than he was to objectively weighing the available evidence of actual meaning. (more…)

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On Overstating the Case for Confederate Monuments

Statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee sitting astride a horse.
The Robert Edward Lee statue in Emancipation Park

It is that values question we should really be asking. As far as I can tell, those who object to the removal of the statutes seem to be saying that those Confederate generals who defended slavery, secession, and white supremacy represent the values of a twenty-first century America that is becoming more egalitarian and diverse.

It is overstatement to say that by removing monuments to Confederate generals one is erasing all history. Commentators have wondered aloud whether this will become a long-term movement towards total eradication of history of the South. The president even suggested this by asking when this will stop. He called the removal of Confederate monuments the destruction of culture. These claims incorrectly conflate crafting historical memory with the fact that honorific statuary in public places signals the values of the modern-day community.Memory of the Civil War and its aftermath will not suddenly be completely erased forever because statues are torn down, street names changed, buildings renamed, and the like. Culture will not be destroyed. (And as an aside, one should ask, “Who’s culture is being protected by protecting these monuments?”) The consequences of the Civil War, for good and ill, linger. Moreover, history’s memory is a lot longer than the beginning and ending of a statue, and history will continue to be useful as long as scholars, schools, and society have open and honest conversations about the past.

History is dynamic. Honorary statues are not. Communities change and values evolve and those who are honored yesterday may be disfavored tomorrow. Think about it this way–when the American Revolution concluded, as my friend and Marquette colleague Edward Fallone points out, no one objected that the history of British rule over the colonies would be erased forever when the statues of George III were torn down. Two hundred forty one years later, we literally still sing songs to sold-out audiences about the American Revolution. And Hamilton the Musical! still gets the facts right.

The communal choice of determining who is and who is not to be honored in the present day is a completely different conversation than one about the state of history. We shouldn’t confuse the two. (more…)

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Both Sides Now: The Interactive Constitution

Constitution & GavelI recently learned about an amazing feature on the National Constitution Center website: an interactive Constitution. The site contains the entire United States Constitution and all of its amendments.

Click on any part—the Preamble, any of the seven articles, or any of the 27 amendments—and view the text of that part, along with the dates of its signing or passage and its ratification. You’ll also learn if any part of the Constitution was changed by an amendment.  Article I contains several sections that were changed by later amendments. For example, click on the highlighted text in Article I, section 3 (“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote”) to learn that this section was changed by the 17th Amendment, which allows for the direct popular election of senators.

The most interesting part, however, is that you’ll also get views from constitutional scholars “across the legal and philosophical spectrum.” (more…)

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