Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Next Justice

Christopher Eisgruber is the Provost of Princeton University and a former law professor at NYU. He is one of the most elegant writers on constitutional law, both in his solo work and in his collaborations with his former NYU colleage (and current Dean of the University of Texas Law School) Lawrence Sager. Eisgruber's most recent book, The Next Justice, argues for a new approach to the selection of Supreme Court Justices. I'll be talking about the book on a panel at Princeton this afternoon and thought I'd very briefly preview my remarks here.

Roughly half of The Next Justice addresses matters of constitutional (and to a much lesser extent, statutory) interpretation. In order to know what the confirmation process should look like, Eisgruber says, we need to know what it is that we want our Justices to do. His answer is that Justices apply "ideological" and "procedural" values in interpreting the open-ended (Sager would say "justice-seeking") language of the Constitution (and statutes). Ideological values vary greatly based on a Justice's background, experience and commitments, and map roughly onto the conservative/lberal divisions that we see in politics. Procedural values, however, are distinctively non-political, and include a commitment to the consistent application of principle, blindness to party interest and respect for the decision-making capacities of other institutions. Thus, on the merits, Eisgruber offers a vision of judicial decision making that is broadly similar to the one I offer in No Litmus Test: Law Versus Politics in the 21st Century. We each think that ideology matters to judging, but neither of us thinks that ideology alone matters. Judging is a distinct activity from legislating.

How should this translate into the appointments process? Presidents, Eisgruber observes, take account of the ideology of potential Supreme Court Justices, and so should Senators. They should generally seek, Eisgruber says, "moderate" Justices, by which he means those who are in the mainstream ideologically and who manifest a commitment to the procedural values that make judging an enterprise that is distinct from politics as such. I don't quarrel with the latter but I do have serious doubts about the former: If a very liberal (or very conservative) President has a very liberal (or very conservative) Senate, then why shouldn't they appoint very liberal (or very conservative) Justices? Eisgruber's answer is that it's okay to appoint one or two such Justices but that beyond this, the Court should be dominated by moderates because they are more likely to accept the institutional settlements reached by other branches and levels of government. He offers that latter point (deference to institutional settlement, which is a term used by Hart & Sacks, not Eisgruber, but which captures his meaning) as a matter of the Justice's procedural values. But it is not clear to me that the degree to which a Justice defers to institutional settlements can be placed in the "procedural" rather than the "ideological" column. And by hypothesis, in my example, the President and the Senate favor Justices whose ideology makes them less deferential to conservative (or liberal) institutional settlements than the ideology of a moderate would.

I'll report back on the panel tomorrow or over the weekend.

Posted by Mike Dorf

8 comments:

egarber said...

They should generally seek, Eisgruber says, "moderate" Justices, by which he means those who are in the mainstream ideologically and who manifest a commitment to the procedural values that make judging an enterprise that is distinct from politics as such.

Does this formula by extension put a value on a strong sense of judicial independence? If so, your description appears to approve of Kennedy and O'Connor.

Also, as an aside on "original intent", I saw this interesting blurb from Federalist 46 (Madison) in the context of federalism:

"If, therefore, as has been elsewhere remarked, the people should in future become more partial to the federal than to the State governments, the change can only result from such manifest and irresistible proofs of a better administration, as will overcome all their antecedent propensities. And in that case, the people ought not surely to be precluded from giving most of their confidence where they may discover it to be most due"

And this from another Madison writing, about the constitution:

As a guide in expounding and applying the provisions of the constitution, the debates and incidental decisions of the Convention can have no authoritative character."

I'm not saying this means original principles should be abandoned, but it is interesting to see the father of the constitution shun the idea of conflating contemporary political opinion of 1787 with the intent of the constitution. IMO, he's saying in pretty clear terms that the intent of the constitution itself was to create a viable and relevant document for future generations. Kind of ironic that the original intent was for future generations to, umm, NOT apply "original intent."

Doesn't relate much to the prof's post, but I had to tell somebody :)

Sobek said...

What do you suppose Madison meant by "incidental decisions"?

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