Ode to the Swiss Maestro

This is a nice article about the floating presence and genius of Roger Federer on a tennis court.

Religious Accommodations and the Civil Law

Professors Paul Horwitz and Rick Garnett have a nice discussion going about the place of institutional religious freedom in civil society, and, specifically, how institutional freedom relates to state regulation.  Here is a snippet from Horwitz’s response to Garnett’s initial essay:

Our laws have always made accommodations and exemptions—not just out of respect for the individual conscience, but because we recognize the important independent role played by these institutions in civil society and wish to encourage and safeguard it. We may argue in particular cases about whether such accommodations are a matter of legislative discretion or of judicially enforceable constitutional command. But we should not—as some these days seem increasingly inclined to do—reject the value of accommodation altogether. There is room for more than one institution in our social infrastructure. The state should recognize and allow for that fact; and citizens who believe in the importance of pluralism should not forget it, either.

Perhaps the last sentence is most relevant for today’s debates about accommodations for religious institutions that may not share the particular aim of a general law.  Horwitz suggests that pluralism seems to inherently tolerate different approaches to complex problems, and, by definition, allow room for those approaches to operate, especially considering that most religious institutions in the United States maintain values that are consonant with broader societal values.  This contrasts with legal approaches that, in the name of pluralism, seek to neutralize certain spaces within civil society.


Chesterton and Law

This time last year I posted on what I call G.K. Chesterton’s “Gospel of Wonder.”  At the moment, I’m reading some of Chesterton’s fiction, namely the Father Brown Stories.  While reading these detective short stories, I’ve taken to deciphering Chesterton’s thoughts on law, particularly through his usage of Father Brown.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the premise of the stories, Fr. Brown is an unassuming, gentle, and fairly disheveled priest who is considered rather ordinary by his cosmopolitan contemporaries.  In each story, some type of mysterious crime has occurred and the police, detectives, and other educated persons are having the hardest time solving it.  It is usually the case that appearances deceive those tasked with solving the mystery, particularly because they focus too much on logic and science (and thus we see Chesterton’s commentary on the materialist age).  Chesterton uses their inabilities as an avenue to introduce Fr. Brown as the only detective in touch with the human soul, which is the most significant skill when determining “who did it,” and, more importantly, why.

I’ve read six stories in the Innocence of Father Brown collection, which is the first installment of more than forty stories.  One of my favorite exchanges with Fr. Brown comes after he catches the international, career criminal Flambeau, in The Queer Feet:

‘Did you catch this man?’ asked the colonel, frowning.

Father Brown looked him full in his frowning face.  ‘Yes,’ he said.  ‘I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.’

In another story, The Flying Stars, the infamous Flambeau manages to execute jewelry theft while framing a police officer in a house play.  Fr. Brown catches Flambeau before he can escape and gently explains to him how well he knows his soul.  Flambeau, hanging in a tree at this point and unable to hide his shame, listens to Fr. Brown’s monologue, which ultimately convinces him to give up his criminal past:

‘I want you to give them [jewels] back, Flambeau, and I want you to give up this life.  There is still youth and humour and honor in you; don’t fancy they will last in that trade.Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down. The kind man drinks and turns cruel; the frank man kills and lies about it. Many a man I’ve known started like you to be an honest outlaw, a merry robber of the rich, and ended stamped into slime…. I know the woods look very free behind you, Flambeau; I know that in a flash you could melt into them like a monkey. But some day you will be an old grey monkey, Flambeau. You will sit up in your free forest cold at heart and close to death, and the tree-tops will be very bare.’

Fr. Brown ultimately converts Flambeau to the good side and he joins Fr. Brown as he attempts to solve future mysteries.  What does Fr. Brown’s approach to Flambeau say about Chesterton’s approach to criminal justice?

Identity Politics and Judging

Justice Ginsburg recently gave an interview discussing a range of topics, including the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, which held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protected closely-held, for-profit corporations against the so-called “contraceptive mandate” that was issued by HHS as part of the President’s health care law.  While Ginsburg opined on a variety of issues, it was disappointing to hear her words on how the male justices may have a “have a blind spot” when it comes to women.

This type of categorical statement should be subject to precisely the same standard by which it seems to judge.  Does Justice Ginsburg truly believe that the male justices that voted with the majority in Hobby Lobby made their decision based on an aversion towards the interests of women as defined by Ginsburg and proponents of the mandate?  Is that really the basis of the argument advanced by the majority?  Couldn’t the same logic be applied to Ginsburg’s forceful dissent, which like the majority opinion, involves careful citation of precedent and line after line of legal reasoning?  And how would Justice Ginsburg explain the numerous female judges, including one of her colleagues, that have issued injunctive relief on behalf of similarly situated plaintiffs, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor?

Ginsburg’s framing of the case as a constitutional matter also suggests an inability to view the case through the lens of the actual claim put before the Court by the plaintiffs, namely the right to religious freedom under a duly-enacted statute.  This is especially troubling given that the case was primarily one of statutory interpretation, not public policy (whether that should be addressed by the Court is a matter for a separate discussion), or the scope of the Free Exercise Clause.  Hobby Lobby is a statutory case–always has been and always will be.  It makes no comment on whether the plaintiff’s claim would survive constitutional scrutiny should RFRA cease to exist.

New Look for Modest Commentary

It’s been three years since the blog’s inauguration and it’s time for an update.  As you can see, the blog has undergone a fairly hefty construction project.  The benefits include a more organized site, with the center reading pane devoted to recent posts, the right sidebar containing featured content, and the left displaying categories and archived posts for the historical reader.  Check out the blog’s stats and the search function on the right as well.

Professionalism and Team Basketball

Great article on the development of the San Antonio Spurs organization over the past decade and a half. 

Justice Scalia’s Commencement Address

Associate Justice Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court recently gave the Commencement Address at William & Mary Law School.  Choosing law school pedagogy as one of his themes, Justice Scalia challenged the currently popular notion of making law school a two-year endeavor.  For Scalia, three years is more in tune with the idea that legal education prepares young lawyers to enter a profession, rather than simply a trade.  On one level, more time to study more topics would seem, on the surface, to guarantee a profession that is generally more aware of “the law.”  But is it possible that Scalia may have unfairly conflated extra time with additional opportunity?  Could the same objectives that Scalia correctly points out (exposure to First Amendment, Constitutional, Antitrust, and other complex areas of the law) be accomplished if law school was two years without summer breaks (which arguably would address the “business” like recruitment that occurs at larger firms during this time, which seems to foster the “trade” mentality pervading the profession)?  Could they be accomplished if law schools focused less on clinical education (during the current semester system) and bar admission resembled older era apprentice-like tasks?  I agree with the Associate Justice that legal education should remain focused on entry into a profession, which is certainly different than a trade; I’m just not convinced that a blanket preference for three years (why not four? like doctors?) is devoid of any arbitrariness itself.

Is the Automobile Exception Sustainable in a Smartphone World?

The Supreme Court is set to decide whether police may conduct a warrantless search of cell phone technology, incident to an otherwise lawful arrest.  In U.S. v. Wurie, the issue is whether the police may venture into the call log on a cell phone to uncover possible evidence of a crime.  In Riley v. California, the question is slightly broader.  In both, the Court must draw lines between permissible investigatory conduct by the police, post-arrest, and the privacy expectations that come with constantly developing cell phone technology.

Broadly speaking, the Court’s task is to decipher whether the information stored on smartphones, both willingly and unwittingly, implicates the protections of the Fourth Amendment.  But on top of that, any doctrine that the Court announces must recognize the diminished expectations of privacy that have been found for property other than the home.  The protection afforded to automobiles is one of those areas.

The well-known automobile exception, initially found by the Court in Carroll v. United States, permits warrantless searches of a vehicle when the occupant of the vehicle is arrested, provided there is probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains evidence of the crime.  Two justifications originally served as the foundation of the rule: (1) diminished expectations of privacy in cars; and (2) the inherent exigency (stemming from mobility) that evidence could be lost and/or destroyed.  The doctrine has now developed to the point where exigency is no longer essential to a finding of reasonableness after a warrantless search.  The reduced expectation of privacy is now the foundation of the exception.

Why is this relevant to Riley and Wurie?  If the Court determines that individuals have significant expectations of privacy in their phones, it would seem that the foundation of the automobile exception is weaker.  Specifically, individuals store many different types of information in their vehicles and purposefully keep them from public view.  On the contrary, cell phone technology, and the information stored, is at least accessible by data providers, companies, and, in some instances, the government.  Is it plausible to suggest that someone has a stronger privacy interest in his or her phone, which is connected through various networks and forms of technology to other users, than his or her automobile, which for many, is an additional storage area that happens to be mobile (which is no longer relevant according to the Court)?

The Changing Meaning of Religious Liberty?

R. R. Reno on the content of religious liberty

This is a thought-provoking op-ed on the current state of religious liberty in the United States and how the social consensus on what the content of that liberty is seems to be changing.

President Washington’s Letter to Catholics

On the eve of President’s Day, this letter from President Washington is an interesting bit of American history:

Letter to the Roman Catholics

George Washington

March 15, 1790


While I now receive with much satisfaction your congratulations on my being called, by an unanimous vote, to the first station in my country; I cannot but duly notice your politeness in offering an apology for the unavoidable delay. As that delay has given you an opportunity of realizing, instead of anticipating, the benefits of the general government, you will do me the justice to believe, that your testimony of the increase of the public prosperity, enhances the pleasure which I should otherwise have experienced from your affectionate address.

I feel that my conduct, in war and in peace, has met with more general approbation than could reasonably have been expected and I find myself disposed to consider that fortunate circumstance, in a great degree, resulting from the able support and extraordinary candour of my fellow-citizens of all denominations.

The prospect of national prosperity now before us is truly animating, and ought to excite the exertions of all good men to establish and secure the happiness of their country, in the permanent duration of its freedom and independence. America, under the smiles of a Divine Providence, the protection of a good government, and the cultivation of manners, morals, and piety, cannot fail of attaining an uncommon degree of eminence, in literature, commerce, agriculture, improvements at home and respectability abroad.

As mankind become more liberal they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protection of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations in examples of justice and liberality. And I presume that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their Revolution, and the establishment of their government; or the important assistance which they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic faith is professed.

I thank you, gentlemen, for your kind concern for me. While my life and my health shall continue, in whatever situation I may be, it shall be my constant endeavour to justify the favourable sentiments which you are pleased to express of my conduct. And may the members of your society in America, animated alone by the pure spirit of Christianity, and still conducting themselves as the faithful subjects of our free government, enjoy every temporal and spiritual felicity.

G. Washington

Blog Stats

  • 3,052 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 29 other subscribers

Law Blog

WSJ on the cases, trends and personalities of interest to the business community.