Judge Gorsuch Might Be a Liberal Originalist on the Supreme Court

Akhil Reed Amar, a Yale Law School professor and the author of “The Constitution Today: Timeless Lessons for the Issues of Our Era,” argues that not all devotees of “originalism” in interpreting the Constitution and statutes are what are ordinarily called conservatives and that Judge Neil Gorsuch might be a liberal member of this group.[1]

Originalists, the professor says, “believe that faithful constitutional interpreters must build on the solid bedrock of the Constitution’s text, as that text was originally understood when drafted and ratified.” However, he adds, “not all conservatives are originalists, nor are all originalists conservative. Most jurists, most of the time, follow modern judicial precedents rather than pondering first principles of constitutional text and history. Practical considerations also factor into most jurists’ decision making. Originalists are no different in this regard, but they are more apt to dwell on first principles of text and original meaning and to discard precedents violating these first principles.”

A group of “liberal originalist lawyers, the Constitutional Accountability Center, where I serve on the board of directors, has been particularly effective in bringing liberal originalist scholarship to judicial attention. This month, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and four liberal colleagues [in Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado.] strengthened rules against racial animus in jury deliberations” in reliance . . . on the Center’s amicus brief and the historical scholarship it showcased” by another Yale Law School professor.

This case demonstrated that “originalists must honor not just the original understanding of words ratified in 1787-88, but also the letter and spirit of language added by later generations of amenders.”

Amar also noted “the extraordinary body of work of Steven G. Calabresi, who co-founded the conservative Federalist Society in the early 1980s and then clerked for Judge Bork and Justice Scalia. As “perhaps America’s pre-eminent conservative originalist,” [he] has shown that the 14th Amendment was plainly intended to apply the Bill of Rights to the states; that women’s equality was a central theme of that amendment, as originally understood; and that originalism in fact supports a right of same-sex marriage.”

Gorsuch, Amar asserts, “is a brainy and principled jurist” and his “embrace of originalism is honorable and admirable” and, if confirmed as seems likely, “may one day [be regarded] . . . as among the best of the century.”

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[1] Amar, What Gorsuch Has in Common with Liberals, N.Y. Times (Mar. 18, 2017).

 

 

 

 

113th Congress Takes Actions on International Religious Freedom

In its waning days the 113th Congress has taken at least three actions regarding international religious freedom.

 New U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom

David N. Saperstein
David N. Saperstein

On December 12th the U.S. Senate by a vote of 62 to 35 confirmed President Obama’s nomination of David N. Saperstein, a prominent Reform rabbi, to be Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, in charge of countering religious persecution around the world.

Saperstein was a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships from 2010 to 2011. He also was a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (the Commission) from 1999 to 2001 and its Chair (1999-2000). For 40 years, Mr. Saperstein has been director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, lobbying on a wide range of civil rights and social justice issues.

At a confirmation hearing in September, Mr. Saperstein spoke out against religious discrimination in Burma, China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria, among other countries. “Even in Western Europe,” he said, “we are witnessing a steady increase in anti-Semitic discourse and violence against Jewish communities.”

The Senate Republican Policy Committee noted that Mr. Saperstein had criticized a ruling in June in which the Supreme Court said that some corporations could deny contraception coverage to their female workers on religious grounds. He expressed dismay at the ruling, which was hailed by conservatives as a victory for religious liberty, and he supported legislation to override the decision, in an effort to protect women’s health.

Amendment of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 [1]

On August 8, 2014, H.R. 4028 became Public Law No.: 113-154. It amended the “Findings” section (Section 2(a)(4)) of the 1998 statute to add three words (“desecration of cemeteries”) so that it reads as follows:

  • “The right to freedom of religion is under renewed and, in some cases, increasing assault in many countries around the world. More than one-half of the world’s population lives under regimes that severely restrict or prohibit the freedom of their citizens to study, believe, observe, and freely practice the religious faith of their choice. Religious believers and communities suffer both government-sponsored and government-tolerated violations of their rights to religious freedom. Among the many forms of such violations are state-sponsored slander campaigns, confiscations of property, desecration of cemeteries, surveillance by security police, including by special divisions of “religious police”, severe prohibitions against construction and repair of places of worship, denial of the right to assemble and relegation of religious communities to illegal status through arbitrary registration laws, prohibitions against the pursuit of education or public office, and prohibitions against publishing, distributing, or possessing religious literature and materials.” (Emphasis added.)

The author of this bill, Representative Grace Ming (Dem. NY), said during the House debate, “There are two related problems we seek to address through this legislation. One is the religiously motivated vandalism of cemeteries that occurs with alarming regularity. The second is the building and development over cemeteries in places where there are no communities remaining to protect and look out for the cemeteries.” She added that the bill “works to identify and preserve cemeteries, memorials, and buildings in foreign countries that are associated with the cultural heritage of Americans, and it does much work in areas of the former Soviet Union, where Jewish communities were destroyed by the Holocaust and where power subsequently passed to atheistic, communist regimes.”

Other bills in this Congress were offered to make other amendments to the statute, but they were not adopted, including a bill by Senator Marco Rubio (S. 2675) that would have imposed requirements and restrictions on presidential actions with respect to countries designated by the Commission as “of Particular Concern for Religious Freedom.” He introduced his bill the day after the State Department had issued its annual report on this freedom, and Rubio said, “While I welcome . . . [the Department’s] announcement updating CPC designations, this administration has failed to do so since 2011.” This proposed amendment “encourages the administration to take a firmer stance on religious freedom violators and codifies America’s commitment to advancing religious freedom as a key objective of U.S. foreign policy.”

In December 2014, too late for any legislative action this year, Reps. Joe Pitts (Rep., PA) and Anna Eshoo (Dem., CA) introduced H.R. 5878 (An Act to amend the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to further express United States foreign policy with respect to, and to strengthen United States advocacy on behalf of, freedom of religion or belief abroad and individuals persecuted in foreign countries on account of religion or belief, and for other purposes). It would add non-state actors like Boko Haram in Nigeria to the group of bodies the U.S. government can sanction for violating religious freedoms. The bill will be re-introduced in the next Session of Congress.

Reauthorization of the Commission on International Religious Freedom

On December 10thth the House adopted H.R. 5816 re-authorizing the Commission essentially for only another nine months (to September 30, 2015), and on December 15th the Senate added its approval of the bill.

This action reflected the inability of the two chambers to reach agreement on the terms of a lengthier reauthorization. In this context, I was surprised by a statement about this inability from Leonard L. Leo, the Executive Vice President of the Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Studies and a former member of the Commission (2007-2009) and its Chair (2009-2012). He said that the Commission was formed in 1998 to be a watchdog on the State Department to ensure that it would promote religious freedom.

In July the House passed a reauthorization bill (H.R. 4653) that never passed the Senate. It would have extended the Commission through September 30, 2019, essentially another five years. It also would have (a) required training of foreign service officers on “the relationship between religious freedom and security, and the role of religious freedom in United States foreign policy;” (b) encouraged the Department of State to allow Commission members and staff to have “access to classified information;” and (c) allowed the Commission interns, fellows and volunteers to be paid compensation by “sponsoring private parties” so long as there was no conflict of interest.

During the House debate on this bill, Rep. Chris Smith (Rep., NJ), said that the original statute was passed by “a somewhat supportive Congress but highly reluctant [Bill Clinton] White House.” He lamented that eight countries designated as “Countries of Particular Concern” or CPCs by the Commission had not been similarly designated by the State Department and that the Obama Administration had not enacted sanctions for such designations of other countries.

During another House debate, the one on the previously mentioned “desecration of cemeteries” bill, the same Representative Smith said at a May 22, 2014, hearing he chaired, there had been evidence of “the lack of enforcement and the lack of due diligence on the part of the administration when it comes to the International Religious Freedom Act. Not since 2011 has there been a designation of what we call country of particular concern, CPC status, or the dishonorable status that it conveys ought to be done every year. . . . [despite the Commission’s pointing out] that there are eight [other] countries that ought to be so designated, followed by eight others, including Vietnam, that needed to be added to the list, making a total of 16 countries that are then liable to sanctions.”

In the other chamber Senator Richard Durbin (Dem., Illinois) offered a reauthorization bill (S. 2711) that was not adopted by either chamber. It would have extended the Commission through September 30, 2016, but also would have required annual rotation of its chair and vice chair based on political party affiliation and restricted service in such positions to one term. It also would have required the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom to be notified in advance of all Commission meetings and allowed the Ambassador to attend all meetings as a nonvoting member. Finally it would have required (a) at least six commissioners to approve any commission statement and allow dissenting statements and separate staffs for the two major political parties; and (b) the Commission’s annual report to be issued after the issuance of the annual religious freedom reports by the Department of State.

Conclusion

Congressional criticism of the State Department and the President for their alleged failure to follow every recommendation of the Commission, in my judgment, is uncalled for. I also disagree with any proposed legislation like that of Senator Rubio’s that seeks to impose legislative constraints on the president based upon the Commission’s reports.

The basic reason for this judgment was expressed well by the Commission’s current Chair, Ms. Katrina Lantos Swett, when she acknowledged the Commission has limited authority when compared with the U.S. Department of State and implicitly the U.S. President. She said, “The State Department has a more difficult job than we do because they are balancing American security interests, American commercial interests, American cultural interests, American exchange interests, a whole range of diplomatic interests, and one of the things that they are putting into that mix is the defense of our fundamental values, human rights and religious freedom and other such things. Because of its much larger portfolio the State Department cannot be as single-minded as we are.”

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[1] Detailed information about bills in Congress can be obtained at www. Congress.gov. A prior post summarized the structure and members of the Commission while others posts have discussed the international law on this subject and some of the Commission’s annual reports. Although I believe that freedom of religion is important for every individual and for nation states, I believe that the Commission’s negative views on the status of that freedom in Cuba for 2011 and 2013 are unjustified.

Supporting International Criminal Justice and the International Criminal Court

Another outgrowth of my eight years of teaching the international human rights law course at the University of Minnesota Law School was an expanding knowledge of, and interest in, international criminal justice, in general, and the International Criminal Court (ICC), in particular.[1]

The general topic of international criminal justice covers the efforts of national and international courts to impose criminal penalties on those who are convicted of committing the worst crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.[2] My interest in this topic is shown by the 14 posts on this topic to date.[3] Similarly my interest in the ICC is demonstrated by the 18 posts on this topic to date.[4]

I have put this interest into action in several ways.

I have served as the Provisional Organizer of the Minnesota Alliance for the ICC, which is a member of the American Non-Governmental Organizations Coalition for the ICC (AMICC). This Coalition is committed to achieving through education, information, promotion and an aroused public opinion full U.S. support for the ICC and the earliest possible U.S. ratification of the Court’s Rome Statute.[5] Some of my papers about the ICC and the Rome Statute are posted on the AMICC website.[6]

 

Professor Barbara Frey and I assisted the Human Rights Committee of the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) in developing and presenting a resolution on the ICC that was adopted by the Association’s governing body in September 2010. That resolution stated that the MSBA “urges the [U.S.] Government to take steps towards ratification of the Rome Statute by expanding and broadening [U.S.] interaction with the [ICC], including cooperation with the Court’s investigations and proceedings. The MSBA also calls on the [U.S.] Government to participate in all future sessions of the [ICC’s] governing body, the Assembly of States Parties.”[7]

 

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, ICC Prosecutor
Duane W. Krohnke

In September 2010 I also presented a paper about the U.S.’ relationship with the ICC at a symposium at the University of Minnesota Law School.[8] The true highlight of the symposium was the appearance of the ICC’s Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo. He said that when he was chosen as the Prosecutor in 2003, he told its judges that the best situation for the Court would be to have no cases. That would mean that there were no serious crimes in the world or that national courts by themselves were addressing these crimes. At the symposium he reviewed the history of the Court and its current investigations and prosecutions.[9]

In March 2011 I participated in a debate at a meeting at the University of Minnesota Law School that was hosted by the Federalist Society, Law School Democrats and InternationalLaw Society. The issue was whether the U.S. should become a member of the ICC. [10] The key points of that debate were the following:

  • Professor Eugene Kontorovich of Northwestern University School of Law asserted that U.S. membership in the ICC would be unconstitutional.  U.S. membership would expose U.S. citizens to trials without the structures of an Article III court. In such trials defendants would not have certain procedural rights guaranteed by the Constitution, such as the right to a grand jury. He based his constitutional argument on the U.S. refusal in the early 19th century to join international slave-trading courts or commissions organized by Great Britain.[11]
  • Professor Kontorovich also argued that the ICC was a failure: the sluggishness of the trial process, the failure to convict any defendant, and the absence of empirical research demonstrating meaningful deterrent effects. The ICC, he said, could actually extend conflict by inhibiting peace deals when militants or regimes see international criminal prosecution as unavoidable in spite of ceasing or surrendering. He was also critical of the recent aggression amendment to the Rome Statute.
  • I responded that the U.S. Constitution does not bar U.S. membership in the ICC.  I referred to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Missouri v. Holland that endorsed a broad interpretation of the President’s constitutional treaty power subject to the U.S. Senate’s advice and consent. I said I had not had an opportunity to review Professor Kontorovich’s early 19th century sources for his constitutional argument, but in doing so anyone should have at least two overriding questions in mind: (a) was U.S. resistance to the slave-trading courts due to Southerners’ desire to preserve slavery and (b) was U.S. resistance to such courts due to a desire to avoid entanglement with Great Britain so soon after our Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.[12]
  • I then argued the U.S. should ratify the Rome Statute for the following additional reasons: (1) the Court will prosecute and punish those guilty of the most serious crime; (2) the Court provides deterrence from such crimes; (3) the Court promulgates the truth about these crimes; (4) the Court assists victims; and (5) the Court is active and appears to be permanent, making U.S. involvement pragmatic.

International criminal justice needs the support of all citizens of the world. Going forward, the ICC is the most important institution for holding violators of international rights accountable for their actions.


[1] See Post: Teaching the International Human Rights Law Course (July 1, 2011).

[2] See Post: International Criminal Justice: Introduction (April 26, 2011).

[3] These posts can be accessed by double-clicking on “International Criminal Justice” in the Tag Cloud (dwkcommentariestags) to the right of this post.

[4]  These posts can be accessed by double-clicking on “International Criminal Court” in the Tag Cloud (dwkcommentariestags) to the right of this post.

[5]  AMICC, Mission Statement, http://www.amicc.org/mission.html.

6] Krohnke, US FEDERAL COURTS RELY ON THE ROME STATUTE OF THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT IN CIVIL CASES (Nov. 9, 2009); Krohnke, U.S. Court of Appeals Relies Upon Rome Statute in Case Raising Issue of Corporate Liability under the Alien Tort Statute (Nov. 22, 2010), http://amicc.blogspot.com/2010/11/us-court-of-appeals-relies-upon-rome.html; Krohnke, U.N. Human Rights Council Recommends U.S. Join the International Criminal Court (Nov. 12, 2010), http://amicc.blogspot.com/2010/11/un-human-rights-council-session.html; Krohnke, Symposium on International Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota Highlights the Importance of the International Criminal Court (Oct. 4, 2010), http://amicc.blogspot.com/2010/10/symposium-on-international-criminal.html.

[7] MSBA, Resolution regarding the ICC (Sept. 17, 2010), http://www.mnbar.org/committees/humanrights.

[8] Many of the points of the symposium paper have been set forth in other postings to this blog. Post: The International Criminal Court and the Clinton Administration (May 11, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court and the G. W. Bush Administration (May 12, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court and the Obama Administration (May 13, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court: The Crime of Aggression (May 15, 2011).

[9]  Krohnke, Symposium on International Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota Highlights the Importance of the International Criminal Court (Oct. 4, 2010), http://amicc.blogspot.com/2010/10/symposium-on-international-criminal.html; Univ. Minn. Journal of Law & Inequality, 2010 Symposium: “International Wrongs, International Rights: The Use of Criminal Law to Protect Human Rights” (Sept. 28, 2010), http://www.law.umn.edu/lawineq/symposiummain/september-2010-agenda.

[10]  Rau & Shepherd, AMICC  Representative Participates in University of Minnesota Law School Debate on the US Involvement in the ICC  (March 28, 2011), http://amicc.blogspot.com/2011/03/amicc-representative-in-minnesota.html.

[11] Kontorovich, The Constitutionality of International Courts: The Forgotten Precedent of Slave Trade Tribunals, 158 U. Penn. L. Rev. 39 (2009).

[12]  After the debate, I discovered that a Stanford University Law School professor had written a rebuttal to Professor Kontorovich’s interpretation of the U.S. refusal to join the British-led international courts or commissions with respect to slave trading. In essence, she argued that in the early 19th century slave trading was not against international law. Instead, only Great Britain and the U.S. had recently banned such activities. Thus, the proposed international courts or commissions potentially would be trying U.S. citizens under U.S. law. That was the source, and a legitimate one, for U.S. refusal to join such tribunals at that time. (Martinez, International Courts and the U.S. Constitution: Re-Examining the History (2011), http://www.pennumbra.com/issues/article.php?aid=306.