Thursday, July 26, 2007

How liberals can take back the Court.

TNR Online :
by Douglas T. Kendall & James E. Ryan

...[P]rogressives would do well to follow Scalia's lead. In public debates over constitutional interpretation, Scalia keeps it simple. Sure, he says, sometimes I have to follow precedent. Sure, he admits, sometimes text and history aren't so clear. But those are details. Don't let them distract you: I like a rock-hard Constitution, plain and simple, and that Constitution binds me as a judge.

That's the way Clinton, Obama, and other Democratic candidates ought to talk about their own constitutional vision. They can eschew terms like originalism, if they don't like its baggage. But they should say something similarly evocative: 'I want judges who are accountable to the Constitution, not the Democratic or Republican platform.' They should be prepared to explain what they mean by constitutional accountability, and they should provide examples of where conservative judges have violated this mandate. They should talk about the Constitution and its history, but resist the impulse to discuss the hardest cases first and avoid getting bogged down in the details of philosophy. They must recognize that there is a big difference between defending a constitutional vision and deciding a case. The progressive failure to grasp that difference is precisely why they've been losing these battles.

Kendall and Ryan are big fans of Yale's Akhil Amar and his "progressive originalism":
Indeed, there's a nascent movement among progressives to embrace the Constitution rather than run from it. The central theorist of this school--what you might call progressive originalism--is Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar. Amar is one of his generation's most influential constitutional historians. His works on the Constitution have won acclaim from across the political spectrum, with one prominent conservative law professor calling Amar's recent opus, America's Constitution: A Biography, the best book written about the Constitution since The Federalist Papers. This conservative acclaim is somewhat surprising, because Amar reveals the Constitution to be a deeply progressive document.

Over the years, conservatives have convinced many liberals--not to mention the public--that the Constitution is a document largely geared towards protecting private property and wealth. Amar demolishes this notion. He explains that our Constitution started out both democratic and inclusive for its time and has remained viable because of constitutional amendments that improved the document.

Amar's most powerful argument is that the post-Civil War amendments fundamentally altered our founding document in ways that have yet to be recognized by the Supreme Court. What may have begun as a document focused on protecting liberty was transformed into a document just as concerned with equality. A federal government that began with powers that were "few and defined" was awarded vast new powers to protect due process and equal protection. Conservatives may not like this, of course, but they should not be able to wish away these changes.

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