West

The Transformative Potential of Muslim America

Crosspost from Balkinization

Ideas do not move our constitutional norms, people do. This much is a lesson of recent scholarship by Bruce Ackerman, Reva Siegel, and Robert Post. New constitutional entitlements like the right to bear arms baptized in 2008, on this account, crest on waves of popular mobilization. Architectonic change to fundamental constitutional structures, familiar from Reconstruction and the New Deal, necessitates multiple political sallies by majorities engorged with populist fire.  

In predicting the shape of constitutionalism to come, therefore, it may be useful to search for emergent social movements with transformative potential. Complementing Robin West’s focus on legislated constitutionalism, resisting Richard Ford’s skepticism about abstract constitutionalism, we might ask: What social movement, so far unrealized, has a potential to pressure entrenched constitutional norms by 2020? 

For some years now, my (non-academic) work has focused on national security issues. Security-related changes to immigration, criminal law, and charitable regulation have, http://books.google.com/books?id=dpPTZ33Rmj4C&pg=PA167&lpg=PA167&dq=aziz...)" target="_blank">in my view, disproportionately hit Muslim Americans. But in New York and LA, traditionally quiescent communities have resisted discriminatory or burdensome policies. In line with what Judith Resnik terms “transnational localism,” subnational (here, civil society) actors challenged governmental monopolies on the definition and operationalizing of “security” (a more elusive concept than generally recognized).

Muslim America is a potent, if latent, social force for change. Cruise the streets of Jackson Heights, Queens, or Divan Avenue, Chicago. You’ll see an ethnically diverse, striving, and (in the Pew survey’s words) “highly assimilated” community. Spend some time in the tea lounges and masjids, you’ll hear ample discontent. In one mosque near my former Brooklyn home, congregants learned that three (!) informants routinely attended prayer services. Equally importantly, you’ll hear vociferous concern about the shutdown of Muslim charities under IEEPA, which has encumbered religious obligations of alms (zakat). One recent decision illustrates how IEEPA both curtails core expressions of religious identity and hinders legal representation to challenge that curtailment. 

Muslim Americans, in consequence, have much to gain from challenging the assumption that it is the federal government alone that speaks for us and monopolizes policy decisions when it comes to national security and related foreign policy. Just as the “sole organ” doctrine in foreign affairs and its cognates limits states and localities, as Professor Resnik explains, so too it (selectively) constrains certain migrant communities who still struggle for voice on the national stage.

Fashioned in then-Senator George Sutherland’s idiosyncratic tract The Internal and External Powers of the National Government, dragooned into law by Justice Sutherland in Curtiss-Wright, the “sole organ” doctrine licenses an executive branch monopoly on foreign affairs. Despite early able critique by David Levitan in Yale Law Journal, the doctrine abides, sustained by political utility as much as originalist fidelity or descriptive acuity.  

Professor Koh argues that the “sole organ” doctrine has taken a drubbing, citing recent Supreme Court rulings. But I am not so sure. For one thing, even if the Supreme Court is eager for Congress to reassert its prerogatives, as Justice Breyer’s Hamdan v. Rumsfeld concurrence illustrates, it is a different question whether Congress will pick up the slack. Despite intermittent evidence that Congress feels voters pressure about military over-exposure in Afghanistan, little suggests legislators sense pressure to rein in the presidency along any other security or foreign-policy metric. 

More than another pressure groups, Muslim Americans in my view are well-positioned to challenge the executive branch’s presumed monopoly on foreign affairs wisdom. Not only do they have much to gain in civil liberties, they have much unique to contribute. As I elaborate below, Muslim American mobilization aimed to establish a new constitutional polyphony in foreign affairs and national security is a win-win proposition.

Three brief examples show this dynamic: Consider first how U.S. policy seeks to influence events in volatile Pakistan. In these efforts, the interaction effects of the large diaspora Pakistani-American community with Pakistan’s culture and politics is largely ignored. But government should be leveraging the considerable influence diasporic communities have on home nations. 

Second, active political engagement with migrant communities here diminishes motivations for more radical forms of political action. Voice, that is, reinforces loyalty. In the Midwest’s Somali American community, some young men recently traveled to fight with the Shabaab, provoking breathless consternation in Congress and elsewhere. Few asked, however, why Somali Americans would feel so excluded from US policy formation that they took such extreme measures. An opportunity to build productive dialogue between Somalia Americans, increasing mitigating influences on that lawless state and building security here, was lost.
 
Third, Muslim Americans could be a vital voice for the rule of law overseas. As judicial regulation and procedural scrutiny of detention operations in Guantánamo and other US sites grows, the US has displaced more and more of its detention operations to other countries. Recently minted regulations endorse this continued outsourcing to Pakistan and other allies. The price of this displacement, however, is further corrosion of the rule of law in these countries.  Displacement thus exacerbates conditions that originally fostered transnational terrorist groups such as al Jihad in Egypt. To date, few have made the connection between the Supreme Court’s insistence on a patina of legitimacy on domestic detention and the growing erosion of legality overseas. Muslim Americans, sensitive to conditions in those countries, can play a crucial warning and advocacy role.  

Not only Muslim Americans but all Americans, in short, have much to gain from challenging the “sole organ” doctrine and contending for a more contentious process of policy formation. I do not know if Muslim Americans will take up this challenge: But fledgling organizations such as Muslim Advocates are promising sparks of change. Their mobilization and increased voice, however strong it proves, can only improve the Constitution in 2020.
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Aziz Huq is Assistant Professor of Law at The University of Chicago Law School. He will be appearing on Friday's "America and the World" panel with Muneer Ahmad (Yale Law School, "Personhood in Citizenship's Shadow"), Jenny Martinez (Stanford Law School, "Constitutional Rights as Human Rights?"), and Jon Michaels (UCLA School of Law, "Executive Authority in a post-Westphalian World").
 

Discrimination, Violence, and the Constitution

Crosspost from Balkinization

The essays in The Constitution in 2020 ask not only what the Constitution can do for us, but what we can do for the Constitution. In other words, the book offers both visions of what constitutional law should be and concrete suggestions for how to make it so. Optimism—pragmatic, cautious, yet still resolute—characterizes discussions of equal protection, social and economic rights, free speech, and religious liberty. The book says very little, however, about the most litigated provisions of the Bill of Rights, the provisions to which individuals facing an exercise of state power most often appeal. I refer to constitutional criminal procedure, and I wonder: Is the criminal justice system no place for constitutional optimism? Is criminal justice a realm where we can do little with the Constitution, and where it can do little for us?

American policing and punishment practices are characterized by considerable racial and economic disparities. And at least at a certain level of abstraction, equality is a powerful constitutional norm. So we might look for constitutional levers to address inequality in the criminal justice system. Tracey Meares takes this approach in “The Progressive Past,” the sole essay in The Constitution in 2020 directly focused on criminal justice. As Meares notes, in the 1960s and 1970s, courts applied constitutional protections for criminal defendants in attempts to address widespread racial discrimination. But this project was never fully successful, and at any rate, in more recent decades courts have read the Bill of Rights to provide much narrower protections to defendants and thus to permit a much wider range of state practices. Toward a new (or revived) effort to address inequality, Meares suggests that we think of constitutional criminal procedure not merely in terms of protections for individual defendants, but as a source of public legitimacy for the criminal law. Her “public-regarding approach” would identify disparities that undermine public perceptions of fairness and legitimacy, such as race-based juror selection or race-based defendant selection (selective prosecutions), and it would use constitutional levers to address those disparities. 

There is much to be gained by invoking antidiscrimination norms to reform American penal practices. Of course, we will still argue about what constitutes equality. As noted in Robin West’s essay in the 2020 volume, the legal conception of equality emphasizes treating like cases alike. In criminal justice (and elsewhere), there is considerable disagreement about how to classify “like cases.” For example, many would argue that racial disparities in American prison populations simply reflect patterns of offending. We impose like punishments on like offenders, the argument goes, and it’s unfortunate but true that racial minorities more often commit serious crimes. There are ways to undermine this claim, including Meares’s proposed attention to selective prosecutions. But even if we could agree on what equality means, and even as we pursue more egalitarian practices, it is not clear that equality is enough. I think observers of America’s sprawling penal system must ask whether inequality is the only constitutionally suspect feature of that system.

Assume, far-fetched as the notion may be, that our criminal laws and enforcement practices were purged of racial discrimination. Assume, also, that the expansive conception of the state’s penal power persisted. Legislatures still possessed the same broad discretion to criminalize conduct and to prescribe lengthy prison sentences that they have today; police officers still possessed the same broad discretion to search and seize persons in the investigative process; and prison officials still possessed the same broad discretion to use force within the prison to maintain order and discipline. In this imagined world, none of this discretion would be exercised in a racially discriminatory manner, but it would still be used to police and punish aggressively.  In this imagined world, the criminal justice practices currently directed disproportionately at non-whites would be experienced by everyone. Would the Constitution be satisfied?

The question is whether and how the Constitution imposes any limitations on the state’s use of force independent of requirements to use force in a nondiscriminatory manner. Do constitutional provisions such as the Fourth and Eighth Amendments restrict state power in ways not addressed by the Equal Protection Clause? Earlier this year I wrote about the use of the term “violence specialists” to describe agents of the state authorized to use physical force for public ends. The authors who use this term assume that every society has its violence specialists, but constitutional democracies are distinctive in that the violence specialists are subordinated to the rule of law. But which law? What I’d like to figure out—before 2020, I hope—is whether the Fourth and Eighth Amendments could provide more meaningful restrictions on state officials’ decisions to use force to police or punish.

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Alice Ristroph is Professor of Law at Seton Hall University School of Law. She will be appearing on Saturday's "Individual Rights" Panel with Rich Garnett (Notre Dame Law School, "Religion and Division," "Religious Institutions, Pluralism, and the Infrastructure of Religious Freedom"), Paul Horwitz (University of Alabama School of Law, "The First Amendment in 2020: An Institutional Perspective"), and Elizabeth Emens (Columbia Law School, "Disability's Force").
 

Point-Counterpoint: Progressive Approaches to Achieving Marriage Equality? (Part 2)

Continuing last week's Point-Counterpoint, begun by Daniel Winik...
 
Counterpoint: Jeremy Kessler
 
I thank Daniel for getting the conversation rolling with several pragmatic reasons for why we should fight for same-sex marriage in the legislatures rather than the courts. Although I'm sympathetic to many of Daniel's points, I'm not convinced by his argument as a whole. Even if one were to argue for a "mixed" legislative-judicial strategy, it's hard to underestimate the importance of the courts to the overall marriage equality project or to the progressive project more generally.

Daniel raises the specter of Roe in arguing that "constitutional progress is most effective and most lasting when it derives from popular consensus." It's true that bold judicial decisions risk solidifying resistance to constitutional causes. But for every Roe there may be a Brown v. Board of Education. Brown (347 U.S. 483, full text) caused a major backlash in the South and even liberal intellectuals assailed it for its supposedly shoddy reasoning. But today it's one of the pillars of our constitutional order. Judge-made law often meets popular resistance, but this resistance may itself prove an important catalyst for positive democratic change. Why? Adjudicative action can raise awareness of the issue, help citizens think through what their position really is, and so, ultimately, bring pressure to bear on local political actors. The language of rights is all-American and the courts are high-profile communities where that language can be spoken and broadcast to the general public.

The conversation-changing potential of adjudication isn't restricted to the federal courts. Just as "the process of legislative change, state by state" can affect the evolution of public attitudes toward marriage equality, the process of judicial change on the issue at the state level may also positively inform public attitudes. We are a law-abiding people. If state courts believe that marriage equality is the immanent law of their land, other states' courts and citizenries should know about this belief. The more marriage equality is the law the better, especially if you are by disposition an incrementalist. Gradually, the weather will change, and the right to marriage will become the daily forecast. Both court and legislative action can contribute to this atmospheric shift.

Beyond strategy, there's at least one other compelling reason for pursuing marriage equality in the courts. It relates to Robin West's argument for the legislative articulation of constitutional law. West argues that the Supreme Court's ongoing failure to treat the Equal Protection clause as a guarantee of positive action to eradicate inequality (as opposed to a negative check on legislative discrimination) is inherent in the nature of jurisprudence itself. From West's standpoint, judges are inclined to think equal protection demands, and can provide no more than, formally equal treatment of the subjects of legislation because such formally equal treatment is what judges themselves are expected to provide. Unlike judges, however, legislators are neither expected to mete out blind justice, nor to respect the value of continuity with precedent that drives judicial reluctance to license new rights. When judges demand that legislators act like judges, making no distinctions between aggrieved groups and rarely breaking with the status quo, they do violence to democratic governance.

West takes this sorry state of affairs to mean that we should concentrate our energies on developing a "legisprudence" of how legislatures can best articulate constitutional doctrine. But this cure doesn't necessarily treat the sickness West diagnoses. However progressive legislative action might be, regressively formalistic courts can still act as a stumbling block. It is therefore dangerous for progressives to accept such obstructionist courts as the natural order. We know that courts have, at times, engaged in declarations of positive rights and prescribed the proper remedies for their violation. Post-Brown desegregation cases like Green v. County School Board of New Kent County (391 U.S. 430, full text) and Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (402 U.S. 1, full text) demanded that local governments take substantial, positive steps in order to achieve the true promise of equal protection. Brown's own notion of inherent inequality suggests that courts can create doctrine that demands legislatures go beyond their contemporary understanding of formal equality. This legacy of the details-oriented affirmation of positive rights is a noble one.

The development of a jurisprudence of positive rights should not be abandoned because of contemporary resistance to this jurisprudence. Judges should say what the law is. If progressives think the law demands a positive interpretation of equal protection -- in the case of gay marriage, the entitlement of legal marriage for all -- then they should try to persuade judges, and the larger community, of this legal fact. Exiting the courts because they tend to enforce readings of equal protection that allow actual discrimination can only perpetuate an undesirable, and incorrect, jurisprudence. Taking the fight to the courts serves not just the cause of same-sex marriage but the broader progressive agenda.
 

Point-Counterpoint: Progressive Approaches to Achieving Marriage Equality?

Over the next few days, Daniel Winik and Jeremy Kessler will use this space to delve into one of the most pressing debates within contemporary constitutionalism: whether progressive advocates for marriage equality should focus their energies on legislatures or the courts. Consider it a lawyerly debate, with each writer arguing wholeheartedly for the merits of his client — Dan for an “incremental,” legislatively-focused strategy, Jeremy for a court-centered approach — rather than either trying to give a completely “rounded” view on his own. Like many questions, the answer probably rests somewhere in the balance.

Point: Daniel Winik

I’ll open with an argument for incrementalism, an argument shaped in large part by several pieces from The Constitution in 2020, especially Judith Resnik’s discussion of progressive federalism (Chapter 24, PDF) and Robin West’s analysis of “legisprudence” (Chapter 8, PDF). As the essays by Resnik and West suggest, any effective progressive agenda will have to move beyond single-minded reliance on the federal courts as guarantors of rights. This is particularly true, as I see it, for marriage equality: progressives should continue to favor a state-by-state approach to achieving marriage equality, and where possible, they should make their case in the legislatures rather than the courts. Both of these elements — federalism and legislation — are central to an incremental approach. (For similar thinking, see Aaron Zelinsky’s insightful posts here and here.)

Without a doubt, incrementalism makes concessions to the federal bench’s conservative tilt and to the ongoing debate — even among progressives — as to whether the Federal Constitution encompasses marriage equality. That said, my argument is not mainly a tactical one. Even if the Supreme Court were to uphold an Equal Protection challenge, that outcome might not be best for progressives in the long run. Let me suggest three reasons why.

First, constitutional progress is most effective and most lasting when it arises from popular consensus. Jack Balkin and Sandy Levinson have argued that the Supreme Court’s constitutional innovations tend to track the mainstream of political thought, insofar as constitutional change occurs through “partisan entrenchment.” On the rare occasions when the Court has deviated from mainstream trends — Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), being the prime example — its pronouncements have been slower to gain acceptance. Justice Ginsburg, among the pioneers of litigation for women’s rights, has herself suggested that the Roe Court “bit off more than it could chew,” upsetting a legislative “state of flux.” Had Roe come five or ten years later, after legislative progress had been made, the controversy surrounding it would likely not have endured for decades.

If present trends hold, advocates of marriage equality won’t have to wait long for their popular consensus. Statistical guru Nate Silver’s models suggest that “by 2012, almost half of the 50 states [will have] voted against a marriage ban,” and “[b]y 2016, only a handful of states in the Deep South would vote to ban gay marriage.” The recent wave of legislative progress toward marriage equality hasn’t sparked anything close to the backlash that followed Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, 798 N.E.2d 941, the 2003 decision that legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. In fact, the most recent adoptions of marriage equality statutes have seemed almost routine.

Hence a second reason to favor a state-by-state approach: it provides models to counter public fear-mongering. In other words, federalism isn’t just useful to progressives as a vehicle for legal experimentation; it’s also a sound vehicle for social experimentation. To the extent that Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont survive their transitions to marriage equality with their social fabric intact (and we’re not seeing any reason to ring the alarm), it will become increasingly difficult for trumped-up fears of moral collapse to deter further progress.

A third reason to favor an incremental approach is that the political process of legislating change, state by state, is itself a catalyst for the evolution of public attitudes toward marriage equality. In West’s model of the legislated constitution, the “conscientious, idealized legislator” looks to the Equal Protection Clause as a dictate “to do her moral, political, and constitutional duty by the citizenry.” That process of defining equality, and understanding its mandate, is central to a robust democracy. As Resnik argues, “Jurisdictions do not make rights, but people do . . . . [and] only when many actors, at national and local levels, in and outside formal legal structures, fully embrace propositions like racial and gender equality do such understandings become constitutive . . . .” Incrementalism, then, represents a democratic embrace of the constitutional mandate for equality—not a retreat from it.
 

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