Mike Rappaport Website

Professor Rappaport is Darling Foundation Professor of Law at the University of San Diego, where he also serves as the Director of the Center for the Study of Constitutional Originalism. Professor Rappaport is the author of numerous law review articles in journals such as the Yale Law Journal, the Virginia Law Review, the Georgetown Law Review, and the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.  His book, Originalism and the Good Constitution, which is co-authored with John McGinnis, was published by the Harvard University Press in 2013.  Professor Rappaport is a graduate of the Yale Law School, where he received a JD and a DCL (Law and Political Theory).

Article III’s Case-or-Controversy Requirement: The Original Meaning

Another of the papers held at the Works-in-Progress Conference at the Originalism Center at the University of San Diego this past weekend was The Contested History of Article III’s Case-or-Controversy by James Pfander of Northwestern University Law School.  Pfander’s paper provides evidence that early Congresses authorized and courts allowed lawsuits that do not seem to satisfy the modern Article III doctrine in terms of injury in fact and adverseness of the parties.  (While Pfander’s paper is not yet available online, a longer related paper is.)

One of Pfander’s examples is the naturalization proceeding that involved an action by an individual in court seeking citizenship.  The government was not a party to the proceeding.  According to Pfander, this proceeding does not involve an injury in fact and does not involve adverseness.  It does not involve injury in fact, because the applicant for citizenship has not been denied his citizenship by the government.  He is simply applying for it in court.  It does not involve adverseness because the government has not taken an adverse position to the applicant for citizenship.  The government is not involved. Other noncontentious proceedings included administrative proceedings in bankruptcy jurisdiction and ex parte warrant applications.

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The German and Dutch Founding-Era Translations of the Constitution

This past weekend, the Center for the Study of Constitutional Originalism at the University of San Diego held its Sixth Annual Works-in-Progress Conference.  I had thought I might blog about a couple of the papers.

One of the papers – Founding-Era Translations of the Federal Constitution by Christina Mulligan, Michael Douma, Hans Lind and Brian Patrick Quinn – involved the discovery of some new information about the original meaning of the Constitution.  At the time of the Constitution, significant portions of Pennsylvania and New York were respectively inhabited by German and Dutch speaking citizens.  As a result, the Constitution was translated into German and Dutch during the ratification contests in these states and these translations were relied upon by the German and Dutch speaking citizens.

For originalists, these translations represent an important new piece of evidence about the original meaning.  They are in some ways similar to commentary at the time that indicates the meaning of the Constitution.  But the translations differ in that they translate the entire Constitution.  And unlike contemporary dictionaries, the translations are in context – that is, rather than the modern originalist having to consult a dictionary with a number of word meanings, he needs only to review the word that the translator inserted into the specific clause. 

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Reacting to Lincoln

In my previous post, I wrote about a talk that I had recently given about Lincoln.  I had not expected it to be terribly controversial – in fact, I wondered whether it was such common knowledge that it was not worth reporting.

But there is something about Lincoln that leads people to react in extreme ways.

Let me start with the long criticism by the first commenter, which is then endorsed by the second commenter.  The comment goes on and on, in an extremely intemperate way. The principal complaint appears to be that I took Lincoln at his word and did not conclude that he repeatedly lied to the American people about his views on slavery.  For this, I am accused of somehow not respecting Lincoln.  I would think if I had accused him of lying, without any foundation, that I would be open to criticism.  But apparently the opposite is the case.

The funny thing is that my post did not suggest that Lincoln personally approved of slavery or would not have liked to have eliminated it more quickly.  Quite the contrary.  As I said, “in Lincoln’s defense, he believed that any stronger position would have been rejected by the American people and therefore this was the best that could be accomplished for the slaves.”

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Lincoln: Slavery, Sovereignty, and Secession

This past week, I gave a talk (along with colleague Maimon Schwarzschild) on Abraham Lincoln at the San Diego Law Library as part of their exhibit on the former President.  My talk was entitled “Lincoln: Slavery, Sovereignty, and Secession,” but unfortunately due to time constraints, it was mainly on slavery.

My main point about Lincoln is that his views on slavery were very “moderate” up until the point at which he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  As a matter of policy, Lincoln favored ending slavery, but he wanted such emancipation to be gradual, compensated, popularly enacted, and followed by colonization.  In Lincoln’s defense, he believed that any stronger position would have been rejected by the American people and therefore this was the best that could be accomplished for the slaves.

By contrast, there were the abolitionists of the time – people who favored immediate emancipation of the slaves.  The abolitionists included William Lloyd Garrison, who believed the Constitution was a deal with the slavemaster devil, and Lysander Spooner, who believed that the Constitution forbade slavery.  But the groups associated with both of these men were considered extremists and represented only a small portion of the population.

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First Came Bush, Then Came Obama: The Case of College Funding

My coblogger, John McGinnis, recently had a great post about the new programs for forgiving college loans for certain students.  John was responding to this article in the New York Times about the programs. John had three complaints about the program, all of which I agree with: First, differential forgiveness [which forgives loans for people who work in the so called public interest sector but not the private sector] could distort choices in the labor market, to the disadvantage of the private sector. .  . .  Second, more favorable terms for student borrowing takes away pressure on educational institutions to cut costs. …

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We the People of the United States: The Madisonian View

In my last post, I argued that “We the People of the United States” is best understood as referring to a single people consisting of separate states.  It is not a single people in a single undifferentiated nation like France, but instead is a country that consists of individual states that are united together.

This interpretation of the preamble views it as adopting an intermediate view between the nationalist view of a single people in an undifferentiated nation and the states rights view of multiple peoples in multiple states.

If the preamble adopts an intermediate view, does it fit with the remainder of the Constitution and what specifically is that view?  The intermediate view of the preamble accords with the analysis of the Constitution adopted by James Madison in Federalist 39.  In that number, Madison was responding to critics who argued that the Constitution was a national document and should have been a federal one.  Madison wrote:

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We the People of the United States

One of the key arguments made by constitutional nationalists is that the Constitution provides that “We the People of the United States . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution.”  The idea is that a single people throughout the country as a whole established the Constitution and therefore sovereignty resides at the national level in that people.  Moreover, this national sovereignty negates any inferences that might otherwise follow from the idea that the Constitution consists of a compact of states.  While this is certainly one interpretation of this language, it is certainly not the only one.  And here I want to suggest an intermediate understanding – one that is in between national and states rights sovereignty.

We the People of the United States has two concepts in it: (1) the People and (2) the United States.  Each of those ideas has two possible interpretations.   The People might refer either to a single people of the nation or to the separate peoples of the different states.  Similarly, the United States might refer to a single national country – as France does – or it might refer to a country that consists of multiple states.  In the latter case, the meaning of the United States would be similar to the meaning of United Nations – an organization that consists of multiple different nations.

The nationalist view works best if both of  these concepts have the nationalist interpretation – if it is one people and a single national country.  The states right view works best if both of these concepts have the compact between states interpretation – if it is multiple peoples and a country consisting of multiple states.

While it is possible to view both concepts in either way, I believe that the stronger interpretation of people is the national view and the stronger interpretation of the country is the states view.

We the People of the United States is best understood as referring to a single people.  After all, if the Framers had intended for the Constitution to reflect the actions of multiple peoples, it could have easily provided “We the Peoples of the United States.”  But it does not say that.  The better reading is that it establishes a single people.  Also supporting this conclusion is the Tenth Amendment, which says that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

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Obama, Israel, and the Left

Over at the Commentary blog, Peter Wehner writes about President Obama’s hostility toward Israel and its Prime Minister: Has it struck you, as it has struck me, that with every other nation, including the most repressive and anti-American on earth, Mr. Obama is careful never to give offense, to always extend the olive branch, and to treat their leaders with unusual deference and respect? Except for the Jewish State of Israel. It always seems to be in the Obama crosshair. Because this attitude is so detached from objective circumstances and the actions of Israel and the actions of the adversaries of Israel,…

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Originalism and Comparative Constitutional Law

One of the challenges often made to originalism is that so many other countries do not appear to follow it.  And if a large numbers of countries are not following it, then how can originalists claim that the failure to do so is illegitimate or unlawful?  In my view, this criticism of originalism is much weaker than is normally thought for two reasons.

1. First, the premise – that originalism is not followed throughout the world – is not at all clear. In part, there are places, like Australia, Turkey, Singapore and Malaysia, that do sometimes employ explicitly originalist arguments.

But this may only be the tip of the iceberg.  To begin with, some constitutions explicitly require what is wrongfully treated as nonoriginalist judicial review.  For example, the South African Constitution requires the courts to employ proportionality analysis.  If a South African court employs proportionality analysis, that is originalism, not nonoriginalism.

Moreover, if one follows original methods originalism – where originalism requires that interpreters employ the interpretive methods deemed applicable to the Constitution at the time of its enactment – then courts in other places which do not appear to be following originalism might actually be doing so.  For example, imagine a constitution were enacted in Europe today that did not specify how its provisions should be interpreted.  If the dominant mode of interpretation in that country and in Europe generally involved proportionality, then it might be reasonable to conclude that the constitution’s provisions were understood as requiring that they be interpreted using proportionality analysis.  Thus, one cannot simply look at a constitution, see that it is employing proportionality analysis, and conclude that it is nonoriginalist.  It might be following a type of originalism.

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Ramsey and Tillman on the Receive Ambassadors Clause

Over at the Originalism Blog, Mike Ramsey and Seth Barrett Tillman have been debating whether House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak to Congress is unconstitutional.  See also the posts by David Bernstein and Peter Spiro.

Here I do not want to take a position on the issue, but just to note some interpretive moves that Mike and Seth make concerning the Receive Ambassadors Clause, which provides that the President “shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers.”

Seth argues for a strict reading of ambassador and public minister.  He argues that Netanyahu is neither an ambassador nor a public minister.  An ambassador has a meaning that excludes heads of government and other public ministers extends only to “diplomatic officials having lesser status or rank than ‘Ambassadors.’”  He supports this reading of other public ministers with various other clauses that seem to suggest this reading of other public Ministers.  See Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2 (referring to “Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls” as under the scope of the President’s appointment power).  See also Article 3, Section 2, Clauses 1 and 2 (similar as to judicial power).  As a reading of the language, Seth’s argument here is quite plausible.

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