As it does every year, a new Supreme Court term has begun in Washington. This time, however, the Court’s composition is a bit unusual. At the moment, the Court has only eight members; a successor for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away in February, has not yet been appointed. But the Court’s composition is unusual for another reason, too: the religious backgrounds of the justices.
California Senate Bill 1146 (SB 1146) created an earthquake of controversy.
John Inazu has emerged as one of the leading scholars on freedom of association and religious freedom. His earlier book, Liberty's Refuge: The Forgotten Freedom of Assembly revived our understanding of the significance of freedom of association in American constitutional history. He joins us in this episode of Liberty Law Talk to discuss his latest book, Confident Pluralism on why we must rebuild both the legal and civic engagement aspects of a pluralist society.
On the day before the Pearl Harbor anniversary (which he did not reference), President Obama admitted that “Our nation has been at war with terrorists since Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11,” including horrors that his Administration previously dismissed as workplace violence. While much of what he said seemed to deny the reality of war, the last fourth of the speech raises the key question of what Muslims owe the rest of the world in this time of war.
This is the second part of a three-part summary of a speech that I gave last weekend at the 2015 National Lawyers Convention of the Federalist Society. The first part focuses on how commerce encourages civic virtue. The second continues by discussing how limited government aids civic culture and how the Constitution helps assure that religion will be helpful rather than harmful to that culture:
Besides encouraging a commercial society, the Constitution also sharply limits government. The federal government is limited by the enumerated powers. The states’ capacity to create large, intrusive, anti-commercial government is circumscribed by the right of citizens to exit. To take just a purely hypothetical example, if my home state of Illinois exacts large taxes in favor of small groups like public sector unions, many of its citizens will leave.
Limited government creates the space and indeed the need for the kind of private associations that Alexis de Tocqueville celebrated. Varying in size and mission, these associations may concern self-improvement, mutual aid, or social welfare. As the Nobel Prize-winning political scientist Elinor Ostrom showed, these associations can help people develop bonds of social trust and maintain long-term relations of reciprocal goodwill, which can also help sustain a free society.
Leading up to Justice Kennedy’s fateful 5-4 decision, there was plenty of debate on both sides, and the proponents of same-sex marriage emphasized that they just wanted to be treated the same as heterosexual couples. They even coined the deceptively simple slogan, “Marriage Equality.” That was then.
David Cortman showed remarkable poise and command last January when he made his first appearance before the Supreme Court. The case was Reed v. Gilbert, and he represented the cause of a small, fledgling church having no fixed site for its services. His masterful performance was recognized this week: victory, with a box score of 9 to 0. Cortman brought to the aid of this small congregation all of the dedication and resources of the Alliance Defending Freedom.
It was in April, during oral arguments in the collection of cases known as Obergefell v. Hodges that Justice Kennedy publicly fretted over the legal outcome that his jurisprudence has, in effect, created. To the surprise of Court-watchers, Kennedy at one point let out that he had “a word on his mind . . . and that word is millennia.”
How should social change affect how we think about laws on religious freedom? On Sunday Governor Mike Pence defended his state’s religious freedom law, noting that the President had voted for a similar law protecting religious freedom twenty years previously when he was an Illinois State Senator. Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman responded: “If you have to go back two decades to justify what you’re doing today, it may raise questions.” It is hard to come up with a more perfect encapsulation of the progressive mindset: even a two decades-old position carries no epistemic weight with the present.