Emotional Common Sense as Constitutional Law
67 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2008 Last revised: 2 Nov 2009
In Gonzales v. Carhart the Supreme Court invoked post-abortion regret to justify a ban on a particular abortion procedure. The Court was proudly folk-psychological, representing its observations about women's emotional experiences as "self-evident." That such observations could drive critical legal determinations was, apparently, even more self-evident, as it received no mention at all. Far from being sui generis, Carhart reflects a previously unidentified norm permeating constitutional jurisprudence: reliance on what this Article coins "emotional common sense." Emotional common sense is what one unreflectively thinks she knows about the emotions. A species of common sense, it seems obvious and universal to its holder - but this appearance is misleading.
This Article articulates and evaluates the Court's reliance on emotional common sense in constitutional law. It demonstrates that emotional common sense sometimes imports into law inaccurate accounts of the world. Justices of every ideological orientation invoke it in a manner that comports with their desired ends. Emotional common sense colors interpretation of evidence, manifests in selective perspective-taking, and shapes jurisprudential choices. Common-sense evaluation of the emotions also necessarily embodies underlying beliefs and values; enforcing them on others under the guise of simple truth silently forces a false consensus.
Emotional common sense has a limited place in constitutional law. It may be cautiously embraced where an emotional phenomenon is relatively basic and universal. In all other cases the embrace should be withheld. Evaluating isolated instances in which the Court has looked beyond emotional common sense, the Article shows that a superior path exists.
Keywords: emotion, common sense, law and psychology, abortion, post-abortion regret, judging
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