Why the Late Justice Scalia Was Wrong: The Fallacies of Constitutional Textualism

21 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 45 (2017)

52 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2016 Last revised: 18 Mar 2017

See all articles by Ken Levy

Ken Levy

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge - Paul M. Hebert Law Center

Date Written: April 15, 2016

Abstract

My article concerns constitutional interpretation and substantive due process, issues that played a central role in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), one of the two same-sex marriage cases. (The other same-sex marriage case was United States v. Windsor (2013).

The late Justice Scalia consistently maintained that the Court “invented” substantive due process and continues to apply this legal “fiction” not because the Constitution supports it but simply because the justices like it. Two theories underlay his cynical conclusion. First is the theory of “Constitutional Textualism” — or just plain “Textualism” — which says that the meaning of the Constitution lies entirely within the “four corners” of the document. Second is the theory of “Originalism,” which says that this meaning was fixed at the time of ratification. (Likewise, the meanings of the amendments were fixed at the time of their ratification.)

While Justice Scalia helped to inspire a Textualist/Originalist (and anti-substantive-due-process) movement, his Originalism has received far more attention than his Textualism. Since Judge Robert Bork first introduced Originalism to the general public during his Supreme Court nomination hearings in 1987, this theory has ignited passions on all sides and effectively re-framed the entire debate about how to interpret the Constitution. Constitutional scholars, left and right, now define themselves as either for or against Originalism. Meanwhile, Textualism has merely retreated into the background.

Part of the reason for this disparate treatment is that many who reject Originalism still consider themselves to be Textualists. They agree with Justice Scalia (and Judge Bork) that the text is all-important. They disagree, however, that its meaning was fixed for eternity at ratification. Instead, they maintain that either the meaning of the text or applications of this meaning to new cases can change as society changes. In this Article, I bring Textualism out of Originalism’s shadow and into broad daylight. I argue that once we dig just a little deeper into the proposition that all of the meaning in the Constitution inheres in its words, we find that this theory simply cannot work. In order to interpret the nation’s foundational document, we must resort to assumptions that it does not explicitly state. (Indeed, even Textualism itself is a theory that the Constitution does not explicitly endorse.) And the notion that “extra-textual” assumptions necessarily inform our interpretations of the Constitution poses a direct and insurmountable threat to Textualism.

The Constitution actually requires each judge, when faced with a case concerning the right to privacy, not merely to consider the text but also to anticipate and evaluate the moral, social, and political consequences of both possible decisions before choosing between them. While this position may initially sound counterintuitive, it turns out to be a much more realistic theory of constitutional interpretation than Textualism (and Originalism).

I ultimately conclude that, contrary to Justice Scalia, the Constitution most certainly does protect a right to privacy. For what it’s worth, the Obergefell majority agree with me (and oppose Justice Scalia). I aim to show exactly why they are correct.

Keywords: Justice Scalia, constitutional interpretation, Textualism, Originalism, Fourteenth Amendment, substantive due process, right to privacy, Roe v. Wade, Griswold v. Connecticut, Living Constitution

Suggested Citation

Levy, Ken, Why the Late Justice Scalia Was Wrong: The Fallacies of Constitutional Textualism (April 15, 2016). 21 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 45 (2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2765554

Ken Levy (Contact Author)

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge - Paul M. Hebert Law Center ( email )

420 Law Center Building
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
United States

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