Anti-Modalities

67 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2020 Last revised: 14 Oct 2020

See all articles by David Pozen

David Pozen

Columbia University - Law School

Adam M. Samaha

New York University School of Law

Date Written: October 13, 2020

Abstract

Constitutional argument runs on the rails of “modalities.” These are the accepted categories of reasoning used to make claims about the content of supreme law. Some of the modalities, such as ethical and prudential arguments, seem strikingly open ended at first sight. Their contours come into clearer view, however, when we attend to the kinds of claims that are not made by constitutional interpreters — the analytical and rhetorical moves that are familiar in debates over public policy and political morality but are considered out of bounds in debates over constitutional meaning. In this Article, we seek to identify the “anti-modalities” of constitutional law and to investigate their implications.

The anti-modalities both stabilize and undermine the modalities. On the one hand, they work in tandem to ensure that constitutional interpretation remains a distinctive legal enterprise. The two argument bundles are in this sense mutually reinforcing, even co-constitutive. On the other hand, by ruling out various important categories of reasoning — from general moral theory to emotional judgment to many cost-benefit calculations — the anti-modalities put continuous pressure on the modalities to accommodate such reasoning in adulterated forms, or else insist on a long distance between the inputs into supreme law and the concerns that most people care about. We call this distance constitutional law’s “resonance gap.” Such a gap arises in all areas of law, but it is especially pronounced in the constitutional realm.

Although the anti-modalities play a critical role in preserving the law/politics distinction, they have deleterious consequences for each side of that line. The best response, this Article suggests, is not necessarily to narrow the resonance gap but rather to narrow the domain of constitutional law. If constitutional argument must exclude (or purport to exclude) vital modes of reasoning, we might worry less about refining its grammar and more about restricting its reach.

Keywords: Constitutional Law, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Norms, Constitutional Theory, Legal Reasoning, Legal Decision-Making, Law and Politics, Legal Sociology, General Jurisprudence

Suggested Citation

Pozen, David E. and Samaha, Adam M., Anti-Modalities (October 13, 2020). Michigan Law Review, Forthcoming (February 2021), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3579500 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3579500

David E. Pozen (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.columbia.edu/faculty/david-pozen

Adam M. Samaha

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Downloads
544
Abstract Views
3,378
rank
56,412
PlumX Metrics