Too Much, Too Quickly?

58 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2024 Last revised: 7 Feb 2024

See all articles by Andrew Coan

Andrew Coan

University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law

Date Written: February 2, 2024

Abstract

This Article explores the increasingly common but under-theorized claim that the Supreme Court is changing too much, too quickly. The claim is a general one, not limited to the current historical moment. But major shifts on the Court over the past three years have thrust it to the center of the constitutional conversation. The Article therefore begins by surveying prominent contemporary examples spanning abortion rights, gun rights, race, religion, and the administrative state. It then asks how we should define and measure constitutional change.

With this framework in mind, the Article proposes four ways of understanding the “too much, too quickly” critique: as an argument for across-the-board judicial gradualism, as mere sour grapes or bad faith, as unapologetic ideology, and as a call for context-sensitive gradualism specific to the current Court that nevertheless seeks to transcend ideology in the narrow left right sense. Each of these understandings has strengths and weaknesses, but this Article shows that all four are necessary for a complete picture. Their complex interplay illuminates the central question posed by the “too much, too quickly” critique—namely, how to balance the costs and benefits of constitutional change.

The main upshot is that moral and ideological judgment are extremely difficult and perhaps impossible to fully disentangle from any assessment of constitutional change. But neither is this assessment wholly reducible to ideology in any narrow or simple sense. Different versions of the critique can also overlap or operate in conjunction, raising complex questions about mixed motives that neither critics nor defenders of the Court have adequately appreciated. Meanwhile, the charge of sour grapes is significantly harder to establish than is typically supposed. The charge may still be justified in some cases, but it is most useful as a kind of stress test for critics of the Court to guard against internal inconsistency and motivated reasoning in their own thinking. Finally, different understandings of the critique will often point in different directions, with potentially profound implications for abortion rights, gun rights, affirmative action, and more.

Keywords: Constitutional Change, Supreme Court, Stare Decisis, Dobbs, Bruen, Precedent, Constitutional Theory

Suggested Citation

Coan, Andrew, Too Much, Too Quickly? (February 2, 2024). Arizona Legal Studies Discussion Paper No. 24-04, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4714188 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4714188

Andrew Coan (Contact Author)

University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 210176
Tucson, AZ 85721-0176
United States

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