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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Judicial rhetoric in AID

SCOTUS today decided Agency for Int'l Development v. Alliance for Open Society In'tl, holding 6-2 (per the Chief; Scalia dissenting, joined by Thomas; Kagan recused) that requiring a recipient of federal HIV/AIDS funds to adopt a policy opposing prostitution violates the First Amendment. I don't have a lot to say about the opinion, other than it is interesting to see Rust v. Sullivan once again discussed as a funding case and not a government-speech case (which it had sort of morphed into). Instead, I just want to draw attention to the language and rhetoric flying around both the majority and dissenting opinions.

Justice Jackson and the 70-year-old Barnette get some love from the Chief. After saying that the program "requires [recipients] to pledge allegiance to the Government's policy," Roberts insists that "we cannot improve upon what Justice Jackson wrote for the Court 70 years ago," going into Jackson's "fixed star in our constitutional constellation" quotation.

The Chief also throws in his usual turns of phrase--"an offer that cannot be refused", funding activities "on its own time and dime", as well as the "pledge allegiance" line above. These are becoming quite common in Roberts opinions, especially his First Amendment cases. I still cannot decide if they are distracting or make for good judicial writing.

Of course, Roberts cannot hold a candle to Justice Scalia in this respect, especially when Scalia is in dissent and is not trying to guide lower courts or hold a coalition together and can go with guns blazing. Thus, the majority "pussyfoots" around the issue of coercion (or lack thereof) in the funding program and it makes a "head-fake" at unconstitutional conditions. The idea behind the limitation--government enlisting the aid of those who support its ideas--is a "matter of the most common common sense." And the "elephant in the room" is that Government does not really force anyone to do anything by denying funding. (On that last one, I appreciate that Scalia did not mix his metaphors by either making the elephant pink or having it weigh 800 pounds).

Scalia is especially hot in creating hypotheticals. He uses Hamas as an example of an organization that is quite good at distributing public welfare, but reasonably could be excluded from a food-distribution program (even if Hamas were a U.S. organization). Or he insists that a "federal program to encourage healthy eating habits need not be administered by the American Gourmet Society, which has nothing against healthy food but does not insist upon it." Or note the examples he uses to show that government funding of a particular viewpoint obviously discriminates against those who disagree--"Anti-smoking programs injure cigar aficionados, programs encouraging sexual abstinence injure free-love advocates." That last one was striking--the opposite of sexual abstinence is free love and not those who recognize sex as a part of any monogamous relationship? And does anyone even use the term "free love" anymore?

Also, recall that last week in Myriad Genetics, Justice Scalia refused to join the portions of the opinion discussing details of genetics and molecular biology, some of which seemed fairly anodyne. There has been some discussion about Scalia's apparent uncertainty about the science. Well, his AID dissent shows he has no such hesitation (humility?) about economics ("Money is fungible. The economic reality is . . . they can expend greater resrouces on [other] policies. . . . [T]his is a real and obvious risk.") or communicable diseases ("prostitution, by which HIV is transmitted").

Finally, a more substantive point. I quote Scalia's closing flourish because it does say something about his views of government programs and unconstitutional conditions:

Americans need not support the Constitution; they may be Communists or anarchists. But “[t]he Senators and Representatives . . . , and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support [the] Constitution.” U. S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 3. The Framers saw the wisdom of imposing affirmative ideological commitments prerequisite to assisting in the government’s work. And so should we.

In other words, all who work on the government's behalf or support are just like government officials and can be subject to the same limitations as those who are, by virtue of their elected or appointed position, actually wielding government power. Is that right? And should it be? And, if taken literally, what does it mean for other sreas of the law? For example, should a recipient of federal funds now be treated as a state actor for 14th Amendment/§ 1983/Bivens purposes?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 20, 2013 at 12:15 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink

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"an offer than cannot be refused" is somewhat fitting given the latest celebrity death.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 20, 2013 1:18:50 PM

And, if even "affirmative ideological commitments prerequisite to assisting in the government’s work" are okay, a small tax for those who are involved daily in interstate commercial activities should be too.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 20, 2013 1:21:08 PM

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