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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

From Jotwell: "What Will the Federal Government's Resistance to President Trump Look Like?"

My latest contribution to the Constitutional Law section of Jotwell is this piece, titled "What Will the Federal Government's Resistance to President Trump Look Like?" It follows in some senses from my earlier Prawfs post titled "Will the Civil Service Revolt, or Work to Rule, in a Trump Presidency?" It also emphasizes why I think Prof. Jennifer Nou has been doing great and useful work on this subject, and why I think the earlier article by Jessica Bulman-Pozen and David Pozen on Uncivil Obedience is useful and newly timely, even if I also spend a good deal of time in the jot on that article's critics. Some excerpts:

How should one respond to injustice, illegitimacy, or broader threats posed by a democratic governmental regime? Although readers may lump these items together, the commas and “or” matter here, for they are not all the same and the proper response to each may differ. One common answer to some or all of them is civil disobedience. Another, rendered more problematic by the democratic nature of the regime and perhaps by the relative lack of courage of the professional-managerial class, is open rebellion. A third possible response, Jessica Bulman-Pozen and David E. Pozen argued in a valuable, important, and still under-examined 2015 article, is uncivil obedience: a conscientious, communicative, reformist act of strict “conformity with . . . positive law,” “in a manner that calls attention to its own formal legality, while departing from prevailing expectations about how the law will be followed or applied.” . . .

Behind all this, obviously, is President Donald Trump: that extraordinary figure whose extraordinary actions have called forth—demanded, many would insist—extraordinary responses from citizens and scholars alike. Many of the most prominent responses to the new regime have come from citizens, albeit often fairly elite ones: marches, “days without [X],” lawsuits, and the usual collection of group letters, petitions, and op-eds. In that context, it is clearer that thinking about modes of response and resistance to this administration, including resistance within the executive branch, has a strong constitutional law component. (Anyway, as Adrian Vermeule recently observed, administrative law “is sublimated constitutional law just as constitutional law is sublimated theology.”)

Invoking Trump as a justification will no doubt win instant forgiveness for skirting or breaking various “rules,” both in the real world and in academia. As these thoughtful articles—two of them fortunately written before a sense of Trump-derived urgency began shaping and distorting public and academic discourse—demonstrate, however, it is unclear when, whether, and how such behavior should be treated forgivingly. Strategies of resistance shaped in response to exigent circumstances do not necessarily disappear when those circumstances do, and in the meantime they encourage retaliatory counter-strategies. And many citizens’—and academics’—passionate dislike of the administration may lead them to accentuate the positive aspects of these rule-breaking strategies while minimizing or ignoring the negative. This is thus simultaneously a good, bad, and necessary time to think both about both how resistance forms not only to but within the very organs of a constitutional regime, and about the potential dangers of those strategies. . . .

[T]hese resistance practices demand wide-ranging academic analysis, of a sort that neither ignores nor is driven solely by present exigencies . . . [W]e should be grateful that the study (and critique) of uncivil obedience came along when it did—“BT,” as it were—and that Nou continues the job in a calm fashion “AT.” We need much more of this.

Posted by Paul Horwitz on April 18, 2017 at 12:48 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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