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This Week in Liberal Judicial Activism—Week of December 3



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Dec. 5       1984—No legal text can ever be clear enough to avoid being subverted by a liberal judicial activist.  Consider now-Eleventh Circuit judge Rosemary Barkett’s ruling for a Florida appellate court in State v. Bivona.  Florida’s speedy-trial rule generally provided that every person charged with a felony shall be brought to trial within 180 days of the charge or be forever protected from prosecution on that charge.  Under an express exception (“(b)(1)”) to the rule, a “person who is … incarcerated in a jail or correctional institution outside the jurisdiction of this State … is not entitled to the benefit of this Rule until that person returns or is returned to the jurisdiction of the court within which the Florida charge is pending.”  But Barkett rules that the 180-day period for a person who had been charged with bank robbery in Florida ran while he was incarcerated in California, as she reads into the (b)(1) exception the additional requirement that the person have been incarcerated on charges pending in the other state.

Some two years later, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously reverses Barkett’s ruling.  “The language of (b)(1),” it concludes, “is without ambiguity….  Clearer language than this is difficult to envisage.  Yet the lower court [i.e., Barkett] puts a gloss on it, unwarranted by anything that appears in [the speedy-trial rule].”

2002—Liberal judicial activists, usually so dismissive of originalist jurisprudence, will resort to originalist, or at least originalist-sounding, arguments when it suits them.  In a lengthy historical exegesis in Silveira v. Lockyer, Ninth Circuit judge Stephen Reinhardt concludes that the Second Amendment does not confer any individual right to own or possess any firearms.  Among other things, Reinhardt determines that the term “bear arms” “generally referred to the carrying of arms in military service—not the private use of arms for personal purposes,” and that the term “keep” (in “keep and bear arms”) was not broader in scope than “bear”.

Dissenting months later from the denial of rehearing en banc, Judge Kozinski observes:

“Judges know very well how to read the Constitution broadly when they are sympathetic to the right being asserted.… When a particular right comports especially well with our notions of good social policy, we build magnificent legal edifices on elliptical constitutional phrases—or even the white spaces between lines of constitutional text.…  But, as the panel amply demonstrates, when we’re none too keen on a particular constitutional guarantee, we can be equally ingenious in burying language that is incontrovertibly there.  It is wrong to use some constitutional provisions as spring-boards for major social change while treating others like senile relatives to be cooped up in a nursing home until they quit annoying us.”

In another opinion dissenting from the denial of rehearing en banc, Judge Kleinfeld (joined by Kozinski and two other judges) criticizes Reinhardt for “swim[ming] against a rising tide of legal scholarship to the contrary, relying heavily on a single law review article”—by a former Reinhardt clerk, as it happens—“that claims ‘keep and bear’ means the same thing as ‘bear,’ which itself means only to carry arms as part of a military unit.”  “The military meaning,” Kleinfeld acknowledges, is certainly among the meanings of ‘bear,’ as is ‘large, heavily built, furry, four-legged mammal,’ and ‘investor pessimistic about the stock market.’  But the primary meaning of ‘bear’ is ‘to carry,’ as when we arrive at our host’s home ‘bearing gifts’ and arrive at the airport ‘bearing burdens.’”  And “keep,” Kleinfeld points out, has the primary meaning of “to retain possession of”—and poses an interpretive challenge only for “those who have chosen in advance to evade the ordinary meaning of the word.”  Kleinfeld also explains that the phrase “the right of the people”—which Reinhardt “simply skips over”—refers to an individual right in the usage of the Bill of Rights.

 

Dec. 8       1998—Something called “table dancing” earns Ninth Circuit judge Stephen Reinhardt’s special solicitude.  In dissent in Colacurcio v. City of Kent, Reinhardt ponders “whether table dancing constitutes a separate form of expressive communication from other types of nude dancing—that is, whether table dancers communicate a message different in content than that communicated by nude stage dancers, and other nude dancers who perform at a distance of more than ten feet from their customers.”  Reinhardt determines that a city ordinance that requires nude dancers to perform at least ten feet from patrons effectively outlaws table dancing.  The ordinance, in his view, is not content-neutral as a matter of law because those challenging the ordinance offered evidence that “stage dancers and table dancers communicate different expressive content in their respective messages.”  Among other things, this evidence indicated that the “message of the table dancer is personal interest in and understanding of the customer,” whereas the message sent by stage dancing is “coldness and impersonality.”  Further, Reinhardt says, evidence indicated that the city “banned proximity precisely because it wants to constrain dancers from doing the very things that … are essential to the message—chiefly getting close enough to the patrons so that they can communicate the message in the form that only table dancing permits.”

 

Dec. 9       1993—Faithfully applying governing precedent, the Florida supreme court rules (in Sarantopoulos v. State) that a person who had built a six-foot-high fence around his yard did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his yard (where he was growing marijuana plants) since he should reasonably have foreseen that the yard could be viewed over the fence or from aircraft.  In dissent, then-chief justice Rosemary Barkett confuses the threshold issue whether a reasonable expectation of privacy existed with the logically subsequent question whether a police search based on an anonymous tip was reasonable.

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here.


Tags: This Day in Liberal Activism


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