Bench Memos

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—August 17

2006—In what one expert commentator aptly labels a “transparently political screed,” Michigan federal district judge (and Carter appointee) Anna Diggs Taylor rules that the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program is unconstitutional. Displaying its usual regard for the truth, the next day the New York Times editorial page praises Taylor’s “careful, thoroughly grounded opinion.”

Alas for the paper’s poor editorialists, the following day the Times runs a front-page article—“Experts Fault Reasoning in Surveillance Decision”—that reports that “[e]ven legal experts who agreed with [Taylor’s] conclusion” say that her opinion “overlooked important precedents, failed to engage the government’s major arguments, used circular reasoning, substituted passion for analysis and did not even offer the best reasons for its own conclusions.” (How’s that for “careful” and “thoroughly grounded”?)

Even Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, in the course of self-indulgently criticizing Taylor’s critics for self-indulgent criticism, complains that her opinion “seems almost to have been written more to poke a finger in the President’s eye than to please the legal commentariat or even, alas, to impress an appellate panel.” But Tribe concludes that “her bottom line is very likely to survive appellate review.”

In July 2007, the Sixth Circuit overturns Taylor’s ruling, as a divided panel rejects her threshold determination that the plaintiffs had standing to pursue their claims. 

2009—Purporting to be carrying out its duty to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, the Obama administration’s Department of Justice instead sabotages that law. Abandoning strong arguments that had been successful in previous litigation, DOJ asserts in a brief that it “does not believe that DOMA is rationally related to any legitimate government interests in procreation and child-rearing.” As one supporter of same-sex marriage puts it (emphasis added):

This new position is a gift to the gay-marriage movement, since it was not necessary to support the government’s position. It will be cited by litigants in state and federal litigation, and will no doubt make its way into judicial opinions. Indeed, some state court decisions have relied very heavily on procreation and child-rearing rationales to reject SSM [same-sex marriage] claims. The DOJ is helping knock out a leg from under the opposition to gay marriage.

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