Bench Memos

This Week in Liberal Judicial Activism—Week of December 8

Table dancing, Brennan’s stealth, and NARAL’s insights:

 

 

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.

Dec. 11

2002—In its fourth ruling in the eleven-year-long saga of litigation (DeRolph v. State) over Ohio’s school-funding system, the Ohio supreme court observes that some six years previously—when it first ruled that Ohio’s existing system of financing its public-school system somehow violates the state constitution’s declaration that the General Assembly “make such provisions, by taxation or otherwise, as will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state”—it had “provided no specific guidance as to how to enact a constitutional school-funding scheme.”  The court then proceeds, once again, to provide no specific guidance as to how to enact a constitutional school-funding scheme.  Some six months later, the court will finally end the litigation.  Displaying the limited power of judicial diktats, the General Assembly has never adopted a new funding system that aims to comply with the court’s rulings.

 

 

Dec. 13

1971—The initial Supreme Court oral argument in Roe v. Wade takes place.  The case ends up being carried over to the next term and re-argued in October 1972.  In the meantime, the Court issues its ruling in Eisenstadt v. Baird, which extends a right to contraception to unmarried persons.  (See This Week for March 22, 1972.)  Justice Brennan smuggles into this passage in his majority opinion in Eisenstadt a couple extraneous words:  “If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.”  In his January 1973 majority opinion in Roe, Justice Blackmun quotes this passage immediately before declaring that “[t]hat right [of privacy] necessarily includes the right of a woman to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”

 

 

Dec. 14

2005—In the mendacious screed that it issues against the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, NARAL Pro-Choice America stumbles upon some nuggets of truth:  The “undue burden” standard set forth in the Supreme Court’s 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey “is a malleable, ill-defined standard.”  Far from ratifying Roe, that ruling in fact “explicitly overruled portions of two earlier post-Roe opinions” that had struck down abortion regulations.  The Court’s 2000 ruling in Stenberg v. Carhart (on partial-birth abortion) “plainly illustrates the subjectivity inherent in applying the undue burden standard.”

Thanks, NARAL, for helping to make the case that Roe has been eroded, that the “undue burden” standard is not workable, and that stare decisis considerations in favor of maintaining Roe and Casey are very weak.

 

 

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here.

 

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