January 17, 2014

Conservatives adopt Progressive priorities

By Conservatives adopt Progressive priorities

Progressive constitutional doctrine underwent some interesting changes in the middle of the twentieth century. One was the return of liberty-based concerns in jurisprudence, and the repudiation of some of the more extreme Progressive democracy-based legal decisions. This is most notable in West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, which held that school children could not be compelled to salute the flag, and overruled Minersville School District v. Gobitis only three years after the earlier decision had allowed schools to require this. Then in cases like Griswold, the Court recognized a right to privacy which ultimately barred the state from intruding into the bedroom. Justifying this right to privacy was difficult for Progressives, since doing so ran counter to democracy. Witness the fight between Justices Douglas and Black in Griswold. Black rightly argues that Douglas is reviving Lochner, but Douglas tries weakly to evade that accusation by taking shelter in weird language of “emanations” and “penumbras.” But the trend had begun of liberal justices reinjecting liberty considerations into some aspects of their jurisprudence, ultimately a healthy development, whatever its shortcomings.

What’s more interesting to me is how conservatives responded by making the Progressive theory of judicial restraint their own. They saw decisions like Griswold as disruptive to traditional values and social structures, and as rooted in abstract conceptions of justice of which good Burkean gradualists are always suspicious. But that gradualism combined with the primacy of democracy meant moral relativism.

Read the rest at The Volokh Conspiracy…

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