My Marquette University Law School colleague Peter Rofes has suggested, with tongue placed strategically in cheek, four questions for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. While I enjoyed Peter's contribution, I have a few of my own. Any Republican Senator or his or her staff may borrow all or any of this.
"General Kagan, several years ago, a majority of the Court held that due process did not require impartiality in the sense of an absence of a view on or commitment to a particular view of the law. The absence of any opinions about what the law is or should be, in the view of the Court, would not be evidence of the absence of bias, but of the absence of qualification.
You have have written that confirmation hearings ought to include discussion of a nominee's "broad judicial philosophy” and “her views on particular constitutional issues” including those “the Court regularly faces.” We on the Republican side of the aisle agree and, therefore, anticipate and look forward to your responses to the following questions.
First, significant growth in the size and scope of the federal government have once again raised questions about federalism and structural limitations (as opposed to those that inhere in individual rights such as freedom of speech or the right to equal protection of the laws) on the power of Congress.
Do you believe that there are any structural restrictions imposed on Congressional authority to impose a tax on persons who have failed to act in a way that Congress desires? If so, what are these limitations and, broadly speaking, how are they to be defined and applied? To cut to the chase, can Congress really impose a tax on people who fail to buy what Congress wants them to buy? Going further, apart from whatever protection might be provided by the Bill of Rights, can Congress impose a tax on persons whose way of life is said to affect commerce or impact a system of federal regulation in a way that is said to impose external costs?
Do you believe that the Commerce power enables Congress to regulate activity that is noncommercial in the sense that it does not consist of productive economic activity? Is there any sense in which the Commerce power might extend to noneconomic activity?
In short, General Kagan, are there any justiciable structural limits on the authority of Congress? Is there anything that is none of our business and what might that be?
Second, in connection with your nomination as Solicitor General, you stated that there is no federal constitutional right to same sex marriage. At the same time, you are reported to have said that traditional marriage laws, restricting marriage to unions between one man and woman, have no rational basis. Is the latter remark indeed your view? Would you care to explain why? If so, do you believe that traditional marriage laws may violate the Equal Protection Clause?
Putting it starkly, General Kagan, is it your view that those who believe that marriage ought to be limited to one man and one woman have no rational basis for that view and are, therefore, endorsing invidious discrimination?
Third, you have written that Justice Marshall's view that the judiciary ought to "show a special solicitude for the despised and disadvantaged" and "to safeguard the interests of people who had no other champion" is a "thing of glory."
Do you share that view? Do you believe that it is the role of the judiciary to act in a way that "evens" the political process? If so, is that role limited to the way in which the Court interprets enumerated rights and other textual provisions or might it extend to the recognition of unenumerated rights? Who are the "despised and disadvantaged" and persons "with no other champion?" Might they include the unborn and elderly? Could they be fundamentalist Christians and those with unpopular political views?
Put bluntly, is it the Court's role to interpret the Constitution in a way that politically empowers those that five justices believe do not have "enough" power ?
Fourth, in discussing a Supreme Court decision striking down a hate speech ordinance, you have written that it might be argued that "[i]f there is an ‘overabundance' of an idea in the absence of direct governmental action -- which there well might be when compared with some ideal state of public debate -- then action disfavoring that idea might ‘un-skew,' rather than skew, public discourse."
While we appreciate that you may not have been endorsing that view in your article, let's explore what you do believe.
Is it ever appropriate for the government to act in a way which is intended to "un-skew" public debate? If so, how does one go about determining what an "ideal state of public debate" might be? May the government intervene to correct "imbalances" in the discussion of issues in media outlets?
If government may work to "redistribute" or "balance" speech due, say, to an inequality of resources among speakers, is government itself subject to some obligation of neutrality or balance in the messages that it communicates or subsidizes? If not, how do you reconcile the permissability of state intervention to correct imbalances in private speech with the deliberate creation of imbalances by goverment speech?
May the government act to restrict speech based on the harm that may be caused by the message conveyed? If so, under what circumstances?
In other words, is it the role of the Court to "improve" or "balance" political discourse?
We look forward to your responses. There may be follow-ups."
Cross posted at Point of Law.