Month: June 2018

Marks All the Way Down, and the Importance of Conceptual Legal Puzzles

I want to say a few things about a cool, conceptual legal puzzle left open by the Supreme Court’s decision last week in Hughes, but also about why pondering cool, conceptual legal puzzles is important – as abstract and inhuman as they are.

I have previously written (on my own blog) about the meta logic of Hughes v. United States.  In Hughes, the Court had an opportunity to decide how lower courts should interpret fractured Supreme Court opinions where no majority agrees on the rationale behind a decision(Here’s an example of the 4-1-4 prior opinion at issue in Hughes.)  According to Marks v. United States, the governing rationale of a case where no majority can agree on the basis for the decision “is the position taken by those Members who concurred in the judgments on the narrowest grounds.”  Of course, the meaning of “narrowest grounds” is unclear, but in Hughes, the Court dodged the meta question of how to interpret “narrowest grounds” by simply garnering a majority for the decision’s reasoning.

Richard Re and the hosts of First Mondays both noted an interesting possibility if the Court does decide to confront the Marks question head on.  What if the Court fractures on how to interpret Marks, such that there is a 4-1-4 opinion on what to do about 4-1-4 opinions?  This could lead to an interesting paradox where accepting one Justice’s opinion as the controlling one would lead to accepting a different Justice’s opinion as the controlling one.

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The Scope of the Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision Will Be Determined by the Concurrences

Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop is based on the religious animus of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and thus appears, at first blush, to be a narrow ruling.  However, the evidence Justice Kennedy cites for religious animus could mean that the effects of this opinion extend far beyond the parties at issue.  The scope of Matserpiece Cakeshop will depend on whether lower courts take the view of the Kagan/Breyer concurrence or of the Gorsuch/Alito concurrence.

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