Counting to 5 for a binding precedent -- do the
dissenters' votes count?
mrdimino at mail.widener.edu
Thu Jun 16 11:53:41 PDT 2005
This may not be exactly what you seek, Eugene, but United States v. Morrison seems relevant (529 U.S. 598, 622-24 (2000)):
Petitioners contend that two more recent decisions have in effect overruled this longstanding limitation on Congress' Â§ 5 authority. They rely on United States v. [**1757] Guest, 383 U.S. 745, 16 L. Ed. 2d 239, 86 S. Ct. 1170 (1966), for the proposition that the rule laid down in the Civil Rights Cases is no longer good law. In Guest, the Court reversed the construction of an indictment under 18 U.S.C. Â§ 241, saying in the course of its opinion that "we deal here with issues of statutory construction, not with issues of constitutional power." 383 U.S. at 749. Three Members of the Court, in a separate opinion by Justice Brennan, expressed the view that the Civil Rights Cases [*623] were wrongly decided, and that Congress could under Â§ 5 prohibit actions by private individuals. 383 U.S. at 774 (opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part). Three other Members of the Court, who joined the opinion of the Court, joined a separate opinion by Justice Clark which in two or three sentences stated the conclusion that Congress could punish all conspiracies -- with or without state action -- that interfere with Fourteenth Amendment rights." Id. at 762 [***680] (concurring opinion). Justice Harlan, in another separate opinion, commented with respect to the statement by these Justices:
"The action of three of the Justices who joined the Court's opinion in nonetheless cursorily pronouncing themselves on the far-reaching constitutional questions deliberately not reached in Part II seems to me, to say the very least, extraordinary." Id., at 762, n. 1 (opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part).
Though these three Justices saw fit to opine on matters not before the Court in Guest, the Court had no occasion to revisit the Civil Rights Cases and Harris, having determined "the indictment [charging private individuals with conspiring to deprive blacks of equal access to state facilities] in fact contained an express allegation of state involvement." 383 U.S. at 756. The Court concluded that the implicit allegation of "active connivance by agents of the State" eliminated any need to decide "the threshold level that state action must attain in order to create rights under the Equal Protection Clause." Ibid. All of this Justice Clark explicitly acknowledged. See id., at 762 (concurring opinion) ("The Court's interpretation of the indictment clearly avoids the question whether Congress, by appropriate legislation, has the power to punish private conspiracies that interfere with Fourteenth Amendment rights, such as the right to utilize public facilities"). [*624]
To accept petitioners' argument, moreover, one must add to the three Justices joining Justice Brennan's reasoned explanation for his belief that the Civil Rights Cases were wrongly decided, the three Justices joining Justice Clark's opinion who gave no explanation whatever for their similar view. This is simply not the way that reasoned constitutional adjudication proceeds. We accordingly have no hesitation in saying that it would take more than the naked dicta contained in Justice Clark's opinion, when added to Justice Brennan's opinion, to cast any doubt upon the enduring vitality of the Civil Rights Cases and Harris.
Michael Richard Dimino, Sr.
Widener University School of Law
3800 Vartan Way
P.O. Box 69381
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17106-9381
mrdimino at mail.widener.edu
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