June 26, 2015

DAVID BERNSTEIN: Chief Justice Roberts: same-sex marriage not constitutionally protected because Lochner

Chief Justice Roberts invokes Lochner v. New York by name no less than 16 times in his [Obergefell] dissent.

Not the real Lochner v. New York mind you, a relatively modest opinion, grounded in precedents holding that the Fourteenth Amendment protects liberty of contract in the absence of a valid police power rationale for the infringement.

The real Lochner held that a criminal law imposing maximum hours on bakers was not a justified infringement of liberty of contract under the police power because though it was defended as a health law, the government presented no evidence that the baking was especially unhealthful, while the plaintiff presented strong evidence to the contrary.

The real Lochner did not even inhibit governments from imposing maximum hours laws in other circumstances–the Supreme Court upheld the next dozen or so maximum hours cases to come before it.

Instead, Roberts invokes the Lochner of historical myth.

And this:

It’s at least slightly embarrassing that Roberts is either unaware of or chose to ignore the last thirty years of Lochner-related scholarship in favor of invoking hoary myths that are useful for rhetorical purposes, and that Thomas and Scalia joined the opinion.

As I wrote at the end of my book, when the Justices use Lochner “as shorthand for what they consider the activist sins of their opponents, they are substituting empty rhetoric for meaningful constitutional argument.” And their understanding of Lochner is always inaccurate to boot.

The real Lochner was about identifying and applying the proper extent of the state police power, not identifying fundamental rights, whose invocation then did all the work. There is none of this in Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the majority in Obergefell.

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