October 16, 2005

What Roe Is All About (Incorporation and Privacy)


Remember that we ended the Introduction with a discussion of the Fourteenth Amendment's ban on the states acting against the newly-minted ex-slave citizens, or any citizens by
  1. Denying them the privileges and immunities of citizens;

  2. Depriving them of life liberty or property without due process of law; or

  3. Denying them the equal protection of the laws.
All of this sounded good, and to the Radical Republicans who enacted the fourteenth Amendment, had a clear intent of protecting the ex-slaves.

Within a few years, however, interest in affording much protection to the ex-slaves waned, and with the compromise arising out of the disputed 1876 election, Rutherford Hayes was allowed to carry Florida in exchange for a promise, largely kept, to end Reconstruction and give the white South a largely free hand with respect to the Negroes, who were largely relegated once again to a condition of subordination. By 1896, the Supreme Court held in Plessy v. Ferguson that a state could enforce racial segregation in railroad cars, provided the facilities provided to each race were equal.

In other areas, however, the Supreme Court found that certain rights of individuals and of corporations (fictitious legal "persons") under the federal constitution applied, under the Fourteenth Amendment, also to the states. The key case for this principle is Lochner v. New York. Lochner held unconstitutional a law of New York that forbade employers from making bakers work more than 60 hours in a week. The court held that a "freedom of contract" that the Fourteenth Amendment imposed upon the states trumped the states' inherent police power, and made it unconstitutional for a state to regulate the hours of work of bakers, even though restrictions on the hours of work of miners and others by other states had been upheld on health and safety grounds. The Supreme Court held that no such restriction on the work of bakers was justified by such health considerations.

This doctrine in Lochner has been labeled "substantive due process." In other words, it is not a case of a right being taken away without proper notice and procedures ("procedural due process"), but the content of the law itself the Court found offensive to the Constitution. In the economic sphere, substantive due process survived little more than 30 years. It was tossed out during the New Deal, when government regulation of the economy, in the face of the Great Depression, once again became fashionable.

But Lochner is most emphatically not dead in non-economic spheres. Increasingly, the court has held, whether or not the focus is the Fourteenth Amendment's original one of race that the rights enumerated in the first ten amendments, much, if not all, of the "Bill of Rights" now applies to the states because the Fourteenth Amendment makes it so. Reams of paper have been covered with arguments as to which aspects of the Bill of Rights are "incorporated" or applied to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment.


The other abstract concept needed to understand the legal arguments about Roe is the "right of privacy."

In American jurisprudence, the concept of a "right of privacy" is generally traced back to an article by later Supreme Court Justice Brandeis and his law partner Samuel Warren in the Harvard Law Review. Brandeis and Warren wrote not about highfalutin' constitutional law, but about the law of torts, a tort being a civil wrong not arising out of a contract, for which suit may be brought. Brandeis and Warren argue that there is ample justification for the common law, as it does from time to time, to create a new tort, whereby damages and more rarely, an injunction, could be obtained for unauthorized publication of private facts, even if truthful. The article does not address the question of whether the constitution itself contains (or does not contain) an implied right of privacy.

Brandeis and Warren's "privacy" deals more with protection against the likes of paparazzi than against state legislation:
Of the desirability -- indeed of the necessity -- of some such protection, there can, it is believed, be no doubt. The press is overstepping in every direction the obvious bounds of propriety and of decency. Gossip is no longer the resource of the idle and of the vicious, but has become a trade, which is pursued with industry as well as effrontery. To satisfy a prurient taste the details of sexual relations are spread broadcast in the columns of the daily papers. To occupy the indolent, column upon column is filled with idle gossip, which can only be procured by intrusion upon the domestic circle. The intensity and complexity of life, attendant upon advancing civilization, have rendered necessary some retreat from the world, and man, under the refining influence of culture, has become more sensitive to publicity, so that solitude and privacy have become more essential to the individual; but modern enterprise and invention have, through invasions upon his privacy, subjected him to mental pain and distress, far greater than could be inflicted by mere bodily injury.
As we shall see, it is this concept of privacy, brought into the constitutional law and imposed on the states through the Fourteenth Amendment "incorporation" doctrine, that provided the initial rationale for Roe.

Whether "privacy" can be found in the Bill of Rights, whether "incorporation" applies a right of privacy to the states, and whether abortion is within the scope of any such right of privacy, are all questions which must wait for further posts.

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