March 12, 2003  ·  Lessig

Orin Kerr is a careful and powerful critic (in the good sense of that term) of much in the law of cyberspace. He has posted a careful and powerful criticism of my post yesterday. So too have others. But the line I agree with most strongly in Orin’s post is: “the public domain will be best served if Eldred is treated as a launching point for legislative reform, not an example of judicial foul play.”

Agreed. And as I’m the least qualified person to comment on the matter (as I’m the most biased person who has a view on the matter), my efforts are devoted to the future, not this past. My claim was not “foul play” or, as others have said, “corruption.” It was instead the sort of criticism that one can only make of an institution one respects: consistency. The obligations of consistency about principle across cases extend at least to those justices who believe in the principle. They don’t extend to justices who have dissented from the principle. Thus the burden or justifying and distinguishing Lopez falls on those who signed the Lopez/Morrison opinions. The other four (three of whom wrote the opinions in this case) are not, in my view, bound by that principle to say anything.

The point is not that a distinction couldn’t be drawn. The point is that they didn’t draw it. And the point is not that the Court must respond to every argument an advocate makes. But when two federal judges frame their dissent on the basis of a principle that also frames the petition upon which cert was granted, a certain decency would suggest something more than silence.

But I leave it to others to resolve the ethics of judicial principle as they apply to this case. There is lots of work to do that will matter much more.