Ronald Dworkin (1931–2013) was Professor of Philosophy and Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law at NYU. His books include Is Democracy Possible Here?, Justice in Robes, Freedom’s Law, and Justice for Hedgehogs. He was the 2007 winner of the Ludvig Holberg International Memorial Prize for “his pioneering scholarly work” of “worldwide impact” and he was recently awarded the Balzan Prize for his “fundamental contributions to Jurisprudence.”
Law is at the cutting edge of many different disciplines and I am going to try to illustrate this point by talking about my own career, not because I believe that everything I think is right, but because my career has illustrated a marked trajectory from the very concrete to …
The familiar stark divide between people of religion and without religion is too crude. Many millions of people who count themselves atheists have convictions and experiences very like and just as profound as those that believers count as religious. They say that though they do not believe in a “personal” god, they nevertheless believe in a “force” in the universe “greater than we are.” They feel an inescapable responsibility to live their lives well, with due respect for the lives of others; they take pride in a life they think well lived and suffer sometimes inconsolable regret at a life they think, in retrospect, wasted.
The Supreme Court has now heard oral arguments in a case—Fisher v. University of Texas—in which it is likely to overrule or eviscerate its own 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger allowing limited “affirmative action” plans in public institutions of higher education. These are admissions policies through which universities seek …
There is persuasive internal evidence in the various opinions the justices filed that he intended to vote with the other conservatives to strike the Act down and changed his mind only at the very last minute. Commentators on all sides have speculated furiously about why he did so. One popular opinion among conservative talk-show hosts suggests that Roberts has been a closet liberal all along; another that he has suffered a mental decline. Almost no one seems willing to accept Roberts’ own explanation: that unelected judges should be extremely reluctant to overrule an elected legislature’s decision. His own judicial history thoroughly contradicts that explanation. In case after case he has voted, over the dissenting votes of the liberal justices, to overrule state or congressional legislation, as well as past settled Supreme Court precedents, to reach a result the right-wing in American politics favored.
The Supreme Court’s hearings in the health care case, Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, over a nearly unprecedented three days of oral argument, generated all the attention, passion, theater, and constant media and editorial coverage of a national election or a Super Bowl. The legal issues, most analysts think, are not really controversial: the Constitution’s text, the Supreme Court’s own precedents, and basic constitutional principle seem obviously to require upholding the Affordable Health Care Act. But the questions of the ultra-conservative justices in the oral argument have now convinced most commentators that on the contrary, in spite of text, precedent, and principle, the Court will declare the Act unconstitutional in June, by a 5-4 vote.
As the debt ceiling fiasco continues unresolved and increasingly dangerous, with no agreement among the House, the Senate and the White House yet in sight, an obscure and forgotten constitutional clause has suddenly come under scrutiny. The Fourteenth Amendment, adopted after the Civil War, provides that “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law … shall not be questioned.” Does that clause mean that it is unconstitutional for Congress to refuse to raise the debt ceiling – the amount the nation is legally permitted to borrow – in our present circumstances, and that the President is therefore constitutionally permitted to borrow money on his own authority?
We now have a President we can admire and respect. But he seems unaware that his opponents are not patriots anxious to help govern through a decent consensus but fanatics who would destroy the country if that would lead to his defeat. We think he should understand that this is a time for confrontation not compromise. He should therefore remember the words of another president running for reelection in the middle of an even graver economic catastrophe, words that seem eerily relevant now.