Thursday, January 20, 2011

Justice Scalia complains of an “Alfred Hitchcock line of…jurisprudence.”

A unanimous Supreme Court (per Alito) in NASA v. Nelson upheld the government's right to conduct background checks on employees. Justice Scalia (along with Justice Thomas) concurred, saying that the Court again refused to answer the main questions presented by the case and that the minimalist strategy of the Court is bad for lower courts and others trying to figure out what the case means. From the NY Times:

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for himself and Justice Clarence Thomas, issued a caustic concurrence. He said he “of course” agreed with the result in the case, saying the plaintiffs’ objections to the background checks were ridiculous.

“The contention that a right deeply rooted in our history and tradition bars the government from ensuring that the Hubble telescope is not used by recovering drug addicts” is, he said, “farcical.”

But Justice Scalia aimed his harshest criticism at the six justices who signed the majority opinion, returning to a theme he pressed last year — that the court is violating its duty and harming its reputation in issuing vague decisions.

“Whatever the virtues of judicial minimalism,” he wrote, “it cannot justify judicial incoherence.”

The majority opinion, he continued, “provides no guidance whatsoever for lower courts” and “will dramatically increase the number of lawsuits claiming violations of the right to informational privacy.” Though the court ruled against the plaintiffs, he said, the majority opinion amounts to “a generous gift to the plaintiffs’ bar.”

Justice Scalia said he would have taken a simpler approach in the case, NASA v. Nelson, No. 09-530.

“I would simply hold that there is no constitutional right to ‘informational privacy,’ ” Justice Scalia wrote.

“Like many other desirable things not included in the Constitution,” he wrote, “ ‘informational privacy’ seems liked a good idea.” But he said it should be enacted through legislation rather than imposed by judges through constitutional interpretation.

While we are on the subject of fun writing, Judge Carnes is at it again, this time in Carolyn Zisser v. The Florida Bar. The intro:

This case reminds us of the observation of the Grand Inquisitor in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers. Upon finding that all ranks of commoners and servants have been promoted to the nobility, he protests that there is a need for distinction, explaining that: “When everyone is somebody, then no one’s anybody.”* The same is true of a state bar’s certification process. If every attorney who practices in an area is certified in it, then no one is anybody in that
field. The easier it is to be certified, the less that certification means. The goal of the Florida Bar’s certification process is to recognize in various fields of specialization exceptional attorneys, meaning those who stand out from others in all of the ways that make an attorney outstanding. To ensure that certification achieves its purpose, the Bar has established a body of rules and procedures, including a confidential peer review process, so that an attorney
certified in an area of practice truly is “somebody” in that field. Without such rules and procedures, the process, the decisions it produces, and the resulting recognition would not amount to much.

*W. S. Gilbert, The Savoy Operas 543 (Wordsworth Editions 1994) (1889) (spelling altered).


Anonymous said...

I agree with scalia. lots of cases from the 70s are just off. this is one of them. privacy to the extent it can exist in constitutional terms can only be for really personal things like procreation, not simply for protection of govt employee records for gosh sakes.

Anonymous said...

Magistrate Goodman, talk about deja vu today, eh?

Anonymous said...

When I read Carnes' opinion I thought of the fact that every FBI agent is known as a "Special Agent."