Themes From Fallon on Constitutional Theory

Themes from Fallon on Constitutional Theory
LAWRENCE B. SOLUM*
ABSTRACT
Law and Legitimacy in the Supreme Court by Professor Richard Fallon
explores the relationship between normative legitimacy and the Supreme
Court’s role in constitutional interpretation and construction. This essay inter-
rogates Fallon’s ideas in the context of the great debate between originalism
and living constitutionalism via the development of the themes. The f‌irst theme
focuses on the relationship between Fallon’s views and the originalist claim
that constitutional interpretation and construction should be constrained by the
original public meaning of the constitutional text. The second theme focuses on
Fallon’s development of the idea of ref‌lective equilibrium as a method for con-
stitutional theory and practice. The third theme focuses on the structure of nor-
mative constitutional legitimacy, contrasting Fallon’s focus on the substantive
justice of constitutional norms with an alternative approach that conceptualizes
constitutional legitimacy as a multidimensional process value. The essay begins
and ends with praise for Law and Legitimacy in the Supreme Court: Fallon’s
book is important, wide-ranging, and deep; it is essential reading for constitu-
tional scholars.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 289
I. FIRST THEME: CONSTRAINT BY THE MEANING OF THE
CONSTITUTIONAL TEXT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 290
A. A Short Introduction to Originalism and Living
Constitutionalism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 290
1. Public Meaning Originalism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 290
2. Living Constitutionalism and the Alternatives to
Originalism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 297
B. Fallon on Multiple Meanings. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 302
1. The Meaning of Meaning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 302
2. Linguistic Meanings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 303
* Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center. I am grateful for
comments and suggestions made at a workshop at the University of Virginia School of Law. © 2020,
Larry Solum.
287
a. Intended Meaning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 303
b. Literal Meaning. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 306
c. Contextual Meaning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 307
d. Moral Conceptual Meaning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 307
e. Reasonable Meaning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 308
3. Multiple Meanings and the Public Meaning Thesis . . . . . 311
C. Fallon on the Role of History . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 312
II. SECOND THEME: REFLECTIVE EQUILIBRIUM IN CONSTITUTIONAL
THEORY AND PRACTICE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 320
A. The Idea of Ref‌lective Equilibrium . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 320
B. Narrow, Wide, and Broad Ref‌lective Equilibrium. . . . . . . . . . 321
C. Ideal Theory and Constitutional Possibility . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 324
D. Fallon on Ref‌lective Equilibrium and Constitutional
Practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 325
III. THIRD THEME: THE STRUCTURE OF NORMATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL
LEGITIMACY. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 329
A. Fallon’s Understanding of Moral Legitimacy. . . . . . . . . . . . . 329
B. Four General Features of Normative Constitutional
Legitimacy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 330
C. Five Dimensions of Normative Constitutional Legitimacy . . . 331
1. Democratic Legitimacy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 332
2. Legitimacy and Legality. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 333
3. Legitimacy as Transparency . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 334
4. Legitimacy and Justif‌iability. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 336
5. Legitimacy as a Suff‌iciently Reliable Process for
Ensuring Reasonable Justice. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 338
D. The Function of Normative Constitutional Legitimacy . . . . . . 339
IV. REFLECTIONS ON FALLON AND THE GREAT DEBATE . . . . . . . . . . . . 342
A. Contrasting Public Meaning Originalism and Ref‌lective
Equilibrium Theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 342
B. The Role of the Moral Beliefs of Judges and Justices . . . . . . . 343
288 THE GEORGETOWN JOURNAL OF LAW & PUBLIC POLICY [Vol. 18:287
C. Ref‌lective Equilibrium and Revisability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 343
D. Comparisons with Respect to Legitimacy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 345
E. Comparisons with Respect to Justice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 347
F. The Problem of Uncertainty. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 349
CONCLUSION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 350
INTRODUCTION
Professor Richard Fallon’s Law and Legitimacy in the Supreme Court is a
deep, original, and important contribution to constitutional theory.
1
Fallon’s book
is extraordinary, ranging across fundamental issues in normative constitutional
theory and connecting to important ideas from political philosophy, metaethics,
and the philosophy of language. This essay explores three themes from Fallon
and ref‌lects on the signif‌icance of Fallon’s work for contemporary constitutional
theory.
The f‌irst theme concerns the originalist idea of constraint by the constitutional
text: Fallon challenges the claim that the legitimacy of judicial review requires
that judges be bound by the original meaning of the constitutional text. Part I of
this essay situates Fallon’s challenge in the context of contemporary originalist
constitutional theory. Discussion of the f‌irst theme aims to reveal diff‌iculties with
Fallon’s claim that the existence of multiple kinds of meaning undermines certain
forms of constitutional originalism.
The second theme derives from Fallon’s exploration of the foundational role of
the idea of ref‌lective equilibrium in normative constitutional theory. Part II of this
essay suggests that the role of constitutional theory requires that ref‌lective equi-
librium be reconceptualized in terms of intersubjective agreement among citizens
who aff‌irm a plurality of moral, religious, and ideological perspectives: in other
words, it is a we and not an I that should aim for a relationship of consistency and
mutual support between our considered constitutional judgments. Exploration of
the second theme aims to reveal a diff‌iculty with a f‌irst-person singular approach
to ref‌lective equilibrium.
The third theme is prompted by Fallon’s exploration of the idea of legitimacy.
Part III of this essay suggests that constitutional legitimacy has a complex struc-
ture, including both multiple dimensions and functions. Investigation of the third
theme aims to uncover the ways in which constitutional legitimacy constrains the
options available to normative constitutional theory.
The three themes are woven together in the f‌inal part of the essay, which
ref‌lects the implications of Fallon’s work for the great debate between original-
ism and living constitutionalism. Part IV of the essay suggests the ways in which
1. RICHARD H. FALLON, JR., LAW AND LEGITIMACY IN THE SUPREME COURT (2018).
2020] THEMES FROM FALLON 289

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