Breyer Bobbles My Head With His Original Intent Analysis

June 26th, 2014

I’m not sure what is bobbling more now. The Breyer bobblehead, or my head, after reading Justice Breyer’s attempt at originalism in Noel Canning.

We are aware of, but we are not persuaded by, three important arguments to the contrary. First, some argue that the Founders would likely have intended the Clause to apply only to inter-session recesses, for they hardly knew any other. See, e.g., Brief for Originalist Scholars as Amici Curiae 27–29. Indeed, from the founding until the Civil War inter-session recesses were the only kind of significant recesses that Congress took. The problem with this argument, however, is that it does not fully describe the relevant founding intent. The question is not: Did the Founders at the time think about intra-session recesses? Perhaps they did not. The question is: Did the Founders intend to restrict the scope of the Clause to the form of congressional recess then prevalent, or did they intend a broader scope permitting the Clause to apply, where ap­propriate, to somewhat changed circumstances? The Founders knew they were writing a document designed to apply to ever-changing circumstances over centuries. After all, a Constitution is “intended to endure for ages to come,” and must adapt itself to a future that can only be “seen dimly,” if at all. McCulloch, 4 Wheat., at 415. We therefore think the Framers likely did intend the Clause to apply to a new circumstance that so clearly falls within its essential purposes, where doing so is consistent with the Clause’s language.

Putting aside that originalism focuses mostly on meaning, not intent, I’m not sure how Breyer can frame the issue that broadly, and still base his decision on what the founders intended? Once you site M’Culloch “endure for ages to come,” originalism doesn’t carry much weight.