Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Pay No Mind To Door #3....

Gail Heriot is now a regular Volokh Conspiracy contributor, but I kind of wonder how long she'll last. All of her posts thus far are rather generic right-wing hobby horses of the "actually, civil rights activists are bad for minorities"/"actually, feminists are bad for women"/"actually, we should be putting more Black people in jail" sort. And while there are any number of publications that would be delighted to put those thoughts into print, it doesn't really work well in the blogging format because they're too generic. For blogging to be sustainable, it generally is responsive to contemporaneous events (if only someone else's post). In my experience, people who blog their general abstract political views tend to get bored pretty quickly.

I guess we'll see. Anyway, today's entry is "actually, feminists should oppose the Equal Rights Amendment." The argument is that feminists like certain identity-conscious programs (and hence have opposed, e.g., Proposition 209 which banned affirmative action in California), but the ERA's sex equality language would place programs of that sort in jeopardy where they operate to the benefit of women. Given this, Heriot suggests, there are two possibilities:
(1) Feminists secretly want the ERA to fail; or
(2) Feminists are willing to see sex-conscious policies struck down as unconstitutional.
Maybe. But might I suggest there might be something behind door #3?
(3) Proponents of the ERA don't understand the term "equality" in the ERA to ban the sorts of programs Heriot has in mind.
Put another way, perhaps the most straight-forward way of parsing "feminists support the ERA and support sex-conscious policies where they facilitate gender equality" is that "the prevailing public meaning of 'equality' in the ERA's text -- at least as understood by ERA backers -- does not preclude the passage and enforcement of sex-conscious policies that facilitate gender equality."

Now, to be sure, Heriot might not be wrong that the ERA, if ratified, "would very likely be interpreted to invalidate the many state-sponsored 'affirmative action' programs that currently give preferential treatment to women and women-owned businesses." The "colorblind turn" in Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence has been notorious in not resting on even a purported attempt to discern the original understanding of the relevant constitutional text; a point of considerable embarrassment for the Court's originalists. So it strikes me as perfectly likely that the Court would give the ERA the same treatment -- ignoring powerful evidence of how what its backers and ratifiers understood themselves to be doing in favor of a particular, contested viewpoint of "equality" as sex-blindness. Still, it seems rather telling that even the prospect that an alternative view of "equality" is being appealed to here -- one that harmonizes the positions Heriot sees as inconsistent -- isn't even recognized as a possibility.

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