Lab Report

In his dissent in New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 262 (1932), Justice Brandeis wrote:

[T]he advances in the exact sciences and the achievements in invention remind us that the seemingly impossible sometimes happens. There are many men now living who were in the habit of using the age-old expression: ‘It is as impossible as flying.’ The discoveries in physical science, the triumphs in invention, attest the value of the process of trial and error. In large measure, these advances have been due to experimentation. In those fields experimentation has, for two centuries, been not only free but encouraged. Some people assert that our present plight is due, in part, to the limitations set by courts upon experimentation in the fields of social and economic science; and to the discouragement to which proposals for betterment there have been subjected otherwise. There must be power in the states and the nation to remould, through experimentation, our economic practices and institutions to meet changing social and economic needs. I cannot believe that the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, or the states which ratified it, intended to deprive us of the power to correct the evils of technological unemployment and excess productive capacity which have attended progress in the useful arts.

To stay experimentation in things social and economic is a grave responsibility. Denial of the right to experiment may be fraught with serious consequences to the nation. It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.

Id., 285 U.S. at 310-311.

The states either supported by their courts or, in some cases, lead by their courts, have been doing a good deal of experimentation.

For instance, in League of Women Voters v. Pennsylvania, __ Pa. __ (February 18, 2018), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a Republican attempt to gerrymander congressional districts violated the Pennsylvania state constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the Pennsylvania ruling. Thus, the Pennsylvania ruling is impervious to the sort of attack I recognized as a possibility with respect to the various federal cases holding gerrymandering unconstitutional under the federal constitution.

Earlier, I posted a report on a Kansas decision based on that state’s constitution, upholding, at least temporarily, a woman’s right to an abortion.

Finally, this week, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, Maryland’s intermediate appellate court, in Montgomery County v. Complete Lawn Care, Inc., fended off an attack on a county ordinance restricting the use of certain pesticides for cosmetic purposes in the county. The attack was based upon a claim that the county enactment was preempted by state law. (Among the plaintiffs seeking to block the law was the misleadingly named “Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, a Committee of Croplife America,” a pesticide trade organization.)

I suppose that it could be argued that the current round of cases differs from the situation presented in New State Ice Co. There, the courts were blocking progressive legislative actions. In the Pennsylvania and Kansas cases above, the courts were acting as bulwarks against legislative attacks on progressive positions. Of course, this gives a somewhat different take on the concept of states’ rights.

2 thoughts on “Lab Report”

    1. Please tell the Republicans in the Georgia Legislature, who just voted to make having a miscarriage a capital offense, that the threat to civil liberty comes from progressives.

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