Prudential Considerations, Canons of Construction, and Other Mechanisms of Judicial Receivership

In United States v. Windsor, there is one aside from Justica Scalia’s dissent, written in his trademark snarky fashion, which particularly stands out to me. Scalia, describing himself as being “wryly amus[ed]” (and by which he means “impotently furious”) at the majority’s approach to Article III’s case-or-controversy requirement, makes the following observation:

(Relegating a jurisdictional requirement to “prudential” status is a wondrous device, enabling courts to ignore the requirement whenever they believe it “prudent”—which is to say, a good idea.)

How very true. Alas, where was this Scalia in Kiobel? I seem to recall that, in that particular instance, he was quite content to join in with a majority opinion which happily forsook jurisdictional limitations, in favor of a mercurial, and curiously flexible, rule of statutory interpretation. And I can’t help but find this faintly hypocritical. At least when it comes to prudential standing, the Court is being perfectly honest about whose whim it is following. As opposed to the polite fiction now known as the presumption against extraterritoriality, which permits the Court to aver that it is merely following the whims of the legislature — after having ascertained those whims, of course, through the application of its own esoteric art.

But then again, I suppose Scalia always does save the mocking, legal realist jibes for his dissents. It often seems that his formalism is reserved solely for those occasions on which his opinion gets enough votes to be the majority.

-Susan

p.s. Someone should tell Scalia that citing reverently to Justice Taney in a civil rights decision is probably a bad idea.

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