Chief Justice Roberts has been the target of much criticism for his majority opinion in King v. Burwell, but I think we should instead be celebrating his outstanding originalist dissent in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (arguing that "Legislature" means, well, the legislature.) As he puts it:
The relevant question in this case is how to define “the Legislature” under the Elections Clause. The majority opinion does not seriously turn to that question until page 24, and even then it fails to provide a coherent answer. The Court seems to conclude, based largely on its understanding of the “history and purpose” of the Elections Clause, ante, at 24, that “the Legislature” encompasses any entity in a State that exercises legislative power. That circular definition lacks any basis in the text of the Constitution or any other relevant legal source.
Robert's affirmative case begins with dictionaries:
The majority’s textual analysis consists, in its entirety, of one paragraph citing founding era dictionaries. The majority points to various dictionaries that follow Samuel Johnson’s definition of “legislature” as the “power that makes laws.” Ibid. (internal quotation marks omitted). The notion that this definition corresponds to the entire population of a State is strained to begin with, and largely discredited by the majority’s own admission that “[d]irect lawmaking by the people was virtually unknown when the Constitution of 1787 was drafted.” Ante, at 3 (internal quotation marks omitted); see ante, at 27. Moreover, Dr. Johnson’s first example of the usage of “legislature” is this: “Without the concurrent consent of all three parts of the legislature, no law is or can be made.” 2 A Dictionary of the English Language (1st ed. 1755) (emphasis deleted). Johnson borrowed that sentence from Matthew Hale, who defined the “Three Parts of the Legislature” of England as the King and the two houses of Parliament. History of the Common Law of England 2 (1713). (The contrary notion that the people as a whole make the laws would have cost you your head in England in 1713.) Thus, even under the majority’s preferred definition, “the Legislature” referred to an institutional body of representatives, not the people at large.
Then he looks at other founding-era sources:
Any ambiguity about the meaning of “the Legislature” is removed by other founding era sources. “[E]very state constitution from the Founding Era that used the term legislature defined it as a distinct multimember entity comprised of representatives.” Morley, The Intratextual Independent “Legislature” and the Elections Clause, 109 Nw. U. L. Rev. Online 131, 147, and n. 101 (2015) (citing eleven State Constitutions). The Federalist Papers are replete with references to “legislatures” that can only be understood as referring to representative institutions. E.g., The Federalist No. 27, pp. 174–175 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961) (A. Hamilton) (describing “the State legislatures” as “select bodies of men”); id., No. 60, at 368 (contrasting “the State legislatures” with “the people”). Noah Webster’s heralded American Dictionary of the English Language defines “legislature” as “[t]he body of men in a state or kingdom, invested with power to make and repeal laws.” 2 An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828). It continues, “The legislatures of most of the states in America . . . consist of two houses or branches.” Ibid. (emphasis deleted).
He next turns to other uses of "Legislature" in the Constitution:
The unambiguous meaning of “the Legislature” in the Elections Clause as a representative body is confirmed by other provisions of the Constitution that use the same term in the same way. When seeking to discern the meaning of a word in the Constitution, there is no better dictionary than the rest of the Constitution itself. Our precedents new and old have employed this structural method of interpretation to read the Constitution in the manner it was drafted and ratified—as a unified, coherent whole. See, e.g., NLRB v. Noel Canning, 573 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2014) (slip op., at 19–20); id., at ___ (SCALIA, J., concurring in judgment) (slip op., at 32); McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 414–415 (1819); Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 1 Wheat. 304, 328–330 (1816); Amar, Intratextualism, 112 Harv. L. Rev. 747 (1999). The Constitution includes seventeen provisions referring to a State’s “Legislature.” See Appendix, infra. [Ed.: Yes, he includes an appendix listing every use of "Legislature" in the Constitution.] Every one of those references is consistent with the understanding of a legislature as a representative body. More importantly, many of them are only consistent with an institutional legislature—and flatly incompatible with the majority’s reading of “the Legislature” to refer to the people as a whole.
And some drafting history:
The history of the Elections Clause further supports the conclusion that “the Legislature” is a representative body. The first known draft of the Clause to appear at the Constitutional Convention provided that “Each state shall prescribe the time and manner of holding elections.” Debates on the Federal Constitution 146 (J. Elliot ed. 1836). After revision by the Committee of Detail, the Clause included the important limitation at issue here: “The times and places, and the manner, of holding the elections of the members of each house, shall be prescribed by the legislature of each state; but their provisions concerning them may, at any time, be altered by the legislature of the United States.” Id., at 225 (emphasis added). The insertion of “the legislature” indicates that the Framers thought carefully about which entity within the State was to perform congressional districting. And the parallel between “the legislature of each state” and “the legislature of the United States” further suggests that they meant “the legislature” as a representative body.
As the majority explains, the debate over the ratification of the Elections Clause centered on its second part, which empowers Congress to “make or alter” regulations prescribed by “the Legislature” of a State. See ante, at 25–27. Importantly for our purposes, however, both sides in this debate “recognized the distinction between the state legislature and the people themselves.” Brown v. Secretary of State of Florida, 668 F. 3d 1271, 1275–1276, n. 4 (CA11 2012). ... [going on to discuss specific evidence, with a cite to originalist scholar Rob Natelson].
And finally, he rejects the majority's appeal to purpose:
The majority contends that its counterintuitive reading of “the Legislature” is necessary to advance the “animating principle” of popular sovereignty. Ante, at 24. But the ratification of the Constitution was the ultimate act of popular sovereignty, and the people who ratified the Elections Clause did so knowing that it assigned authority to “the Legislature” as a representative body. The Elections Clause was not, as the majority suggests, an all-purpose “safeguard against manipulation of electoral rules by politicians.” Ante, at 26. Like most provisions of the Constitution, the Elections Clause reflected a compromise—a pragmatic recognition that the grand project of forging a Union required everyone to accept some things they did not like. See The Federalist No. 59, at 364 (describing the power allocated to state legislatures as “an evil which could not have been avoided”). This Court has no power to upset such a compromise simply because we now think that it should have been struck differently. ...
This is a strong an orignialist/textualist opinion as anyone should hope for or expect from any Justice. (And Justice Scalia liked it so much he joined it even though he thought the legislature didn't have standing and so the Court shouldn't be deciding the case in the first place).
Of course, it's a dissent. So as in the recess appointments case, the question is: should we view this as disappointing, because the textualist/originalist position got "only" four votes, or encouraging, because it got as many as four (!) votes?
(I prefer the latter, because I remember when the orignialist/textualist view would get one vote.)
In any event, the Chief Justice is likely to be on the Court for a long time, and if conservative commentators were thinking for the long term it would seem more constructive to celebrate this fine opinion than to complain about King v. Burwell.
RELATED: In the New York Times, Jeffrey Rosen: John Roberts, The Umpire in Chief. From the conclusion:
It’s understandable that liberals and conservatives are disappointed with the chief justice for rejecting positions they deeply favor. But Chief Justice Roberts’s relatively consistent embrace of judicial deference to democratic decisions supports his statement during his confirmation hearings that judges should be like umpires calling “balls and strikes.” As he put it then: “Umpires don’t make the rules, they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules, but it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.”
Although the chief justice’s statement was subsequently mocked, both the Affordable Care Act cases and the marriage equality case show that he meant what he said. Whether writing for the majority or in dissent, he believes that judges should set aside their policy views and generally uphold laws unless they clash with clear prohibitions in the Constitution. In the long term, if he continues to pursue this conception of the deferential role of the court, he may help liberals and conservatives more readily accept their Supreme Court defeats.
Agreed, but the Arizona Legislature case -- and the many others Rosen notes where Roberts has invalidated laws or executive actions -- show that the Chief has a fairly robust view of the "clear prohibitions in the Constitution," based in significant part on an originalist/textualist approach.