Monday, October 26, 2015

Bray on Constitutional Hendiadys

Samuel L. Bray, UCLA School of Law, has posted “Necessary AND Proper” and “Cruel AND Unusual”: Hendiadys in the Constitution, which is to appear in the Virginia Law Review 102 (2016):
Constitutional doctrine is often shaped by the details of the text. Under the Necessary and Proper Clause, the Supreme Court first considers whether a law is “necessary” and then whether it is “proper.” Some justices have urged the same approach for the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause: first ask if the punishment is “cruel,” then if it is “unusual.” That each clause has two requirements seems obvious, and it is has been the assumption underlying vast amounts of scholarship. That assumption is incorrect.

This Article argues that “necessary and proper” and “cruel and unusual” are best read as instances of hendiadys. Hendiadys is a figure of speech in which two terms, separated by a conjunction, have a single complex meaning. It is found in many languages, including English: e.g., “rise and shine,” “nice and fat,” “cakes and ale.” When “cruel and unusual” is read as a hendiadys, the clause does not prohibit punishments that merely happen to be both cruel and unusual. Rather, it prohibits punishments that are unusually cruel, i.e., innovative in their cruelty. If “necessary and proper” is read as a hendiadys, then the terms are not separate requirements for congressional action. The word “necessary” requires a close relationship between a statute and the constitutional power it is carrying into execution, and “proper” instructs us not to interpret “necessary” in its strictest sense.

To read each of these constitutional phrases as a hendiadys, though seemingly novel, actually aligns closely with the early interpretations, including the interpretation of the Necessary and Proper Clause in McCulloch v. Maryland. The readings offered here solve a number of puzzles, and they better capture the subtlety of these clauses.
H/t: Legal Theory Blog

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