Friday, February 23, 2007

Wildenthal on Nationalizing the Bill of Rights, and the Debate on the Original Understanding of the 14th Amendment

Bryan H. Wildenthal, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, has posted a new paper, Nationalizing the Bill of Rights: Revisiting the Original Understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1866-67. Here's the abstract:
For many years, the reigning view among scholars was that the Fourteenth Amendment was never understood (except by a few “eccentric” or “confused” figures) to “incorporate” or nationalize the entire Bill of Rights so as to apply it to the states. This modern conventional view was developed primarily by Charles Fairman and Stanley Morrison in 1949, and defended by Raoul Berger from 1977 to 1997. A revisionist, pro-incorporation view was expressed by Justice Hugo Black (and three colleagues) in Adamson v. California (1947), echoing the late-19th century view of the elder Justice John Marshall Harlan, and defended by William Crosskey in the 1950s and Alfred Avins in the 1960s (among others). Michael Curtis, starting in 1980, led a renewed wave of revisionist scholarship, joined by Akhil Amar, Richard Aynes, Earl Maltz, and Stephen Halbrook (among others) in the 1990s.
Few scholars would dispute that the modern conventional account has been severely challenged. Many have been persuaded that Black (and the “eccentric” Justice Harlan the elder) were right all along. But some still reject or question the legitimacy of the “incorporation doctrine.” Hence the purpose of this article. It demonstrates the truly shocking and inexcusable extent to which Fairman, Morrison, and especially Berger mishandled the evidence and profoundly misunderstood the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. The extent of their scholarly malpractice has not been fully or adequately explored until now. This makes it especially disturbing that their works remain amazingly influential, decades after they were largely debunked. Fairman's 1949 article, in particular, has been viewed as a “classic” for more than half a century. It is one of the most-cited law review articles of all time.
Surprisingly, my research has shown that there is still a great deal new to say about the original understanding of the Amendment in 1866-67. I have found relevant original source materials never adequately analyzed before. These include a May 1866 New York Times editorial published two days after the Amendment was introduced in the Senate, and an essay by a Kentucky state judge published during 1866-67 that suggests the goal of nationalizing the Bill of Rights may have been widely understood during the ratification period.
This article, following up on two articles I published in 2000, is part of a broader project that will include several forthcoming articles, to be eventually combined into a book.