Thursday, February 5, 2009

Helmholz and Whitman in the Journal of Legal Analysis

Harvard's on-line, faculty-edited law journal, the Journal of Legal Analysis, is out, with (at least) two contributions of interest to legal historians. The first is "Bonham's Case, Judicial Review, and the Law of Nature," by R. H. Helmholz, University of Chicago Law School, which you may read as html or pdf:
Bonham's Case (1610) as reported by Sir Edward Coke has often been regarded as an early instance of judicial review of legislation. Lawyers, particularly in the United States, have taken it as a common law precedent for permitting judges to strike down unconstitutional statutes. Using contemporary evidence from English and Continental legal works, this article contends that Bonham's Case actually rested upon then commonly accepted principles of the law of nature, and that those principles stopped short of embracing judicial review in the modern sense. The argument depends on establishing four points: first, that Coke accepted the existence of natural law and used it in his own writings; second, that the facts of Bonham's Case lent themselves naturally to application of the law of nature to a parliamentary act; third, that as understood at the time, natural law did not permit judicial invalidation of statutes; and fourth, that other contemporary evidence supports this more restrained understanding of Coke's statements in Bonham's Case. In its contemporary setting, the case was therefore compatible with Parliamentary supremacy. It well illustrates, however, one way in which the law of nature was applied in actual litigation.
The second is is "Equality in Criminal Law: The Two Divergent Western Roads" by James Q. Whitman, Yale Law School. The article is also available in html and pdf formats:
Every western society embraces the ideal of equality before the criminal law. However, as this Article observes, that ideal is understood differently in the United States and Continental Europe. American law generally demands that all citizens face an equal threat of punishment, while continental European law generally demands that all citizens face an equal threat of investigation and prosecution. This contrast raises a sharp normative challenge: Is it better to think of equality before the criminal law as pre-conviction equality or post-conviction equality? The Article makes the case that pre-conviction of the Continental kind is normatively superior. It then asks why American law has opted for what seems a normatively inferior solution, identifying a variety of factors in American culture and the common law tradition that have encouraged the belief that true equality lies in the equal threat of punishment rather than in the equal threat of prosecution.