of penumbral emanations and scholarly trends

Speaking of penumbra yet again (1, 2) , I had previously blogged about a Circuit split on laws banning sex toys — it was Valentine’s Day, and I was feeling a bit whimsical, so I wished for a “penumbra” that would strike down stupid laws.

LawPundit “ha[s] an opinion” on my wish for a penumbra that covers “no stupid laws”; I thought it was pretty amusing & worth checking out.

LawPundit also annotated my use of the word “penumbra” with a link to google:define:penumbra. Unfortunately, I don’t think that quite captures the legal nuance. Legal scholar/lawyer-types know the reference, of course, but for those non-lawyers, “penumbra” is famous in Constitutional law as a reference to Griswold v. Connecticut. In Griswold, the Supreme Court overturned a Connecticut statute that made it a crime to buy contraceptives. Justice William O. Douglas, looking at the Constitutional guarantees of individual liberties as a whole, wrote that the statute violated the individual right to privacy, which could be found looking at the “penumbras” and “emanations” of Constitutional protections. The language is a little funny, but standing alone, or with Eisenstadt (which extended to unmarried people the right to buy contraception), this case, and the words “penumbra” and “emanations”, would provide simply a pleasant diversion to while away the afternoons in contemplation of rarely-used words in legal opinions. The concept of “penumbras” of a set of enumerated rights is not that bizarre, especially in light of the Ninth Amendment (which notes that “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”) and the Tenth Amendment (which states clearly that powers not delegated to the US, nor prohibited to the States, “are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”). These Amendments practically beg for penumbral analysis, and “privacy” (a concept theoretically defined and refined only in the last 125 years, but whose spirit animates much of the Constitutional protections) and “autonomy” (not considered one of the Constitutional “rights”, per se, but I keep wishing) are ripe concepts for that sort of analysis.

But conservatives have freaked out when the penumbras that protect privacy were extended to abortion in Roe v. Wade and to other matters of sexual privacy since then, and and now excoriate the very notion of penumbras. And emanations. (One could argue that the very essence of conservatism is a certain distaste for emanations.) So, “penumbras” the concept has acquired a certain air of disrepute in many legal circles, because even scholars who find it perfectly reasonable to examine the Constitution as a whole as well as in its discrete little parts, tend to back off a bit from Douglas’ sweeping penumbras and emanations, so successfully have right-wingers trashed those ideas. A damn shame, because the concept is perfectly reasonable, and it’s only the rabid dog opposition to abortion that has cast the shadow over Griswold and its penumbral emanations.